Travel Destinations

Monday, August 31, 2015

Denver Without a Car: Things to Do in Downtown Denver

Bronco Buster Civic Center Park Things to do in Downtown Denver
Bronco Buster statue in Civic Center Park.
America’s cities are not always the easiest to navigate without a car.  They’re spread out and the public transportation isn’t always that great.    But we only had a weekend for our trip to Denver and it felt unnecessary to have a rental car for such a short trip.  We decided to see what kind of Denver weekend getaway we could put together that didn’t require a car.  We were excited to find there are a number of fun things to do in downtown Denver which meant we could have a full weekend visiting Denver’s attractions without needing our own four wheels.

Downtown Denver Attractions

Molly Brown House Museum

Molly Brown House Museum Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Molly Brown House Museum.
Have you heard of the Unsinkable Molly Brown?  Because of my great love and knowledge of history, by which I mean the fact that I’ve seen the movie Titanic, I had heard of the Unsinkable Molly Brown.  She is one of the survivors of the sinking of the Titanic.  What I didn’t know was that she lived in Denver, Colorado.  The house in which she lived most of her life is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and is now a museum.

Molly Brown House Museum Library Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Molly Brown House library.
Margaret Brown was born Margaret Tobin in Missouri in 1867.  Her family was poor and she dropped out of school in eighth grade to work in a tobacco factory.  She decided being poor wasn’t the life for her, so she went to Leadville, Colorado, where her brother lived, to make her fortune.  In Leadville, she met J.J. Brown and married him, foiling her own plan to marry rich.  However, at the time of the silver crash of 1893, J.J. engineered tunnels that stabilized the mine for which he worked, enabling them to go lower and find ores of gold and copper.  All of a sudden the Browns were rich, so they moved to Denver and began to travel.

Blackamoor Statue Molly Brown House Museum Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Molly Brown House parlor and blackamoor statue.
The Browns bought their Denver home in 1894, which had been built in 1889.  Sadly, their marriage did not last and they separated in 1909 and Margaret Brown remained in the home.  In 1910 pictures were taken of every room in the house except for the kitchen, so the house has been preserved back to how it looked in 1910.  There are a number of items original to the house and the Brown family, including a blackamoor statue from Italy in the parlor.

Molly Brown House Museum Sun Room Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Molly Brown's sun room.
In 1912, Margaret Brown was traveling in Europe with her daughter when she received news that her son’s baby was ill.  She found that the Titanic was the first ship back to the States and booked her passage.  When the ship struck the iceberg and began to sink, she had the wherewithal to grab her mink stole and all of her pairs of stockings, knowing it was going to be cold, plus $500 and an Egyptian statue she had with her for luck.  She ended up giving her mink and stockings to other women in her lifeboat who were freezing.  They rowed and rowed and rowed, not so much to get to land as they were in the middle of nowhere, but rather to stay warm.  When they were rescued, Margaret Brown did everything she could to help the newly widowed women get medical care and obtain help from their embassies.  She went on to establish the Survivor’s Committee and later used her fame to make a difference in issues like labor rights, women’s rights, and more.  It wasn’t until after her death that she became known as the Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Molly Brown Bedroom Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Molly Brown's bedroom.
Visitors can join a guided tour of the Molly Brown House Museum and learn more about this fascinating woman and visit the home in which she lived.  The first and second floor of the house are included in the tour.  The tour passes through Margaret Brown’s favorite room, the sun room, looks out on the balcony where she practiced her yodeling, and peeks into the family rooms including the bedrooms of Margaret Brown and her husband J.J.

Visit the Molly Brown House Museum’s website for opening hours and tour times.  Note photographs are not allowed inside the museum.  The museum generously allowed us to take photographs for this article.

Byers-Evans House Museum

Byers-Evans House Museum Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Byers-Evans House Museum.
The Byers-Evans House was the residence of two important Denver families.  The home was built in 1883 by William and Elizabeth Byers.  They came from Omaha, Nebraska and William Byers started the Rocky Mountain News.  The Byers lived in the house for six years.

Byers-Evans House Music Room Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Byers-Evans House music room.
The next family to live in the house was the Evans family, and the house was inhabited by an Evans family member for 92 years.  William and Cornelia Evans purchased the home from the Byers.  William Evans was the oldest son of the second territorial governor of Colorado, John Evans.  The Evans family was instrumental in the promotion of culture in Denver.  They are responsible for the Denver Art Museum, Denver Public Library, and the Civic Center. 

