From its beginnings during the Gold Rush in the 1850s, Denver has evolved into a 21st-century boom town with a thriving economy, a lively arts and culture scene, a hotspot for dining and nightlife, and the go-to city for recreational sports.
Most visitors arrive via Denver International Airport, widely recognised for its iconic design, which is meant to suggest the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. In fact, airline passengers get their first glimpse of those majestic peaks from several thousand feet as they approach the airport, which is also the jumping-off point for some of the best ski resorts in the United States.
Once on the ground — at 5,280 feet above sea level — drink plenty of water, especially in Winter, to help adjust to the thin, dry air. And although Winter temperatures may rise into the 60s during the day, the city’s location on the edge of the High Plains of the Rockies means the weather can (and often does!) change quite suddenly.
With accommodations secured and bags unpacked, it’s time to start exploring… and the list is long! Here are some of the highlights.
Denver has many colourful neighbourhoods, each with its own unique “flavour.” Discover these popular areas.
The River North Art District, or RiNo, plays out the theme with a rhino as its logo. Check out the bold murals on buildings and in alleyways, plus more than 100 experimental galleries and lots of breweries. Grab a coffee and some bakery specialities at Denver Central Market, a gourmet food hall. Don’t miss happy hour at Work & Class, a down-to-earth eatery with American and Latin influences. Or, grab a wood-fired pizza at Cart-Driver, if you can find a seat in this hip space in a converted 640-square-foot shipping container. Book a craft brewery crawl with DRiNk RiNo’s funky eTuk tours, or make it a party at RiNo Beer Garden, and try to decide from more than 60 taps of Colorado and German beers!
Downtown Denver, including Lower Downtown (LoDo), the city’s oldest neighbourhood, is known for fine dining, the 16th Street pedestrian mall with its free shuttle buses stopping at every corner, and Victorian buildings housing unique shops and boutiques in Larimer Square. The 100-year-old landmark Union Station in the heart of the district boasts 10 chef-owned restaurants, including Ultreia, where James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest Jennifer Jasinski offers Iberian-inspired small plates and tapas. If Northern Italian is more your taste, visit Panzano in the Kimpton Hotel Monaco and savour dishes from the contemporary menu of organic, seasonal ingredients. Enjoy Asian-inspired dishes at TAG, in the heart of Larimer Square. Chef Troy Guard brings his love of travel — and his love for Denver — to his “playful” and “social” cuisine.
“When people ask why I chose to open my restaurants in Denver, I say, why not Denver!” says Chef Guard. “I’ve cooked and travelled in a lot of big cities before, and I wanted a place where I could slow it down a bit but also a place that had energy and opportunities for growth. I also fell in love with the lifestyle here. I traded my Hawaii beaches for Colorado mountains, and I love it.”
There are many great restaurants throughout the city, but don’t leave without sampling the exciting and experimental brewpub culture!
“At last count, a few weeks ago, we were over 100 breweries in the Denver metropolitan area. Along the Front Range, we were over 250,” says Scott Kerkmans, a craft beer expert and instructor in the Beer Industry Program at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Because of education opportunities like [ours]… the ability for Colorado craft brewers to improve their product is second to none.”
Visit some top-notch breweries and tap rooms downtown, including Freshcraft, offering more than 25 craft beers on tap in a casual atmosphere; Wynkoop Brewing Company, a LoDo institution inside an 1800s-era warehouse, where more than 40 styles of beer are crafted; or the Great Divide Brewery, one of the most decorated breweries in America.
Other neighbourhoods to explore include Capitol Hill, with eight museums and miles of the coolest 1950s neon signs, plus plenty of funky shops, such as Capitol Hill Books, Twist & Shout Records and Colfax Guitar Shop. If you’re a bit homesick for Caribbean beach-shack food and atmosphere, head to Bang Up to the Elephant on Pearl Street. The menu features everything from Cuban to roti to Scotch bonnet mango wings.
Pair your neighbourhood adventures with visits to some of the city’s top attractions. Learn about philanthropist and Titanic survivor “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” at the Molly Brown House Museum. Tour the Denver Mint and see how billions of U.S. coins are produced each year. Check the calendar of events at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, which includes a concert hall, opera house, theatre complex and more.
Make time to visit the Denver Art Museum, itself a work of art, where an exhibition on the House of Dior runs through March 3. Young travellers will love the Children’s Museum, where the focus is on newborns to age 8; but there is fun for everyone with hands-on, interactive exhibits.
Skiing and Recreation
If skiing is on your agenda, even for just one day, there are several ski resorts within a two-hour drive of Denver. If you’re not comfortable driving the winding mountain roads, it’s easy to book a ski bus or all-inclusive package. Check out Winter Park Resort, Loveland Ski Area and Keystone Resort — the closest resorts — and the numerous mountain shuttles and charter services available from the city or the airport.
Denver is one of the most outdoors-oriented cities in the country. Don’t be surprised to see cyclists year-round (hint: rent a bike). Or walk the trails, such as those at Red Rocks, a mountain park about 15 miles west of Denver. Try climbing the 380 steps from the lower parking lot on either side of the amphitheatre!
“Even though there aren’t any shows scheduled in the Winter, the amphitheatre is still open to the public, and many people still use it as a place to gather, recreate, take photos, etc.,” says Ben Heinemann, marketing and communications specialist for the city and county of Denver. “Our Visitor Center, as well as the Trading Post, which houses the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, are also open all year round.”
And if you’re a sports enthusiast of the spectator kind, check out the schedules for the NFL Denver Broncos, the NBA Denver Nuggets and the NHL Colorado Avalanche.
Above all, don’t forget to look up and enjoy the spectacular mountains during your visit to The Mile High City!
Did you know?
Denver sits at 5,280 feet above sea level, thus earning its nickname, “The Mile High City.”
In the city’s thin air, a golf ball travels 10 percent farther than at sea level.
The city boasts nearly 300 days of sunshine annually.
The dome of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver is plated with 24-karat gold. The world’s entire supply of rose onyx, mined in Colorado, adorns the interior.
The city’s first government was formed in a saloon.
You can major in beer! The Beer Industry Program at Metropolitan State University of Denver is highly regarded for its role in the analysis of brewing quality.
The Denver Mint produces more coins than any other mint in the world. The mint mark on the coins is always a “D.”
The gray and red granite pavers on the 16th Street pedestrian mall are arranged to match the pattern of the Western Diamondback rattlesnake.
Author: Judith Isacoff