The ultimate travel guide to Denver, Colorado — free and written by a local!
There are a lot of great things to do in Denver, Colorado, and this Denver visitors guide will go over the best of them. From exploring Denver points of interest, to trying a beer at the best Denver breweries, to attending a concert at Red Rocks, we’ve got you covered for your Denver vacation itinerary.
I’ll also provide you with a brief overview of the top neighborhoods in Denver so that you can find where to stay in Denver, the best Denver hotels, where to eat, and where to go out in Denver. This Denver travel guide will also go over other information you need to know, like how to use public transportation in Denver (including how to get from DIA to downtown Denver), the best time of year to visit Denver, the impact of marijuana tourism on the city, are more.
I’m a third-generation Coloradan who has traveled to over sixty countries around the world. But no matter how far I travel, Denver is and always will be my home. So I wrote this mega Denver travel guide to make sure that others can get the most out of their Denver vacation. I hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments.
There is a TON of information in this ultimate Denver travel guide, so please use this table of contents to skip around, and be sure to check out my post on the best day trips from Denver:
Table of Contents
- An Introduction to Denver, Colorado
- Best Denver Hotels
- Things to Do in Denver
- Denver Nightlife Guide: Bars And Clubs in Denver
- Where to Eat in Denver
- Day trips from Denver
- Denver Transportation Guide
- Marijuana Tourism in Denver
- Need to Know About Denver Travel
[disclaimer: this Denver visitors guide includes affiliate links, which may provide a small commission to my site. You don’t have to use my links, but it’s no extra cost to you and helps me to keep providing free travel guides]
An Introduction to Denver, Colorado
From its humble origins as a mining settlement established in the 1850s, Denver Colorado has grown into the premier city in the entire Rocky Mountain region. And in recent years, the rest of America has begun to realize that the Mile High City is not the cowtown of its reputation of yore. The city’s population has swelled over the past decade, as people — especially young professionals — have fled the coasts in search of a more relaxed lifestyle, better weather, access to the mountains, more affordable housing, and the many fun things to do in Denver.
In short, Denver is currently one of the hottest cities in the entire United States.
And it’s easy to see why. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, Denver’s climate will keep you cheery even during the depths of winter. With easy access to some of the most beautiful mountains this side of Alaska, you can spend your days hiking or skiing and still return to town in time to grab dinner and check out one of Denver’s many new microbreweries.
Oh, and there is one other thing I’ve not yet mentioned that at least partially accounts for Denver’s recent popularity growth with tourists: grass. And no, I’m not talking about the stuff that grows on the ground. Since Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014, weed tourism has become an undeniable reality of life in Denver.
But no matter what your travel goals, Denver is sure to surprise you. There is a reason it’s the fastest growing large city in the U.S. Actually, there are a bunch of them. Read on to learn what the fuss is all about!
Once upon a time, Denver was a relatively affordable destination. But between its emergence as a business hub and the masses of young people moving to Denver from the coasts with their purchasing power, the days of abundant affordable places to stay in Denver are unfortunately long gone. With that said, Denver is still more affordable than most coastal U.S. destinations, and the rise of sharing economy options like AirBnB mean that it’s still possible to find a place to stay in Denver on a budget.
So, no matter what your budget, here’s a quick summary of the best hotels in Denver and where to stay. Note that approximate prices for a standard double room are indicated as follows (top choices are marked with a “*”):
$$$$ – $300+/night$$$ – $200-$300/night$$ – $100-$200/night$ – <$100/night
Luxury Hotels in Denver
*The Four Seasons ($$$$) – With a prime location between the CBD and LoDo, and great views to boot, this top-notch hotel is a great option for those in town on business but eager to steal away to Union Station or Larimer Square for a bit of fun during your spare time.
Le Meridien ($$$) – One of the newest luxury hotels in Denver, and in the middle of the CBD, the Le Meridien hotel is a stylish and modern option for the Denver business traveler.
JW Marriott ($$$$) – Located in Cherry Creek, this hotel has often played host to visiting Presidents and dignitaries. If you want luxury and class outside of downtown Denver, this is your best bet.
Boutique Hotels in Denver
*The Brown Palace Hotel ($$$) – This historic triangular-shaped hotel is a Denver institution. If you’ve got the cash and are looking for a true Denver experience, stay here. Don’t miss out on afternoon tea. Oh, and watch out for the ghosts!
The Crawford Hotel ($$$$) -You’ll be in the middle of it all at the Crawford, which is located on the upper levels of the newly renovated historic Union Station. The rooms are pretty swanky to boot.
*The Oxford Hotel ($$$) – One of Denver’s oldest hotels, you’ll love the traditionally-furnished rooms and the location right across from Union Station. Be sure to grab a drink at The Cruise Room, Denver’s oldest bar.
Unique Hotels in Denver
*Nativ Hotel ($$$) – A small but fashionable hotel that made headlines when, upon its 2015 opening, it announced that it would be the state’s first marijuana-friendly hotel. It later had to back off that stance after community pressure, but it remains a stylish and unique Denver hotel option with a great location near Union Station. On weekends, the basement club throbs until the wee hours.
The ART Hotel ($$$) – Modern and stylish doesn’t begin to describe this newer modern-art focused hotel on Broadway. Be sure to check out the patio bar for great views.
