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Top Activities in Des Moines

See all 13 things to do in Des Moines

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Des Moines Attractions

Victorian houses, outdoor sculpture, and tree-lined rivers set the stage in Iowa’s largest city, where you can find plenty of arts, culture, and nature in the relaxed setting of a classic Midwestern metropolis. The things to do in Des Moines reflect the city’s transformation from a frontier boom town into a modern crossroads, as stately museums share space with a working fairground, covered walkways link the convention centers and coffee shops, and attractions from studios to open-air galleries abound.

Things to Do in Des Moines with Kids

Vacationing with the youngsters? You'll find loads of activities and tours in Des Moines that'll keep your little adventurers entertained. Have a look at these family friendly experiences:

Areas & Neighborhoods in Des Moines

Downtown Des Moines

Home to most of the skyscrapers in the state of Iowa, Downtown Des Moines is a lively collection of hotels and event centers surrounded by restaurants and a well-served entertainment district. An extensive skywalk system links most of the area’s central buildings, while park benches and period street lamps line the sidewalks between jazz clubs and restaurants at street level.

East Village

Across the river from the skyscrapers of downtown Des Moines, the East Village packs a vibrant collection of specialty shops, attractions, and favorite hangouts. An outdoor theater stands along the waterfront, and the Iowa State Capitol stands on a hilltop park overlooking downtown and the river.

Drake

One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, Drake gets its name from the private college that’s anchored the area since 1881. Peaceful tree-lined roads dominate the scenery, but the concentration of college kids has encouraged a healthy collection of cafes, coffee shops, and diners among the historic homes.

What to See in Des Moines

The Des Moines and Raccoon rivers meet at the edge of downtown, making for miles of greenways, forests, and fields running through the city. Pedestrian trails lead you along the riverfront and across the water, and you can relax in the shade at the Arie Den Boer Arboretum and admire the sculptures at Pappajohn Sculpture Park. There’s plenty of elegant architecture around, from the golden dome of the State Capitol to the unique Second Empire design of the governor’s mansion at Terrace Hill and the Tudor-style manor of Salisbury House.

Sightseeing in Des Moines

Des Moines offers a showcase of nature at both the Blank Park Zoo and the immense indoor conservatory at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. For a deeper look at the past, visit the State of Iowa Historical Museum, which features a 15,000-year-old mammoth skeleton. See what the country looked like in the wild old days, and check out exhibits on the state’s history through pioneer times and into the 20th century.

Try your luck at the Quarter Horse racetrack of Prairie Meadows, a suburb of Des Moines, or check out the thrill rides and family attractions at Adventureland. Look back in time at Living History Farms, or make a stop at Jordan House, a Victorian mansion that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Free Things to Do in Des Moines

Touring on a shoestring budget in Des Moines? Spend time instead of money on fantastic experiences.

World Food Prize Hall of Laureates - Take the whole family and set out on an intriguing adventure through history with each other.

Sleepy Hollow Sports Park - Make this place one of your first ports of call for a bit of fun during your stay.

Drake University - This popular landmark is an unique backdrop for a selfie.

Walnut Street Bridge - If you'd love to explore the area's history through its landmarks, add this one to your travel schedule.

Valley Junction - Mingle with the locals and seek out the real character and charm of this special place.

Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge - Allow some time to look at this place of local importance.

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park - Prepare a picnic and enjoy a relaxing walk around the trees and shrubs.

Explore The Neighborhoods of Des Moines

Downtown Des Moines

The abundant dining options and live music are top of the list for many visitors to Downtown Des Moines. A stop by Wells Fargo Arena or Des Moines Civic Center might round out your trip.

SportsLive MusicBasketball

Historic East Village

Find beautiful government buildings, cultural attractions and a garden oasis in this older section of the city extending along a pretty riverfront. 

Live MusicTheatersDining

Greater South Side

While Greater South Side might not have many sights to explore, venturing just a little farther will lead you to top things to see and do like Air Lanes Bowling Center and Gray’s Lake Park.

Capitol Park

While Capitol Park isn't home to many top sights, Wells Fargo Arena and Iowa Events Center are some notable places to visit nearby.

Sherman Hill

If you're spending some time in Sherman Hill, Hoyt Sherman Place and The Wallace Centers of Iowa: Wallace House are top sights worth seeing.

Learn More About Des Moines | Blog

Ultimate Iowa State Fair Travel Guide

Everything you need to know before enjoying the Iowa State Fair

Jennifer Cuellar
Ultimate Iowa State Fair Travel Guide. Opens in a new window.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I not miss in Des Moines?

If you'd like to experience the best of this place, find time for these attractions in your itinerary:

  • Adventureland
  • Iowa State Fairgrounds
  • Blank Park Zoo
  • Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

What can you do in Des Moines for free?

You could put your money in the hotel safe for the day, because these fantastic attractions can be seen for nothing:

  • Iowa State Fairgrounds
  • Iowa State Capitol Building
  • Des Moines Art Center
  • Jordan Creek Town Center