With its whoop-it-up Western heritage, outstanding sports and concert venues, and just about any outdoor activity you might want to try, the city of Denver is full of fun things to do. And it’s all set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
The problem is whittling down all that good stuff to a manageable itinerary of absolute must-sees. You could have an amazing time just focusing on bucket-list items, like the Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Coors Field. Or you might use your time in Denver to go hiking, shopping, or history hunting at the city’s memorable museums.
The best answer, we think, is to do a little of everything. So we gathered tips and picks from locals and seasoned travelers to build a list of can’t-miss adventures.
Best Times to Go to Denver
The weather in Denver can be unpredictable. You might have snow in early spring and temps in the 70s in winter. If pleasant weather is a priority, you may want to stick to the “shoulder” seasons — from April to May and September to October — for your visit. But you’ll also want to consider the sites you plan to see and the best time of year for your favorite activities, whether that’s hiking, sightseeing, hitting the slopes, or hanging at the ballpark.
Bad Times to Go to Denver
There really is no wrong time to go to Denver. It’s more a matter of personal preference. The winters can be cold, but that’s what you’ll want if skiing is on your itinerary. And though summer days can get pretty hot, and the city is more crowded with tourists, it can be a great time to go to a concert, ballgame, or museum.
Average Cost of a Denver Vacation
The cost of a vacation in Denver can vary significantly, depending on how long you visit, when and where you stay, and how you get there. Travel sites put the average cost of a weeklong trip at about $1,200 to $2,300 for solo travelers and $2,400 to $3,750 for a couple. (If you’re traveling with your kids or a four-legged friend, the cost can be significantly more.)
Here are just a few of the costs you may want to consider when you’re budgeting for your trip.
Roundtrip airfare to Denver can range from $250 to $600 or more, depending on where you’re flying from and when you’re traveling. Driving can end up costing about the same, or even more if you have to stop at a hotel for a night or two.
Given the weird weather, don’t forget to look into your credit card travel insurance, just in case your flight is canceled.
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If you’re willing to stay at a budget hotel or somewhere outside the city, you may be able to save some serious money. Otherwise, expect to pay about $150 to $600 per night for a mid-range to luxury hotel close to downtown Denver.
Although there are many fun things to do right in downtown Denver, if you want to drive into the foothills or the mountains, you may have to rent a car. A mid-size SUV could cost about $65 to $85 per day.
The average spend per person for food in Denver can range from $30 to $55 per day. Your food bill may go up or down based on how often you dine out, the restaurants you choose, and of course, how many cocktails you consume. A fast-food meal, for example, can cost less than $10, while a three-course meal in a nice restaurant might be $50 or more per person.
There are many free things to do in Denver, and admission to most museums and other attractions costs $25 or less for an adult.
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10 Fun Must-Dos in Denver
There’s so much to do in and around the Mile High City, it can be a challenge to squeeze it all into a week or two. But if you go in with a plan — and some recs from friends and frequent visitors to the city and its surrounding area — you can improve the chances that you’ll get in your fair share of fun.
To get you started, we checked out dozens of travel sites, blogs, and “best of” lists, then compiled our own lineup of the top things to do in and around the city.
1. Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
There’s much more to do at Red Rocks Park in Morrison than see a concert at its famous amphitheater. (Although it is a fantastic venue.) Visitors to the park set out on a moderate hike — at a manageable 6,450 feet above sea level — and enjoy the unusual landscape. At the visitors center, music and nature lovers can check out the Red Rocks Hall of Fame, shop, and grab a bite at the Ship Rock Grille. Red Rocks is about a 20-minute drive west of Denver. redrocksonline.com/
2. History Colorado Center
The History Colorado Center is the place to go if you really want to get a feel for Colorado and its place in the American West. At the exhibit “Zoom In: The Centennial State in 100 Objects,” for example, visitors can see artifacts that shaped the state’s history and culture from ancient to modern times. The museum is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. historycolorado.org/history-colorado-center
3. Coors Field
Even if you aren’t a diehard baseball fan, a visit to Coors Field is a must. The architecture will make you nostalgic for old-time stadiums, but it’s filled with modern amenities. They include an interactive space where kids and adults can test their skills in the video batting-cages and speed-pitch area.
There’s also a spacious viewing platform where you can get a great look at downtown Denver. For the full experience, take in a game on a warm summer evening, or sign up for a guided tour during the day. mlb.com/rockies/ballpark
4. Denver Mint
The U.S. Mint in Denver was built in the late 1800s to make gold coins, and it’s still producing coins today. Visitors can watch it all happen and learn about the history of the Mint. Tickets are for same-day tours only, and are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s important to arrive early at the building in downtown Denver. The tours are family-friendly, but all visitors must be at least 7 years old. usmint.gov/about/mint-tours-facilities/Denver/visiting-the-denver-mint
5. Trendy Streets
Looking for shopping, dining, nightlife, and historic buildings close to your downtown hotel? Denver’s LoDo (short for lower downtown), Larimer Square, and 16th Street Mall are pedestrian-friendly and packed with cool things. Also check out Pearl Street in Boulder, about 30 miles away, for a laid-back vibe and some primo people-watching.
