No one ever likes a layover, right? Wrong, I loved my most recent layovers in Denver, Colorado. Yes, that was plural. With Frontier’s budget fares across the country, a pretty long layover in their headquarters in Denver is bound to happen. Denver, visiting on a layover is no problem.
With a well-connected airport in Denver, the low-cost Denver light rail gives the opportunity to visit the city. Have over 4 hours to spare for your layover? This gives you plenty of time to ditch the overpriced airport food, for a lunch or stroll in Downtown Denver.
Whether you are here for a layover, or in Denver for a weekend, here is your Denver Travel Guide. The list of the best things to do in Denver with limited time.
Denver Local Time
If you are going to venture out of the airport it is very important to make note of possible time differences. You don’t want to be off by an hour when you are heading back for your flight out of Denver International Airport. So, is Denver mountain time? Yes, Denver is Mountain Standard Time!
Denver International Airport
Well there are far worse airports to be stuck in for a layover. But if you happen to not have a lot of time for your layover, here are some things to do by Denver Airport. Here are some things I personally enjoyed, for a more comprehensive list check out Sleeping in Airport’s blog on the Denver Airport.
- -Check out the best views of the Rockies from the airport in Gates C23 and C24.
- -Visit and shop at the Tattered Cover in the Airport, a local chain bookstore that is unique to Denver.
- -Eat at Root Down, for some healthy wholesome food and a well-known country wide restaurant.
- -Check out the DEN Files here to learn about all the conspiracy theories about the Denver International Airport.
Getting around on Denver Public Transportation
Denver Light Rail
The Denver Light Rail is basically the answer to every traveler’s prayers. The rails system connects the Denver International Airport with not only Denver, but also other Colorado destination like Boulder.
A single day fare will cost you around $10 USD. This allows you to use all public transit in Denver, Colorado during your layover for 24 hours.
Light Rail Map
Denver Light Rail Schedule for Light Rail Route A check out the schedule here.
When you get off the train at Union Station, you are in the center of Downtown Denver. Already, I could feel the altitude difference affect me. At 5690 feet, the mile-high city is definitely high, but maybe that is why Denver, Colorado experiences 300 plus days of sunshine every year.
There is an eclectic mix of architecture with modern and historic buildings. Head down Larimer Square, which features 19th century buildings that reminds you of Denver’s roots in the Old West Era.
The best thing about Downtown Denver, it’s extremely walkable. Within just a one-mile radius, there is an art museum, three sports stadiums, a river with white water rafting, and an aquarium amongst many restaurants.
Things to do in Denver Colorado (Denver Travel Guide)
1. Union Station
Your first introduction to Downtown Denver, is the majestic Union Station, where the Old West meets, the hip youthful Denver, Colorado. Built in 1881, Union Station is not merely a place you go to get somewhere, it is a destination. The beautifully restored station is a place where you can grab a craft beverage, get some work done, grab a quick bite at ACME Delicatessen, or do a little shopping at the Union Station Farmer’s market (Saturdays Mid-May to Mid-October 9am – 2pm) this is definitely a cool spot to kill a few hours during your layover.
Cool tip: The Crawford Hotel offers tours of Union Station. For $20 USD on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. and most other days at 4 p.m, visitors can tour learn the history behind the building, art, and transportation followed by a complimentary Union Station Kolsch, house red or white wine, or non-alcoholic beverage at the Terminal Bar. Best thing is all proceeds go to the Crawford’s Dollars For Dreams non-profit partners.
2. Denver Zoo
If you don’t have time to explore the nature first hand in the plains, or the Rockies, then head over to the Denver Zoo. The 80 plus acre zoo has been around since 1896, and is the number one paid attraction in the Denver area (Entry $15USD).
Also, how could you resist meeting this guy! The Denver Zoo just welcomed a baby Rhino!
3. Rocky Mount Wildlife Refuge
Many people may not think there is enough time to see a wild herd of bison, prairie dogs, and deer roam the open plains of Colorado, but in Denver it is more than possible since the Rocky Mount Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is only 30 minutes from Downtown/the airport. This is one of the top choices for nature lovers looking for things to do by Denver Airport.
Hours: Monday- Sunday 9 am – 5 pm
4. RINO District
The RINO Art District, stands for River North Art District, and is where Denver’s artsy side truly shines. If you want to see one of Denver’s Brewery’s in action (not my cup of tea), visit a food hall (there are two), and explore an eclectic mix of wall murals than this is the spot for you.
Well connected by the A- Line Denver Light Rail, the train will connect you directly here from the airport.
The RINO district has redefined the warehouses, with an urban industrial revival that even Lonely Planet couldn’t resist naming RINO as one of the top 10 neighborhoods to visit in the USA.
Check out the galleries, especially on a Friday if you are in town, who host open houses.
5. Sunset at The Source Rooftop
When I came to Denver for two layovers, I did not know I would be able to see two friends here. I decided to pick a place to meet them after work, that would also tick off a box for me to watch the sunset over the Denver skyline with the Rockies as a backdrop.
Boy, oh, boy did my heart drop when I saw the view on top of The Source Hotel’s roof top bar/restaurant in Denver’s RINO District. It was the perfect place to catch a sunset with friends. With an outdoor firepits, on the roof top and a purple sunset that seemed to last forever (thankfully), I had an amazing time sipping on my hot coco and catching up with a friend.
