Known as “The Mile-High City,” Denver, the capital and largest city in Colorado, is also high on things to see and do. A bustling city of over 600,000 people, Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, with a metropolitan area of nearly three million people. As a flagship of the Old West, Denver does embrace its cowboy and mining past, but also looks to move past it and toward the future with its lively arts scene, dozens of great outdoor festivals, and unique neighborhoods, each offering a different experience, all with a breathtaking view of the Rocky Mountains, located just 12 miles west of the city.
As Denver offers many outdoor attractions, late spring and early autumn are the best times to visit and experience the city’s lush green parks, enjoy plenty of outdoor festivals, sports, and gondola rides. Winter time is best for touring Denver’s famous breweries and innovative downtown arts scene.
As far as neighborhoods go, many of Denver’s older areas provide the perfect place to spend a day exploring; Capitol Hill, Baker, Berkeley, Cheesman, Congress Parks, Highlands, Sloan’s Lake, Uptown, and Washington City and are just some of the areas to see. Many of these neighborhoods also contain a plethora of beautiful parks full of colorful gardens, winding paths, crystal clear lakes, and plenty of wildlife and recreation opportunities. These include City Park, a 330-acre urban park east of downtown, which offers two lakes, ball fields, playgrounds, and a golf course. The famed Denver Zoo and the Museum of Nature and Science, two must-sees, are in this area. Speaking of the Denver Zoo, a must-see at this attraction is Bear Mountain, created using casts of real Colorado rock outcroppings to simulate a bears’ natural habitat. Another must-do is the Pioneer Train, the first train in a U.S. zoo powered by natural gas. Other exhibits not to be missed include the seven-acre Primate Panorama and an indoor rainforest.
Next on the list for natural Denver are the Denver Botanic Gardens, which offer an array of flowers and plants from around the world, Denver’s first public green roof, a living example of the benefits of sustainable design, and the OmniGlobe exhibit, a spherical simulation of the Earth from space. Washington Park provides beautiful flower gardens as well, in addition to a lake, a recreation center, soccer fields and tennis courts, for more than 160 acres of natural beauty, surrounded by homes dating back from the turn of the 19th century homes. For breathtaking views of the Denver skyline, check out Cheesman Park, with its Acropolis-inspired pavilion. Last but certainly not least is Confluence Park. Named for the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, Confluence Park is a summertime destination for many a Denver resident, providing recreation in the form of swimming, kayaking, and tubing.
Other outdoor attractions in Denver include the city’s amusement parks. They are Butterfly Pavilion, where one can learn about science, conservation, and invertebrates through fun, interactive exhibits, such as a tropical conservatory filled with 1,200 free-flying butterflies; Elitch Gardens, a large amusement park filled with rides and family entertainment; Waterworld, a water park open Memorial Day through Labor Day; and Lakeside, a throwback amusement park from the good old days of carnival, and home of the Cyclone, the park’s original Edward Vettel-designed wooden roller coaster from the 1940s.
As Denver is the capital of Colorado, no visit there would be complete without a stop at the Colorado State Capitol, a beautiful domed building at the southern edge of downtown Denver. It offers tours and photo opportunities in front of the steps, which have “One Mile Above Sea Level” engraved upon them.
Denver also has a rich pioneer history, and plenty of museums where one can learn all about it. These include the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center, dedicated to the contributions of Black pioneers in the Old West; the Byers-Evans House Museum, housed in a historic home built in 1883 by Rocky Mountain News publisher Williams Byers, where one can tour the house or see featured exhibitions in the gallery; the Chamberlin Observatory, a working observatory and historic landmark at the University of Denver; the Children’s Museum of Denver, an educational museum for kids that provides a fun, hands-on approach to learning; the Denver Art Museum, a massive museum filled with art from around the world; the Denver Firefighters Museum, which offers historical and interactive exhibits, activities and special events to celebrate Denver city firefighters; the Denver Mint, which makes more U.S. money than any other mint in the world; the Denver Museum of Miniatures, which contains doll houses, trains, planes, circuses and more; the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Forney Transportation Museum, the History Colorado Center, which has many displays and exhibits focusing on historical sites throughout Colorado; the Molly Brown House Museum, the restored Victorian home of the famous “unsinkable” Margaret Brown, a Titanic survivor turned labor reformist and actress; the Money Museum, the Museo de las Americas, which focuses on Latin American art and heritage; the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which offers workshops, films, lectures, and a rooftop deck with 360-degree views of Denver; and the Platte Valley & Western Model Railroad Club, which houses two model railroads depicting Rocky Mountain train routes circa 1950s.
As mentioned above, Denver is home to many festivals of all kinds, starting with the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo, the Martin Luther King Parade, the Indian Market, and the Mile High Snowfest in January. If visiting in February, be sure to check out the February Colorado Garden and Home Show, Denver Restaurant Week, and Buffalo Bill’s Birthday Party. March in Denver means the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Denver March Powwow, and the Starz Global Lens Film Festival, and April brings more than just showers; it brings Doors Open Denver, the Colorado Rockies Home Opener, and KBCO Kinetics. And May in Colorado isn’t just for flowers, it’s also for celebrating Cinco de Mayo, the Tesoro Indian Market and Powwow, the Downtown Denver Festival of the Arts, the Denver Day of Rock, the Colorado Colfax Marathon and Denver’s Navy Week. Summer brings the Colorado Renaissance Festival, the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Comcast La Piazza dell’Arte, Do At The Zoo, PrideFest, The People’s Fair, and the Highland Street Fair in June, while July is time for the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, The INTERNATIONAL at Castle Pines, the Colorado Irish Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Evergreen Jazz Festival. Foodies and beer lovers will love visiting Denver in September, when they can experience A Taste of Colorado, Brew At The Zoo, the Annual Oktoberfest, the Festival Italiano, and the Denver Beer Fest. October brings Halloween frights and fun with the October Fright Fest, the Great American Beer Festival, the Denver Mariachi Festival, and the Denver Marathon, and November is time for the Denver Arts Week, the Starz International Film Festival, the Denver International Wine Festival, the Downtown Denver, and Grand Illumination. Last but not least, December lights up Denver with its Mile High Holidays, Blossoms of Light, Zoo Lights, 9News Parade of Lights, and the New Year’s Eve Downtown Fireworks.
While Denver is home to many beer festivals, it is also home to many beers, as the state of Colorado produces more beer by volume than any other state in the union, and Denver ranks first for production in U.S. cities. Notable breweries in the Denver area include the Coors Brewery, the Great Divide Brewing Co., the Breckenridge Brewery, the Wynkoop Brewing Company, Bull & Bush, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, New Belgium, maker of the popular Fat Tire, and Rock Bottom, a national chain of brewpubs. One can even take a tour and sample some of the products at these breweries. For instance, the Denver Microbrew Tour, a year-round guided walking tour in Denver’s historic LODO (lower downtown) area, which includes a brewery tour, beer samplings at several microbreweries, fun facts about beer, and lessons on local Denver history.