Czech Village: Day Trip in a Quaint Historic Area

Mucha Meets Iowa, a mural by Ali Hval in Czech Village (Photo courtesy

Looking for a fun day trip in eastern Iowa? Check out Czech Village, a historic neighborhood in downtown Cedar Rapids. Home to the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML), which was moved to the top of a hill after the devastating flood of 2008, Czech Village draws visitors with its top-quality museum, funky boutiques, street art, vintage clothing stores, antique shops, and tasty eateries.

Views of Czech Village (photos by Megan D. Robinson)

The now-thriving neighborhood has been beautifully renovated following flood damage repairs. Many of the shops and alleyways are decorated with traditional folk-art stencils and murals, providing a culturally immersive experience. There is also a scenic trail along the river for walking or biking, offering beautiful views of the riverside scenery. The entire neighborhood provides many opportunities for Instagram-worthy photos.

Vintage Market

The crowning jewel of the neighborhood, the NCSML has gone through a series of changes. The museum started out as the Czech Fine Arts Foundation, which was established in 1974 by a group of second- and third-generation descendants of Czech immigrants to preserve and share their heritage and culture. The foundation’s growing artifact and document collection impelled them to create a museum in a three-room house in 1978. The collections were moved into a commercial building on the current campus in 1981, with the intention of making them permanently available to the public. But the popular museum’s growing collections required a larger space.

The current, much larger building opened to the public in 1995, with its dedication attended by U.S. President Bill Clinton, and presidents Václav Havel of the Czech Republic and Michal Kovác of the Slovak Republic.

Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in November of 2008, and a Smithsonian Affiliate since 2019, the NCSML has proved to be a popular and valuable cultural resource.

Unfortunately, the museum was built too close to the river, and the building suffered over $11 million in damages during the epic 2008 flood. After the artifacts and books were cleaned, repaired, and restored, the library and collections had temporary homes until the 1,500-ton museum could be moved out of the flood zone.

Currently hosting an exhibition of work by the famous Art Nouveau icon Alphonse Mucha, the NCSML has both rotating and permanent exhibitions. The permanent exhibitions celebrate the unique heritage of Czech and Slovak immigrants. Since many of these immigrant stories deal with escaping repressive regimes, these exhibitions are thought-provoking, and given the rise of fascism worldwide, frighteningly relevant.

One of the museum’s most popular exhibitions—a 19th-century immigrant house acquired in 1983—has been renovated and refurbished with period-specific art, furniture, and housewares, and can be toured during museum hours. The tour guides make viewing the house a fascinating experience.

Interior of Sweet Mercantile Soda Fountain (photo by Megan D. Robinson)

After touring the museum, be sure to explore Czech Village. Grab a bite to eat at one of the excellent restaurants, and pick up an ice cream cone at the vintage Sweet Mercantile Soda Fountain. Ogle the folk art and take some selfies standing against the angel-wing murals. Check out the eclectic range of shopping options: look for collectibles at Czech Village Antiques, pick up the Sasquatch tee-shirt you never knew you wanted from Vintage Market, and get some artisan soap from Indigo River & Co. Then enjoy a leisurely walk along the river before heading home.