48 Hours In Denver: Things To Do

DENVER | Everyone’s heard of Denver, but what do many of us, from places like Australia, know about the city? The Nuggets, The Broncos, Casa Bonita, and Mountains. That was about the extent of my knowledge before visiting. Denver is a city that I’d wanted to visit for a while, and when I finally visited in 2003, it impressed me in many ways.

The city, which is the capital of Colorado, was founded in 1861 as an old west goldrush town. It’s home to several landmark 19th-century buildings, a multitude of museums, and a vibrant music and arts scene. It’s a multicultural city with a diverse and exciting food and drink scene. Its location, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, makes it a great base for those wanting to get involved in outdoor activities.

There are a lot of things to do in Denver, from the well known, to the more obscure. Here’s my Denver city guide, filled with an assortment of things to help you make the most of your time in the city.

Admire An Abundance Of Street Art

Denver has long had a vibrant underground street art scene, and as street art has moved from the underground to the mainstream, these underground pieces have been joined by larger scale murals backed by the city and local businesses.

Several of the city’s neighbourhoods, like Five Points / River North Art District (RiNo), The Art District on Santa Fe, and Confluence Park / Lower Downtown (LoDo), are home to countless murals. You could entire days dedicated to walking through Denver, seeking out street art. It truly is one of the great street art cities of the United States.

Check out my Denver Street Art Guide, which will let you know which neighbourhoods to visit to find the city’s best street art. Also check out my Five Points / RiNo Street Art Guide. This one gives you a suggested itinerary for exploring the neighbourhood’s street art, along with ideas for food and drink while on your self-guided tour.

One percent of all construction projects valued at over USD$1 million in Denver have to be donated to public art by law. This has led to the creation of some of the city’s most recognisable sculptures and installations. Today, murals often form part of this too.

Be Mesmerised At Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf began life as an artist collective on the outskirts of Santa Fe in 2008. They’ve since grown to become one of the most popular creators of large-scale interactive and immersive art installations in the US.

Their Denver ‘Convergence Station’ opened in 2021, and is well worth a visit if you’re a fan of quirky, interactive experiences. It’s the largest Meow Wolf installation in the country, the culmination of the works of over three hundred artists, including more than 110 from Colorado. They’ve collaborated on 79 projects, spread over four floors, with a cosmic theme.

Eat Mexican Cuisine, And More

Denver’s settlement history and current demographic trends mean that the city is a brilliant place to eat Mexican food. The city is home to a wealth of Mexican food spots, from simple, long-standing, family run joints through to trendy, contemporary spots.

You can find places specialising in regional dishes from across Mexico. In particular, be sure to visit places that focus on the unique style of Mexican cuisine that’s developed in Colorado/New Mexico. For example, the delicious ‘wet’ burrito. You can find a great version of the latter at family-run El Taco De Mexico, which has been serving locals since 1985.

Denver is a multicultural city, and beyond Mexican food, you can also enjoy top quality cuisine from across the globe. For example, Armenian khachapuri at House of Bread, stuffed frybread at American Indian spot Tocabe, and food from the Levant at Safta. If you want a good cross section of what the local food scene is all about, a stop by Denver Central Market is a must.

Immerse Yourself In The City’s Architecture

Denver grew from a collection of cabins when founded at the start of the gold rush era, into one of the grandest cities of the region. Its architecture reflects its history, with majestic buildings like the recently renovated Denver Union Station, which dates back to 1881, and the Colorado State Capitol, built in 1984.

There’s also plenty of more modern architectural marvels, like the Wells Fargo Center, aka the “Cash Register Building”, built in 1983, 2002’s Millennium Bridge, and Denver Art Museum’s postmodern Frederic C. Hamilton Building, which was built in 2006.

It’s not just the large-scale projects that impress, either. Walk through downtown Denver, and its historic inner-city neighbourhoods, and you’ll come across a multitude of eye-catching, smaller scale residential, commercial, and retail buildings.

Have A Unique Live Music Experience

Located just 16km Southwest of Denver, Red Rocks Amphitheatre is one of the most visually striking live music venues in the US. It’s an open-air amphitheatre, flanked by two massive monoliths – “Ship Rock” and “Creation Rock”, as well as the smaller “Stage Rock”.

