Denver is the capital city of the state of Colorado, and it’s an absolutely wonderful travel destination! With a bustling food scene, every major professional sport, and the Rocky Mountains right next door, there’s something for every traveler in Denver.
If you like to spend your time outdoors, then Denver is your dream destination. You can get all the hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding you can handle. Most within a very reasonable driving distance from the city!
If you’re more the city type who enjoys a night out on the town, Denver has you covered there as well! Between music venues ranging from full-blown arenas to intimate shows, incredible nightlife, a blossoming culinary scene, and stage shows – there’s always something for a night out in Denver.
And if you’re more the hipster or artsy type, Denver is quite well-known there as well! The city has an amazing selection of small craft breweries, two different art districts (Santa Fe and River North), an award-winning art museum, and of course, the booming marijuana industry.
It really is a city for everyone. This Denver travel guide will help you get the most out of your stay in this fabulous city.
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THE ULTIMATE DENVER TRAVEL GUIDE
Best Time to Visit Denver
Denver is one of those cities that has a plethora of experiences you can enjoy no matter what time of year you visit.
Nestled in the valley of the beautiful Rocky Mountains, Denver’s climate is classified as “semi-arid.” Which means warm and toasty summers with relatively mild winters. Snow is relatively common in winter, but warm temperatures and near daily sunshine make it melt quickly. The climate in Denver is also quite dry, with little annual rainfall.
But when is the best time to visit Denver for you?
Getting To (And Around) Denver
Depending on where you live, it is possible you could make the drive to Denver. The city has an extensive interstate system, with interstates I-25, I-70, and I-76 all crisscrossing through the city. Making it easy to get to Denver from any other part of the country by car.
Possible. But not necessarily easy.
Colorado is situated in the not-so-densely populated Rocky Mountain region, which means the chances of a long drive from your home is high. It would certainly be a gorgeous drive. But not everyone is cut out (*raises hand*) for super long car rides.
There’s also no doubt that having a car to get around while visiting Denver certainly has its benefits. But, unless you live in a neighboring state, it’s likely it will make the most sense to fly, and possibly rent a car on the ground in Denver.
For most visitors, a trip to Denver involves a flight (or two if you have to connect), arriving into Denver International Airport (airport code DEN). Denver’s airport is pretty modern, and easy to navigate. It’s important to note, however, it’s not really conveniently located to the city. In fact, it’s about a 30 minute drive outside of the city.
Luckily Denver now has a direct train route that connects DIA to Union Station downtown. The trains run about every 30 minutes, and takes about 40 minutes, with stops, to arrive at Union Station.
GETTING AROUND DENVER
By car: driving is definitely the easiest way to get around the Denver area. Especially if you include any activities that aren’t located in the city center (which you absolutely should). If you’re flying in to Denver, it may make sense to rent a car. DIA has all the major car rental companies available.
Public transportation: Denver’s public transportation system mainly consists of buses and the light rail (an above ground train). The light rail is more commonly used by tourists as it connects DIA to downtown, and from downtown to the suburbs.
Ride share: like most cities these days, Denver has a bustling ride share economy, and Uber and Lyft are abundant. There are also a wide array of scooter rental companies available.
Walking: to be completely honest, Denver is not the most walk-able of cities. Sure, you can cover ground on some shorter distances downtown. But with the metro area being so spread out, you’ll likely need to supplement with another mode of transportation.
Best Area to Stay in Denver
It’s really hard to say what the best area to stay in Denver is for a person without knowing what their itinerary includes. That said, I think it’s safe to say that most people will find solid benefits to staying as centrally located in the city as possible. The downtown core has a lot of the city’s best – the best venues, bars, restaurants, activities and more.
Staying centrally located means focusing on lodging options in Denver’s Downtown, Lower Downtown (LoDo), Capitol Hill, the Highlands, River North (RiNo), Uptown and Five Points neighborhoods. Staying in any of these neighborhoods ensures you will be near the action the city has to offer, while also being close to major highways for any plans outside of Denver during your trip.
Airbnb Options in Denver
Like many cities across the country (and really, the world), Airbnb has a strong presence in Denver. And that’s a good thing! While there are certainly pros and cons to Airbnb vs. Hotels, consumers only benefit when we have more options.
Airbnb properties in Denver run the gamut from older, historic homes in Capitol Hill, to city apartments downtown, to hip industrial lofts in RiNo (River North) and everything in between. So I definitely suggest taking a peek at Airbnb when planning your Denver trip! You can often get more space and a better location for less money vs traditional hotels.
