See also: Where to Stay in Denver
Coined the Mile High City for being exactly that – a mile above sea level – Denver is more famously recorded in the books for its gold mining history. Yet, it is no longer gold flowing out of the city but beer and sunshine. With so much to wade through, the first-time visitor may be overwhelmed by choice. Below is a curated list of the best things to do to get your Denver journey started:
Catch a head-banging show at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre
The geologically formed amphitheater of Red Rocks Park will have you rocking to any concert, amazing acoustics and fiery surroundings ramping up the atmosphere. Even when devoid of people, this nature-made stage is something to behold. And beyond this exclusive performance venue are miles of parkland, burnished buttes and sandstone cliffs offering a majestic postcard shot. Drop by the visitor center for recommended hiking trails; beginners can easily conquer the Trading Post Trail and snap up spectacular scenery.
Strike into the heart of Denver
Where the original pioneers set up camp is now the bustling neighborhood of Larimer Square. Development didn’t leave behind Denver’s forward-facing spirit; it is felt in the chattering crowds and rich selection of establishments, restaurants and shops and nightly entertainments keeping the people happy and thriving. Larimer Square is the perfect first-stop for urban explorers and one of the best things to do in Denver.
Embrace the art craze at Denver Art Museum
A breathtaking art collection waits at Denver Art Museum, the edgy façade concealing over 70,000 notable masterpieces by renowned painters such as Vincent Van Gogh and Winslow Homer. Alongside paintings and sculptures are historical artifacts that date back to pre-Columbian times, as well as other delicate works on paper. Interactive activities also appeal to younger crowds, drawing constant flow of visitors to its two-building complex.
Sweat and smile at Washington Park
Stay active by visiting the monumental Washington Park, a 165-acre recreational space that caters to exercise junkies and lazy desires. Winding through its gardens are jogging paths that take you around two massive lakes, stately oaks providing ample shade for those who prefer to sit back and relax. Sporting facilities such as tennis courts and boat rentals are also available, as are fitness courses and a swimming pool for variety. Easily accessible, free entry and with plenty of space, Washington Park is a crowd favorite.
The Colorado State Capitol capped in gold
Glimmering gold tops Colorado State Capitol, the gold leaf pressed dome a commemoration of Colorado’s Gold Rush. An official historical landmark since 2012, the granite building has caught the public eye since its opening in 1894. Climb quick and sure into the dome itself for a unique vantage point – it’s worth a brief stop.
Explore the Lower Downtown Historic District
Urban renewal has transformed warehouses into unique food and retail spaces. The LoDo district is ample proof, brewpubs, sports bars, rooftop cafés and innovative restaurants spilling out of the renovated brick-and-mortar in a mix of modern and nostalgic aplomb. You can spend an afternoon trying to choose which establishment to try – only to realize you can’t, you just have to get to all of them.
Challenge baseball at Coors Field
Locals and baseball fans alike chomp at the bit for tickets to a Major League game, Colorado Rookies having settled in Coors Field. Stomping in excitement amid tens of thousands of people may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but Coors Field’s interactive area will have your competitive spirit rearing to hit a fast ball. The consummate fan however, will most likely opt for a tour of the stadium, available all-year round if at varying times.
Bask in the Garden of all gardens
Comprised of 50 smaller gardens over a whopping 24 acres is the Denver Botanic Gardens. A mesmerizing collection of worldly representations, the imitations of exotic floral and plantation transports you to various parts of the world. Starting from the bonsai-lined traditional Japanese garden to earthier blossoms and ferns of the South African Plaza, visitors can spend hours plunging the depths of this nature reserve. If you have no idea where to start, a guided tour is recommended for its informative program. Keep an eye out for sporadic art installments as well!
Take a bike around Confluence Park
The 1858 gold mining camp where Denver was founded upon, Confluence Park is now the focal point of an 85-mile biking network. In close proximity to the Downtown Aquarium, the Children’s Museum of Denver and neighborhoods of LoHi and Highlands, bikers cut through its many trails in free exploration of the city. Rent a bicycle and let your gut guide you; venture out of park borders and explore Denver’s diverse sectors.
Count your coins at United States Mint
Unfortunately there are no freebies to grow your coffers, but nevertheless, there is something riveting about watching United States Mint produce coins in all their rattling glory. In operation since 1879, the Denver branch still feeds mainstream coin production as well as commemorative coins. Learn about the minting process and watch the machinery at work through an educational tour, and pick up a small trinket on your out.
Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum
There’s no better aviation exhibition space than a 150,000 sq. feet Air Force hangar that predates 1930s. Pick up a museum guide on the way in for background information on rare plane features, such as the B-18A Bolo and a not so real-life Star Wars X-Wing fighter. Between the four dozen space and aircraft, and interactive apparatus for all ages, you’ll emerge with a newfound appreciation for these flying vehicles.
