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Denver is one of the most unique cities in the USA and is packed with things to see and do.
The mile high city is known for its incredible mountain views, buzzing sports culture, fascinating museums and so much more.
There’s so much to see and do in a weekend trip to Denver, no matter your taste and style.
If you’re planning a weekend trip in the Mile High City, here are some ideas on how to make the most of your time.
- Why visit Denver?
- A Weekend Trip to Denver Itinerary
- If You Have More Time…
- Where to Eat in Denver
- Where to Drink in Denver
- Where to Stay in Denver
- Shopping in Denver
- Best Time of Year to Visit Denver
- Getting To and Around Denver
- Final Thoughts on a 2-Day Denver Itinerary
Why visit Denver?
Denver maintains an air of the unknown; most visitors only see it on their way to or from the legendary ski resorts in the Colorado Rocky Mountains – if they see it at all.
It does not have the robust tourism industry of some other American cities, but it is a city with new surprises waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveler.
First and foremost, Denver is an active city. It is consistently ranked at the top of ‘healthiest city‘ lists and it is the capital city of the least obese state in the United States.
Denver residents love the outdoors and take advantage of the abundant sunshine and access to world class hiking trails, cycling, rafting, rock climbing, and skiing in their own backyard.
Not to mention it’s one of the highest cities in North America, measuring at an altitude of 1,600 meters above sea level (now you know why it’s called the Mile High City!).
Denver is a city that seeks adventure, and the best way to experience Denver is to get outside – run the trails, cycle the roads, or take a kayak down the rapids that run right through the middle of downtown.
A Weekend Trip to Denver Itinerary
Below you will find a suggested itinerary for a weekend trip in Denver. You can switch these around according to your taste and travel plans.
Start your day with a visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens. This beautiful oasis in the heart of the city features over 50 gardens spread across 24 acres.
Take a leisurely stroll through the grounds and enjoy the various flora on display.
After lunch, head to the Denver Art Museum. This world-renowned museum has an incredible collection of over 70,000 works of art from around the world.
Be sure to check out the Western art collection, which features pieces that highlight the history and culture of the American West.
Finish up your first day in Denver with a visit to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This iconic outdoor venue is world-famous for its natural acoustics and stunning setting.
If you’re lucky enough to catch a concert while you’re in town, you’re in for a treat. If not, simply taking in the views is an experience in itself.
On the second day, start your day with a trip to the Denver Zoo. This 80-acre zoo is home to over 4,000 animals from around the world. Highlights include the Predator Ridge exhibit, the Primate Panorama, and the Tropical Discovery exhibit.
After lunch, head to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. This fascinating museum features a variety of exhibits on everything from dinosaurs to space exploration. Be sure to check out the Planetarium and the IMAX theater while you’re there.
Finish up your weekend in Denver with a visit to Larimer Square. This historic block of Victorian buildings is home to some of the city’s best shops, restaurants, and nightlife. Take a stroll down the street and soak up the atmosphere.
If You Have More Time…
If the attractions in the above weekend itinerary don’t suit you, or if you have more time at your disposal, then perhaps you may like to visit some of these places…
- RiNo (River North Art District) – a vibrant district known for its street art murals and contemporary art galleries. If you’re an art lover, be sure to wander around this neighborhood. You can even pop into Denver Central Market and get some picnic items and head over to City Park for a picnic.
- Colorado State Capitol Building – there are free guided tours on weekdays, so if you plan your weekend to be a midweek trip, then consider taking a free tour of the building.
- Union Station – ok, you might think that it’s just a station, but it’s one of the prettiest train stations I’ve seen. If you’re traveling into downtown Denver from the airport, chances are you will find your way here anyway.
- 16th Street Mall – this is a mile long pedestrianised shopping street that’s a great place to do some shopping. If you’re looking for a shopping spree weekend, this is the place to go.
- Rocky Mountain National Park – this is the most popular day trip from Denver but it really does take a full day. There are so many hiking trails and monuments to see, you need to give it a full day.
- Great Sand Dunes National Park – home to the tallest sand dunes in North America. It’s a good 3 hour drive each way, so again, you will need to plan a full day to visit here.
- Pikes Peak and Gardens of the Gods – these are two attractions that showcase the beautiful mountainous nature around Denver but only within an hour drive of the city. If you’re planning a trip to Denver on route from Colorado Springs, this is something you can stop over and see on the way.
- Colorado Springs – known for its hot springs, though personally I think Colorado Springs is a destination that deserves a weekend trip in its own right.
- Keystone – this is a unique place. It’s an unincorporated community and is also home to the largest amount of ski terrain in Colorado, so if you’re planning a trip in the winter, you might want to consider a visit to Keystone afterwards.
Where to Eat in Denver
I’ll be the first to admit that Denver is not a food city; food is simply not one of the city’s strengths. But there are still plenty of unique Denver cuisines to try and restaurants to visit.
Mexican food and wild game are local specialties, with green chile being the quintessential Denver ingredient.
Rocky Mountain oysters (deep fried bull testicles) are a regional delicacy, though we usually only order it for our out-of-town guests to watch them squirm.
- Tocabe – An American Indian eatery where the speciality is fry bread tacos served with shredded bison. Topped with hominy and corn salsas, these tacos are unlike any others.
- Little Man Ice Cream – this is the best place to pick up some homemade ice cream. It’s open until midnight, so don’t feel like this is only a daytime thing.
- Cherry Cricket – A landmark dive bar/burger joint that stands as the lone blue-collar joint in the Tony Cherry Creek neighborhood. It is a favorite of locals and visitors alike and offers some of the best green chili cheeseburgers in town.
