Admire beautiful buildings and indulge in boutique shopping in Iowa’s capital city, which is also close to hiking trails and adventure parks.
Known for its beautiful State Capitol Building and as the host of the annual Iowa State Fair, Des Moines is also home to popular hiking trails, a zoo and a huge botanical garden.
Many of the city’s attractions are in the East Village, a historic area on the east side of the Des Moines River. Start out at the State Capitol Building, a grand three-story 19th-century building. Its dome is gilded with thin sheets of gold and its peak is 275-feet (84 meters) high. You’ll need to phone ahead to book the free guided tour; find contact details on the Iowa Legislature website.
Just a 10 minute-walk from the capitol is the the State of Iowa Historical Museum, which has free admission, parking and family-friendly activities. Much of Iowa’s history is documented at the museum, from the earliest days of the Native Americans through to the pioneers and, more recently, military troops. See vintage aircraft, fossils, a simulated coal mine and the complete skeleton of a 12-foot mammoth, believed to have died 15,000 years ago.
Head to the riverside to find the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. Here, you can see more than 15,000 plants, one of the largest collections in the Midwest. There is a fee for entry but check the website as the garden offers a number of free days each year. At the Blank Park Zoo, enjoy more than 49 acres (20 hectares) dedicated to 104 animal species including red pandas, lions and giraffes.
Don’t leave Des Moines without exploring the East Village shopping and dining scene. You’ll find plenty of bars, specialty stores and cute cafés.
Getting around Des Moines is easy. The free D-Line Trolley will take you to major downtown attractions. Use the Des Moines Skyway System, more than 4 miles (6 kilometers) of enclosed walkways, to get around on foot. To cover a greater area, subscribe to the bike-sharing facility, B-cycle. If you are driving, there is user-pay parking in the downtown area, with free street parking on weekends.