Mid-Range Hotels in Denver
*Aloft Denver Downtown ($$) – The rooms here may not be enormous, but they are well designed. And, with a central location in the middle of the CBD is perfect if you are in town for business, to attend a convention, or to attend an event at the Pepsi Center.
Once upon a time, Denver was mostly viewed by tourists as a waystation on the way to the mountains. But people have recently realized that Denver is a destination in its own right and that there are a ton of fun things to do in Denver. Whether you are just here for a quick Denver weekend getaway or plan to soak in the city for awhile, there is plenty to keep you busy in the Mile High City.
All of the below sites can be explored independently, but if you’re the sort of traveler who prefers to have things arranged in advance for you, you can click here to check out a ton of organized tours on offer in Denver. They have everything from food tours to photography tours.
Denver Points of Interest
- Red Rocks – Technically located in Morrison, Red Rocks Park is one of the most famous points of interest in the greater Denver area and should still be at the top of any list of things to do in Denver. It’s popular for its summer concert series (catch a show if you can!), but you can explore it on your own or watch the sunrise while doing yoga on the Rocks. You’ll likely need a car or an Uber to get here, though. Or, if you’re going to see a concert, you can ride a party bus complete with DJ (and an on-board BYOB policy) through the excellent Bus to Show nonprofit, which has buses leaving from locations all around the city.
- Union Station – This historic train station used to serve as an important stop supply shipments coming out west. Since it’s refurbishing in 2014, it’s become the cultural heart of Denver — and the most popular point of interest in Denver. Dine at one of the excellent restaurants housed in the station, grab a cocktail at the Terminal Bar, or challenge your friends to a game of shuffleboard inside the station’s giant refinished lobby.
- Colorado Capitol – Free tours are offered on weekdays from 10 am to 3 pm. If you can’t make one, you can still snap great photos of the building’s famous golden dome. Look out for the marker on the Capitol steps for the exact location of the altitude of 5,280 feet above sea level — which gives Denver its moniker as the Mile High City.
- Daniels & Fisher Tower – Once the tallest building in the Mountain West, this historic clocktower at 16th and Arapahoe remains a Denver icon. At its base you’ll find Skyline Park, which often plays hosts to seasonal events like ice skating rinks. In the basement is a modern cabaret show.
- Larimer Square – Somewhat upstaged by the recent opening on Union Station, Larimer Square still has a claim to being the coolest block in town. Window shop at any one of the boutique stores (care to try on a $800 hat?) and be sure to stop for coffee, a croissant, or a treat at The Market on Larimer Square, a celebrated delicatessen that is so much more than that (we dare say that it is something of a Denver tradition).
Fun Things to Do in Denver
- Go on a free walking tour of Denver. Tours start at 10 am (daily May-Oct, Sat/Sun Nov-April). See here for more details.
- Take a brewery tour at any one of Denver’s ever-growing roster of breweries. Great Divide Brewing Co near downtown is a popular Denver brewery tour option.
- Rent a bike and take a ride with the Denver Cruisers, which hosts monthly themed events in which the decked-out participants ride as a group to various bars around town. Check out their site for dates and details.
- Check out the International Church of Cannabis, a technicolor themed place of worship and “spiritual home for cannabis lovers.” It’s open to the public from Thursday through Sunday from 1 pm to 3 pm (but beware that consumption on premises is prohibited). Details here.
- Take afternoon tea at the Brown Palace, a historic Denver hotel which serves up this unique experience in its ornate lobby every day from 12 pm to 4 pm. Space is limited so reservations are suggested.
- Get your serve on at Washington Park’s volleyball nets. All summer long you’ll find organized and impromptu games throughout the park. Plan ahead by reserving a net or bringing your own, or just plan to make some new friends. Note that only “3.2 beer” is officially allowed in the park, and officers have been known to hand out tickets.
- Explore the nooks and crannies of The Tattered Cover, a large independent bookstore (they haven’t all died out!)located with locations on Colfax and in a historic LoDo building. See here for details.
- Ride a bike around Sloan’s Lake. If you don’t have your own, you can rent one or try out Denver’s bike-share program, B Cycle.
- Take the kids to a theme park. Six Flags Elitch Gardens is the largest and most popular, but you can also check out the Lakewood Amusement Park for a smaller, family-owned alternative.
- Check out the bison and other wildlife at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. Situated between downtown and DIA, this former chemicals weapons manufacturing center has made a stunning recovery and is now one of the country’s largest urban wildlife refuges.
Cultural Things to Do In Denver
Pro tip: Buy the Denver Mile High Culture Pass to get access to the 6 best museums on this list (plus the Botanic Gardens) for just $32!
- Denver Art Museum – An excellent museum with a futuristic exterior, located near the Capitol. Open from 10 am to 5 pm daily (and until 8 pm on Fridays). See here for ticket prices and details.
- Denver Performing Arts Center – With several different venues, there are always touring plays, concerts, performances, and more at this modern and stylish downtown Denver facility. Check this site for the schedule and ticket prices.
- Santa Fe Arts District – This is the place to be if you want to check out cool art galleries, hipster hangouts, or unique museums like the Museo de las Americas. The monthly First Friday event brings out a crowd as patrons hop from gallery to gallery to watch performances and imbibe.
