A Day in Des Moines: The Top Unique Things to Do in Des Moines

by Julia on March 25, 2019

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Are you looking to spend some time in Des Moines? What should you do there? Read on to learn about unique things to do in Des Moines.

You’ll find something for everyone in Des Moines.

As Iowa’s capital state, Des Moines invites you to explore, discover and adventure. The city is warm and welcoming, and a mixture of old and new.

To help you experience everything on offer, we’ve put together our top things to do in Des Moines.


High Trestle Trail

This outdoors multi-use trail is beautiful, scenic, and well worth a visit.

Running for 25 miles through five towns, the High Trestle Trail used to be a railway line. It’s now mostly smooth and flat, perfect for cycling, running or walking.

Most visitors head to the iconic High Trestle Trail Bridge. It’s half a mile long 13-stories high, stretching across the Des Moines River valley. As one of the largest trail bridges in the world, it’s a must-see.

Check out the bridge after sundown. Blue lights shine on the steel frame of the bridge, representing the main river channel running below.

Climb Iowa

Located in the East Village area of Des Moines, Climb Iowa has 3,000 square feet of bouldering with over 100 problems. A brilliant way to challenge yourself and see how far you can go.


Challenge yourself to Breakout’s adrenaline-pumping and heart-racing escape rooms. Yourself and your friends will have 60 minutes to follow clues, crack codes and solve puzzles. Will you make it out in time?

Each room follows a unique storyline, so choose your favourite and try to get out of there. How about the Island Escape escape room? On a tropical island, you awake to the sounds of a volcano coming to life. Find the keys to safety before the lava reaches shore.

Blank Park Zoo

Blank Park Zoo is home to animals from all over the world, from koalas and kangaroos to penguins and pandas. Get to know creatures from all over the world in the zoo exhibits, including the Aquarium, African Broadwalk, Australian Adventure, and the Cave.

As the only accredited zoo in the state, this 25-acre zoo focuses on preservation and conservation. A great day out, no matter how young or old you are.

Smash Park

This is the perfect place to head for some food, drinks and games. Smash Park is the city’s social entertainment and events venue, offering delicious street food and hand-crafted cocktails. With games including shuffleboard, pickleball, ping pong and bocce ball, you definitely won’t be bored!

Top tip

If you love activity holidays, check out our adventure tours.


Des Moines Art Center

Founded in 1948, Des Moines Art Center is home to modern art, paintings and sculptures. The permanent collection includes pieces by renowned artists including Matisse, Monet, Rodin, and more. The main gallery houses a range of temporary exhibits.

The building is hard to miss; it’s an impressive mixture of Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture styles. Outside, you’ll find a beautiful rose garden and outdoor sculptures.

Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Part of Des Moines Art Center, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park includes over 20 sculptures by well-known artists. Explore the 4.4-acre park and discover these works of art, donated by John and Mary Pappajohn.

Des Moines Performing Arts

This non-profit organization owns and operates the Des Moines Civil Center, with 2,735 seats. The organisation presents world-class productions including the Willis Broadway Series and The Dance Series.

The perfect place for a date night in the city.

Salisbury House and Gardens

This historic 1920s stone mansion and botanical garden is another romantic destination in Des Moines. It was built by Carl and Edith Weeks after they’d visited a 15th century Kings House in England.

Inside you’ll find an art museum, library, and concert venue.

The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

Here you’ll find a stunning 14-acre botanic garden on the east bank of the Des Moines River.

It began as a city greenhouse in 1939 and has since grown. The beautiful botanical garden as we see it today opened in 1979.

It is home to more than 1,200 different types of plants, and its mission is to celebrate and explain this world.


East Village

The East Village is a vibrant, diverse and historic area of Des Moines that can’t be missed. It is a residential and commercial district that includes many of the city’s historical landmarks.

In 2000, several buildings were scheduled to be demolished in the East Village area. Citizens stepped in and saved the buildings. Many are now used as restaurants, shops, and housing.

The State Capitol

The 23-carat gold-domed capitol is a tourist favourite.

Built between 1871 and 1886, the building is the only five-domed capitol in the country and offers panoramic views of downtown Des Moines.

The State Capitol is the seat of the Iowa General Assembly and includes governor’s offices, legislature and the old Supreme Court room. You can take a free tour, or explore yourself.

Terrace Hill

This 18,000 square foot mansion, including a 90-foot tower overlooking downtown Des Moines, is the official residence of the Governor of Iowa.

It was built in 1869 in the Second Empire style of architecture. It became a US National Historic Landmark in 2003.

State Historical Museum

Iowa’s museum exhibits document and artefacts that show the growth of the state. We recommend the collection tour; a fascinating one-hour walking tour that shows how the museum takes care of its large collection of artefacts.


Downtown Farmers’ Market

The Farmers’ Market has been an iconic feature of downtown Des Moines for over 40 years.

More than 300 artists, crafters, bakers and farmers come from over 58 counties. You’ll find everything from fruit and vegetables to flowers and art.

Check out the Farmers’ Market program for market dates.

Outlet of Des Moines

You’ll find some of the nation’s best names in retail, and best deals, at Des Moines newest shopping destination.

Things To Do In Des Moines

There are plenty of things to do in Des Moines, a truly unique city to visit. Iowa’s capital has everything — outdoor activities in breathtaking nature; fun and games to keep you entertained; art, history and culture to immerse yourself in; and shopping to suit any needs.

While you’re exploring Iowa, check out our United States of America Travel Guide to see what else the USA has to offer.

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