Denver – The Mile High City
In the rarefied air of Colorado, Denver is a ‘mile-high’ city brimming with possibility and culture. The USA’s ‘Centennial State’ is renowned for its awesome nature, with miles of sun kissed prairies and vast mountainous expanses. While the Rockies do attract thousands of travellers looking for skiing and hiking adventures, Denver also offers visitors heaps of culture and things to do. Colourful Colorado’s capital city deserves a spot on your US road trip list, let us show you why…
Denver in a Nutshell
First things first – why is Denver known as the Mile High City? It isn’t their love of airplanes, but the fact that the city is elevated to precisely one mile above sea level. According to popular tales, golf balls fly farther here, alcohol has more of an effect, and the sky really is bluer at extreme altitude.
Located just outside the mountains, Denver is the most populous city in the US state of Colorado, with around 700,000 inhabitants. A short trip to the south-eastern base of the Rockies is the ideal start for your mountain holiday of hiking, skiing, or relaxing. Famous resorts like Vail or Breckenridge are a two-hour drive tops from Denver, making them perfect for a day or weekend trip.
Denver has a continental mountain climate, meaning large fluctuations in temperature are common. Temperatures are particularly inconsistent in the spring months. It’s not unusual for a balmy day in May to be followed by sub-zero temperatures and snow. While the snow tends to melt away again quickly in spring, Colorado paints a snowy scene all throughout the winter. Summers, in contrast, are very hot and dry. However, the sun shines almost all year round. In fact, Colorado sees an average of 300 days of sunshine a year – more than Miami and San Diego!
The Best Sights in Denver
So, once the snow has melted, and you’ve packed four seasons’ worth of layers, Denver has plenty of activities and sights for you to enjoy in the Coloradan sun.
Your first stop in a city is often the central station, a launchpad to an abundance of adventures. In Denver, however, you might just want to slow down and take time to appreciate Union Station. You are probably asking yourself: how is a train station one of the best sights in Denver? In fact, Union Station is much more than a transport hub, it is a Denver landmark and icon. Since its renovation in the 2010s, this historic building is home to state-of-the-art food and retail opportunities, and even a luxury hotel. Soak up the tantalising blend of old and new before heading out to sample the rest of the city!
16th Street Mall
A mile-long mall in the Mile High City, the 16th Street Mall runs straight from Union Station all the way to the Colorado State Capitol. This beating heart of Downtown Denver has international prestige; the Mall’s architecture was designed by I.M.Pei, the Chinese-American architect also behind the iconic Louvre glass pyramid. Take a stroll along this unique, vehicle-free avenue and dip into the range of local shops, cosy cafés and bars selling local craft brews. Since the street is relatively long, it is a good idea to take one of the free shuttle buses if you have a packed agenda. Don’t miss a famous Denver curiosity though – at the Colorado Convention Centre you will find a giant blue bear peeking through the glass of the building.
Colorado State Capitol
If you walk down the 16th Street Mall to the end, you’ll arrive at the Colorado State Capitol. Commissioned in 1894, this building houses the Colorado legislature as well as the legislative chambers. History buffs can take a free tour on weekday mornings. The striking dome was gilded to commemorate the Colorado Gold Rush. And did you know that the stone made to build the capitol, Colorado rose onyx, is so rare that all known reserves were used for this construction?
Denver Botanical Gardens
The Denver Botanic Garden is among the five most beautiful botanical gardens in the US. Covering an area of 23 hectares, you’ll find a variety of plants in different themed environments. For a small entrance fee (discounted for students!), you can walk through the gardens and marvel at a variety of flora. At Christmas time, the Glow at the Gardens event takes place here. The Botanic Garden is dotted with twinkling lights, creating a magical nightfall experience. Additionally, various shows and even small concerts take place here from time to time. Take a look at the website before your visit to make sure you don’t miss any exciting events!
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Just outside Denver, you’ll find the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This spectacular sight never fails to amaze visitors from all over the world. From here, you can choose from a variety of hiking trails, or enjoy the unique amphitheatre atmosphere. Artists have graced the stage here for nearly a century, meaning the Red Rocks has been host to legendary acts like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and, more recently, Post Malone and Halsey. Be sure to check out the upcoming events for once-in-a-lifetime concert experiences. Make sure you get tickets in time because these shows are often very popular! Other awesome events like Yoga on the Rocks also take place here regularly – can you imagine 2000 people doing yoga together against the mountain scenery? Red Rocks Amphitheatre is definitely a Denver must-see!
A day trip to Boulder, just half an hour northwest of Denver, is not to be missed. This town is small but mighty, home to the “Public Ivy” University of Colorado and its buzzing student area right at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. If you don’t have a car, that’s no problem. You can easily reach Boulder by bus from Union Station. When you’re there, be sure to check out Pearl Street Mall. Lined with inviting cafés, bars, and local restaurants and stores, this street also hosts many street performers showing off their jaw-dropping skills. How about a visit to the city’s landmark, the Flatirons – a five-rock formation located in Chautauqua Park?
Let’s get those hearts racing with a day trip to Elitch Gardens! This amusement park opened in 1890 and has been a Denver highlight ever since. Take an adrenaline-filled ride on roller coasters like the Mind Eraser or the Twister and enjoy the view of the downtown Denver skyline – while you can, hold tight for the drop!
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
The Museum of Nature and Science is one of the most popular museums in the city. Here, you can learn about the history of Colorado, the Earth, and the universe. The museum boasts more than one million exhibits across an area of about 67,000 m² and is located in City Park. The park is also home to Ferril Lake and the Denver Zoo. Pack a picnic and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere there on one of Denver’s sunny afternoons. If you’re lucky, Ferril Lake will be hosting one of its small concerts when you visit.
Meow Wolf Denver
Attention all art fans: you can’t miss this unique experience! Meow Wolf has created its third permanent interactive art installation, right in Denver. Stepping into Convergence Station will plunge you straight into a neon world of reality-bending sights and locations.
Spread over a total of four floors, the experience comprises over 70 different installations, rooms, and portals to discover. You’ll never look at art the same again! Tickets can be booked in advance on the Meow Wolf website.
Finally, let us introduce you to Washington Park. With its rectangular shape, the park is reminiscent of Central Park in New York City and is perfect for relaxing, taking a walk, or riding your bike on the numerous trails. Unwind after sightseeing at Washington Park’s two lakes, playgrounds, recreation centre and tennis court.
Even though Denver may not be one of the most famous cities when you think of the US, it belongs on every backpacker’s United States bucket list. If you love winter sports, you might want to consider visiting the city during the colder months to experience the Rocky Mountains in all their beauty. But Denver has so much to offer all year round! So, what are you waiting for?