What to Do in Des Moines

Des Moines is the vibrant state capital of Iowa. With a unique blend of the old and the new, there is a multitude of attractions to keep visitors entertained. From historical landmarks like the old State Capitol building to the quirky Pappajohn Sculpture Park, there are hidden gems to explore around every corner. As if you need any other excuse to visit this amazing city, Des Moines is even home to the ‘Greatest Store in the Universe’!


01State Capitol

state capitol des moines DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

The most iconic building in Des Moines has to be the State Capitol building. Its shiny 23-carat gold leaf dome is a sight to behold and is clearly seen from many points across the city. Dating from the 1880s, the State Capitol is a stunning example of 19th-century architecture. Inside, you will find many decorative features, including intricate stone carvings and marble work, as well as impressive collections of art. If you want to learn about the history of Des Moines and Iowa, don’t miss the opportunity to visit this fascinating landmark.


02Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Downtown Des Moines is where you will find John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. This 4.4-acre park hosts a privately owned collection of 28 sculptures by well-known artists. Take a gentle stroll and see the giant ‘Spider,’ ‘Thinker on a Rock,’ the ‘White Ghost,’ and the huge ‘Pumpkin.’ If you need a break, why not take a seat at the ‘Seating for Eight and Café Table.’ Stainless steel Nomade sculpture by Jaume Plensa in Pappajohn Sculpture Park

03Des Moines Art Center

If you are interested in art, Des Moines Art Center is for you. This art-deco style building houses a large collection of modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures. Works by celebrated artists including Rodin, Matisse, Monet, and Warhol are on permanent display. The center also hosts temporary exhibitions and collections throughout the year from local and nationally renowned artists. Wanting to bring art to the masses, Des Moines Art Center is free for all visitors. Des Moines Iowa skyline and public park in USA

04Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens

des moines botanical gardens Martin Wahlborg / Getty Images

Escape from the city for a few hours and visit the beautiful Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens. The area has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a greenhouse back in 1939. Today, the gardens encompass 14-acres and are home to 1,200 plants and flowers. Highlights include collections of amaryllis, orchids, and bonsai. Events and workshops are hosted throughout the year to educate people on the native plants of the region. Whether taking part in a class or here to see the blooms, Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens will leave you spellbound.


05East Village

east village des moines raygun beklaus / Getty Images

Des Moines’s most diverse and vibrant district is East Village. It’s a historic area where you will find the State Capitol and Iowa State Historical Museum as well as many other buildings listed on the US National Register of Historic Places. East Village is also home to some of the finest restaurants, bars, and nightclubs Des Moines has to offer. The outstanding shopping in the district is topped off with Raygun, the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest Store in the Universe.’ From t-shirts to cutting boards, they sell everything you want and things you didn’t even know you needed! Put on your walking shoes and spend some time getting to know East Village.


06State Historical Museum

Des Moines skyline accros frozen Des Moines River benkrut / Getty Images

Discover the rich heritage of Iowa at the State Historical Museum. The galleries are full of antiques, artifacts, and ancient manuscripts, offering an intriguing insight into the story of Des Moines and its growth and development over the years. Learn the history of Des Moines and the wider region from the time of its earliest settlers. You can also explore Iowa’s involvement and influence on the silver screen, from the early 1900s to the Hollywood blockbusters of today.


07Salisbury House & Gardens

salisbury house gardens stockcam / Getty Images

One of the top places to visit in Des Moines has to be Salisbury House. Built in the 1920s, this glamorous mansion and its ornate botanical gardens are styled on the famous 15th century Kings House in Salisbury, England. Old materials were used to create this impressive home such as English oak woodwork and rafters dating back to Shakespearean times. With historical documents, books, antiques, fine art, and musical instruments, Salisbury House has plenty for you to discover.


08Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa is an educational experience which is full of fun for all the family. Many of the science-based exhibits and galleries are interactive for hands-on learning. The planetarium lets you gaze upon the night sky while the six-story dome-shaped IMAX Theater shows films to educate children and adults alike. The Science Center is a great place to spend the day learning about the world around you. Science Center of Iowa.

09Downtown Farmers' Market

farmer's market Photo by Anne Preble on Unsplash

If you want to experience the bustle of Des Moines, look no further than the Downtown Farmers’ Market. Held every Saturday between May and November, the market has been bringing rural and urban communities together for 40 years. Three hundred bakers, farmers, and artists display their wares from fresh meats, cheeses, and vegetables to unique arts and crafts. Sample some of the excellent street food while enjoying the entertainment provided by musicians and street performers.


10Blank Park Zoo

blank park zoo des moines patrick8484 / Getty Images

Starting life as a children’s zoo in 1966, the 25-acre Blank Park Zoo is today dedicated to educating people on environmental and conservation issues. The zoo is home to a huge variety of animal species’ from across the world. See colorful birds in the Free Range Aviary, stroll along the African Boardwalk, wonder at the creatures of the deep in the Aquarium of the Discovery Center, and enjoy an Australia Adventure with koalas and kangaroos. Blank Park Zoo is a day out not to be missed.

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