I’ve lived in the Mile High City for over 12 years. Over the years, I’ve given tons of advice on visiting Denver. As a long-time local I’ve welcomed guests from around the world and have plenty of Denver travel tips.
Denver is an amazing city for a weekend getaway or as a home base for exploring the best of Colorado. These locally-designed tips for visiting Denver, Colorado are designed to help you make the most out of your trip. So here’s an inside look at what to know before you travel to Denver.
How to Use this Locally-Curated Guide to Visiting Denver, Colorado
There’s a lot of things to know before planning a trip to Denver, Colorado. As a local, I’ve got the inside scoop on how to navigate the Mile High City and make the most of your Denver vacation. Here’s a look at what we’ll cover in this article:
- Practical information about visiting Denver, Colorado
- How to get around Denver
- Where to stay in Denver
- Where to eat in Denver
- Local insider tips to visiting Denver
Arriving in Denver, Colorado
First, the Denver International Airport isn’t exactly close to downtown. In fact, as your plane touches down at DIA you might think you’ve accidentally landed in Kansas.
The Denver airport is around 40 minutes by car and an hour by public transportation from downtown. This is important to keep in mind as you plan your trip.
The cheapest way to get to and from the Denver International Airport is via the train. For $15 you can take the A Line all the way to Union Station, at the heart of downtown Denver. An Uber or Lyft ride from the airport will run you about $80 one-way. YIKES!
If you have a long layover in Denver, you’ll need at least 7 hours in order to have enough time to hop into the city and actually spend some time there. Otherwise, wander just outside the airport to the Westin for a few nicer dining options. In the winter, there’s a free ice rink for use.
Public Transportation in Denver
Unlike super-dense cities like New York City, Denver lacks a suitable public transportation system. In fact, it’s typically faster to walk, ride share or bike around the city. There is a City Bike program where you can easily rent bikes for a small fee and hop from bike stop to bike stop around the city in order to save some cash.
However, if you’re looking to get out of the city and go on an awesome day trip near Denver, there are a few sweet public transportation options for you.
- Bustang travels to Boulder in around an hour depending on traffic
- The G Line on the RTD train goes to Golden
- You can hop a ride with the Colorado Mountain Express to get anywhere in the mountains via private transport.
- The Front Range Ski Bus runs Wednesdays through Sundays during ski season to Loveland Ski Area and back.
Should I Rent a Car in Denver?
Determining if you need a car while visiting Denver really depends on what you plan to do. If you’re just in the city for a weekend and you don’t plan on exploring the mountains, you’ll be fine utilizing Uber/Lyft, public transport, rentable scooters, and bikes.
However, things get a bit more complicated if you desire to go into the mountains. There are a few outdoor recreation areas you can visit without a vehicle (mostly in Boulder). But if you want to explore the best scenic drives around Denver, or you plan on doing day trips from Denver, you’ll be better off renting a vehicle.
In the summertime, you can get away with a two-wheeled drive vehicle. However, in the winter you are required by law to carry chains if you plan on driving up I-70 in a two-wheeled vehicle. The fine is fairly hefty (minimum of $500) so either rent an all-wheel-drive vehicle or ask to be provided with tire chains.
What’s the Weather Like in Denver?
There’s a saying in Denver if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes. Denver boasts some wild weather, so always be prepared for an unexpected storm or a 40-degree temperature drop. These are almost annual occurrences here in the Mile High City.
One of my favorite Denver travel tips is understanding the weather. Denver is located on a high desert, one mile above sea level. This means that the weather is generally dry and sunny. Wind isn’t uncommon, especially in the spring and fall. Temperatures are generally mild year-round.
Winters tend to be mild with plenty of sun and the occasional snowfall. Temperatures range from 60 degrees all the way to negative 10. Spring is rather unpredictable and snowy, but the flowers are in full bloom.
Summers are hot with temperatures regularly in the 80s and 90s. The monsoon, or afternoon thunderstorm cycles, happen in July. Fall is beautiful with temperatures in the 80s to the 60s. Peak color changing in Denver is during October, however, this is also when the snow starts to fall.
How Long Should I Visit Denver, Colorado?
Denver is the perfect spot for a quick weekend getaway. In just three days, you can see a majority of the city and even make a quick getaway into the mountains.
For longer trips to Colorado, Denver makes a great home base. You’ll still only need to spend just a few days in Denver before heading out to other parts of the state.
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Denver?
Honestly, you can visit Denver year-round. The city is bustling with activity and each distinct season has something different to offer. Summer is typically the busy season for Denver, but spring, winter, and fall are all excellent times to visit Denver, Colorado.
Denver is outdoor-focused, even in winter, so don’t expect the cold to keep people inside. You can still explore the outdoors near Denver any time of year.
