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Iowa City or Cedar Rapids?

“Iowa City or Cedar Rapids?” is often the thought of recently graduated students from my alma mater, Coe College.

Many out-of-state students who have decided to live in Iowa post graduation struggle with this question as they compare the vibrant nightlife of Iowa City to the affordability of Cedar Rapids.  As I joyously announced my victory at securing cheap housing in Iowa City, many of my friends who currently live in Cedar Rapids voiced their envy at my proximity to “a city where there’s something to do.”

I fell in love with the heritage and culture in Cedar Rapids four years ago on my first visit to Zindrick’s, a restaurant in the Czech Village.  And as my love grew so did my  frustration.  I saw that many fellow college students were blind to the things CR offered and instead went straight to the bar scene in Iowa City.

I completely understood where they were coming from. In frustration, I used to say, “Name one place to go in Cedar Rapids,  after 11pm, that is not a bar.”

My answers resounded with echoes of Walmart and Perkins.

I made an effort to be familiar with Cedar Rapids and, over time, became a sort of tour guide for things college students and “young professionals” would be interested in.   And now, with moving to Iowa City, I see a unique opportunity presented to me.

I could answer that question for my peers. And why stop there?  Why not be able to answer that question for everyone interested in the pros and cons of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids?

I want to be able to answer the question, “Iowa City or Cedar Rapids?” for all age groups, personality types and financial situations.

But I need some help;  and this is where you come in.

I want you to share your love, and frustrations, with the city you live and work in!

What is the difference between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids?

Which city does nightlife better? Which has better housing and job opportunities? Are they so close to each other that they can merge into a singular identity?  What city has history and which city has better ethnic dining?

[I want the tourism boards of the cities to either fret or drool over the comments on this post. So write as much or as little as you want!]

Here are some questions to get you started:

What do you think the main difference are between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids?

  • What draws you to either or both cities?
  • What changes do you want to see take place in either city?
  • Why do you, or have you,  lived or worked in that city?

And no doubt you have more to say!


  1. Beaster1174

    I’ve lived in the Cedar Rapids area all of my life, but you will often find me in Iowa City. The live music scene in IC often has more acts I want to see and the diversity of the shops, downtown especially. CR seems to have more “high culture” ie theater, symphony, opera. I’d say each has it’s share of culture, it just depends on what you are in the mood for.

    • Hidama

      That’s a great point to make; both cities have a different variety of culture.

  2. I think the shallowest, but most apt, analogy I can make is that Cedar Rapids : Iowa City :: Wal-Mart : Target. (Nevermind that CR has two SuperTargets and IC has none.)

    I went to Cornell for four years and spent far more time in Cedar Rapids than Iowa City. I also lived full-time at the southern edge of Hiawatha for a summer and part-time for a year or so. I’ve now lived in Iowa City for nearly two years. I like Iowa City a lot more. I’m at a loss, however, to state why in objective terms. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small-but-liberal town (Decorah, Iowa, Pop. 8,172) and so I see more of my values reflected here. There are pedestrians and bicyclists. The arts are everywhere. It feels like a city of culture rather than a city of industry. Cedar Rapids seems like a town where everything happens on the edges, if at all, whereas in Iowa City when you go downtown you feel like you’re in the middle of everything. Cedar Rapids feels like a city but Iowa City feels like a community.

    Also, Iowa City has a pile of decent coffee shops that are open on Sundays. That goes a looooong way.

    • Hidama

      So you’re actually better suited to discover the differences between the cities than me! And yes, it’s been quite a hassle to find downtown CR dead on Sunday.

  3. Eric Engelmann

    Just moved from Coralville to Cedar Rapids. As father of two small children, I’m enjoying the kid friendliness of CR, seems to be a lot more kid oriented stuff here (though the Iowa Children’s Museum will be an easy trip back to Coralville).

    Part of the move was from a neighborhood with lots of transient grad students, residents, etc in Coralville, which is part of the charm on the south end but I met more neighbors in my new neighborhood in CR in 2 weeks than I knew in Coralville in 5 years. But thats more a function of the neighborhood than the city.

    As a college grad, I’d have preferred Iowa City for the nightlife, but as a parent I like Cedar Rapids. All of the diverse activities of Iowa City are an easy car drive away.

    I do miss Java House though.

    But the biggest reason for the move: I work in Cedar Rapids, and now I can bike or walk to work rather than commute, which lets me still feel a bit Iowa City-ish.

    Oh, and Super Target is close by. But the Gap is in Coralville. Win some, lose some.

    • Hidama

      I can see the division as well, from young to late twenty-somethings enjoying the nightlife of Iowa City and late-twenties on enjoying the affordability, space and neighborhoods of Cedar Rapids.

  4. DP

    I was a student at the University of Iowa for 4 years and since graduation 2 years ago I have lived in NE Cedar Rapids. What I liked most about Iowa City is how everything is centrally located near downtown and the campus, there were only a few locations I frequented that I had to drive to; now in Cedar Rapids I find myself driving much more often.

    I have discovered that there is a good amount to do in Cedar Rapids, you just may have to look a little harder than you would in Iowa City. That being said the music and arts scenes in Iowa City suit my tastes much more than the scenes in Cedar Rapids so I find myself venturing south quite often.

    • Hidama

      “…there is a good amount to do in Cedar Rapids, you just may have to look a little harder… ” That’s exactly what I say!

  5. Benjamin Steele

    I’ve lived in Iowa City off and on much of my life. I presently live and work in the dowtown area of Iowa City. It’s perfect for me. Rent is expensive, but I have a well paying job. I’ve never had trouble finding work in Iowa City. I live within a several blocks of everything that matters to me: ped-mall, work, bank, John’s Grocery, Co-op, several bookstores, public library, university library, recreation center, and beautiful neighborhood to walk in (Northside).

    I’ve always lived North of Iowa Avenue. This means I’ve always been within walking distance of Hickory Hill which is one of my favorite places in all of Iowa City. I like to walk. Actually, I don’t even own a car and you don’t need one in Iowa City. As someone said, most things are centrally located. Also, it’s bicycle-friendly and has great public transportaion.

    Someone also mentioned that Iowa City feels like a community. i heartily agree. It’s easy to get to know people in this town because there are so many people active in the community and so many people who regularly hang out downtown.

  6. Dave Johnson

    Why even compare the two cities? There’s strong points to both. Iowa City does have more to do, depending on how old you are, BUT Cedar Rapids most definitely has the lower cost of living, and is more family oriented. So why not live in Cedar Rapids, and then venture south when you have the itch for the nightlife of Iowa City? You’d spend a lot less for the gas to drive to Iowa City from CR than the difference in rent in a lot of cases. Best of both worlds! :)

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