Best Things to Do in Denver

Denver's Top Must-See Attractions: See It, Do It, Love It

Denver isn’t short on ways to entertain, indulge and intrigue you, from cultural treasures at the stellar Denver Art Museum to a wealth of opportunities under the almost-always sunny or star-filled Colorado skies, including Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, arguably one of the most acoustically perfect natural amphitheaters on the planet. You can stroll, cycle or kayak in LoDo, and connect to miles of trails from the easy-access Cherry Creek Trail, which connects downtown with the Cherry Creek neighborhood. Elitch Gardens is a city-center combo theme park and water park that has been entertaining Coloradans for generations, as has the Denver Zoo and Denver Botanic Gardens. Adults can experience a couple of hours of  immersive engagement and learning on a street-art stroll in Denver's RiNo district with Denver Graffiti Tour, along with a stop for an adult beverage as an option. If the term "learning" sounds dull and pedantic, you're not hearing us: Everything on this list–and we mean everything–is cool, fun and interest-piquing. We've culled our 10 Best list from the best of the best, so go out and discover what makes Denver so hot... and so cool.  


Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park

With rides named Mind Eraser, Tower of Doom and Brain Drain, it's clear that Elitch Gardens is a thrill-seeker's paradise and, not surprising, a perennial teen favorite. But there's a little something for everyone at this park that first opened in 1890. Twister II, the popular 10-story wooden coaster, perfectly evokes the park's old-school/new-thrill vibe. A portion of the grounds are devoted to a summer water park with about a dozen attractions including high-speed slides and drops, rivers and wave pools. Onsite parking is pricey; consider visiting via RTD bus or Light Rail, which stop just outside the park. There's plenty of food available but not much for those with dietary restrictions or a desire to eat healthfully. The surrounding area, though, has lots of options. The park has had pop-up holiday events in the past so check the website come winter for special openings.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Multiple generations of Denver families have grown up going to Elitch Gardens; while it's historic, it's also well up to today's adrenaline-rush standards.

Christine's expert tip: Afternoon thunderstorms are common. The park will shut down if there's a chance of lightning, so check the weather or go mornings or evenings when storms are less likely. Height requirements are enforced on rides, so check requirements on the park's website.

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Denver Zoo's conservation projects here and in the wild are impressive. "We value all animals, big and small, from all over the world. We envision a world where all people appreciate, respect and conserve animals and their habitats globally." Supporting the zoo helps fund that vision and mission, and you can do it while enjoying a day with friends, family and an assortment of cool creatures. In addition to strolling past bears, birds, big cats, hyenas, monkeys and more, you can get up close with zoo residents via behind-the-scenes tours and experiences (extra fee). Depending on the day or season, there are up-close experiences with rhinos, sloths, giraffes, reptiles, lamas, parrots, birds of prey and others, for ages six and up. All ages can join interactive activities (extra fee) at Stingray Cove and Lorikeet Adventure, and there's a train and carousel to ride as well as a 4-D theater.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It's been part of Denver since 1896, when a black bear was donated to the city. Today, its conservation efforts protect creatures great and small.

Christine's expert tip: During the holidays, the zoo's Zoo Lights extravaganza is one of Denver's most beloved traditions of the season, a must-see experience for all ages

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RiNo (RiverNorth)

Denver has embraced its vibrant street art scene in recent years, even commissioning street artists to paint on city walls and buildings. While you can find examples of this urban art form in many parts of the city, RiNo, as befitting its art-centric roots, is at the heart of it. Denver Graffiti Tour started with one tour in RiNo but now also offers a second tour with a midway stop at a local bar. You can explore much of the street art on your own, but the beauty and power of taking the Denver Graffiti Tour is how much you'll learn about the artists, history, backstory of some of the works and artists and the different styles of street art. You'll leave with a new appreciation for these talented creators who make Denver more colorful and visually interesting. Tours are weekends only.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Denver Graffiti Tour offers in-depth knowledge of street art and artists. You'll never look at street art the same way again.

