Denver Destination Guide: Prepping for a Trip to the Mile High City

Denver destination guide

Set in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, you’ll soon see why they call Denver the Mile High City. It’s surrounded by hip neighborhoods with shortened nicknames, like LoDo and RiNo, and is easy to get around by foot or by bike. Green spaces are around every corner and outdoor enthusiasts can find whatever suits them nearby, whether it’s rock climbing, hiking, or mountain biking.

But city folks have plenty to keep them occupied as well between the art museums and cultural offerings. Denver is also an ideal jumping off point for further adventures, whether to the national parks of Wyoming or the small towns of Colorado.

If we’ve left anything out or you’d like to join the conversation, please leave comments below!

Denver Travel Expenses Tips

Like any other major city, expenses in Denver can quickly add up, especially when compared with the rest of Colorado. Here are a few tips to save you some cash while in the capital city.

Leave the car behind.
Unless you need it to get to and from the city every day, ditch the car. You’ll eat up your budget in parking fees. Plus, thanks to an influx of residents in recent years, traffic can get a bit out of hand throughout the day. Instead, use public transportation and B-Cycle bikes to get around town and rent a ZipCar for short term rentals.

Take advantage of free attractions.
The city is full of free attractions and festivals you can take advantage of. Some museums have reduced or free admission days while others offer free tours.

Eat breakfast in.
Meals will take up the majority of your budget no matter what. My hotel had free breakfast, so we loaded up on as much food as possible first thing in the morning and had a light lunch. If your hotel doesn’t offer breakfast, stop by the grocery store for cereal or granola bars.

Save on hotels.
Look for cheap rates whenever possible through AAA membership. If staying for a week or longer, some AirBnb’s will offer a discounted rate. Denver is also a large city, so you can stay for cheaper by staying in neighborhoods further out like Broomfield, Golden, or Aurora.

Denver destination guide
Union Station in Denver

Essential Gear to Pack for Denver

Depending on when you visit, the weather in Denver can go between hot and sunny (and VERY dry) and downright cold. Either way, bring a number of layers just in case.

All-weather jacket – If you have a waterproof jacket, that’s even better as it protects you from the rain, snow and wind.

Athletic shoes or hiking boots – Standard running shoes should be fine for most types of travelers, but throw in hiking boots if you’re planning any longer distance journeys.

Daypack – If you plan on hiking during your time in Denver, bring a small daypack to throw in your essentials like granola bars and water.

Leggings – They were basically my uniform for the entire trip through Colorado as I slept in them, wore them in the city, and went hiking in them.

Books to Read Before Visiting Denver

A number of books have found Colorado and Denver to be the perfect setting including a number of Westerns. Here are a few of the modern novels set in the Mile High City.

The Ringer by Jenny Shank – A police officer is asked to step down from coaching his daughter’s softball team because of his outbursts. Soon after, he raids a home and shoots a man, which alters his life forever as the Denver community takes sides. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice – Grad student Shay has a vision of Nina Simone so she moves in with her now-sober mother and sibling. She finds herself looking for a new life. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer – A disaster zone tree clearer deals with the loss of his young son. He returns to Colorado for a fishing trip but becomes entangled in a situation with a former acquaintance. Grab a copy on Amazon.

The Shining by Stephen King – Perhaps the best well known, this story is inspired by the author’s night spent in a real-life Colorado hotel. A man becomes caretaker of a remote hotel and his family becomes stuck there in the snow. His son Danny has terrifying visions that might be real. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Denver destination guide
Pick up a book or movie set in Colorado before your trip to Denver.

Movies to Watch Before Visiting Denver

Colorado’s vistas have long inspired filmmakers. While some of these don’t take place in Denver proper, they’ll still get you ready for your trip.

Catch and Release – Set in Boulder, this Jennifer Garner film tells of a woman whose fiance dies suddenly and she is forced to move in with his roommates. It’s here that she learns the truth about the man she almost married. Grab a copy on Amazon.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown – Named for her survival on The Titanic, Molly was rescued from the Colorado River as an infant and adopted. She became a prominent Denver socialite and you can still visit her former home. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Dumb and Dumber – This classic road trip comedy uses The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park as a filming location. Lloyd and Harry head to Aspen to return a briefcase full of money to its owner, but are followed by criminals. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Denver & Rio Grande – This Western film was named for the railroad that ran between the cities. Fights ensue during the building of the track. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Denver destination guide
Wander the streets of Denver, Colorado

Top Things to Do in Denver

When it comes to sightseeing in Denver, there’s not a traditional “must see” list. Instead, spend your days wandering the unique neighborhoods and getting into the great outdoors.