The venue has hosted, and continues to host, many well-known international acts, as well as smaller, lesser known local bands. It’s where U2, relatively unknown at the time, performed their first recorded concert in 1983 (which you can see in the music video for ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’). Seeing a gig at Red Rocks Amphitheatre is highly recommended.

Learn About The City’s Rich African-American History

RiNo is such a vibe. It’s full of great food and drink, amazing street art, and vibrancy. I loved being based in the neighbourhood while in town.

What’s not obvious, walking around RiNo, is that the neighbourhood is actually called Five Points. At one time, it was the historic centre of Denver’s black community, the “Harlem of the West”. Traces of this past exist, but are becoming increasingly hard to find. If you didn’t do your own research, you’d never know.

RiNo is a term coined by some artists who moved to the area in the mid 90s, attracted by cheap rent in unused warehouses, in a part of the city that had seen better days. Property developers got in on the action after a while, and now the area is one of the fastest gentrifying places in the United States.

Gentrification of neighbourhoods like this, all over the world, is perhaps inevitable. There’s no perfect answer to the question of we balance the positives that it can bring to an area while negating the negatives. As visitors, the least we can do is to make ourselves aware of a neighbourhood’s history, and support some of the older, independent businesses that risk being priced out of the neighbourhood they helped create.

A few places to check out are the Stiles African American Heritage Center, Five Points’ Welton Street Historic District and Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, and the Black American West Museum.

Sample Some Of The World’s Best Craft Beer

With over 400 breweries, Colorado has a reputation as one of the best states in the US to visit for craft beer. Unsurprisingly, the are plenty of good ones in Denver. From well known, large names like Blue Moon, to smaller, independent breweries, there’s no shortage to beer to enjoy in the city.

Personally, I like to keep things independent and local, focusing on the breweries that have a sense of community and are doing interesting things. I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend of mine, Nick, who worked in the Colorado beer industry for many years, and was able to lead me in the right direction. Places that I visited, that you should too, include.

  • Bierstadt Lagerhaus. These guys are known for their pursuit of perfecting German-style lagers. Their slow pour pilsner is a must try.
  • Our Mutual Friend Brewing. Visit what’s probably my favourite Denver brewery for some of the city’s most exciting and experimental beers. The team love to use new hops, yeasts, and malts to create some truly exceptional beers. Pit Fiend BBQ, next door, serve up some of Denver’s best BBQ, which you can order and eat in at OMF.
  • TRVE Brewing Company. TRVE is the place to visit if you like your beer in a dark space with loud metal music playing in the background. Their beers are exceptional, a mixture of classic styles, and creative twists and ingredients. You’ll also find the excellent Music City Hot Chicken inside here if you need a feed.

See Some Sports

Denver is lucky enough to have teams in all of the major US professional sport leagues. There’s the Colorado Rapids (MLS), the Colorado Rockies (MLB), the Denver Nuggets (NBA), and Denver Broncos (NFL). If you get the chance, nab yourself a ticket to a game and soak in the atmosphere.

I visited Coors Field when the Rockies were playing and was able to get a ticket on the day. The atmosphere inside was amazing and it was a super enjoyable experience, even as a non-baseball fan.

View The Neon Of Broadway

This is a bit of an obscure one, but I’m a big fan of old school neon signage. Seeing them lit up at night just has a certain character that’s not the same as modern-day electronic signage. Broadway, a popular street lined with historic buildings, theatres, bars, and restaurants, has a lot of these old signs in good condition. Walk down the street at night, and the signs transport you to another era.

Visit A Museum

Denver is home to a wide array of museums. There’s something for everyone, no matter your interests. If you’re a fan of art, the multi-storey, multi-wing Denver Art Museum is a must. Also be sure to check out the compact but worthwhile Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. There is no permanent collection at MCA Denver. Rather, exhibitions rotate multiple times a year.

History buffs should pay a visit to the History Colorado Center, Center for Colorado Women’s History, and the Molly Brown House Museum. The latter is a fascinating journey through the life of Molly Brown, the best known survivor of the Titanic. If you’re into sport, the National Ballpark Museum and Colorado Sports Hall of Fame are great options. If history is your thing, then you can’t go past the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.



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