The largest of the Quad Cities, Davenport, Iowa, has much to offer visitors. Located halfway between Chicago and Des Moines, Iowa, it possesses a vibrant arts and culture scene that mixes well with its industrial past. While recent flooding took its toll near the riverfront, the town is on the rebound and ready for visitors once again.
From perusing museums to shopping, wandering historic neighborhoods, and exploring the Mississippi riverfront, there’s something for everyone in this charming Midwestern city.
Here are a few of our favorite things to see, do, and experience in Davenport.
Explore The Historic Riverfront
Perhaps the best introduction to Davenport is a stroll down the riverfront that helped put the city on the map.
A great place to start your stroll is Lindsay Park. This 31-acre expanse borders the Village of East Davenport, which is worth a closer look for its shops and cafes. The paved trail will take you by some of the park’s best amenities, including its playgrounds, historic firehouse, and yacht club. It meanders along the mighty Mississippi, offering beautiful views and perfect places to picnic.
Centennial Park, a larger green space closer to downtown, is another scenic stretch worth visiting. In the summer, it’s a bustling area with a splash park; it’s also home to Modern Woodmen Park, a minor league baseball field where the Quad Cities River Bandits play.
Take In The Art At The Figge
You can’t miss the Figge Art Museum. The eye-catching glass building sits on the banks of the Mississippi in downtown Davenport.
The museum first opened in 1925 as the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery; it was run by the city until 2005, when a major gift allowed it to construct and open its new building, plus transfer care of its permanent collection to a nonprofit organization.
The Figge features artwork from around the world, spanning six centuries. Revolving special exhibits include works by contemporary artists. This special spot is an absolute gem and well worth your precious vacation time.
Admission costs $10 for adults. The Figge is open Tuesday through Sunday, and there are evening hours every Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Stop To Smell The Roses
Head just north of downtown Davenport for a true Victorian-era experience.
The Vander Veer Botanical Park was founded in 1885 and modeled after New York’s Central Park. Vander Veer is a favorite venue for weddings and parties, and after a stop here, you’ll see why.
The gorgeous green space features a historic rose garden, a children’s garden with sculptures, an indoor conservatory that routinely hosts flower shows, and a duck pond. Each season brings new delights: early spring bulbs, flowering shrubs in the summer, leaves ablaze in the autumn, and holiday decor and a poinsettia display in the winter.
Admission is free, and the park is open daily.
Channel Your Inner Science Guy (Or Gal)
The Putnam Museum, northwest of downtown, is one of the most interesting spots in Davenport.
Founded as one of the first museums west of the Mississippi more than 150 years ago, the Putnam has evolved into a premier Midwestern science center, with hands-on exhibits related to science, history, and the natural world for visitors of all ages to enjoy.
Its Black Earth/Big River exhibit takes a fascinating look at the natural habitats of the Quad Cities; it features a large aquarium that houses native fish and reptiles. There’s also an IMAX theater on-site, which offers a fantastic 3-D movie experience.
The Putnam is open seven days a week; adult admission costs $9.
Learn About Davenport’s History
To learn about the immigrants who settled in Davenport, plan to visit the German American Heritage Center & Museum.
Housed in a historic hotel where German immigrants once stayed when they arrived in Davenport, this museum chronicles and explores their experience. Visitors will see how the group helped shape much of the Midwest. The museum features hands-on exhibits that help visitors better connect with and understand the immigrant journey to America.
The museum is open every day but Monday, and admission costs $5 for adults.
Take A Step Back In Time
To get an inside look at one of Davenport’s most eclectic homes, head to the Palmer Family Residence, located on the campus of the Palmer College of Chiropractic.
The grand residence, built in 1874, was home to B. J. and Mabel Palmer and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. B. J. Palmer’s father founded the chiropractic college that still bears the family name; he and Mabel loved to travel and bring home souvenirs from their adventures abroad. While much of their extensive collection was donated to the Putnam after their deaths, visitors can still see a large number of fantastic artifacts from Europe and Asia during tours of the mansion every Friday morning (or by appointment).
The tour costs $5 per person, and it lasts about an hour.
Go Bowling In A Basement
One of the most impressive, historic, and luxe places to stay in Davenport is the Hotel Blackhawk.
This brick-and-terra-cotta building was constructed in 1915 and has hosted celebrities from Babe Ruth and Tony Bennett to Hollywood legend Cary Grant. Grant fell ill in his suite here just before he was set to perform at the nearby Adler Theatre; he passed away at a nearby hospital.
After a long period of neglect, the Blackhawk was restored to its former glory in 2010, and the attention to detail is obvious once you step into the lobby, with its marble floors and gorgeous ceiling murals.
While staying, dining, and enjoying the spa here are all terrific treats, we especially loved the basement bowling alley, with its elevated pub grub and full-service bar. It’s the perfect place to really have some fun during your Davenport visit.
Find Your Groove At Bix Fest
If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting Davenport during the first weekend of August, you’re in for a real musical treat. That’s when the annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival (or Bix Fest) takes place downtown.
Named for the famous jazz cornet player who was born in Davenport in 1903, the four-day event draws enormous crowds and features a dazzling array of free concerts, jam sessions, and parties, all celebrating Bix’s life, career, and preferred genre of jazz.
People come from across the country for this festival, so if you’re considering a visit at this time, be sure to book your accommodations well in advance!
Eating In Davenport
Whether you’re in the mood for a small bite, a brewery stop, or a home-cooked sort of meal, Davenport has you covered. In addition to the delicious food, there’s another big bonus: Most establishments have gorgeous views of the mighty Mississippi, and during the warmer months, the patio scene is stellar!
Front Street Brewery is the oldest brewpub in Iowa (it opened in 1992). The beer list includes both lighter ales and darker porters and stouts, with taps rotating seasonally.
The Machine Shed is a Davenport classic that opened on the outskirts of town in 1978. While there are now six locations throughout the Midwest, the original is still a favorite with the locals in Davenport. From a hearty breakfast (check out the skillets!) to lunch and dinner, expect excellent comfort food here throughout the day.
Me & Billy, a kitchen and bar located downtown, serves up curated, seasonal cocktails alongside tasty noshes in a casual, classic setting.
For an elevated foodie experience, head to the Bix Bistro at the Blackhawk. This spot is famous for its Sunday brunch and adjacent lounge, which routinely features live jazz.
Shopping In Davenport
Sure, there’s mall shopping here, but for a charming, small-business experience, head to Davenport’s central neighborhoods.
The Freight House Farmers Market is held on weekends on the riverfront, bringing together dozens of farmers and vendors from across Iowa and Illinois. You’ll find a wide range of organic produce, baked goods, honey, and even craft items.
Head to East Davenport for a variety of boutiques offering clothing, jewelry, home goods, and accessories.
The Bucktown Artists’ Market, located in the Bucktown Center for the Arts, includes more than a dozen shops and studios offering one-of-a-kind, handcrafted works of art in all sorts of media.
Urban Farmhouse, located downtown, offers everything from candles to cozy blankets and throw pillows, all designed to make your home a happier, more comfortable place.
And to satisfy that sweet tooth, plan to stop at the Chocolate Manor. Located just south of the Adler Theatre, this local sweet shop creates confections including toffees, turtles, truffles, and chocolate-covered bacon that can be enjoyed in the shop or beautifully boxed to take home.