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.
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Plan your trip
There are many things to consider when planning a trip to Denver. Have you ticked all the boxes? Prepare yourself thoroughly and see what to do in Denver for a day.
1. What’s the best time to visit Denver?
2. A few facts about Denver
3. One Day in Denver Itinerary
3.1. Start Your Day by Visiting the Denver Union Station
3.2. Take a Trip Down 16th Street Mall using the free shuttle
3.3. Take a Walk Around Civic Center Park
3.4. Visit The Byers-Evans House
3.5. Check Out the Denver Art Museum
3.6. Enjoy a Well-Deserved Lunch Break
3.7. Visit The Denver Zoo
3.8. Spend Your Evening at Larimer Square
4. Where to stay in Denver, Colorado?
5. Day trips from Denver
6. Extra tips for visiting Denver
In all honesty, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Denver. 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.
It’s the same with the events – from Blossoms of Light in January in the botanic gardens and St. Patrick’s Day Parade, through City Park Jazz and Independence Eve in summer, all the way to Denver Oktoberfest, Denver Film Festival and Denver Beer Week, there is something going on here every single month. You certainly won’t be bored no matter when you come.
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, the city’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.
Welcome to the Mile High City! Denver is a wonderful place to visit, a true modern urban center which is also proud of its fascinating history. This itinerary will help you find the top sights and things to do during your one day in Denver.
There are several must-visit sights in downtown Denver, so that should be your starting point.
The best way to start is 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. Hotel Indigo Denver Downtown is right next to it, which makes it a fantastic place if you want to start sightseeing first thing in the morning.
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.
The 16th Street Free MallRide buses cut straights through Denver’s bustling downtown streets. They run 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.
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.
The itinerary continues south of the park. The Byers-Evans House, a Grand Victorian home built in 1883 by the founder of Rocky Mountain News is definitely one of the more important things to see in Denver. The house, arguably the best restored early home in Denver, housed several notable local families. The tour of the house is very entertaining and informative, highlighting the city’s rich history and honoring its frontier roots.
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. In addition, the building is a work of art on its own, with its eye-catching Frederic C Hamilton wing resembling sharp mountain peaks and the shifting shapes and light tricks on the inside.
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.
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.
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 around here, but exploring around is great if you want to reset and relax from all that sightseeing. Just make sure to study the Denver Zoo map first.
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.
Russell’s Smokehouse is a great grill place if you’re hungry, and The Capital Grille is perfect for a nice elegant dinner with your significant other.
Other that that, you can knock yourself out in one of Denver’s many breweries, or the nearby Rhein Haus Denver, a delightful German-style beer hall.
Even if you’re spending just a day in Denver, the issue of accommodation needs to be approached carefully. Choosing the right hotel can save you a whole lot of time and leave much more room to explore this fantastic city. There are many good hotels around Denver International Airport if you’re in a hurry to catch your flight early, but go for one in the city if that’s not an issue for you. Here are some great choices.
Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center
650 15th Street , Denver, CO 80202, United States of America
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.
Element Denver Downtown East
1314 North Elati Street, Denver, 80204, USA
Element Denver Downtown East is a great hotel if you’re looking for a place in the city center where you can get excellent service at a fair price. It’s also very environment-friendly, and you can rent out a bike completely free (which can be a great way to get around the city). On top of that, the breakfast is delicious, plus the rooms are immaculate and very comfortable. All in all, this hotel is really hard to beat in this price range. You simply can’t go wrong with it!
857 Grant Street, Capitol Hill, Denver, CO 80203, United States of America
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.
Hotel Indigo Denver Downtown
1801 Wewatta Street, Denver, CO 80202
Lovely little hotel with a great location. Hotel Indigo Denver Downtown will make sure you have everything you need for a comfortable stay. It has a bar, a restaurant, a gym, and serves an excellent breakfast. The rooms have very comfortable beds and a lovely view from them, plus you’re right next to the Union Station. A great place from which to start your day in Denver.
The state of Colorado has so much to offer, both when it comes to its towns and cities and when it comes to its nature. If you’re spending several days here, and you’d like to explore the state, there are many amazing options. Here are a few suggestions that will make for a perfect day trip from Denver.
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. Check out our itinerary for the Rocky Mountain National Park.
“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.
Idaho Springs is just 20 miles west from Denver, so it’s an ideal day trip if you don’t want to go too far. It is an incredibly charming and picturesque little town which can serve as your base for a beautiful hiking trip. The place is famous for its hot springs, and the nature here is absolutely stunning. A stark contrast to the big city and a perfect choice if you want a breath of fresh air.
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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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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).