- Molly Brown House Museum – The Unsinkable Margaret Tobin Brown survived the Titanic, and her Denver home survived thanks to a 1970s preservation effort that turned it into a fascinating house museum. See here for details on tours.
- Denver Botanic Gardens – A serene escape from the city just east of Cheeseman Park. Featuring flora from around the world, you can grab a beer by the Japanese tea garden or take your own picnic to enjoy on a sunny Denver day.
- Denver Museum of Contemporary Art – Just south of Union Station, this mid-sized art museum offers thought-provoking displays. Don’t miss the rooftop cafe and bar.
- Clifford Still Museum – A popular museum showcasing the work of the trailblazing abstract impressionist. See here for hours and prices.
- Denver Museum of Nature and Science – An excellent things to do in Denver with kids, this museum is filled with dinosaurs, an IMAX theatre, a planetarium, and more. Open 9 am – 5 pm daily. See here for more info.
Remember: Pre-purchase your Denver Mile High Culture Pass now you activate it at the first museum you visit, then it lasts for 72 hours.
Sporty Things to Do in Denver
- If you want to experience Denver like a locl, be sure to cheer on the Broncos, Denver’s most popular sports team, and the 2016 SuperBowl champions. Tickets to a game won’t come cheap, but Denver shuts down when the Broncos play, so you can also catch the game on a big screen at bars all over the city.
- Catch a Rockie’s game at Coors Field. Tickets to Denver’s baseball team are a relative bargain compared to the other leagues (cheap seats often go for less than $15). Bring a picnic and sit in the Rockpile behind the outfield for a unique Denver experience.
- Denver’s NBA team, the Nuggets, and its hockey team, the Avalanche, play just south of downtown at the Pepsi Center, which also hosts concerts for some of the world’s biggest performers.
- If you think a “football” is a round black and white ball, well, we’ve got that “other” football here too. The Colorado Rapids, Denver’s Major League Soccer team, play in Commerce City at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. For a unique Denver experience, sign up to attend the game with the colorful Centennial 38 supporters group (just be sure to learn their special cheers and chants on the bus ride over!).
- If you’re more of the participant than the spectator type, you’re in luck because Denver has an active and athletic culture. The best running and biking in Denver is found along the Cherry Creek trail, which can be accessed from many points along Speer Boulevard. Washington Park is also a good place to find a pickup game of basketball or volleyball. The city is also littered with facilities for yoga, crossfit, pure barre, and any other fitness craze you can think of!
Denver Nightlife Guide: Bars And Clubs in Denver
Whether you prefer sipping a cocktail at a speakeasy, relaxing over a few beers on a patio, or dancing the night away at a throbbing club, Denver has you covered in the nightlife department.
Need to Know About Nightlife in Denver
- Closing time is 2 AM, though many bars may choose to close earlier (especially on weekdays).
- As in the rest of the USA, the legal drinking age in Colorado is 21. ID checks are strictly enforced in Colorado as bars can be hit with huge fines for serving a minor.
- Unfortunately, there are some bars that will refuse to accept foreign driver’s licenses and you may need to present a passport.
Denver Nightlife Areas
There are several clusters of Denver nightlife areas, with each area catering to different types of crowds. Fortunately, Denver’s compact size makes it relatively easy to move between areas — so if you go to one and it’s not to your taste, it’s easy to move on in an Lyft or Uber (use this code get your FIRST UBER RIDE FREE: 7ujsk). Nonetheless, it’s helpful to pick an area to go out in in Denver, so here’s a general overview of some of the more popular nightlife areas in Denver:
#1 Union Station and Larimer Square Nightlife Areas
This nightlife vein in downtown Denver tends to focus more on high-end bars and restaurants, meaning it’s a great place to get your night started or to seek out a relatively quiet spot to spend the evening chatting with friends. With that said, there is a stretch of bars along Market Street from 14th to 15th Streets that stay quite lively late into the morning (check out Gaslamp if you’re in the mood for a younger and energetic crowd).
There are a number of excellent high-end bars along the block of Larimer Street between 14th Street and 15th Street (known as Larimer Square). The top choice here is the Green Russell, a semi-hidden speakeasy serving consistently excellent cocktails in a dimly lit basement. A few blocks from Larimer Square, you’ll find a number of excellent bars in and around Union Station. Inside the station is The Terminal Bar, a mid-range joint that is busy at nearly all hours of the day. Across from the station on Wynkoop Street is Machete Tacos, which serves up some of the strongest margaritas in town.
#2 Ballpark Nightlife Area
The blocks of Blake, Market, and Larimer Street around Coors Field comprise the most established nightlife area in Denver. If you’re looking for a crazy night out in the liveliest Denver nightlife area, this is likely to be your top choice. There are a number of enormous venues sporting multiple bars, patios, and giant dance floors. Popular options for a large venue include View House, The Tavern, and the Gin Mill. You can also sip your drink while playing a large variety of vintage video games at 1Up or try the scorpion shots at the 70s-themed Retro Room. Or, if you’re in the mood for serious clubbing, check out who’s playing at Beta Nightclub.
