Travelers love Denver because it has great weather, good restaurants, even better bars, and a pretty lively arts and music scene. It's one of the fastest growing cities in the US, and was also chosen as a top city in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2020.
Like other cities that are all grown-up, Denver's neighborhoods each have a flavor all their own, and the entire city is connected through a fabulous series of bike paths and parks. Here are some great things to do to make the most from your trip.
Gorgeously restored, historic Union Station is Denver's main transportation hub but it's way more than that and is well worth a visit. Inside, the main hall doubles as a waiting area and lounge with leather couches and chairs, shuffleboard and free wi-fi.
Swanky restaurants and coffee shops line the building along with boutiques and bars. Even one of Denver's best hotels – the Crawford – calls it home. In summer, a farmer's market sets up outside, drawing a huge crowd. Just beyond it, a pop-up fountain comes to life, enticing kids (and kids at heart) to run and play through the urban sprinklers.
Confluence Park lies where Cherry Creek and South Platte River meet and is the center of Denver's sunshine-loving culture. It’s one of the city's most central parks, sitting at the edge of Lower Downtown, and is a good place for an afternoon picnic with tables along spots of the river.
There's a short white-water park for kayakers and tubers, and families can also enjoy a small beach and shallow water area for playing and swimming. Other popular activities include biking and hiking, with trails running along both Cherry Creek and the South Platte.
Read more: Denver's best city parks
Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre
For many people, visiting Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre is reason enough for a trip to Colorado. Set between 400ft-high red sandstone rocks 15 miles southwest of Denver, the 9000-seat theater offers stunning views and draws big-name bands all summer. When the setting sun brings out a rich, orange glow from the rock formations and the band on stage launches into the right tune, it's a captivating experience, wholly befitting the park’s 19th-century name, ‘Garden of Angels.’
Red Rocks Park can be almost as entertaining when it’s silent. The amphitheater is only a tiny part of the 600-acre space and is open during the day for free. Miles of hiking trails provide opportunities to lose the crowds and take in lovely rock formations. The Colorado Music Hall of Fame is worth a visit and is accessible from the parking lot.
Stranahans Colorado Whiskey
Whiskey fans may want to head to Stranahans Colorado Whiskey, where only a dozen barrels of whiskey are produced at each week - and they’re damn good. Using award-winning water from the Rockies, Colorado barley and white-oak barrels, it’s a rare taste of quality over quantity. Guided tours of the facility are available throughout the week, though limited space means it’s best to sign up early and online.
Each year on a Saturday morning in early December, the family distillery hosts a release party for its cult whiskey, Snowflake. The name references its singularity: each “vintage” is aged in different types of barrels and no two are exactly alike. Superfans dubbed “Stranafans” camp out overnight (or longer) to snag one or two bottles, during which they enjoy a festive time of food, music and cocktails.
Tattered Cover Book Stores
There are plenty of places to curl up with a book in Denver’s beloved Tattered Cover Book Stores. Bursting with new and used books, the independent stores have a good stock of regional travel guides and nonfiction titles dedicated to the Western states and folklore.
Established in 1971, Tattered Cover hosts more than 500 events each year, including community events, book festivals and film and literature events. The kids' section is wonderful for families.
Denver Art Museum
Delve into one of the richest art collections in the state at the Denver Art Museum. Home to one of the largest Native American art collections in the US, it puts on special multimedia exhibits that vary from treasures of British art to Star Wars costumes. The Western American Art section of the permanent collection is justifiably famous. This isn't an old, stodgy art museum, and the best part is diving into the interactive exhibits, which kids love.
The landmark $110-million Frederic C Hamilton wing, designed by Daniel Libeskind, is quite simply awesome. Whether you see it as expanding crystals, juxtaposed mountains or just architectural indulgence, it’s doubtless an angular modern masterpiece. For the children, there are various play areas on every floor, a treasure hunt and make-your-own-postcard stations.
For a party-bus atmosphere, Denver’s original cannabis tour operator still delivers. Bus and limo tours by Colorado Cannabis Tours include stops at a grow operation, up to three different dispensaries, a glass-blowing demo and, of course, a grub-run at Cheba Hut, a cannabis-themed sandwich shop. Tours leave from a designated spot near Union Station. Yes, you can get high on the bus.