Byers-Evans House Enclosed Patio Room Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Byers-Evans House enclosed patio room.
Margaret Byers, the daughter of William and Elizabeth Byers, lived in the house until she passed away in 1981 at the age of 92.  The house opened as a museum in 1990.  The house has been restored to two time periods, 1912 and 1924.  1912 was when the last renovation took place and 1924 was the year William Byers passed away.  

Josephine Byers Leather Carvings Byers-Evans House Museum Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Leather carvings by Josephine Byers.
Much of the furniture and furnishings are original to the house as well as family items like Josephine Byers’ leather carvings and prize-winning weaving.  It was rather eerie to view a family portrait on the wall and turn around to see a number of the items in the portrait still in the room, like the chairs and globes.  This house museum can also only be visited with a guided tour which tours most of the rooms in the house and provides a lot more information about this family and their importance to Denver’s history.

Visit the Byers-Evans House Museum’s website for opening hours and tour times.

Denver Art Museum (DAM)

Denver Art Museum Civic Center Cultural Complex Things to Do in Downtown Denver
The Denver Art Museum in the Civic Center Cultural Center.
To be honest, unless city art museums are exhibiting art of that city or country, we don’t always set aside time to visit them.  However, the Denver Art Museum is an important art museum and is the largest art museum between Chicago and California.  Plus, we were staying at the ART, a hotel, so we kind of had to give it a visit.

Denver Art Museum Furniture Exhibit Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Check out our stems furniture exhibit.
The Denver Art Museum contains art from all over the world including Asian art, Pre-Columbian art, African art, and European art.  There are also exhibits of architecture, design, and graphics.  The architecture of the museum is a work of art in itself.  The museum isn’t stuffy, they like to have fun.  For instance, flowers were the theme during our visit, so there were paintings with flowers as their subject, but also an exhibit on furniture was setup in a way to make the legs, or stems, the featured attraction, with a sign outside saying check out our stems.  Be sure to visit the restroom on the ground floor.  When you use the sink, the tap sings Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and each tap has a different voice.  Happily another woman in the restroom had my sense of humor and we made the taps sing a round.  (Denver’s not having a water shortage, right???)

For hours and current exhibit information, visit the Denver Art Museum’s website.

Civic Center Park

City and County Building Civic Center Park Things to Do in Downtown Denver
City and County Building in Civic Center Park.
Civic Center Park is one of Denver’s beautiful green spaces thanks to the Evans family.  On one end is the gold-domed State Capitol and at the other is the City and County Building, topped with an eagle commissioned by the wife of Mayor Robert Speer which was meant to be a memorial to him but turned out to be an insult as the creator wasn’t a fan and designed the eagle in a stance that is only taken by an eagle when it is relieving itself.  The park has 25,000 square feet of flower beds that bloom in the summer.

State Capitol Civic Center Park Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Denver State Capitol.
If yours is a Denver weekend trip, you won’t be able to include touring the State Capitol on your list of things to do in downtown Denver as it is only open during the week.  However, if your trip happens to continue through the week, you can join one of the guided tours

Historic LoDo Walking Tour

Larimer Square Historic LoDo Walking Tour Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Larimer Square.
Lower Downtown, or LoDo for short, is one of Denver’s oldest business districts.  LoDo has a sordid past, which visitors can learn all about on the adults-only Historic LoDo Walking Tour led by college professor Kevin Rucker on Saturdays. 

Denver became an important city in 1858 during the Colorado gold rush.  Over 100,000 people with sudden riches syndrome flooded into the area looking for gold.  When gold was found, provisions were needed, so two people were left to protect the area while everyone else went to get supplies.  William Larimer, Jr., who went by General Larimer, claim-jumped the land and named it Denver after the Kansas governor.

LoDo Neighborhood Historic LoDo Walking Tour Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Lower Downtown (LoDo).
During the walking tour you’ll learn about the architecture of Larimer Square, William Byers’ fight for law and order by calling out crime in editorials in the Rocky Mountain News, the somewhat corrupt Mayor Robert W. Speer who won his election with 5,000 votes from residents of the local cemetery but brought great beauty to Denver by commissioning its many parks (Denver has over 200 parks now), and Soapy Smith, a gangster who worked with a local barber to target wealthy travelers for pickpocketing.

