Denver is at once a thriving metropolis and a gateway to the outdoor adventure of the Rocky Mountains and the greater west. The city is bursting with young adults and is home to thriving beer and music scenes, but offers plenty of family-friendly activities and recreational spaces as well. A visit to the Mile High City will provide an energizing blend of culture, fun, food and outdoor activity.
Must see in Denver
Take advantage of Denver's mild weather and excellent park system and visit City Park, a large space full of trails that also contains the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Visit the Civic Center area to visit landmarks such as the Denver State Capitol and the History Colorado Center. You can't visit Colorado without getting at least a bit into the outdoors, so drive up into the Rocky Mountain foothills and catch a show or simply go for a hike at the majestic and unparalleled Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Where to stay in Denver
Visiting families should consider the Highlands neighborhood, home to both the Children's Museum and Downtown Aquarium, which has a quieter feel but is just a short walk or drive across the river from downtown. Younger people looking for nightlife might prefer staying in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which is close to cultural sites like the Denver Art Museum and live music venues like the Ogden Theatre. If you are looking for the best deal, you should consider staying at a cheaper chain hotel in Lakewood, just west of the city. Many of the hotels along 6th Ave and Colfax Ave are in close proximity to the W line of the light rail, which will take you right into Union Station downtown.
Best and worst time to go to Denver
Early autumn, from early September–October, is the best time to visit Denver. The peak high temperatures of the summer should dissipate by then, and you can enjoy plenty of outdoor time before the influx of winter sports tourists in town and on the interstate. Avoid visiting between February and April, when cold temperatures can still set in and precipitation is unpredictable.
Where to get lost in Denver
The City Park/City Park West neighborhood is full of tree-lined streets, beautiful homes and excellent bars, restaurants and cafes. 17th Ave between Downing Street and York Street is the commercial center, so wander the side streets and return to the main drag for a meal and a beer at Vine Street Pub and Brewery or a coffee at St. Marks Coffee House. You can also wind your way through the park and up to Colfax Ave to visit the Tattered Cover bookstore or catch a movie at the Sie Film Center.
The best deal in Denver
There aren't many places in the U.S. where you can see a professional sporting event for under $10, but Denver is one of them. Coors Field, home of the Rockies baseball team, sells "Rockpile" tickets in Center Field starting at $1 for children. These tickets are available online (consider service fees) or at the box office, even on game days. The surrounding downtown neighborhood is full of restaurants and bars offering specials before, during and after games, so you can have this fun Denver experience on the cheap side.
Transportation in Denver
The Light Rail system is useful for getting in and out of the suburbs, but isn't extensive enough yet in central Denver to be a great resource to tourists, though expansion in 2016 and beyond will open up many new possibilities. The RTD bus system is substantial, so just plan your routes ahead of time and know the closest stop to your destination. However, the city is quite walkable and Lyft and Uber are always options.
Getting in from Denver International Airport
DIA is located almost 20 miles from downtown Denver, so you will need to plan your transportation to and from. The RTD operates a bus fairly regularly between Union Station and the airport, and you can ride it for $10-$15 one way. Starting in late 2016, a new Light Rail line will operate between Union Station and DIA and be the easiest and cheapest way to access the airport.
Local tip for visitors to Denver
Although Denver's proximity to the mountains is part of its charm, visitors should be aware of high-volume traffic that occurs along I-70 between Denver and Summit and Vail counties to the west every weekend from November–February. Congestion is at its worst on Friday and Sunday evenings and Saturday mornings, and if you want to drive to the mountains, you will have a much more pleasant experience if you plan around those peak hours. Download the CDOT app for some good tips and updated traffic reports.
Planning a trip to Denver? Find out how to blend in like a local with our travel tips by clicking here.
Author's bio: Julia O'Connor is a full-time editor and part-time freelance writer transplanted from Boston to Denver. She is thriving on the transition and has enjoyed the exploration of both cities and everything in between.