Tips and Picks for the Best Sightseeing in the Greater Denver Area



Denver has an amazingly diverse collection of sights to see and things to do. What other city has a big blue bear? Or a city park that's not in the city but is arguably one of the best venues on the continent for concerts? That's the case with Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, a one-of-a-kind natural amphitheater and one of Denver's true gems of an attraction. The city is known for its environmentally focused initiatives, which include Denver B-Cycle, the shared bike program that gives residents and visitors a cool way to get around town without a car. For those who don't want to do the research and planning it takes to create a tour of their own, Denver has excellent ready-made tours that are anything but ordinary. Banjo Billy's Bus Tours take the concept of bus tours to a completely different place, and the Denver Microbrew Tour gives visitors insight into how and why Denver has become the epicenter of craft brewing in North America. And although there are four U.S. Mints in the country, only two offer public tours and the U.S. Mint in Denver is one of them. Add historic structures, such as Denver Union Station, museums and the Denver Zoo in City Park, where it's possible to see elephants moseying against a backdrop of the Denver skyline and Rocky Mountain peaks. Who doesn't want to see that? Well, maybe not everyone. But then, those folks can see Denver exactly the way they want to, and that's fine, too.



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The big blue bear has become an iconic symbol of Denver, a 40-foot, three-story bright blue bear standing outside the Colorado Convention Center staring in through the soaring front windows. The work, by artist Lawrence Argent, is actually titled "I See What You Mean," but everyone simply calls it the big blue bear. The sculpture is meant to be a playful reflection of curiosity as well as a connection between the residents of Denver and the visiting attendees and exhibitors who travel to trade shows, conferences and conventions inside the center. Argent says he first got the idea when he saw a photo of a local bear that had wandered into the city and was caught looking in a window. Check out Denver's favorite bear on 14th Street between California and Stout, just a short walk from the Tourist Information Center.


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Start your exploration of Denver here. Opened March 2015, this center provides a wealth of information and resources for visitors in a convenient downtown location at 15th and California. Some of the new features include: Touchscreen technology where visitors can access information and then have it emailed, texted to their mobile devices or printed in the center Computers featuring the visitdenver.com website where tourists can access hundreds of articles and information about Denver A gift shop highlighting products and souvenirs sourced from Denver and Colorado companies and artists In addition to helpful brochures, maps, AAA tour books and passes for local transportation, the center has savvy staff to help visitors decide what to do and see and how to get there. Hours May through October: Monday-Friday 9-6; Saturday 9-5; Sunday 11-3. Hours November through April: Monday-Friday: 9-5; Saturday 11-4


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Denver B-Cycle is the city's bike-sharing program and an excellent way to access many Denver sights. Simply check out a bike at any B-Cycle station and return it to any other station. You could start at the Cherry Creek Bike Path, a paved trail that begins where Denver was founded and runs along Cherry Creek for 40 miles. Another option: The Greenway Trail, which follows the South Platte River for almost 30 miles; 20 historic markers along the trail help tell the story of the area. The Platte River Bike Path, part of the Greenway Trail, connects the LoDo and RiNo neighborhoods. There are stations near the Denver Art Museum, History Colorado Center, Cherry Creek Mall and Denver Botanic Gardens, among others.


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Sometimes the best way to sightsee is to let someone else do the planning, research, thinking and driving. Say hello to Banjo Billy's Bus Tours, which put a lot of fun into the mix, too. Join guides on an old school bus tricked out with unconventional seating (couches, recliners and a saddle chair) and big windows for taking in the sights. Most tours last 90 minutes and meet near the big blue bear on 14th street. Depending on the day and season, there are history tours and ghost tours, all of them chockfull of anecdotes, historic factoids and a healthy dose of humor. Brewery tours last about three hours and include three pints and three different breweries.


