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48 Hours in Denver: What to Do

Written by Sandy Bornstein

Thousands flocked to Denver in the 19th century in search of gold or for a Tuberculosis cure. Nowadays some travelers still seek the vestiges of the Old West while others visit Denver for its cultural and historical attractions, shopping, recreational activities, and nightlife. With only 48 hours to spare, one can easily become breathless in the Mile High City. While it’s impossible to see all of the “must see” sites within 48 hours, we’re recommending these places as a starting point.


Denver Botanic Gardens
Put on your walking shoes and sunglasses to tackle this 24-acre garden located between Cheesman and Congress parks. Nestled within this acreage are 45 distinct gardens with rare and endangered plants from around the world.

Cherry Creek North Shopping District
As lunchtime rolls around, find your way to Cherry Creek North. This area is well known for its art galleries, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. Try True Food Kitchen for a healthy menu. Blue Island Oyster Bar offers fresh fish options. Idakaya Den will not disappoint sushi mavens.

Downtown Denver
To get from Union Station to the Civic Center ride the free MallRide on 16thStreet. It stops at every block. Peek inside Union Station, a historic landmark filled with shops and restaurants. Walk to the Colorado State Capitol building. If you’ve made advanced reservations for the free U.S. Mint tour, you’ll be a few blocks away.

Nightlife Abounds at Larimer Square
In the evening, visit Larimer Square’s bars and restaurants. Topping the list is Rioja, a James Beard award-winning restaurant. For fish, consider Ocean Prime Denver. If you’re in the mood for Mexican food, don’t miss Tamayo. Carnivores will salivate at The Capital Grill.

Leave time for a few laughs at Comedy Works. Before the night is over, grab a beer from one of Colorado’s famous microbreweries.


Mount Evans Road and Scenic Byway (60 miles west of Denver)
Adventure seekers can drive to one of Colorado’s 54 peaks over 14,000 feet. Keep in mind that this journey will be on the highest paved road in North America. It doesn’t have any guardrails and you’ll be spending time at a high altitude. This road is usually open from the end of May through the beginning of October.

Idaho Springs
Before getting on I-70 Eastbound, take a break for lunch in Idaho Springs. Colorado style pizza is available at Beau Jo’s. An American menu with beer options can be found at nearby Tommyknocker Brewery & Pub.

Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave on Lookout Mountain
Since the museum’s opening in 1921, it has connected visitors to the Old West. At this popular stop, you’ll learn about William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s life and western American life. On a clear day, aim your camera toward Denver and the horizon.

Golden Gate State Park (Alternative to Mount Evans Byway)
This well-maintained state park is located outside Golden, about 30 miles from Denver. The park has 35 miles of trails rated easy to difficult and has a great photo opportunity at the Panoramic Scenic Overlook. This year-round park gives out-of-town visitors a taste of the mountains without having to travel far.

Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre
A concert at Red Rocks should be high on your list. Red Rocks boasts “the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world.” This location is also the home to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame (free attraction) and is a frequent destination for hikers, bikers and those interested in taking a guided tour.

If you don’t eat at the small Red Rock’s Ship Rock Grille, stop at a restaurant in downtown Golden. The town offers a multitude of dining options.

If you’ve visited Denver recently, what was your favorite place? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author

Sandy Bornstein

Sandy Bornstein lived as an expat in India. Her award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, highlights what she learned as the only American teacher at an international Bangalore school. After living abroad, Sandy continues to explore the world and write about her travels. You can follow Sandy's adventures at

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1 Comment

  • I love that there are so many things to do in Denver, everyone that I know that visits loves the city. Great list of places to start with checking out if you have a limited time – thanks for sharing!