Denver, also known as “The Mile-High City”, is the capital and largest city of Colorado. It sits at an altitude of 5,280 feet above sea level and lies where the Great Plains give way to the Rocky Mountains.
The city embraces its cowboy and mining past but also looks toward the future with vibrant art and performing arts scene, dozens of great outdoor festivals, and distinct neighborhoods each offering a unique experience.
You’ll find everything a cosmopolitan city has to offer including a spectacular view of and easy access to the beautiful Rocky Mountains, which are only 12 miles west of town.
Things To Do In Denver
Denver has many beautiful parks that are full of colorful gardens, meandering paths, crystal clear lakes, abundant wildlife and recreation opportunities. The city has a rich pioneer history, and there are plenty of museums where you can learn all about it.
It’s also a vibrant city with plenty of attractions for visitors, plus a diverse collection of neighborhoods that can be attractions in themselves. It’s also a very environmentally conscious city, with one of the nation’s first municipal “Green Fleets”, public transit vehicles using hybrid and alternative fuel and a city tree-planting initiative.
So, hop on a green bus, grab a bike or just walk around to discover Denver.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a gorgeous outdoor concert venue set in a red sandstone paradise. There’s a great view of Denver below.
It was also a stop on The Beatles famous British Invasion tour of America. But if you pay and visit Red Rocks only during a concert, you’re seriously cheating yourself.
Check out the Rock and Roll Museum at the top of Red Rocks, eat in the restaurant, hike the red sandstone, and scrub oak trails for their scenic beauty and wildlife. It is illegal, however, to climb on the rocks themselves.
You can also book a room or stay in a campground next to the amphitheater.
Boulder is a laid-back university town about 25 minutes north-west of Denver. Snow-capped mountains can be seen for miles from the town.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Travelers in Colorado often use Denver as a home base for forays into the neighboring mountains, to places like Rocky Mountain National Park.
Estes Park is a town in the Front Range region of the state of Colorado in America. It is located 90 miles northwest of Denver and sits at the east entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Garden of the Gods
About 80 minutes south of Denver, Garden of Gods is a series of dramatic sandstone formations, enclosed by a city park. Excellent for hiking and technical rock climbing. Free.
About 100 miles South of Denver (close from Garden of Gods), Pikes Peak is the most famous peak in Colorado, inspiring the song “America the Beautiful”, dominates over the city to the west.
Drive to the top, or ascend by Cog Rail. Feeling fit? Hike up Barr Trail to the summit, especially beautiful in the summer with all the wildflowers.
And, if you are feeling really fit? Run up during the Pikes Peak Ascent or run up and down in the Pikes Peak Marathon.
Cave of the Winds
A series of caves near Manitou Springs, offering tours.
Visit a Front Range or mountain winery, or even the vineyards themselves in Colorado’s Wine Country. The Wine Trails can be driven or biked.
Various Wine Trails have been organized by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, a promotional entity funded by the state.
For skiers and snowboarders, winter is the best time to visit Denver. Hordes of people fly into Denver each winter season on their way up to the ski capitals of Summit and Eagle counties, most notably:
- Winter Park
- Beaver Creek
- Copper Mountain
- Loveland Basin
- Arapahoe Basin
Most of the ski resorts are about 90–120 minutes drive from west of Denver. Steer clear of the crowds by skiing during the week or planning your trip outside the busy season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s).
Elitch Gardens Theme Park
Elitch Gardens is a huge amusement park with rides and family entertainment.
Lakeside Amusement Park
A throwback from Denver’s past, Lakeside is an amusement park like they used to make; without all the corporate branding and commercialism. While it may have a somewhat seedy exterior, Lakeside is still a staple of local kids’ upbringings and remains a fixture of Denver culture as well as a much cheaper alternative to Elitch Gardens.
Denver is also home to Water World, a huge water park in Thornton.
- Bovine Metropolis Theater – Exciting and surprising improv comedy shows five nights a week. All ages.
- Comedy Works – Laugh it up with local comedians and big-name acts. 21 and up.
- Impulse Theater – At Denver’s original improv comedy venue, no two shows are ever the same. All ages.
Festivals & events
- January – National Western Stock Show & Rodeo, Martin Luther King Parade, Indian Market, Mile High Snowfest
- February – Colorado Garden and Home Show, Denver Restaurant Week, Buffalo Bill’s Birthday Party
- March – St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Denver March Powwow, Starz Global Lens Film Festival
- April – Doors Open Denver, Colorado Rockies Home Opener, KBCO Kinetics
- May – Cinco de Mayo, Tesoro Indian Market and Powwow, Downtown Festival of the Arts, Day of Rock.
