Morning fitness class at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver.

Best Things to do in Denver

BY Fifty Grande Editors | September 9, 2020

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Denver? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Denver?”

It doesn’t matter if you’re outdoorsy, an avid concert-goer or an insatiable gourmand, Denver’s got its arms open wide, saying “over here. We’ve got something just for you.” And not in a “creeper drug dealer hanging out in a high school parking lot” type of way. More like “the super-fit personal trainer who spends all their time hiking and biking in Rocky Mountain grandeur” way. Like, come this way, it’s gonna be awesome because we have all these gorgeous landscapes and craft breweries. Point being: The Mile High City is a place where it’s sunny 300 days per year (close enough). Where the elevation causes home runs to fly farther and drinks to hit harder. Where there’s new development everywhere. There’s a reason people are currently flocking there. And it’s not entirely because of the weed-friendly laws. Denver’s got something for everyone. Here are some familiar and not-so-familiar essential attractions. 

 

Get outside and stay outside

Denver’s got nature and plenty of it. Ample mountain ranges and an adventurous attitude — paired with the aforementioned 300 days of sun — mean that this is no place to hole up in a hotel room. For starters, try these: 

Red Rocks Amphitheater. Pic via Shutterstock.
#1
Red Rocks Amphitheater. Pic via Shutterstock.

Red Rocks Amphitheater

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, 18300 W Alameda Pkwy, Golden, CO, USA

This is an American gem. It’s one of the most unique and beautiful music venues in the country. Its open-air seating area is flanked by — surprise, surprise — red rocks, sandstone actually, huge slabs jutting skyward, forming a near-perfect acoustic environment. Photos simply don’t do it justice. You gotta check it out. 

Denver Botanic Gardens. Pic via Shutterstock.
#2
Denver Botanic Gardens. Pic via Shutterstock.

Denver Botanic Gardens

1007 York St, Denver, Colorado, USA

It’s fitting that the world’s largest collection of cold-climate plants would be in a city surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Located in the Cheesman Park neighborhood, this is an urban getaway containing a sunken amphitheater and themed gardens, like a traditional Japanese garden and a South African Plaza. 

City Park in Denver. Pic via Shutterstock.
#3
City Park in Denver. Pic via Shutterstock.

City Park

City Park, Denver, CO, USA

Denver’s largest municipal park, it’s home to both the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, as well as outdoor activities like picnic areas, horseshoe pits, lakes (with paddle boat rentals) and every kind of field or court you can imagine. Losing a day here is no problem at all.

Experience old-school Denver while you can

Tried and true Denver mainstays are being increasingly overshadowed by trendy mixed-use spaces, apartments and fusion restaurants. The city is growing fast, but with some guidance from a homegrown Denverite (or us), you can still find its history-steeped favorites

Deluxe at My Brothers Bar in Denver.
#4
Deluxe at My Brothers Bar in Denver.

My Brother’s Bar

2376 15th St, Denver, Colorado, USA

Not only is it Denver’s oldest bar, but it’s where Jack Kerouac famously knocked back beers with Cassady and Ginsberg. Take in the vibe, the history, their jalepeño cream cheese burger, a draft beer and (if you’re lucky) some Girl Scout Cookies.

You have to try a smothered burger

Only the boldest (and/or the drunkest) take on this burger without fork and knife sidekicks. Picture this: one patty, draped in melted cheese and beans, contained by a flour tortilla, then drenched in green chile. That’s a Denver smothered burger, one you’ll find on menus across the city. A good place to start is The Original Chubby’s. It’s predecessor, Joe’s Buffet, was (as tradition has it) the smothered hamburger’s birthplace.

Pass on Rocky Mountain oysters

Some call these Rocky Mountain oysters (fried bull testicles) a local delicacy, something every visitor has to try. But they’re not something you need try. They’re not all that tasty. Pass on the bull balls.

Be a mountaineer

You might, at some point, find yourself sipping an IPA on a flagstone patio and looking out to the horizon when you hear it: the call of the mountains. While Denver isn’t actually in the mountains, it’s near a whole lot of them. And they’re just a short drive away, perfect for day trips. You could spend an entire trip just exploring the Rockies, but don’t forget about the other mountain parks nearby, like Genesee Park, Echo Lake Park and Summit Lake Park. 

Rocky Mountain National Park. Pic via Shutterstock.
#5
Rocky Mountain National Park. Pic via Shutterstock.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA

Here, you’ll find more than 355 miles of hiking trails, 77 mountains over 12,000 feet and some of the most scenic lookout points in Colorado. Like Mount Evans, which boasts the highest paved road in America.

Spark your fandom

If you’d rather lose yourself in the pages of a good book, graphic novel or zine than in food or music, no judgment here. Denver’s got something for you.

