3 Days in Denver: The Perfect Denver Itinerary

From urban adventures to mountain escapes, Denver offers a unique blend of city life and outdoor thrills. Follow this 3-day Denver itinerary for best results!

West Parker
By
West Parker
July 18, 2024

Hey there, fellow travelers! West Parker here, and boy, do I have a treat for you. My wife Sarah and I just got back from an incredible 3-day trip to Denver, and I can't wait to share our experiences with you. When we first decided to visit the Mile High City, our friends were a bit skeptical. "Isn't it just a stopover for skiing?" they asked. Well, let me tell you, Denver is so much more than that!

As we planned our 3 days in Denver, we quickly realized that this city is a perfect blend of urban sophistication and outdoor adventure. From world-class museums to breathtaking mountain views, Denver has it all. And don't even get me started on the food and craft beer scene – it's out of this world!

So, buckle up and get ready for the ultimate 3-day Denver itinerary. Whether you're a culture vulture, an outdoor enthusiast, or a foodie, I've got you covered. Let's dive into how to make the most of your Denver adventure!

Planning Your Trip to Denver

Before we jump into the day-by-day itinerary, let's talk about some essential planning tips to ensure your 3 days in Denver are smooth sailing.

Best Time to Visit Denver

Denver is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit really depends on what you're looking for. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Spring (April to May): Mild weather and smaller crowds make this a great time to explore the city. Just pack a light jacket for those cool evenings!
  • Summer (June to August): Perfect for outdoor activities, but expect larger crowds and higher prices. Don't forget your sunscreen – that mountain sun is no joke!
  • Fall (September to October): My personal favorite. The weather is crisp, the foliage is stunning, and you might catch some great festivals.
  • Winter (December to March): Ideal for snow sports enthusiasts. The city is less crowded, but be prepared for cold temperatures.

Sarah and I visited in early October, and the weather was absolutely perfect for exploring both the city and nearby natural attractions.

Getting There and Around

Denver International Airport is a major hub, so getting to Denver is a breeze. Once you're there, you've got plenty of options to get around:

  • From the airport: Take the A Line commuter rail to downtown. It's only $10.50 one-way and takes about 40 minutes.
  • In downtown: The free 16th Street Mall Ride is a lifesaver. It runs up and down the popular 16th Street Mall and connects to other public transit options.
  • Exploring the city: We loved using the e-bikes and e-scooters from Lyft and Lime. They're everywhere and super convenient for short trips.

What to Pack for Denver

Denver's weather can be a bit unpredictable, so layering is key. Here's what I'd recommend:

  • Comfortable walking shoes (you'll be doing a lot of walking!)
  • Layers – think light jackets, sweaters, and long-sleeve shirts
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses (that high altitude sun is intense)
  • Reusable water bottle (stay hydrated at that mile-high elevation)
  • A daypack for excursions

Oh, and don't forget to throw in a nice outfit or two for those trendy restaurants and bars!

Where to Stay in Denver

Choosing the right neighborhood can make or break your Denver experience. Here are some top picks:

LoDo (Lower Downtown)

This historic district is perfect if you want to be in the heart of the action. It's bustling with nightlife, restaurants, and is close to major attractions.

Why stay here: You're steps away from Union Station, Coors Field, and countless dining options.

Hotel pick: The Crawford Hotel. It's right in Union Station and oozes historic charm with modern amenities.

RiNo (River North Art District)

For the hip and trendy travelers, RiNo is your spot. It's known for its street art, galleries, and innovative dining scene.

Why stay here: You'll be surrounded by creativity, from colorful murals to cutting-edge restaurants.

Hotel pick: The Ramble Hotel. It's as stylish as the neighborhood itself, with a killer cocktail bar to boot.

Cherry Creek

If luxury is what you're after, Cherry Creek won't disappoint. It's home to high-end shopping and fine dining.

Why stay here: Perfect for a more upscale, relaxed vibe with easy access to downtown.

Hotel pick: Halcyon, a hotel in Cherry Creek. It's sleek, modern, and has a rooftop pool with mountain views.

Sarah and I opted for a stay in LoDo at The Crawford Hotel, and we couldn't have been happier. The central location made it easy to explore the city, and the historic charm of Union Station right at our doorstep was unbeatable.

Denver Safety Guidelines

Now, I know what you're thinking – is Denver safe? Well, I'm happy to report that overall, Denver is a safe city for tourists. But as with any urban area, it's always good to keep a few things in mind:

  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night.
  • Stick to well-lit, populated areas when walking after dark.
  • Keep your valuables secure and out of sight.
  • If you're heading into the mountains, always check weather conditions and come prepared.

