Top 12 Things to Do in Denver, Colorado

Nicknamed the Mile High City for its elevation over 5,000 feet, Denver enjoys 300 days of sunshine yearly with sweeping Rocky Mountain views. Beyond the picture-perfect setting, the Colorado capital impresses visitors with an energizing blend of urban adventures, cultural attractions, and outdoor escapes just beyond town. Art galleries mingle with craft breweries along pedestrian-friendly streets flanked by shiny high-rises. Chef-driven eateries intermix globally inspired cuisine with Southwestern flavors using fresh local ingredients. And that mountain skyline visible from downtown reminds travelers that ski slopes and hiking trails sit mere minutes away.

Larimer SquareHistoric district with boutiques and restaurants.
Red Rocks Park and AmphitheatreOutdoor concerts and natural scenery.
Denver Botanic GardensDiverse plant species and art installations.
Denver Art MuseumLarge art collections and interactive exhibits.
Coors Brewery TourTour of the world’s largest single-site brewery.
Mount Evans Scenic BywayHigh-altitude road with stunning views.
Civic Center ParkPublic park with cultural and civic attractions.
The Denver Central MarketGourmet food hall in the RiNo district.
Cherry Creek Shopping DistrictShopping area with luxury stores and boutiques.
Water WorldFamily-friendly water park.

This metropolitan hub in the middle of the American West makes the perfect launchpad for Exploring Colorado’s natural and cultural highlights. But with limited time, what are the top things to add to a Denver itinerary? Here are 12 attractions and activities giving a quintessential Mile High City experience for first-time Denver visitors.

Larimer Square

Name and Location: Larimer Square is an historic block in downtown Denver known for dining, shopping and entertainment.

History and Significance: Dating back to the 1800s, Larimer Square represents Denver’s oldest and most historic block, with many stories from the city’s frontier days.

What to Expect: Visitors will find Victorian era architecture housing a variety of contemporary retailers, restaurants, and bars. Street performers and carriage rides enhance the lively ambient setting.

Visitor Information: Free to visit. Open daily with hours varying by business. Validated parking available in surrounding garages.

Denver’s history lives on at Larimer Square, standing as the city’s first historic district. The block of Victorian-era buildings house some of Denver’s trendiest boutiques, cocktail lounges, and restaurants. Urban posh meets Wild West charm on this popular pedestrian plaza packed with locals and tourists alike.

By day, stop into the chic shops and galleries before indulging in the upscale eateries and watering holes as evening descends. Special events like live music and summer street fairs keep the scene lively at Larimer Square.

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre

Name and Location: Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre is a world-famous outdoor venue just 15 miles southwest of downtown Denver.

History and Significance: Red Rocks’ natural red sandstone formations have attracted people for millennia. The ship-like setting draws internationally renowned musical artists.

What to Expect: Visitors can tour the Visitor Center Museum showcasing performance history and geology. Hike trails offer fitness opportunities and breathtaking views of Denver’s skyline and the Great Plains.

Visitor Information: Open one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset year-round. Visitor Center hours 9am-5pm, days vary seasonally.

With its open-air stage and tilted red rock formations as walls, Red Rocks Amphitheatre makes for the most awe-inspiring concert venues on Earth. But even when silent, the park warrants a visit just 10 miles outside Denver. Walk among the mammoth rock structures formed by the elements over millennia. Marvel at the acoustics of the Amphitheatre as you sit listening to the peaceful sounds of nature echoed off the red rocks. Then hike to soak up panoramic views of Denver in the distance. Whether attending a show or just soaking up the atmosphere, Red Rocks Park proves Mother Nature showcases talent rivalling any musician.

Denver Botanic Gardens

Name and Location: Denver Botanic Gardens features lavish plants and gardens across 24 acres and three sites in central Denver.

History and Significance: Originally founded in 1951, the gardens provide oasis spaces to connect people with plants from the Rockies and diverse world regions through living collections that promote education, research and conservation.

What to Expect: Seasonal gardens bloom in intricate designs. Educational exhibits showcase global biodiversity. Water features, sculptures, and children’s areas offer interactive elements. Themed events occur regularly.

Visitor Information: Regular hours 9am–5pm daily. Extended seasonal hours on Tuesday/Wednesday evenings. Timed entry tickets available online.

What started as a modest gathering of Western plant species in 1951 has blossomed into one the world’s premier botanical gardens. Spanning 24 acres with 50 distinct gardens, the Downtown Denver location delights visitors with vibrant floral displays through thoughtfully designed landscapes and thought-provoking art installations. Don’t miss visiting unique spaces like the tranquil Japanese Garden or the Corps de Ballet with graceful dancers sculpture framed by colorful perennials. Concerts, exhibits and special events add to the allure of Denver Botanic Gardens for nature lovers.