Then there's City Sessions, a small cadre of cannabis guides who are all industry veterans. Four-hour tours include stops at a grow operation, dispensary and glass-blowing demonstration, and a deep dive into cannabis production and trends. Private tours are also offered for a customized experience in medicinal marijuana, concentrates and more, and cannabis cooking classes are also offered.
Denver PrideFest is one of the nation’s largest LGBTIQ+ events, typically drawing more than 450,000 attendees over two joyful days, making it the largest Pride event in the Rocky Mountain Region. Held in June, the annual festivities include a parade from Cheeseman Park to Civic Center Park, plus events like the Dogs in Drag contest and the Denver Pride 5K.
The festival promotes the heritage and culture of the LGBTIQ+ community of Colorado, and is organised by The Center on Colfax as its largest fundraiser to help it serve more than 57,000 people annually. It also features exhibitors from across the country, culinary vendors, a political rally, family activities and entertainment.
Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus
This is one of the hottest tickets in town for kids. Highlights at Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus include an enclosed three-story climbing structure, a kids' kitchen with hands-on cooking classes, a 2300-sq-ft art studio, a maker space, a life-size marble run and a huge outdoor playground with lots of climbing, digging and splashing areas.
Toddlers also enjoy a section with fun areas designed for crawlers and new walkers. 'Adventure Forest,' a 500-foot-long aerial adventure course that looks something like Peter Pan's hideout offers amazing outdoor adventures for kids – at least those not afraid of heights. There's free admission on the first Tuesday of the month from 4pm to 8pm.
The Colorado Rockies play baseball at the highly-rated Coors Field from April to September. If you want to be close enough to smell the freshly-cut grass, buy tickets at the club level. If you're on a budget, you can't beat the Rockpile, located right behind centerfield, where admission costs less than $10 and the fans are their most exuberant.
If it's altitude you're after, buy seats in the upper deck's purple-painted 20th row, which is exactly 5280 feet above sea level. Tours of the stadium are available year round and include access to the field and Press Club.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
The story of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science begins in 1868, when naturalist Edwin Carter moved into a tiny cabin in Breckenridge to pursue his passion: the scientific study of the birds and mammals of the Rocky Mountains. It's now a classic natural-science museum with excellent temporary exhibits on topics such as the biomechanics of bugs, Pompeii and mythical creatures.
Permanent exhibits are equally engaging and include those cool panoramas we all loved as kids. Gates Planetarium, where you can discover black holes, volcanoes and more, and the IMAX Theatre are especially fun. The museum is located on the eastern edge of City Park, allowing for picnics or connected visits with the nearby zoo.
Denver Botanic Gardens
If you’re hankering for greenery, this 23-acre Rocky Mountain garden is the perfect place to lose yourself. Local flora mixes with relatives from faraway continents such as Australia and Africa to create a breathtaking landscape at Denver Botanic Gardens. Exhibits by well-known artists – think Calder and Chihuly – are set among the flowers and fountains to complement the living art.
The Mordecai Children's Garden has excellent hands-on exhibits, including a much-loved water feature, Pipsqueak Pond. Summer brings outdoor concerts to the gardens, while winter brings a holiday light show. Both are popular – be sure to buy tickets in advance.
Denver March Powwow
Since 1984, Denver has hosted its annual March Powwow, a time when tribes come together to celebrate and share their heritages through song and dance. This three-day event is one of the largest in the country, with almost 100 tribes from 38 states and three Canadian provinces represented in the festivities.
The festival takes place in the Denver Coliseum and features more than 1500 dancers, as well as singing, dancing, storytelling, food and art. Native American artwork and food are sold throughout the event, which is open to the public.
Great American Brew Festival
Colorado consistently ranks among the top three states for microbreweries per capita, and this hugely popular festival sells out in advance. More than 500 breweries are represented, from the big players to the home-brew enthusiasts. It takes over the Colorado Convention Center for a month from mid-September each year.
You can also check out individual breweries around the city, including Wynkoop Brewing Co, a spacious brewpub serving the city’s most celebrated red ale, Rail Yard Ale. Sipping Great Divide Brewing Company's spectrum of seasonal brews is an experience that will make a beer drinker’s eyes light up, and tours are available.
