Mile-High City: A Beginner’s Denver Guide

By: Will McGough

December 13, 2013

Upon arriving in downtown Denver, first time visitors might find themselves a little surprised by this mountain town’s upbeat atmosphere. Restaurants, bars, shops, cabs, light rails, high-end hotels, pedestrian malls”¦this vibrant city makes quite an assault on the senses. Denver might have been built by the gold rush and the railroad, but the last decade has seen the Mile High City become much more than a launching pad into the mountains. Take a look at our Denver guide for some of the city’s must-see spots.

The 16th Street Mall, Larimer Square, breweries (Denver is known as the Napa of Beer with about a hundred breweries) and various museums are popular with tourists, but savvy travellers will come looking to celebrate Denver’s greatest accomplishment – the evolution of a mountain town to a metropolitan area and a city of neighbourhoods, two of which are currently experiencing rapid expansion and should be on every visitor’s radar.

16th Street Mall | A Beginner's Denver Guide

The 16th Street Mall is right in the heart of downtown and nice a place to walk, but be warned that this is one of the more touristy areas in town © Stevie Crecelius

The Highlands, for example, has grown significantly in the past decade thanks to the construction of bridges that have connected it to downtown Denver, and today it is a neighbourhood known for its independent restaurants and boutiques. A highly walkable area, visitors staying downtown should stroll across the Highland Bridge and have a look around. Those thirsty to experience Denver’s beer scene can pop into Denver Beer Company on Platte Street or Prost on 19th and Central, and don’t miss happy hour at Root Down (33rd and Osage) for a taste of Colorado’s farm-to-fork movement. Owner Justin Cucci believes the greenest thing is something that already exists, a mindset that is immediately backed up by the restaurant’s location in a space formerly occupied by a gas station.

Root Down | A Beginner's Denver Guide

Located in the Highlands, Root Down showcases both the recent farm-to-fork and green redevelopment movements that have caught fire in Denver © Adam Larkey Photography

A visit to the River North neighbourhood (called RiNo, pronounced “rhino” by the locals) will give you a taste of the full-on redevelopment that’s taking place across the city. This traditionally industrial area is slowly turning into a neighbourhood of repurposed buildings, with once abandoned warehouses being bought up by small businesses, including microbreweries, wine makers, artists, etc.  Be sure to stop in at The Infinite Monkey Theorem (32nd and Larimer), an alternative winery concept that features wine on tap and in cans, as well as The Source (3350 Brighton Blvd), an artisan market that features two restaurants (tacos and pizza), a cocktail bar, butcher, florist, bakery, cheese shop, and, of course, a brewery. You can see a full list of the different projects and events happening here.

The Source | A Beginner's Denver Guide

Opened this autumn, the Source is a market in a repurposed warehouse © Visit Denver

For those visiting Denver for the outdoors, don’t worry – there’s still plenty of that. Boulder Canyon, Chautauqua Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Eldorado Canyon are all within an hour’s drive of Denver and are great for hiking, mountain biking and climbing. But even those who remain within the city limits will get a taste of the Rockies, as the law stating that you cannot build any structure that would block the view of the mountains from the State Capitol has remained in effect. The result is a view that showcases 200 named mountains across a panoramic 125 miles of snowcapped peaks.

Downtown Denver | A Beginner's Denver Guide

Once considered a mountain town, Denver has grown significantly in the past decade and is busy showing the fruits of its labour in the form of newfound neighbourhoods and an emerging metropolitan buzz © Visit Denver

For the first time ever, a trip to Denver where the mountains serve only as a backdrop is now totally (and finally) permissible.

Written by Will McGough

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Have you visited the Mile-High City? What would you include in your ultimate Denver guide? Share your thoughts with us below.


Will McGough

Will McGough is a writer focused on all types of travel, from swimming with pigs to parties in ice hotels. He is inspired by the spectrum of ways in which people live their lives in the different parts of the world. He enjoys the idea of waking up every day to new opportunities, new landscapes, and the new feelings that the former inevitably evoke. When not on the road, he makes his home in Denver at the foot of the Rockies, and writes about his adventures on his blog, Wake and Wander (

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