Your Trip to Denver: The Complete Guide

Downtown Denver through Union Station sign

Brad McGinley Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Located exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, Denver, Colorado is a great place to visit. Denver has long been a destination for outdoor adventure but over the past twenty years has come into its own with award-winning restaurants, museums and live entertainment, and an influx of arts of culture.

If you’re visiting the Mile High City or are thinking about a trip, you’ll need to be prepared for the best time possible. Denver is a city influenced by many different cultures and its location a mile above sea level means you aren’t likely to experience a city like it anytime soon. Let’s learn all about Denver including planning your trip, things to do, and everything in-between. With our complete guide to Denver, you’ll be ready to hop on a plane in the morning.

Best Time to Visit

If you want the most events, festivals, things to do, and the best weather to enjoy Denver — you need to visit during the summer months of June, July, and August. You can see an outdoor concert, take part in one of several festivals, catch a Rockies game and more without needing anything more than a light jacket. Learn more about what you can do get out of Denver during different times of the year and how best to spend your summer with our best time to visit Denver guide

Getting Around

Denver is a car-first city but has become much friendlier to people on feet, bikes, and other alternative modes of transportation. The main, and most cost effective, method of getting around Denver are the trains and busses of Denver’s Regional Transport District, known locally as RTD.

Rideshare

You can utilize both Lyft and Uber in Denver. Unless you’re far outside the city, it’s easy to hail a rideshare and get where you need to go quickly.

Taxis

You can call a cab or taxi for quick trips around Denver if you’re not into ridesharing programs.

Scooters

There are several electric scooters scattered throughout Denver that you’re able to ride with a smartphone and credit card. Denver does have strict rules regarding scooter use:

  • Scooters must use bike lanes.
  • If there are no bike lanes and the posted speed limit is 30 or under, scooters must ride on the road with a speed limit of 15 mph.
  • If there are no bike lanes and the posted speed limit is above 30, scooters must ride on the sidewalk with a speed limit of six mph.

Bikes

If you aren’t going far from your hotel or rental, a bike may be the best option to move around Denver quickly and at a low-cost. There are several bike lanes in and around Downtown Denver that give you quick passage along city streets. Denver offers several bike-renting venues to get rolling.

Denver Bcycle

If you only need a bike for a quick trip, you can try Denver Bcycles located throughout the city. Simply follow the instructions at any Denver Bcycle dock to get going. Bcycle does require a credit card.

Travel Tip on Getting Around

Rush hour in Denver lasts approximately from 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m., though traffic can be gridlocked nearly all hours of the working day. Be careful when planning your trips and schedules by considering commuter rush hour.

A Tip About Altitude and Humidity

Denver is in a semi-arid region and as the nickname implies, is around a mile above sea level. Those two factors mean Denver is dry and there isn’t much oxygen. The lack of moisture and altitude can cause issues like dehydration and altitude sickness.

When visiting Denver drink plenty of water, wear plenty of sunscreen, take your time if you’re feeling dizzy or winded, and bring skin lotion for dry skin. You can purchase supplements for the high altitude, but the efficacy and composition of some supplements is questionable. It’s great if you want to see what Denver has to offer but be smart about the altitude or you could ruin your trip.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

  • Lethargy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • A mild or severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

Usually altitude sickness will stop as your body adjusts, but the following severe symptoms may require a visit to the local ER:

  • Severe respiratory problems including loss of breath even at rest
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Fainting and loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination

If anyone is exhibiting the above symptoms it is important to seek medical attention. Occurrences of severe altitude sickness at a mile high are rare, but they can and do happen.

Things to Do

If you’re in Denver, you have several choices of things to do. The three main activities enjoyed in the Mile High City are trips to public parks and local outdoor attractions; the thriving food and microbrew scene; and the unique museums and landmarks of the city. There’s much more to do, but these three activities highlight the city’s strengths. Several parts of Denver are home to multiple attractions and things to do so don’t worry if your specific want or need isn’t listed – Denver probably still has it.

If you’re booking right now and need three great things to try:

There’s much more to do in Denver than we can write in this overview. Check out our article on things to do in Denver for a more detailed guide and what you can do in the Mile High City the rest of the year.