Clyfford Still Museum
Dedicated exclusively to the work and legacy of 20th-century American abstract expressionist, Clyfford Still, this fascinating museum's collection includes more than 2400 pieces – 95% of his work. One of the founders of American abstract expressionism, Still ended his relationship with art galleries in 1951. In his will, the powerful and narcissistic master of bold insisted that his body of work only be exhibited in a singular space, so Denver built him a museum.
Free tours are offered at the Clyfford Still Museum throughout the week; check the website for dates and times. While the museum is less geared to children than the neighboring Denver Art Museum, there's a fun scavenger hunt that little ones will love.
A Taste of Colorado
For almost 40 years, A Taste of Colorado has brought food and beverage stalls, live music and arts-and-crafts vendors to Denver over Labor Day weekend. A variety of restaurants cook up their specialties to enable attendees to sample a variety of the food the state has to offer.
While it's usually held in Civic Center Park, the 2021 event takes place in downtown Denver, with the festival hosting attractions, events and food tastings out of restaurants, food trucks and parks around the area. Featured food will be exclusively sourced from local, independent Colorado restaurants, and attendees will be entertained by local artists and musicians.
Blair-Caldwell African American Museum
Tucked into the 3rd floor of a branch of Denver Public Library, Blair-Caldwell African American Museum provides an excellent overview of the history of African Americans in the Rocky Mountain region – from migration and settlement to discrimination and achievements. Exhibits on Wellington Webb, Denver's first African American mayor, as well as Five Points, Denver's historically African American neighborhood, are particularly interesting.
Stop on the 2nd floor to peruse the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, an institution that provides much-needed resources on the rich cultural heritage of African Americans in the West.
Marvel over monuments
Denver has many marvellous monuments, including Jonathan Borofsky’s whimsical 60ft sculpture Dancers, which is the centerpiece of Sculpture Park. Lawrence Argent’s I See What You Mean is better known around town as the Big Blue Bear. This beloved 40ft-tall symbol of the city peers into the mammoth convention center with a friendly, playful spirit that has come to epitomize its city. Scottish Angus Cow & Calf was created by Dan Ostermiller and pays homage to the historic cattle culture of Colorado. You can see it at Denver Art Museum.
A notable sculpture is Mesteño, which greets visitors to and from Denver International Airport. Nicknamed 'Bluecifer,' a piece fell on creator Luis Jiménez when this 32ft-high blue stallion with hellish, gleaming red eyes was being created, severing an artery in his leg and leading to his death.
You might also want to check out Bronco Buster and On the War Trail, two bronze sculptures located in Civic Center Park. In the early 1920s, Denver sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor was commissioned to create these works depicting a cowboy and a Native American warrior, both paying homage to Colorado's Wild West roots.
RedLine Contemporary Art Center
This remarkable contemporary arts center has a huge gallery space where work by emerging Coloradan artists is exhibited year-round. Fifteen artists in residence are hosted by RedLine each year, their studio space lining the gallery. Open to the public, it provides an opportunity for visitors to watch works of art being created.
RedLine has two main exhibition spaces: the Exhibition Hall and the Project Space. It holds various events to promote community engagement, both inside and outside the center, with a focus on positive social change.
If you’re finding all the museums a bit too serious, loosen up at this amusement park near downtown Denver – your kids will love you for it. Established in 1890 in northwest Denver, Elitch Gardens moved to its present location in 1995. The arts collective Meow Wolf even opened a ride here. Highlights include rollercoasters and thrill rides and a 100-foot-high Ferris wheel that provides great views of the surrounding area.
Check out Twister II, a super-sized replica of Mister Twister from the park's previous incarnation, and the Brain Drain coaster, which takes riders on a 7-story continuous loop. For younger kids, there's a 10-acre water-adventure park, bumper cars and tea cups, and the park also has live entertainment.
Absorb the arts
Art-loving visitors should note that on the first Friday of every month, Denverites come out for an art stroll, cruising galleries for free wine and fun conversations in the Santa Fe and River North (RiNo) Arts Districts. The 'First Friday' event typically runs from 6pm to 10pm. Smaller neighborhoods including Berkeley and South Pearl also open galleries on these nights.
Then there's the three-day Cherry Creek Arts Festival, which usually takes place around July 4, although 2021's event is being held over Labor Weekend. During this sprawling celebration of visual, culinary and performing arts, Cherry Creek’s streets are closed off and over 350,000 visitors browse the giant block party.