And to make it easy for you, below are some of my FAVORITE Airbnb rentals available in Denver:
– Bring a crowd for this Highlands townhome that sleeps 8 and has a rooftop deck with incredible views of the city (!!)
– Or enjoy the historic charm of this brick row house
– Be smack in the middle of Downtown Denver at this luxury 2-bedroom Union Station apartment
– Discover the Old West at this historic Highlands carriage house known as the “Hen House”
– Walk anywhere you need to go from this art-filled condo in Capitol Hill
– Check out this industrial 2-story River North loft with a private courtyard and lots of exposed brick
You can also use this search box below to see what Airbnb has available for your specific dates and attendees:
Hotels in Denver
Now, don’t get me wrong, hotels have a lot of pros to them as well! You don’t have to clean up after yourself, larger amenities like onsite spas or restaurants, or maybe you’re a frequent traveler and you have lounge access perks. I have spent years of my life in hotels (no joke), and they certainly have a place still also!
And that said, Denver is lucky to have some incredible hotel options. Everything from small, boutique accommodations to the most luxurious hotels. Some of my favorites in the city are:
– Le Meridien Denver Downtown: home to Denver’s tallest open air rooftop bar
– Hotel Teatro: Denver’s original boutique hotel
– The Westin Denver Downtown: a reliable Marriott located smack in the middle of the 16th street mall (and they have a rooftop pool!)
– Magnolia Hotel Denver: a historic hotel (built in 1910) re imagined for the modern world
– The Curtis Denver: a unique boutique hotel feel with the backing of a national brand
– The Crawford Hotel: pretty much brand spankin’ new and located in Denver’s historic Union Station
– The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa: Denver’s most luxurious (and historic) hotel
– Four Seasons Hotel: an upscale downtown hotel in a landmark Denver high-rise
Where to Eat in Denver
WHERE TO HAVE BREAKFAST IN DENVER
Sam’s No 3: this is Denver’s most beloved diner. Really – it’s hard to find a time when there isn’t a wait to get in at Sam’s. But that’s what is to be expected when you have amazing food, reasonable prices, and the best staff around.
The Lobby: the Lobby feels like a cool, neighborhood hangout spot. And that’s really because it is. Their food is delicious, and inventive. The ambiance is relaxed, and welcoming. You can’t go wrong here.
Snooze: Snooze is incredibly popular and almost always has a wait to get in. But that usually says something, right? Their menu boasts creatively delicious sweet and savory breakfast items alike. And they have two downtown locations, one in Denver’s Union Station.
WHERE TO HAVE BRUNCH IN DENVER
Brunch is a big deal in Denver. Maybe we’re too lazy to get up earlier for breakfast? Or maybe we’re too hungover from the night before? Whatever the cause, Denverites tend to skip over early breakfast for brunch instead, especially on the weekends.
And while there are tons of amazing options to choose from, I used my own criteria and years of independent field research to narrow down my favorites. The spots in Denver where you can get the best bottomless mimosas, plus amazing food, plus a manageable wait time. What more could you want?
WHERE TO HAVE A QUICK CASUAL LUNCH IN DENVER
Torchy’s Tacos: Torchy’s has a lot of really inventive tacos. So I guess in that regard it’s not your “authentic” taco joint. Their food is creative and their drinks are delicious. The trailer park, baja shrimp, and hillbilly queso are personal favorites. A must stop in Denver!
Illegal Pete’s: true Denverites know that in the Chipotle vs. Illegal Pete’s debate, IP wins every time. It’s also a quick-service Mexican spot, but they have better and more inventive ingredients. The baja fish burrito is to die for.
WHERE TO HAVE MEXICAN FOOD IN DENVER
Otra Vez: ever since Otra Vez opened on the 16th street mall, people have been packing it in droves. Their patio is a perfect place for a margarita on a warm afternoon. They have all your favorite Mexican cantina fare: street tacos, enchiladas, house plates, and more.
Los Chingones: located in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, Los Chingones has everything and more you could want (and more). Incredible food? Yup! Incredible drinks? Absolutely! Add to that an amazing rooftop with killer views of the city and you’re golden.
Mexico City: this is about as authentic as you can get for Mexican food in downtown Denver. It’s a no-fuss joint where you feel more like a member of the extended family than a customer. And the food is incredible! Their specialty fried tacos are must try.
