Denver is chill, sure, but it’s also cool. What to do in one of America’s underrated cities
Denver is known for being quintessentially laid-back, but don’t mistake the chillness for sleepiness. The Mile High City’s unexpected quirks will keep you on your toes, from the 40-foot-high whimsical blue bear sculpture downtown (now a city emblem) to the surprisingly huge street art scene.
The capital’s Old Western charm lives on through classic landmarks like Larimer Square and the Colorado State Capitol building, while the recently revitalized Union Station and the transformed industrial district, River North, are adding a breath of fresh air to Denver, as I discovered on my latest visit. Here are five ways to get to the heart of this golden city.
As its name suggests, RiNo (short for River North Art District) has evolved into the city’s arts and culture hub, making Denver one of the biggest street art cities in the U.S. Walls, street corners, sidewalks and fences are layered in paint — old and new, politically charged and not, trippy and minimalistic. There’s so much here, in plain sight and hidden, you’ll want a guided walkaround with Denver Graffiti Tour to get behind the meaning of the artistry. In between the murals are plenty of places to sip and dine, including the Denver Central Market and taco shops like Federales Denver.
Take yourself off the main drag in RiNo and head to the rooftop restaurant Safta, for the Middle Eastern food and the Denver skyline views. Influenced by Israel, Bulgaria, Yemen, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, Palestine and Greece, the dishes range from family-style meat entrees to veggie-friendly curries. But the real gratification here is the freshly baked pita, which is complimentary and addictive. The warm bread makes for a great vessel to dip into the lamb ragu hummus, crispy eggplant, shakshuka and other deliciousness — so you won’t feel guilty about ordering a second round.
This cult-favourite NYC-based bar has brought its East Village effervescence to Denver. Here, the location gives a spacious living-room vibe to the lobby of the Ramble Hotel. Sink into blue velvet sofas or leather armchairs and booths, or settle in at the mirrored bar, all under a moody chandelier glow. The sippers are boozy, bright and timeless. Try the River Ranch Highball (tequila, manzanilla sherry, poblano chilies, passion fruit and seltzer) or the Moments in Gold (Jamaican rum, Douglas fir brandy, lemon and black raspberry). The only problem is how quickly that Mile High City altitude will hit.
This micro-district in LoDo (Lower Downtown) is a 1920s dairy processing block turned collection of stores and restaurants, with a string-light alley, murals and other artwork. Visit Free Market, a collective that collaborates with artists, for one-of-a-kind finds. Or check out the sustainable leather goods at Parker Clay, a store that supports women-made products. Keep an eye out for pop-up shops, too, as the area is constantly changing. Also enticing is Milk Market, a food hall featuring local-only spots, where you can treat yourself to tacos, wood-fired pizza and ice cream.
Built in 1881, Union Station has been a Denver focal point since the gold rush days. Today, it’s more than just the easiest way to get to and from the airport. Reopened in 2014 after a revitalization, it’s also the meeting spot in LoDo, complete with an Instagram-worthy entrance hall and exterior, multiple restaurants, bars and shops, and even a hotel, the Crawford. Grab a coffee and a hefty breakfast sandwich at Pigtrain Coffee & Co., then peruse the titles at Tattered Cover Book Store. Slide up to the Terminal Bar in the main hall for a cocktail pre-dinner, or opt for the Cooper Lounge on the upper level for fancier drinks and downtown views.
Jennifer Weatherhead Harrington travelled as a guest of Visit Denver, which did not review or approve this article.
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