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Denver, CO
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The best things to do in Denver

Your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Denver right now, from cool museums to excellent breweries

Scott Snowden
Written by
Ruth Tobias
&
Scott Snowden
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Denver, Colorado has a lot of claims to fame: Home of the Denver Broncos; the fact that it's located 5,280ft above sea level (that's exactly one mile); and a calendar with 300 days of sunshine each year. And did you know that the city that has 10th largest downtown area in the nation? Needless to say, there's plenty of things to do in Denver. 

The capital of Colorado perfectly combines epic sports, tasty eats, high-class art and the great outdoors (with a couple dozen dispensaries and breweries thrown in) into one amazing city. To make the most of your time in the Mile High City, check out the unique museums, craft-booze crawls, top-notch restaurants and outdoor adventures, that make our list of the best things to do in Denver.

And don't just think Colorado ski resorts are the only reason to fly into Denver: This erstwhile mining settlement is also one of the country's best bachelor party destinations and a bona fide cultural hub. So make a reservation at one of the best hotels in Denver and start planning your trip!

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RECOMMENDED: The best museums in Denver

Best things to do in Denver

Along with the architecture of internationally renowned visionaries Giò Ponti and Daniel Libeskind, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) is perhaps best known for its holdings in Native and Western American art. Though the DAM might lean heavily on its Rocky Mountain roots, rest assured its collections cover the spectrum. Seek out, for instance, Monet’s Waterloo Bridge and Sandy Skoglund’s startling large-scale installation Fox Games, depicting a fantastical dining room.

With dozens of horticulturally distinct collections set indoors and out on 20-plus acres, the Denver Botanic Gardens proves an oasis in what is, after all, the high desert. Here you can peruse thousands of plant species from across the globe, from cacti to rainforest orchids. It’s also a cultural and educational center, regularly hosting art exhibits, plant shows, gardening classes and more. As you explore, be sure to take a breather in view of glass wizard Dale Chihuly’s Colorado, which graces the pond in the Ellipse Garden.

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The ever-so-dramatic sweep of its rugged sandstone formations has made Red Rocks a beloved venue for concerts of all stripes since its inauguration in 1941. In 1983, a little-known Irish band happened to film a performance at what you might call nature’s own music hall—and the rest, as U2 fans know, is rock history. Of course, it also serves as one of the world’s most breathtaking gyms, where runners get super-sweaty attempting to tackle the seemingly endless staircases and hikers hit the trails through the surrounding 868-acre park. 

Saved from demolition in 1970, visitors to this Victorian manor will find the docents’ stories about the Titanic survivor’s years as an actress and a civil-rights activist no less compelling than the opulent period decor. Her famous unsinkability aside, Margaret Brown led a remarkable life for a woman of her time. The Molly Brown House offers self-guided tours as well as special events throughout the year: Gothic-horror story hours, holiday teas, garden parties and other corny-but-entertaining programs pop up every season. 

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Here you can soak away your worries and/or have them massaged out in zero gravity chairs and then sample a wide variety of Colorado’s craft brews all in one place. Makes you wonder if this was made a mandatory part of the working week, everyone would probably be much nicer to each other. Check out the website for a full list of what's on offer. They cater for singles, couples and groups, so you have no excuse.

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The Platt Park stretch of South Broadway (SoBo) has long been known as Antique Row for its wealth of dealers in everything from folk art to furniture. You can either shop for vintage wares, weed or both: These days, SoBo is also called the Green Mile, reflecting the influx of marijuana dispensaries. The quirky shopping experience only gets funkier as you head north into the Baker District, where boutiques like Decade, a source for up-and-coming designer labels, skew as hip as the nearby eateries.

Founded in 1996, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) moved into its permanent and larger home (27,000 square foot) in 2007. With works displayed across five galleries, a shop, library and rooftop cafe, the space is as pretty as a picture (although we can't guarantee that all the pictures will be pretty). Comical, creepy, racy, relentless… Whatever else they may be, exhibitions at the MCA are always provocative. In fact, according to MCA Denver themselves, their exhibits seek to create 'understanding and dialog about the art of our time.'

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After a historic redevelopment, LoDo’s turn-of-the-century terminal is once again a destination for architecture buffs, scenesters and foodies, in addition to rail riders. Absorb the Beaux Arts aura of the majestic, barrel-vaulted Great Hall while sipping local craft beers in the retro-toned Terminal Bar or cocktails on the mezzanine of the glamorous Cooper Lounge. Score a seat at Stoic & Genuine’s chef’s counter to indulge in sharp twists on seafood classics or treat yourself to a feast at Mercantile Dining & Provision, where farmhouse substance meets cosmopolitan style. 