During our 3 days in Denver, we never felt unsafe. The locals were friendly and always ready to help with directions or recommendations. Just use common sense, and you'll be fine!

Now that we've got the basics covered, are you ready to dive into our 3-day Denver itinerary? Let's go!

Day 1: Urban Exploration

Morning: Denver Art Museum and Civic Center Park

Denver Art Museum's distinctive architecture, showcasing its unique angular design against the city backdrop
The Denver Art Museum isn't just about what's inside - the building itself is a work of art! Spent hours exploring the collections here.

Rise and shine, it's time to kick off your 3 days in Denver with some culture! After grabbing a quick breakfast at Union Station (try the breakfast burrito at Snooze – you won't regret it), head to the Denver Art Museum.

This isn't your average art museum, folks. The building itself is a work of art, with its dramatic sharp angles and shimmering facade. Inside, you'll find an incredible collection of art from around the world, including a stunning Native American art collection.

Sarah and I spent a good couple of hours here, marveling at everything from ancient artifacts to contemporary masterpieces. The interactive exhibits are particularly fun – who says art museums have to be stuffy?

Civic Center Park in Denver, green space surrounded by historic government buildings and the Rocky Mountains
Perfect spot for a quick breather between museum visits. The view of the Capitol building is stunning!

After you've had your fill of art, take a stroll through nearby Civic Center Park. It's a beautiful green space surrounded by government buildings, including the gold-domed Colorado State Capitol. If you're lucky, you might catch a food truck rally or a local event happening in the park.

Key Information:

  • Location: 100 W 14th Ave Pkwy, Denver, CO 80204
  • Hours: 10 AM - 5 PM (Tuesday-Sunday), closed Mondays
  • Admission: $13 for adults, free for members and youth 18 and under

Why Visit: The Denver Art Museum offers a world-class art experience in a stunning architectural setting.

Insider Tip: Don't miss the outdoor sculpture garden – it's perfect for a quick breather and some great photo ops!

Afternoon: 16th Street Mall and Larimer Square

16th Street Mall in Denver, bustling pedestrian area with shops, restaurants, and the iconic free MallRide shuttle
The free shuttle on 16th Street Mall is a lifesaver for tired feet! Great people-watching spot too.

After lunch (may I suggest Civic Center Eats if it's running?), it's time to hit the 16th Street Mall. This mile-long pedestrian promenade is the beating heart of Denver's downtown. Hop on the free MallRide shuttle if your feet need a break, or just stroll along, taking in the street performers, shops, and people-watching.

Make sure to stop by the D&F Tower, a two-thirds replica of Venice's Campanile di San Marco. It's a quirky bit of Denver history that always makes me smile.

Larimer Square in Denver, historic block with preserved Victorian buildings and charming string lights overhead
Larimer Square is like stepping back in time, but with modern shops and restaurants. Those twinkling lights are magical at night!

As the afternoon winds down, make your way to Larimer Square, the city's most historic block. The Victorian buildings here are beautifully preserved and house some of Denver's best boutiques and restaurants.

Sarah and I loved popping in and out of the unique shops here. From handcrafted jewelry to gourmet food items, it's a great place to pick up some souvenirs.

Key Information:

  • Location: 16th Street Mall runs from Wewatta Street to Broadway
  • Hours: The mall is always open, individual store hours vary
  • Admission: Free

Why Visit: The 16th Street Mall and Larimer Square offer a perfect blend of shopping, dining, and Denver's urban atmosphere.

Insider Tip: Look out for the painted pianos along 16th Street Mall – they're free for anyone to play!

Evening: Dinner in Larimer Square and Drinks in LoDo

Colorful and artfully presented dish at Rioja restaurant in Denver, showcasing Mediterranean-inspired cuisine
The handmade pasta at Rioja is to die for! Definitely worth the splurge for a special dinner in Denver.

As night falls, Larimer Square truly comes alive. The canopy of twinkling lights overhead creates a magical atmosphere that's perfect for a memorable dinner. We chose Rioja, a Mediterranean-inspired spot that's a favorite among locals and visitors alike. The patio seating is perfect for people-watching, and the handmade pasta is to die for.

Falling Rock Tap House in Denver, showing wide selection of beer taps and cozy pub atmosphere
Beer lover's paradise! Falling Rock Tap House has over 75 beers on tap. The staff really know their stuff too.

After dinner, it's time to experience Denver's legendary craft beer scene. Head back towards LoDo and stop by Falling Rock Tap House. With over 75 beers on tap, it's a beer lover's paradise. Don't know where to start? The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and always happy to offer recommendations.

