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24 Hours in Denver

Denver’s airport-to-downtown rail line makes it easy to explore the city without a car: fly into DEN, hop the train to Union Station, then explore downtown by foot, the free 16th Street Mall Shuttle, pedicabs and even scooters.

Dining alfresco in downtown Denver's Larimer Square
Dining alfresco in downtown Denver's Larimer Square

Before you get started, check out the Denver CityPASS or Mile High Culture Pass, which get you into attractions for a great price.

Morning

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 a scooter via your Lyft app for easy cruising (just be sure to wear a helmet).

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. Before you go, check out their online “Early African-American History in Colorado” exhibit and then seek out related artifacts when you’re there.

Afternoon

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.

Evening

Denver is a serious sports town. From September to January, join the faithful at Mile High Stadium 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. 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, The Family Jones or Mile High Spirits, or taste test on the download at the Williams & Graham, Ste. Ellie, Retrograde, B&CG and Millers & Rossi or Green Russell speakeasies.  For a sip of a different kind, the new Colorado Sake Co. tasting room has 12 flavors on tap (we like Green Machine).

And the evening is the perfect time to explore Denver’s distinct neighborhoods. One favorite is LoHi, home to some of the city’s most innovative restaurants and bars, and incredible views of downtown. More Denver neighborhoods >>

Denver Day Trips

  • 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. Two new ways to experience it: The new 40W ArtLine, a 4-mile walking/bike path with interactive art and murals along the way; and Colfax Art Crawls. There’s lots of ways to get outside, too. Stroll through Kendrick Lake Park’s garden or hit the trails of William F. Hayden Park on Green Mountain. Spend a day at Bear Creek Lake Park boating, fishing, swimming, swimming, paddleboard- ing and more. 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 each winter and hosts a summer concert series. For a bit of history on the area, Hiwan Heritage Park holds an 1893 log lodge that’s now a museum with original and historic furnishings as well as Native American artwork. Drive: 45 minutes
  • In Aurora, seek out five beautiful golf courses, three gorgeous reservoirs, unique museums, U-picks, breweries, shopping at Southlands, Aurora Fox Arts Center in the Cultural Arts District and much more. Check out the Stanley Marketplace, a collection of independently owned places to eat, drink, shop and play. Make plans to visit the Colorado Freedom Memorial. Constructed of glass panels that reflect Colorado’s beautiful scenery, it holds the names of more than 6,000 Coloradans killed or missing in action in all wars and all branches of service. Take a driving tour of the Story Line, passing by farms, historic homesteads, schoolhouses and other landmarks that make it hard to believe you’re in the state’s third-largest city. Download the audio guide: auroragov.org/storyline. Aurora is just minutes away from Denver International Airport by car, as well as RTD’s R Line lightrail. Drive: 25 minutes
  • Littleton's tree-lined downtown somehow combines the sophistication of a relaxed urban center packed with local eats and unique boutiques with small-town charm — and, of course, plenty of craft wineries, distilleries and breweries, including Breckenridge Brewery’s massive campus with brewery tours and the Farm House Restaurant. The Littleton Museum is an 1860s homestead with living-history exhibits and a children’s interactive gallery. To get to Littleton, bike the Platte River Trail or take the RTD light rail. Drive: 23 minutes
  • With 200 miles of trails, a laid-back vibe and the Pearl Street Mall, a charming outdoor shopping and dining locale, it’s easy to see why visitors fall in love with Boulder. Drive: 30 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 The Edge Ziplines & Adventures at PS Miller Park, a pedestrian-friendly downtown, galleries, golf courses, bistros and coffee houses, a new green space along the South Platte River, and Ecclesia Market — a food hall in a former church. Castle Rock has year-round hiking and biking trails and spectacular views from on top of The Rock — the historic namesake for the community. Stop into the visitor center for ideas on exploring the area and beyond. Drive: 35 minutes
  • One of Denver’s northern gateway cities, Brighton is a mix of urban amenities (think craft breweries and a burgeoning arts scene), heritage farm activities and markets, and great outdoors experiences that include Barr Lake State Park (a great place to spot bald eagles). The Armory Performing Arts Center hosts theater, dance and music events throughout the year. Drive: 25 minutes
  • Central City & Black Hawk are home to 24-hour casinos, top-notch opera and gorgeous scenery; these two old mining towns have burst to life in the past few years. Drive: 45 minutes
  • Iconic Pikes Peak is Colorado Springs’ centerpiece, which features dozens of attractions, including the famed Garden of the Gods. Drive: 1 hour, 30 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

Want more? 

Check out our Field Guide itinerary: Fitness & Fun in Denver & Cities of the Rockies >>

Photo: Downtown Denver, courtesy of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau/Stan Obert.