From craft beer, culture and cuisine to cool neighbourhoods, shopping and vibrant street art it’s no wonder Denver is voted one of the best cities to live in year on year. Let’s dive into my Denver itinerary for a perfect weekend in the Mile High City.
Denver, the capital of Colorado, is generally the arrival point for visitors exploring the Rocky Mountain National Park or heading off on a ski trip. But before travellers heed the call of the mountains they’d be well advised to take a detour and add a two-day Denver itinerary to their trip. That’s exactly what I did on a recent visit to Colorado. In Denver I discovered a laid-back city packed with urban adventure, an outdoorsy vibe and the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
Denver Itinerary – A perfect weekend in the Mile High City
Where to stay in Denver – The Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel
The Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel
Downtown is the perfect place to base yourself for discovering Denver. We stayed at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. It’s a great location for visiting the museums, RiNo, Larimer Square and, of course, downtown. Some of the best things to do in Denver are just a short stroll away.
The Sheraton is a modern hotel and one of Denver’s largest. There’s a cool bar, a choice of restaurants, cafes and a heated rooftop pool with fabulous views.
Check rates and availability at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel
Denver Weekender – Friday
I’m assuming you’ll arrive late Friday afternoon for your weekend. However, this Denver itinerary could work for any two-day trip midweek or weekend.
Dinner and bar hopping at Larimer Square
Larimer Square, Denver
Head to elegant Larimer Square for shops, people watching and dinner. Larimer Square is the city’s oldest and most historic part of town where the first gold prospectors from the Old West era staked their claim. There’s a relaxed vibe and it’s the perfect part of town to chill into your weekend in Denver. You’ll find hip coffee bars, urban boutiques and exclusive stores and maybe some street performers.
See if you can spot the cute little cat statues which peer at you from the top of buildings, street lights and window sills. In the evenings the street, which is strung with lights, is bathed in a soft glow against the Victorian brick buildings.
For dinner, take your pick from a great range of chef-led restaurants or one of the many different cuisines available. There’s loads to choose from and every taste is covered. Finish your evening with cocktails at Green Russell, Larimer Lounge or one of many other bars and clubs.
Denver Weekend Getaway – Saturday
Your first full day in the city is going to be packed with some of the best things to do in Denver so you’ll need to fuel up big time. We’re heading to LoDo (Lower Downtown) for breakfast and a peek at Union Station, a Mile High must-see.
Union Station, Denver
The 1914 vintage train terminal in LoDo has had a makeover and morphed into a hip gathering spot for dining, shopping and entertainment. It’s still big on transportation and this where you’ll arrive if you take the direct train from Denver International Airport.
The beautiful terminal Grand Hall is filled with long wooden benches, library-style desks and big squashy sofas. The leather armchairs are just aching to be curled up on for spot of people watching. It’s known as Denver’s Living Room for a reason. There’s a Denver tourist office in the station so head there and pick up any information you need for your visit.
Head for one of restaurants, coffee shops or prop up the Terminal Bar of an evening. But we’re here for breakfast…
Breakfast at Mercantile inside Union Station
Mercantile Dining and Provision is a restaurant and mini market serving seasonally-inspired dishes in a casual atmosphere. We were there on Mother’s Day and it was packed and nicely buzzing. I checked out the open kitchen, watched the barista at work and was tempted by shelves of artisan goods from chocolate to charcuterie and spices to pastrami.
Breakfast was oh so good. I devoured Avocado Quinoa Toast with smoked mackerel, sprouted lentil vinaigrette and poached farmhouse egg which was the right side of runny – just the way I like my eggs. We all dipped into shared plates of pancakes, oats and crisp bacon.
A flight of coffee
Breakfast was accompanied by juice and a flight of coffee. Yes, coffee lovers, you heard that right. A flight of coffee! I chose the ‘method’ flight – a single origin (Ethiopian) presented three different ways; Espresso, Americano and Cortado. Believe me when I say that any hint of jetlag was wiped out after that caffeine trio.
After breakfast drop by some nearby LoDo institutions like the independent Tattered Cover Bookstore at 1701 Wynkoop Street, a Colorado landmark.
Rockmount Ranch Wear is a family run company located in an historic building dating from 1909. If you’re looking for the right gear to wear during your Old West trip this is the place. You know you want that cowboy shirt and if Rockmount was good enough for Elvis…
Read more: Saddling up at a Colorado Dude Ranch
Explore Denver by e-Tuk
One of the coolest things to do in Denver awaits. The ultimate urban Denver city tour by eTuk. Your guide will pick you up from outside Union Station and take you on an incredible 2.5 hour tour of Denver. They say it’s ‘the most fun you can have on three wheels’ and they’d be right. The 100% electric tuk-tuks are built locally in Denver by eTuk USA so they’re eco-friendly and help support the local community.
Our entertaining (total understatement – they were hilarious) guides knew everything there is to know about Denver; the hot spots, historical points of interest and hidden gems. The tour was a fast, fun and a fabulous way to discover Denver. If you don’t have a lot of time and want to get around the Mile High hotspots then an eTuk tour will be perfect for you.