My personal favorites here are Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, a bar whose theme evokes the building’s history as a brothel, and Mile High Spirits, a distillery serving up affordable cocktails in an enormous space with a large dancefloor (expect lines, but no cover, on the weekends). Be aware that the Ballpark area tends to attract a younger crowd, and that on weekends or after a Rockies game the streets can get quite rowdy. If you’re in university or just a few years removed, you may love the scene here. If you’re older or looking for something more refined, you might be better served to check out the other Denver nightlife areas.
#3 RiNo Nightlife Area
A sprawling area spanning from Park Avenue all the way up past 38th Ave, RiNo offers breweries, jazz clubs, speakeasies, hipster dive bars, and more. You might have to look a little harder, as things are more spread apart up here, but you’ll be rewarded for the effort. The densest concentration of nightlife in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood can be found in the blocks around 27th and Larimer.
The hipster crowd won’t want to miss out on the Meadowlark, a cozy basement/patio joint that offers live DJs or bands most nights of the week. If you want to grab a brew, check out Our Mutual Friend or Epic Brewing Company. And if you’re in the mood for something a little classier, you’ll find Millers & Rossi hidden behind a secret door in an art gallery.
#4 South Broadway Nightlife Area
Popular with Denver’s young professional set, the stretch of South Broadway from 3rd Ave to Alameda Avenue offers a great variety of options. The enormous mega-complex Punch Bowl Social steals the show here, while the dozens of beers on tap at Historian’s Ale House make it a must stop for any beer lover. And on a weekend night, you’re likely to find a lively scene and a small dance floor at the Irish Rover or Syntax Physic Opera.
If you’re in the mood to get away from downtown, and want a lot of options in a relatively compact area, I recommend the South Broadway area. It’s even easy enough to make your own bar crawl by starting at one end of the strip and working your way up or down.
#5 Capitol Hill Nightlife Area
Some of Denver’s most affordable nightlife options can be found in the Capitol Hill and nearby Uptown areas. There are a number of bars along Colfax Avenue, including the aptly named Prohibition and the famous Filmore Auditorium concert venue (check the schedule). There is another strip of quieter nightlife options up along 17th Avenue, including the Ace ping pong joint and Williams Tavern, a bar so divey that the bar itself is duct-taped together. The Denver nightlife area also offers a number of options for LGBT travelers, including X Bar and Charlie’s.
Note that, while anyone used to city life should feel perfectly safe here, this is an area where you need to exercise a little more caution than elsewhere in Denver.
#6 Golden Triangle Nightlife Area
If you’re serious about your partying, this relatively small nightlife area in Denver might be just right for you. Centered around 11th and Broadway, you’ll find a multi-story club featuring A-list DJs at Vinyl (buy tickets in advance). Across the street, the Living Room offers a rotating cast of DJs in a chill setting. And around the alley at Milk you’ll find a center point of Denver’s alternative scene.
And if you can’t decide whether you want to go clubbing or get religious, you need to get to The Church, where DJs spin under lasers bouncing off the stained glass of the converted church.
Best Denver Bars and Clubs
Denver has a dizzying offering of bars, breweries, nightclubs, speakeasies, and more. And, as the city continues to grow, new institutions seem to sprout up overnight. But below I’ve identified some of the best bars in Denver, organized by category depending on the type of evening you are looking for.
Beer Bars, Breweries, and Taprooms in Denver
- Our Mutual Friend – 2810 Larimer St – This small brewery and taproom in RiNo serves up genuine craft brews in a cozy but friendly environment. On warm days, head outside to enjoy the small patio or grab a bite from the food trucks conveniently stationed out front.
- Historian’s Ale House – 24 Broadway – Though not a brewery in its own right, Historian’s is a great place to sample a wide variety of Colorado’s best microbrews. With an excellent happy hour, a nice rooftop patio, and dozens upon dozens of taps, this is beer lover’s paradise.
- Recess Beer Garden – 2715 17th St – Enjoy one of Denver’s 300 days of sunshine with a pint and good friends on Recess’s large open-air beer garden in LoHi.
- Falling Rock Taphouse – 1919 Blake St – A staple on the Denver beer scene with more than 75 beers on tap, Falling Rock is a great place to hone your beer tasting skills in LoDo. Pool and darts are on offer if you bore of the brews.
- Crooked Stave – 3350 Brighton Blvd – You’re sure to pucker up at the sour beer selection at this brewery located inside The Source (a hip RiNo marketplace housing several other vendors, restaurants, and the like).
Nightclubs in Denver
- Beta Nightclub – 1909 Blake St – When world-famous DJs stop through Denver, you’ll most often find them at Beta. If you want Vegas-style nightlife in Denver, this is your best bet.
- Vinyl Nightclub – 1082 Broadway – Vinyl may be the most stylish venue in town. Check the schedule for themed nights, but your whole party is likely to find something they like playing on one of Vinyl four different floors.
- The Church – 1160 Lincoln St – As the name suggests, you’ll find a modern nightclub set up inside a renovated 1865 church. On weekends, it’s one of the very few venues in Denver that will admit the 18-21-year-old crowd.
- Nativ – 1612 Wazee St – In the basement of the stylish modern hotel, you’ll find a small but energetic nightclub. The club’s glass ceilings open directly into the stylish lounge above.
- Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox – 1215 20th St – This “gastro-brothel” may have the most interesting interior of any venue in Denver. Bar, lounge, and restaurant by day, the downstairs theatre hosts DJs and live performances during the evenings.
