When choosing a vacation destination for yourself, you and some friends, or you and your family, Davenport may not immediately come to mind.
This small city on the western shore of the Mississippi River in Iowa is home to a little over 100,000 people and might not seem like much when you pass through it on I-80.
However, you’d be surprised; there is actually quite a bit to see and do in Davenport, and whether you’re there on business, are there visiting family, or choose it as your actual vacation destination, you’re sure to have a good time – and a far better time than you may expect before you go.
Don’t sleep on Davenport! Davenport is one of the four cities in the Quad Cities metropolitan area, which also includes Bettendorf, Iowa and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline, Illinois. Together, these cities are home to nearly half a million people.
This Midwestern collection of cities that grew up around the confluence of the Mighty Mississippi and the Rock River is more happening than one might think.
It’s about three hours west of Chicago and about four hours north of St. Louis, but unlike these larger cities, the Quad City area including Davenport has more of a relaxed, friendly, welcoming, and laid-back feel; however, the people here also like to get out and do things rather than just staying home, no matter what the season nor time of year.
So, if you find yourself in Davenport or will be visiting there soon and are looking for things to do in Davenport, Iowa, read on. In this informative post, you’ll learn all about the many things to do in this Iowa town.
Get ready to take on Davenport and enjoy this hidden gem of Hawkeye State!
Table of Contents
- Best Things to Do in Davenport, IA
- Figge Art Museum
- Putnam Museum & Science Center
- German American Heritage Center
- Bix Beiderbecke Museum & Archive
- Vander Veer Botanical Park
- West Lake Park
- Modern Woodmen Park
- Centennial Park
- Village of East Davenport
- Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Cathedral Complex
- The Palmer Family Home & Museum
- Freight House Farmers Market
- SIS International Shop
- Chocolate Manor
- Analog Arcade Bar
- Have a Local Drink
- Adler Theatre
- The Quad Cities Symphony Orchestra
- River Music Experience
- Rhythm City Casino Resort
- Davenport Skybridge
- Michael’s Fun World
- Before You Go to Davenport, IA
- What is Davenport known for?
- What food is Davenport Iowa known for?
- Best Museum: Figge Art Museum
- Best Outdoor Activity: Vander Veer Botanical Park
- Best Historical Attraction: German American Heritage Center
- Best Family-Friendly Activity: Modern Woodmen Park for a ballgame
- Best Shopping: Freight House Farmers Market
- Best Entertainment: River Music Experience
Best Things to Do in Davenport, IA
Figge Art Museum
If you’re in western Illinois or eastern Iowa surrounded by cornfields, you may think that you need to travel either to Chicago or Des Moines to view world-class art, but thanks to the Figge Art Museum, that’s not the case.
This museum opened in 2005 and was the successor to the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery – later the Davenport Museum of Art – which opened in 1928.
This lively city has been home to patrons of the arts since its early days, and as a result, the Figge Art Museum is not only one of the oldest art institutions in the United States, but also the oldest municipal art gallery in our country.
This is a big but not gigantic museum; its collection is made up of over 4,000 works of art. The American collection is impressive and includes works by Bierstadt, Whistler, Homer, Wyeth, Warhol, and more. European artists like Rembrandt, Goya, and Renoir are also represented here, as are Asian artists like Hokusai and Kunisada.
However, this museum is best known for its extensive collection of Haitian art, Colonial Mexican art, and Midwestern art, and for its collection of pieces by Midwestern architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright.
It’s easy to get lost in the Figge Art Museum for an entire morning or afternoon even if you don’t fancy yourself to be much of an art aficionado. There’s so much to see here. If you want to stay nearby, The Current Iowa is a great hotel option within walking distance.
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Putnam Museum & Science Center
The Putnam Museum and Science Center, formerly known as the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences, is an even older institution than the Figge Art Museum. It was founded in 1867 and was one of the first museums west of the Mississippi.
If you aren’t interested in visiting an art museum like the Figge, then chances are that this museum will be a more interesting choice for you.
This family-friendly museum has over 160,000 specimens and historical artifacts in its collection; as you might imagine, only a small portion of these is on display at any time, but you’ll be able to see and learn a great deal in a short time.
It will likely be no surprise to you after your visit that this museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Exhibits on the Mississippi River, mammals, ancient Egypt, prairies, world culture, and science and technology are all well-organized, thorough, interactive exhibits that the whole family will enjoy.
Further, there’s a huge-screen movie theater that shows science films; it’s one of the biggest movie screens in the entire state. No matter what interests you, don’t miss the Putman Museum and Science Center during your visit to Davenport.
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German American Heritage Center
Many thousands of German immigrants chose to settle in the Midwest during the late 1800s and early 1900s and the German American Heritage Center and Museum in the Germania-Miller Standard Hotel celebrates this fact and the vast contributions that these people gave to the United States during their lifetimes.
The building itself was built in 1862 as a guesthouse for immigrants and was later purchased by John Frederick Miller, a German immigrant, who ran it as a hotel for many years after that. In 1983, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and the German American Heritage Center moved in in 1995.
