Denver isn’t short on ways to entertain, indulge and intrigue you, from cultural treasures at the stellar Denver Art Museum to a wealth of opportunities under the almost-always sunny or star-filled Colorado skies, including Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, and Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, arguably one of the most acoustically perfect natural amphitheaters on the planet. There’s also Union Station, where architecture, local transportation, art, food, lodging, shopping and camaraderie combine to pique all the senses, and visitors can learn something about Denver history, too. For those visiting with kids, Elitch Gardens is a city-center combo theme park and water park that has been thrilling Colorado families for generations, while adults can experience a couple of hours of fun and immersive engagement on a street-art stroll in Denver’s RiNo district with Denver Graffiti Tour, along with a stop for an adult beverage as an option. Visits to the exceptional History Colorado Center provide engaging learning opportunities for all ages. If the term “learning opportunities” sounds dull and pedantic, you’re not hearing us: Everything on this list–and we mean everything–is cool, fun and interest-piquing. We’ve culled our 10 Best list from the best of the best, so go out and discover what makes Denver so hot… and so cool.
Denver has seven professional sports teams: basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, rugby and, of course, Major League Baseball. If you’ve got baseball in your blood, you have to make a pilgrimage to Coors Field. Not only is it a great stadium, it’s also one more place to find local craft brews and food and a fine way to enjoy Denver’s warm days and cool evenings. By the way, if you’re in row 20 of the upper deck, you’ll find yourself in a purple seat, indicating that you’re exactly a mile above sea level in the Mile High City. Modestly priced tours are offered but times vary and COVID has affected availability so call ahead to confirm.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It’s fun to see how far the ball flies at a mile high, plus Coors Field is walkable from many downtown hotels.
Christine’s expert tip: Check out a summer evening’s game from the right field bleachers and watch the sun set in the west over 14,265 ft. Mount Evans. Before or after the game, take in the lively LoDo neighborhood with its restaurants, galleries and breweries.
With a season that lasts just two months during which only a handful of plays are staged, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is the second oldest Shakespeare festival in the country and has been recognized as one of the top three in the United States. Part of its indisputable charm is its popular setting in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, tucked into a serene grove on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder. There is an indoor theater as well, where typically half of the productions are staged. Shows go on even during summer rain showers and are rarely cancelled, so bring a rain jacket just in case. Shows are typically at either 7 or 8 p.m., depending on the day.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Since 1958 the festival has celebrated and interpreted the Bard with thought-provoking productions in an intimate and engaging setting.
Christine’s expert tip: Go early and picnic on the Green while Shakespeare-themed entertainers, think minstrels and jesters, amuse you. For the more cerebral, the artistic director of the show usually offers a free and information-filled prologue in the theater about 45 minutes before the curtain rises. (Picnicking remains available under COVID protocols but some pre-theater elements have been on pause so check ahead.)
Denver Botanic Gardens includes two facilities. The main gardens are on York Street, 24 acres on the east side of Denver’s Cheesman Park, just 10 minutes from downtown. Chatfield Farms is south of the city in Littleton. The York Street facilities showcases several kinds of gardens including Gardens of the West, Internationally Inspired Gardens (Japan, South Africa and the tropics supply some of the inspiration), Ornamental Gardens, Shady Gardens and Water Gardens. Mordecai Children’s Garden is a place for families with young children to learn about plants and nature through hands-on experiences and play. Also interactive is the Science Pyramid. A variety of tours are available at the Gardens, and the summer concert series and seasonal plant sales are Denver traditions. In summer, the Botanic Gardens also offers guided wildflower hikes on a moderately difficult trail on Mount Goliath, a mountain peak section of Mount Evans.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Denver Botanic Gardens sites offer beauty and serenity in an urban metropolis but also music, education and the beloved holiday extravaganza Blossoms of Light.
Christine’s expert tip: Free days are scheduled throughout the year, thanks to funding from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. Check the Botanic Gardens website to find which days are free.
Denver has embraced its vibrant street art scene in recent years, even commissioning street artists to paint on city walls and buildings. While you can find examples of this urban art form in many parts of the city, RiNo, as befitting its art-centric roots, is at the heart of it. Denver Graffiti Tour started with one tour in RiNo but now also offers a second tour with a midway stop at a local bar. You can explore much of the street art on your own, but the beauty and power of taking the Denver Graffiti Tour is how much you’ll learn about the artists, history, backstory of some of the works and artists and the different styles of street art. You’ll leave with a new appreciation for these talented creators who make Denver more colorful and visually interesting. Tours are weekends only.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Denver Graffiti Tour offers in-depth knowledge of street art and artists–”you’ll never look at street art the same way again.
Christine’s expert tip: Extend your your exploration of the city after your 1.5 to 2-hour walk. RiNo and LoDO have restaurants, breweries and coffee spots galore.
With rides named Mind Eraser, Tower of Doom and Brain Drain, it’s clear that Elitch Gardens is a thrill-seeker’s paradise and, not surprising, a perennial teen favorite. But there’s a little something for everyone at this park that first opened in 1890. Twister II, the popular 10-story wooden coaster, perfectly evokes the park’s old-school/new-thrill vibe. A portion of the grounds are devoted to a summer water park with about a dozen attractions including high-speed slides and drops, rivers and wave pools. Onsite parking is pricey; consider visiting via RTD bus or Light Rail, which stop just outside the park. Do note that height requirements are enforced on rides, so measure your child and check the park’s website for specific requirements. There’s plenty of food available but not much for those with dietary restrictions or a desire to eat healthfully. The surrounding area, though, has lots of options.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Multiple generations of Denver families have grown up going to Elitch Gardens; while it’s historic, it’s also well up to today’s adrenaline-rush standards.