Denver Day Trips

Denver is a primary starting point for plenty of nearby adventure in the Rocky Mountains or along Colorado rivers. Most will need to rent a car to get out of the city though RTD offers shuttles to the mountains and other nearby destinations during different parts of the year. There’s even a ski shuttle to take you directly from the airport to nearby skiing hotspots.

What to Eat and Drink

When it comes to the culinary scene, Denver has a fantastic variety of food and excellent locally-brewed craft beer to wash it down with. You can get everything from Asian-fusion to pub grub, but Denver is home to a couple specialties.

If you want the best local eats, you’ll need to try green chili and a good old-fashioned steak. For green chili your best bets are El Tejado a bit south of downtown, Senor Burritos in the upcoming Baker neighborhood, or any Sam’s No. 3 location. Denverites agree that green chili is best enjoyed in a breakfast burrito.

There are several excellent steak choices but if you want a historical experience venture to Buckhorn Exchange which has been a Denver institution since 1893. Other popular steakhouses include Fogo de Chao Brazilian, Shanahan’s, and Urban Farmer.

Then there’s the beer. Because Denver’s microbrew scene is bursting at the seams, it’s difficult to name individual breweries to check out so we’ll use neighborhoods instead. For the best choices of local craft beer try LoDo, the Highlands, River North (RiNo), or Capitol Hill. The most popular breweries include Great Divide Brewing Company, Breckenridge Brewery, and Rock Bottom Brewery.

For a unique experience, you can head to Coors Field to check out Blue Moon brewed onsite while catching a Rockies’ game.

If you’re more of a whiskey lover check out Stranahan’s Whiskey and the accompanying free tour.

If you're on a budget, there are still plenty of options to eat at. In and around downtown cheap-eat destinations include Tocabe, Pete’s Kitchen, Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs, and Atomic Cowboy. Many Denver restaurants also offer a happy hour or late-night discounts so use your smartphone to see what’s available on the cheap near you.

Where to Stay

The downtown Denver area is no New York City or Chicago, so you don’t need to worry about getting too overwhelmed with locations and where to stay. If you’re trying to see as much of the downtown Denver area and the things to do within it, you can book a hotel or rental in several neighborhoods in and around downtown.

Popular downtown or adjacent neighborhoods include Downtown Denver, LoDo, RiNo, the Highlands, Five Points, Washington Park, and Capitol Hill. Most neighborhoods within Denver city limits are only a quick bus or rideshare away from each other so you can book your hotel in LoDo and still easily see downtown and Capitol Hill too. To learn more about the individual neighborhoods and what they have to offer, check out our guide to the top neighborhoods to explore in Denver.

Denver is also a sprawling city with many suburbs. Not all these suburbs will be close to each other like the neighborhoods above. If you’re staying in a Denver suburb or looking for attractions outside the city be certain you take more time to figure out travel arrangements before booking.

Denver public transportation and rideshares can get you anywhere around the city but considering the Denver metro area is seven individual counties - be smart about booking near where you need to be outside of the city. 

Hotel or Rental

If you are staying within the city limits you can choose both rentals like Airbnb’s or a traditional hotel for a great stay, Denver is loaded with several great options for different tastes, group sizes, and locations so whether you stay at a hotel or rental depends on your preferences and needs. Prices for both are similar though rentals tend to be cheaper for extended stays. The further away you get from downtown the less rental options you have though all Denver suburbs have hotel and motel-style accommodations.

Getting There

Most people that fly to Denver arrive at Denver International Airport (DIA) Like most cities, DIA is several miles from the heart of the city, but DIA provides transportation right to Union Station in the LoDo neighborhood on the University of Colorado A-Line. DIA also provides shuttles to car rental lots to start your Denver journey.

Car Rentals

If you are arriving in DIA, you have several rental options on airport property including big names like Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise. You can book your rental directly at the airport after arrival, but it’s recommended you book by phone or online before you arrive. As mentioned above DIA offers complimentary shuttles to rental lots. You might be able to find cheaper rental options outside of airport property, but you will need to take public transportation or a rideshare to get further into the city.

Money Saving Tips

Free Attractions and Events

Many Denver events and attractions will cost you a few bucks, but there are also several things you can check out without spending a single penny.

All Denver public parks are free and open year-round and during the summer some parks show free movies.

If you're a fan of tours many of the below are free or inexpensive:

Many Denver attractions including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Botanic Gardens offer free admission days during the summer. These dates change yearly so do an internet search to find which days are free for which attractions.