14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Denver
The "mile high city", as Denver is known, lies at the junction of Cherry Creek with the South Platte River, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. As the capital of Colorado it is the economic and cultural center of a wide area extending over the Great Plains and into the Rockies.Denver is home to the University of Denver and the renowned University of Colorado Medical Center. It is also an important industrial center, a major destination for business travel, and a good base for trips into the Rockies. The city has an agreeable continental climate, with plenty of sunshine and low rainfall.
In 1858 gold was discovered on Cherry Creek, and the three gold-diggers' settlements of Auraria, Highland and Denver amalgamated in 1860-61 to form the town of Denver. In 1868, when it had a population of over 4,000, it became capital of the territory of Colorado. After the coming of the railroad in 1870 Denver was a boom town, and in 1876 it became capital of the 38th state of the Union. In the late 1880s it became involved in the silver and gold rush, when increasing numbers of people passed through Denver on their way to the Rockies or settled in the town. By the turn of the 20th century it had a population of 134,000. Thereafter it developed into an important traffic hub and industrial center. It has also been popular for many years as a good base from which to explore the beauties of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The importance of the business and tourist trade was recognized by the opening of a large new airport in 1994.
The city has many parks which provide relaxation and recreation opportunities for residents and visitors. Red Rocks Park is a mountain park noted for its scenery and the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Cultural life in Denver is highlighted through the Denver Art Museum, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, as well as neighbourhoods such as LoDo, with art galleries, restaurants and diverse cultural influences.
See also: Where to Stay in Denver
1 Mount Evans
From Idaho Springs the highest mountain road in the United States runs steeply up past the beautifully situated Echo Lake to the alpine pastures on Mount Evans (14,266ft/4,348m). From the summit there are breathtaking panoramic views out over the mountains and valley below. A variety of wildlife also frequents the area. At these elevations it is not uncommon to see mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, and pika.
The Mount Evans Highway (State Highway 5) is a seasonal road which is closed during the winter months, usually reopening in late May. Opening dates may be weather dependant. Mount Evans gets particularly busy on summer weekends. Weekdays and early mornings are some of the less visited hours and may be a better option for people looking to escape large crowds.
2 Museum of Nature & Science
In the southeast of City Park is the Museum of Nature and Science. Among the most notable exhibits are the imposing dinosaur skeletons, remains of Ice Age animals, the collection of minerals presented by the Coors family, and one of the largest nuggets of gold found in Colorado. Also of note are the artifacts of prehistoric Indian peoples. The museum features changing exhibitions so there is always something new to see.
Also on site are an IMAX Theater and a Planetarium.
Address: 2001 Colorado Boulevard
3 Denver Center for the Performing Arts
On the south side of Larimer Square is the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, a gigantic cultural center with the Boettcher Concert Hall and the Auditorium Theater with the the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. A night out at the Center for Performing Arts could mean seeing a Broadway Show, enjoying a play, or a variety of other entertainment. This venue hosts all kinds of major events. It is home to the Denver Center Theater Company, the Denver Center Attractions, and the Denver Center Theatre Academy.
The center also functions as an educational facility as well, with acting classes and programs, as well as professional development opportunities.
Address: Speer Boulevard and Arapahoe Street
4 Denver Botanic Gardens
The Denver Botanic Gardens, first laid out in the late 1950s, is one of the largest botanical gardens in the United States, occupying 23 acres next to Cheesman Park. The garden emphasizes native plants and sustainable, environmentally responsible practices. However, the various gardens display plants from all over the world. There are 43 individual gardens, some of which are laid out in natural landscapes, others of which are in more formal gardens. Some of the highlights include the Japanese Garden, Marnie's Pavilion with orchids, ferns, and waterfalls, and the Boettcher Memorial Conservatory with exotic tropical and subtropical species.
The Denver Botanic Garden also hosts special events throughout the year including concerts.
Address: 1007 York Street, Denver, CO 80206-3799, United States
5 Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
Kirkland Museum displays a major collection of decorative art from 1880 to 1980. Every major design period is represented from Arts & Crafts to Pop Art. Regional modernist art, from 1875 to 1980, with a focus on Colorado is also documented with hundreds of works. The museum features a retrospective of Colorado's distinguished painter, Vance Kirkland (1904-1981). All three collections are housed in a 1911 Arts & Crafts building, the oldest commercial art building in Denver. Kirkland Museum is a member of Historic Artists' Homes and Studios, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Address: 1311 Pearl Street, Denver, CO 80203-2518, United States
6 Denver Art Museum
The massive, fortress-like Denver Art Museum has a vast collection which includes American Indian, African, European, Asian, and Oceanic Art. Collections also include Spanish colonial and pre-Columbian works.
The remodelled American Indian galleries are particularly impressive, covering a broad range of cultures and tribes from the United States and Canada. This extensive collection has gained a reputation throughout North America, with pieces that span 2,000 years of history. Also of note is the museum's African art collection.
The modern and contemporary art collection features both well known names and emerging talent in a variety of media. There is also a separate gallery dedicated to photography.
The Denver Art Museum began in a building which is now known as the North Building, designed by Italian Architect Gio Ponti and opened in 1971. In 2006 the 146,000-square-foot Hamilton Building, an expansion designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, was opened to the public. The new building captured attention with its unique design, inspired by the peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
Address: 100 W 14th Avenue Parkway
7 Coors Field
Coors Field is the home of the Colorado Rockies baseball club. The stadium, which opened in 1995, has a seating capacity of 50,200. From some seats it's possible to see the Rocky Mountains in the distance. There are tours of the facility year round.. This is a good way to learn about the stadium and see a bit of the behind-the-scenes action. Tickets are limited to a certain number each day so advance purchases are a good idea. Tours last just under 1.5 hours and are accessible to those with disabilities.