- June – Colorado Renaissance, Cherry Blossom, Comcast La Piazza dell’Arte, Do At The Zoo, PrideFest, The People’s Fair, Highland Street Fair
- July – Cherry Creek Arts Festival, The INTERNATIONAL at Castle Pines, Colorado Irish Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Evergreen Jazz Festival, Global Dance Festival
- September – A Taste of Colorado, Great American Beer Festival, Brew At The Zoo, Annual Oktoberfest, Festival Italiano, Denver Beer Fest
- October – Fright Fest, Denver Mariachi Festival, Denver Marathon
- November – Denver Arts Week, Starz International Film Festival, Denver International Wine Festival, Grand Illumination
- December – Mile High Holidays, Blossoms of Light, Zoo Lights, News Parade of Lights, New Year’s Eve Downtown Fireworks
Located at 2199 California St. Highly recommended. This popular restaurant/cafe/event center is a must for any lovers of poetry, theater, or counterculture. Live music almost every night, salsa classes, and more. Sundays nights are particularly recommended as Sundays host the best poetry slam.
Moreover, major performing arts performances are held at the Denver Performing Arts Complex in downtown Denver, including:
- Colorado Ballet, Ellie Caulkins Opera House (September–April). An internationally acclaimed company presenting classical and contemporary ballets.
- Colorado Symphony, Boettcher Concert Hall (September–June). A Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
- Denver Center for the Performing Arts, The Buell Theatre (Year-round). The center hosts a Tony Award-winning professional resident company and touring productions.
- Opera Colorado, Ellie Caulkins Opera House (November–May). Performs classic operas.
Bars and Nightlife
Colorado produces more beer by volume than any other state and Denver ranks first for US cities.
Notable breweries in Denver and environs include:
- Coors Brewery
- Great Divide Brewing Co.
- Breckenridge Brewery
- Wynkoop Brewing Company
- Bull & Bush
- Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey
- New Belgium – the maker of the very popular Fat Tire, is based to the north in Fort Collins.
- Rock Bottom – based in Louisville (near Boulder)
Listed below are the most popular brewery tours in the Denver area.
- Coors Brewery – the most famous brewery in the area, the Coors Brewery, is located in Golden, about 15 miles west in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
- Great Divide Brewing Company – This celebrated local microbrewery is helping make Denver an international destination for beer-lovers. Tours happen Monday-Saturday. Free.
- Denver Microbrew Tour – Guided walking tour in downtown Denver’s historic LODO (lower downtown) area. The tour starts at Great Divide Brewing Company and includes beer samplings at several microbreweries, everything you want to know about beer, and local Denver history. (Year-round)
- Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours – The bus tour starts at the big blue bear in front of the Denver Convention Center. A guide will talk about history and old tales from Denver’s past and as well as stories from the present. Highly entertaining and informative. Book online, they seem not to have a physical office in the area.
Bars in Capitol Hill
Capitol Hill is the neighborhood directly east and south of the Colorado State Capitol, located on Colfax Avenue and Grant Street. It has long been a place for young people, sub-cultures, and the gay and lesbian community. It rivals LoDo as the place to party, no matter what your scene is.
Bars in Lower Downtown (LoDo)
LoDo is the name Colorado locals have given the Lower Downtown district of Denver. It’s a great place for meals, entertainment, and nightlife, where restored Victorian buildings now house more than 90 sports bars, brew pubs, jazz clubs, and restaurants.
Bars on Colfax
Colfax Avenue, described by Playboy Magazine as the “longest, wickedest, street in America,” stretches 26 miles through Denver and its suburbs. Colfax has long had a “gritty” reputation for being home to prostitution and drug peddlers.
However, through much urban development work, Colfax has shed its past and emerged hipper, cleaner and more popular than ever. The many bars, restaurants, and nightspots along the street give it a 24/7 ambiance.
Nightclubs & Nightlife
Denver is the heart of Colorado’s nightlife.
- Beta – in Downtown, Beta is one of Denver’s most popular nightclubs, with a friendly clientele of all ages and sexual orientations.
- Grizzly Rose – a must for a true western experience. The Grizzly Rose is a huge saloon with line-dancing, live music, and even a mechanical bull. A popular draw for people living outside the city.
- Charlie’s – a gay bar and cultural landmark catering to the old west spirit and a mix of country, pop, and dance music, and inexpensive drinks.
