How To Take The Ultimate Vacation In Denver
Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the perfect trips to recharge, rediscover yourself and your relationships, and reengage with the world. We’ll cover shopping stops, great bars, restaurants worth your money, photo opportunities, memorable drives and experiences, and other important details you need before you book.
Below, we chat with Caroline Bologna, senior travel and culture reporter at HuffPost, about why you’ll want to put Denver on your bucket list.
What drew you to Denver as a place to visit or explore?
The first couple of times I went to Denver, it was just a stopover before heading to one of the many nearby ski resorts. Last fall, I finally had the opportunity to spend more than a day or two in the Mile High City and absolutely loved exploring the different neighborhoods and sites.
What are the best times of year to visit?
Obviously, you can tack Denver on when you travel to Colorado for a ski trip in the winter, but I really enjoyed visiting during the “shoulder season” in November. The temperatures were chilly but not unbearable, so it was easy to walk around to different attractions and take in the gorgeous mountain landscape.
Summer is also a popular time to visit Denver, especially if you like to hike and go to music festivals and other events. Still, the city does get a bit more crowded and airfare costs go up, so you have to weigh those factors when picking a date.
What’s your best tip for getting there? How can you make the travel as stress-free as possible?
Denver is very easy to reach thanks to the Denver International Airport, which is frequently ranked one of the five busiest in the U.S.
It’s also one of the more interesting airports out there ― and the subject of many strange conspiracy theories. From the freaky blue mustang statue (aka “Blucifer”) to the controversial murals, the art at the airport alone is enough to send the rumor mill into a frenzy. Whatever you believe, there’s plenty to ponder at DIA.
Where do you recommend staying when you go?
When I visited last year, I stayed at the Sheraton Denver Downtown, which had just been renovated, so everything felt very modern and luxurious. There were also tons of spaces to sit, work and drink coffee in the lobby, which was clutch for a pandemic-era “workcation.”
Since the hotel was right in the 16th Street Mall area, it was easy to walk to most of the attractions on my list. Friends have also recommended other hotels in that neighborhood, including The Brown Palace (for history and spa-lovers), The Renaissance (located in the old Colorado National Bank Building, complete with converted bank vaults) and The Art Hotel (fittingly named, given its proximity to top museums).
Other popular spots include The Oxford Hotel, The Crawford Hotel (located in Union Station) and Halcyon. And like most major cities, Denver is also home to countless vacation rentals through Airbnb, VRBO and other platforms.
What are your go-to restaurants or foods to eat while you’re there?
One of my favorite lunch spots in the Denver area is Stanley Marketplace, which has tons of great food options ― from Italian sandwiches to Asian noodles to the amazing breakfast sandwiches at Denver Biscuit Company. If you want to stay closer to the city center, Denver Milk Market in the LoDo neighborhood (short for Lower Downtown) is another good spot to sample a variety of foods.
For a nice dinner out, I’m a big fan of Guard and Grace, and I’ve also heard great things about the Italian food at Odyssey, which is located in an old Victorian house. Linger is a trendy restaurant and bar in a former mortuary, and Snooze is a cute place to get delicious pancakes for brunch.
What bars or entertainment spots do you make sure to hit? What’s good to drink there or what else should people know?
Denver is famous for its beer scene, so you’ll never run out of breweries to visit. There are the well-known classics like Blue Moon and Coors (located just outside Denver in Golden, Colorado), as well as more local favorites like Wynkoop, Hogshead, Great Divide, TRVE, Novel Strand and Cerebral Brewing.
I’m not a huge beer person, however, so I like to hit up Bigsby’s Folly Craft Winery, Mile High Spirits and Rising Sun Distillery. For cocktails, there’s Room for Milly, Retrograde and Fort Greene. And the Sheraton actually has a trendy “veiled bar” called Bezel.
What are your favorite shops and what do you look for when you’re there?
In addition to restaurants, Stanley Marketplace is full of great local shops, so I picked up some home goods and other knick-knacks after having lunch there. I also like to stop by one of the Tattered Cover Book Store locations when I’m in Denver.
People tend to hit up Cherry Creek Shopping Center and the 16th Street Mall. And of course, since it’s Colorado, there are also plenty of dispensaries to check out if that’s your scene.
What’s your single favorite spot to go for photos and why?
You’ve probably seen it all over your Instagram feed, but Red Rocks Amphitheater really is worth the visit. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to catch a show there, you can stop by to take in the stunning scenery or even take a yoga class there.
What tourist attraction should people skip and what should they do instead?
Lots of visitors to Denver take a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. While that’s obviously a special experience, I’d recommend designating a separate time to explore the Rockies and take advantage of your stay in Denver to eat, drink, shop and hike around the city proper.
Where do you feel the most relaxed, calm or happy?
It might be touristy, but strolling around and grabbing a drink or bite to eat in Larimer Square is incredibly pleasant. Nothing compares to sitting under the twinkling lights after a long walk around the downtown area.
What scenic spots do you recommend checking out?
Denver is full of iconic buildings like Union Station and the Colorado State Capitol, so I recommend catching those. Otherwise, the city also has lots of impressive public parks like Cheesman Park, Washington Park and Confluence Park.
What’s one thing you make sure to pack if you’re going, and why?
Layers are essential in Denver, especially during shoulder season. Throughout the day, I found myself adding and removing sweaters, scarves and jackets. The sun adds a lot of warmth ― and you don’t appreciate how much until it goes down at night and the chill sets in.
I also found that people tend to dress pretty casually in Denver, so I recommend sticking to comfortable clothes and shoes, which makes walking around the different neighborhoods much more enjoyable.
What are some specific planning tips to know before you go so you’re not stressed?
It’s called Mile High City for a reason! The altitude situation is real, so be prepared to feel a little more winded when you work out or go for a hike.
Don’t forget to hydrate as well. And although there are conflicting reports about whether or not the altitude makes you get drunk faster, it’s always a good idea to pace yourself (and again, drink plenty of water).
What surprised you about Denver when you went the first time?
I was surprised how many amazing museums there are in Denver. I spent hours at the Denver Art Museum, Clyfford Still Museum and Molly Brown House Museum (a big treat for any “Titanic” fan). The trendy River North Art District (“RiNo”) is also full of great galleries.
There are a number of other art and culture experiences on my list for return visits as well, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Black American West Museum, Wings Over the Rockies, Meow Wolf and Museo de las Americas.
Anything else visitors should know?
Don’t forget to look outside at sunset. The low skyline, mountain views and saturated colors make for a pretty breathtaking combination.