Photo: Andrew Preble / Unsplash
Looking for the best experiences and attractions in Colorado’s capital city? Contributor James Ross shares his list of top things to do in Downtown Denver.
Updated Nov 30, 2022 / Commissions may be earned from our affiliate partner links
The Mile high City has recently shaken off its cowboy-culture image and reinvented itself as a hip and progressive city. Denver has invested in revitalizing its historic downtown core and surrounding neighbourhoods, reimagining buildings like Union Station and bringing a new kind of energy to the forefront.
Leading the charge are a trailblazing craft beer scene, a host of diverse culinary offerings, and neighbourhoods bursting with vibrant arts initiatives.
Thinking of paying Colorado’s capital a visit? Here are the top things to do in Downtown Denver.
Top Things to do in Downtown Denver Colorado
Take a Stroll along the 16th Street Mall
Explore Denver’s historic city centre, known as LoDo (Lower Downtown), starting with the 16th Street Mall. Built in 1982, this mile-long pedestrian friendly mall is packed with shopping, restaurants, and attractions.
Free shuttle buses stop for passengers at every intersection, so it is easy to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. This outdoor shopping complex is a broad walkway lined with trees. Browse the retail shops, there are more than 300 outlets.
Explore local favorites such as the Tattered Cover, Denver’s largest indie bookstore, and visit Rockmount Ranch Wear for some western wear. This third generation, family-owned business started by Jack A Weil in 1946 is home to the original snap front western shirts. Be sure to check out the museum in the upper loft, and the celebrity gallery around the store.
Drop into the Brown Palace Hotel & Spa. Located on 17th and quite rightly regarded as one of the top If not, the top) luxury hotels in Denver, you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse of its 1892 stained-glass atrium. Better still, indulge in one of their very English afternoon tea experience. For something stronger than tea, stop into one of the numerous cafes or bars with pavement terraces and sip a drink while people watching.
At night, the broad pedestrian walkway is illuminated by thousands of lights. Do not miss seeing the amazing street performers doing their thing in the mall’s squares
Visit 16thstreetmalldenver.com for more details.
Visit Iconic Union Station
There are a lot more reasons to go to Union Station other than catching a train. Recently renovated and reopened for its 100th anniversary in 2014, Union Station is now a large part of Downtown Denver’s energy. The century-old, renovated landmark building is crammed with eateries, shops, and bars.
Step into Denver’s Union Station on a Saturday morning and you are sure to find it buzzing with people sipping coffee, reading the paper, waiting in line for breakfast and just generally hanging out. Check out Union Stations Snooze Café for breakfast, the Orient Express-style Cooper Lounge for snazzy cocktails and some fancy food, or the Terminal Bar for happy hour.
The functioning train station also serves as a buzzing food marketplace and community hub. Its restaurants include Stoic & Genuine for oysters and Mercantile for elevated comfort food.
This beautiful, turn-of-the-century building has become such a popular local haunt, it’s hard to believe only a few years ago it was a rundown train station most Denverites went out of their way to avoid. From early June until late October the Boulder County Farmers Market partners with Denver’s Union Station and prominent area chefs to host the city’s chef-driven farmer’s market.
And yes, you can still catch a train from Union Station, as well as an Amtrak coach, the 16th Street Shuttle and Downtown’s free RTD Metroride.
Learn more from their website at https://unionstationindenver.com.
Catch a Major League Game at Coors Field
Catch a major league baseball game at Coors Field, home base for the Colorado Rockies who regularly fill the stadium to its 50,000-spectator capacity.
And Coors Field is about more than baseball. The stadium has gift shops, boutiques specializing in merchandise for the Rockies, burger restaurants, craft beer bars, an on-site microbrewery, and a fine dining establishment spread over six tiers. The stadium also hosts numerous public events and major music concerts throughout the year.
Check out the Coors Field website for more info.
Partake in Denver’s Beer Scene
You could say that the downtown Denver you are enjoying today was built on beer. While Colorado has been brewing beer for more than 100 years (the Coors Brewery opened in neighbouring Golden in 1873), Denver’s modern-day beer scene came about in the late 1980s.
