The handsome town of Dubuque, overlooked by rocky bluffs on the Mississippi around 150 miles west of Chicago, was founded as the first white settlement in Iowa by French-Canadian lead miners in 1788. In the nineteenth century it became a boisterous river port and logging center. Buildings from this era still stand, but the companies that use them are in meatpacking and other food industries.
The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium (daily 10am–5pm; $10.50) at Third Street in the old Ice Harbor area, tells the story of Mississippi navigation from the days of Robert Fulton's first commercial steamboat in 1807 until the floods of 1993.
Once your appetite has been whetted, you can travel along the high-banked Mississippi on a Spirit of Dubuquepaddle-wheeler cruise (May– Oct daily; Tel:563/583-8093 or 1-800/747-8093; Web: www.dubuqueriverrides.com ). Alternatively, what's said to be the world's shortest and steepest cable-car ride (April– Nov daily 8am–10pm; $1 single, $2 round-trip) grinds its way from Fourth Street downtown up a sheer bluff to Fenelon Place, a residential street of old money and Victorian architecture. The top offers a sweeping view across the Mississippi to Illinois and Wisconsin. Film buffs who enjoyed the 1989 baseball fantasy Field of Dreams can meet like-minded souls in surprising numbers at the original movie location, three miles north of Dyersville, which is 25 miles west of Dubuque on US-20.