The “Mile High City.” In recent years, Denver has experienced a incredible surge in population growth, real estate prices and cultural offerings. But there are some old standbys that have stood the test of time. Here, we’ve compiled a mix of classic activities and new attractions to keep you busy on your next trip.
The Washington Park Loop
The locals call it “Wash Park,” and it’s one of Denver’s most beloved green spaces. A haven for runners, roller-bladers, University of Denver students and moms with strollers, you’ll find some of the city’s best people-watching here. During the summer, you can join in on volleyball games and peruse the gardens, and when it snows, you can still get your workout in by breaking out the cross country skis or snowshoes.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
No trip to Denver is complete without visiting Red Rocks Amphitheatre. If you can, catch a concert here – you can view the schedule of visiting acts online. Red Rocks is the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world. If live music isn’t your thing, other events like Film on the Rocks and Yoga on the Rocks are equally fun. On Tuesday nights, a cult classic film is offered, and you can bring food and unopened drinks (including wine!) to savor. On weekends, hundreds of people meet to do yoga together. You can also hike miles of trails surrounding the venue for spectacular views of Denver in the distance.
One of the best things about Colorado is its amazing Open Space system. In nearby Jefferson County, visitors can enjoy more than 54,000 acres of protected land with hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking trails galore. Natural habitats range from grasslands, wildflower meadows, alpine forests and spectacular rock formations. Dogs are welcome on most trails, and some are open for horseback riding as well. The best part? It’s all absolutely free.
Elitch Gardens is the summer hangout in the Mile High City. Set at the edge of lower downtown, you can see the whole city from atop the 10-story Twister II or the 200-foot-tall Tower of Doom. The park is closed during the winter months, but in the summer, the park’s “Dive-In Movie” nights are a hit with kids and adults alike. There are also concerts, games, concerts, and of course, plenty of funnel cakes and guilty pleasure fair food.
At their facility in downtown Denver, the U.S. Mint offers tours where you can see how money is made. During the 45-minute guided tour, you’ll learn about the history of the Mint, and how coins are produced for the American public. Tours are free (and you usually get a shiny new penny at the end), but make sure to book online weeks in advance if possible – they fill up fast.
Clyfford Still Museum
Clyfford Still laid the groundwork for the Abstract Impressionist movement, made famous by artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In 2013, Denver became home to a permanent collection of his large-scale works. The sheer size of the pieces on display is impressive, as is the thought that went into the museum’s design. Works are arranged in chronological order of Still’s career, and perforated concrete ceilings automatically adjust to let in the perfect amount of light. Here, it’s all about quality, not quantity – pieces are cycled through regularly to keep things fresh.
One of Denver’s hottest restaurants is located in a former mortuary. Head for the rooftop Lite-Brite bar, where you can take in a spectacular view of downtown Denver. To maximize your tasting experience, visit during happy hour (4 p.m.– 6:30 p.m.) where, for just five bucks each, you can sample a wide variety of “global street food” plates like sesame barbecue tacos. lemongrass pork potstickers and Wagyu sliders. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Devils on Horseback: Medjool dates wrapped in applewood smoked bacon and stuff with herbed goat cheese. The cocktails (also $5 during happy hour) are perfection – think ginger collins, grapefruit daiquiris and five-spice old-fashioned.
Drink craft beer
Colorado has become widely known for its craft beer scene in recent years (the state has well over 200 microbreweries), and there’s a locally-owned pub serving house-made suds on practically every street in the city. Annual events like the Great American Beer Festival – which sells out in minutes – bring thousands of visitors each year, and local brewers consistently win top honors. Our favorites: Denver Beer Company – they’re environmentally and dog friendly; and Crooked Stave, which specialize in sour beers made with wild yeast.
Visit an urban winery
When you think wineries, you might think rolling vineyards in Tuscany. Denver’s The Infinite Monkey Theorem, however, prides itself on “back alley winemaking at its finest.” Sip wines made from Colorado grapes – in hiker-friendly cans, of course – at their tasting room in trendy River North, which has a decidedly industrial feel. For a more traditional tasting experience, check out Balistreri Vineyards’ six-course barrel tasting dinners, which take place in the vintner’s cellar.
Stroll 16th Street Mall
Denver’s 16th Street Mall is a must-visit for anyone new to the Mile High City. The mile-long promenade features shops, restaurants, outdoor pianos, street performers and a free trolley to get you from one end to the other. From high-end shops to chain stores to casual eateries, you’ll find it all on the Mall. Standout shops include Gorrin Brothers Hat Shop, where you’ll find everything from cowboy hats to dapper fedoras; and Hollywood Cowgirl. Shop ’til you drop, have dinner, then enjoy a night of cabaret entertainment at the iconic Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret.
