I generally like to soak in the atmosphere of a city over a few days before moving on to the next place.
But in Denver, I did it a little differently.
Rob and I only had 2 weeks total to do a southwest US road trip, and it was unfortunate that we just didn’t have loads of time to spend in Denver. It was a lovely city that would definitely have deserved more of our time if we had some to spare.
Still, we did manage to see a lot of Denver in one day. If you’ll be visiting the Colorado capital sometime soon and won’t have a lot of time for exploration, here’s how to go about seeing the best of Denver on a tight schedule!
Where we stayed:
We ended up booking an Airbnb condo in Five Points. This suburb is near to RiNo and had plenty of street parking for our rental car. The condo was lovely (though we did have one or two issues with our host) and cost us $180 USD a night, which is more than we normally spend on hotels but Denver is generally pricey for accommodation.
Getting around Denver:
As with many major US cities, Denver is designed for the use of cars. The city has a large sprawl so don’t expect anything in Denver to be close by.
We rented a car from Denver Airport to start our US road trip. The streets of Denver are spacious and fairly easy to navigate, and there is plenty of parking at most locations throughout the city.
If you’re not keen on renting a car, Denver does have a light rail system and buses. I can’t really tell you much about the system as I didn’t have the opportunity to use it, but it is there!
Denver also has an excellent bike share program which would be great for short trips within the city. You can get a 24 hour pass for $9 USD which will give you unlimited 30 minute trips.
Things to do in Denver:
First of all: breakfast. We started our day at Snooze AM Eatery which is a great choice if you’re feeling hungry as the portion sizes are huge.
Morning: Check out Red Rocks Amphitheater
An essential Denver activity is Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is about 25 minutes drive out of the city. It’s worth the trip – the mountainous landscape featuring giant red rocks makes for a truly excellent drive. If you don’t have a car, you can see this area on a foothills explorer tour.
The amphitheater itself is set in a space where the acoustics are basically perfect. It’s really fun to walk around and explore. One thing to note is that the site closes around 2PM if a show is scheduled for the evening, so double check the Red Rocks website before your visit to make sure it will be open when you arrive.
There’s actually more to do around this area than just the amphitheater. We ended up doing a short hike along the Geologic Overlook Trail to see more of the awesome landscape. Make sure you take plenty of water and snacks if you plan to do a hike!
Midday: Explore Downtown
There are a surprising number of things to see in Downtown Denver. Start at the Colorado State Capitol Building to see some gorgeous architecture – the building is constructed with super rare rose onyx (like a red tinged marble) and the dome itself is made from real gold! You can also do free tours of the inside of the building.
Next, check out Larimer Square, which is known as the place for shopping. From there, walk along 16th street to Union Station. This historic landmark is over 100 years old and was renovated in 2012. On top of having a truly awesome old neon sign on the street front, the station also has a bunch of fancy restaurants and bars inside.
Downtown is a great place to take part in cannabis tourism, if you feel so inclined. You can use this opportunity to buy some legal weed (though keep in mind that you may not be able to take it with you when you leave Colorado).
We ended up visiting the Native Roots Dispensary in Downtown to buy a few joints and some edibles to take on our road trip. Your ID will need to be presented on arrival to prove that you’re over 21, then once inside the people behind the counter will help you pick out some products.
Afternoon/Evening: Taste craft beers + good food
Rob and I would not have allowed ourselves to leave Denver without visiting a few breweries. Larimer Street in the RiNo district is where you’ll find the highest concentration of brew houses. We tried some local beers at Ratio Beerworks and The Great Divide. To see more of Denver’s breweries, hop on a downtown craft beer tour.
For dinner, we visited Hop Alley in RiNo which was a Chinese food/craft beer place (weird combo, I know, but somehow it worked and the food was soooo good).
That’s the end of my day of activities in Denver, but if you have more time, there are plenty of other things to do – here’s some ideas for day trips from Denver.