Denver Art Museum

Name and Location: The Denver Art Museum located in downtown Denver houses one of the largest art collections between Chicago and the West Coast.

History and Significance: Founded in 1893, the Denver Art Museum has amassed over 70,000 works spanning across cultures and throughout history via gift donations, purchases and traveling exhibits.

What to Expect: Visitors explore exhibits spanning native arts, modern masterpieces, artifacts of the American West, textiles and fashion as well as take creative classes in the hands-on studio spaces with regular special events and lectures held on-site.

Visitor Information: General admission tickets start at $13. Open Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5pm, closed Mondays.

As the largest art museum between Chicago and the West Coast, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) impresses with comprehensive collections spanning 70,000 works in 10 permanent galleries and rotating exhibits. Explore American Indian pieces along with decorative arts and designs from the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Modern and contemporary masterpieces mingle with sculpture gardens flanking the iconic mirrored building. Interactive kids’ exhibits help foster early appreciation for art across cultures and media. When ready for a museum break, refuel at the Palettes Café focused on healthy, locally sourced fare before heading back for more arty explorations.

Coors Brewery Tour

Name and Location: The Coors Brewery Tour is located at the largest single-site brewery in the world in Golden, Colorado, 15 miles west of downtown Denver.

History and Significance: Operational since 1873, the Coors Brewery stands as a iconic Colorado brand that revolutionized modern brewing, prohibition and packaging methods.

What to Expect: Walking tours give an insider’s look the high-tech facilities and brewing process featuring interactive exhibits. At the end, sample Coors classics and special releases. Or, visit the on-site tavern instead to taste a flight of beers.

Visitor Information: Free self-guided and paid guided tours offered. Open 7 days a week. All ages welcome and no reservation needed.

Beer reigns supreme across Denver’s many breweries. But no beer-buff’s visit is complete without a free tour of the world’s largest single-site brewery producing over 10 million barrels annually. On the Molson Coors Brewery Tour in nearby Golden, learn about Barley’s journey from farm to brew kettle and sample exclusive Pilot Brewery pours after the production tour. Or explore on your own through additional exhibits like a replica of the Sandlot Brewery featured in the movie The Sandlot. And don’t miss photo ops with the Clydesdale horses if visiting around the holidays when they gear up to pull Santa’s sleigh at events!

Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Name and Location: The Mount Evans Scenic Byway passes through Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests southwest of Denver.

History and Significance: Completed in 1924, this highest paved road in North America tops out at 14,264 feet elevation after a breathtaking ascent through various climate zones.

What to Expect: Visitors drive Fsentry fees apply beyond Echo Lake. Potential wildlife sightings. Allow 3-5 hours roundtrip to make stops at scenic overlooks. Higher altitudes can cause dizziness, nausea and cold symptoms for some people not acclimated.

Visitor Information: The byway is typically open Memorial Day to Labor Day depending on weather conditions at high elevation.

For awe-inspiring Rocky Mountain views without leaving the comfort of a car, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway reaches epic heights a mere 60 miles outside Denver. The route winds nearly 7,000 feet to the 14,264-foot summit of Mount Evans, making it the highest paved road in North America. Stop at overlooks for iconic selfies with mountain peaks and alpine lakes as backdrops. Spot wild mountain goats blending into craggy rocks along the climb. Reenergize over burgers and sweet potato fries at Echo Lake Lodge midway up. Then continue climbing through alpine tundra ecosystems nearly to the clouds atop bald Mount Evans itself. The descent treats drivers to an alternate perspective of mountains seemingly growing larger as you near Denver again.

Civic Center Park

Name and Location: Civic Center Park comprises a central public gathering space downtown adjacent to government buildings featuring museums, performance venues and event lawns.

History and Significance: Designated a National Historic Landmark District, Civic Center Park stands as Denver’s primary civic and ceremonial space alongside Greek amphitheater architecture constructed in 1919.

What to Expect: People watch and relax on the great lawn. Visit the Denver Public Library and McNichols Civic Center Building galleries. Attend free yoga classes, exhibits, farmers markets and summer concert series in the park regularly.

Visitor Information: Public green space open daily. Independent and guided walking tours available through the park. Light rail access via Civic Center Station.