WHERE TO HAVE STEAK IN DENVER
Shanahan’s: not cheap by any means, but it is SO worth it for a special occasion dinner. Shanahan’s is true steakhouse style, where most entrees are solely your meat choice, and then you add on family-style side dishes. I’m a ribeye girl myself, so that’s what I always order and it’s perfect every time.
The Buckhorn Exchange: this is Denver’s most historically significant steakhouse. The Buckhorn been around since the 1890s! Here you can get all your traditional steakhouse fare, with the addition of exotic meats you can’t get anywhere else.
STK Denver: this is a steakhouse that feels like it belongs in a Vegas casino. STK has a very hip and modern atmosphere, typically with a DJ bumping jams. However, don’t let all that distract you from the food. It’s absolutely delicious, and they prepare it perfectly.
WHERE TO HAVE DESSERT IN DENVER
Little Man Ice Cream: Seriously the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life. There’s always a line whenever I’ve gone. Generally I count my blessings if the line doesn’t wrap around the block. Little Man has the BEST flavors as well. A crowd favorite is the salted oreo.
D Bar: owned by Food Network celebrity pastry chef Keegan Gerhard, it’s no wonder D Bar has become synonymous with having the best desserts in Denver. Stop in for some nutella beignets and a boozy milkshake.
Where to Drink in Denver
DENVER’S BEST ROOFTOP BARS
Denver is known for having 300+ days of annual sunshine. And Denverites love to take advantage of that sunshine by getting outdoors in nature. But they also really love to take advantage of that sunshine by drinking on some of the city’s many amazing rooftop bars!
If the weather is nice, be sure and check out one of Denver’s best rooftop bars. There is nothing like a fresh cocktail on a rooftop in the sunshine with the Rocky Mountains as your backdrop.
1Up: A bar / arcade where you can play video game classics like pac man, skeeball, pinball, paper boy, and more. They have two convenient locations near downtown. 1Up is a place to relive childhood fun (with an adult drink in your hand).
BEST DENVER SPEAKEASIES
Prohibition may have rocked our history in the 1920s and 1930s, but thankfully that ended and we can all drink in peace again. But sometimes it’s fun to relive a slice of history while imbibing. And that’s where the best speakeasies in Denver come into play!
Williams & Graham: this is a prohibition era speakeasy, hidden behind the facade of a bookstore. The inside of Williams & Graham is small and incredibly intimate. And their drink menu focuses on the timeless classics, as well as their own inventions.
Green Russell: located in Denver’s historic Larimer Square, the Green Russell is a popular place for a cocktail. And rather than entering through a facade, you find the entrance past a legitimate pie shop.
Retrograde: this is the only non-prohibition era speakeasy, but it wins for creative entrances! Wannabe Retrograde customers must first enter the Frozen Matters ice cream shop, locate the walk-in freezer in the back, then have the gall to trust your choice to open it up and walk right in.
Things to Do in Denver
Top Golf: I am no golfer. But Top Golf is not “regular” golf, and it’s really fun! They have a full bar, surprisingly great food (the chicken and waffle sliders are bomb), and a number of different games you can play.
Comedy Works: Definitely the best comedy club in Denver! They have two locations: one downtown and one south of the metro area, and they get a good mix of big name comedians and up-and-comers.
Red Rocks Amphitheater: The main reason I love red rocks is because it is THE BEST outdoor music venue there is. Period. No arguments. Therefore, I frequent red rocks often to catch a show.
You can also hike, mountain bike, and be outdoorsy in the park area if you’re in to that sort of thing. They even do fitness stuff like yoga, group workouts, and things of that nature.
Washington Park: Great if you’re here in the warmer months! This is one of Denver’s largest parks, with over 150 acres and two lakes. Summer days are filled with people working out, bbq’ing, playing volleyball, you name it!
Upstairs Circus: They host a variety of “project socials” where you can pick a project (art, jewelry making, leather works, etc.) to work on while you enjoy some libations at the same time! I have been there a few times, and proudly display my artwork at home.
Denver Professional Sports: Denver has a plethora of local sports options! Most play in the downtown core, with the exception of the Rapids (soccer), but they’re not too far away.
Football: Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High
Baseball: Colorado Rockies at Coors Field
Basketball: Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center
Hockey: Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center
Lacrosse: Colorado Mammoth at Pepsi Center
Soccer: Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park
Things to Know About Denver – Denver FAQs
WHAT IS DENVER TIME ZONE?
