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Colorado’s largest city is a metropolis that dates back to the Old West era. Stretching along the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, though not within the famous range, it offers spectacular views along with a ton of attractions, both indoors and out. If you’re visiting Denver for the first time, with so much to see and do it can almost be overwhelming, but this list is sure to help you get started.
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Opened in 1922, the Denver Art Museum is made up of two architecturally spectacular buildings as one of the largest art museums in the West. One is a fortress-like building designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti, while the other is Daniel Libesikind designed and resembles a titanium crystal with peaks and shards. The museum is renowned for its magnificent collection of American Indian Art, as well as its permanent and evolving collections of more than 68,000 unique works from around the world that are spread over nine curatorial sections, ranging from Asian, European, New World and Modern art to architecture and design and graphics. Programs and workshops are held throughout the year, such as “Meet the Artist,” where visitors can meet the artists featured in the various exhibitions.
Denverites are known for their love of parks and green spaces, after all, the Mile High city frequently ranks among the Top 10 Healthiest Cities in the U.S. While there are countless places to enjoy a stroll, jog, cycling or roller blading, Washington Park is one of the best. Located in the heart of Denver, it serves as an outdoor space for a wide variety of outdoor activities and also showcases the city’s heritage through magnificently preserved historic architecture. It boasts two lakes, two beautiful flower gardens which includes a replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon gardens, and a wide array of facilities, like a recreation center, tennis courts, lush lawns and picnic areas. Plus it’s a great place to catch one of Denver’s famously glorious sunsets.
The mile-long 16th Street Mall is a great place for shopping with a myriad of opportunities. You’ll find brand name stores as well as local, independent shops and more than 40 outdoor cafes to take advantage of the over 300 days of Sunshine Denver gets every year. A free mall shuttle stops at every corner for easy transportation, though the area is quite walkable. Be sure to browse the decades-old bookshops, like the local favorite Tattered Cover, and if you’re looking for western apparel, head to Rockmount Ranch Wear, the famous inventor of the snap button shirt, popular with legendary musicians like Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen. After dark, you can enjoy the hopping nightlife and even take a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Coors Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies, is one of the most beautiful stadiums in the nation and the ballpark with the highest elevation in the league. Located in the city’s Ballpark neighborhood, it offers spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains, and it’s also famous for hosting the highest homeruns in history. Watching a game here is a great way to get to know the city and its residents better while enjoying the scenery and rather outstanding fare that’s available, along with a good beer. In fact, its new 38,000-square-foot, double-decker rooftop area has 52 craft beers on tap, and the park is also home to The Blue Moon Brewing Co. If you’re not in Denver during baseball season, you may want to take a tour which offers a unique behind-the-scenes look, including the history of this famous stadium and the role it’s played in baseball, a visit to the dugouts, the field and the Coors Fields’ microbrewery.
If you visit during the hot summer months, a trip to one of the biggest and best water parks in the country is a must. Water World is located just minutes north of downtown Denver and features dozens of slides and rides for all ages with a variety of thrill levels. It has everything from steep slides that will get your heart pounding to the long Lazy River, a relaxing fun time for the whole family, to a watery splash playground for little ones. It recently opened Warp Speed, a new, not-to-be-missed interactive concept that pairs gaming with the water slide experience in which riders fly down a slideboard through a wormnhole while gaming on a device that takes out light targets along the way.
Elitch Gardens is another popular spot for families, open between early May and early November. It’s the only downtown theme park in the U.S., and is actually two parks in one, as one side is a water park with tubes, wave pools and waterslides, and the other is filled with amusements, featuring 53 thrill rides including huge roller coasters like the Mind Eraser coaster, a Ferris wheel and many other major rides. Little ones can enjoy the 75-year-old carousel and Star Toons Studio. If your goal is mainly to get wet, Water World is generally the better value, though kids are sure to enjoy either one. The Island Kingdom Water Park is included with your admission to Elitch Gardens, making it a good deal if you plan to experience both on a nice day.
LoDo (Lower Downtown) is one of Denver’s most talked about neighborhoods. Located near Coors Field, it features 28 square blocks of restored Victorian buildings that were renovated to create the perfect venues for nightlife. Within that small area, you’ll find more than enough after-hours excitement to keep you going long into the night and beyond, including brewpubs, sports bars and restaurants, live music venues, and more. In fact, there are so many options, it may seem almost overwhelming. Locals recommend starting out with dinner at Southern Hospitality with its fabulous down home Southern BBQ, followed by a visit to Howl at the Moon for a night of dancing, singing and drinking. The bar features a fantastic dueling piano show that’s entirely fueled by requests.
Denver Zoo, located in City Park, is home to more than 4,000 animals from 750 species. The zoo stands out from many others, with its eco-friendly operations and variety of natural habitats the animals live in. Species from all over the world can be found here, from delicate butterflies to slithering reptiles and lumbering elephants. At Toyota Elephant Passage you can get up close to huge Asian elephants, and in Predator Ridge you can hear the roar of a lion. Northern Shores is especially popular with its frolicking polar bears, as is Primate Panorama with its fun and curious orangutans. The zoo also features an Endangered Species Carousel which showcases some of the world’s many endangered species and the Pioneer Train, which runs around flamingo lake and carousel meadow.
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science hosts exhibits on everything from Egyptian mummies to gems and dinosaur bones. Popular with kids and adults alike, the Discovery Zone is a fun, hands-on educational center for children, while the Space Odyssey area, which is also interactive, introduces visitors to the outer reaches of the galaxy and beyond. The facility houses artifacts that pertain to paleontology, health sciences, anthropology, zoology, geology and space science, and includes more than 90 habitat scenes and information on animals from across the globe. The museum also offers daily shows and screenings in its planetarium and IMAX Theater.
