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Iowa City, Iowa

Great Destination:

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • There are an estimated 300 places to buy a book in the Iowa City area.
  • Nearby Dyersville, Iowa, was a key film location for the movie, “Field of Dreams” (1989).
  • Iowa City was America’s first city to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature.
  • Iowa City boasts a bike commute rate that is six times the national average.
  • Iowa Writers’ Workshop alums include 17 Pulitzer Prize winners and three U.S. poet laureates.

Of bikes and books

Iowa City, flanking the Iowa River in the eastern part of the state, is a college town. It hosts the University of Iowa, a school so well known for its writing programs it is often called the Writing University.

It all started with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the world’s oldest creative writing degree program (founded 1936). Now the Iowa City area boasts 10 literary presses, nine programs offering regular literary readings, at least half a dozen writing programs and seven community and professional theaters. Recognizing these and other factors, in 2008, UNESCO named Iowa City a City of Literature.

Understandably, the calendar for Iowa City includes — besides, say, jazz festivals and food fairs — a number of events with a literary bent. Even multi-themed festivals are likely to include literary readings. The city attracts visitors for its Summer Writing Festival, which offers workshops for the public; book festivals, and a rich choice for theater.

Literature is the star, but Iowa City offers the other cultural diversions — art, music, museums and the like — that are typical of any university town of consequence. Collegiate sports also attract visitors, in this case, large numbers of fans to see the university’s 22 varsity teams.

Furthermore, the university is known for its huge medical campus. UI Hospitals and Clinics is one of the country’s largest university-owned teaching hospitals. It also ranks among the country’s best for quality care, which is why some Iowa City visitors are in effect medical tourists.

The city, prettily situated amidst rolling hills — including the hills where the campus sits — boasts of 42 area parks, which offer extensive networks of trails for hiking and biking. Iowa City is a recognized bike-friendly community, and locals take that seriously. The river that divides the city and area lakes offer further options for outdoor recreation. The university provides choices, too, by making a number of its athletic facilities available to the public.

Finally, Iowa City has a nightlife, beginning of course with the kind favored by college students, but including restaurants that run the gamut in style and price. A few breweries and wineries operate in the area, too.

Things to do for Venturers

  • A car enthusiast? Join the Classy Chassy Cruisers car club for one of its Classy Chassy Cruisers Friday Night Cruise-Ins. The free, open-to-all events are the last Friday of each month, April through September.
  • Camp on or near the shores of Coralville Lake. Campsites range from full hook-ups to walk-in tents.
  • Find the festival for you. Consider summertime jazz in Iowa City or blues and barbecue in North Liberty — or the Iowa Soul Festival in Iowa City in autumn. Beer has its place at the Oktoberfest in Iowa City and the Brrr Fest in Coralville.
  • Practice your skills at the archery range in Iowa City’s Macbride Nature Recreation Area. Drop by at the Macbride Raptor Project, a raptor education and rehabilitation center.
  • Attend a University of Iowa varsity ballgame, then use UI Recreational Services facilities that are open to the public, such as indoor ball courts and climbing walls, as well as the Beckwith Boathouse, which provides training clinics and an Iowa River splash-in site.
  • Sign up for one of the workshops (lasting a weekend, a week or two weeks) at the Summer Writing Festival.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Celebrate the arts at Iowa City’s springtime Mission Creek Festival featuring live music, literary readings and food events; at the June Iowa Arts Festival, or at another spring event, Riverbank Art Fair, an indoor art exhibition and sale. A similar December art exhibition and sale is called Holiday Thieves Market.
  • Look way into the past. See a 375 million-year-old sea floor at the nearby Devonian Fossil Gorge. Floodwaters in 1993 and 2008 gouged out the gorge and exposed the sea floor.
  • Paddle a kayak or hike in the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area.
  • Head to Cedar Rapids to visit the Grant Wood Studio. The artist produced some of his best-known works, including “American Gothic” (1930), here.
  • Use a bicycle for your in-town transportation. Nearly everyone else does.
  • Have a traditional meal at the Amana Colonies west of Iowa City. The seven villages, once a religious communal system, are a National Historic Landmark.

 Things to do for Authentics

  • In the City of Literature, come for the Iowa City Book Festival in October, or in the dead of winter, One Book Two Book, an event devoted to children’s literature. Then, walk the walk, meaning the city’s Iowa Avenue Literary Walk.
  • Pack your picnic basket for preshow munching, and attend one of the performances in summer at the outdoor Riverside Theatre in the Park. Located in Iowa City’s Lower City Park, the theater is modeled on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The professional, nonprofit company has an indoor season, too.
  • If it’s November, look for the Tree Huggers public art project — more than 135 knitted tree sweaters!
  • Herbert Hoover was an engineer and humanitarian as well as president. Drive 10 miles east of Iowa City to delve into the subject at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum in West Branch, which includes the birthplace cottage, a blacksmith shop and a Quaker meetinghouse.
  • If a quilt maker or just a lover of the work, head for the shops of Kalona, the largest Amish settlement west of the Mississippi, 17 miles south of Iowa City.
  • Shop in the Amana Colonies. Specialties include locally made clocks, furniture and woolen products, as well as locally processed meats. And check out the Amana General Store.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at