This public park and national historic district spans a central city block between the State Capitol and the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Designed in 1907, tree-lined pedestrian walkways, fountains and monuments create a focal point for the civic and cultural center of Denver. Visit the park to snap photos of the iconic golden dome of the Capitol building towering at the far end. Spread out a picnic blanket on the great lawn while enjoying free entertainment from street performers and people watching Denverites on sunny days. Walk to the Museum of Art or DCPA theaters to take in internationally acclaimed exhibits or Broadway quality shows during evenings. And don’t miss the park’s summer highlights with yoga sessions, farmer’s markets and Civic Center Eats food trucks.

The Denver Central Market

Name and Location: Denver Central Market is an artisan food hall located in the trendy RiNo neighborhood northwest of downtown featuring Colorado chefs and purveyors.

History and Significance: Opened in 2016, Denver Central Market occupies a former warehouse and has quickly become a dining destination where visitors can sample the diversity of Denver’s ascendant food scene all under one roof.

What to Expect: A wide spectrum of counter-service eateries, bars and shops fill an industrial-chic space. Options range from ramen to tacos, barbecue, pizza, ice cream, cocktails and more. Communal and outdoor seating available.

Visitor Information: Free entry. Open Monday-Sunday 7am-10pm, vendors hours may vary. Easy parking in surrounding lots. Pet and kid friendly.

This former warehouse turned gourmet food hall in the hip RiNo district satisfyingly blends food and local culture. With 25 vendors slinging everything from freshly rolled sushi burritos to African egusi stew to artisan spice blends, the Denver Central Market offers diverse cuisines and ingredients to satisfy any craving. Enjoy them all under one roof or grab your favorite to-go bites then head next door to drink local wine, cider, and craft beer at The Infinite Monkey Theorem. The row of garage doors create an indoor-outdoor atmosphere that invites you to stay put mingling with fellow foodies late into the evenings as the marketplace vibe bustles.

Cherry Creek Shopping District

Name and Location: Cherry Creek Shopping District along 3rd Avenue is Denver’s premier open-air shopping and dining destination located about 2.5 miles southeast of downtown.

History and Significance: Dating to the 1950s, Cherry Creek has cultivated an upscale reputation with dozens of luxury retailers, art galleries, hotels and restaurants clustered between University Blvd and Steele St. along landscaped pedestrian walkways.

What to Expect: Shoppers enjoy browsing recognized fashion brands and indie boutiques. Wide sidewalks with trees, flowers and seating make for an enjoyable afternoon before selecting from over 70 dining options for a meal.

Visitor Information: Shops open at 10am daily. Cherry Creek North Shopping District provides free two-hour parking. Seasonal events and transportation options available.

When time comes for some retail therapy, Cherry Creek entices visitors with its 16 walkable blocks brimming with luxury brand stores and chic locally owned boutiques. Beyond world-class shopping, the area surprises with acclaimed art galleries like Visions West and fine dining hot spots helmed by celebrity chefs. Hotel options range from budget chains to pampering at The Jacquard hotel offering Read & Dream packages with pajamas and gourmet breakfast in bed. Then burn off some calories rents bikes, Segways or kayaks to explore adjacent Cherry Creek State Park with its peaceful reservoir scene.

Water World

Name and Location: Water World is a beloved 67-acre outdoor water park situated half hour north of downtown Denver.

History and Significance: Open since 1979, Water World remains Colorado’s largest water park featuring attractions like a 20,000 square foot wave pool, dozens of winding slides, a quarter-mile lazy river, and kids aquatic playground.

What to Expect: Enjoy a full day riding adrenaline-pumping slides, battling barreling waves or simply relaxing in inner tubes along lazy rivers together as a family or group. Numerous dining options on-site.

Visitor Information: Season runs May to September. Purchase saver tickets online in advance. Private cabanas available to rent.

When temperatures soar, families beat the heat and play the day way at this beloved Colorado amusement park filled with water adventure. Sprawling over 64 acres are multiple wave pools and slides with thrill options from mild to heart-pounding. Catch waves while inner tubing, then relax floating along an artificial river through the center of the park.

Little ones delight at spray grounds, and bigger kids experience free-falling from seven-story slides. When you’ve had your fill of drenching fun under the summer sun, take a lunch break then dive back in for more! With affordable tickets, you can play, cool off, and repeat all day long at Water World.

The Mile High City supersizes its attractions just like everything else having to do with Denver. Awesome experiences await around every corner in this vibrant capital where urban culture meets the Wild West under sweeping mountain backdrops. Visitors never run out of things to see, do, eat and explore. So what are you waiting for? Come experience these classic Denver essentials – and discover a few unexpected surprises too – on your next Mile High City adventure!

Leave a Comment