Iowa’s largest cities harken back to the very beginnings of American history. Dubuque, Davenport and Sioux City got their start as riverboat towns, situated on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, while Des Moines and Cedar Rapids sit on smaller rivers. All five of these cities offer first-class meeting venues and lodging with plenty of entertainment, shopping, cultural and historic attractions to keep attendees engaged.
Sioux City is part of a larger tri-city metropolitan area that includes South Sioux City, Nebraska, and North Sioux City, South Dakota. On the Iowa side of the city, groups can visit The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the Sergeant Floyd Monument, which sits on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and commemorates the life of Charles Floyd, the only member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition who died on the upstream voyage in 1804.
Sioux City used to be known as Little Chicago, in part because notorious mobster Al Capone used to come to the city to meet his brother who worked in law enforcement. The brothers would meet in the basement of The Warrior Hotel, which is now part of the Marriott Autograph Collection. The historic hotel has 2,800 square feet of flexible meeting space and is minutes from the city’s downtown meeting venues.
The Siouxland Expo Center has 10,000 square feet of flexible space that can host events up to 1,500 people for trade shows and conventions. Sioux City Convention Center has 40,000 square feet of space and is connected to the Courtyard Sioux City Downtown/Convention Center hotel. For something a little more elegant, the Orpheum Theatre is available for rental, offering 1920s opulence and charm, reminiscent of its days as a 1920s vaudeville theater and moving picture house.
Sioux City has more than 2,400 guest rooms and 125,000 square feet of meeting space, which can host smaller groups or large conferences and trade shows.
Situated on the Mississippi River — at the junction of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin — Dubuque was first settled in 1785 by fur trader Julien Dubuque. Visitors to the area enjoy getting out on the water for a scenic cruise. The 750-passenger paddlewheel boat Celebration Belle has three levels offering entertainment and food options that can accommodate larger groups.
One of the most popular attractions in the city is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which was built as part of the redevelopment of Port Dubuque. The museum tells the story of the Mississippi River Valley, the settlers and Native Americans who made the area their home. It also relays Dubuque’s boat-building history and how the river helped drive commerce into the area.
The museum can host events up to 1,500 people, allowing attendees to explore the exhibits that feature animals found in and around the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The 40,000-gallon saltwater tank makes an awe-inspiring backdrop for any event.
The 86,000-square-foot Grand River Center is the largest meeting venue in Dubuque with a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall and a 12,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom for gatherings up to 1,000 people. The third-floor River Room has floor-to-ceiling windows and a large balcony overlooking the Mississippi Riverwalk, a trail that follows the river.
One of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest, Des Moines has plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment to keep meeting groups occupied during their free time. Groups can catch a baseball game at Principal Park on the Des Moines River. The stadium is home to a AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Smash Park offers street-style food and handcrafted cocktails and features the state’s largest patio and games like pickleball, shuffleboard, bocce ball, pingpong and cornhole.
Art lovers will want to visit John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, a 4.4-acre park with 30-plus works of art or stroll through the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden with its exotic plants, lush gardens and conservatory.
The Iowa Events Center offers 286,300 square feet of meeting and event space, with a 17,000-seat arena, 150,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 37 meeting rooms. The 330-room Hilton Des Moines Downtown has eight meeting rooms and a total of 10,032 square feet of meeting space.
The Iowa State Fairgrounds has 315,500 square feet of space, with 110,400 square feet in its largest space. It has 14 different meeting venues onsite. One of the newest venues in Des Moines, MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex, opened in fall of 2021. It is a sports and entertainment complex that encompasses 66 acres and offers 6,400 square feet of meeting space. It has an ice arena, indoor soccer field, basketball courts and an Esports Center with 30 water-cooled computers, six gaming consoles and lounge seating.
Downtown Davenport sits on the banks of the Mississippi River and is the largest city in the Quad Cities metro area, which includes cities in both Illinois and Iowa. The downtown area is full of fun local shops, craft breweries, museums, live music venues, historic and unique hotel properties, and a casino resort. LeClaire Park provides easy access to riverfront biking and walking trails.
The Quad Cities have more than 6,500 hotel rooms and 800,000 square feet of meeting space to choose from. Davenport itself has 431 downtown hotel rooms. The largest convention facility in Davenport is the RiverCenter, with 100,000 square feet of flexible space for meetings, conventions, trade shows, and sporting and special events. The convention complex is attached by skywalk to the 130-room Hotel Blackhawk, which has nearly 9,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 223-room DoubleTree by Hilton, which overlooks the river and has 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
Other convention hotels in Davenport include Rhythm City Casino Resort, Best Western Plus Steeplegate Inn, The Current Iowa, and Holiday Inn and Suites. Offsite meeting spaces include the Renwick Mansion, River Music Experience, Figge Art Museum, which overlooks the river, and the Rogalski Center at St. Ambrose University, which has a ballroom that can host groups of 500.
After hours, groups can engage in retro arcade fun at Analog Arcade Bar or get competitive at TBK Bank Sports Complex, which offers bowling, laser tag, escape rooms and an arcade. Celebration Belle offers dinner cruises and the QC Ale Trail offers a mini-pub crawl.
Cedar Rapids is home to the newest convention complex in the state of Iowa. The 267-room Doubletree by Hilton is connected to the Alliant Energy Powerhouse, a 68,822-square-foot meeting and event venue that can host events up to 10,000 guests. It has 20 meeting rooms, with the largest room covering 27,300 square feet. The complex is just two blocks away from the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and the Paramount Theatre.
The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, a AAA Four Diamond luxury boutique hotel, is attached to the city’s Culinary and Hospitality Arts Program. It has 19,000 square feet of venue space and comprehensive planning and catering services.
Unique venues include the National Czech and Slovak Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, and the Indian Creek Nature Center, which has a bird sanctuary, exhibits, trails and an outdoor theater. Groups can host farm-to-table dinners and outdoor receptions on the patio. The Paramount Theatre, which was built in the 1920s, hosts concerts, corporate meetings, Broadway shows and Orchestra Iowa performances.
Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery was named Distiller of the Year in 2017 by the American Distilling Institute for its craft spirits. The facility has indoor and outdoor meeting spaces. For fun, meeting attendees can visit Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, a hip, historic neighborhood connected by the Lion Bridge that crosses the Cedar River. The area is filled with unique dining, shopping, music and art.