How to Spend 48 Hours in Denver: A Tourist’s Guide

Downtown Denver

I was thrilled when a recent conference took me to Denver, though I knew that with a busy schedule I’d have to do my best to fit a lot into a short amount of time. Here’s my guide to the mile high city if you only have 2-3 days.

Mural Hunting

Before I began researching things to do in Denver, I had no idea how many murals the city boasts. Though I didn’t have much time, I made it my mission to spot as many as I could within a two mile radius. Not surprisingly, I had the most luck in Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe. In addition to spotting a number of murals in that area, I got to peek inside some galleries, antique shops, and an adorable second-hand art supply store. I also read that they have First Friday Art Walks, during which a shuttle is available and the galleries stay open late.

Love this City MuralMural in Denver's Art District on Santa FeMural in DenverMural in Denver's Art District on Santa Fe

However, the most iconic mural is at the intersection of Broadway & Arapahoe. This one is not to be missed!

Iconic Denver Mural

 

“I See What You Mean”

This stop is quick but essential for any goofy tourist. “I See What You Mean,” or informally, the blue bear, is a piece of art peering into the Colorado Convention Center. Take a couple quick photos and look at how cute he is; it will be well worth your 5 minutes.

 

Giant Blue Bear at the Denver Convention Center

The Denver Mint

A tour of the Denver Mint is free, if you can follow the instructions on their website carefully enough! Here’s the gist. The Mint is open Monday through Thursday, with six available tours, and you can only get same-day tickets. The ticket window opens at 7:00am and there is typically a line. When I visited, I was busy with a conference and only the 8:00am tour fit with my schedule. I got there at about 6:40, stood in line with about 30 other people, watched the sun rise, and got the time slot I wanted. If your travel plans are more flexible, you’re probably safe arriving within the first couple hours they’re open. After that, you risk having to come back another day or not getting to see the mint. Lastly, make sure to bring your ticket and ID, but no purses or bags are allowed in the mint.

So why wait in line at 6:40am to see the mint, you ask? Because it’s one of only two mints in the U.S. that you can actually tour and see money being made (the other being Philadelphia). My standout memory was seeing pennies being pressed, then watching as a few employees inspected the batch with magnifying glasses for quality control. Placards in the museum portion stated that if any mistake is found, the entire batch must be destroyed.

For those with kiddos, my tour included lots of kids who all looked to be having a great time. They were especially excited to get “free samples” of a penny before and after having been pressed.

The Denver MintSunrise across from the Denver Mint

The Colorado State Capitol

I’ve been in a handful of capitols and this one stands out as a favorite. You can explore on your own, or take a free tour that includes a trip up to the otherwise inaccessible dome and observation deck. You can see the ornately decorated senate and house chambers (including a rubber band ball they work on when they get bored), hear about important women in Colorado’s history (yes, there is an emphasis on women’s history), and maybe even get to chat with a local representative. Tours can fill up, so if you have a particular time in mind, plan on arriving about 30 minutes in advance.

Dome at the Colorado State CapitolSenate Chamber at the Colorado State Capitol

Observation Deck at the Colorado State Capitol
Observation Deck at the Colorado State Capitol

16th Street Mall

The 16th Street Mall is a mile-long shopping and dining area in the heart of Denver. I stayed in the Sheraton Downtown Denver on 16th Street, so I had plenty of opportunities to roam around this area. What I found most impressive is that they have a free shuttle, MallRide, that goes up and down the street all day and has stops on almost every block. Though I preferred to walk much of the time, this came in clutch when I ventured to Union Station one evening for shopping and vegan ice cream, or when I made a trip to one of my new favorite bookstores, Tattered Cover. Looking for a good place to grab lunch? I stumbled upon the food cart, Liang’s Thai Food, which was amazing. I didn’t know when I got in line that the owner cooks each order individually, taking about 10-15 minutes per person in line. However, the hipsters behind me in line said I wouldn’t be disappointed after my 45-60 minute wait, and they were right. Go a little before lunchtime to beat the noon rush.

Tattered Cover Bookstore

Vegan Ice Cream at the Milkbox Creamery in Denver's Union Station
Vegan Ice Cream at the Milkbox Creamery in Denver’s Union Station

Union Station in Denver

16th Street Mall in Denver
16th Street Mall in Denver

Liang's Thai Food in Denver, Colorado

Curry Tofu at Liang's
Curry Tofu at Liang’s

Red Rocks

I was fortunate enough to get a great group rate for a tour of Red Rocks, including a shuttle to and from the venue (about 30 minutes each way), a trip backstage, and some low-key hiking. The tour was a half day and felt sufficient for seeing the venue, but I easily could have spent the other half of the day hiking. I loved taking photos of the rock formations and vibrant colors, as well as seeing the part rock, part living room spaces where artists hang out backstage.  My favorite unexpected part was maneuvering through a narrow walkway on which many musicians have signed their names over the years.

Red Rocksimg_3050img_3042img_3094

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

Red Rocks ZZ Top SignatureRed Rocks Portugal the Man SignatureRed Rocks John Mellencamp Signature

City O’ City

I have to throw a vegan restaurant on this list for good measure! City O City has a young vibe that fits somewhere between hippie and hipster. Their menu is eclectic and the food and drinks were great. I had the Chipotle Quinoa Bowl, but would go back in a heartbeat for breakfast (think kimchi pancakes, tempeh bacon hash, or “chicken” and waffles).

City O' City Vegan Restaurant in Denver

City O' City Vegan Restaurant in Denver
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