Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, a one-time "cow town" turned Rocky Mountain powerhouse. At the core sits LoDo, the city’s oldest neighborhood with historic buildings, boutique shopping and some of Denver’s best hotels. Just west of there is LoHi, a leafy Victorian-era neighborhood and foodie’s haven. South and east are the Golden Triangle, Capitol Hill and City Park neighborhoods, home to museums, edgy urban life and big green spaces. And north is RiNo, Denver’s heart of cool, with street art and hipster nightlife.
Each of Denver’s neighborhoods is unique and distinctive, but explore the city a bit, and you’ll find that threads of connection – history, character and possibility – run through them all.
Best place to stay for its central location
LoDo (aka Lower Downtown) is where the city was founded in 1858, its historic buildings today housing a lively and upscale restaurant, bar and shopping scene. Wander between the twinkling lights of Larimer Square, the city’s first commercial district, and the Dairy Block, a historic dairy turned modern complex of shops and eateries. Along the way, stop at the iconic Union Station, Denver’s gorgeously restored train station that bustles with both travelers and locals out on the town. For a change of pace, head to Confluence Park, the one-time winter home of the Arapaho people, now a place to picnic and play along (and in) the South Platte River.
LoDo’s central location makes it a good, though pricey, base with boutique hotels like The Crawford, The Oxford and The Maven. Alternatively, head into the greater downtown area, where big chain hotels rule.
Best Denver neighborhood for foodies
Connected to LoDo by several bridges, LoHi (aka Lower Highlands) is a historic neighborhood once entirely made up of immigrants, first from Europe and later from the Americas. Today, it’s an affluent neighborhood of renovated Victorians and sleek condominiums known as a hotspot for foodies. For the newest, often best, restaurant in town, this is typically the place. Just be sure to make reservations!
Recent faves include El Five, a Mediterranean-style tapas place with spectacular city skyline views and Wildflower, an Italian eatery integrating local flavors and influences. For a treat, stroll the leafy streets to Little Man Ice Cream, an unmissable ice cream parlor shaped like a 28ft-high dairy jug.
Hotels are sparse in LoHi, though its central location makes it easy to access by foot or public transportation.
Best for Denver's artsy vibe and nightlife
Part of the historically African American neighborhood of Five Points, RiNo (aka River North Arts District) is Denver’s most dynamic enclave. Here, one-time railyards and warehouses have been converted into hipster bars and breweries, art galleries and cafes, all surrounded by murals that add color and commentary to every surface. It’s the sort of place you wander through, stopping for a cortado at the boho Crema Coffee House or a bite at Denver Central Market, an industrial-warehouse-turned-food hall.
Afternoons mean gallery hopping, stopping at places like RedLine Contemporary Art Center, where visitors can peek into the artist-in-residence studios housed inside. Weekends find people sipping drinks at places like Our Mutual Friend Brewing and Finn’s Manor, or taking in live indie acts at Larimer Lounge.
A handful of trendy hotels are scattered throughout RiNo. To be at the center of the action, splurge on sophisticated vintage-inspired The Ramble; for something a bit more affordable, try Catbird Hotel.
Best for a genuine neighborhood feel
Capitol Hill is a buzzing urban neighborhood known for its edgy and live-and-let-live vibe. Named after the nearby gold-domed Colorado State Capitol, it’s dotted with 19th-century mansions and modern apartment buildings, boho cafes and dive bars. Breakfast at one of the neighborhood’s vegetarian hotspots is a must – try The Corner Beet for smoothies and to-die-for toast, or City O’ City for more substantial eats. Afterwards, pop into secondhand shops like Wax Trax Records, Capitol Hill Books or Common Collective. Or tour the Molly Brown House Museum, the Victorian-style home of the famous survivor of the Titanic disaster. In the evening, enjoy drinks and nibbles at the LGBTQI-friendly Wild Corgi Café.
"Cap Hill" is known for its small, charming hotels; many in 19th-century mansions are now bed-and-breakfasts, like the Capitol Hill Mansion B&B and Patterson Inn. If you’re on a tight budget, try vintage chic Ember Hostel.
Best neighborhood for museums
Golden Triangle is a compact neighborhood bursting with museums and a popular place to spend a leisurely afternoon. Denver Art Museum is the megastar with a massive collection ranging from Old Master painters to the greats of modern contemporary art. If you need a break, there’s a café and upscale restaurant.
For a lesser time commitment, head next door to the Clyfford Still Museum, dedicated exclusively to the work of its namesake abstract expressionist or the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, an almost whimsical museum showcasing furnishings and decor in a salon style. Alternatively, learn about the Centennial State in History Colorado Center, with well-conceived exhibits that capture the myriad voices of the Coloradan people.
Golden Triangle does not have many hotel options – most people stay in the bordering neighborhoods of Capitol Hill or Downtown – but if you want to roll out of bed into a museum, try the upscale ART Hotel.
Best neighborhood for family entertainment
City Park neighborhood is a cross-section of a leafy turn-of-the-19th-century neighborhood with the sometimes-seedy concrete jungle of Colfax Avenue. The main draw is the park itself, one of the oldest and most extensive green spaces in Denver. It’s a popular place, especially for families, with sprawling playgrounds, splash pads and a big lake with paddleboat rentals. The park also is home to the Denver Zoo, with over 3,000 animals from around the world (look up to see tigers and elephants passing on bridges overhead!). And right next door is the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, which takes on everything from dinosaurs to outer space, with loads of hands-on experiences, an IMAX theater and planetarium too.
If meltdowns are imminent, onsite food vendors sell quick family-friendly eats, but for something more substantial, head to SAME Café, a donation-based restaurant with an ever-changing menu. Hotel pickings are slim here, but Denver’s public buses make getting here a cinch.