This is a Mississippi river town with a long and rich history of trade and commerce from the early days of the country. Those of you from parts of the country with more interesting terrain would happily note that Dubuque is much hillier than Des Moines, due to the fact that it was mostly untouched by glaciers like the Great Plains, and because of the might Mississippi’s carving effect. It’s a small city of 50k people with a lot of charm. If you are looking for a long day trip or short overnighter, this might be a good destination.
This town has the typical things to do in cities this size, with a good mix of restaurants, shops, etc. There’s the river where you can catch an old fashioned riverboat, or visit one of the scenic overlooks, or the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. There’s an opera house and theater if you’d like to catch a show. For those who like gambling and that sort of thing, there’s a fairly good casino with all the typical games and amenities (including a huge bowling alley).
If you decide to stay a few days, then you might want to venture out from Dubuque and checkout the sites nearby. Across the river on the Illinois side is the town of Galena, a famous Illinois resort area, complete with the best ski slopes you can find in an area without real mountains. In Wisconsin, you could go to House On the Rock, a famous, beautiful house built on a column of rock in the middle of Iowa County (coincidentally). On the Iowa side of the border, Dyersville, IA is home to Field of Dreams, the actual location of the filming of that famous movie, and a mecca for baseball lovers.