- Mile High Spirits – 2201 Lawrence St – More like a large dance bar and patio than a true nightclub, Mile High Spirits is one of Denver’s most popular nightlife options with the 20-something crowd who want to get their drink and dance on.
LGBT Bars and Clubs
- Tracks Denver – 3500 Walnut St – This enormous venue in the far north of RiNo hosts rotating theme nights in its smattering of different rooms and dancehalls. If you’re looking to dance the night away, this is the place.
- Charlie’s Nightclub – 900 E Colfax Ave – Get ready to line dance at this country-themed gay saloon. If that’s not your style, though, fear not because a top 40 hit is sure to be playing sometime soon.
- Denver Wrangler – 3090 N Downing St – Recently relocated, the frequent use of bears in this legendary bar’s branding should give you a good sense of the crowd to expect.
- X Bar – 629 E Colfax Ave – With a large outdoor patio, frequent drink specials, and a small but inviting dancefloor, X Bar is a friendly and fun venue any day or night of the week.
Cocktail Bars in Denver
- Green Russell – 1422 Larimer St – The original Denver speakeasy, Green Russell remains our top choice if you’re looking for that perfect cocktail. Sundays often see the dimly Prohibition-themed basement host jazz nights. Oh, and be sure to try the pie.
- St. Ellie – 1553 Platt St – This high-end bar in the basement of the Colt & Gray serves up reliably crafted cocktails in a stylishly modern lounge.
- Williams & Graham – 3160 Tejon St – An ever-popular speakeasy hidden behind a corner bookstore. You’ll find some of Denver’s best craft cocktails here. Reservations advised.
- The Cruise Room – 1600 17th St – No list of Denver’s best cocktail bars would be complete without mention of The Cruise Room, which opened the day after Prohibition ended in 1933 and is still Denver’s most famous bar. You’ll find it hidden inside the lobby of the Oxford Hotel.
- Millers & Rossi – 3542 Walnut St – The new kid on the cocktail block, Millers & Rossi is a Denver speakeasy tucked inside a secret wall in an art gallery. The drinks are top notch.
Wine Bars in Denver
- Cru – 1442 Larimer St – Sure, it’s a chain, but you can’t beat the setting in gorgeous Larimer Square. And with a great selection and a knowledgeable staff, you can’t go wrong at Cru.
- Venice – 1700 Wynkoop St – A high-end Italian restaurant across from Union Station that also has a great selection of wine, and one of Denver’s best happy hour menus.
Dive Bars in Denver
- Don’s Club Tavern – 723 E 6th St – All you need to know about this Denver icon is that it has a vending machine where you can buy condoms, cigarettes, and Hot Pockets. Let your imagination fill in the rest.
- El Chapultepec – 1962 Market St – This 1930s-era venue feels more than a little out of place amongst the huge outdoor venues that line Denver’s busiest nightlife corner. But the live music and cheap drinks have kept this tiny spot filled for almost 90 years.
- Zio Romolo’s Alley Bar – 2400 W 32nd Ave – A welcome respite to LoHi’s otherwise high-end bar scene, Zio Romolo’s offers can’t-beat specials and live music many nights of the week. Plus you can order up a slice of pizza from next door’s Tony P’s.
Hipster Bars in Denver
- Pon Pon – 2528 Walnut St – So hipster that it would bristle at the moniker, Pon Pon instead sells itself as an “art bar.” But, whatever you call it, there is no denying that this bar has a funky vibe to it. If you want to be cool without looking like you’re trying to be, this is the spot.
- Forrest Room 5 – 2532 15th Street – The decor at this place feels like you walked into a serial killer’s cabin hideaway, but don’t let that scare you away from one of Denver’s hippest bars. Check out the retro movies playing in the restrooms or take a break from it all on the funky patio.
- Sputnik – 3 S Broadway – I don’t know whether its the vintage decor, the vegan small bites, or the affordable drinks, but there is something about Sputnik that always keeps me coming back. I think it is one of the most underrated hipster bars in Denver.
- Thin Man – 2015 E 17th Ave – You’ll want to grab one of the corner seats here because the people watching at this classic Williamsburg-style watering hole can’t be beaten.
- Syntax Physic Opera – 554 S Broadway – A hip bar in one room and a stage fronting a dining cum dance area in the other make for a great live music venue and fun night out. Check out the calendar to see what’s on.
Fun Bars in Denver
- Punch Bowl Social – 65 Broadway – This place is basically a theme park for adults. You’ll find an excellent gastropub, several bars, a bowling alley, ping pong, pool, and games galore in this enormous South Broadway anchor.
- Ace Eat Serve – 501 E 17th Ave – A great place to hang with a group of friends on the patio, to sample Asian fusion dishes at the restaurant, or to rent out one of the venue’s many ping pong tables.
- The 1UP – 1925 Blake St – Get ready to show off those Pacman skills at this vintage video-game themed bar. Just be sure to watch out for falling giant Jenga pieces!
- Finn’s Manor – 2927 Larimer St – This RiNo joint offers a small but fashionable interior and a large patio featuring a rotating array of innovative food trucks.