One of the later additions to Coors Field is the Mountain Ranch Club with indoor and outdoor dining, weather permitting.
Address: 20th and Blake Streets
8 Denver Zoo
The Denver Zoo is beautifully laid out, with enclosures adapted to different species, from the polar bears' den to monkeys' island. The zoo is committed to a long term plan to replace and modernize exhibits. The zoo was begun in the late 1800s so by the 1990s the zoo was in need of an update and work has been ongoing. Some of the newer exhibits at the Denver Zoo include the Primate Panorama, Tropical Discovery, and Predator Ridge. Today the zoo is one of Denver's most popular attractions.
Address: 2900 E 23rd Avenue
9 Colorado State Capitol
On a low hill on the east side of the park is the Classical-style State Capitol, crowned by a gilded dome 250ft/76m high. From the viewing platform on the drum of the dome there are magnificent views of the city's imposing skyline and the Front Range. The 13th step on the west side of the Capitol is exactly one mile above sea level, thus the name "mile high city".
Address: Broadway and East Colfax Avenue, Denver, CO 80203, United States
10 Denver Public Library
Famed architect Michael Graves designed the Denver Public Library, which opened in 1995. The library is noted for its western history and genealogical collections. Outside, the thirty-foot tall red-orange steel sculpture is often used for reference as a landmark.
Address: 10 W. Fourteenth Avenue
11 Larimer Square
A successful example of urban refurbishment in Denver is Larimer Square, with well restored buildings of the Civil War period. In 1971, Larimer Square became Denver's first historic district. Today it is a major entertainment district. The area is home to art galleries, shops, cheerful restaurants, and gas lamps. It continues to evolve, and is popular with both locals and tourists. During the day most people come here to shop. In the evening this is a great place for dining or seeing some live entertainment, such as comedians or bands. This area is also famous, as the place where Buffalo Bill lived at one time.
12 16th Street Mall
In an effort to bring a little more life into downtown Denver amid the skyscrapers, 16th Street, which runs through the city center, has been made into a European-style pedestrian precinct, with shady trees, flowerbeds and park benches. The only traffic here is a free shuttle bus. The street is lined with department stores, boutiques, souvenir shops, restaurants and the stalls of street traders. Near the south end of the street there are numerous modern and Post-Modern skyscrapers.
13 United States Mint
Immediately beyond the City and County Building is the U.S. Mint, one of the United States' six facilities. This is where the American currency is created and part of the country's gold reserves are stored.
Visitors can take a free guided tour of the facility to learn about the history and process of making money. There is a small gift shop on site selling commemorative coins, souvenirs, games, and other items.
Reservations for the tours are always required and can be scheduled online through the website.
Address: 320 West Colfax Avenue
14 Civic Center Park
In the heart of Denver is the green, and in summer agreeably shady, Civic Center Park, laid out in Classical style with numerous monuments. Around the park are the principal administrative buildings of the state of Colorado, and along its north side runs Colfax Avenue, the city's main traffic artery.
Where to Stay in Denver for Sightseeing
The best place to stay in Denver is right downtown in the heart of the action. This is where the main attractions are located, as well as the Convention Center, restaurants, and entertainment. Below is a list of highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: The landmark Brown Palace Hotel and Spa has been one of Denver's top luxury hotels since it first opened in 1892. This opulent hotel, in the heart of downtown, is also known for its superb customer service. Opened one year earlier, in 1891, is another of Denver's top hotels, the Oxford Hotel, near Union Station. By contrast, if you are looking for a contemporary luxury hotel, the uniquely designed the ART, near the Denver Art Museum, is the place to stay.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Near the Convention Center and just a short walk from the 16th Street Mall is the conveniently located Hilton Garden Inn. Nearby, and also in a great location is Aloft, with a modern look and trendy feel. The Hyatt House is a newly opened extended stay hotel in the city center, with standard rooms and suites featuring fully equipped kitchens, perfect for families.
- Budget Hotels: La Quinta Inn, north of Coors Field and the city center, is a good budget option. With more basic rooms but a slightly more convenient location is the Days Inn. Both of these hotels are on the periphery of the city center, either a long walk or short drive from the main downtown area. If you are willing to drive 30 minutes, the Comfort Inn is well outside the city center but offers quality rooms at budget prices.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Denver
Joining an organized tour is a great way to see all the highlights of Denver and its surrounding mountains without the hassle of finding your way around. Along the way, you'll learn fascinating stories about the city's history and the ecology of the surrounding areas. These tours include convenient hotel pickup and drop-off, saving you time and money. Below are some fun sightseeing tours and day trips that guarantee the lowest price:
- See the Sights: On the Denver City Sightseeing Tour, you can learn all about how this old miner's camp evolved into the vibrant mile-high city. This three-hour tour in a comfortable coach or minivan takes in the city's top sights, including the State Capitol, Larimer Square, the 16th Street Mall, and the United States Mint.
- Take a Day Trip: Soaring mountains surround Denver, and a convenient way to experience this alpine wilderness is on the Rocky Mountains National Park Day Trip. Accompanied by the narration of an expert guide, this tour takes you in an air-conditioned coach across the Continental Divide, reaching altitudes of up to 12,000 feet. After strolling around the fun ski town of Winter Park, you can look for wildlife such as bighorn sheep and black bears in Rocky Mountain National Park. The tour includes admission to the park, lunch, and hotel pickup. If you're short on time but still want to venture into the wilderness, consider the Denver Mountain Parks with Optional Denver City Tour. This four-hour adventure includes a visit to Red Rocks park, a natural amphitheater; Bear Creek Canyon, where you can look for wildlife; and Lookout Mountain, with spectacular views. Hotel pickup and entrance fees are also included, and you can upgrade by adding an afternoon city tour.