Check out tours on Viator to get your Denver trip booked up.

Art Museums – Get your culture on at Denver Art Museum, an American art museum located near the Civic Center that boasts one of the largest collections in the country. Not far away is the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which has regularly changing exhibits and a rooftop cafe. And don’t miss the public art around town, including street art and the Big Blue Bear at the Convention Center.

Colorado Rockies – There’s nothing more American than baseball and this team’s stadium is right in the middle of downtown. You can walk up that day and get cheap seats for $4. The stadium also carries some of the state’s best beers, including Oskar Blues.

Denver destination guide
See a Colorado Rockies game while in Denver.

Parks – Denver is covered in green spaces, but one of the best is Confluence Park, set along the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. Spend some time sitting in the sun or taking advantage of the walking trails. Denver Botanic Gardens are another green space with paths, outdoor sculptures and programming for all ages.

Marijuana Tourism – Thanks to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Denver, visiting a retail outlet might be on your agenda. There are even art classes and cooking classes that combine getting creative with a bit of cannabis. Please take the rules of marijuana use in Denver into consideration.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre – One of the best-known venues in the country, Red Rocks is a short drive outside of town, carved into the namesake red rocks. It’s a pilgrimage site for music fans for the big names that have performed here.

Where to Stay in Denver

Big name hotels are found all around Denver, but there are also some unique stays.

  • The Embassy Suites is convenient to the Convention Center but is also a short walk from all the city’s attractions. They have free breakfast and happy hour daily.
  • The Curtis Hotel is a DoubleTree that has been outfitted with funky themed rooms from Star Trek to Jimmy Buffet.
  • The Crawford Hotel inside Union Station brings you back to a time when most people traveled by train, while The Oxford Hotel has hosted dignitaries and celebrities alike.
  • Hostel Fish is one of Hostelworld’s favorites for its weekly activities and WiFi.
  • AirBnB and camping at a nearby state park or KOA are also possibilities.
Denver destination guide
Denver has lots of great hotel options.

Food and Drink in Denver

There’s not a typical must-have dish in Denver, but the food culture is pretty amazing. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the cricket empanadas from Linger!

Besides the crickets, three things you have to try are below:

Breakfast burritos – I saw these on menus all over town, but none were as big as the ones at Sam’s No. 3. They come the size of your head filled with eggs, cheese, beans, and topped in salsa.

Craft Beer – There are few places with as many breweries as in the greater Denver area. You can walk to a number downtown, but take Lyft or Uber to the ones further out. I recommend Great Divide and Wynkoop; Brooke recommends Black Shirt.

Brunch – Get yourself a heaping portion of brunch at Voodoo Doughnuts, Snooze, Root Down, or Denver Biscuit Co. If you’re accommodation doesn’t offer free breakfast, going out for a solid brunch instead of breakfast and lunch can help you cut back on food costs.

denver destination guide

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Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. erniebufflo says

    Denver local here. Don’t just eat breakfast in! Denver is a town that loves breakfast and brunch, and has many awesome places to eat those meals. Syrup, Denver Biscuit Company, and Snooze are all constantly packed. Also, there is also the Cars2Go service for car sharing– you get to drive a cute little Smart car!

      • Emily F. says

        Another Denver local here, to answer your question, Brooke, it honestly depends on where you stay. Breakfast/brunch places are everywhere and many don’t make lists like the one above. Some close or in downtown – Jelly (multiple locations), the Hornet, Lola, Lucile’s, Waffle Bros., Punch Bowl Social, etc. There are so many options!!

  2. Megan says

    The “it” food to try – “Rocky Mountain Oysters”!

    Other fun things:

    Zoo
    Botanical Gardens
    U.S. Mint
    Garden of the Gods (*Day trip)
    Olympic Training Center (*Day trip)
    Rocky Mountain National Park (*1-2 Day trip)

    Don’t forget to spend some time in other places near by – Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Durango, etc are all fantastic cities too.

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