Colorado, Destinations, North America

A Comprehensive Guide To Denver

Welcome!

Whether it’s your first, third, or fifteenth time visiting Denver, or, you’re looking for things to recommend to your out-of-state friends, you’ve come to the right place.

As a Colorado native and travel blogger, I focus on all that Colorado has to offer and love to give suggestions to those looking to make the most of their time in the Mile High City.

Below, you will find everything you need to know before your trip, but should you have any additional questions, feel free to comment below or send me a private message here. I’m happy to help you plan your visit.

Denver Landmarks

This is an unofficial list of Denver landmarks and includes sites that are “iconic to Denver.” These are the places you’ll want to visit for a Denver photo op, and places that’ll appear on Pinterest when you search, “Denver.” As you explore, keep an eye out for them! If you can’t catch them all, don’t sweat it. These landmarks won’t make or break your trip.

Articulated Wall

Articulated Wall
Articulated Wall

Or what I refer to as “The French Fry Wall,” located in the Denver Design District complex. A photo with this beauty is a treat, but it’s off the beaten path and may not be worth a special trip. Keep an eye out for it when you’re on I-25, headed north. Read more about the wall in my post The Story Behind “The French Fry Statue” In Denver.

Brown Palace Hotel

Opened in 1892, the Brown Palace Hotel has hosted every president since 1905 except Calvin Coolidge and Barack Obama. It’s worth a stop inside to take in the beauty of the building. Or, schedule a guided tour or enjoy afternoon tea. Read  more in my post, The History Of The Brown Palace Hotel.

Colorado Convention Center

Colorado Convention Center
Colorado Convention Center

Unless you’re here for an event, the inside of the Colorado Convention Center isn’t very exciting. Stop outside and visit the big blue bear, an absolutely iconic Denver landmark that stands over two stories tall.

Colorado State Capitol

Located at the end of the 16th Street Mall, the Colorado State Capitol is worth a gander. Hike the steps to see the one-mile mark, indicating that you’ve reached 5,280 feet in elevation.

Denver Performing Arts Complex

Once again, if you aren’t attending an event at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, there is no need to go inside. Journey to the lawn on Speer Boulevard to take a photo with the “dancing people statue.”

Red Rocks

Red Rocks
Red Rocks

Located about 30 minutes away from downtown Denver is Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. If your schedule allows, see a concert. At the very least take a trip out to the park for a hike. Read more in my post 5 Tips For A Red Rocks Concert.

Union Station

In the past few years Union Station has gotten a fabulous face lift. What was once a train station is now much, much more. Stop here for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Grab a sweet treat or a quick drink. Kick back, relax and read a good book. The space allows for it all.

Union Station Denver
Union Station Denver

Denver Transportation

If you are planning on staying in the Denver Metro area during your visit, you won’t need a rental car. However, if you plan on getting out of the city and visiting the mountains or checking out a neighboring city, save yourself some time and book a rental car. While public transportation would be possible, it isn’t worth the headache and valuable time you will lose transferring buses.

Getting From The Airport To Downtown

Denver International Airport recently added a light rail station! This is excellent news for people staying in downtown Denver. For $9 each way, you can hop aboard the airport light rail and end up at Union Station (the center of downtown Denver). The train departs every 15 minutes between 6:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. and every half an hour outside of those hours.

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Getting From The Suburbs To Downtown

Commuting in and out of Denver has never been easier thanks to the light rail and buses. See the RTD rail map here and a RTD bus schedule here. Local fares are $2.60 one way and regional fares are $4.50 one way. The public transportation system in Denver is safe and clean.

Light rail tips: I took the light rail while attending Metro State. Buying a daily light rail pass can be a bit confusing, be sure to give yourself enough time to navigate the ticket machine before your train arrives. It is rare to have your ticket checked when you first get on the light rail, but don’t let that fool you into not buying a ticket. If a security officer stops and asks to see your ticket and you don’t have one, you will be fined.

Bus tips: Be sure to carry exact change, and be prepared to pay at the beginning or end or your ride depending on the time of day. Usually, the bus drivers prefer you to pay at the end your ride if it’s during rush hour. At a glance, if travelers are boarding the front and back of the bus, it’s rush hour – pay as you get off the bus.

Getting Around the City

16th Street Mall
16th Street Mall

One of my favorite things about downtown Denver is the free 16th Street MallRide. This hybrid vehicle drives up and down 16th Street and breaks at each intersection, allowing passengers to hop on and off with ease. A new MallRide arrives at each stop every few minutes. 16th Street Mall is a great hub for all of your needs with several restaurants, hotels, shops, movie theaters and more. Plus, you can get to just about anywhere in Denver from the 16th Street Mall, as many light rail and bus stations are conveniently located off of one of the stops. To view the free MallRide map, click here. Also, check out my Guide To The 16th Street Mall In Denver.

Walking

The city of Denver is very walkable. Denver prides itself on being one of the fittest cities in the country, so there are sidewalks-a-plenty. The city itself doesn’t change much in elevation and varies between 5,183-5,361 feet, a difference of 178 feet. Compared to San Francisco’s 800 foot elevation variation, Denver is easier to walk. Alternatively, Uber and Lyft are readily available in Denver, should you overestimate your abilities to take a walking tour of the city.