EVOO Marketplace and Denver's First Brick Wall Historic LoDo Walking Tour Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Denver's first brick wall in EVOO Marketplace.
You’ll also learn of the seedier side of Denver with its brothels and opium dens.  Denver is where the West came to play, so there were over 11,000 prostitutes working along Holladay Street in the multitude of brothels.  The Holladay family was so horrified at having their name on such a street they petitioned to have it renamed, and it was changed to Market Street.  Further down the road, the citizens of what is now the RiNo neighborhood didn’t want their street named Market Street because of its terrible reputation, so their part of the street was renamed to Walnut Street.

Oxford Hotel Haunted Men's Bathroom Things to Do in Downtown Denver
I don't usually post pictures of urinals, but there might be a ghost using one of them!
The tour visits shops housed in historic buildings like EVOO Marketplace, Colorado’s first olive oil and vinegar tasting room which also happens to have Denver’s first brick wall, built in 1859.  We grabbed a beer and went into the basement of The Blake Street Vault, a Denver restaurant and bar housed in a building that was a boarding house and saloon in the 1860s.  Underneath the bar are tunnels that led to opium dens.  There’s also an old bank vault that is said to be haunted, like many of the other buildings in LoDo.  Another haunted stop on our tour was The Oxford Hotel, with room 320, dubbed the murder room because a woman killed her boyfriend and then herself and continues to haunt single men who stay in the room, and with a men’s bathroom in the basement with extra huge urinals and a cowboy ghost who paces in a duster jacket.

For reservations and tour information, contact Kevin Rucker at

Denver Brewery Tour

Ratio Beerworks Denver Microbrew Tours Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Beer tasting at Ratio Beerworks.
Denver is one of America’s beer cities, so you kind of have to try the beer.  The best way to get acquainted with Denver’s beer scene is to join a brewery tour.  Denver Microbrew Tour offers two tours.  Their original beer tour is the LoDo tour, which explores Colorado’s historic LoDo neighborhood, including the area around Coors Field. 

RiNo Art Alley Denver Microbrew Tour Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Art Alley in Denver's RiNo neighborhood.
Since we were already exploring LoDo with our walking tour, we opted for Denver Microbrew Tour’s newest tour, the Beer and Murals tour through the RiNo Art District.  RiNo, which stands for River North Art District, is just north-east of LoDo and is Denver’s up-and-coming neighborhood. 

RiNo is a neighborhood filled with creativity and art.  Between stops at Denver’s newer microbreweries we learned about Denver’s history, both old and new, and were introduced to RiNo’s murals and street art.  During our microbrewery tour we visited Ratio Beerworks, Stem Ciders, Epic Brewing, and Our Mutual Friend Brewing.

If a formal tour won't fit into your schedule, VISIT DENVER has put together a Denver Beer Trail guide and map (download here or pick up at the Tourist Information Center) of 20 beers to try from 20 different breweries located in an around downtown Denver.

To learn more about Denver Microbrew Tour’s Beer and Murals tour, read Denver Brewery Tour in the Fun and Funky RiNo District.

Downtown Denver Restaurants

Palettes Restaurant

Pork Belly Sopes Palettes Restaurant Downtown Denver Restaurants
Pork belly sopes.
Palettes Restaurant, opened in 1997, was one of the first chef-driven museum restaurants in the country.  When you only have a weekend to see a city, you don’t necessarily have the time to go out of your way to eat at one of the city’s great restaurants for lunch, so it’s nice when you can find a restaurant connected with a museum you’re visiting that also has a travel-worthy menu.

Palettes Restaurant Soft Egg Ravioli with Truffle Downtown Denver Restaurants
Soft egg ravioli with truffle.
Be sure to come hungry.  You can go the boring route and order a sandwich (Rome’s chosen route) or you can go fancy (my choice of course!) and order something like the pork belly sopes and the perfectly executed soft egg ravioli with truffle.

Denver Union Station

Denver Union Station Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Denver Union Station, Denver's living room.
Denver Union Station is Denver’s train station, but it is also a gathering point with restaurants and bars.  Denver Union Station was originally built in 1881 and recently went through a huge renovation. Dining options include Acme Burger & Brat Corporation, Fresh Exchange, The Kitchen Next Door Community Pub, Mercantile, Snooze, and Stoic and Genuine.  There are also a couple of bars, Terminal Bar and The Cooper Lounge.  Known as Denver’s living room, Union Station provides a central area where friends can gather and enjoy a beverage and each other’s company.