Country Bars Denver
- The Grizzly Rose – 5450 N Valley Hwy – A Denver institution, but you’ll have to sort out transportation as it’s quite a way outside the city center. It’ll be worth it though to experience this enormous country dance hall, complete with a mechanical bull. Going to the Grizzly Rose is a unique Denver nightlife experience.
- Stampede – 2430 S Havana St – One of this huge Aurora venue’s seven bars is enclosed in a circular dance floor (like a country-dance racetrack of sorts). Also far out of town, but worth the trek.
- Cowboy Lounge – 1941 Market St – More like a pop bar that often plays country music, Cowboy Lounge is a popular dance location on Thursday nights when ladies drink free.
Where to Eat in Denver
Foodies might find themselves in an unexpected heaven in Denver’s dining scene. With Denver’s population boom has come a surge in the city’s culinary offerings. It seems that almost everyday a new hip restaurant is opening somewhere in Denver. With prices that are still relatively affordable by American standards, this is a great place to splurge out and treat yourself a bit. But, no matter your budget, you’re sure to find great places to eat all over Denver.
Below is my guide to the best restaurants in Denver, sorted into various categories depending on what type of Denver dining experience you are looking for:
My Top Restaurants in Denver
- Linger – 2030 W 30th Ave – Your dinner will come to life at this converted mortuary that once held the remains of Buffalo Bill. The water is served from formaldehyde bottles, but the food (mostly small, shareable plates) is to die for. Reservations suggested. Or stop by for happy hour on the rooftop.
- Work & Class – 2500 Larimer St – Tasty and fairly-priced shareable plates are served up at this tiny RiNo hole inside a converted shipping container. Reservations aren’t taken here, so be prepared to wait (with a delicious cocktail from the bar in hand). Closed Mondays.
- Beast & Bottle – 719 E 17th Ave – You’ll feel like you’re eating at someone’s home inside this cozy American restaurant. Both brunch and dinner are excellent here. Reservations suggested.
Upscale Restaurants in Denver
- Rioja – 1431 Larimer St – Despite the wave of new openings in Denver, Rioja continues to maintain itself place at the pinnacle of Denver dining. Tasty Mediterranean plates and fine wine are served up inside this Larimer Square institution.
- Colt & Gray – 1553 Platte St – Meat lovers will rejoice at the offerings at this upscale American restaurant situated at the edge of Commons Park. The cocktails are great here as well, and you can grab an after-dinner drink at the St. Ellie speakeasy downstairs.
- Stoic & Genuine – 1701 Wynkoop St – Located inside the historic Union Station, this open kitchen serves up quality seafood dishes in a large dining area.
- Duo – 2413 W 32nd Ave – American “farm-to-table” cuisine is served up in a small but warm dining room at this LoHi gem. The ambiance is perfect for a romantic date.
Best Breakfast and Brunch in Denver
- Jelly – 600 E 13th Ave – Sure, Snooze gets all the attention, but locals will tell you that Jelly serves up an even better sweet breakfast — and, better yet, does so in a dining area decorated with vintage cereal boxes. Be sure to order a side of the donut holes.
- Snooze, an A.M. Eatery – 2262 Larimer St – With locations at Union Station, Colorado Boulevard, and in Boulder, Snooze is slowly taking over the Colorado breakfast scene. Be prepared for sugar overload. Red Velvet pancakes anyone?
- Panzano’s – 909 17th St – This may be Denver most underrated brunch — and my go-to spot when I’m meeting my friends. The savory food is top notch, it’s always easy to get a table, and the dining room in the basement of the Hotel Monaco is spacious and welcoming. Shhh…. let’s keep this little gem between us, ok?
Denver Lunch Spots
- Kitchen Next Door Union Station – 1701 Wynkoop St – Situated in Union Station, the casual sister to Denver’s “The Kitchen” serves up quality American fare at reasonable prices.
- Osteria Marco – 1453 Larimer St – Perhaps the best place for a business lunch in Denver, this restaurant offers incredible Italian fare inside a Larimer Square basement. Try the cheese plates.
- Green Fine Salad Co – 707 17th St – If you just want a place to grab a quick, made-to-order salad, Green is an excellent healthy option convenient to downtown Denver.
- Modern Market – 900 16th St – A quick-service casual restaurant chain that dishes out the healthy, affordable, and quick fare at its 16th Street Mall location. There is also a recent offshoot located inside DIA.
- The Market on Larimer Square – 1445 Larimer St – If the corporate chains ever succeed in winning the war over downtown Denver, expect this deli, bakery, and coffee shop to be the last soldier killed. Locally owned and proud of it, The Market on Larimer Square is a worth a stop for its delicious pastries and true Coloradan vibe.
Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants in Denver
- City O’ City – 206 E 13th Ave – A popular vegetarian restaurant in Capitol Hill serving up tasty and creative dishes from 7 AM until late at night. Many vegan options are available as well, and there is a popular bar to boot.
- Watercourse Foods – 837 E 17th Ave – “Vegan comfort food” is on the menu at this spacious Uptown establishment. Watercourse has a loyal following amongst Denver’s vegan crowd, but it’s still usually possible to get a table even last minute.
- Sputnik – 3 S Broadway – You wouldn’t expect vegan fare from this small retro-themed bar and cantina on South Broadway, but the small plant-based plates here are delicious.