Denver Tourist Traps

Denver Zoo

The term “tourist trap” has such a negative connotation. Just because something is a tourist trap doesn’t mean it should be taken off of your list, it just means you should prepare to be shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists. A few places to expect large tourist crowds in Denver are: Downtown Aquarium, 16th Street Mall, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Zoo and Casa Bonita. To read more about each of these attractions, check out Denver’s Top 5 Tourist Traps.

Day Trips From Denver

Denver has several cities within a few hours’ drive. Each city offers something a little bit different, and each is worth visiting at some point. If you only have time for one, I suggest Boulder. It’s the perfect balance of quirky-Colorado and stunning mountain scenery.

Fort Collins

Located an hour north of Denver, Fort Collins is considered the Craft Beer Capital of Colorado. With Colorado State University (CSU) in the heart of the city, Fort Collins pairs a young, hip vibe with old town charm.

Boulder

Located 30 minutes north of Denver, Boulder is a “hippy town” with a killer view of the Flatirons. Boulder is active and boasts 45,000 acres of open space and more than 150 miles of trails. This is another college town, home to the University of Colorado Buffs.

Colorado Springs

Located an hour south of Denver, Colorado Springs is yet another college town in Colorado. However, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is a much smaller part of the community (compared to CSU or CU). Colorado Springs is home to many iconic Colorado landmarks including Garden of the Gods, the Manitou Springs Incline and The Broadmoor.

Unique To Colorado Restaurants

One of the biggest mistakes an out-of-towner can make is visiting a chain restaurant while in Colorado. You’re here to experience something new! Try one of these popular restaurants that all the locals are raving about.

Beatrice and Woodsley

My husband and I had our wedding rehearsal dinner here. It is one of our favorite spots in Denver for brunch or dinner. The décor is stunning, featuring aspen trees and whimsical details. Reservations are encouraged. See the dinner menu here.

Linger

Linger
Linger

If you want a view of the city, go to Linger. The rooftop lounge is the best place to be in the summer, but be warned, it gets crowded! See the menus here.

Buckhorn Exchange

If you’re looking for authentic Colorado dining, look no further than Buckhorn Exchange. The menu includes yak, ostrich, elk and Rocky Mountain oysters. The restaurant is iconic and has been open since 1893. See the dinner menu here.

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox

Ophelia's Electric Soapbox
Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox

A restaurant and live music venue with an interesting history. What was once a brothel is now Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, a sexy gastropub with delicious food located in the heart of the city. See the menu here.

Weekend Getaways From Denver

If you have enough time in Colorado, a trip to the mountains is a must, but you may need more than one day. The traffic to and from the mountains is increasing with the rise in Colorado’s population. Give yourself at least two days for destinations 2-3 hours away and three days or more for destinations 4+ hours away.

Pagosa Springs/Durango/Cortez

Pagosa Springs
Pagosa Springs

Located 5 hours, 6 hours and 7 hours from Denver, Pagosa Springs is at the top of my list of “favorite weekend getaways in Colorado.” Read more: 3 Days In Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Georgetown/Steamboat Springs

Located 1 hour and 3 hours from Denver, Georgetown is a possible day trip, or a beautiful stop along the way to Steamboat Springs. Read more about my time in Georgetown here or my time in Steamboat Springs here.

Aspen/Crested Butte

Located 3.5 hours and 4.5 hours from Denver, Aspen is great for skiing and taking in views of the mountains.

Breckenridge/Vail/Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs

Located 1.5 hours, 2 hours, and 2.5 hours from Denver, Breckenridge and Vail are known for great slopes and Glenwood Springs has incredible sulfur hot springs and vapor caves, perfect for recuperating after an eventful weekend. Read more about Glenwood Springs here.

Ouray/Telluride

Located 5.5 hours and 6 hours from Denver, Ouray and Telluride are beautiful in the summer and much easier to get to when it isn’t snowing. Telluride is known for fabulous summer festivals.

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Grand Junction/Palisade

Palisade
Palisade

Both Grand Junction and Palisade are approximately 4 hours from Denver. Journey over the mountains and back to mile high elevation. The climate is mild, and both towns are known for peach orchards and wine vineyards. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you have left Colorado!

Denver Neighborhoods

Denver is divided into 11 key neighborhoods: Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park, Cherry Creek, City Park, Downtown LoDo, LoHi, Lowry, RiNo, Stapleton and Uptown. Each neighborhood has a reputation and many are beginning to embrace their unique culture. For a quick and dirty guide, read my Denver Neighborhoods Cheat Sheet.

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Denver is a beautiful city, and there is so much to do in The Centennial State. You can easily fill a two week itinerary with everything Colorado has to offer. If you have your choice of season, I recommend booking a trip for the summer or fall. Summers are beautiful and warm, without being unbearable, and the fall is magical with the leaves changing.

I hope you enjoy your time in Colorado. We are thrilled to have you!

Thanks for reading,

Emma

Cover photo and link photo credit goes to Jeff Turner.

A comprehensive guide to Denver Colorado

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