Christine's expert tip: Extend your your exploration of the city after your 1.5 to 2-hour walk. RiNo and LoDO have restaurants, breweries and coffee spots galore.

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Confluence Kayak & Ski
Photo courtesy of Confluence Kayaks

Confluence Kayaks is Denver's Paddling headquarters. Founded in 1995 on the banks of the South Platte River in downtown Denver, this is the best source for paddling lessons, rentals and equipment. Local paddlers have made this the go to shop for kayak and stand-up paddle equipment. The company also rents bikes, tubes and inflatable kayaks as well as electric skateboards. The half-day inflatable kayak tour is the perfect introduction to river kayaking. Inflatable kayaks are stable and easy to use for novices and allow you to experience the thrill of maneuvering your own boat through class II and III whitewater. Join a small group of fellow adventurers on an exciting tour of the urban S. Platte River and get a taste of paddlesports in the Mile High City. All equipment is provided and no experience is necessary.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Kayaking and other paddlesports are extremely popular with locals, and Confluence Kayak & Ski is the go-to for experts and novices alike.

Christine's expert tip: Check out an inflatable kayak tour for an adventure you won't find in most cities.

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Denver Art Museum is highly regarded for its collection of Indigenous art of North America, which includes over 16,000 pieces from more than 100 tribes. The original seven-story contemporary building, designed by Gio Ponti, reopened in 2021 with expanded galleries and new spaces for interactive and creative activities, not to mention the addition of color to gallery walls. The reimagined building showcases impressive displays of ancient American and Latin American art and textiles, a fascinating Asian collection, photography, textile and fashion art, and an assortment of American and European pieces. The Architecture and Design galleries are also notable, as is the Western American Art collection. In 2006, the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, a wondrous titanium-clad structure designed by Daniel Libeskind, opened its doors across 13th Street from the original building. Libeskind's deeply angled edifice dramatically redefined the Denver skyline as well as the way that art can be exhibited.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: DAM holds its own against any museum in the country, and is an architectural marvel.

Christine's expert tip: Although the museum's wonderful backpack program is temporarily suspended, there are still engaging family and children's activities, including challenges families can do on their own. One fun option: Create a photo that makes someone look as large as the humongous Scottish Angus Cow & Calf sculpture behind the Hamilton Building.

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Denver Botanic Gardens includes two facilities. The main gardens are on York Street, 24 acres on the east side of Denver's Cheesman Park, just 10 minutes from downtown. Chatfield Farms is south of the city in Littleton. The York Street facilities showcases several kinds of gardens including Gardens of the West, Internationally Inspired Gardens (Japan, South Africa and the tropics supply some of the inspiration), Ornamental Gardens, Shady Gardens and Water Gardens. Mordecai Children's Garden is a place for families with young children to learn about plants and nature through hands-on experiences and play. Also interactive is the Science Pyramid. A variety of tours are available at the Gardens, and the summer concert series and seasonal plant sales are Denver traditions. In summer, the Botanic Gardens also offers guided wildflower hikes on a moderately difficult trail on Mount Goliath, a mountain peak section of Mount Evans.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Denver Botanic Gardens offers beauty and serenity in an urban metropolis but also music, education and the beloved holiday extravaganza, Blossoms of Light.

Christine's expert tip: Free days are scheduled throughout the year, thanks to funding from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. Check the Botanic Gardens website to find which days are free.

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Denver has miles of trails for cycling, walking and running. One of the most prominent in the city proper is Cherry Creek Trail, which winds through the heart of the city and on to areas south. The majority of the 40-mile trail is paved, with a few gravel stretches. It starts downtown at Confluence Park, where Cherry Creek meets the South Platte River and where gold was discovered in 1858, leading to the founding of Denver. This is also where the Cherry Creek and South Platte River trails meet, giving cyclers and pedestrians access to 75-plus miles of trail. Through downtown, the trail runs below Speer Blvd., along Cherry Creek as it makes its way to the Cherry Creek neighborhood notable for excellent shopping and restaurants. There are other interesting sites, too, as you head all the way to Cherry Creek State Park and Franktown, where the train ends.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Cherry Creek Trail is a great place to stroll or run between LoDo and Cherry Creek, but it also connects to many other trails.

