Denver is nicknamed Mile High City due to the fact it is exactly one mile above sea level (I mean, how convenient is that?) making it one of the highest cities in the United States. The city comes with a seriously stunning backdrop of Rocky Mountains to the west of it and High Plains to its east, sitting in the South Platte River Valley. Denver’s population of approximately 650,000, as of 2014, has plenty of opportunities to ski, climb and enjoy many other outdoor pursuits. And for those of a more reflective disposition, there are lots of museums and other activities to choose from. Let’s have a look at all the many options on offer.
1. Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum
What an interesting museum for all aircraft fans and their families! This fascinating venue, situated in a circa 1930’s former Air Force hangar, houses 150,000 sq ft of a truly awesome collection of more than four dozen aircraft and space vehicles, including such rarities as a B-18A Bolo, an RF-84K Thunderflash Parasite, an Alexander Eaglerock built in Colorado and a Star Wars X-Wing fighter! Nicest of all, kids are more than welcome to try out the various apparatus which in the end can turn out to be very educational. The museum guides are extremely knowledgeable, and there is a great gift shop to visit at the end.
2. Molly Brown House Museum
Molly (or Margaret as she was christened) was the brave socialite and activist who found fame when she survived the 1912 sinking of the legendary RMS Titanic and then urged the crew of Lifeboat No. 6 to go back to the capsize are to look for any survivors. The Molly Brown Museum was built in dedication to her, and welcomes over 50,000 visitors every year. On site museum programs include a guided tours of her 1889 home in which you can find out all about her, her life and the influence she had before and after that historic event. There is also a fabulous gift shop full of interesting items.
3. Denver Climbing Company
Learning to climb (or developing your technique, if it comes to that!) would be a great day out for all the family. The Denver Climbing Company Outdoor Climbing School provides rock climbing instruction and guiding and, best of all, is carried out by extremely professional guides who ensure the whole family have a fun and safe time. The company caters for beginners, kids and experienced climbers alike, with routes set up appropriate for everyone’s skill level while at the same time allowing for a progression in challenges. Your experience of climbing in the Colorado Rockies will be something joyous for the family to remember for many years to come!
4. Coors Field
Baseball fans will certainly enjoy a visit to the 76 acre Coors Field! This family friendly ball park has been a league leader in attendance with those in the know sitting in the first-base and right-field areas because they know they’re going to be treated to a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains, plus there are plenty of tasty amenities to keep the kids happy all day! There are also tours of the grounds available both on and off season, offering a fascinating behind the scenes look at the ballpark. The tours last about an hour and a half, covering a distance of one mile, and are accessible for visitors with disabilities.
5. Denver Botanic Gardens
These are gorgeous gardens in which to have a family stroll, whatever season you are visiting the city. The gardens have worked hard on their conservation programs in protecting natural habitats and saving species and as you walk through the area you will be able to see and enjoy the ongoing results. Whatever time of year, this lovely area with its tropical biosphere and Japanese garden complete with pool and lily pads plus lots more, makes for a perfect outing. Bring a picnic, or enjoy a meal at one of the two high quality restaurants!
6. American Museum of Western Art
For all those interested in the area, a visit to this gallery which focuses on depicting life in the west from the early 1800s through the present day will not disappoint! The museum’s mission is to promote the appreciation and understanding through its art exhibits by displaying the history, character and beauty of this amazing location, the American West! The resident Anschutz Collection offer guided and self-guided tours of the museum and also provides more than 200 pieces, including Bierstadt, Maynard Dixon, Remington, Russell, Thomas Moran and many more. Kids under the age of 8 are not permitted due to the critical art content, and kids between the age of 8 and 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
7. Sports Authority Field at Mile High
The Mile High Stadium has always been popular and are well known, being host to the Broncos – and even more so now that they have reached Super Bowl winning status again! In fact, not only did the Broncos win consecutive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, but they established all-time pro football records for most wins in two seasons (33), most playoff wins in two seasons (seven), and most wins ever in three seasons (46, from 1996-98), and all of this accomplished while playing at the Mile High Stadium. (You can wonder if there might be something in the air, perhaps!) Attending a Broncos game, enjoying the huge replay screens which certainly take you close to the action, is a great experience for all the family!
8. Sports Authority Field at Mile High Tour
Carrying on in the same vein, why not take advantage while you’re here and join a public “behind the scenes” glimpse into some the inner workings of one of the most state-of-the-art stadiums in North America! The stadium tours are informative, educational and enjoyable for both sports fans and non-fans alike, with each tour taking 75 – 90 minutes over a distance of ½ mile, and conducted by knowledgeable and friendly tour guides from the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. The tour includes stops at the Executive Suites, the NFL Visiting Team Locker Room Facilities, Thunder Stall, Keg Room, Team Field Entrance Tunnel, and loads more besides! Facilities for strollers and wheelchairs are available but you have to bring your own.
