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Photo from street-level looking up at the glass facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
Photograph: Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, taken by From the Hip Photo

The 10 best museums in Denver

Step inside the best museums in Denver and discover the state's rich history, contemporary art, and everything in between

Written by
Rebecca Treon
Written by
Julie Dugale
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With so much natural beauty surrounding Colorado’s capital city, it might seem silly to spend time indoors at the best museums in Denver. But to get a closer look at the city’s cultural crossroads—one that balances the past and present, from Wild West lore to modern-day innovation—you’d be remiss to skip Denver’s renowned, surprisingly packed institutions.

Landmark museums like the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science are naturally at the top of the list of things to do for tourists and locals alike, and they continue to evolve: both museums recently underwent renovations, with future upgrades in the works. The long-awaited debut of the Meow Wolf Denver arrived in fall of 2021, while long-standing institutions like the Molly Brown House and the Kirkland Museum buttress Colorado's vibrant and ever-changing cultural identity.

The exhibits at these Denver museums range from globally collected artifacts and works by artists of renown to contemporary art and unique interpretations of the state's spirited past—it’s a varied sort, with something for everyone. While you’re in town, check out our list of the best museums in Denver while you explore Mile High City.

RECOMMENDED: the best things to do in Colorado

The best museums in Denver

The Denver Art Museum houses 70,000 artworks across 10 permanent collections. As one of the largest art museums between Chicago and the West Coast, you’ll find anything from Asian, African, European, and Modern artworks, but the museum is best known for its collections of Native American and Western Art.

But another reason to visit (one that’s immediately clear from the outside) is for the museum’s iconic architecture—the collections are housed within a series of design-driven buildings. The triangular steel frame of the Hamilton Building, designed to emulate the Rockies, was created by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind. Another building, formerly called the North Building, was designed by famed Italian architect Gio Ponti in 1971 and had just completed a nearly four-year renovation. During its remodel, the newly christened Martin building refreshed all seven floors of its exhibition space, creating new learning and engagement spaces while also adding the Sie Welcome Center. It also built a new cafe and restaurant helmed by Jennifer Jasinski, a local James Beard Award-winning chef.

Meow Wolf, which began in 2008 as a collective of artists in Santa Fe, New Mexico, arrived in Denver with a large-scale immersive art exhibit in 2021. As Meow Wold’s largest installation to date, it spans 90,000 square feet and resides in a mammoth triangle-shaped building at the confluence of I-25 and Colfax Avenue.

The Denver outpost features the work of 100 local artists who incorporate photography, video, architecture, sculpture, painting, music, virtual reality, costuming, and performance into the works. Its crown jewel is an immersive installation called "The Cathedral," a psychedelic structure that first appeared at Burning Man. The exhibits follow a storyline where a mind-erasing cosmic event merges four worlds from different universes. The Quantum Department of Transportation gives you access to the four worlds that range from an ice-covered landscape to an otherworldly forest.

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Denver's City Park, a picturesque green space east of downtown's skyscrapers that hosts live jazz concerts, is also home to The Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. The latter is a behemoth museum comprising a treasure trove of artifacts relating to the natural world. Exhibits include Prehistoric Journey, Wildlife Halls, Egyptian Mummies, Gems & Minerals, North American Indian Cultures, Space Odyssey, Expedition Health, and the Discovery Zone.

Along with temporary exhibits, make sure you hit the Planetarium for an out-of-this-world adventure or the IMAX theater for 3D theater fun with films like Oceans: Our Blue Planet.

A Denver institution for families, the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus underwent a $16.1 million expansion in 2015 to create a nine-acre campus—all in all, the expansions doubled its exhibition space. Including both indoor and outdoor interactive exhibits, it's a no-brainer for children of all ages.

Curious kids can dig deep into a range of topics. Perhaps they want to run their own veterinarian clinic, or learn the science of giant bubbles—or perhaps they’d rather learn to prepare food with real chefs, or climb boulders and glide through a waterfall. The sheer range of exhibitions means you’re in the right place, no matter what you’re interested in exploring.

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5. American Museum of Western Art - The Anschutz Collection

Housed in the historic Navarre Building (built in the 1880s, it began as a girls' school and later turned into a brothel, and eventually a dining club), The Anschutz Collection, housed within the American West Museum, is the formerly private personal art collection of the Anschutz family. The collection of paintings spans nearly two centuries of Western art, from the 19th century to the present day.

Over 300 paintings are displayed salon-style (a floor-to-ceiling viewing experience) and the collection ranges from movements like Expeditionary Art and the Hudson River School (artists like Bierstadt and Moran) to paintings from legends like O'Keeffe and Frankenthaler. Self-guided tours are available almost daily, as are docent-guided tours (just check the calendar for availability).

A hub for all the things you never knew you needed to know about the Centennial State (that’s Colorado, for the record), the History Center Colorado debuted in 2012 in the Golden Triangle Creative District. Spanning four floors, more than 15 exhibits are designed to engage multi-generational visitors.

Get the 411 on the people, places, and events that shaped the state's sprawling great plains, modern cosmopolitan cities, and awe-inspiring peaks. Colorado's history is constantly changing, and the museum chronicles life here from the time the Spanish territory had fluctuating borders to the formation of Denver and the lively life on Colfax.

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Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
Photograph: Visit Denver

7. Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Denver artist Vance Kirkland was more than just a painter of stellar, explosive abstract art—he was also a collector. When Kirkland died in 1981, his Capitol Hill studio served as a museum of his collections and work (including works by fellow Colorado artists), but in 2016 the entire three-room studio was physically relocated to the Golden Triangle, where a new building was designed specifically to house it. Today, it’s in good company, neighboring several of the museums on this very list.

The collection spans Kirkland's own paintings and furniture alongside pottery that inspired him and art that he admired throughout his lifetime.

At this Lower Downtown gem, you’ll find five galleries of rotating experimental art and ideas. Part of The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver’s wow factor is the building design itself (courtesy of renowned architect David Adjaye, known for Smithsonian-caliber projects), which blurs the boundaries between the interior and exterior for a unique sensory experience. Installations like “Honey” offer delicate and luscious video displays along with performance art—it’s a feast for the senses.

Don't miss the museum’s Black Sheep Fridays, a thematic mashup of two adjacent yet totally different topics presented by local experts. Past themes included "Let's Taco 'Bout It - Tacos and Positive Self Talk" and "Potter Puffs - Harry Potter Trivia and Nostalgic Cereal Tasting."

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This restored Victorian mansion in Capitol Hill was once home to a famous Denver character, the “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” A Titanic survivor, Margaret “Molly” Brown was also an activist and philanthropist who navigated tumultuous turn-of-the-century industrialization and social change with uncommon tenacity and passion.

At the house museum, you can take a deep dive into the grandeur of Denver’s silver-baron and gold-rush era as you learn about Brown’s progressive work for miners’ rights, suffrage, cultural diversity, the justice system, politics, and wartime efforts.

Museo de las Americas is the Rocky Mountain region’s biggest exhibitor of Latin American arts, and the institution anchors Denver’s buzzing Art District on Santa Fe. The blend of ancient and modern works within the museum creates a sense of relevance that highlights the enduring legacy of Latin American culture in Colorado and beyond. Case in point: “El Finito” is a collaborative exhibition featuring 35 years of Lockheed Martin satellite images, tied to ancient Aztec prophecies and their interpretations of the universe.

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