First, check out the beautifully restored Union Station, a destination in and of itself, a vibrant gathering place bursting with history, shops and places to grab a bite.
Next, the city’s 850 miles of paved and off-road trails are a testament to how easy the city makes it to get around on two wheels. Rent one from Denver’s pioneering and newly expanded bike-sharing program, Denver B-cycle, with 87 stations to choose from in the metro area.
Grab a cup of coffee in Larimer Square, in the heart of Denver’s LoDo (short for “Lower Downtown”). Walk north a block and turn right onto the 16th Street Mall. Here you can take free shuttles up and down the 12-block shopping and dining area.
Next, make your way to the History Colorado Center. The “Denver A to Z” exhibit will show you the essence of what makes this city great, and an interactive 44-by-60-foot topographic state map allows you to pick a spot and travel back in time to learn about Colorado’s history and where to plan your next adventure.
Next, make your way to the Denver Art Museum. The Daniel Libeskind-designed Hamilton Building has become an icon in the art world thanks to its sharp edges and gleaming metallic surfaces. Inside, you’ll encounter an unparalleled selection of Old West art, contemporary masterworks and more.
Nearby at the Colorado State Capitol, take a moment to pose for your obligatory Mile High City photo op: Stand at exactly one mile high on the Capitol’s steps (there are "Mile High Markers"). Then, take a free tour of this 24-karat-gold-domed building’s magnificent interior.
If you’re visiting on a summer Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, stroll to Civic Center Park for Civic Center Eats, where the city’s best food trucks, live music and fresh air make for the perfect urban eats.
You will need a bit of cash for your next stop: Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood. With more than 500 stores, spas and galleries, Cherry Creek is the largest shopping district between San Francisco and St. Louis, including Cherry Creek North's wide array of only-in-Denver specialty shops and Cherry Creek Shopping Center's upscale stores, like Neiman Marcus, Burberry and Tiffany & Co.
Denver is a serious sports town. From September to January, join the faithful at Sports Authority Field at Mile High as they cheer the Denver Broncos on to their next Super Bowl Championship. From October to June, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche share the Pepsi Center, so there’s a game nearly every evening. In the spring and summer, cheer on Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies at Coors Field or Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, just a short drive from downtown.
Perhaps the only thing that brings out more passion in Denver than the sports teams is local beer — and there are plenty of brewpubs to prove it. From LoDo’s multilevel Wynkoop Brewing Company to the tap room at the Great Divide Brewing Company, you’ll finish off your whirlwind day in Denver with handcrafted beers, great food and friendly vibes. You can also sample local brews at Vine Street Pub & Brewery, River North Brewery, Renegade Brewing Company, Prost Brewing, Crooked Stave, Epic Brewing, Strange Craft, Copper Kettle, De Steeg or Denver Beer Co., or visit Euclid Hall for rare European beers. Crooked Stave is located at The Source, a repurposed warehouse filled with local-centric food vendors, artisan meat and cheese shops, a French bakery and other shops that are making it a hub with those in the know. The Denver Beer Trail is a good place to start if you’re too overwhelmed to choose.
Denver also has an exploding distillery scene; stop in for a taste at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, Leopold Bros., Downslope or Mile High Spirits, or taste test at the Williams & Graham or Green Russell speakeasies.
Light-rail connected Lakewood makes a good homebase between Denver and the mountains. The Lakewood Cultural Center hosts performances and events in pedestrian-friendly Belmar, which is home to shops and restaurants. Take advantage of a few close-to-civilization campgrounds and a certified Colorado Creative District, 40 West Arts. Drive: 15 minutes
Historic downtown Golden is packed with Wild West attractions and shops nudged up against dozens of mountain parks and hiking/biking trails. Grab a ride at the Golden Bike Library to wheel about town. Don’t miss the huge collection of vintage locomotives at the Colorado Railroad Museum; MillerCoors Brewery, the largest single-site brewery in the world, or Holidaily Brewing Company; the Clear Creek White Water Park and surrounding trails; the Golden History Museums; and the Foothills Art Center. Stop into the Golden Visitors Center for details on traveling the Lariat Loop Scenic Byway, which starts in Golden Drive: 25 minutes
Acres of forest and open space surround vibrant downtown Evergreen. The foothills community boasts miles of hiking and biking trails and an in-town lake packed with ice skaters each winter. Drive: 45 minutes
In Aurora, rolling hills and meandering streams facilitate seven beautiful golf courses. Formerly home to the Colorado Open, Saddle Rock Golf Course has magnificent panoramic views and a compelling layout. Drive: 25 minutes
In Castle Rock, The Outlets at Castle Rock and upscale Promenade at Castle Rock are the big draw, along with The Barn’s antique and specialty shops, 44 miles of trails, year-round Castle Rock Zipline Tours at PS Miller Park, a pedestrian-friendly downtown, galleries, golf courses, bistros and coffee houses. Drive: 35 minutes
Summit County, a popular snow-sports destination in winter, attracts visitors year-round with quintessential mountain towns and scenic vistas. Drive: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the nation’s top outdoor destinations. This natural wonder boasts 350 miles of trails, unparalleled wildlife sighting opportunities and Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the world. Drive: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Photo: Downtown Denver, courtesy of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau/Stan Obert.