9. Mount Evans
Are you and your family in the need of some significant fresh air? You won’t get air more significant than the air you’ll breathe at the top of Mount Evans! With an elevation of 14,271 ft and Colorado’s 12th highest peak, the amazing views and fresh air will certainly knock any remaining cobwebs off you! The peak dominates the western skyline of the Great Plains along with Pikes Peak, Longs Peak, and nearby Mount Bierstadt. There are a few options available when planning your drive; and though Pikes Peak is a good though rather concentrated drive, the Mt Evans route is easier with less traffic to contend with. The road has some strange bumps in it as you pass through the different climate zones, but is paved all the way up. If you’d rather hike, it takes about 3-4 hours from the lake up to the peak. And if you’re visiting during the spring you’ll see the amazing array of flowers, with any remaining snow at the top, where the observatory is. You’ll probably also see some mountain goats!
10. Larimer Square
Enjoy a walk in one of Denver’s most historic areas, Larimer Square. Its history extends back to the 19th century when Colorado was all about gold and the famous gold strikes that put this beautiful State firmly on the map! The square was once home to a lot of ‘firsts’; first bank, first dry goods store, first bookstore, first theater, and also the site of the city’s first post office! Some of the old buildings remain but the new ones are just as nice, and home to some great restaurants and shops selling unusual and unique gifts. It’s worth taking the family to see the stores’ decorations too.
11. Denver Public Library
I’m always happy to recommend decent libraries; to me, there’s nothing more pleasurable than losing myself in an hour or three of literary entertainment! You’ll feel the same when you visit this tremendous library, consisting of over 2 million items which include books, movies, DVD’s, reference materials and even photographs! It’s a real treat for those in the family interested in Western history and genealogy too, as there are so many informative avenues to explore. And let’s not forget the little ones; with many children’s story time activities and an excellent and well designed kiddies area, everyone will be happy.
12. Colorado State Capitol
This is such a beautiful building and worth a brief stop while you’re here in Denver. Constructed in the 1890s from Colorado white granite, the building officially opened in 1894. You will be amazed at the care that went into its decorations too, the structure’s gold dome consisting of real gold leaf, commemorating the Colorado Gold Rush! The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Place, becoming part of the Denver Civic Center National Historic Landmark District in 2012. Take a tour and climb the narrow staircase up into the dome itself; you will be amazed at the spectacular views you’ll see!
13. Downtown Aquarium
This is a really fun venue for all the family! With an aquarium that features more than a million gallons of water and housing over 500 species, an interactive Stingray Reef touch tank, Dive Lounge, Aquarium Restaurant, Nautilus Ballroom and much more, there is plenty to keep busy with! The aquarium is very well designed, and a fantastic way for young and old to learn about sea life and have fun together at the same time. The kids in particular will love seeing the live mermaid show and the flash flood exhibit (stand back or you will get soaked!) The Aquarium Restaurant is also worth a visit, offering good food at reasonable prices.
14. Children’s Museum of Denver
This wonderful museum has come a long way since its days of inception in a converted school bus in 1973! Originally targeting ages newborn through eight years, it has turned into a ‘must visit’ venue for all, with the museum offering lots of hands on, unique and engaging interactive opportunities which include wood working, grocery marketing station, rocket launching, nature climbing & caves, and lots more.
The museum now welcomes over 350,000 visitors per year! It is particularly wonderful for the youngest members of the family with a separate safe area for them to run, roam and explore, complete with snack bar.
15. United States Mint
The Denver Mint branch struck its first coins in 1906, imagine that! Built in 1897, the mint is still operating and producing coins for circulation, together with commemorative coins. The highly educational and interesting tours available are something to be enjoyed by all the family, so try and make time for a visit! You’ll be able to watch the coins being made and learn a lot about the minting process from the informative and interesting guides. There is also a great gift shop on site where you can pick up lots of unique memorabilia. It’s a good idea to book in advance if possible as the tours fill up fast!
16. Forney Transportation Museum
This museum is a real car lover’s dream! The Forney Museum is simply one of a kind, with a collection of more than 600 artifacts that relate to historical transportation. Built 60 years ago with a single 1921 Kissel it expanded rapidly and now includes not only vehicles, but also motorcycles, aircraft, carriages, steam locomotives, rail equipment, public transportation, fire apparatus, bicycles, toys & diecast models, vintage apparel and much more – phew! The collection includes Amelia Earhart’s 1923 Kissel ‘Gold Bug’, Forney Locomotive, Colorado & Southern Caboose, 1923 Hispano-Suiza, 1913-53 Indian Motorcycle Collection, 500 Piece Matchbox Collection, Stutz Fire Engine and lots lots more. There’s even an old Model T you can sit in! The volunteer staffers are helpful and informative. Be prepared to spend a good few hours here!
