Denver, sprawled across the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains, has far more to offer than hiking trails, dude ranches and adventure sports. Known as the Mile High City, it owes its foundation to the discovery of gold in 1858. There’s a wide range of tourist attractions in Denver, from botanical gardens to state of the art museums and a cool downtown district packed with independent shops, brew cafes and organic restaurants. If you’re after a romantic weekend in the mountains, fun with the kids or just a good time with friends, Denver is well worth a visit.
10. Molly Brown House Museum
For Titanic buffs – or anyone interested in Victorian eccentricities – the amusing Molly Brown House Museum in the Capitol Hill district is a must. Molly Brown survived the sinking of the Titanic, returned to Colorado to promote women’s suffrage and sponsored social reform in the squalid mining communities of the early twentieth century. Enthusiastic museum guides bring both the lady and her house to life. Buses 6, 10 and 15 all get you there, 45 minute tours run from 10 am to 3.30 pm Tuesday through Sunday at a cost of $10 per adult, and ‘Victorian eating experiences’ are available for an extra fee.
9. Museum of Nature and Science
As you’d imagine, there are several places to visit in Denver devoted to geology, but the best is the Coors Mineral Hall in the city’s Museum of Nature and Science, particularly for kids. It’s open year round 10-5 seven days a week at 2001 Colorado Boulevard in the grounds of City Park. Tickets start at $14.95 and the vast museum offers visitors a planetarium, an Imax, a range of permanent exhibitions including Egyptian mummies and Native American artifacts, along with the chance to descend into the replica of a Colorado mine and dig up a stegosaurus in the Discovery Zone. There’s also a lively program of changing exhibitions from round the world. ‘The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes’ is showing until January 2016.
8. The US Mint
The US Mint might sound an unlikely destination, but it’s one of the best things to do with kids. Opened during the gold rush, the Mint was established to transform dust and nuggets into bars. See millions of paper bills coming off the line and learn how coins are stamped and processed. 45-minute guided tours are packed with information. They are also free, and very popular, so book as far in advance as you can, or online before you come. Expect strict security, and leave with a complimentary penny in your pocket. Tours run Monday through Thursday from 8 to 3.30 and the entrance is on Cherokee Street. Easily walkable from LoDo or the Capital Hill area, you can also take buses 9, 16 or 52.
7. Beer tasting
Since the 1980s, the city has become known as the ‘Napa Valley of Beer’. The Denver Microbrew Tour takes groups for a two-hour strolls through the historic LoDo (Lower Downtown) district on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 3-5 or 12-2, to learn about beer history and brewing techniques. Ten one-pint samplings are included in the ticket price of $29, along with a promise of ‘scandalous history tidbits and more!’. If you’re visiting in the fall you’ll find it hard to miss the annual Great American Beer Festival at the Colorado Convention Centre, where over 3,000 American-brewed beers are available for sampling, along with bratwurst, sauerkraut, schnitzels. Children are welcome, and under-twelve goes free. Adult admission starts at $15.
6. The Grizzly Rose
If you feel like finding your inner Rocky Mountain cowboy, two-step your way over to the Grizzly Rose on North Valley Highway. Not just a massive country and western dance floor, the Grizzly Rose also offers the chance to get thrown off a mechanical bull, play some serious pool and listen to live country or rock acts six nights a week. If you’re a little rusty in the line-dancing department, schedule this one for Wednesday night, when they offer free dance lessons from 7pm. You can also get some very reasonably priced cowboy staples until 11 pm: a plate of Rocky Mountain Oysters (that’s deep-fried bull’s testicles to you or me) comes in at $9.50.
5. Dude ranches
If the Grizzly Rose has whetted your appetite, stay a day, a weekend or a week at one of the many ‘dude ranches’ within easy reach, which are great for families and groups of friends. You can expect longhorn cattle, rolling prairies, lessons in lassoing, open fires and hours on horseback. An hour’s drive west brings you to family-owned ‘Drowsy Water’ where you can go riding and fishing, but also sneak off to hot tubs and masseurs while the kids are kept happy with supervised activities. Prices start from $450 per night, but there are discounts for weekly stays. Don’t forget to drop by Rockmount Ranch Wear at 1626 Wazee Street in the LoDo to kit yourself out with wranglers and boots before you go.
4. Coors Field Baseball Park
Get a behind-the-scenes tour of one of America’s most famous baseball parks – Coors Field on Blake Street, between 20th and 21st, is home to the Colorado Rockies. Take the free bus from 16th Street and join one of the 70-minute tours running throughout the day Monday to Saturday in season and four days a week out of season at $8 per adult ticket. If your visit coincides with a game, come and sit high up in the bleachers to get a romantic view of the sun setting behind the mountains and cheer on the home team. Loads of food and drink stalls in the stadium itself, and plenty more outside on Blake Street: take your pick from crowded sports bars, basic grills and hip foodie hangouts.
3. Historic LoDo
Spend an evening strolling through the beautiful LoDo itself, a 25-block area restored in the 1990s from warehouses and rail yards and today packed with cafes, bars and independent shops. 16th Street is the main drag here: a mile-long pedestrianized promenade with free shuttle buses traveling up and down from early morning to late at night and stopping at all the intersections. Start from Coors Field, go past (and into) the city’s oldest hotel, the Oxford Hotel built in 1891, carry on up to bustling Larimer Square where the pioneer camp which grew into Denver was set up in the 1850s and wind up at one of the city’s treasures, the Tattered Cover Bookstore on Colfax Avenue.
2. The Botanic Gardens
Spend a day in the beautiful Botanic Gardens on York Street, where the flora and fauna of the Rockies are brought to you. Open between nine and five, the park’s admission fees start at $12.50, and for an additional fee you can take guided tours of the gardens led by botanical experts on Saturday afternoons. Younger kids have fun at the Mordecai Children’s Garden, where they race pinecones down a stream, go bug-hunting and meet marmots (no extra charge) and older ones will enjoy the new Science Pyramid where interactive displays explain research and conservation. The Hive, a bistro by the pretty Monet pond, cooks produce grown in the gardens and is open every day until the end of October.
1. Go hiking in the Rocky Mountains National Park
With the Rocky Mountains National Park on Denver’s doorstep, no visitor to the city should pass up the chance to take in some America’s most spectacular scenery. A day’s drive will take you 9,000 feet to the summit of Mount Evans (head west on the I-70 until Exit 240 at Idaho Springs and check out the National Forest information center for up to date information on conditions). If you’re up for walking, leave from the Botanic Gardens instead and hike to Summit Lake at 13,000 feet where you’ll find yourself sharing the view with big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats and then, if the altitude isn’t getting to you, carry on through the flower-spotted tundra to the summit of Mount Goliath for a stunning 360 degrees mountain panorama. Guided hikes are available in summer. Take plenty of water and cold weather gear: you’ll be climbing through five climate zones. A small amenity fee is payable.
The city tends to be heavily trafficked, so leave the car at home. Locate the shuttle along 16th Street, which will get you to most things to do in Denver for free. If you’re heading outside the downtown district, get to grips with the RTD light rail and bus service from the Market Street and Civic Center stations at either end of 16th Street.