Denver, does a great job at multi-use spaces, The Source is not only a hotel, but it is also a marketplace of artisan products, multiple market style restaurants, and coffee/bars. Like everything in Denver, it was super cool!
6. International Church of Cannabis
If there is one thing Denver, and Colorado is known for it is weed. However, just like the Netherlands this by no means defines the people you meet in Denver, or the culture here. However, it is fun as a tourist to check out a place called “The International Church of Cannabis”, even if you don’t partake.
So, I decided to embark to view the colorful, church turned, smokers heaven. Funny thing enough smoking is not allowed, so I was able to view the beautiful artwork, colorful wall murals, and warm up on a chilly Denver day.
For a $15 USD entry fee ($10 USD students), you can have a complimentary cup of joe, as you wait for an impressive lightshow created by the founders of the Elevationists that call the Church of Cannabis home. Doing this completely sober, was quite the experience and the people that I met were wonderful, so if you have sometime to kill and want to play games and talk to nice people come here.
7. Denver Botanical Gardens
Don’t have a ton of time to explore the natural wonders of Colorado, a trip to the 24 acre Denver Botanical Gardens may suffice. They gardens connect visitors with plants from the Rocky Mountain Region, through tours or a self-guided walk through the park it will show off the true natural beauty of Colorado.
Also, worth a stop is the Chatfield Farms for $5 USD per vehicle, you can enter Chatfield farms and visit the historical Hildebrand Ranch, 2.5 miles of trails with excellent bird watching, and feel like you are miles outside of the city.
Admission: Adults $15 , Children and Students $11
Hours: Winter Hours Sept 30- May 9 9 am – 5pm , Summer Hours May 10- Sept 27 9 am – 8 pm
8. State Capitol Building and the Mile-High Step
If you are feeling lightheaded, don’t worry it is probably not from second hand smoke. But it could be the fact you are standing exactly a mile- high. The mile high step at the Colorado State Capitol building offers a perfect view and feeling of accomplishment. Guided tours of the capitol are offered and last 45 minutes to an hour. A tour is a must if you want a trip to the dome. (Self-guided trips to the dome are NOT permitted).
Otherwise self-guided tours are available if you cannot make a tour. Tours begin on the hour 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM Monday through Friday.
Hours: 7:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday- Friday
9. Red Rocks Canyon and Amphitheater`
15 miles away from Denver is Red Rocks Canyon and Amphitheater. Red Rocks Canyon is a natural geological wonder, and the amphitheater has been designed to enhance the beauty of nature.
Many concerts and events go on at the Amphitheater year round, hosted by Red Rocks Entertainment. Check out there events here.
10. Denver Hot Springs- Indian Hot Springs `
Relaxing by a hot spring more your speed? Then, head over to Idaho Springs, a short 30 miles away, is a beautiful natural hot spring and spa at Idaho Springs. Relax amidst snowcapped mountains as you soak in the hot natural springs of Colorado.
The Indian Hot Springs offers a mineral water swimming pool under a translucent dome creating a tropical paradise amongst the mountains of Colorado. There are also geo-thermal caves you can bathe in to create a unique experience.
Hours: Pool open 9 a.m.-10 p.m., caves 7:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Denver Quick Eats- Denver Restaurants, Coffeeshops, and Food Halls
11. Torchy’s Tacos
Ok, so I know Torchy’s Tacos isn’t local to Denver, but if you have not tried their breakfast taco then head here when you are off the plane. The tacos are amazing, the service is quick, and the tacos are mouthwatering.
12. Zeppelin Station
Before heading back to the airport on the Light Rail, be sure to check out Zeppelin Station in RINO. One of Denver’s top food courts, you can find vendors serving innovative dishes, from Nashville Hot Chicken, to banh mi. There are also some merchants selling clothes, amongst other things giving you a last-minute chance to pick up a souvenir.
Not only is this a cool place to meet your friends for a meal, but on the weekends they throw parties with DJs and dancing.
My favorite eatery: The Budlong serving Nashville Hot Chicken
- Monday 7 am- 9pm
- Tuesday- Thursday 7 am – 11pm
- Friday 7 am – 2 am
- Saturday 9 am – 2 am
- Sunday 12 pm – 6 pm
How to get there: Get out at the new A-Line light station at 38th and Blake.
13. Avanti Food and Beverage
The use of shipping containers astounds me every time, especially when I see unique collective spaces formed by them. Steps from Downtown Denver, sits Avanti Food and Beverage, another collective of food vendors with a great outdoor space. This food-hall not only offers some of the best views of the city, but also some of the most unique food creations.
One location with a variety of chef inspired cuisine can suit an array of tastes. The food court concept in Denver is perfect for a weary traveler. Also, if you need nightly entertainment they offer comedy and trivia nights to enjoy Denver at night.
14. Pig Train Coffee Co.
Whether you just arrived to Union Station, or your heading out after your layover in Denver, coffee is a must. Pig Train Coffee will give you the pick me up you need for your adventure. Located right in Denver’s Union Station is arguably one of the best coffee shops in town.
Grab a book at the Tattered Cover, a coffee from Pig Train, and relax as you wait in luxury at Denver’s Union Station.