- Tracks – Denver’s main gay nightclub, Tracks is big, friendly, and very fun. Go there Thursday for 18+ nights, or check out the monthly lesbian party First Fridays.
Note: One should keep in mind that the effects of alcohol are magnified at higher elevations, so people may find themselves inebriated more quickly and with greater effect than they would at lower altitudes. Moderation is probably a good idea until you understand your body’s reaction to alcohol and can acclimatize to its effects at higher elevations.
Museums and architecture
- Black American West Museum & Heritage Center – Set in the home of Dr. Justina Ford, Colorado’s first Black woman doctor, this museum is dedicated to the contributions of Black pioneers in the Old West.
- Byers-Evans House Museum – One of Denver’s great historic homes, built in 1883 by Rocky Mountain News publisher Williams Byers and elegantly furnished with original turn of the (20th) century pieces. Tour the house or catch featured exhibitions in the gallery.
- Chamberlin Observatory – Built in 1890, this working observatory is a historic landmark and a pride of the University of Denver. Star Parties and other events are open to the public.
- Children’s Museum of Denver – This educational museum takes a fun, hands-on approach to learning.
- Colorado State Capitol – A gorgeous domed building at the southern edge of Downtown. Tours are available, though the big attraction for tourists is standing above the words “One Mile Above Sea Level” engraved into one of the steps out front.
- Denver Art Museum – A huge museum with art from all over the world. You’ll want to give yourself several hours to properly explore the place. Free admission for everyone on the first Saturday of the month.
- Denver Firefighters Museum – Historical and interactive exhibits, activities and special events celebrating Denver’s firefighters.
- Denver Mint – Tours begin every hour on the hour. Thanks to this place, more U.S. money is made in Denver than anywhere else in the world. Fish a coin out of your pocket and look for the “D” on the face side (usually in the bottom right quadrant). That means the money was minted in Denver. Advance registration is required for all mint tours. Free.
- Denver Museum of Miniatures – Dolls, toys, houses, trains, planes, circuses and more. Everything’s tiny except the giant teddy bears!
- Denver Museum of Nature & Science – Open every day of the year except Christmas Day. Exhibitions, planetarium and IMAX.
- History Colorado Center – The center has many displays and exhibits focusing on historical sites throughout Colorado (prairie settlement, mine, Native American life, etc.) Great for families with kids.
- Molly Brown House Museum – This restored Victorian was once home to labor reformist, actress and Titanic survivor Margaret Brown. It now showcases that era of Colorado history through exhibits and special events.
- The Money Museum – Small room with a few displays, including $30 million in cash! Self-guided tour and Free!
- Museo de las Americas – Denver is home to a large and growing Latino population, and this museum focuses on their art and heritage.
- Museum of Contemporary Art Denver – Housed in an ultra-modern building downtown, this innovative museum seeks to engage the community with workshops, films, lectures, and a relaxing, open environment. Visit the rooftop deck for 360-degree views of Denver, grab a quick bite in the cafe, and check out the functional public performance space called The Lane. Under 18 FREE.
- National Ballpark Museum – Open by appointment; call to schedule a visit. A family-run museum that contains one of the best private baseball collections in the country, this museum holds a stunning collection of artifacts from ballparks all over the country, including signs, bricks, and seats from the classic ballparks of old, as well as a section of Fenway Park’s “Green Monster”.
- Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art – Fine and Decorative art museum featuring over 30,000 works by more than 1,500 artists and designers.
Parks and gardens
- City Park – Enjoy the Denver sunshine at this 330-acre urban park east of downtown. Two lakes, numerous fields, playgrounds, and a golf course, as well as the Denver Zoo and the Museum of Nature and Science, are all within its expansive bounds.
- Denver Zoo – Open every day of the year, hours vary by season. Denver zoo’s pride is Bear Mountain, created using casts of actual Colorado rock outcroppings to simulate the bears’ natural habitat. For a different way to watch the wildlife, hop on the Pioneer Train, the first train in a U.S. zoo to be powered by natural gas. Other exhibits include an indoor rainforest and the 7-acre Primate Panorama.
- Denver Botanic Gardens – Come for the array of flowers and plants from around the world, stay for the peace and quiet (and the free WiFi), then check out the bonus attractions. Above the gardens’ bistro, you’ll find Denver’s first public green roof, a living example of the benefits of green design. Space and science buffs won’t want to miss the OmniGlobe exhibit, a spherical simulation of the Earth from space.