Cash in at the 16th Street Mall
Condense all your shopping in one location – Denver’s 16th Street Mall is perfect for those seeking retail therapy. Bypassing Larimer Square to reach Lower Downtown district, it presents thorough variety of shops and restaurants, interspersed with other entertainments. A pedestrian-heavy area, the mall does offer alternative means of transportation; you can opt for a free MallRide shuttle bus to rest tired feet, or upgrade fancy and ride a horse-pulled carriage instead. If your wallet isn’t up for it, stroll around the area anyway and bask in the ambiance.
Keep an eye out on the street art scene
Lose the map and wander the alleys of RiNo and Santa Fe Arts District for some seriously eye-catching street art. From underpasses to exterior walls of prominent business buildings, local artists have given the streets a new coat of color.
Get wild at Denver Zoo
Pencil in a full day for the best of Denver Zoo, like listening in on staff lectures during feeding time. Presenting the inhabitants as natural as a habitat as possible, the enclosures are modeled after Kenyan nature preserves and the savanna. Tigers, rhinos and orangutans are only few of the 4000 animals housed in this expansive complex; you’ll find hyenas and monkeys roaming wild, while amphibians and their scaly counterparts hiss about the Tropical Discovery center. Hop on the zoo train for a smooth trip around the grounds.
Play detective at Adams Mystery Playhouse
It is all laughter and delicious buffet food until a mysterious murder – then everyone is scrambling for clues and racing to solve the crime. Songs and impressions come back with the intention to distract; after all, what fun is there without some friendly competition between teams to win the title ‘Best Detective’? A playful mystery dinner and theatre, Adams Playhouse is a unique bonding experience for small travel parties.
Locate the Colorado Railroad Museum
Locomotives played a big part in Denver’s historical growth, and the Colorado Railroad Museum demonstrates how so. Age-old locomotives, cabooses and cars are carefully maintained by the museum, running at a total of 100 trains. The main depot houses model railroads, photographs and artifacts as well as a working Roundhouse exhibit, delineating the history of Denver’s trains back in the 1800s. Visitors can also experience a train ride every Saturday (partial track), and other special events are held throughout the year to grease up old wheels.
Climb your way to the top with Denver Climbing Company
Enroll in a climbing class with Denver Climbing Company Outdoor Climbing School to stretch out your muscles. You might not be challenging the Rockies anytime soon, but you’ll end your day well-worked and satisfied – maybe even with a new hobby to pursue. The company’s professional guides inform all age groups and skill level, arranging appropriate routes for every student. Don’t worry, you’re in safe hands.
Travel back to the prehistoric age at Denver Museum of Nature & Science
History and science overlap at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to pay respect to the interdisciplinary fields of anthropology, zoology, paleontology and more. Exhibits turn eyes towards the past with curated dinosaur bones and Egyptian mummies, instilling curiosity in eras long gone. Botanical sciences also whip up crowd interest, thanks to the informative wildlife exhibit that draws from habitats all over the world. The Space Odyssey in contrast, propels us forward in time to explore the mystical scope of the galaxy.
Learn all about Colorado at History Colorado Center
Pay attention to the larger Colorado state with a short stint through History Colorado Center. History made fun, the high-tech and hands-on exhibits will make you a Colorado expert in no time. There are programs for children and adults alike to keep you attentive and informed.
Soak at Idaho Springs
There’s nothing like washing off a year’s worth of stress with a long soak at a small mountain hot spring. Idaho Springs is exactly the mountain town retreat you need, natural pool locked inside a jungle-like dome with heated waters that sap away your worries and rejuvenates the body.
Book in a football game at Mile High
Trade baseball for football if you prefer more grounded sports; the Sports Authority Field at Mile High will have you on the edge of your seat among a 76,000 strong crowd. Originally intended to be a minor league baseball stadium, it is instead renovated to become Denver Broncos’ home turf. As most stadiums, a guided tour is available, showcasing behind-the-scenes locations such as the players’ entrance tunnel, locker rooms and on-site broadcasting facilities.
It’s the journey that counts
Take to the skies on your drive up to Mount Evans, rising 9,000 feet to peak at over 14,000 feet above sea level. Breathe deep and take frequent stops along Mount Evans Scenic Byway for an arresting view of the Rocky Mountains; you’ll find numerous lookout points. A highly recommended pit stop is Echo Lake, where you can fish and picnic on the premises. Hiking trails are also abundant in the area, enabling a deeper exploration of the valley’s lush topics.
Step back in time at Four Mile Historic Park
Parked exactly four miles away from downtown Denver is the rustic, suburban Four Mile Historic Park. Fenced in farm animals and humble houses is what’s left of a sprawling farm over a century ago. Unpaved gravel and mulch paths add to its time-frozen charms, carving out 12-acres of unmovable Glendale. If you’re hoping to experience the early days of the West, consider a brief stop in the area.
A lesson in brewing with Coors
Established in 1873, Coors Brewery has made a name for itself in the beer industry. Those interested in the production of their favorite post-work drink can take a free self-guided tour within its institution, and absorb passing knowledge of the malting and brewing process. After a short history session on Coors’ growth and rounding off with a lesson on packaging, beer samples await in the tasting room. It is also kid-friendly, offering soft drinks in lieu of the parents’ preferred cold brew, so definitely put it on your checklist!
