The Amana Colonies are seven scenic villages located in southeastern Iowa. This community has German roots, and that shows in its wine, food, architecture, and handcrafted products. Each colony offers something special and an opportunity for you to try something new, whether it’s quilting, visiting vineyards, or antiquing.
The Amana Colonies are a short drive north of Interstate 80 in Iowa City and about 30 miles west of Cedar Rapids off of Interstate 380. The area would make a great weekend trip from Chicago, Milwaukee, or Saint Louis. Highway 220 is a 17-mile loop that connects the seven villages. Gas stations are not available in every town, so plan accordingly.
Here are eight charming experiences you’ll find in the Amana Colonies.
The German word gemutlichkeit perfectly sums up the Amana Colonies experience. It's a difficult word to pronounce, and it cannot be translated with complete accuracy from German to English. The word connotes warmth, friendliness, and hospitality. It also signifies coziness, belonging, peace of mind, and social acceptance.
In short, it describes the Amana Colonies, where life slows down and you can relax in a safe, peaceful place. In the grand scheme of things, you are close to a large metropolitan area, but it feels very far away. The people of the Amana Colonies pride themselves on the fact that they serve up gemutlichkeit every single day, and they want you to come and visit to experience it.
2. The Quilt Shops
If you are fascinated by the art of quilting, you will appreciate all that Heritage Designs Quilting & Needlework has to offer. You will find this shop in the middle of Amana. Look for the old granary -- it was built back in 1895. The renovated quilt shop offers thousands of fabrics to choose from, and visitors will leave the store inspired to create something beautiful of their own. The shop is handicap accessible, and everyone is welcome. This is a top-tier quilt shop and has a reputation for offering the best of the best.
More than 5,000 bolts of fabric await at Fern Hill Gifts and Quilts in South Amana. You’ll find them on all three floors in the original South Amana General Store. Antiques, gifts, and fudge are also available, so you could easily spend several hours browsing. If you are like me, a day looking at fabrics in a small village in the heart of America sounds like the perfect day.
Antiquing is something that many people enjoy in the Amana Colonies. There are several antique shops to explore throughout the villages. Amana Colonies Antiques is located on Main Street in Amana, just across from the visitor center. The fun thing about this shop is that it is located in an original Amana communal kitchen. Within its seven different areas, you will surely find a treasure to claim as your own. From vintage paper, quilts, and paintings to old toys and kitchen goods, there is truly something for everyone.
4. The Wineries
The Village Winery and Gift Gallery is home to more than a dozen varieties of fruit wines. Enjoy a glass of wine, and be sure to explore the gift shop, where you’ll find collectibles such as Hummel figurines and more. You can also browse the work of local artisans.
Fireside Winery is located just a few minutes from the Amana Colonies and is home to acres of grapevines. As you stroll through the vineyards, you’ll feel as though you were in Napa Valley. Live music, wine tastings, and seasonal events are regularly offered at the winery. Summer is an exceptional time to visit Iowa, with its wildflowers and pleasantly warm days. When you spend a summer evening at Fireside Winery, you’ll feel like you have arrived in paradise.
5. The Craftsmanship
The smell of wood is something you’ll encounter in many places in the Amana Colonies. This area is known for its quality handcrafted goods.
Schanz Furniture & Refinishing in South Amana specializes in new furniture. Handcrafted furniture of the finest quality is what you will find here. They also specialize in repairing and refinishing old furniture -- a lost art in our world today. If you cannot find the style of furniture that you would like to purchase, there's a good chance the in-house artisans can create your dream furniture for you.
Explore AJ's Copper Garden in Homestead for fun inspiration for your yard and garden. The studio and art gallery are housed in the renovated historic Homestead Cafe and gas station. Every metal sculpture is cut and finished by hand. It's fun to see the historic buildings being used to showcase something fun and inspiring.
6. The Historic Accommodations
Hotel Millwright is the newest renovated lodging in the heart of the Amana Colonies, with 65 guest rooms and two premier suites designed with sustainability in mind. It has permeable paver streetscapes for stormwater runoff filtration and 100 percent green electricity provided by the Amana Farms methane digester. It’s the perfect choice for anyone wanting a relaxing getaway, and it’s also rich in history -- it was once home to Iowa's only remaining textile mill. Each room is full of the area’s trademark handcrafted goods. The Craftsman Suite, Tapestry Suite, and King Studio offer cozy beds, unique artwork, and crisp white linens.
The Die Heimat Country Inn in the village of Homestead will charm you with its location along the banks of the Iowa River. While the property is historic and charming, it boasts all of the amenities and comforts that you would expect from the 21st century. Its 15 rooms all feature private baths, and each morning, guests receive a homemade, hot breakfast.
7. The Henry Moore Barn Museum
Mini-Americana at the Henry Moore Barn Museum is the most extensive known collection of miniature replicas built by one man, the woodworker Henry Moore. People of all ages will enjoy this fun display highlighting life in small-town Iowa. But the Barn Museum doesn’t just provide a history lesson -- it's also an outstanding display of Amana Colonies craftsmanship. Imagine yourself on Main Street in one of the Amana Colonies, viewing this fun replica and stepping back in time.
There is a small fee to visit, and the museum is handicap accessible.
8. The High Amana General Store
The High Amana General Store is unique in that the exterior and interior have remained virtually unchanged since the communal days of 1857. You will want to look up when you enter to view the original tin ceiling, and the building also boasts its original wooden floor. Here, you’ll find trinkets, collectibles, and all kinds of treasures in the original glass-topped display cases. Plan to spend a fair amount of time in this store, since there is a lot of history on display and plenty of items to browse. This is also a great place to pick up some food items for a picnic.
What To Know Before You Go
These charming experiences are sure to brighten your day in one way or another. Each experience brings something unique. The people that reside in this place take extreme pride in their crafts, especially their handmade works of art. Keep an eye out for beautiful woodwork and delightful baked goods.
As you explore the Amana Colonies, make time to slow down and allow yourself to be immersed in the culture that this community offers. You will not find stoplights, fast-food restaurants, or large billboards in any of these towns. You will, however, find people ready to welcome you into their community and to share their passions with you.
I hope you will leave with great memories of the Amana Colonies. One of my fondest memories as a child was dining at the Ox Yoke Inn with my extended family. It was a treat to eat at a large table and be served family-style. Arrive hungry, since you can be sure that you’ll leave full of good wine, chocolates, pie, and lots of hearty food.