26 September 2018 by Ronan Gay
Wexas Travel's Ronan Gay spent a week in Colorado, bookended by stays in its capital, Denver. Here are his top recommendations for spending a weekend in the Mile High City.
Visit the Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Although just outside Denver, this is perhaps the standout experience. As far as acoustics go, it’s right up there with America's best – a feat made all the more romantic by the fact it’s a naturally formed amphitheatre, without all the planning that goes into modern arenas. The two giant monolith rocks have stood for 250 million years, and have become a national monument to great musical concerts since the early 1900s. In the distance, behind the stage, lies Denver, easily accessible in under 30 minutes via car or shuttle bus.
I arrived as the afternoon was drawing to a close. The changing light from sunset to dusk was a real treat, with the jutting rocks wrapped in a warm glow until nightfall, when the spotlights lit them up. Best of all for an outdoor venue, the chances of good weather are high, with Denver’s unusually consistent sunshine. A word of advice, though: don’t bring a large (DSLR) camera during a concert. They’re strictly prohibited.
Some of the world’s most famous musicians and bands have played here, including Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Radiohead and U2
Denver Union Station
Union Station is one of Denver’s key landmarks, and stands as a nod to the heritage of Denver’s railroad history that stretches as far back as 1881, when it was the largest building in Denver. After the rise of the automobile and air transport in the US, it fell by the wayside until 2014 when it officially reopened as a fully functioning rail station. It now serves as a key stop on the famous California Zephyr route and, inside, is home to a range of trendy coffee shops, bars and restaurants, as well as an off-shoot of Denver’s famous Tattered Cover book store. If you’re catching the train to the airport from here at the end of your holiday, I’d recommend putting aside an hour or two here first for a coffee and a read of your book. It certainly beats the various train termini across the UK.
Did you know? Donald Trump unsuccessfully applied to become one of the main redevelopers of Denver Union Station.
Denver Union Station. Image credit: Visit Denver
Peruse Tattered Cover book store
Tattered Cover is one of those rare gems in a modern era – an independent bookshop that is flourishing in the age of online bookshops. It appears Denver has no shortage of eager bookworms, and it makes for a lovely community atmosphere inside the bookstore. Highlights include the personal book recommendations on every shelf, with hand-written reviews and explanations from the expert staff, as well as the comfortable reading areas where you can escape the buzz of the city. I ran dangerously close to missing my flight home after getting lost in a book that I was recommended by one of the staff here, so watch out!
Tattered Cover is a labyrinthe of shelves, filled with post-it note recommendations left by enthusiastic and knowledgeable members of staff
Denver Beer Trail
With over 70 breweries in the city, it’s obvious that Denver likes its beer. It’s roughly the same number as London, but they serve eight million fewer inhabitants! The craft beer scene has really exploded in recent years, with seemingly every city claiming to be the home of world-class beer. But, Denver is one of the few that really lives up to its reputations. One of the brewers told me that Americans refer to Denver as the ‘Napa Valley of Beer’ and it’s not hard to see why. Top-quality APAs, IPAs, saison beers, session beers, stouts and porters were all readily available. Safe to say, I didn’t touch a Coors Light once.
Don’t try and make sense of this by yourself… the Denver Beer Trail will help you plot a route if you want to sample a few beers in the area of the city you happen to find yourself in. I can happily report that the pocket-sized guide – ask us for one before your holiday and we’ll send it out – actually fits in the back of your pocket, and stands up to a fair bit of use.
Denver Beer Trail. Image credit: Visit Denver
Dinner in LoDo
Lower Downtown, or LoDo, as it’s more affectionately known, is the focal point for all things Denver. It’s the oldest yet still the most vibrant area of the city, and is home to a range of restaurants, galleries, bars, shops, speakeasies, start-ups and brunch spots. If you’ve been to Union Station, you’ll have already visited LoDo. Don’t miss Larimer Square, the picturesque, historic heart of Denver, where some of the city’s best restaurants are based. I dined at Rioja, an award-winning fine dining favourite that blends local ingredients with Mediterranean influence. It was seriously special. There’s a whole host of other restaurants on the street that I didn’t get to try, giving me all the more reason to return.
LoDo, Denver. Right-hand image credit: Visit Denver
Admire the art scene
Denver leads the way when it comes to public art. Legislation demands that 1% of any large-scale capital improvement works must be allocated towards ensuring that art is made a key component of the project’s aesthetics. As a result, over the past 20 years the city has begun to brim full with creativity, from modern sculptures to street art, from sound installations and colourful cow herds making pavement walks uniquely engaging. Art walking tours and gallery visits are the best way to cover the highlights, although don’t be surprised if you uncover something on a general amble across the city.
Image credit: Visit Denver
Denver Art Museum
While the spectacular exterior may be a reason to visit in itself, it’s what on the inside that really draws in the visitors. Denver Art Museum is home to one of the nation’s best American-Indian art collections and serves as an excellent starting point if you’re going to embark on a wider journey across Colorado, exploring the history of native Americans in Mesa Verde National Park and beyond.
Denver Art Museum. Image credit: Visit Denver
A holiday to Denver
With United's new direct flight to Denver from London Heathrow, the city is perfectly connected. It takes just nine hours and, thanks to United's new high-spec Dreamliner, the journey is extremely comfortable. I'd recommend spending a few days in Denver either at the start or end of a wider holiday around Colorado and the neighbouring states of Utah and Arizona, for some seriously special national park visits. Browse our recommended holidays and hotel stays below, or contact us directly for a holiday tailored precisely to your requirements.