Christine’s expert tip: Afternoon thunderstorms are common. The park will shut down if there’s a chance of lightning, so check the weather or go mornings or evenings when storms are less likely. Height requirements are enforced on rides so visit the park’s website before going.
Denver Art Museum is highly regarded for its collection of Indigenous art of North America, which includes over 16,000 pieces from more than 100 tribes. The original seven-story contemporary building, designed by Gio Ponti, reopens fall 2021 with expanded galleries and new spaces for interactive and creative activities. The revamped Martin Building showcases impressive displays of ancient American and Latin American art and textiles, a fascinating Asian collection, photography, textile and fashion art, and an assortment of American and European pieces. The Architecture and Design galleries are also notable, as is the Western American Art collection. In 2006, the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, a wondrous titanium-clad structure designed by Daniel Libeskind, opened its doors across 13th Street from the original building. Libeskind’s deeply angled edifice dramatically increased the museum’s gallery space while redefining the Denver skyline and the way in which art can be exhibited.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: DAM holds its own against any museum in the country, and is an architectural marvel.
Christine’s expert tip: Although the museum’s wonderful backpack program is temporarily suspended, there are still engaging family and children’s activities, including challenges families can do on their own, such as creating a photo that makes someone look as large as the humongous Scottish Angus Cow & Calf sculpture behind the Hamilton Building.
Denver Zoo’s conservation projects here and in the wild are impressive. “We value all animals, big and small, from all over the world. We envision a world where all people appreciate, respect and conserve animals and their habitats globally.” Supporting the zoo helps fund that vision and mission–and you can do it while enjoying a day with friends, family and an assortment of cool creatures. In addition to strolling past bears, birds, big cats, hyenas, monkeys and more, you can get up close with zoo residents via behind-the-scenes tours and experiences (extra fee). Depending on the day or season, there are up-close experiences with rhinos, sloths, giraffes, reptiles, lamas, parrots, birds of prey and others, for ages six and up. All ages can join interactive activities (extra fee) at Stingray Cove and Lorikeet Adventure and there’s a train and carousel to ride as well as a 4-D theater.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It’s been part of Denver since 1896, when a black bear was donated to the city. Today, its conservation efforts protect creatures great and small.
Christine’s expert tip: During the holidays, the zoo’s Zoo Lights extravaganza is one of Denver’s most beloved traditions of the season–”a must-see experience for all ages
History isn’t just in the distant past. It’s happening now and Denver’s History Colorado Center bridges the gap between the history of the state and American West and how what came before impacts the here and now. The museum is designed with multi-generations and cultures in mind. More than 15 changing exhibits across four floors tell the state’s diverse stories, the stories of Colorado’s Native peoples, Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, men and women who came West in search of a better life, Japanese citizens sent to Colorado’s internment facility, miners, politicians and more. Not all of the history is pretty. It’s full of triumphs, tragedies, courage, perseverance, cruelty, mythology, battles and discoveries. This museum offers a full and honest portrait of Colorado through the centuries including perspective on issues we face today. It’s a well-thought-out and thought-provoking place to spend a few hours, with something for all ages.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: History Colorado Center is a Smithsonian Affiliate, described by Smithsonian Affiliations Director Harold Closter as “the first great history museum of the 21st Century.”
Christine’s expert tip: Purchase your tickets online and receive a $1 discount off regular pricing.
It’s called the most acoustically perfect natural amphitheater on the planet. But it’s not just the exceptional acoustics and music played here that make Red Rocks so special. Dinosaurs once roamed this geologically compelling landscape; did they hear one another’s rumbling grunts from far, far below? We’ll never know. But we do know that to sit among the towering sandstone formations as the music rises against the backdrop of a sunset or billions of stars, Denver’s lights twinkling below, is an experience found nowhere else on earth. If you haven’t experienced Red Rocks, you haven’t experienced the best of Denver. Better yet, It’s not just about the music. Red Rocks is a 738-acre park with hiking trails, a visitor center, trading post, and the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Locals work out on the amphitheatre steps, and there are yoga classes, movies and a spectacular non-denominational Easter sunrise service, too.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It is Denver’s one-of-a-kind star attraction and one of the most memorable days or evenings you’ll ever spend.
Christine’s expert tip: Arrive early for concerts; there’s just one road in. Expect to walk a ways to your seats. Comfortable shoes are a must, as are water (the park sits 6,400 feet above sea level) and layers of clothes for changing weather. You can bring in food but read the park’s list of permitted and prohibited items first.
Why should a train station be on Denver’s top attractions list? Simply put, it’s more than a station. Yes, Amtrak trains come and go and Union Station serves as a hub for local buses and light rail. But it’s also Denver history remade, a gorgeous Beaux Art building meticulously renovated and reopened with shops, restaurants from top local chefs, two bars, a boutique hotel and more. It’s a place to gather before or after a baseball game–perhaps at Terminal Bar, set where passengers once bought train tickets–or at any of the excellent restaurants inside or out. There’s a seasonal farmer’s market Saturdays on the station plaza, and come winter Union Station is a setting for holiday markets and events. Souvenir? Check out the station’s retail shops. Or just grab a coffee to go and sit in the Great Hall, where the Wi-Fi and people watching are free.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Union Station is the centerpiece of Denver’s LoDo neighborhood, and not just a transportation center but a gathering place for food, drink and camaraderie.
Christine’s expert tip: Check out the huge chandeliers and wall sconces. Which ones are original to the building? The wall sconces–”but the new chandeliers were made to fit in seamlessly, reflecting the historic detailing of the sconces.