Located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is a gorgeous city with a plethora of activities, landmarks and attractive reasons for visitors to enjoy their stay here. Denver, Colorado is located in close proximity to a number of 14,000 ft peaks so for the avid skiers out there this is a perfect destination to stay before heading into the Rockies for a whirlwind experience on some of America’s finest slopes. If you plan on spending at least a day or two in Denver, we strongly encourage you to take a Denver walking tour to experience a myriad of history and culture that epitomizes the Mile High City.
I recently headed to Denver for a higher education conference but I made sure that I had some time aside to explore this beautiful city. Unfortunately, Heather had to stay at home for this trip so this was one of the few times that I explored a new city without my travel buddy in tow. I can certainly attest that traveling alone is not the same as sharing your travel experiences with your best friend (kudos to the travelers out there that go solo)!
Downtown Denver Walking Tour
Staying at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Denver, I was pretty close to a number of key landmarks that I had planned on visiting. Prior to arriving in Denver, I researched walking tours of the downtown metropolis and stumbled across a free tour offered daily at 10:00AM.
Despite this appearing to be an attractive option especially given the positive experiences we have encountered on other free walking tours around the world, the time of this tour prevented me from taking part of this.
However, I wasn’t going to let this prevent me from exploring downtown Denver! Instead, I opted to take a self-guided tour but utilized the map provided by the free walking tours organization as a handy guide to some of the most infamous attractions worth visiting in downtown Denver.
If you have time to take the free walking tour, here are some useful details. If you have taken this tour, please feel free to leave us feedback in the comments below as we are always interested to hear about the quality of tours like these.
Website: Denver Free Walking Tours
Availability: May 1 – October 31 (Tours offered 7 days a week at 10:00AM); November 1 – April 30 (Tours offered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10:00AM)
Meeting Location: The Veteran’s Memorial, 1449 Lincoln St., Denver, CO, 80203
Let’s take a look at the walking tour I embarked on, before sharing some of the key reasons and history behind each of the attractions/landmarks that make Denver such an appealing city to explore on foot.
- Colorado State Capitol
- Civic Center Park
- Denver Art Museum
- Denver Public Library
- City and County Building
- US Mint
- 16th Street Mall
- Union Station
There are certainly more attractions that you could visit such as Larimer’s Square and Coors Field, but if you are able to visit the above then you have caught a glimpse of why Denver is such a popular spot for visitors.
Colorado State Capitol
If you have followed us on our travels around America, you will know that we love visiting State Capitol buildings within each of the states we visit. Heading to Denver, I had the opportunity to explore the Colorado State Capitol which is yet another fine example of ornate architecture that provides a unique reflection on the state.
Dating back to 1894 when construction was completed and the doors first opened, the Colorado State Capitol is constructed from local Colorado white granite. The focal point of this capitol building is like many others around the nation – the iconic dome.
The distinctive gold leafed dome was a ‘cosmetic’ feature added in 1908 but undoubtedly as you approach this building, it provides a standout aspect that makes this building easily identifiable around Denver.
I only walked around the grounds of the State Capitol, though for visitors interested in experiencing the interior, free guided tours are available daily between 10:00AM and 3:00PM. This also gives visitors access to the summit of the dome which provides stunning panoramic views around Denver and beyond toward the Rocky Mountains.
Civic Center Park
A short walk from the Colorado State Capitol is the heart of Denver’s green space – the Civic Center Park.
Home to a number of iconic memorials and a popular spot for locals to relax in the summer months, the Civic Center Park offers a moment of seclusion away from the hustle and bustle of city life in Denver.
Greek influence is apparent throughout the park, with the Greek amphitheater layout being a key focal point of this area. At one end of the Civic Center Park is the Greek Theater and Colonnade of Civic Benefactors, while at the other end is the Voorhies Memorial to the north.
Denver Art Museum
Denver’s Civic Center is also home to the impressive Denver Art Museum which is an impressive structure from the outside, regardless of whether you have any interest in exploring the art displays inside.
It is renowned as being one of the largest art galleries between the west coast and Chicago, offering over 68,000 artifacts and works from some of the world’s finest artists.