Unique Restaurants in Denver
- The Source – 3350 Brighton Blvd – Ok, actually The Source isn’t a restaurant so much as a large urban marketplace under a single roof with a brewery, a bakery, and more. But it’s a fun and unique dining option in Denver nonetheless. Check out Acorn if you want something high-end, or Comida for delicious tacos.
- Beatrice & Woodsley – 38 S Broadway – You’ll feel like an elf eating dinner inside this forest-themed restaurant. The food is good too, as are the cocktails. Just let me know if you can figure out how to use the funky bathroom sinks.
- Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox – 1215 20th St – What’s more interesting than eating inside a converted brothel? Part bar, part American restaurant, part music venue, this “gastro-brothel” is one of the hottest spots in Denver right now.
- Finn’s Manor – 2927 Larimer St – Really more of a funky bar with a giant patio, Finn’s is still a fun place for dinner in Denver owing to the unique food trucks that set up shop outside.
Cheap Eats in Denver
- Illegal Pete’s – multiple locations – Forget Chipotle, Denver’s latest burrito craze is this funky homegrown institution that’s spreading like wildfire across the state. You haven’t really been to Denver until you’ve eaten at Illegal Pete’s.
- D’Corazon – 1530 Blake St – A family-owned Mexican restaurant that’s been around long before Denver was cool, D’Corazon’s prices and powerful margaritas keep the crowds coming. It’s a great affordable option for grabbing dinner with friends before hitting the town.
- Cheba Hut – multiple locations – Think “Subway for stoners.” This weed-themed sub outfit sports a funky interior but incredibly delicious sandwiches. Try one with the hemp cream cheese.
Where to Eat in Denver with Kids
- The Old Spaghetti Factory – 1215 18th St – Your kids will love the train-themed decor (you can even dine inside a trolley car!) at this family-friendly Italian restaurant. The prices are family-friendly too.
- Steuben’s – 523 E 17th Ave – This Uptown eatery serves up American comfort food inside a retro-diner themed interior. The kids are sure to love the mac and cheese.
- Casa Bonita – 6715 W Colfax Ave – You’re not coming here for the Mexican fare (which is probably why they require everyone to purchase it nonetheless). But Casa Bonita’s themed interior is a giant playground for the kiddos. From an indoor waterfall to caves to a game room, Casa Bonita is a quintessential Denver experience for the children. If you want to get a sense of how exciting it was for me to come here as a kid, watch the South Park episode of the same name. Oh, and they do offer something very important for the adults: margaritas!
Day trips from Denver
There are so many great day trips from Denver that I wrote a whole article breaking down my 14 favorite ones. If you’re short on time, my absolute top Denver day trips are:
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Roxborough State Park
- Mount Evans Scenic Byway
- Garden of the Gods
There is so much to explore though, so be sure to check out the full article.
Denver Transportation Guide
Long a city dependent on the automobile, Denver’s public transportation network has improved remarkably over the past decade. And with the advent of car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, it’s easier than ever to get around Denver.
How to Get From DIA to Downtown Denver
Denver International Airport (DIA) is a world-class airport, but unfortunately, it is located far from downtown Denver. Like, ridiculously far. Nonetheless, you have a number of options for getting from DIA to downtown Denver:
- Take a train from the airport to downtown Denver– The RTD A Line offers frequent service from DIA to Union Station. The ride takes about 35-40 minutes and costs $9. Buy your tickets at the machines before getting on the train. From Union Station, additional light rail trains and buses go to the rest of Denver.
- Take an Uber or Lyft to downtown Denver – It’s easy to grab an Uber or a Lyft from DIA. Just order on the app and follow the instructions to the correct door and level (make sure you note whether you’re on the East or West side of the terminal!). Absent surge pricing, except to pay $25-35 to downtown.
- Take a taxi to downtown Denver – Metered taxis can be hailed from DIA, though they are pricey. A taxi to downtown can easily run $65 or more.
- Rent a car – There are plenty of affordable car rental companies with offices near the airport. Follow the signs for the rental car company shuttles.
- Book a SuperShuttle Ride to downtown Denver – For about $29, you can book a shared van ride from DIA with SuperShuttle. I’m not sure it makes sense anymore when you can get an Uber for about the same price, but still, it’s an option.
How to Get Around Denver
The first question you need to address when deciding on your Denver transportation plans is whether to rent a car in Denver. Once a necessity for visiting the city, my advice is that a car rental is no longer really needed to get around if you’re just planning to stay in Denver itself. But if you’re planning to take day trips to the mountains or elsewhere, you’re probably going to need wheels one way or another.
Note that parking in downtown Denver can be expensive (your options are pricey garages or metered street spots that cap out at 2 hours), although free street parking is often available further outside of the city center.
Here’s how you can get around Denver without a car:
- Walk – Denver is a very walkable city, and with our sunny weather, it’s a pleasant way to explore the city. The core of downtown is easily walkable from end to end, and even further out neighborhoods like the Highlands and South Broadway can be reached via foot if you have time and the inclination.
- Take Uber or Lyft – You can catch an Uber in just about any part of Denver at just about any time of the day. And, if you’re willing to share your ride with others, you can get short rides for as cheap as $3 or $4 using UberPool or LyftLine.
