Denver holiday highlights

Culture in Denver

Once known largely as just a gateway to the outdoor playground of the Rockies, the Mile High City has become something of a cultural heavyweight in the last few decades. There are a wide range of museums, galleries, performing arts venues and even entire creative communities.

The stand-out attraction is the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, a spectacular live music venue which is nestled between striking red rocks to the south-west of the city. Most large concert venues take a few years to construct; this one has taken a few hundreds of millions of years. Big-name bands and artists who have performed here include Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, former Colorado resident John Denver and Depeche Mode. Even if you don’t get the chance to see a live act at the park, you can hike the two trails, take part in a Yoga on the Rocks session (June and August), or visit the Colorado Hall of Fame.

Back in central Denver, there’s a real focus on art, both historic and contemporary  and both in museums and outside in the city’s streets and parks. The Denver Art Museum, with its almost unrivalled collection of Native American art, is a must-visit spot for art lovers. It’s also one of the included attractions on the money-saving Mile High Culture Pass and the Denver City Pass, along with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the city’s Botanic Gardens.

To experience a less structured approach to art, head out in search of the city’s incredible street murals. In areas such as River North Art District (known locally as RiNo), Confluence Park, East Colfax and the Art District on Santa Fe, street artists have created vibrant works. Almost any space can be considered a canvas from garage doors to warehouse walls. Denver is also scattered with public art works, including ‘I see What You Mean’ – the popular 12-metre tall blue bear which peers into the windows of the Colorado Convention Centre and the Western-inspired sculptures and paintings in Civic Center Park.

Food and drink
As well as becoming a centre for the arts over the past decade or so, Denver has seriously upped its dining game. The city’s culinary scene has gone through something of a renaissance with top chefs opening restaurants which have started to rise to the top of the ‘best in the US’ lists. In Downtown’s Larimer Square, 16th Street Mall and the beautifully restored Denver Union Station, there’s a wide selection of restaurants from delis and steakhouses to high-end eateries.

In the hip RiNo the culinary diversity gets ratchet up a notch and new restaurants open all the time. A curry house (not a common occurrence stateside), ramen joints, Southern-inspired restaurants and the Denver Central Market are all housed in old industrial spaces throughout the neighbourhood. Spend the day dipping in to eclectic art galleries fuelled by coffee, craft beer and great food.

You can’t talk about Denver without its microbreweries, brewpubs and tap rooms in Denver – it’s something of a craft beer capital. There are over 100 of them and twenty odd either in or within easy reach of Downtown. A great introduction for hop fans is the Denver Beer Trail, which takes you to the most celebrated places to sip on an ale or lager around the city as well as local favourites and heritage brew houses. You can also visit the Coors brewery in the nearby town of Golden or enjoy a beer while watching the Colorado Rockies baseball team play at Coors Field (late March to late September).

The Rockies
The Front Range of the Rocky Mountains rises dramatically out of the landscape just under 15 miles away from the heart of Downtown. The snow-capped peaks are a constant city backdrop and a year-round playground for both Denverites and visitors. The 400-square mile Rocky Mountain National Park –one of Colorado’s four national parks – is about an hour and a half north-west of the city. On a day trip, you can drive the world’s highest continuous highway, the Trail Ridge Road, hike a few miles along mountain trails and view wildlife such as elk, bighorn sheep and moose. Alternatively, drive up to the summit of Mount Evans, one of the state’s 53 ‘fourteeners’ (peaks over 14,000 feet high), or visit charming Georgetown and ride the Georgetown Loop Railroad. This trip gives you an insight into Denver’s history as a gold mining camp.

Shopping in Denver
Head to 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver, a pedestrian avenue that’s lined by a wide range of well-known stores and well as plenty of cafes and restaurants to fuel your shopping. The two-block Denver Pavilions is located just off the mall and the historic Larimer Square lies at its northern end.  The wonderfully restored Victorian buildings here play host to independent boutiques  and dining venues. A few steps from where the 16th Street Mall meets Wazee Street you’ll find Denver’s most famous store – Rockmount Ranch Wear. If you’ve ever wanted to buy Western shirts, jackets and accessories or just follow in the footsteps of Ronald Regan, Cary Grant, Harrison Ford and Steve McQueen, a visit here is a must do. For the ultimate shopping experience, follow the waterside Cherry Creek Trail to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center where there are over 160 shops, many housing high-end brands.

Getting around Denver
The city’s Downtown district is small enough to walk round, however there are plenty of options if you want to head further afield or spare your legs. The easiest ways to travel into the city from the airport include the take Airport Rail (the A Line) which takes 37 minutes from the airport to Denver Union Station, or the DEN Airport shuttle, or a taxi. Once you’re in town, you can make use of the reliable and relatively inexpensive bus network wherever you want to go. There are free shuttle buses operating between Denver Union Station and the Civic Centre Station which run along the 16th Street Mall or on a loop along 18th and 19th Streets. To travel further afield – perhaps to Golden or Boulder – you can take the train. You can also cycle around the city using the bike B-cycle bike share programme. This is a fantastic way to make the most of the city’s 300 days of sunshine (on average), reach the likes of RiNo, the Highlands and the Art District on Santa Fe and explore the largest park network in the United States.

When to visit Denver
Denver is a year-round city thanks to its average of 300 days of sunshine and its setting at the edge of the Rockies. The most popular time to visit is during the summer months when temperatures are warm but not stifling, the parks are sun kissed and the nearby mountain hiking and biking trails are finally clear of snow. During the shoulder seasons of April to May and September to October the crowds disperse slightly and there holidays are slightly better value. There are also a handful of festivals and events taking place each autumn including Denver Beer Week and Oktoberfest.

Despite being just a couple of hours away from some of North America’s premier ski resorts, the city winters are relatively mild with average highs of about six or seven degrees (average lows are about -8 degrees Celsius). If you visit in January (perhaps as part of a Ski Independence holiday), don’t miss the cattle drive through downtown which takes place at the start of The National Western Stock Show.

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Denver key facts

Time difference

GMT -7 hours

Currency

US Dollar ($)

Flying time to destination

10 hours

Passport & visas

Brits must have a full 10-year British Passport that's valid for six months after you return to the UK. You will also need a USA visa or waiver form/ESTA. Apply for your ESTA at least 72 hours before travelling.

Denver good to know

Tipping

Tipping is an established and accepted custom in America. For good service, waiters and taxi drivers expect 15-20%, and counter and bar staff 10-15%. Porters can expect from $3-$5 per case, while tour guides can be given the equivalent of £2-£3 per day.