Tattered Cover in Denver. Pic via Shutterstock.
#6
Tattered Cover in Denver. Pic via Shutterstock.

Tattered Cover

1628 16th St Mall, Denver, Colorado, USA

This haven for ambitious readers is one of the largest independent bookstores in America with three Denver locations, including one inside the defunct Lowenstein Theater.

Mile High Comics Mega Store in Denver. Pic via Shutterstock.
#7
Mile High Comics Mega Store in Denver. Pic via Shutterstock.

Mile High Comics Mega Store

4600 Jason St, Denver, CO, USA

It’s got more than 5 million comic books and graphic novels, everything from classic Marvel and DC to niche artistic endeavors.

Denver Zine Library
#8
Denver Zine Library

Denver Zine Library

2400 Curtis Street, Denver, Colorado, USA

A sanctuary for Denver’s DIY publishing scene, it’s home to 15,000+ small-circulation zines, as well as workshops on zine-making. 

Knock back some good old-fashioned Colorado whiskey

Craft beer is Denver’s beverage of choice, but the city has some first-rate whiskey too. Stranahan’s is the stalwart, but its tendrils of influence run throughout Denver, leaving spiritual successors like Laws Whiskey House, Rising Sun Distillery, Mythology Distillery and more.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey in Denver. Pic via Shutterstock.
#9
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey in Denver. Pic via Shutterstock.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

200 S Kalamath St, Denver, Colorado, USA

One of the nation’s oldest craft distilleries, and the one that inspired a whole crop of Colorado distillers. Stop in for a guided tasting to explore the distilling process and swirl whiskey in your glass like a true connoisseur. 

Hit the town

When the sun is cresting the mountains and you still feel like you’ve got a good eight hours in the tank, here’s where to go. 

Larimer Square in Denver
#10
Larimer Square in Denver

Larimer Square

1430 Larimer St, Denver, Colorado, USA

One of Denver’s oldest districts, but also one of its coolest. Swinging-door saloons where gold prospectors once drank their faces off have been transformed into chic storefronts, renowned restaurants and cozy cocktail bars.

Lower Downtown (LoDo)

Right next door to Larimer Square is LoDo, a mixed-use district known for its hopping nightlife. Its bars run the gamut from warm mountain-lodge-esque 700-whiskey date spots (Seven Grand) to rooftop hangouts with local beers like Tap 14. 

 

Dive into modern and contemporary art

Contemporary art is bold, experimental, occasionally abstract and all over Denver. If you want an experimental art hideaway, hit the SPACE Gallery or the Plinth Gallery. In the mood for a full-scale museum experience? Wander the halls at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Clyfford Still Museum or the Denver Art Museum.

Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.
#11
Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.

Clyfford Still Museum

1250 Bannock St, Denver, Colorado, USA

Houses minimalist exhibits that celebrate the Abstract Expressionist work of its immensely talented namesake.

Go on a graffiti tour

Here’s the other side of Denver’s art scene, the less-curated-but-equally-talented graffiti, one of the reasons Denver made our list of best cities for street art. These wall-spanning creations are all over the city, but if you want the most bang for your buck (it’s free, but you get the idea), head to RiNo.

Its streets and alleys rife with murals and graffiti that intertwine avant-garde expression with cultural and political dynamism. RiNo’s walls and surfaces are a playground for imaginative artists to create their own kind of living museum. You can wander the streets on your own for the thrill of discovery, or take a guided tour

Visit Denver’s other most iconic music venue

Okay, so you did Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Maybe you saw a shooting star during a sick guitar riff. That’s all well and good, but if you want an intimate concert experience, there are other places to jam. 

Bluebird Theater in Denver.
#12
Bluebird Theater in Denver.

Bluebird Theater

3317 E Colfax Ave, Denver, Colorado, USA

The Bluebird Theater is over a century old, on the National Register of Historic Places and still putting on popular shows. It’s a smaller space, so great stage views abound. Adele, Oasis, Portugal. The Man, Tame Impala and Vampire Weekend have played there, along with plenty of other big names and local artists.

 

Traverse the Denver Beer Trail

Every city will tell you they’re the United States’ best craft beer destination, but Denver has a legitimate claim to the throne. We’re talking almost 150 breweries, each with its own unique style. Some local experimental favorites include Wynkoop Brewing Company, Great Divide Brewing Company and Cerebral Brewing Company. But Denver is also home to big names like Blue Moon and Coors if you’d prefer brewery tours with the big-timers.

Great Divide Brewing Company
#13
Great Divide Brewing Company

Great Divide Brewing Company

2201 Arapahoe St, Denver, Colorado, USA

With 25 years of craft brewing under their belts, they’re a Denver beer staple. Grab a pint (or a growler) of one of their Yeti Clan Imperial Stouts if they’re on tap.