With its snow-capped mountains in the distance and 5,000 acres worth of parks, the “mile high city” will take your breath away on beauty alone. Dig even deeper, and you’ll discover a bounty of things to explore in Denver’s capital.
From seeing a show at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater to sipping through the craft beer scene and dropping by a Farmers’ market of epic proportions, adding the following “must do’s” to your list will ensure a wow-worthy visit to this Western city. Here are the best insider tips for making the most of a trip to Denver, and next, don’t miss 10 U.S. Islands to Add to Your Bucket List—No Passport Required.
Artists from around the country and world relish the opportunity to perform at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater, an open-air music venue nestled between towering red rock formations.
“Fans love it, too, because there’s something for every music fan on the calendar each year and the setting is unparalleled,” says Jennifer Osieczanek of Visit Denver. “In 2021, Red Rocks was the top-grossing, most-attended concert venue in the world, according to Billboard Magazine.”
If you can’t squeeze in a concert, there are some hiking options nearby.
The Pearl Street Farmers’ Market takes place May through November every Sunday starting at South Pearl Street, and it’s considered Denver’s best.
“Come for the vegetables and stay for the art, food, drink, and other wares,” says Bill Werlin, co-founder of HearHere, an audio app that tells stories about places around the world. “Having been to farmers’ markets in a variety of places, the Pearl Street market is at the top of the list.”
He says there is no way you won’t leave without something, whether it’s on-the-spot flame-roasted hatch chilis, freshly baked goods from Denver’s top local bakeries, or good vibes from the live band playing that day.
Denver is a mecca when it comes to cool speakeasies, which have remained a key part of the city’s history ever since prohibition. There are plenty to choose from, but you’ll have to know where to look!
“Pop into an ice cream shop to ring a doorbell on the freezer that lets you into Retrograde (one of Denver’s newer speakeasies), or check out the hip Milk Market and try to find the elevator that’ll take you to the Run for the Roses Speakeasy,” suggests Jill Collins, founder of Denver Walking Tours and Eventbrite creator.
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Once you’ve had enough secretive imbibing, consider hitting one of Denver’s many rooftop bars. You’ll soar the highest at Le Meredien’s 54Thirty, a chic, open-air bar that has an outstanding seasonal cocktail program and tasty light bites. It overlooks the expansive cityscape, which sparkles at night. Great photo opps, upbeat music, amazing drinks, and yummy food—what’s not to love?
Denver’s culinary scene has gained major momentum in recent years, to the point that it’s become nationally recognized for its offerings. Osieczanek says that in 2020 alone, 11 Denver chefs, makers, and restaurateurs were semifinalists for the coveted James Beard Awards.
“Dine at an innovative concept from an award-winning chef or check out the growing marketplace and food hall scene to get a broader taste of the Mile High City,” Osieczanek suggests. “No matter where you choose, you’re sure to be eating local, as many chefs work directly with local farmers to source the freshest ingredients.”
If you’re craving something low-key where you can kick back, stop El Taco de Mexico, a 30-year-old taqueria that looks ordinary but is anything but. This James Beard nominee will leave your belly very happy. For a bougie splurge, try Frasca Food and Wine on Pearl Street, which features a unique Friulian cuisine and has an amazing wine program by Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey.
If you pick just one of Denver’s neighborhoods to explore, make it the River North Art District, known by locals as RiNo. This creative district is home to visual artists, furniture makers, outdoor gear producers, craft brewers, and more, each lending to the eclectic, creative, and entrepreneurial vibe.
The Santa Fe Art District is also rich in creativity, and it takes things up a notch every first Friday of the month. Werlin says, “Hundreds of local artists share their work in galleries, co-ops, studios, the street, alley—you name it! It’s really a different way to get to know the creative side of Denver residents.”
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Not in town during a First Friday? There’s still ample opportunity to enjoy the local art scene.
“Denverites love our art, and we love sharing it with visitors to the city. The city has invested over $40 million in 400+ pieces of public art and street art,” Collins says. “The best—and most fun—ways to see it are by visiting Meow Wolf, downloading Denver’s Public Art Unplugged Audio Adventure Tour, or joining in on the fun Denver Street Art + Graffiti experience, which also includes tasting local chocolate.”
Also, consider dropping by the 125-year-old Denver Art Museum, which features one of the earliest and most robust collections (20,000 pieces and counting), representing artistic traditions from nearly every American and Canadian tribe dating back to prehistoric times. The museum recently underwent a $150 million renovation, which is all the more reason to visit.
Denver knows beer, and with over 100 craft breweries, brewpubs, and taprooms, it outranks every other city in the United States. Plus, it also hosts The Great American Beer Festival, which is the country’s largest annual beer competition, notes Osieczanek.
Cerebral Brewing, the Great Divide Brewing Company, and Renegade Brewing Company are all must-visits for beer snobs. Located about an hour outside of the city, in Fort Collins, you’ll find the famous Odell Brewing Company headquarters. (There’s also a taproom in Denver if you don’t have time to make the drive.)
Whether you’re heading to Denver for a weekend getaway or exploring for a longer stretch, all the above will certainly make for a trip to remember.
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