- Washington Park – Beautiful and lush Denver park, with lakes, flower gardens, a recreation center, soccer fields, and tennis courts. Over 160 acres of natural beauty, surrounded by turn of the 19th-century homes. A favorite jogging, volleyball, and drinking destination.
- Cheesman Park – The Acropolis-inspired pavilion has a commanding view of the Denver skyline.
- Confluence Park – Named for the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, Confluence Park is a summertime spot for many of Denver’s residents. Cool off in the river, or bring a kayak or inner tube for the purpose-built rapids near the REI store.
- Denver Animal Shelter Dog Sculpture – A 20-foot-high sculpture of a dog, made out of metal dog tags.
Denver is quite safe for a city its size. Use common sense when traveling, particularly in downtown and some of the other inner-city neighborhoods.
Downtown Denver does have a visible population of people experiencing homelessness, but the city has strict laws about accosting for money. In general, panhandlers don’t harm anyone.
Downtown has a fairly active 24/7 population, especially in LoDo, so it’s generally safe. Still, it may be a good idea not to travel alone at night in some of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown.
Although the inner-city neighborhoods are not as bad as those in some other cities, they have higher rates of crime than the rest of the city. The rest of Denver is safe, though.
Like the rest of the United States, the emergency number in Denver is 911. This will connect you to the local emergency services (police, medical, and fire). If you need to report a crime to the police, such as a burglary (not in progress), minor assault (no injuries and not in progress), car theft, etc. Dial +1 720 913-2000 and request for police assistance.
Altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is an ailment that potentially anyone can have when they visit areas with higher altitudes than they are used to, due to decreases in barometric pressure (though not oxygen content).
Denver is called the Mile High City for a reason—at an altitude of a mile above sea level, one can start to experience some of the effects of altitude sickness, though this condition generally becomes more pronounced at elevations around 8000 ft (2500 m) and above.
Some normal changes may occur when people travel to higher altitudes that are not altitude sickness. These include the following:
- Hyperventilation (breathing faster and/or deeper than normal)
- Shortness of breath after exertion
- Changes in nightly breathing
- Awaking at night
- Increased urination
The above are generally nothing to worry about, though problems with breathing may be helped by a drug called acetazolamide.
If you think you may have problems, get advice from your doctor before traveling to Denver.
Some people get Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), which can be serious, at the higher elevations you will experience if you are touring through the Rocky Mountains. A diagnosis of AMS is usually given if a person has a headache accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite, vomiting and/or nausea
- Fatigue or weakness
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Insomnia, difficulty sleeping
Some people liken AMS to a bad hangover or worse. It occurs because your brain tissue swells at higher elevations than it is used to.
If you are feeling unwell at high altitudes, assume that you are suffering from AMS unless there is another logical explanation that would be accompanied by other symptoms (food poisoning or a viral infection).
How to Avoid AMS
To avoid AMS, try to get to a lower elevation until your symptoms subside, drink lots of fluid to avoid dehydration, and avoid traveling at high rates of ascent. If the symptoms continue or worsen, travel to a lower altitude.
AMS can turn into High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), a potentially fatal condition where the brain swells so much that it ceases to function properly. Symptoms of HACE include confusion, inability to think clearly, lethargy, ataxia (walking staggerdly, as if one was drunk), and changes in behavior.
The person may not recognize having HACE, but if you any of you experience any of these symptoms (especially ataxia), immediately make sure the person is taken to lower elevations for medical treatment.
Another very serious condition, called High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) causes fluid in the lungs. If someone suffers chest tightness, congestion, gurgling breaths, blue or gray fingers or lips, cough producing frothy or pink liquid, and difficulty breathing even at rest, they should be taken to a lower elevation and receive medical treatment immediately.
Although not particularly common, keep in mind that these illnesses are possible and that anyone is susceptible to them, even if you have traveled to high elevations before.
Sunburn and UV
Another medical concern at higher elevations, particularly those in Colorado and Denver, is sunburn and skin cancer. The higher elevation means that there is less atmosphere protecting the skin from harmful solar radiation.
This is especially true in Colorado, with both dry air that saps the skin of protective moisture and with the beautifully sunny days we have in the state.
Colorado actually has the highest rate of skin cancer in the country, so it is always a good idea to wear a lot of high SPF sun-screen, hats, long sleeve shirts and pants. Don’t think that you are protected from the sun in the winter either.
The sun’s rays can actually be reflected by the snow on the ground, still causing skin damage, so when in Colorado, do as the locals do, and wear sunscreen on any exposed skin surface at any time of the year.
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