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2024 Guide To The Best Museums In Iowa

From renowned art collections to immersive historical exhibits, Iowa has a rich cultural tapestry that is showcased in its museums. Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or a curious traveler seeking to delve into the stories that shaped this Midwestern state, these museums offer a treasure trove of experiences. In this blog post, I’ll highlight some of the top museums in Iowa and what makes each worth a visit.

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A family looks around an exhibit on Egypt at the Putnam Museum & Science Center in Davenport, Iowa

Iowa is home to a diverse range of museums that cater to a wide array of interests and passions. The state offers art museums like the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and the Des Moines Art Center, which showcase breathtaking collections spanning various artistic styles and periods. History buffs can explore museums such as the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, delving into the rich historical narratives of the region. 

STEM enthusiasts can enjoy the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines, while those interested in natural history can visit the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History in Iowa City. Iowa also boasts specialty museums like the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum in Waterloo and the Danish Immigrant Museum in Elk Horn, which celebrate specific aspects of the state’s heritage. Whether you’re drawn to art, history, science, or unique cultural themes, Iowa’s museums offer a remarkable range of experiences for visitors to explore and enjoy.

Awesome museums in eastern Iowa

Nestled along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and brimming with cultural riches, eastern Iowa offers a wealth of diverse and engaging museum experiences. From art enthusiasts to history aficionados and science lovers, the region beckons with an impressive collection of museums. 

Figge Art Museum 

225 W. Second St., Davenport, Iowa

The Figge Art Museum has permanent collections ranging from American to Haitian to European, and is home to the Grant Wood Archive and the fun Family Activity Center. Temporary art exhibitions are also on display, with several unique ones opening in the summer of 2023. Admission is reasonably priced, and there is a cafe located inside the museum.

Putnam Museum and Science Center

1717 W. 12th St., Davenport, Iowa

A large museum that blends science with hands-on children’s museum-type exhibits, Putnam Museum and Science Center is a must-visit while in the Quad Cities. It’s a large museum, so allow at least two to three hours. Highlights include the Unearthing Ancient Egypt and the highly-interactive Science Galleries.

Related story: More fun things to do in the Quad Cities

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

 350 E. Third St., Dubuque, Iowa

Dive deep into local history with a visit to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. Part aquarium, part museum, and part science center, this extraordinary space brings together a variety of exhibits and installations to share the integral role of the river in Dubuque’s history.

The attraction will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2023. Part of the celebration will include opening 12 new aquariums.

National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library 

1400 Inspiration Place SW, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Cedar Rapids has a vast Czech and Slovak heritage, and the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library explores the history and impact of the immigrants who arrived in the area. The museum has permanent exhibits and hosts traveling exhibits.

John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum

500 Westfield Ave., Waterloo, Iowa

There’s a lot to see at this museum in Waterloo, and luckily, it’s all free. Antique tractors and other artifacts are on display, and there are plenty of interactive exhibits to share the history of John Deere.

Grout Museum District

Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum & Grout Museum of History & Science, 503 South St., Waterloo, Iowa

The Grout Museum District is a complex of museums in Waterloo. The district includes: Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans MuseumGrout Museum of History and ScienceCarl A. & Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, and Rensselaer Russell House Museum.

Related post: Go beyond the museums and see what other great things you can do in Waterloo

University of Iowa Museum of Natural History

Macbride Hall, 17 N. Clinton St., Iowa City, Iowa

University of Iowa Museum of Natural History explores the natural and cultural world through exhibits, and just happens to be the second oldest museum in the U.S. west of the Mississippi. The museum features a ton of specimens, as their website likes to say “from Aardvark to Zebra.” And best of all — the museum is free to visit.

Amana Heritage Society Museum

705 44th Ave., Amana, Iowa

One of my favorite ways to learn more about the Amana Colonies is to simply walk around one of the towns, sample a few foods and drinks, and just learn through exploring. Of course, to really delve into the historical experience of Amana’s inhabitants, though, you’ll need to go to the Amana Heritage Society Museum. The museum is comprised of three buildings.

The museum’s collections cover the 1700s to present day, and pertain strictly to the history of Amana and its associated religious group (The Community of True Inspiration) in Germany and America. The main emphasis of the collection is on the communal period of Amana history (1855-1932). 

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

210 Parkside Drive, West Branch, Iowa

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is one of 15 presidential libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. The exhibits cover the life and times of Hoover from his birth, to his life as an engineer, Secretary of Commerce, President of the United States, and his post-presidential work.  

The library and museum are located on the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, so be sure to explore that as well. The site includes historic structures, like the Birthplace Cottage, the Blacksmith Shop, the Schoolhouse, and the Friends Meetinghouse.