Christine's expert tip: Pay attention to designations at access ramps. Through much of downtown, the trail on one side of the creek is for pedestrians, while the other side is for those on wheels, such as bikes and scooters.

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Art District on Santa Fe
Photo courtesy of Art District on Santa Fe

More than 70 establishments populate this very walkable area just south of downtown Denver. While the First Friday Art Walk is a huge draw for visitors and locals, the district's galleries, restaurants and retail shops are open all week. The greatest concentration of shops, galleries and restaurants is in an eight-block area between 4th and 12th along Santa Fe Drive. In addition to shopping, various classes are offered, space is available for private events and there are two theaters and a museum, too. All of the galleries and shops in the Art District are independently owned and roughly 90 percent of the artwork and merchandise is made in Colorado. My advice is to join the First Friday Artwork for an excellent overview of what's in the district. Then return (again and again) to find that special artwork that belongs in your home.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Art District on Santa Fe First Friday Artwalk gives visitors a chance to explore a Denver neighborhood they might not otherwise visit.

Christine's expert tip: Taking the First Friday Artwork is a great way to get some steps in and see a neighborhood in Denver that's away from downtown and includes not just galleries but also popular restaurants and food trucks.

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Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
Photo courtesy of 5/09 from the website:

It's called the most acoustically perfect natural amphitheater on the planet. It's not just the exceptional acoustics and music played here that make Red Rocks so special, however. Dinosaurs once roamed this geologically compelling landscape; did they hear one another's rumbling grunts from the distant bottom of the amphitheater? We'll never know. But we know that sitting among the towering sandstone formations as the music rises against the backdrop of a glorious sunset or billions of stars, Denver's lights twinkling below, is an experience found nowhere else. If you haven't experienced Red Rocks, you haven't experienced the best of Denver. Red Rocks is also a 738-acre park with hiking trails, a visitor center, trading post, and the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Locals work out on the amphitheater steps and Yoga on the Rocks is a perennial favorite, as are summer movies and the uplifting annual non-denominational Easter sunrise service.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It is Denver's one-of-a-kind star attraction and one of the most memorable days or evenings you'll ever spend.

Christine's expert tip: Arrive early for concerts; there's just one road in. Expect to walk a ways to your seats. Comfortable shoes are a must, as are water (the park sits 6,400 feet above sea level) and layers of clothes for changing weather. You can bring in food but read the park's list of permitted and prohibited items first.

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Denver's massive park system includes dozens of city parks as well as 14,000 acres of parks and conservation areas in the mountains. Park activities include biking, walking, skating, swimming, tennis, pickleball and basketball, among others, and some 30 rec centers provide extensive indoor and outdoor programming for children, adults and seniors. Five lakes allow hand-launched boating, including Smith Lake in Washington Park and Ferril Lake in City Park. Want to learn or see something new? Sign up for Tai Chi, croquet, stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking or kayaking. There are birding, geology and nature walks, and bison hikes provide views of the city's photogenic bison herds. Denver rec centers also offer adaptive recreation for those with disabilities. There's no cost to take advantage of park trails, walkways and other facilities, but it's worth joining the very reasonably priced rec centers for their extensive programs for all ages and abilities.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Denver's extensive park system offers everything from gardens and pleasant places to walk to a variety of sports and even challenging hikes,

Christine's expert tip: Most rec center membership costs have a very low per month charge, allowing access to hundreds of programs, activities and classes.

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Meet Christine Loomis

Christine has written about every aspect of travel, from romance and adventure to family and wellness. She is also lucky to have had three major home states through the years: New York,...  More About Christine