Revive the zine community with Denver Zine Library
The small-budget, self-publishing trend may have quietened over the decade but Denver Zine Library is determined to keep the DIY publishing movement going. Built up by personal donations and currently running workshops in bid to grow the zine-making community, this immense collection and preservation of zines is a volunteer-run effort. If you fondly remember these small-circulating magazines, give them a call and visit.
Visit the all-in-one Union Station
Apart from its stately exterior and 1900s architectural redevelopment, you might wonder why a public transit station is worth visiting. Not only is it a transportation hub, Union Station has grown into a multi-faceted complex to provide a dynamic dining and shopping experience. The retail center also houses The Crawford Hotel, which offers tours detailing Union Station’s transformation into an artful retail space.
Seek the West in the American Museum of Western Art
Immerse in American history and culture with a guided tour through the Museum of Western Art. A comprehensive picture of Western life from early 1800s to present emerges from the carefully curated galleries. With over 200 pieces by Bierstadt, Russell, Moran and Remington featured in the Anschutz Collection; the museum is truly a tribute to the American West.
Plan a thrill-seeking trip to Elitch Gardens
Amusement comes easy at Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park. Boasting thrill rides, family rides, and water rides for summer relief, it is a sweeping entertainment park for all ages. Scream and laugh at height-defying drops and stomach-swooping loops, then play some games for a souvenir to bring home. Whether you spend a day or two here, you’re bound to never run out of rides to try.
House tour of Titanic heroine’s home
Margaret “Molly” Brown may be recognized as classic Titanic’s love-lost character, but her role in women’s suffrage movement and ties to Colorado’s mining industry is what made her a household name within in the state. Now open to public, the Molly Brown House Museum not only shares her personal history aboard and post-Titanic, but exemplifies an unusual Victorian life reflected in the house’s renovations and preserved artifacts.
Reach new depths at Denver’s Downtown Aquarium
Showcasing over 500 species and aquatic life in deep tanks, Denver’s Aquarium notably features a Stingray Reef touch tank where children and adults alike can wet their hands. The live mermaid show will bring your Disney dreams to life, although do stand back during the flash flood exhibit or risk getting soaked. It might not be the same as scuba diving in search of vibrant reefs, but it sure comes close.
Enjoy some family fun at the Children’s Museum of Denver
Who said traveling with kids can’t be fun? Denver’s Children Museum is more than enough to keep your child excited and sated, conceived with the idea of “learning through fun”. From wary babies to energetic eight-year-olds, the museum encourages independence through wood working and a grocery market station, whilst exploratory caves and a rocket launch sector prompts the children to think brave and think big.
Ghost hunt at Cheesman Park
Add some creepy onto your itinerary by braving the allegedly haunted Cheesman Park. Originally delegated as cemetery space for both wealthy and the criminal but with no one to maintain it, it soon fell into disrepair, only to be cleaned up decades after. Halfway through the body disposal however, residents reported ghost sightings and skin-rippling moans, halting the clearance and leaving around 2,000 bodies still buried. Morbid but nevertheless a beautifully landscaped space, you might be tempted by some spectral sighting.
Do some bank-breaking shopping
Shopaholics will find their niche at Denver’s Cherry Creek North district, a square of 16 blocks offering high-tier boutiques and luxury shops. Interspersed are art galleries for the inclined, but those passing through will similarly be hooked onto any one of the neighborhood’s international cuisine. Leafy and flower-strewn, it is the venue of annual Cheery Creek Arts Festival, attracting national and international attention for the quality art vendors.
Aim for the Rocky Mountains on a weekend getaway
The Rocky Mountains are vast and with seasonal change comes a plethora of outdoor activities. A geological anomaly to highlight however is North America’s tallest sand dunes, located within the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Edged by the snowcapped peaks of Rocky Mountain, the soft sandy slopes of this valley prove to be a stunning wonder often overlooked for its mountainous counterpart.
Go artisan at The Source
Repurposing abandoned buildings into hip, artistic hubs is a new trend embraced by developers and urban explorers alike. The Source is one such 1880’s foundry turned epicurean market, polished steel rafters and warm wood coaxing a warm atmosphere. It is the artisanal food and beer that gives the place a true modern polish, alongside designer goods and concept taquerias. You might visit for the architectural space alone, but the inventive cuisine will have you coming back for more.
Calling all car lovers
Amelia Earhart’s 1923 Kissel ‘Gold Bug’, an Indian motorcycle collection and a Stutz Fire Engine barely scrape the surface of Forney Museum’s transportation exhibit. Rare cars and vintage models aside, the museum also showcases carriages, rail parts, steam locomotives, bicycles, as well as the random die-cast model – anything related to transportation before the 21st century. Car lovers will have a blast combing through the many vehicles on-site, and may even be lucky enough to sit in one of them.