What to Budget in Denver, Colorado
Denver isn’t exactly a cheap city, but it’s certainly less expensive than New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. Here’s what to budget per day in Denver:
- Basic hotel room: $120 per night
- Hostel Dorm: $20 – $30 per night *expect American hostel quality, not the best choice for solo female travelers
- Transportation: $20 – $30 per day if you are taking a mix of rideshare, public transport and bikes or scooters
- Airport transfer: $15 one way for the train
- Beer at a bar: $6 to $12 depending on how boutique the establishment is
- Cheap Eats: $12 per person
- Dinner for two: $45 – $100
- Coffee: $3 -$5
Budget-Friendly Tips for Visiting Denver, Colorado
If you’re visiting Denver on a budget, here are a few quick Denver travel tips:
- Stay in a private room AirBnB to save money on lodging
- Get a City Pass if you plan on exploring the sites in the city
- Denver has some great Happy Hours, take advantage to save money on drinks.
- Going to a sporting event? Check out deal nights for the local teams before you snag tickets.
- Cook your meals at home. Eating out is expensive.
- Plan on skiing near Denver? Snag your lift tickets online in advance for a little discount.
Where to Stay in Denver
There are a wide variety of places to stay in Denver. If you’re interested in exploring the city, look into the RiNo neighborhood, the Highlands Neighborhood, Lodo or Capitol Hill.
Local Denver Travel Tips
These local tips for visiting Denver aim to help you make the most of your trip. After all, there’s no better way to travel than like a local!
Related: The Local’s Guide of the Best Things to Do in Denver (coming soon)
Acclimatize to the Altitude
Many people don’t think about the fact that they are 5,280 feet above the sea level when they visit Denver. You may feel winded, tired, thirsty, and even develop a headache. It’s important to properly acclimatize when you visit Denver.
For your first day or so, take it slow and drink plenty of water (don’t forget to pack a reusable water bottle). Avoid caffeine, marijuana, and alcohol for the first 24 hours.
Follow Recreational Marijuana Laws
So weed is certainly legal here in Denver. Rember you’ll need a valid ID that proves you’re over 21 and cash to purchase pot in Denver. As a visitor, you’re welcome to smoke or ingest marijuana products, but keep the following in mind:
- It is still ILLEGAL to ingest weed and drive.
- It is also ILLEGAL to ingest or smoke weed in public – this includes nature. The fine for getting caught is up to 15 days in jail.
- Not all hotels are weed-friendly. Ask first.
- Keep it concealed. Weed needs to stay in its container when not in use
- You can buy up to one ounce of weed as a visitor. That is an epic ton of weed. The stuff is strong here, you won’t need much.
- Don’t try to smuggle it out of state. There are regularly drug dogs at the airport.
- Enjoy responsibly. Edibles tend to give people trouble. Take a small dose, wait two hours before dosing again.
Get Out of Denver and See the Mountains
Denver is deceivingly far from those scenic Rocky Mountain vistas. Fortunately, there’s plenty of incredible hiking trails less than 2 hours from Denver. So strap on your hiking boots and bask in the mountain glory!
Chow Down on Local Eats
Denver is a foodie paradise. Thanks to its pro-small business policies there’s tons of innovation here. And that comes with plenty of delicious food. The best eateries in Denver are often locally owned and some have even become local coveted chains. Here are a few Denver-specific foods to try:
- Rocky Mountain Oysters or bull testicles. A total classic you can get at the Buckhorn Exchange, Denver’s oldest restaurant.
- The breakfast burrito. As a coveted Denver tradition, many locals argue about the best place to mow down on some breakfast goodness. My favorite spot is Devil’s Food.
- A classic burger. Build your own with all the weird ingredients at The Cherry Cricket.
Support Local Businesses
Local businesses reign supreme here in Denver. One local Denver travel tip is to check out the variety of local, boutique shops. Take a stroll down Tennyson in the Highlands, Cherry Creek North or Old South Pearl in Platt Park for the best boutique shopping in Denver.
Enjoy the Street Art Scene
One of my favorite parts about living in Denver is the incredible street art scene. No trip to Denver is complete without a walk through the RiNo district where you can catch the latest and greatest street art in the city. Oh, and it’s total Instagram candy so bring a camera.
Grab a Local Brew
When I first moved to Denver, there were only a handful of breweries, but today there’s virtually a brewery on every block. It’s hard to throw a rock and not hit one of the best breweries in Denver. The Great Divide and Wynkoop are classic establishments, while the Crooked Stave and Cerveceria Colorado offer up a fresh new spin on what a brewery can be.
Safety in Denver
Staying safe throughout your trip is extremely important. In general, Denver is a fairly safe city. However, with that being said you should always be cautious and have your wits about you, especially if you’re walking alone downtown at night.
The 16th Street Mall, once a popular tourist attraction, has become a hotbed for petty crime. I wouldn’t recommend traveling around here at night. Take care in the areas north of the RiNo Neighborhood as well as Park Avenue near the homeless shelters.
Denver is an awesome spot to visit and a great home base for exploring Colorado. These tips for visiting Denver are designed to give you the insider knowledge to travel to Denver like a local.
Planning a Trip to Denver, Colorado? Here’s what you need to know:
- The best free places to camp near Denver
- Denver’s Best Easy Hikes (coming soon)
- Colorado packing list (coming soon)
- The only Colorado road trip itinerary you’ll never need