- Take the Light Rail – Denver’s light rail network is largely designed for commuters coming from the suburbs to downtown, but it’s still possible to use it to explore some interesting places. You can take a train to downtown Golden, for example, or from downtown to the South Broadway area. Buy tickets at the station before boarding and be sure to validate them. Click here for a full map of the Denver light rail system.
- Take the Bus – Denver’s bus system is still improving, but it’s a functional way to get around for the budget traveler. Click here for more info on how to take the bus in Denver.
- Ride a Bicycle – Biking is a popular form of transportation with Denver’s active-minded locals. Denver’s bike share system, B Cycle, has stations around the city where you can rent a bike for short hops.
Marijuana Tourism in Denver
There’s no denying that weed has become a big draw for visitors to Denver ever since Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2014. Indeed, the impact of marijuana has been so noticeable that it gives new meaning to Denver’s nickname as the “Mile High City.”
For newbies, the best way to explore legal cannabis culture is with a guide. Book this super fun Denver Cannabis Tour if you want a 420-friendly but educational introduction to the world of legal weed.
Whether you intend to consume or not, no Denver visitors guide would be complete without a brief guide to what you need to know about cannabis in Colorado:
- Although marijuana consumption is legal under Colorado state law, be aware that it’s still technically a federal crime (although there are no federal police to enforce it and nobody cares).
- For the most part, the only place weed can be legally consumed is in the residence of a consenting homeowner. You can’t legally consume in any public places, including streets, restaurants, bars, or hotels (although you’re likely to see people doing it frequently nonetheless).
- If you want a public place to consume, check out The Coffee Joint, a social club which allows you to bring your own weed or purchase some from their next door dispensary and consume on site.
- If you wish to consume and are looking for a marijuana-friendly place to stay in Denver, check out the rooms at this guesthouse (or this Airbnb … or this one).
- Marijuana dispensaries are usually marked by a green cross and can be found all over Denver. Most sell recreational marijuana, although some are only for those with a medical card (which gives access to lower prices).
- When entering a dispensary, be prepared to have your ID scanned and, though an increasing number of dispensaries are set up to accept credit card now, be prepared to pay in cash as many still do not (most do have ATMs on site).
- Be aware that carrying marijuana outside of Colorado is a serious crime.
Need to Know About Denver Travel
Denver, Colorado is an incredible travel destination that, despite it’s growing popularity, is still an emerging destination (especially for visitors coming to Denver from abroad). You’ll find that the city is welcoming and very friendly to visitors.
Here’s some basic information that you need to know for your Denver vacation:
Climate and Weather
Denver has a sunny, dry, arid climate that experiences all four seasons — sometimes in the same day! See this chart for information on the average highs and lows in Denver by month, but be aware that the weather can change quickly here. Here’s a quick rundown of Denver’s climate by season:
Springtime in Denver is gorgeous, with mild temperatures sometimes interrupted by the occasional freak snowstorm (don’t worry, the snow will probably melt off in the sun the next day).
Summer in Denver can get warm, but rarely is it so hot that it is unbearable to be outside — and if it does get hot, just head on up to the mountains!
Autumn is my personal candidate for the best time to visit Denver. Around September, the summer heat gives way to a pleasant temperature all day, while in October the leaves in the city start to turn into a gorgeous palette of fall colors.
Lastly, Winter in Denver can vary from freezing cold to surprisingly pleasant (it seems we always get at least one 70 degrees day in January). Denver also receives far less snow than people seem to think, but there are usually a few big storms each year, with most hitting in February and early March.
What to Pack When Visiting Denver
Denver’s climate means is that, outside of the summer, you should plan to pack layers as it can easily be warm during the day but brisk in the evening. There are also a few other items that you’ll want to consider packing when traveling to Denver:
- Sunglasses – It’s really sunny in Denver. They say the city gets 300 days of sunshine a year, and you can find yourself soaking up the rays even in the cold of January. The sun can be really bright too, so pack some good sunglasses.
- Sunscreen – As noted above, the rays in Denver are serious and sneaky. I’ve seen a lot of visitors get burnt without realizing it, so always pack some sunscreen.
- Hand lotion – Denver is very dry, and that can mean your hands will get quickly chapped (especially in the winter).
- Skiing gear – If you plan to go skiing or snowboarding during the winter, you can rent everything you need at a number of shops around town or at the ski resorts themselves. But it can be expensive, so I suggest bringing as much winter gear as you can to keep your costs low.
Practical Tips for Denver Travel
Lastly, here are a few assorted practical tips to make the most out of your trip to Denver:
- Drink lots of water – It’s so dry here that you’re liable to get dehydrated quickly. And by the time you are thirsty, you’ve already lost too much water in your body.
- Watch out for altitude sickness – At 5,280 feet, Denver’s altitude can cause health problems, especially for seniors, children, or those doing strenuous physical activities (Denver is a notoriously difficult location for visiting sports teams because of this). Follow these tips if you are concerned about altitude sickness.
- Know that Denverites are very friendly – The truth is that most people in Denver probably didn’t grow up there, and many are fresh transplants from elsewhere in the USA. So if it is your first time in Denver, you’re not alone and that it’s relatively easy to find friends here.
That’s it for this guide to Denver! If you loved it, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments below.