The capital of Colorado—originally called St. Charles, then Denver City, then finally Denver—was staked out in November 1858 as a gold mining town. The local gold ran out pretty quick, but more was found in the nearby mountains. Seeing an opportunity, the town got into the business of providing supplies to the miners and the mining companies. While Denver could have turned into a ghost town (of which there are many in Colorado), it thrived even when the local mines were spent. This resourceful early history goes a long way in explaining why Denver continues to be such an attractive city: easy access to glorious Rocky Mountains, a civic appreciation of ingenuity, as well as great hotels, restaurants, and diversions in town. Modern Denver offers a wealth of fun experiences for those launching a trip into the mountains as well as for those who prefer the view from paved streets.

A colorful mural on a wall with the word "denver'" in the upper right hand corner- mural - pieter-van-de-sande unsplash

Pieter Van De Sande / Unsplash


Food and drink to try in Denver

For a little insight into the booming Denver food scene, make your way to LoDo’s Larimer Square—a collection of beautiful Victorian buildings where a number of chef-owned restaurants have taken hold, like Rioja, Milk & Honey Bar, and Tag. On summer evenings, diners sit outside the busy clutch of bistros, lit by canopy of string lights, sipping craft cocktails and locally brewed beers, and enjoying dishes that range from tapas to Mexican to farm-to-table treats. Tucked up in the River North Art District, an eclectic gathering of eateries, shops, and creative spaces make up the Source Market of Denver. For those looking to get a little rowdy and keen to dance, hit up the Grizzly Rose—a fun honky-tonk bar with a distinct Western flavor.

Culture in Denver

There are a bunch of great museums in Denver. For the aviation nut, there’s the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, a giant hanger at what used to be Lowry Air Force Base, full of planes and rockets. Art lovers will love the Denver Art Museum—originally named the Denver Artists’ Club—with a collection of over 70,000 works of art; for fans of Abstract Expressionism, a trip to a new museum built around the works of Clyfford Still is imperative. History buffs will be drawn to the Molly Brown House Museum, a look at boomtown Denver through the life and home of its former owner and namesake, a survivor of the Titanic. If you can’t get enough of the West’s stunning scenery, a trip to Denver’s American Museum of Western Art offers a small and mighty collection of paintings about the American experience and western expansion.

Outdoor Adventure

A view of the white or buff peaks of the mountains on the western horizon can be a distraction when you’re roaming around the city or relaxing on a café patio. Happily, it’s not hard to get to the mountains and leave the pavement behind. Easy day trips from town include rafting down Clear Creek or heading to Boulder to hike Mt. Sanitas. In winter, ski areas like Breckenridge or Vail are only a two-hour drive. A quick but head-clearing getaway, just outside the city limits, is a visit to Chatfield Farm, part of the Denver Botanic Gardens, where a working farm and meadows of wild native grasses and flora will help you understand the deep appeal of Denver’s surroundings.

Explore like a Local

There are a number of great spots for simply walking in Denver. Get wowed by the native flora of the Rocky Mountains and beyond at the Denver Botanic Gardens where strolling options abound summer or winter, day or night. (The garden’s summer concert series provides a particularly dreamy soundtrack for your meanderings.) For people-watching, good eats, and casual window-shopping, the mile-and-a-quarter-long 16th Street Mall can keep you busy for hours, but is also served by a free MallRide Shuttlebus when you’re done wandering. For indoor perambulations, the five locations of the Tattered Cover Book Store, a great source of civic pride, is also a great (and seemingly bottomless) source for book ideas.

How to get around Denver

Most travelers fly into the Denver International Airport (DIA), 23 miles from town. (Don’t rush through the airport—it’s a showcase for public art and, even though its 1995 construction was newsworthy for bad luck, lateness, and budget overages, the white peaks of the terminal itself—which evoke Native American tepees on the plains and echo the Rockies in the distance—are pretty spectacular to see.) If you’re not renting a car, a new light rail train connects the airport to centrally located Union Station in 35 minutes for $9. If you’re going to take day trips from town, a rental car is recommended but if you’re staying in the city, Denver is one of the best cities for public transit in the West. Light-rail trains, a bike share system (Denver B-Cycle), and bus rapid transit lines make getting around the heart of the city viable without a car.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
Denver is no country bumpkin when it comes to food and drink. You’ll find chefs setting national trends, restaurants and breweries in renovated spaces, and even an Asian eatery where you play ping-pong between meals. Come to the mountains!
Denver’s hotels have stepped up to suit an influx of sophisticated visitors flocking to the Mile High City’s art galleries, shopping districts, and dining scene. From Larimer Square to Cherry Creek, century-old buildings to contemporary newcomers, these accommodations put it all at your fingertips.
Colorado’s microbrew scene is so strong that it’s resulted in a goofy nickname, Foam on the Range. Which is not to say that the Mile High City’s craft cocktails aren’t worth seeking out, too. With Denver’s plethora of distilleries, wineries, and brewpubs, you won’t go thirsty while visiting.
Denver is no country bumpkin when it comes to dinner. The rich food scene boasts chefs that set national trends, food halls and breweries have taken up residence in renovated spaces (like Union Station or an abandoned iron foundry), and you can even find an Asian restaurant where guests play ping pong between meals. Come to the mountains and dig in.
Denver shopping offers a variety of experiences: You can browse the offerings at a world-renowned bookstore and then go find a cowboy hat fit for a rockstar or ranchero. Denver’s rich art scene means galleries, locally crafted jewelry, and designer clothing, too.
The Mile High City offers an engaging mix of outdoor attractions and urban experiences. Whether shopping for western duds, taking in an opera, strolling the mile-long 16th Street Mall, or looking at fine art before wandering through gardens of Rocky Mountain wildflowers, you’ll be wowed by Denver’s charms.
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