Avanti Food and Beverage

Avanti Food and Beverage Denver Restaurants
Avanti Food and Beverage.
Avanti F&B is Denver’s new hotspot.  Technically, it is just outside of downtown Denver, but only by a little bit, and what its location provides is a beautiful view of downtown Denver.  Avanti F&B can be easily reached by Denver B-cycle, as there is a large station on the property, or by public bus, as there is a bus station right out front.

Downtown Denver Skyline from Avanti Food and Beverage Denver Restaurants
The view of downtown Denver from Avanti F&B.
Avanti F&B is inspired by two food concepts, the food truck and European markets.  In a building created with modified shipping containers, these two concepts have been combined to create a modern-day food hall.  There are seven food options: Brava! Pizzeria Della Strada, BIXO mexiterranean bites, Poco Torteria, Quiero Arepas, Souk Shawarma, Farmer Girl, and MiJo. 

Farmer Girl Avanti Food and Beverage Denver Restaurants
Meatballs and beet salad from Farmer Girl.
How it works is you walk around the food hall and figure out what you want to eat.  Order from one of the seven vendors, pay, then take your notification device with you to one of the communal tables.  While you’re waiting for your food to be ready, one of the waiters will come by to take your drink order.  Avanti F&B has two full-service bars.  There are places to eat both upstairs and downstairs.  No matter where you choose to enjoy your meal, be sure to head upstairs at some point to take in the view of downtown Denver.

Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria

We stumbled upon Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria on accident.  We were briskly walking to our brewery tour meeting spot and were in desperate need of a bite to eat before embarking on a beer-tasting afternoon.  We literally dropped into Marco’s, ordered the first pizza we saw on the menu, and grabbed the box and ate pizza while we continued speed-walking to our tour.  While we were only looking for sustenance, what we found was a fine pizza.  Little did we know they were recently named Pizza Today’s 2015 Independent Pizzeria of the Year.  Sadly we were in such a hurry we didn’t take a picture, but the crust was perfectly thin and crisp, straight out of the red-hot pizza oven, and topped with melted buffalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh basil, and swirl of EVOO.

Downtown Denver Hotel

Welcome Gallery the ART, a hotel Downtown Denver
The ART's Welcome Gallery.
For our downtown Denver weekend getaway, we stayed at downtown Denver’s newest luxury hotel, the ART, a hotel.  The ART hotel is located in the Golden Triangle Museum District and gets its inspiration from its neighbor, the Denver Art Museum.  The hotel is filled with contemporary art, including the Portico Gallery where you enter, the Welcome Gallery where you check in, FIRE Lounge & Terrace, and the guest rooms.  There’s even video art in the elevators.  The art in the hotel is curated by Dianne Vanderlip, who curated the Denver Art Museum.

Mountain View Suite the ART, a hotel Downtown Denver
View from the Mountain View Suite.
Because of a flight delay, we didn’t check into the ART until almost 2:00 in the morning.  We were tired and ready to sleep, but even in our weary state we couldn’t help but gawk at the views our Mountain View Suite provided when we walked in the door.  Our suite had an oversized living room with corner windows looking out over the Denver Art Museum and the Rocky Mountains beyond, though we didn’t see those until the morning. 

the ART, a hotel room Downtown Denver
Mountain View Suite bedroom.
The colorful, almost Olympic, bedroom also had a view of bustling Broadway.  The goose down duvet and pillows lulled us to sleep immediately and I slept so soundly I woke up with a start in the morning with that “where am I” question, something that I don’t think has ever happened to me before. 

Bathroom and Bathrobe the ART, a hotel Downtown Denver
The ART hotel's comfy bathrobe.
The bathroom was another thing of beauty with a large glass-enclosed shower, a funkily shaped deep bathtub, and double vanities with oodles of counter space.  The best thing in the bathroom was the super-sumptuous robe.  A hotel bathrobe has always been the epitome of hotel luxury to me, but I’ve honestly been a little disappointed with some of the robes I’ve seen lately.  This soft, furry on the inside, smooth on the outside, thick, comfy robe brought out a desire of wanting to stuff it in my travel duffel with the hope that nobody noticed.  I promise I didn’t, but I sure was sad to leave that robe behind.