Mountain Time (GMT-6)
WHAT IS DENVER AREA CODE?
Most Denver phone numbers will begin with area code 303 or 720
WHO IS DENVER NAMED AFTER / WHY IS DENVER NAMED DENVER?
General William H. Larimer (the founder of Denver in 1858) named the city he founded after James W. Denver, the governor of Kansas Territory. General Larimer did this in hopes of gaining political favor with the governor. But what he did not know at the time was that Denver had already resigned.
WHY IS DENVER CALLED THE MILE HIGH CITY / WHAT IS DENVER ELEVATION?
Denver is famously nicknamed the “Mile High City” because the official elevation is 5,280 feet above sea level. Or, one mile high.
HOW SAFE IS DENVER?
Overall, Denver is a very safe city. But, it is still a city at the end of the day. So while the most likely crime to befall tourists is petty theft (always keep an eye on your belongings in any city), it doesn’t hurt to be aware and prepared.
When exploring downtown, be sure to always keep your belongings safe and secure. The downtown area also has a homelessness problem, and you may encounter tents or encampments along the way. Generally speaking, these people are out to do you no harm. However, if you are ever uncomfortable, simply adjusting your route to avoid these areas will bring you peace of mind.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT DENVER?
Honestly this totally depends on what your interests are. However, I can unequivocally say there really is no BAD time to visit Denver. In the winter you can experience some of the best snow sports (skiing, snowboarding, etc.) the country has to offer. And in warmer weather you can enjoy amazing outdoor recreation, an incredible lineup of annual Denver festivals, and more.
WHAT IS DENVER KNOWN FOR?
Denver is an amazing city that has experienced many booms in recent years. Booms in tourism, booms in various business sectors, and a huge increase in the number of people relocating here. That means a lot of new people coming to Denver who may be wondering, but what exactly is Denver known for?
1. Denver is famously known as the “Mile High City” because it sits at 5,280 feet in elevation
2. Even in winter, Denver gets over 300 days of sunshine per year
3. Colorado was one of the first states in the country to legalize recreational marijuana
4. Denver is one of only a few US cities that has seven professional sports teams covering all major sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, and lacrosse) and professional rodeo
5. The city of Denver is NEAR the mountains, but it is not IN the mountains
WHAT ARE THE WORST THINGS ABOUT DENVER?
While I may absolutely love the city where I live, no place is 100% perfect, am I right? And in the spirit of transparency, these are some of the worst things about Denver:
1. Denver’s population increased faster than the infrastructure could handle, and it has made the every day traffic pretty miserable (rush hour lasts a good 3 hours in Denver)
2. The cost of living is expensive whether you rent or buy, and is prohibitive for a lot of people
3. Homelessness is a problem without enough social services to handle it; especially downtown, it is not uncommon to come across small tent cities
4. The air quality is impacted by two big factors: first, the air is thin due to the city’s elevation and second, the air is polluted due to the quick growth and expansion of the population
5. Weather in Denver (and the state of Colorado as a whole) is known for changing drastically at the drop of a dime, going from a blizzard one day to sunny and 70 degrees the next
WHY IS DENVER TRAFFIC SO BAD?
Many visitors may ask themselves, “can Denver traffic really be THAT bad?” And I’m here to tell you – yes. Unequivocally yes. In fact, in 2018, Colorado was ranked 8th worst state for drivers.
Like many things, there isn’t a single reason for the traffic problem in Denver. There are multiple competing issues adding to the larger issue, including (but certainly not limited to):
– Denver’s population has increased at a faster rate than the city’s infrastructure was prepared to handle
– 24% of roads in Colorado are deemed to be in poor condition (higher than the national average of 22%)
– Highway construction to expand/fix infrastructure is in process, but creates further short-term problems due to lane closures, etc.
– Like many places, drivers in Colorado seem to enjoy putting themselves in the fast lane and then NOT going fast
– And finally, transplants from places like California or Texas move to Colorado with little experience driving in rain or snow, and it shows
WHO IS THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON FROM DENVER?
This one may surprise you because, no, it is not John Denver (he wasn’t even from here, just a fan).
Nope, the most famous person from Denver is none other than…Tim Allen aka “Tim the Tool Man Taylor” from Home Improvement, a very popular 90s sitcom. Tim Allen was born in Denver, and lived here until his family moved to Michigan when he was 13 years old.
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