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Denver Microbrew Tour


 

The Denver Microbrew Tour is a two-hour guided walking tour through downtown Denver, the city's historic LoDo (lower downtown) neighborhood and the ballpark area. During the course of the 1.5-mile stroll, tour participants learn about the history of beer, how it's made, what the different types of beer are and how they differ, fun beer trivia and exactly why Denver has earned a reputation as one of the top craft-brew cities in North American. In addition to all the cool beer facts and insights, there's also info on the history of Denver itself. Yes, there are samplings at several microbreweries and a local taproom. Stops can include Breckenridge Ball Park Pub, River North Brewery, Wynkoop Brewing Company, Falling Rock Tap House and Rock Bottom Downtown Denver. Tours run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.


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United States Mint


 

The U.S. Mint was founded in 1792 and the Denver Mint opened in 1863. If you've never visited a U.S. Mint, take a tour at the facility in Denver where coins are produced and gold and silver bullion stored. The tours are geared for ages seven and older and provide fascinating insight and fun facts about the history of coin production and the process of making the money we use every day. Tours are offered Monday through Thursday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. They're best when production is in process but there is no guarantee that production will be up and running during every tour. Don't skip the Mint's gift shop with its fun, educational items, including books and money-themed gifts. Reservations are required for 45-minute tours, which can be booked online or by phone up to 90 days in advance--and they do fill.


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Larimer Square is the city's No. 1 historic district and it was integral to the earliest residents of Denver, many of whom were on the rough-and-tumble side. Today, a more genteel clientele strolls along this historic block of Larimer Street to visit its 23 retail shops, 20 of which are independently owned, and a lineup of excellent restaurants and hot spots for nightlife. A great time to visit is during a festival or event. Larimer is hopping during Restaurant Week in February. Le Jardin Secret, a French-inspired farmer's market, runs summer Saturdays; the Peachy Sidewalk Sale is in late July; there are spring and fall fashion shows and the Chalk Art Festival takes place in May.


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Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
Photo courtesy of 5/09 from the website: http://www.redrocksonline.com/pages/media/media_pics.html


 

It's called the most acoustically perfect natural amphitheater on the planet. But it's not just the exceptional acoustics and music played here that make Red Rocks so special. Dinosaurs once roamed this geologically compelling landscape; did they hear one another's soft grunts from far, far below? We'll never know. But we do know that to sit among the towering sandstone formations as the sky deepens to inky purple, to watch the sun dip below the horizon as stars crowd the sky above, the bright lights of Denver twinkle on below and the band plays on is an experience found nowhere else on earth. If you haven't experienced Red Rocks, you haven't experienced the best of Denver. BTW: It's not just music. Red Rocks offers a film series, yoga series, hiking trails and more.


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There are many reasons to make historic Union Station a stop on your sightseeing tour of the city, but have a little fun with an art-centric scavenger hunt through the terminal. Search for the original blue prints for the Great Hall on a stairwell. Explore the third floor in search of a stack of old suitcases. Check out a cool train mural--and have breakfast at the same time. Find the cowboys in a stairwell (head south) and a fun painting of a celebration featuring historic local characters (go north). Find the many design elements that recall an old-fashioned train depot and discover Colorado's state flower in white. After all that exploring, take a break for ice cream or coffee, or quaff a well-deserved Colorado beer at The Terminal Bar. Souvenir? You might find something fun in one of the retail shops.


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City Park

 

City Park spreads across 3,144 acres and is home to two lakes, the Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature & Science, as well as one of Denver's challenging municipal golf courses. It's an excellent destination for urban sightseeing, whether you want to stop in at the zoo or museum or just pedal around. Take a break from cycling and indulge in one of City Park's other activities, such as kayaking or being captain of a paddle boat on Ferril Lake, available March-October, weather permitting. City Park also has two playgrounds, tennis courts, horseshoes and historical monuments and statues to check out. While the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is most notable for its stellar exhibits and family programs, it also has a fantastic deck where sightseers can get excellent views--and photos--of the Denver skyline rising over the grass and trees.


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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

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