Urban. Modern. Hip. Sophisticated. Words rarely associated with Denver in the past are now giving it all the appeal of a bustling 21st century metropolis, only with a unique twist. The city life enjoyed by the Denverites comes against the backdrop of majestic natural wonders straight out of Walt Whitman. As he would say, “the peaks gigantic”, “the great sierras”, “and the high plateaus” of Colorado and the Rockies are only a stone’s throw away. When exploring downtown, the main Denver attractions should all prove very easy to reach, especially if you are using the free 16th Street MallRide shuttle. Even so, if you want to truly experience Denver in a day, you’ll need to get creative.
What’s the best time to visit Denver?
In all honesty, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Denver per se. The Mile High City offers plenty of sunshine all year round. There are always fun things to do in Denver. In winter months, the city serves as a starting point for passionate skiers visiting ski resorts in the greater Denver area. During the summer, the temperatures are pretty high, reaching 88°F on average in July, but the nights are cool due to the city’s high altitude.
That being said, the summer months are also the busiest, with peak visitors June-August. So, if you’re keen on avoiding crowds when making your way around the various Denver attractions, plan your visit somewhere between April and May or between September and October.
A few facts about Denver
The city’s earliest beginnings date back to the Old West era, when fortune seekers rushed to the area in troves in search of gold. The earliest towns were named Montana City, Auraria, and Denver City – all of them built by miners and accompanying merchants and businessmen. Denver City was named after James W. Denver, Territorial Governor of Kansas. Land speculators helped that the city’s name would prompt the Governor to make Denver the county seat.
The remnants of the Old West in Denver and the surrounding area are still among the top things to see in Colorado.
As the city’s nickname suggests, Denver’s official elevation is precisely one mile above sea level. As an additional curiosity, the thinner air at the altitude means that golf balls fly 10% farther, making Denver a popular destination for golfing.
One Day in Denver Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Denver. In case you’re looking for a fun way to explore Denver, definitely check out this motor-scooter tour.
Start Your Day by Visiting the Denver Union Station
There are several must-visit sights in downtown Denver, and visiting a significant number of Denver attractions in just one day can be tricky.
The easiest way to do it is to start from the Union Station and make your way southeast in a straight line until you reach Capitol Hill. Taking this route should cover a large number of the most important landmarks, one by one, with little time wasted in between.
The Union Station is an exciting landmark in its own right. Located in LoDo (Lower Downtown), one of the city’s oldest settlements, the Union Station was renovated between 2012 and 2014, and now features an impressive open air train hall next to the historic terminal building featuring rusticated stonework and tall windows.
The ornate architecture provides a beautiful setting for a number of popular restaurants. It is quite likely that the Union Station will be your first stop, considering its location, as well as the light rail service which takes you directly to the airport.
Take a Trip Down 16th Street Mall using the free shuttle
The 16th Street Free MallRide buses cut straights through Denver’s bustling downtown streets, running seven days a week between Union Station and Civic Center Station. The buses stop on every block, so feel free to hop on and off to take a closer look at various Denver attractions, such as the famous Larimer Street.
Along the way, you will come across a number of great restaurants and stores to satisfy all of your shopping and dining needs.
Take a Walk Around Civic Center Park
The free shuttle will take you all the way down to Civic Center Station. Once there, the Civic Center Park is only a couple of minutes away. Take a leisurely stroll down N. Broadway until you reach the park. The eastern side of the park features the Colorado State Capitol building with its beautiful golden dome.
To the west, you will come across the Voorhies Memorial, a masterpiece of civic architecture, with beautiful cream-colored sandstone ornaments. The Greek Theater with the Colonnade of Civic Benefactors is located south across the park. The most impressive sculptures in the park, however, are “Bronco Buster” and “On the War Trail”, both finished in the early 1920s by Alexander Phimister Proctor. One of the works depicts a cowboy, while the other shows a Native American warrior, reminding visitors of Denver’s Wild West origins.
Visit The Byers-Evans House
The Denver Central Library and the Denver Art Museum can be found directly south of the park, which makes them literally impossible to miss. But before you check out the Art Museum, you might want to spend an hour visiting the Byers-Evans House, a Grand Victorian home built in 1883 by the founder of Rocky Mountain News. The house, arguably the best restored early home in Denver, housed several notable local families. The tour of the house if very entertaining and informative, highlighting Denver’s rich history and honoring the city’s frontier roots.
Check Out the Denver Art Museum
The aforementioned Byers-Evans house is immediately next-door to the Denver Art Museum, which is great if you are strapped for time.
