When it comes to Colorado travel, luxury destinations like Aspen, Telluride and Vail often eclipse Denver. But the capital city touts its own Rocky Mountain charm, with more than 300 days of sunshine and a picturesque location with 200 snowcapped peaks piercing the sky in the background.
Denver’s appeal goes beyond its beauty. Delve deeper into the Mile High City and you’ll find a burgeoning food scene and amazing beer almost everywhere you turn (including a spa; more on that below). Must-see spots have cropped up and more are on the way to make this a hot destination.
Here are five reasons why our Forbes Travel Guide editors think you should plan your next trip to the city.
A Hot New Hub
The new Union Station debuted in July 2014 as one of the trendiest spots for restaurants, bars, shops and a hotel. While this operational train station has been open since 1881, it underwent a massive transformation as part of an effort to revitalize the declining area.
It will become even more of a can’t-miss spot in the energetic LoDo (Lower Downtown) district when a new 22.8-mile commuter rail between the station and Denver International Airport starts service on April 22. The 30-minute ride into the city will remedy the city’s lack of public transportation options from the airport to its downtown core and the station will act as a hub for all travelers.
The big draw is the Terminal Bar and its Great Hall, an airy lounge that sits in the heart of the space. Queue up to the windows of the historic ticketing office to order a craft beer from the bar’s hefty 30-draught collection that focuses on pours from Colorado breweries and microbreweries. A nice perk is that one liquor license covers the station, so you can take your time finishing off your Crazy Mountain brew, say, while shopping in indie bookstore Tattered Cover.
Our favorite spot is The Cooper Lounge, a small space that oozes 1930s glamour. Clusters of cream tufted chairs, glass tables and gold globe lights are reminiscent of upscale train cars. Cocktails like the Coloradier (Breckenridge bourbon and bitters, sweet vermouth and an orange twist) arrive in unique glassware on small silver trays. Perched on the mezzanine, the lounge affords views of the action in the Great Hall along with downtown vistas through the arched 28-foot-high cast-iron windows.
A weekly farmers market will start up at the station in June. Run by the Boulder County Farmers Markets, the growers-only event will set up every Saturday and offer vendors like Rocky Mountain Fresh and Blair Biscotti.
The Fantastic Food
You don’t have to stray from Union Station for great food. At the bright, popular Mercantile Dining & Provisions, chef Alex Seidel keeps his menu seasonal (sourcing from his own farm) and turns out upscale comfort food.
We gravitated to the pastas, especially enjoying the bold spice in the caramelized gnocchi with braised lamb Bolognese, sheep skyr (a tangy Icelandic yogurt) and mint gremolata, as well as the tender poached Maine lobster in the housemade spaghetti with pancetta. A satisfying end to the comforting meal is the thick, creamy milk chocolate pot de crème with salted cardamom caramel, chocolate sable and a dollop of vanilla Chantilly. (Another dessert option: Head to the onsite Milkbox for a scoop of horchata or salted Oreo ice cream, or one of its boozy milkshakes.)
Top Chef Masters alum and established Denver chef Jennifer Jasinski (she clinched Denver’s first James Beard Award win for Best Chef: Southwest in 2013) brought Stoic and Genuine to Union Station. The seafood house offers a wide-ranging menu, including “he crab soup,” a play on Charleston’s famous rich dish that uses king crab (hence the “he”); a New England lobster roll that weighs almost a half a pound; a flight of caviar; an ever-changing list of oysters; and a paella teeming with salmon, mussels, shrimp, squid and housemade sausage.
For a traditional Colorado steak, go to nearby Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Edge Restaurant & Bar in Four Seasons Hotel Denver. The chic steakhouse serves local meat, including filet mignon grilled over pecan wood, elk tenderloin and lamb chops.
A Revamped Hotel, Gym and Spa
After a facelift in February 2015, The Ritz-Carlton, Denver unveiled dark blue and ivory rooms that feel like home, with hardwood foyers, luxe Frette linens, oversized marble tubs and calming vibes. The accommodations are the largest in the city.
The Club Lounge also saw a refresh. The sleek 12th-floor lounge now boasts a private dining room and will make you want an upgrade.
Next up was Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Denver, which recently completed its renovations. The hotel previously granted guests access to the adjacent Tru Fit, a gym chain, but to make working out more convenient, it decided to add a brand-new 2,229-square-foot fitness center on the spa level (don’t worry if you still want to make use of Tru’s facility; entry remains free for guests). Now you can run on state-of-the-art treadmills and elliptical machines with built-in televisions, or work the strength-training equipment 24 hours a day.
Another addition is the new salon, whose large windows invite natural light into the textured-walled space. You can relax in an aquamarine wingback chair for a manicure, but the spa is known for its menu of beer treatments. Try the Mile High Malt Scrub and Microbrew Massage, which uses brews from the nearby Great Divide Brewing Co. and includes exfoliation, a Vichy shower session, a skin-nourishing beer mask, hair treatment and scalp massage.
The Best Beer
Denver is a strong contender for one of the best beer cities in the country. It boasts more than 50 breweries in the city and more than 100 in the metro area. There are about seven breweries within a half-mile of The Ritz-Carlton, Denver — Great Divide (whose suds are used in the beer spa treatment above) is only two blocks away. Also check out Prost (go at sunset to see the skyline from its Bavarian-style biergarten) and Wynkoop Brewing Co. (the city’s first craft brewery is still going strong).
In 2015, 16 new breweries opened in Denver, including Spangalang Brewery, named after the popular jazz beat because of its location in Five Points, the city’s original jazz neighborhood, and Fiction Beer Company, a literature-themed brewery with a bar made out of books and beers like Feely Effects, a green tea chocolate milk stout inspired by Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. Great Divide opened a second location in RiNo (River North) that features more taps than the original location as well as a barrel room. And Blue Moon plans to open a brewery and restaurant in that hip area later this year.
If you need help navigating the many options, tour the 20-brewery Denver Beer Trail to try a mix well-known veterans (Wynkoop, Coors) and new stops. Or visit in September to attend the Great American Beer Festival, where you can sample 3,000 beers from 600 U.S. breweries. It coincides with the Denver Beer Fest, which will flood the city with beer events, including tastings, firkin tappings, beer bike nights, midnight beer breakfasts, beer-paired dinners, brewery tours, brewer competitions and more.
The Trendy Marketplaces
What Union Station did for LoDo, officials are hoping the Stanley Marketplace will do for Aurora, a suburb that’s 10 miles east of Denver, when it opens in the late summer. The city can’t seem to get enough of these food halls, with The Source in RiNo and Avanti F and B in LoHi (Lower Highlands) already among the offerings.
The new mixed-use market will take over the 22-acre indoor/outdoor space that was Stanley Aviation headquarters. Stanley Market will be home to acclaimed local chef Kevin Taylor’s Stanley Beer Hall, a restaurant and beer garden; Maria Empanada, which will specialize in the Argentine meat pockets; Denver Biscuit Company, a local favorite for breakfast and brunch; and GoodBird Kitchen, a fried chicken spot from The Post Brewing Co. The Big Wonderful, a warm-weather outdoor marketplace of food trucks, beer, music, games and urban gardens, also will relocate from Denver to Stanley.