Williams & Graham speakeasy entrance in Denver, hidden behind a bookshelf for a secretive atmosphere
Found the secret entrance to Williams & Graham! Felt like a prohibition-era smuggler sneaking in for a drink.

If craft cocktails are more your style, check out Williams & Graham. This speakeasy-style bar is hidden behind a bookstore facade and serves up some of the most creative cocktails in the city.

Key Information:

  • Rioja Location: 1431 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80202
  • Falling Rock Tap House Location: 1919 Blake St, Denver, CO 80202
  • Hours: Vary by establishment, but most are open late
  • Price: $$-$$$

Why Visit: Experience the best of Denver's dining and drinking scene in one evening.

Insider Tip: Make reservations for dinner, especially on weekends. Larimer Square restaurants fill up fast!

As you head back to your hotel, take a moment to reflect on your first day in Denver. From world-class art to historic architecture, from gourmet dining to craft brews, you've already experienced so much of what makes this city special. But trust me, the best is yet to come!

Day 2: Outdoor Adventure

Morning: Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre

Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, showcasing the unique natural rock formation and distant city views
Hiking at Red Rocks was breathtaking - literally! The view of Denver from up here is unbeatable.

Rise and shine, outdoor enthusiasts! Day 2 of our Denver itinerary is all about embracing the stunning natural beauty that surrounds the city. And there's no better place to start than the iconic Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre.

Just a short 30-minute drive from downtown Denver, Red Rocks is... well, it's hard to put into words. Picture massive red sandstone formations jutting out of the earth, creating a natural amphitheater with acoustics so perfect it's hosted everyone from The Beatles to U2.

Sarah and I arrived early, around 8 AM, to beat the crowds and the heat. We started with a hike on the Trading Post Trail, a 1.4-mile loop that offers stunning views of the rock formations and the Denver skyline in the distance. The trail is moderate in difficulty, but take it slow if you're not used to the altitude.

After our hike, we explored the amphitheater itself. Even without a concert, standing on those famous red steps is awe-inspiring. Don't miss the Visitor Center, which has some great exhibits on the geological and musical history of the park.

Key Information:

  • Location: 18300 W Alameda Pkwy, Morrison, CO 80465
  • Hours: Park is open one hour before sunrise through one hour after sunset
  • Admission: Free to visit (concert tickets sold separately)

Why Visit: Red Rocks is a uniquely Colorado experience, blending natural beauty with musical history.

Insider Tip: Check the schedule before you go. If you're lucky, you might catch a morning yoga session or fitness class at the amphitheater!

Afternoon: Hiking or Biking in Denver's Parks

After Red Rocks, head back into the city for some urban nature experiences. Denver boasts over 200 parks within the city limits, earning it the nickname "The City within a Park."

City Park in Denver, showing cyclists enjoying the paths around the lake with mountain views in the background
Rented bikes to explore City Park. It's huge! Loved the views of the mountains and the Denver skyline.

We decided to explore City Park, Denver's largest urban park. It's home to the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, but we were in the mood for more outdoor time. We rented bikes from Denver B-cycle and spent a couple of hours cruising around the park's lakes and paths.

Cheesman Park in Denver, featuring joggers circling the historic neoclassical pavilion with mountain views
Morning run in Cheesman Park. The pavilion is so picturesque, and you can see the Rockies on a clear day!

If you're up for more of a challenge, head to nearby Cheesman Park for a jog around its 1.5-mile loop. The park's centerpiece is a neoclassical pavilion that offers great views of the Rocky Mountains on clear days.

Key Information:

  • City Park Location: 2001 Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO 80205
  • Hours: 5:00 AM to 11:00 PM
  • Admission: Free

Why Visit: Denver's parks offer a perfect blend of outdoor recreation and city views.

Insider Tip: Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy in the park. Marczyk Fine Foods in Uptown makes great sandwiches to go.

Evening: Craft Brewery Tour in RiNo

No trip to Denver would be complete without diving deeper into its renowned craft beer scene. And there's no better place to do that than in the River North Art District, better known as RiNo.

Ratio Beerworks in Denver, showing patrons enjoying craft beers on the outdoor patio in RiNo district
Kicking off our RiNo brewery tour at Ratio Beerworks. Their Dear You French Saison is perfect for a warm evening.

We kicked off our self-guided brewery tour at Ratio Beerworks. Their outdoor patio is perfect for a warm evening, and their Dear You French Saison is a personal favorite.

Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company in Denver, intimate taproom with wooden bar and colorful beer flight samples
Loving the cozy vibe at Our Mutual Friend Brewing. Their constantly rotating beer selection means there's always something new to try!

Next up was Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company. This small-batch brewery has a cozy taproom and a constantly rotating selection of innovative beers.

Crooked Stave Brewery in Denver, patrons sampling unique sour beers in an industrial-chic taproom setting
Ended our brewery tour at Crooked Stave. If you're into sour beers, this place is a must-visit!

We ended our night at Crooked Stave, known for their sour and wild ales. If you're feeling adventurous, try their Petite Sour Rosé – it's like nothing you've tasted before!

Key Information:

  • RiNo Art District: Roughly bounded by I-70 to the north, I-25 to the west, Park Avenue West to the south, and Arapahoe St. to the east
  • Hours: Vary by brewery, but most are open until at least 10 PM
  • Price: $-$$

Why Visit: RiNo offers a concentrated dose of Denver's craft beer innovation in a vibrant, artsy setting.

Insider Tip: Many breweries offer flights, allowing you to sample several beers. Pace yourself and don't forget to hydrate – remember, you're a mile high!

As you head back to your hotel, take a moment to appreciate the contrast of your day. From the natural wonders of Red Rocks to the urban oasis of City Park, and ending with the cutting-edge craft beer scene, you've experienced the many facets that make Denver such a unique destination. And guess what? We've still got one more day to go!

Day 3: Culture and Relaxation

Morning: Denver Botanic Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens' Japanese Garden, featuring a tranquil pond, traditional bridge, and carefully manicured plants
The Japanese Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens is so peaceful. Perfect way to start our last day in the city.

Start your final day in Denver with a serene visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens. This 24-acre oasis in the heart of the city is a perfect way to ease into your day.

Sarah and I arrived right when they opened at 9 AM to enjoy the gardens at their most peaceful. We started in the Ornamental Gardens, where the vibrant colors and fragrances of thousands of plants immediately awakened our senses. The Japanese Garden, with its tranquil pond and carefully manicured plants, was a particular highlight.

Don't miss the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory, a stunning glass structure housing tropical and subtropical species. It's like taking a quick trip to the rainforest!

If you're visiting in summer, make sure to check out the Science Pyramid. This unique structure houses interactive exhibits that explore the relationship between people and plants in the west.

Key Information:

  • Location: 1007 York Street, Denver, CO 80206
  • Hours: 9 AM - 8 PM (May-September), 9 AM - 5 PM (October-April)
  • Admission: $15 for adults, $11 for children (3-15)

Why Visit: The Denver Botanic Gardens offer a peaceful retreat and a chance to see plants from around the world in beautifully curated settings.

Insider Tip: Check their calendar for special events. They often host outdoor concerts and art exhibitions during the summer months.

Afternoon: Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Olive & Finch in Denver, displaying fresh, colorful sandwiches and salads served on a rustic wooden table
Quick lunch at Olive & Finch before heading to the museum. Everything here is so fresh and delicious!

After lunch (we loved the nearby Olive & Finch for a quick, delicious bite), it's time to feed your mind at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Denver Museum of Nature & Science, visitors observing large dinosaur skeleton display in main exhibition hall
The dinosaur exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science are incredible. Felt like a kid again!

This museum is a treasure trove of fascinating exhibits. We started with the Space Odyssey exhibition, which offers a hands-on exploration of the cosmos. The planetary scientist in me was thrilled!

Next, we dove into the prehistoric world in Prehistoric Journey. The full-size dinosaur skeletons are truly awe-inspiring. Don't miss the paleontology lab, where you can watch scientists at work on real fossils.

If you have time, catch a show at the planetarium or IMAX theater. We saw a planetarium show about black holes that blew our minds.

Key Information:

  • Location: 2001 Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO 80205
  • Hours: 9 AM - 5 PM daily
  • Admission: $19.95 for adults, $14.95 for children (3-18)

Why Visit: The Denver Museum of Nature & Science offers world-class exhibits that cater to curious minds of all ages.

Insider Tip: The top floor of the museum offers stunning views of City Park and the Denver skyline, with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop. It's a great spot for photos!

Evening: Dinner at a Farm-to-Table Restaurant and Final City Views

Root Down restaurant in Denver, showcasing creative farm-to-table dishes presented on a reclaimed wood table
Our last dinner in Denver at Root Down. The sweet potato gnocchi was amazing, and I love their commitment to local ingredients.

For your last evening in Denver, treat yourself to a meal that showcases the best of Colorado's local produce. We chose Root Down, a restaurant that takes farm-to-table seriously, sourcing many ingredients from their own garden.