Interesting exhibits at this museum and heritage center include an interactive experience about German immigration, displays of German and local art, and more.
There’s also a banquet hall, a gift shop, and weekly events to help you immerse yourself in the transplanted German culture of the Midwestern United States.
Bix Beiderbecke Museum & Archive
If you like history museums, give this one a try. Bix Beiderbecke was born in Davenport, IA in 1903 and died at the age of 28 in 1931.
In his short life, he learned how to play the coronet and piano and became one of the most influential jazz soloists of his time. This museum is dedicated to his life and musical contributions and is interesting for anyone interested in the early age of jazz music or in music in general.
Artifacts from his life are on display as well as instruments he used during his musical career.
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Vander Veer Botanical Park
Vander Veer Botanical Park is located in the Vander Veer Park Historic District of Davenport. This 33-acre botanical garden is spectacular and inviting. Established in 1885, it is one of the very first botanical parks in our nation located west of the Mississippi River.
In this garden, you’ll find flowers, trees, shrubs, hostas, succulents, cacti, and other plants of all kinds, a lagoon, a sensory garden, a children’s sculpture garden, greenhouses, a conservatory, and an impressive circa 1900 fountain. Many people come here to walk for exercise; the path around the perimeter is just under a mile in length.
West Lake Park
If you’re looking for a more traditional-style park, then you’ll like West Lake Park. This park is not on the banks of the Mississippi River but is located on the west side of town.
It is quite large at 620 acres and there are four lakes and two campgrounds within the park’s boundaries. People come to fish, boat, and swim here during the warm weather months, but it’s a great place to visit and explore at any time of year thanks to the many trails.
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Modern Woodmen Park
For a completely different type of park, you might swing by Modern Woodmen Park. This is a minor league baseball field that was originally built in 1931 but has been renovated many times since.
Today it holds 4,024 spectators and is home to the Quad Cities River Bandits and the St. Ambrose University baseball teams. It also hosts concerts and other events.
Locals love this small stadium because it’s on the banks of the river and offers great views of the Centennial Bridge. There’s also a Ferris wheel, a carousel, and a kid-sized roller coaster to enjoy.
Centennial Park is adjacent to Modern Woodsmen Park; unlike West Lake Park, this municipal park is, in fact, on the shores of the Mississippi and it is just west of the Centennial Bridge.
This community park is a 250-acre green space with riverfront trails, picnic tables, benches, gazebos, a skatepark, and a dog park, and it’s a great place to simply relax or get up-close-and-personal with the river.
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Village of East Davenport
The Village of East Davenport, also known as Davenport Village or simply The Village, is this city’s historic district. It’s located on the southeast side of town on the bank of the Mississippi River; it was listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
The area covers several blocks and includes 145 historic buildings. Most are residential, but you can also view and enjoy the former Kuehl Hotel, the former Pierce School, the Village Market Place, Hose Station No. 4, many old shops, several parks, and more.
Step back in time in this neighborhood and get a feel for what Davenport was like in its early days!
Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Cathedral Complex
There are 193 Roman Catholic cathedrals in the United States and some people try to visit them all. The Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport opened in 1891 and is exceptionally beautiful inside and out.
It’s located high on a bluff overlooking the river to the east of the downtown Davenport area in an area that was settled by Irish immigrants and it can be seen from many places in town. A pipe organ fills the back of the cathedral and anyone who appreciates stained glass art will be impressed by the cathedral’s windows.
Stop by and visit; even if you’re not Catholic you’ll be amazed by the beauty of this structure.
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The Palmer Family Home & Museum
You may have not heard the name Bartlett Joshua Palmer before, but the people of Davenport are quite familiar with the life and work of this man. If you’ve ever found relief for pain by visiting a chiropractor, you have this man to thank.
It was his father, Daniel David Palmer who first established the practice of chiropractic, but it was B.J. who convinced his father to establish a school of chiropractic here, which led to the growth and spread of this type of care.
Today, many students interested in learning to be chiropractors come to Davenport from all over the United States and the world to study at the Palmer College of Chiropractic which was established in 1897.
You can visit this school as well as the Palmer Family Residence nearby; tours of the main floor of the family’s mansion are offered daily. Further, you can also visit the nearby Palmer Family and Chiropractic History Museum to learn more about this family, their history, and the art of chiropractic care.
You can stay right nearby at the well-rated Hotel Blackhawk and be near everything in this great Davenport accommodation!
Freight House Farmers Market
A farmers’ market is a great way to learn more about any area that you visit and the Freight House Farmers’ Market is one of the biggest and best that you’ll find anywhere in this country.
Over 200 vendors show up for this market weekly year-round, and customers can try and buy all sorts of fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and artisanal food products. There’s no way you’re walking out of this market without a bag of goodies that you just couldn’t resist, so bring your wallet and bring your appetite when you explore this market one weekend!