At most attractions we got out of the Tuk-Tuk to get a closer look. We stopped at the gorgeous Brown Palace Hotel where they were playing live jazz in the art deco hotel lounge. The hotel still uses an underground spring beneath the hotel to supply water to all the taps. If you’re passing during your visit to Denver definitely drop in for afternoon tea or even book a stay there.
Brown Palace Hotel, Denver
We stopped by (didn’t go in) the Molly Brown House Museum, Victorian home of the ‘unsinkable’ Molly Brown, philanthropist and Titanic survivor.
The City and County Building
Public Art in Denver
We saw loads of public art during our tuk-tuk tour. I loved the Big Blue Bear aka ‘I See What You Mean’. The 40-foot blue bear was created by the late Denver-based artist Lawrence Argent and peeks into the Colorado Convention Center. For every construction project valued at over $1 million in Denver 1% must be donated to public art. This means that art projects can be found all around the city. I spotted a few; Big Sweep – a giant dustpan and brush, the Big Blue Bear at the Convention Centre and Little Horse Big Chair outside the Public Library. It seems Denver likes to do cool public art on a big scale.
We also stopped at Larimer Square, the City County building, LoDo (Lower Downtown) and LoHi (Lower Highlands) neighbourhoods. Denver has a thing about quirky neighbourhood nicknames… Our whirlwind tuk-tuk ride ended in RiNo (River North) at Central Market. The perfect place for lunch…
Lunch in Central Market
At the end of our fabulous eTuk tour we were dropped in RiNo (River North) a former industrial neighbourhood. If you arrive on foot it’s just a ten minute walk from LoDo (lower downtown). RiNo Art District has morphed from an old industrial area into a creative district which is packed with vibrant street art, galleries, restaurants and microbreweries. RiNo is a hotbed of hip.
We lunched in Central Market, a gourmet marketplace and food hall located in a beautifully restored 1920s building. You’ll find a wide choice from pizza, sandwiches and salads to coffee, chocolate and ice cream. There’s also a bar serving beer, wine and cocktails. I can recommend the delicious vegan curry from Green Seed which I enjoyed sat in the sunshine outside with a healthy fruit shake.
Discover the Street Art in RiNo
The River North Art District started out as a clutch of galleries in reclaimed warehouses. It’s now one of Denver’s most vibrant neighbourhoods packed full of stunning street art, creative spaces and performance venues. Wineries and craft breweries are two a penny.
Epic street art in RiNo adorns the sides of buildings, walls and lock-ups. It’s even on the roads. Just head out from Central Market and follow your feet down the streets and alleyways. You won’t have to look far.
Check the alley at the back of Denver Central Market for cool street art
Look closely and you’ll see these are four different murals
You could easily spend a whole day seeking out Denver’s street art. Travel blogger Julianna from ‘The Discoveries Of’, was also on our trip and has written an excellent guide to Denver’s murals with a self-guided walking map which is worth a peek.
Read more: Check out my – epic 10-day Colorado road trip itinerary
Stop for a craft beer
Mural hunting is thirsty work so I suggest well-deserved beer or glass of wine at one of RiNo’s many craft breweries. Craft beer is big in Denver with over 100 brewpubs, breweries and taprooms. Our Mutual Friend is just a couple of doors away from Central Market and offers craft beers brewed using 100% Colorado ingredients. Check out Denver Beer Trail for details of all Denver’s craft breweries and brewpubs or a Colorado beercation.
Dinner and sunset views at El Five
Tonight head out to LoHi (Lower Highlands) for dinner and views at Central Market Denver’s newest urban hotspot. Take the lift up to the fifth floor (L5 – the clue’s in the name) for fabulous city views and sunsets paired with tapas, mezzes, wine and cocktails. The atmosphere is lively and the décor dark, edgy with a vintage cinematic theme. Definitely one to book as it’s one of Denver’s most popular restaurants.
Food is a delicious fusion of Mediterranean, Gibraltar and Lebanese dishes. Think Middle Eastern mezze platters, traditional Mediterranean tapas and new school tapas. I loved the crispy cauliflower yukfa, flatbreads and dips and spicy vegetarian paella with lentils, quinoa and vegetables.
The restaurant has an outside terrace overlooking Denver’s downtown city skyline which gradually lights up and sparkles as dusk falls. On the west side of the restaurant you’ll watch the sun set in a glorious show of colour. After dinner join the queue downstairs for the perfect gelato at Little Man Ice Cream Parlor.
A Weekend in Denver Itinerary – Sunday
Take a lazy breakfast in your hotel or, better still, in your hotel room. If you’re staying in the Sheraton you could take a dip in the heated rooftop pool before heading out to discover Denver’s museums.
Check rates and availability at Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel
Mooch around Denver’s Museums and Art Galleries
There’re loads of museums in Denver so you’ve got plenty of choice. Here are some top picks which are all within a few minute’s walk of each other.