17. Adams Mystery Playhouse
This is Colorado’s first and only mystery dinner theatre and fun for all members of the family, being appropriate for every age. You will enjoy the actors’ special brand of comedy, while they keep everything politically correct! Once you’ve enjoyed a delicious, plentiful buffet dinner with the character actors mingling amongst the tables, a murder occurs to which you are the witness! After a search for clues and a stop for refreshments, the performance then continues with songs, impressions and other fun surprises, then back to the case in hand. At the end, souvenir prizes are handed out to the team who solved the crime!
18. Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World
This is not your usual outdoor world shop and I wouldn’t normally add it to my ‘things to see’ list! However, the kids in the family won’t want to miss the fish feeding event that takes place in the store’s 21,000 gallon super aquarium! There are more than 15 various fish species involved, including an 82 lb blue catfish plus other trophy fish! It is of course worth a visit to buy some of the best hunting and fishing gear on offer too! Bass Pro is regarded as part museum, part art gallery, part education, conservation and part entertainment center, with a great restaurant attached. The location is very kid friendly with super friendly and helpful staff.
19. Denver Museum of Nature & Science
This fascinating museum, a super venue for all the family, comes with an even more fascinating story! Beginning its life in 1868, the naturalist and pioneer Edwin Carter, who had devoted his life to his true love – birds and mammals of the Rocky Mountains – had deciding to assemble what turned out to be one of the most inclusive collections of Colorado fauna, and started displaying his treasures from his log cabin home, dubbed the Carter Museum. This later expanded into the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. There are lots of interest exhibits to see, including the striking wildlife exhibit halls and a hands on space exhibit. The museum also has many travelling exhibits, including the Robot Exhibit, where kids actually get to build their own robot using robotic cubes, each of which serving a different function!
20. Rocky Mountain Hot Air
Another chance to reach for the skies, and this time, even higher than before! The company specializes in hot air balloon trips for all ages (in fact when I called to check, Ken the owner told me that one of his recent customers had been a 100 year old lady!) so every age from 5 and up are welcome and safely looked after. You will enjoy gliding high above the fields and streams of the area while enjoying a fabulous view of the mountains, ascending about 1,500 – 1,800 ft. so not too intense! After the flight you will receive a cute certificate of ascent, pin, and bottle of champagne upon landing!
21. Hammond’s Candy Factory
What could be more fun than a tour with a sweet ending – literally! Hammond’s complimentary candy factory tours are educational and fun for candy lovers of all ages. The factory has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world who have seen how the well know handcrafted candy canes, lollipops and ribbon candy are pulled, twisted, and shaped by hand the way it used to be in 1920!
Within the tour you’ll also learn quite a bit all about Colorado history, learn a little bit of science and hear some tidbits about nostalgic candy. There’s plenty of opportunity to chat with the clever folk who make these delicious offerings and, best of all, receive your free samples at the end! Strollers, wheelchairs and walkers are easily accommodated.
22. Union Station
Even if you’re not planning on using Union Station for any transportation purposes, Union Station is still worth a visit of its own! This beautiful building first opened in 1881 and has since undergone major renovations, now including a hotel, lively restaurants, interesting stores and a train hall. Walk through this lovingly restored gem where you can admire the stunning architecture from days gone by, and stop for an ice cream, meal or some shopping. You can also play some free shuffleboard while you’re about it –the kids will love the experience.
23. Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Tour
If you have time and the kids are busy elsewhere, why not treat yourselves to a tour of Stranahan’s? Over time, the company was able to develop a recipe for what they name as ‘the smoothest, most flavorful whiskey in the world, using the purity of their mountain surroundings to their advantage’ (or, as they put it, to your advantage!). Lasting about an hour and a half, you’ll learn all about the history of how Stranahan’s whiskey was founded with guides providing lots of information all about process of making, distilling, and aging whiskey, finishing with a tasting. The tour is free and well worth a visit!
24. B’s Ballpark Museum
For all the baseball fans of the family, a visit to this museum will definitely be something to remember! The Ballpark Museum’s collection is actually recognized by Smithsonian Books as being one of the top 21 finest private baseball collections in the world! It all started when its owner, Bruce Hellerstein, decided to display his amazing collection of ballpark memorabilia from the basement of his house and the rest, as they say, is history. His meticulously acquired artifacts, bricks, postcards, jerseys, books and pictures just grew and grew, and now welcomes visitors who have come to see his amazing collectables which include anything and everything from the “NY” drainage cover that Mickey Mantle tripped over in the 1951 World Series that permanently injured his leg, to an Old Yankee Stadium turnstile, that has etched on its side “Property of the New York Yankees”! The helpful staffers will be happy to give one of their insightful tours.
25. Unser Karting
If your kids like a bit of racing the go kart way, Unser Karting is the place to take them! The venue offers arrive and drive racing, kids karting and kart training classes for everyone. And if you’re also a new or inexperienced driver (young or old!) Unser Karting offers the opportunity to gain confidence and push your limits in a comfortable and safe environment. The company is fully equipped with everything you need including a new driver training session and safety gear. The highly trained and friendly track crew will make sure you’re completely comfortable! There is also food and drink to enjoy at the Trackside Tavern that also has great track views.