FIRE Lounge the ART, a hotel Downtown Denver
FIRE Lounge.
The ART has a restaurant, FIRE, a bar, FIRE Lounge, and an outdoor bar, FIRE Terrace.  We didn’t get to eat at the restaurant during our short stay, but we did have a chance to taste the delightful alcoholic beverages being concocted at the bar.  They are using weird and wonderful ingredients and creating some very good cocktails.

Portico Gallery and Hotel Car the ART, a hotel Downtown Denver
The ART hotel's car waiting outside the Portico Gallery.
The ART is within easy walking distance of downtown Denver’s attractions.  It is just a couple blocks away from the Free MallRide shuttle bus and is serviced by at least three different bus stops.  There are a number of Denver B-cycle stations nearby as well.  The ART also has a complimentary car available on a first-come-first-served basis which will take guests anywhere within a one-mile radius of the hotel.

Getting Around Downtown Denver without a Car

Denver’s downtown attractions are pretty close together and easy to get to on foot.  But sometimes your feet are tired, you’re in a hurry, you don’t feel like walking anymore, or you’ve got your nice not-so-much-walking shoes on.  Denver offers a number of transportation options for the traveler with a long list of things to do in downtown Denver.

Free MallRide Things to Do in Downtown Denver
Catch a ride on Denver's Free MallRide.
One of the most convenient ways to get back and forth across downtown Denver is RTD’s Free 16th Street MallRide.  This shuttle bus continuously travels between the RTD Civic Center Bus Station at 16th and Broadway and Union Station and stops at every block along the way.  Shuttles run every few minutes, depending on the time of day, so you never have to wait very long.  And it’s free!

Denver B-cycle Things to Do in Denver
Denver B-cycle station.
Another great way to get around downtown is to grab a bike from one of Denver’s many B-cycle stations.  Denver B-cycles are geared for short one-way trips of 30 minutes or less.  A 24-hour pass costs $9 (check their website for current pricing) and you can take unlimited 30-minute-or-less trips all day from 5:00 a.m. to midnight.  We downloaded the B-cycle app, which allowed us to find the nearest stations and see how many bikes and how many open spots were available.  Bikes are three-speed and have adjustable seats, baskets, locks, bells, and lights.  Denver has bike paths that circumnavigate downtown.  We were able to travel between our hotel and the RiNo neighborhood by following the Cherry Creek and South Platte River bike paths.

I’m not going to lie, Denver’s public transit system is not glamorous.  The public bus system is your standard American public bus system with everything that comes with it, including the local drunks in the wee hours of the morning.  But it’s cheap and convenient.  It’s easy to plan and time your bus trip using the Google Maps app.  Denver also has a few Light Rail lines that will take you out of downtown to some of the outlying neighborhoods of Denver. 

RTD is in the process of building a few more Light Rail lines, including one that connects the airport to downtown Denver.  While the airport Light Rail isn’t available yet, if you want to skip the expensive taxi fare, RTD does offer SkyRide buses from the airport.  Even though our flight arrived super late, we were very lucky to be able to catch the final SkyRide bus which took us into downtown Denver.  The SkyRide conveniently met up with a bus that took us right to our hotel.

Blacklane Car Service Denver Transportation
Blacklane car service ready to take us to the airport in the wee hours of the morning.
If public transportation isn’t your thing, there are of course taxis and Uber.  If you want to go a little more high-class, you can hire a car service to get around Denver in style.  We were in Denver for a family wedding on Sunday night and were flying home at the crack of dawn Monday morning so we could both go straight to work from the airport.  There was no way we were going to get up early enough to use the SkyRide, so we booked a car service through Blacklane, a company that works with car services in cities all over the world.  Be sure to book a week or more ahead to ensure they’re able to secure a ride. 

If you’re planning a weekend trip to Denver and don’t plan on leaving the city, forget about the rental car and explore the attractions downtown Denver has to offer.  There are plenty of things to do in downtown Denver to fill an entire weekend.

Thank you to Visit Denver, the ART, a hotel, Historic LoDo Walking Tour, Denver Microbrew Tour, Blacklane, and RTD for hosting our trip to Denver and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.  This post also contains some affiliate links.  If you book through them, it costs you nothing extra but helps fund our travels.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.