Denver is the capital and largest city in Colorado. Nicknamed the “Mile High City,” its elevation is 5,280 feet above sea level. The city is known for excellent beer, the Denver Broncos, and its close proximity to some of Colorado’s best outdoor spots. A vibrant, liveable city with a lively nightlife, interesting history, beautiful parks and gardens, and burgeoning arts scene, it’s ideal for a long-weekend visit for both families and adults. For a short visit that sticks only to the city, you can get by on public transportation, but to truly experience the best of the greater Denver area, you’ll need a car to get around. Here are some of the top things to do in Denver.
Enjoy the weather
Colorado isn’t the first place you think of when listing places with ideal weather. After all, it’s a mountainous state known for some of the best ski resorts in the country. Yet because of Denver’s unique situation, it actually boasts one of the best climates in the Midwest. Yes there are blizzards in winter (the month of March gets the most snow) and some severe storms in June, but overall the climate is quite temperate. In the late summer months of July and August, it gets hot but not humid, and even on cold winter days, the sun is still shining brightly overhead. In fat, Denver lays claim to over 300 days of sunshine per year, so whether you come in summer of winter, chances are you’ll be able to enjoy some lovely weather during your stay. With so many nice days, it’s no wonder than outdoor sports like hiking, biking, golfing, and skiing are so popular in and around the city.
Check out our indie travel tips for visiting Denver
Acclimatize to the elevation
Denver’s elevation can take a bit of getting used to, especially for those coming from sea level cities. The higher elevation makes hiking and biking (and even just walking around, to a lesser extent) more difficult than normal as your body fights to get enough oxygen. The problem gets even worse if you plan on heading up into the mountains. Be sure to give yourself enough time to get used to the elevation. Drink more water than normal, eat several small meals throughout the day, and go easy on the caffiene and alcohol for your first few days. Alcohol can hit you much harder in a higher elevation and consuming the two beers that normally make you just a bit tipsy may result in full-on drunkeness.
Once you’ve gotten used to the elevation, it’s time to drink some beer. Denver is known for having some of the best beer in the country, and we’re not talking about Coors Light. There are dozens of microbrews scattered in and around the city and in Boulder. Take the tour at Great Divide or sample beers from around the world at Falling Rock Tap House. In Boulder, Mountain Sun provides a homey pub atmosphere and great food and beer, while Avery is a haven for beer connoisseurs. In September, come for the Great American Beer Festival, your chance to sample beers from all over the US as they compete for the Gold in a variety of categories.
Enjoy the arts
The Denver Art Museum houses over 350,000 square feet of display space and features artwork from around the world. Though you don’t even have to go inside to see art in Denver – there are sculptures and public artworks scattered around the city; the most famous may be the blue bear peering into the Convention Center. There’s also a Denver Museum of Contemporary Art, a Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, the Denver Center for Performing Arts, the Colorado Ballet and the Colorado Opera. If you’re traveling with an adult crowd, check out the racy Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret variety show. The show is located under the clocktower on the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian-only street that is home to many shops and restaurants.
Explore the parks and gardens
Green space is important, and abundant in Denver. City Park, Washington Park and Chessman Park are among the best free city parks. For a small fee, you can also wander around the sprawling Denver Botanical Gardens, which is divided into areas such as the Japanese Garden, the herb garden, and rose garden. To see some nature, head to the Denver Zoo or the Butterfly Pavilion, and for an adrenaline rush, check out Elitch Gardens, an amusement park located on the edge of downtown Denver.
Understand the history
Denver has a rich history and an ever-evolving culture, which can be explored through a visit to one of the city’s many museums. Check out the Colorado Historical Society, the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center, the Denver Firefighters Museum or the Museo de las Americas. Visit the Denver Mint (where more money is made than anywhere else in the US), tour the State Capitol building, or learn about Colorado history at the home of a Titanic survivor at the Molly Brown House Museum.
It’s generally not good to say that one of the best things you can do when visiting a city is leave, but in Denver’s case it’s true (and not a detraction on the city at all). After you’ve spent a few days in the city, be sure to visit some of the surrounding areas. Even locals will tell you that one of the major perks of living in Denver is the easy access to nearby outdoor adventures. Just 30 miles from Denver, you’ll find the smaller city of Boulder, home to the University of Colorado and hiking in the Flatirons. Closer to Denver, Red Rocks park is a great place for hiking.
If you have more time, plan to spend at least a few days in Vail or Beaver Creek, located about two hours west of Denver by car (there’s also a Colorado Mountain Shuttle that will take you there, though a rental may be more economical). Best known as winter ski resorts, both towns are equally stunning in summer, when you can hike, bike, white-water raft, go horseback riding, or simply enjoy the fresh mountain air and indulge in spa treatments and delicious cuisine made from the area’s local bounty.
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