- Biker Jim’s – A food cart-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant, Biker Jim’s serves up the best sausages in town. Meats like pheasant, bison, reindeer, wild boar, and rattlesnake are seasoned and stuffed into sausage before being topped with cream cheese and onions caramelized in Coca-Cola.
- Santiago’s – This ubiquitous Denver-based Mexican chain is a staple for city residents. The food is authentic, the prices are cheap, and the green chile is hot – just the way Denver locals like it.
- Buckhorn Exchange – Denver’s oldest restaurant proudly displays liquor license #0001. The Buckhorn Exchange specializes in wild game including ostrich, yak, elk, quail, bison, and alligator. The walls are covered with old western memorabilia and stuffed animal heads from all over the world.
Where to Drink in Denver
Denver is a beer city. It constantly ranks as one of the top beer cities in the nation and plays host to the Great American Beer Festival.
Even the former mayor (and current Colorado governor) is a former brew pub operator. Because of this, there are plenty of great places to drink beer in Denver.
- Wynkoop Brewing – The first brewpub in Denver, founded by now-Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Wynkoop offers great beers and an incredible atmosphere in an old brick warehouse in the heart of the Lodo neighborhood.
- Great Divide – One of the oldest and largest breweries in Denver and located right downtown. Tours and tap room tastings are offered every day of the week.
- Williams & Graham – Denver’s newest speakeasy offers a prohibition-style secretive drinking establishment (you enter through a faux-bookshelf door). Classy cocktails are served the old-fashioned way with hand chipped ice and panache from some of Denver’s best bartenders.
Best Area for a Night on the Town in Denver
Lodo is a popular place for the young and the young at heart. Bars like The Sports Column, The Tavern, and Jackson’s pack their rooftop patios after Colorado Rockies baseball games while locals and visitors alike fill the upscale clubs and restaurants that line the fronts of Blake and Market streets.
While Lodo has the densest concentration of bars, restaurants, and clubs, every neighborhood has its own commercial strip giving visitors a great way to get a taste of local Denver life.
Highland Square, Pearl Street, Colfax Avenue, Lohi, and South Broadway all provide refreshing local alternative nightlife scenes.
Where to Stay in Denver
The Brown Palace – An elegant and historic hotel in the heart of downtown. It has played host to presidents, royalty, and pop icons. For those such as myself who can’t afford the elegant prices that come with it, a visit to the afternoon tea ceremony in the lobby is a suitable alternative.
The Curtis – A much more affordable hotel that offers a unique and whimsical alternative to the high class of The Brown Palace. Each floor has a unique pop culture theme (think one hit wonders, sci-fi, etc.) that is carried through to all of the rooms.
The Crawford Hotel – A lovely four-star hotel with a perfect location in the heart of Denver’s CBD district. It’s sheek and modern, and primarily caters to couples over large groups. It’s the perfect place to stay if you’re planning a romantic weekend in Denver.
For more places to stay in Denver choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner Booking.com. You get free cancelation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.
Shopping in Denver
Larimer Square is a unique Victorian era street that offers boutique shopping and dining in Lodo. Just a few blocks away sits Rockmount Ranchwear, providing a one-of-a-kind shopping experience.
Rockmount introduced the first Western style snap button shirts and is still the premier supplier of the iconic clothing to clients in Hollywood and all around the world.
Just down the street from Rockmount Ranchwear is The Tattered Cover Bookstore. Located in an old warehouse, the independent bookstore is one of the largest of its kind.
It’s an incredibly atmospheric store with ancient hardwood floors, exposed bricks, and plenty of comfy chairs and hidden corners to settle into with a good book.
Best Time of Year to Visit Denver
Late summer in Denver is spectacular. In early September, the city is still in full on summer-mode with residents flocking to the outdoor cafes, rooftop patios and the parks in the largest public park system in the United States.
But within a short drive, the mountains are beginning to show the signs of autumn. This is the time when the aspen leaves flash their vibrant gold hues, lighting up the slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Visiting in late summer provides visitors with the best of summer and autumn in Colorado.
Getting To and Around Denver
Denver is incredibly isolated – the closest big cities are Phoenix and Dallas which are both more than 14 hours away by car.
Thankfully, Denver has one of the largest and busiest airports in the United States. Three major airlines use Denver International Airport as a hub – United, Frontier, and Southwest. This competition helps keep the prices in and out of Denver relatively cheap.
When it comes to getting around, Denver has a comprehensive bus system and an expanding light rail and commuter rail network, but the most fun form of public transportation is by bike, which you can source from Denver’s community bicycles.
Denver was the first city in the United States to find sustained success using the bicycle as a large-scale form of public transportation, and bicycle sharing stations have been popping up all over the city since.
For just a few dollars, guests can pick up a bicycle at one of the check-out stations and ride it all over town before checking it back in to another station.
You can also get an Uber from place to place, though this is more expensive.
Final Thoughts on a 2-Day Denver Itinerary
I love Denver because the city seeks adventure.
Work comes second to play as residents take ‘powder days’ off from work to hit the slopes on exceptionally good snow days, pack their backpacks for extended camping trips, or strive to summit every one of Colorado’s 53 14,000 foot (4260 meter) mountains.
Denver offers the best of both worlds with all the amenities of the big city and the Rocky Mountains as its backyard.
I hope this guide gives you some inspiration for how to plan your weekend getaway in Denver!
Do you have any tips on what to do in Denver? Please share in the comments.