The museum houses one of the most expansive Native American art collections in the country. It is equally famous for its Western American Art section. You also may run across special multimedia exhibits, as well as several interactive exhibits. The Denver Art Museum is anything but boring. In fact, the building is a work of art on its own, what with its eye-catching Frederic C Hamilton wing resembling sharp mountain peaks, what with the shifting shapes and light tricks on the inside.
Enjoy a Well-Deserved Lunch Break
If you haven’t been lollygagging, it should only be early afternoon by now, which means: time for lunch! Your best option is the Cap City Tavern, primarily due to its proximity to the Denver Art Museum, but also because of its amazing atmosphere. Just south of the Byers-Evans House, the locale offers a wide selection of delicious American food, all in a warm, family-owned sports bar setting.
If you can’t decide on where to eat, Denver food tour might be another great option since it offers tastings in seven different restaurants.
For a veggie alternative offering healthy options, look for MAD Greens, offering a quick bite in an outdoor setting right next to the Frederic C. Hamilton Building.
Visit The Denver Zoo
Although nearby Colorado landmarks may seem appealing, if you don’t feel like leaving the city, especially if you’re bringing your little ones, visit the Denver Zoo instead. You can get there by hopping on bus route 20 (Direction: Anschutz Medical Campus) on the corner of 17th Ave & Broadway, north of the Civic Center Park.
Talking a walk around the various animal enclosures is one of the best things to do in Denver with kids. The zoo is very clean and spread out, and the animals have plenty of room to walk around and play. The elephant exhibit is the most popular attraction at the Denver Zoo, while making your way around the other exhibits is great if you want to reset and relax from running around and sightseeing around the busier Denver attractions. Only make sure to study the Denver Zoo map first.
Spend Your Evening at Larimer Square
In the evening, make your way back downtown. To get to Larimer Square, hop on bus route 32 (Direction: Applewood) at the Zoo entrance and get off on the corner of 15th St & Larimer St.
Larimer Square will definitely impress you with its indie shops, heritage buildings, and exciting dining options. It is especially beautiful at night, when the strings of white lights illuminate the street. Both the buildings and the light posts are covered in tiny, eye-catching details, such as the charming ceramic cats. Pick a bistro or a nice boutique restaurant and soak up the magical atmosphere.
Otherwise, knock yourself out in one of Denver’s many breweries, or the nearby Rhein Haus Denver, a delightful German-style beer hall.
Where to stay in Denver, Colorado?
Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center
Smack dab in the middle of the city center, within walking distance from the 16th Street Mall and all the major Denver attractions, it is hard to beat Hyatt Regency Denver’s prime location. Due to its proximity to the Colorado Convention Center and the business district, this hotel is the perfect choice if you’re on a short business trip and have a day off. Hotel amenities include a hot tub and an indoor swimming pool, alongside a spectacular view of the Rockies and the city below.
Even if you are not staying at the hotel, visiting its Peaks Lounge on the 27th floor is right up there with the best things to do in Denver.
The Curtis- A DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
Also in the heart of Denver, The Curtis is a boutique hotel hell-bent on charming its guests with its friendly, quirky atmosphere. Ideal for younger people and couples!
Ember Hostel is the perfect choice if you are on a budget. With more to offer in terms of value for money, Ember Hostel’s unique combination of friendly staff, affordability, and trendy decor should be enough to win over any chance traveler.
Day trips from Denver
Although Denver is an excellent starting point, Colorado has so much more to offer. If you are spending just one day in Denver, but you’d like to see more of the greater Denver area, here are some suggestions that are simply must see in Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The Rocky Mountain National Park is among the most visited national parks in the country, and for good reason. With 415 square miles of untouched, protected mountain environments, this unique national park will make you feel like you’re on top of the world! Its seemingly endless hiking trails will satisfy even the most passionate enthusiasts. Other activities include camping and wildlife watching.
“A place called Boulder on the wild Colorado” is an idyllic city overlooked by the Flatirons, unique rock formations at the foothills of the Rockies. Only a 40-minute ride from Denver, Boulder is filled with art galleries, breweries, and quirky little shops, with the University of Colorado campus housing the Museum of National History and the famous Fiske Planetarium.
The city of Colorado Springs, an hour’s drive from Denver, is equally as appealing in its own right as Boulder. However, what’s even more impressive about the county seat of El Paso county are its Pike National Forest and the Garden of the Gods park. In Colorado Springs, you can experience your own gold rush adventure, or take a tour around the local haunted places.
Extra tips for visiting Denver
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-See if there are any shows at the Red Rock Amphitheatre. If so, it is the perfect place to go out in the evening. Only a short drive outside Denver, along scenic canyon roads, you will be greeted by an unparalleled view with breathtaking mountain panoramas. The natural sandstone acoustics seem almost magical, and you will find it hard to believe that such a place exists in such close proximity to a major urban center.
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