The globally-inspired menu changes seasonally, but you can't go wrong with their Colorado lamb slider or the sweet potato gnocchi. Their craft cocktails are also not to be missed – the Beet Down, made with beet-infused vodka, was a delightful surprise.

54thirty rooftop bar in Denver, patrons enjoying cocktails with panoramic views of the city skyline and Rocky Mountains
Wrapping up our trip with drinks at 54thirty. What a view! Can't think of a better way to say goodbye to Denver.

After dinner, cap off your 3 days in Denver with a nightcap and some stellar views. Head to 54thirty, Denver's highest open-air rooftop bar. Located on the 20th floor of Le Méridien hotel, it offers panoramic views of the city skyline and the Rockies beyond. It's the perfect spot to raise a glass to your Denver adventure.

Key Information:

  • Root Down Location: 1600 W 33rd Ave, Denver, CO 80211
  • 54thirty Location: 1475 California St, Denver, CO 80202
  • Hours: Vary by establishment, but both are open late
  • Price: $$$

Why Visit: Experience the best of Denver's culinary scene and toast to your trip with unbeatable city views.

Insider Tip: Make reservations for both Root Down and 54thirty, especially on weekends. These popular spots fill up fast!

Alternative Itineraries

For Families

If you're visiting Denver with kids, you might want to tweak the itinerary a bit:

  • Replace the Denver Art Museum with the Children's Museum of Denver. It's full of interactive exhibits that kids love.
  • Spend more time at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Kids especially love the Discovery Zone.
  • Consider a day trip to the Denver Zoo instead of the brewery tour.

For Luxury Travelers

If you're looking for a more upscale experience:

For Budget Travelers

If you're watching your wallet:

  • Stay at the Hostel Fish in LoDo
  • Take advantage of Denver's many free attractions, like the Colorado State Capitol tours
  • Enjoy picnics in the parks instead of dining out

Extending Your Trip

If you have more than 3 days in Denver, consider these options:

  • Take a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. It's about a 1.5-hour drive and offers world-class hiking and wildlife viewing.
  • Visit the charming mountain town of Boulder, just 30 minutes away.
  • Explore more of Denver's diverse neighborhoods, like the hip South Broadway area.

Insider Tips and Tricks

  1. First Saturday Free: Many of Denver's museums, including the Denver Art Museum, offer free admission on the first Saturday of each month.
  2. Denver CityPASS: If you plan to visit multiple attractions, consider purchasing a Denver CityPASS. It can save you up to 40% on admission fees.
  3. Cannabis Tourism: Yes, recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado. If you're curious, consider a tour with My 420 Tours to learn about the industry.
  4. Altitude Adjustment: Denver's high altitude can affect some visitors. Stay hydrated, limit alcohol consumption, and take it easy on your first day to acclimate.
  5. Weather Changes: Denver's weather can change rapidly. Always carry a light jacket, even in summer.
  6. Free Walking Tours: Denver Free Walking Tours offers excellent guided tours of downtown. It's a great way to get oriented on your first day.

Conclusion

Whew! We've covered a lot of ground in these 3 days in Denver. From the urban sophistication of its museums and restaurants to the natural beauty of Red Rocks and the Botanic Gardens, Denver truly offers something for everyone.

As Sarah and I boarded our flight home, we couldn't stop talking about all the amazing experiences we'd had. The friendly locals, the incredible food, the stunning natural scenery – it all came together to create a trip we'll never forget.

Whether you're an art lover, an outdoor enthusiast, a foodie, or just someone looking for a new adventure, Denver delivers. This 3-day Denver itinerary just scratches the surface of what this fantastic city has to offer. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your Denver getaway today!

Remember, the best trips are those where you leave room for spontaneity. Use this itinerary as a guide, but don't be afraid to wander down that interesting-looking street or pop into that quirky shop. After all, that's where the best travel memories are often made.

Here's to your Denver adventure. May it be as unforgettable as ours was!

West Parker
West Parker
Article updated:
July 18, 2024 9:03 AM

West Parker, a Cornell University School of Hotel Administration graduate, has spent two decades as the secret weapon of the jet-set elite, crafting bespoke adventures that redefine luxury travel. Now a resident writer for Town & Tourist, this 45-year-old "Architect of Extraordinary Journeys" combines razor-sharp insights with unparalleled industry connections to deliver experiences that even the most discerning globetrotters can't help but rave about. West's expertise spans from exclusive real estate to fine dining, making him the go-to strategist for those who demand nothing but the extraordinary in their travels.

Recommended Read