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Abernathy’s is a cool little shop in downtown Davenport that sells vintage and handmade goods. It’s a bit unique and it isn’t for everyone, but if you like supporting small niche businesses, you’ll likely find something strange and beautiful to bring home for yourself or as a gift for someone else.
SIS International Shop
SIS International Shop won’t provide you with many Davenport-specific gifts; rather, this shop is a shop that offers beautiful and varied items from all over the globe with a focus on fair trade.
You can shop here with good conscience and the knowledge that all of the products for sale were sourced ethically and sustainably and that the producers of the goods were compensated fairly. There’s something for everyone in this gift shop.
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Do you love chocolate? Most people do. This family-owned chocolate shop has been serving up tasty treats for over two decades!
They offer tours of their factory that include samples, but if that’s not enough, you can spend some time filling your shopping cart with toffee, caramels, creams, truffles, and more. The selection is always changing, so if you visit Davenport often, head on back to Chocolate Manor for more, time and time again.
Analog Arcade Bar
Arcade bars are always a good time. Analog Arcade Bar is full of vintage video games and pinball machines that will help you while away the hours any afternoon or evening. Have a beer or a signature cocktail and relax in the lounge between games.
This bar doesn’t serve food but you’re welcome to have food delivered. It’s all fun and games, but sadly you can’t bring your kids – this establishment is 21+ only. There’s also another location across the river in Moline if you want to check that out too.
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Have a Local Drink
Visits to Wide River Winery and Bootleg Hill Honey Meads are a wonderful pairing for people who enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages and are interested in learning about how they are made.
These two businesses are not related in any way other than the fact that they provide tasty beverages and production information to interested parties.
Wide River Winery is in the Village of East Davenport and offers wine and small plates. Bootleg Hill Honey Meads is just four minutes away by car and makes mead on site. Try both, but take it easy – these two beverages don’t mix well for some!
The Adler Theatre was built over ninety years ago in 1931; it was first known as the RKO Orpheum Theater.
This historic theatre is on the first floor of the former Hotel Mississippi which today has been converted into apartments. Both properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the Adler Theatre is host to a wide variety of events including comedy, musicals, concerts, TEDx Davenport, and the Miss Iowa pageant.
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The Quad Cities Symphony Orchestra
The Quad Cities Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1915 and is one of the longest-established, continuously operating orchestral associations in the USA.
The orchestra performs about twenty times each year, but in addition to performances, it also offers educational opportunities to the city’s youth, including a Youth Symphony Orchestra program.
River Music Experience
The River Music Experience is housed on the first two floors of the historic Redstone Building downtown. This organization aims to promote live, local music and to connect people to it through performances in its performance spaces.
The River Music Experience hosts over 150 performances per year in its first-floor coffee shop, the RME Cafe, and on its second-floor community stage, The Redstone Room. Stop by and check out some live and local performers doing their thing.
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Rhythm City Casino Resort
The Rhythm City Casino Resort is on the outskirts of town near I-80. If you like to gamble, then you’ll love this small casino and hotel.
It’s open twenty-four hours a day, so if you’re looking for some late-night fun, you can check this place out after everything else has shut down for the night. You can book a room here if you want to stay overnight; it’s a great choice among Davenport hotels! Also, many events in Davenport are held here – check out their calendar.
This pedestrian bridge crosses over Highway 67/River Drive and offers great views of the city, the river, Centennial Bridge, and Rock Island across the way.
It was built in 2005 and is 575 feet long and 50 feet tall. It’s lit up at night with ever-changing colors so that’s a great time to give it a go. It’s one of the Davenport things to do that should not be missed!
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Michael’s Fun World
Michael’s Fun World is near the intersection of Route 61 and I-80 so it’s a bit of a drive from downtown Davenport, but it’s worth the trip if you’re with some youngsters.
This kid-friendly attraction is a year-round amusement park with mini-golf, go-karts, video games, laser tag, batting cages, and more. It’s fun for the whole family.
Before You Go to Davenport, IA
Remember, it’s always wise to get travel insurance before you head out for any trip! World Nomads is a great provider, but if you don’t see what you want there, check out InsureMyTrip.com to see more options.
To visit Davenport by plane, you can fly into Chicago and then rent a car from RentalCars.com and drive from there. Or, you could fly into Quad City International Airport (MLI) in Moline for even easier access. Put both cities into Skyscanner and see what kind of deals you can find.
What is Davenport known for?
Davenport, Iowa is known for being one of the four Quad Cities on the Mississippi River. It’s a great place to visit and a great place to raise a family. It’s safe and the people are friendly and welcoming. You’ll love visiting Davenport.
What food is Davenport Iowa known for?
There are several foods you should try when visiting Davenport and the Quad Cities in general. Quad City-style pizza can’t be missed. It features dough made with malt, tomato sauce with red chili flakes and cayenne, sausage, and cheese.
Taco pizza is also popular here. Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Iowa without a giant pork tenderloin sandwich. These popular sandwiches have far more breaded and fried pork than the bun. Enjoy!