Most people have at least heard of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” thanks to the blockbuster film “Titanic.” She was a real-life Titanic survivor as well as an activist for women’s rights and many other issues, a socialite and a philanthropist. Her former home, located at 1340 Pennsylvania Street in Denver, now houses a museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in the 1880s, it represents a magnificently preserved example of Victorian Denver, with English Baroque architecture used in the triangular pediment detailing over the porch, the sash windows and stone quoins. You can take a guided tour, or participate in all sorts of events and workshops held throughout the year. Those who are interested in the paranormal may be interested to know that experts have said the entities of Molly Brown and her husband James John are still puttering around the home.
While Seattle has its Pike Place Market, and San Francisco has the Ferry Building Marketplace, for Denverites, The Source is the place to go. Visitors who consider themselves foodies, or those who just appreciate good food, should head here too. This artisan food market, housed inside a former 1880s brick foundry building in the River North District just north of downtown, features a collection of retailers and food artisans that offer everything from fresh-baked bread to street tacos, craft cocktails and flower arrangements. There are local brewers, butchers, specialty grocers, craftsmen and bakers all under one roof, making it one of the hottest destinations for foodies around.
This historic air and space museum is located in a World War II-era hangar built in 1939 on the grounds of the former Lowry Air Force Base. It features a number of collections, including the USAF’s B-1A Lancer and B-52 Stratofortress Bombers, a room of archives documenting the history of military and general aviation aircraft, and more. It’s also the site of Colorado’s Aviation Hall of Fame. Exhibits cover everything from World War I through the space age, and include items like an Apollo Command Module replica used by NASA to train astronauts for the Apollo moon missions. During Cockpit Demo Days, kids and people of all ages can climb inside some of the aircraft for a pilot’s view of the controls and instruments.
Built in honor of the original Mile High Stadium, one of the most famous stadiums in National Football League history, you can tour the facility, or watch the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos play. This state-of-the-art glass, aluminum and steel structure seats more than 76,000 fans and is recognized around the world as a top sports stadium. Explore this incredible feat of engineering through a guided walking tour which includes the chance to visit the team locker room facilities, the team field entrance tunnel, the Executive Suites and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Museum.
Located just minutes from downtown Denver, the Art District on Santa Fe is one of the state’s designated Creative Districts. This multi-cultural neighborhood features over 60 art galleries, the largest concentration of art galleries in the city. You’ll see colorful murals and exhibitions at Museo de las Americas as well as experience some of the most authentic Mexican culture in Denver. The area is also home to craft breweries, and the Buckhorn Exchange, the city’s oldest dining establishment. The area hosts the popular First Friday Art Walk and Second Saturdays on Santa Fe, a time when galleries offer an open house-ambiance to promote traditional, contemporary and emerging art. You’ll also find a number of outstanding cafes serving authentic Latino fare and a multitude of interesting shops and creative spaces.
One of the city’s most famous destinations is beloved by visitors and residents alike. This independent community bookstore was established in 1974 as a small bookshop in the Cherry Creek North district, but today, it has three locations in the metro area, all with an extensive selection of titles, a high knowledgeable sales staff and lots of comfy chairs for reading. You can just sit and read here for hours, and many do – and, are welcome to do so. If you’re hungry or thirsty, there is a coffee bar at all locations. The Tattered Cover is often mentioned as a must-experience for visitors who really want a taste of what it’s like to live in Denver.
The area’s best known brewery, Coors, is located in Golden, but there are a number of breweries right in town that are great to tour and enjoy a sample or two. Wynkook Brewing Company is Denver’s very first brewpub, co-founded in 1988 by current Governor of Colorado and former Mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper. A free tour will take you through the brewing process, and it includes a stroll through the historic J.S. Brown Mercantile building, with its classic hardwood floors, thick timber pillars and pressed tin ceilings. The original brewery and Tap Room of the Great Divide Brewing Co is located in the heart of downtown, and it offers the chance to sample any of the 16 seasonal and year-round brews on tap as well as to take a tour of the brewhouse.
Thought it bills itself as the “World’s Most Exciting Restaurant,” it may be one of the weirdest, which is why you’ve got to go while you’re in Denver. That doesn’t mean you should eat there – eat somewhere else first as while it’s very entertaining, the food is just not good and perhaps even downright scary to some. Unfortunately, they make you order a full meal to get in the door, but it’s best to just write that off as the admission fee and toss that plate after you get it. If you’re in the mood, you can order a bucket of beer in preparation for the sensory overload that’s about to occur, which includes cliff-diving, flame-juggling and all sorts of inappropriate shenanigans involving pretend natives – all best viewed from a table near the waterfall.
This old-school amusement park has been called the best of its kind west of the Mississippi. It’s more than a spot to enjoy a very inexpensive evening of rides like an old-fashioned wooden rollercoaster and miniature steam-engine train, the place is placed with living history. It’s been entertaining families since 1908, and the park has really stood the test of time – some actually standing still, retaining much of the end-of-the-Victorian-era charm that has made it such a unique destination for locals as well as visitors. You can enjoy all of this for just a $3 admission fee – and, you can even bring in your own picnic.
The Denver Botanic Gardens is frequently found on lists of America’s very best botanic gardens – and, you may recognize this gorgeous green space from the Woody Allen flick “Sleeper.” It features 15,000 species of plants from around the world, including over 700 types that are native to Colorado. Located in downtown Denver’s Cheesman Park, visitors can enjoy everything from a traditional Japanese Garden with bonsai trees to the exotic plants like calla lilies and red hot pokers that bloom at the South African Plaza. It also offers docent-led tours which focus on the flora and art found throughout the facility. The Gardens also feature a large amphitheater for summer concerts and a conservatory.