Denver Art Museum
Denver Art Museum Credit Stevie Crecelius
You can’t fail to spot Denver Art Museum in the Civic Center area of Denver aka the Golden Triangle. It’s an architectural work of art in its own right, all angles and triangles inspired by the light and the geology of the Rockies. The building is covered in 9,000 titanium panels that reflect the Colorado sunshine. Inside is a fascinating collection of Native American art and hands-on exhibitions.
The Clyfford Still Museum
The Clyfford Still Museum showcases the work of the artist of Abstract Expressionist artist Clyfford Still. The museum houses the late artist’s work which had been kept from the public since 1980.
History Colorado Center
I dropped by the History Colorado Center and learnt about the state’s history of gold mining, skiing and native American Indians. I also learnt that Crocs were invented in Denver. Who knew? If you’re into history The ‘Written on the Land’ exhibition about Colorado’s indigenous Ute tribes is fascinating with Ute beaded clothing, photography and sound recordings.
Colorado State Capitol Building
We also stopped by the nearby Colorado State Capitol Building with its gleaming bell-shaped dome. If you go look out for the thirteenth step. It’s exactly 5,280 feet about sea level and inscribed ‘One Mile Above Sea Level’. It’s why Denver’s known as the Mile High City. Free tours of the building are offered Mon-Fri from 10am-3pm and last around 45 minutes. Worth doing for the panoramic views at the top.
Lunch at 16th Street Mall (Downtown)
16th Street Mall is a mile-long pedestrian promenade packed with eateries, cafes and shops. Choose from one of 42 open-air cafes for lunch and check out the shops. Use the free shuttle bus that runs the length of the street and stops at all the intersections which will help make the most of your time.
More cool things to do in Denver
Depending how much time you have or how long you spend exploring Denver’s museums you’ll likely want to pack in a bit more sight-seeing before you head off on the rest of your trip. Here are a couple more top picks for more things to do in Denver which I’d have loved to have done if we’d had the time.
Cheer on a local Denver sports team
Coors Field, Denver. Credit: Visit Denver
Sports fans will love that Denver is home to no less than six professional sports teams. The Colorado Rockies play baseball at the Coors Stadium and the Denver Broncos NFL team kick off at Bronco’s Stadium at Mile High. There’re also hockey, soccer and rugby teams. Many of the stadiums offer tours and Colorado Sports Hall of Fame is a free museum showcasing Colorado’s sports legends. Check the teams’ websites for game schedules.
Visit Red Rocks Stadium
See a concert or just pay a visit this world-famous Red Rocks outdoor amphitheatre located 15 miles west of Denver (a 20 minute drive). You’ll need a car so you might want to drop by at the start of your Colorado road trip. The open-air venue is the only naturally formed, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world. It’s surrounded by Colorado’s red rocks right in the middle of nature. It’s worth heading to the top of the steps for magnificent views of the surrounding area. The venue is open to the public at no cost when there are no concerts on. There’s a visitor centre, documentaries on the geology of the venue and its musical history as well as a performers’ Hall of Fame and a restaurant. Nearby are excellent hiking and biking trails.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver. Credit: Visit Denver
If this is the end of your road trip you might want to chill a bit before heading to the airport. Head for Denver’s Botanic Gardens – an oasis of calm in the middle of the city. There are 45 different gardens to explore and one of the country’s top 10 conservatories. Garden.
Denver Travel Tips
Denver sits exactly one mile above sea level and enjoys 300 days of sunshine under the bluest of skies. It’s nearer to the sun so the skies really are bluer and it’s hotter. Because of this, you’ll need to use sunscreen and drink loads of water to help avoid altitude sickness. I suffered with it slightly in the first couple of days and I can tell you it’s best avoided.
Getting around Denver
You can explore The Mile High City easily on foot and public transport. Free shuttle buses, known as the MallRide cruise 16th Street Mall and stop at each corner so you can cover a lot of ground fairly quickly and hop on and off as you please. The official Denver Tourist Information Centre is located just off 16th Street at 1575 California Street. Denver’s light rail service makes getting around the city easy. A single ride costs $2.60 or you could use Uber or Lyft.
Getting from Denver International Airport to the City
Getting into the city centre is easy using the direct rail service from Denver International Airport to Denver Union Station. The 37-minute trip costs $10.50 each way.
There you have my 2-day Denver itinerary plus a few things that I didn’t have time for which I’d go back for in a heartbeat. So what are my overall feelings for Denver? I think the shot above pretty much sums it up…
Have you been? Did I miss anything? Drop a comment.
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I visited Denver, Colorado on a trip hosted by Visit Colorado. As always, all views and opinions are entirely my own and I retain full editorial rights. I was not paid to write this article.
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Suzanne Jones is creator, writer and photographer at The Travelbunny. When she’s not indulging her wanderlust you’ll most likely find her enjoying coastal walks in her home county of East Sussex, UK.
Suzanne co-writes Sussex Bloggers which showcases the best of East & West Sussex.