It was then that John Hickenlooper (serving as the junior United States Senator from Colorado since 2021) opened the city’s first craft brewery, Wynkoop Brewing, in an abandoned warehouse downtown. This was a radical idea, given that, at that time downtown Denver was nearly deserted. Wynkoop drew thirsty Denverites back into the core, inspiring other breweries, and businesses to follow suit.
Today, Denver has about 70 craft breweries throughout the city and it hosts one of the world’s biggest beer events every fall, the Great American Beer Festival, with more than 2,200 breweries showcasing nearly 8,000 beers.
So try a craft beer and toast Denver’s beautiful downtown. Explore some local breweries on the Denver Beer Trail.
Soak Up the Ambiance of Larimer Square
Denver’s most historic block, Larimer Square, is also the heart of its urban shopping and dining district. After some years in a state of deterioration, the area has been regenerated into one of the best and busiest social spots. Victorian buildings house specialty boutiques and unique, chef-driven restaurants.
If your list of top things to do in Downtown Denver includes dinner on an outdoor patio, then head to Osteria Marco for fresh, authentic Italian cuisine at its best. The simple pizza, panini, and rotisserie menu features house-cured meats and peppers. An outstanding wine list offers over 100 Italian varietals.
For the night birds, there are great wine bars, party venues, and a stand-up comedy club. What brings it all together and makes Larimer Square special is the amazing atmosphere.
Check out the many fun things to do in Downtown Denver’s Larimer Square area here.
Indulge Your Tastebuds in the Dairy Block
Dairy Block is a unique micro-district in the heart of Denver’s historic LoDo neighborhood. Milk Market, opened in 2018, is a food hall created by Denver chef Frank Bonanno, and a great place to grab lunch and a beer.
Once home to Windsor Dairy, the space is now a vibrant and welcoming space boasting 15 shops, 19 restaurants, seven bars, and luxury coworking space. There’s even a 172-room boutique hotel, the 4-star Maven Hotel at Dairy Block.
Visit the Dairy Block website at https://dairyblock.com.
Catch a Show at Denver Performing Arts Complex
The Denver Performing Arts Complex (DPAC) is the largest performing arts complex under one roof, and the second largest center of its kind in terms of number of venues and seating capacity, with over 10,000 seats connected by an 80-foot-tall glass roof.
The DPAC houses ten performance spaces on its four-block 12-acre site. It is home to a theatre company, Broadway touring productions, contemporary dance and ballet, chorales, a symphony orchestra, and opera.
Visit their website at https://www.artscomplex.com for further details.
Explore the Denver Art Museum
Denver boasts a world-renowned art centre. The Denver Art Museum, one of the largest art museums between Chicago and the West Coast is located on the northern tip of downtown in the Golden Triangle Creative District (so named for its high concentration of galleries and museums).
The museum hosts an impressive array of travelling exhibitions and a massive American Indian art collection, while the eponymous Clyfford Still Museum is an entire building dedicated to showcasing the celebrated American painter’s abstract-expressionist work.
Other museums worth some time include:
- The Contemporary Art Museum, an innovative forum for contemporary art that inspires and challenges all audiences
- MCA Denver, Denver’s first institution devoted entirely to contemporary art, and is housed in a new environmentally sustainable facility
- The Molly Brown Museum pays homage the courageous Titanic heroine, the unsinkable Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown.
- The History Colorado Center boasts hands-on and high-tech exhibits that take you back in time and give you some interesting background on the other places you are visiting in Downtown Denver. Enjoy interactive exhibits like a virtual ride in a real Model T, testing your skills on a ski-jump simulator, and setting off dynamite in an 1880’s hard-rock mine.
Visit https://goldentriangleofdenver.com for more info.
Hang with the Animals at Denver Zoo
Denver Zoo, located in City Park, spans over 75 acres and is home to over 4,000 animals including rare Amur leopards, okapi, elephants, orangutans, Komodo dragons and more. Be sure to see the recently opened Elephant Passage.
Check out their website at https://denverzoo.org.
Visit Denver Tourist Information Center
For more great ideas about the best things to do in Downtown Denver, stop by the new downtown Tourist Information Center where the knowledgeable staff can answer questions about lodging, tours, attractions, dining, and shopping.
In addition to offering brochures, the TIC features interactive screens to guide visitors. Visit their website at www.denver.org.
Contributor James Ross writes about destinations and travel adventures for various international publications. You can see more of his work at www.thejamesross.ca.
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