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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Iowa City: Iowa’s ‘Best Small Town’

Iowa City at a Glance

Location: Iowa City, Iowa

Access: At the crossroads of interstates 80 and 380; Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids; Quad City International Airport in Moline

Major Meeting Spaces: Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, Graduate Iowa City, Hilton Garden Inn, Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center

Hotel Rooms: 755

Off-site Meeting Spaces: Old Brick, Big Grove Brewery, Old Capitol Museum, Kinnick Arena, Merge coworking space, Museum of Natural History, Vue

Contact: Think Iowa City


Locals like to call Iowa City the “Best Small Town in Iowa.” Meeting groups that convene there in the summer will quickly understand why.

“We have a lot of community events like the arts fest in June,” said Nick Pfeiffer, vice president of marketing and communications at Think Iowa City. “That includes one of the best jazz festivals in the country in July, free s’mores on Saturday nights and free Friday concerts.”

The walkable downtown area is home to historic buildings that make unusual venues for meetings, plus newer spaces like Vue, which offers a glass-paneled rooftop restaurant with a vista of the city. Its nightlife is overseen by the “Nighttime Mayor,” a unique position to promote the downtown area as a place that all visitors and residents, regardless of age, can experience and enjoy.

Iowa has a thriving cycling scene: There is a trail system with hundreds of miles of trails in Iowa City alone, and the area is a gateway to the recreation available at Coralville Lake and Hawkeye Wildlife Preserve. Additionally, the city has a concierge committee to welcome visitors.

“Our Community Concierges are locals, some of whom have lived here their whole lives, who volunteer at events as a resource for guests rather than a paper visitor’s guide,” said Pfeiffer. “Having a real person there is something you don’t find everywhere.”

Iowa City is the home of the University of Iowa, a Big 10 school, making it a destination for sports fans. But it’s also known for its literary traditions and hefty cultural offerings. Sporting events include NCAA basketball, football, swimming and wrestling, and its facilities draw youth sporting events, too. The university has a robust performance calendar at its 110-year-old theater and is home to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an internationally acclaimed writing program.

Iowa City’s central location to the Midwest’s major metropolitan areas, like Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Minneapolis, make it a convenient destination for meetings. It’s a half hour from the airport in Cedar Rapids and at the crossroads of interstates 80 and 380, making vehicular access easy.

Major Meeting Hotels

The Graduate Iowa City has spaces for up to 450, with a total of 15,000 square feet of space from the adjoining Hotel Vetro. The Coralville Marriott Hotel is the area’s largest conference center, with two ballrooms and 20 breakout rooms for a total of 60,000 square feet of configurable meeting space for up to 2,400 people. The Hilton Garden Inn features 3,000 square feet of banquet space for up to 220 guests, plus a rooftop bar and restaurant with downtown views. The Radisson Hotel and Conference Center Coralville can host up to 400 in its 6,500-square-foot flexible meeting space.

Unique Meeting Venues

At Kinnick Stadium, the Press Box space offers the McCord Indoor Club, the Mediacom Outdoor Club, the University of Iowa’s President’s Suite and the University of Iowa’s Athletic Director’s Suite. The University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame features an atrium, a terrace and conference and club rooms as meeting spaces. The Carver Hawkeye Arena is one of the 25 largest university-owned facilities in the country and, in 2011, underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation. The Johnson County Fairgrounds has two year-round event spaces and eight seasonal buildings. In 2020, the Xtream Arena and Fieldhouse will open, with seating for up to 6,000 and an attached hotel.

Creative Off-Site Venues

The Mill is a venue for live music and dining for up to 250. Old Brick, a former church, can hold 300. Big Grove Brewery and Taproom hosts events for up to 150. The Old Capitol Museum on the University of Iowa campus makes use of a former senate chamber for events, and at the Museum of Natural History, guests can hold meetings in the Bird, Iowa or Mammal halls. Merge, a coworking option on the pedestrian mall, offers meeting rooms and workspace. Vue, a rooftop restaurant, has a private dining space for up to 40, plus a ballroom.

 Team Building and Recreation

The University of Iowa’s Challenge Course is an obstacle and ropes course designed to enhance group problem solving. The Devonian Fossil Gorge is a unique park to explore acres of fossil beds. The Terry Trueblood Recreation Area has multiuse trails and rentals available for water activities like kayak or stand-up paddleboarding. The downtown Ped Mall is lined with restaurants, bars, boutiques, galleries, markets, public art and museums and is frequently used for public events. Cycling is very popular in Iowa, and groups can “Ride Your Own Adventure” on any of the riding itineraries on