Denver, Colorado is a spirited city at the heart of America, fringed by the Rocky Mountains and packed full of unique experiences to be had. Here is just a small selection of the best of them.
Gold. That was the original raison d’etre of the “Mile High City”. The town was founded by prospectors during the great gold rush and has thrived in various guises ever since. In recent years, Denver has experienced a modern rush, with a marked surge in population (a roughly 20% increase) over the last decade, thereby boosting the city’s real estate prices and cultural offerings.
With both history and regional importance on its side, Denver has a great number of time-honoured institutions across the realms of culture, sport and the arts. Outside the city, the looming mountains to the west serve as a reminder that there are plenty of nature-based activities on offer as well. We’ve compiled a mix of 20 unique activities and attractions, both new and old, to keep you busy on your visit to Denver, Colorado.
Head to where the buffalo roam
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, to be exact. Once serving as farmland to the early settlers, this huge tract of land to the city’s northeast (15,000 acres), has been conserved for wildlife. Prior to receiving that status in 1980, it had been used by Shell and the US Army for the production of chemicals, making it quite the rewilding success story. The mixture of prairie, woodland and wetland is home to American buffalo, coyotes and mule deer, among other wildlife. You might also get lucky and spot another North American natural icon, and USA’s national bird: the bald eagle.
6550 Gateway Rd.
Join locals on the Washington Park Loop
Another great way to get closer to nature in Denver is in Washington Park. 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 amble through the gardens. When it snows, you can still get a good workout by breaking out the cross country skis or snowshoes.
Book a guided tour of the city
One of the best ways to get to know a city better, particularly when you have only just arrived, is to take a tour. Those guided by locals are a great way to gain local knowledge and insight while experiencing a unique side to the city. Of the many options available there are city highlights walking tours, customised options to tailor the sightseeing to your interests and, more recently, even a slew of cannabis walking tours that celebrate the city’s street art and its legalised smoking status.
For a comprehensive list of tours with local guides available, head on over to Getyourguide here.
Catch a live gig at Red Rocks Amphitheatre
No trip to Denver is complete without visiting Red Rocks Amphitheatre. If you can, catch a concert here; a schedule of visiting acts is available online. Red Rocks is the only known 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 your own food and unopened drinks (including wine!). You can also hike miles of trails surrounding the venue for spectacular views of Denver in the distance. If you just wish to visit, but not attend an event, this half-day tour includes Red Rocks Amphitheatre in its itinerary.
18300 W Alameda Pkwy.
Drink great craft beer at Denver Beer Co.
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. Denver Beer Company are right at the forefront of the movement; they’re environmentally conscious, dog friendly, and their beer selection changes to match the time of year. While there are perennial brews that are always available, like Incredible Pedal IPA, you never know what small batch brew gems will flow from the taps during your trip. It’s just a case of going to one of their three locations (at the time of writing), and finding out for yourself.
Taproom: 1695 Platte St.
Canworks: 4455 Jason St.
Arvada: 5768 Old Wadsworth Blvd.
Take a day trip into the Rocky Mountains
They’re right there, looming tall over the city with snow-capped peaks for much of the year. In winter the slopes are accessible via a network of ski runs, and roads run through mountain passes and all the way up to the top of lofty peaks like Mount Evans, which reaches 14,130 feet (4307 metres). For the more active, there are plenty of hiking trails to the tops of other peaks in the area as well. A good way to explore the Rockies is via a guided tour, such as this day-tour from Denver to explore the Rocky Mountains National Park. The tour takes in some of the best sights in the area and runs from mid-Spring to mid-Fall, with plenty of time allowed for exploration on foot.
Shop the latest styles at Denver Pavilions open-air mall
The iconic entry to Denver Pavilions is a gateway to entertainment and great shopping. The open-air entertainment hub along 16th St. Mall makes good use of Denver’s regular sunny days throughout the year and is a must-visit for anyone new to the Mile High City. It features shops, restaurants, outdoor pianos, street performers and a free trolley that runs from one end of 16th St. to the other. One of the standout shops is Hat Collection, where you’ll find everything from dapper fedoras to baseball caps. See out the day with some entertainment at iconic institutions like Hard Rock Cafe, Coyote Ugly and Lucky Strike Bowling.
500 16th St. Mall
Seek thrills at Elitch Gardens
Elitch Gardens is one of the Mile High City’s favourite summer hangouts. 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, a Ferris wheel, stomach churners, upside-down rides, twists, turns, and of course, plenty of guilty-pleasure fair food.
2000 Elitch Cir.
See abstract masterpieces at 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, and the exhibitions are rotated regularly to keep things fresh.
1250 Bannock St.
Dine out at a former mortuary
Linger, 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 maximise your tasting experience, visit during happy hour (4–6:30pm) 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.
2030 W 30th Ave.
Eat at Chipotle’s original restaurant
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 East Evans Avenue. If you’re a Chipotle fan, you’ll love seeing where it all started.
1644 E Evans Ave.
View majestic gardens with plants sourced from across the world
The talented team at Denver Botanic Gardens nurtures plenty of species that are native to Colorado, but also includes gardens inspired by Japan, China and the Tropics, with plants and flowers sourced from these regions as well. 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.
1007 York St.
8500 W Deer Creek Canyon Rd.
Cruise along Colfax
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 colourful graffiti along the route. Don’t be surprised if you see some questionable activity in some spots, it’s just part of the, er, charm!
Drink an ice cold Coors right from the source
It may not be craft beer, the new kid on the block, but it certainly has staying power, and no trip to Denver would be complete without touring the iconic MillerCoors 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 glimpse into the vast processes of malting, brewing and packaging, you can sample the goods in the “fresh room”, which features ice benches and free samples of the beer in a refrigerated room. Tours are free.
13th St. & Ford St., Golden
Eat with the fishes
At Denver’s Downtown Aquarium, you can have lunch or dinner beside an enormous 150,000-gallon tank filled with sharks and colourful reef fish. Though the restaurant is owned by Landry’s, it’s surprisingly good for a chain-owned establishment. If you’re visiting over a holiday period, then 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 6pm. (Bonus tip: if you’re scuba certified, you can also swim with sharks at the Downtown Aquarium).
700 Water St.
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 and it has been happening every year since 1906. It also includes an Evening of Dancing Horses, i.e. dressage, professional bull riding, and Mexican and African-American rodeos. A true taste of the American West.
Have afternoon tea at the Brown Palace Hotel
Everyone, from The Beatles to American Presidents and Titanic survivor Molly Brown, has stayed in this luxury downtown hotel, rumoured 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. Chow down 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, and is shipped in from England. Think of it as the US’s version of tea at the Ritz.
321 7th St.
Take yourself out to a ball game
If there’s one thing most Denverites love more than anything else, 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. It is a fantastic stadium with regular MLB games showcasing top quality baseball in the city. Sports junkies can also check out the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the National Ballpark Museum.
Coors Field: 2001 Blake St.
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 A-line from Denver International Airport to Union Station is a travel game-changer. Opened in 2016, the light rail line connects these two landmarks in under 40 minutes. Got some down time? Chill out in the gorgeous lobby, break out your smartphone and use the free wifi while you check out the scene.
1701 Wynkoop St.
Sip fruity reds and crisp whites at an urban winery
When you think wineries, you might think rolling vineyards in Tuscany or the south of France. 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.
The Infinite Monkey Theorem: 3200 Larimer St.
Balistreri Vineyards: 1946 E 66th Ave.