Craft breweries
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Craft breweries

Roam the linked RiNo, Ballpark and Five Points neighborhoods and you’ll run the full gamut of craft tipples, from suds to spirits. Boozin' brilliant. Buzzing little breweries like Mockery and Ratio encircle granddaddy Great Divide—but as you hop from one to the next, sampling chocolate rye scotch ale and passionfruit-guave gose, you’ll also (quite possibly literally) stumble on Stem Ciders, Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery and Mile High Spirits

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The stomping ground of the Denver Broncos also made history when it hosted Barack Obama’s acceptance speech during the Democratic National Convention in 2008. Tailgate on the stadium’s south side; stomp your feet to make 'mile-high thunder;' Join a chorus of 76,000 yelling 'Incomplete!' – That’s the way to show your support for the Broncos. On a tour, you’ll learn such stats while visiting the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Museum and getting a player’s-eye view of the end zone—something even non-fans get a charge out of.

The route from Idaho Springs to the top of Colorado’s 14th-tallest peak traverses some 7,000ft along the continent’s highest paved roadway. Possibly nerve-wracking and definitely slow-going yet breathtaking in every sense of the word, Mount Evans Scenic Byway takes you past alpine lakes and meadows, through bristlecone-pine stands and the habitats of elk and bighorn sheep; along the way, you can hike, fish, picnic and even snowshoe. The summit itself is accessible only in summer—and even then the weather can turn nasty without warning.

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Adults aren’t just babysitters at this kid-friendly museum jam-packed with dinosaur skeletons, mummies and IMAX 3D flicks. Naturally, kids go gaga, but plenty of the exhibits and planetarium shows appeal with all-ages subject matter—think Dead Sea Scrolls, Russian folk carvings or black holes. If you’re making a day of it, you’d do well to skip the onsite café in favor of a lakeside picnic in nearby City Park, also home to the Denver Zoo.

Believe it or not, downtown Denver contains one of the largest multi-venue performance centers in the world. Ballets, symphonies, operas and touring Broadway shows are all staged here, but so are locally produced plays and the occasional rock concert. During the warmer months, all kinds of celebrations take place in the adjoining outdoor space, Sculpture Park, including the adorable Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival.

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Sports fans and curious tourists alike will find plenty to do at the 76-acre field with spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains. Catching a baseball game isn't the only thing you can do on the Rockies’ home turf. Look for the row of purple seats marking the elevation that gives the Mile High City its name, then wash down some Rocky Mountain oysters (quickly, if you’ve never tried this infamous delicacy) with beer from the onsite brewery, the SandLot

The Kirkland is a mesmerizing shrine to the decorative arts of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Peep iconic modernist furnishings (Irving Harper’s marshmallow sofa and Pierre Paulin’s ribbon chair) and exquisite Art Nouveau and Art Deco housewares. Located in the studio of its late namesake, Vance Kirkland, the collection is displayed salon-style—which means that you’re surrounded on all sides by irreplaceable objet d'art as you wander through the galleries. Children under 13 are not admitted.

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Situated on Larimer Street between 14th and 15th, Larimer Square is the most bohemian block in town; it’s the place to both see and be seen. A gentle saunter down this pedestrianized street will allow you to catch up on your window shopping as you gaze through the glass of some swanky boutique stores and afterwards you could dine at high-end restaurants like Osteria Marco or Rioja, or grab a drink at the speakeasy bar, The Green Russell. While you're in town, be sure to make time for a macaroon at The Drunken Bakery, it's quite the bizarre experience as the floor and ceiling have been flipped around.

This single-artist museum warrants exploration, not only to view almost the entire oeuvre of the radical Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still, but also to admire the masterful architecture. You won’t need much more than an hour to take in the tranquil surroundings as well as the large-scale canvases that defined Still’s contribution to modern art. 

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Restaurateur Justin Cucci's atmospheric eatery in a former house of ill repute dishes up globally influenced grub. Cucci has a knack for designing restaurants that owe some of their success to a quirky backstory. Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox is an eye-poppingly risqué tribute to its building’s history, while what was once a mid-century garage now informs the vintage cool of Root Down. Take it all in over a meal that showcases the Edible Beats restaurant group’s focus on earth- and lifestyle-conscious food and drinks. 

Hiking near Denver
Photograph: Courtesy Boulder CVB/Stephen Collector

20. Hiking near Denver

As (more-or-less) casual day trips go, you can’t beat hitting the trails around Golden and Boulder. Whether you choose one of the easygoing loops on Lookout Mountain or rugged climbs in Eldorado Canyon State Park and around the striking sandstone formations known as the Flatirons, you'll be treated to stellar natural vistas. While you wander amid ponderosa pines and Indian paintbrush, keep your eyes peeled for mule deer and monarchs (never mind rattlesnakes and black bears). 

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There are several spots in town where you can indulge your taste for booze and your inner child at the same time. Best of all is Punch Bowl Social, which boasts bowling lanes, an old-school arcade, karaoke rooms, two bars and a mod diner. Apart from the undoubtedly bohemian inspired decor, the activities have a touch of nostalgia that is nothing short of gratifying. A popular spot, there's 15 other outposts of Punch Bowl Social spread across the states. 

Remember when just plain, old ordinary yoga was the all the rage? Then do you remember when hot yoga was suddenly the new, best thing? Well, get ahead of the curve and embrace yoga in the air. Oh yes. Go full Cirque du Soleil at the Yoga Hive Colorado. They actually offer all kinds of yoga here, so if dangling from a cloth isn't your thing, you have other options. 

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