Historic Iowa Downtowns

Iowa’s rich history is riveting, and its antiquated beauty can still be cherished in many of its captivating historic downtown settings. Update your bucket list and transport back in time this summer by making a trip to a historic Iowa downtown.

Burlington

Burlington

Stunningly situated on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, Burlington puts its ample history on display through its romantic architecture and nostalgic atmosphere. Better known as Iowa’s First Capital, Burlington was secured following the Black Hawk Purchase of 1832 and has prospered as the center of all commerce in Des Moines County ever since. Begin your journey in this area with your windows down as you make your way into Downtown Burlington through Snake Alley, the most crooked road in the world! Upon arrival, it’s hard to miss the mesmerizing mix of restaurants, shops and historic buildings. Start off your staycation by browsing the endless array of Roosevelt Avenue shops, offering an extensive variety of clothes, collectables and antiques. Once you work up an appetite, take a break at Good, a restaurant and lounge that brings new life to a 178-year-old stone house alongside the Mississippi River. But make sure to save room for dessert and stop by Iowa’s premier macaron shop, Macarons by Nikki. Top off your day with a brew at Bent River Brewing Company before taking a scenic walk through the Burlington Steeple Lightscape, featuring a row of gorgeous, historic churches, glowing throughout dusk in the historic Iowa downtown setting.

Centerville

Known as the world’s largest town square, Centerville is a historic hub with an eclectic mix of antique shops, boutiques and restaurants, all of which are distinctive to the downtown. Home to over 100 historic buildings, Centerville provides visitors with an unforgettable environment. You’ll love the renowned core of the community, Main Street, as you’re surrounded by one-of-a-kind small businesses tailored for foodies and vintage hearts. Whether you’re shopping for infused oils and spices from around the world or a covetable art piece to put on display, Downtown Centerville is heaven for shoppers with an appetite for tasteful finds. While window shopping for your next best buy, make sure to add Tangleberries to your agenda if a caffeine fix is calling your name. Or if you have a sweet tooth be sure to swing by Lula’s Bakery, known for baking with love for generations, to indulge in a famous Fruity Pebbles cupcake, an orange-infused cupcake topped with cream cheese frosting and Fruity Pebbles crumbles. With so much to see and do in this historic Iowa downtown, you’ll surely be tempted to stay for a while and book a room at the historic Continental Hotel, a once-popular resting spot for trailblazing travelers. After being lovingly rehabilitated to its earlier glory, The Continental Hotel now features Lucile’s Steak and Spirits, a local favorite for rotating specialties and Iowa-made craft beer.

Pella

Pella

Dreaming of traveling abroad? Enjoy a little taste of nostalgic European spirit in historic Downtown Pella, the Netherlands of the Midwest. Settled by Dutch immigrants in 1847, all of the storefronts in Downtown Pella proudly preserve architectural elements consistent with the community’s deep Dutch heritage. You can feast your eyes on the glistening Molengracht Canal as it flows through the town square, just before entering a world of unique shops and specialties. Here, there is something for everyone, whether it’s experiencing the old blacksmith shop or sampling cheeses, pastries and meats originating from Old-World recipes. To honor its Dutch roots, Pella plants thousands of tulips every year, and features authentic windmills, working drawbridges and a massive carillon clock which echoes throughout the downtown. Feel the essence of Pella by visiting a local Dutch bakery as they serve up beloved classics passed down from generation to generation. Or try some authentic Dutch street foods at Dutchfix, offering favorites like Dutch pancakes and frites with special sauce. Downtown Pella also makes it easy to shop for wine and other spirits by bringing together an excellent collection drawn from well-known local, regional and international manufacturers. Definitely make time to visit The Wijn House, a wine-tasting business focusing on Iowa winery products.

Washington

Historic Downtown ​​Washington is proud of its honorable heritage, which dates back to 1833, a time when the land was extremely fertile and farms were popping up everywhere. Today, the history of Washington is still visible thanks to a variety of preserved structures turned shops, eateries and galleries. Get a glimpse of the past by visiting Central Park, a lively area of the downtown which features amusement or relaxation for all. Every Thursday of the summer, the farmers’ market in the park sells fresh Iowa produce and baked goods and is a noteworthy event to check out. Thursday Night Live, which spotlights live entertainment from local performers, begins as the farmers’ market comes to a close. And you can’t miss out on the opportunity to test out some of Downtown Washington’s most delectable bites. Cafe Dodici is a quaint yet chic destination where foreign meets friendly. The interior features hand-made Italian chandeliers, as well as a cherished oil painting of Downtown Washington from 1907. Be sure to conclude your day with a viewing of the Centennial Fountain light show, a shimmering spectacle of colored lights and water patterns, which are particularly beautiful once the sun sets.

McGregor

Home to some of the most breathtaking foliage in North America, the historic Iowa downtown of McGregor is also blessed with breathtaking caves, bluffs, underground waterways and wildlife. Founded in the 1830’s, the tiny town of McGregor served as the nation’s first significant commercial route for trains and boats; rail carriages would be transported over the mighty Mississippi River via ferry. Today, McGregor’s history can be seen through the looking glass of present day as 19th-century buildings adopt new uses. Now, you can spend time with family and friends while shopping and dining in the charming downtown. While exploring McGregor, be sure to stop by Paper Moon, a collection of mercantile goods described as “the ultimate in therapy shopping.” After your retail therapy, check out By The Spoonful, a small-town specialty shop offering delicacies native to the Midwest, like beef, dairy, cheese and wine. And if your mouth isn’t watering yet, make a reservation at Jade’s River Queen, a historic tavern with a relaxed atmosphere and live entertainment on most weekends. Be sure to make your visit a weekend excursion because McGregor also occasionally hosts flea markets and art festivals on Saturdays.

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