Eat at Chipotle’s original location
Steve Ells started his burrito empire shortly after finishing culinary school in 1993 to fund his original dream, a fine dining restaurant. But his burritos were so popular that he quickly expanded to serve the long lines of hungry locals who couldn’t get enough of his high-quality, yet affordable, fresh fare. You can still eat in the original location near the University of Denver campus today – it’s located amongst several locally-owned food and coffee spots on Evans Avenue. If you’re a Chipotle fan, you’ll love seeing where it all started.
View majestic gardens
The talented team at Denver Botanic Gardens nurtures plenty of species that are native to Caolorado, but also gardens inspired by Japan, China and the Tropics. Choose from two locations: York Street (downtown), which features a lush water garden that cascades through the property; and Chatfield (on the south side of town), with its beautiful year-round, indoor butterfly garden as well as a lavender garden, which smells divine.
Colfax Avenue is the longest continuous street in America (Playboy also called it the wickedest). It’s part of the original Highway 40, which was the first coast-to-coast highway in the United States. Highlights include Greek Town – the only official cultural town in Denver – and a plethora of old motels and businesses with vintage neon signs. You’ll also find plenty of street art and colorful graffiti along the route. Don’t be surprised if you see some questionable activity in some spots, it’s just part of the charm!
Drink an ice cold Coors
It’s not craft beer, but no trip to Denver would be complete without touring the iconic Coors factory just west of town in Golden. This is the world’s largest single-site brewery, and it is massive indeed. After a 30-minute self-paced tour that gives a peek into the malting, brewing and packaging processes, you can sample the goods in the “fresh room,” which features ice benches and (hooray) free samples in a refrigerated room.
Eat with the fishes
At the Denver Aquarium, you can have lunch or dinner beside an enormous 150,000-gallon tank filled with sharks and colorful reef fish. Though the restaurant is owned by Landry’s, it’s surprisingly good for a chain-owned establishment. If you’re visiting on a holiday, they offer fun events like Breakfast with Santa and the Easter Bunny, and a Thanksgiving buffet. On regular days, time your visit to see the mermaid shows at noon and 6 p.m. (Bonus: if you’re scuba certified, you can also swim with sharks here.)
Watch cattle overtake the streets of downtown
Each year the National Western Stock Show kicks off with a cattle drive through downtown Denver. It’s a surreal experience you won’t want to miss. The Stock Show is a time-honored Denver tradition – it’s been happening every year since 1906. It also includes an Evening of Dancing Horses dressage, professional bull riding, and Mexican and African-American rodeos. A true taste of the American West.
Have tea at the Brown Palace
Everyone from The Beatles to American presidents to Titanic survivor Molly Brown has stayed in this luxury downtown hotel, rumored to have secret underground tunnels that led to a brothel for its famous guests back in the day. Don’t miss their impeccable tea service – it’s famous for a reason. Gnosh on tea pastries, scones and finger sandwiches in the impeccably-decorated lobby while being serenaded by a harpist or pianist. The devonshire cream is the real deal – shipped in from England. Think of it as the Southwest version of tea at the Ritz.
Catch a ball game
If there’s one thing Denverites love, it’s sports. Catch a Broncos (football), Rapids (soccer), Nuggets (basketball), Mammoth (lacrosse), Rockies (baseball) or Avalanche (hockey) game while you’re in town. Seats can be had in the “rockpile” at Coors Field for just a few bucks. Sports junkies can also check out the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the National Ballpark Museum.
Ride the awesome greenway system
Denver has an extensive greenway system and a world-class bike sharing program. Explore the city by bike – you’ll get around some areas way easier than by car. B-Cycle stations are easy to find (you can even download their app to make it easy). The South Platte River Trail, a 17-mile thoroughfare that starts in nearby Thornton to the north, runs right through the heart of downtown Denver, continuing on to Englewood to the south. One-percent grades make for a fun ride the whole family can enjoy.
Union Station is Denver’s main transport hub. You can catch buses, Amtrak, the 16th Street Mall Ride, light rail and the free downtown Circulator here. The beautifully-renovated train station, which was built in 1894, is filled with eclectic shops, bars and farm-to-table restaurants. Plus, the new A-line from Denver International Airport to Union Station is a travel game-changer. As of April 2016, the city has a light rail line that connects these two landmarks in under 40 minutes. Got some down time? Chill out in the gorgeous lobby, break out your tablet and use the free wifi while you check out the scene.