Tip: The Sales Desk staff has a Scavenger Hunt for young visitors to play while in the galleries.

Pella Historical Village and Vermeer Windmill

Encompassing 22 buildings, the Pella Historical Village takes guests through more than a century of Pella history, starting in the 1840s. Highlights include the Werkplaats (wooden shoes are made); a bakery refurbished to look like an 1850s bakery; and the Heritage Hall, which houses antiques and costumes, as well as Goliath, an authentic Dutch street organ.

The Vermeer Windmill is one of the tallest working windmills in North America. Interestingly, it was built in the Netherlands, de-assembled, shipped to Iowa, and then re-assembled in Pella in 2002.

507 Franklin St., Pella, Iowa

Related post: Keep exploring the state’s museums, starting with these quirky museums in Iowa!

Top museums in central Iowa 

In Central Iowa, you’ll discover a vibrant blend of art, history, and culture. From the bustling capital city to charming towns and cities throughout the region, the region offers a diverse range of museum experiences. 

Inside the space exploration exhibit at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines

Science Center of Iowa

401 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, Des Moines, Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa is a hands-on museum in downtown Des Moines that offers a variety of interactive exhibits and demonstrations focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). It’s a great place to learn and have fun at the same time, plus there’s an IMAX there.

State Historical Museum of Iowa

600 E. Locust St., Des Moines, Iowa

The State Historical Museum of Iowa has a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits that highlight history from across the state including everything from information about early settlers to famous Iowans in Hollywood. Best of all, admission is free.

The Iowa Children’s Museum

The Iowa Children’s Museum is the ultimate space for young children to engage their imaginations. Its exhibits are all hands-on opportunities for children to learn. It’s learning through play at its finest.

Inside the Coral Ridge Mall, 1451 Coral Ridge Ave., Coralville, Iowa

Salisbury House & Gardens

Built in the 1920s and modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England, Salisbury House & Gardens is a historic gem. The Salisbury House contains detailing like English oak woodwork, flintwork and rafters dating back to Shakespeare’s time. Equally impressive is the family’s collection of original art, tapestries, rare books and antique furnishings. The house is open to the public for tours as well as a variety of public programs throughout the year.

4025 Tonawanda Drive, Des Moines, Iowa

Living History Farms

Explore 300 years of history in one place at Living History Farms in Urbandale. This unique attraction brings history to life through an interactive, 500-acre outdoor museum. Four distinct historic farms embody what Iowans experienced from the 1700s into the late 1800s. All of the farms are authentically farmed based on the time period they represent. The historical re-enactors bring it all to life.

11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale, Iowa

Des Moines Art Center

 Des Moines Art Center is the city’s contemporary art museum housed in three distinct buildings. The world-class museum features traveling exhibitions as well as an impressive permanent collection of art by some of the biggest names in the art world. 

4700 Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa

Best museums in western Iowa

From Sioux City to Council Bluffs, Western Iowa’s museums invite visitors to explore the stories, art, and unique experiences that make this region special. 

The exterior of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Union Pacific Railroad Museum

The Union Pacific Railroad Museum is housed in a beautiful Beaux Arts-style building that was once the Council Bluffs’ Carnegie Library. The museum explores railroading from its early days in the 19th Century to modern times. Many of the exhibits have interactive elements. The museum is free to visit, and occasionally hosts events for the public.

200 Pearl St., Council Bluffs, Iowa

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

900 Larsen Park Road, Sioux City, Iowa

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a gem of a historical attraction. It’s dedicated to the Lewis & Clark Expedition, featuring exhibits that delve into their journey and the impact they had on the development of the American West. The center is designed with families in mind and offers engaging, hands-on exhibits for all ages.

Danish Immigrant Museum

2212 Washington St,, Elk Horn, Iowa

Celebrating the Danish heritage of the area, The Danish Immigrant Museum explores the history of Danish immigration to America, showcasing artifacts, photographs, and exhibits that highlight Danish culture and traditions. Be sure to visit the towns of Elk Horn and nearby Kimballton, which also pay tribute to their citizens’ Danish heritage in little details.

Iowa’s cultural landscape is as diverse as it is captivating. From the vibrant art scenes in Des Moines and Davenport to the rich historical legacies of Council Bluffs and Sioux City, each museum offers a unique lens through which to explore Iowa’s past, present, and future. So, whether you’re a local looking to rediscover your roots or a visitor eager to uncover the hidden gems of the Hawkeye State, these museums provide a gateway to Iowa’s remarkable cultural heritage. 

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