6. Afternoon Tea at the Brown Palace
The historic Brown Palace Hotel and Spa is one of Denver’s most famous landmarks, and their afternoon tea is one of the city’s favorite traditions. While the hotel’s architecture is designed to make you feel at home in the West, the tea is decidedly traditional, served with Devonshire cream and handmade scones, while a grand piano plays. If you decide to skip tea, you’ll still want to stop by to admire the images of Colorado animals carved in stone on the hotel’s exterior. brownpalace.com
7. Molly Brown House Museum
The Molly Brown House Museum in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood is dedicated to telling the story of Margaret “Molly” Brown, who famously survived the sinking of the Titanic, but also was an activist and philanthropist. The museum’s hours vary seasonally, so it’s a good idea to look and book in advance. (You can choose a guided or self-guided tour.) mollybrown.org
8. Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave
William “Buffalo Bill” Cody became a legend for his exploits as a Union soldier and civilian scout, but he’s probably best known for his Wild West show that toured the U.S. and Europe. The educational Buffalo Bill Museum is filled with artifacts and interactive exhibits, including a mechanical horse ride for kids. The museum and gravesite are in Lookout Mountain Park, about 20 miles west of Denver. Add to your Wild West experience with a stop at the nearby Buffalo Herd Nature Preserve, where the city of Denver maintains a herd of buffalo. buffalobill.org and denver.org/listing/buffalo-herd-nature-preserve/4549/
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9. Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
If you’re ready for a day exploring the outdoors, why not hike one of the many trails in Rocky Mountain National Park? There’s a trail for every age and ability — from the short, flat, and easy Bear Lake hike to the longer Sky Pond hike, which has mountain, lake and waterfall views, to the more challenging but gorgeous Chasm Lake Hike. Remember: The weather can change quickly in Colorado. Do your research, choose your trail carefully, and come prepared. nps.gov/romo/index.htm
10. Estes Park and the Stanley Hotel
Yes, you’ll see plenty of beautiful scenery around Denver, but if you decide to head to Rocky Mountain National Park (and you should), consider stopping at the quaint town of Estes Park on the way, for brunch or lunch or just a little sightseeing. While you’re there, take a ride by the historic Stanley Hotel, the elegant (and not at all creepy) inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. visitestespark.com and stanleyhotel.com
Here, some local wisdom to keep in mind when planning your trip to Denver.
Location, Location, Location
Keep your sightseeing goals in mind when choosing your accommodations. You may find cheaper rates at hotels outside the city, but traffic in Denver can be challenging, and you can spend a large chunk of your time just getting to the attractions you hope to see.
Dine on Something…Different
Here’s something every visitor to Denver really needs to know: The “Rocky Mountain oysters” you’ll see advertised around town aren’t seafood. They’re a snack made with bull testicles — sautéed, braised, broiled, or sometimes poached, but mostly fried. For adventurous eaters, they’re worth a try.
But if this Denver dish isn’t your thing, you can still eat like a westerner. The safer choice is a Denver omelet. The better choice might be an elk-jalapeno dog from Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs; a Colorado-style pizza known as a Mountain Pie; or lamb fondue. For more local flavor, wash down your meal with a beer from one of the city’s many craft breweries.
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Have a Plan for How You’ll Pay
It can be a good idea to bring cash, your debit card, and a couple of different credit cards to pay for various things during your trip. You also may want to bring at least one travel credit card so you can get rewarded for qualifying purchases.
Although the weather can be unpredictable, there’s no bad time to go to Denver. The average cost of a week there averages $2,400 to $3,750 for a couple. Some must-see attractions include Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, Coors Field, the pedestrian-friendly LoDo neighborhood, and the Buffalo Bill Museum and grave. Adventurous eaters can brave a snack of Rocky Mountain oysters, while traditionalists might stick to an elk-jalapeno hot dog or a Mountain Pie pizza.
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Should I worry about altitude sickness in Denver’s higher elevation?
Some visitors do have trouble with altitude sickness in the Mile High City (and the surrounding foothills and mountains). Symptoms can include light-headedness, fatigue, and nausea. One way to combat it is to stay hydrated, so drink plenty of water.
What is the nightlife like in Denver?
Denver offers plenty for night owls, including clubs, bars, and restaurants; concerts and festivals; ghost tours; and stargazing at the University of Denver’s historic Chamberlin Observatory.
Photo credit: iStock/milehightraveler
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