The Hamilton Wing is the most impressive feature of the Denver Art Museum and it’s no surprise to hear that the famous architect, Daniel Libeskind, was the brains behind this particular design.
I was inspired by the light and geology of the Rockies, but most of all by the wide-open faces of the people of Denver (Libeskind,2012)
A myriad of collections are available for your perusal as you walk around the interior of the museum, though given my time was limited I opted to just appreciate the beauty of the architectural ingenuity that created this gorgeous museum.
I was fortunate to walk by the museum just as the sun was setting, creating a breathtaking reflection from the titanium panels that portray the modern design of this building.
Denver Public Library
Visiting a public library while exploring a new location may not sound like the most appealing way to spend your time, but it can actually be a rewarding experience.
The Denver Public Library dates back to 1955 and although it may not have the same appeal as New York’s Public Library, it is certainly a building worth exploring to check out the vast collections on display.
The newest wing of the library was completed in 1990 and is a modern architectural design that fits perfectly with the gorgeous Denver Art Museum that is located in close proximity. Denver may not be the first city you think about when you consider modern architecture, but I stumbled across various examples that shows modern design has in place in the Mile High City!
Quirky architecture is also present on the grounds of the Public Library with a red painted steel chair seating a horse that towers above onlookers. Referred to as “The Yearling”, this was originally commissioned for an elementary school in New York City and after spending some time in Central Park, it was generously donated to the people of Denver.
City and County Building
Directly opposite the Colorado State Capitol across the Civic Center Park is another gorgeous structure known as the City and County Building. Constructed in 1932, the completion of this building marked the end of a number of designs in this area leading to the overall cultural representation of Denver.
This is one of the more spectacular classical designs in Denver and provides a perfect backdrop when the sun the setting and you sit on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol looking through the park and beyond.
If you are interested in taking a free guided tour of a location where you can watch official coins being produced, take a short walk over from the City and County Building and the Denver US Mint is the spot for you.
Having experienced a historical look at the coin making process throughout America during our visit to the New Orleans Mint, I was intrigued to learn more about how Denver’s location plays such an integral part in the US economy.
The history dates back to the beginning of the 20th-century when the government decided to convert a former assay office into a fully functioning mint.
16th Street Mall
The heart of downtown Denver is focused throughout the 16th street mall. Whether you are intrigued by a little retail therapy or sampling some fine dining establishments, this part of Denver is an attractive part of the city worth exploring.
After experiencing much of Denver’s historical neighborhood, I spent quite a bit of time walking up and down the 16th street mall while also taking some time to experience the free bus service that takes locals and visitors alike from one end to the other making stops at almost every block.
The clock tower along the 16th street mall is one of the most popular attractions in Denver.
The final stop on my self-guided tour of Denver saw me head to the end of the 16th street mall to explore Union Station. Home to another of Denver’s popular public transportation hubs, Union Station is also home to an eclectic array of restaurants, retail shops and the new Crawford Hotel that recently opened in 2014.
The history of Union Station dates way further back than recent years. In the mid 19th-century, the new Denver Pacific Railway line demanded a station in Denver to connect the Mile High City with the transcontinental line at Cheyenne, Wyoming.
A number of stations were developed but for local passengers, it proved to be rather inconvenient as many transfers were required, hence the reason for the development of Union Station which finally opened in 1881.
Today, the unique architecture of Union Station makes this an eye-catching attraction regardless of your interest in train stations. The open air train hall is a relatively new addition which was finished in 2011 and certainly fits the modern design of many other Denver constructions that you can see throughout this tour of downtown.
Renovations to the historic terminal soon followed and Union Station is now the most popular spot for visitors to connect in Denver’s downtown district.
Downtown Denver is a cool area to explore and it is an extremely walkable city that I encourage you to experience on foot. As you can see, there is a lot to see in a relatively small area and regardless of your personal interests, there is something in Denver for everyone (you probably noticed I never even mentioned a topic that has been hot on the press in recent years since Colorado’s legalization!).
Visiting Denver without Heather was not by choice and I look forward to us both having an opportunity to return here in the near future to experience more of the downtown area plus hopefully expand out into some of Colorado’s other infamous destinations.