Denver was founded in 1858 and it is now the 19th most populous city in the United States and one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. Many landmarks around the city attest to this rapid growth and you can see many of them while you're out exploring Denver on foot.
If you’re interested in history, Lower Downtown (LoDo) is where Denver began. In 1858, General William Larimer staked out a claim with cottonwood logs that would eventually become Larimer Square. He named this new town in the Old West “Denver” after Governor James W. Denver. Today, Larimer Square features historic 19th-century properties that are the oldest in the city.
LoDo is easy to get around and perfect for a walking tour - in fact, it's one of our favorite stops on our Denver Walking Tours and one of the top things to do in Denver. You just need a good pair of walking shoes. In the historic district, you’ll find many repurposed, turn-of-the-century warehouses, now containing restaurants, rooftop cafés, sports bars, and 90 craft breweries. Check out the Wynkoop Brewing Company, Denver’s oldest craft brewery that has been in business over 3 decades and now offers bar food and a billiards hall on the 2nd floor.
Another historic building worth a visit is the Molly Brown House Museum. Margaret Brown was a famous philanthropist and socialite who survived the sinking of the Titanic. Her 1880s mansion has been restored to exactly how it looked in 1910 using period photographs.
Downtown Denver also features the Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park. Within Elitch Gardens, you can brave adrenaline-pumping looping roller coasters or take your kids to enjoy the kiddie pool in the water park, where there are waterslides, tubes, and wave pools.
#2. The Colorado State Capitol
Although situated in Downtown, this breathtaking building deserves its own place in this list of Denver’s landmarks. Perhaps the most fascinating fact about this historic structure is that it was opened in 1894, only 36 years after Larimer staked out the first streets of his Wild West town. Can you believe how rapidly our Mile High City grew?
The Colorado State Capitol was intentionally designed to resemble the United States Capitol in D.C. but uses Colorado white granite and gold leaf on its dome to commemorate the gold rush. The building stands exactly one mile above sea level, giving rise to Denver’s nickname The Mile High City. You can ascend to the rotunda for a panoramic view of the snowcapped Rocky Mountains and 45-minute tours are offered for free, making this one of the top things to do inside in Denver.
#3. The Denver Mint
Do you want to make lots of money? Then get a job at the Denver Mint on the corner of West Colfax and Delaware Street, just west of the Colorado State Capitol. The Denver Mint is the world’s single biggest coin producer!
The Denver Mint has minted coins on this site since 1906. Daily, over 50 million coins are produced, each marked “D” for Denver. If you want to learn how to make lots of money, join one of the free guided tours. You can follow the process from dull metal slugs all the way to shiny coins. This makes for a great afternoon and one of the top things to do in Denver in the winter or on rainy days, since you'll be inside.
#4. Denver Botanic Gardens
To the east of the Colorado State Capitol, you will find Cheesman Park and Denver Botanic Gardens. The gardens contain the biggest collection of temperate plants in North America, with 33,000 plants spread across 23 acres and 45 gardens.
The Botanic Gardens is renowned for its Japanese Garden, called the Garden of Wind and Pines (Shofu-en. Other popular gardens inside include the Mordecai Children’s Garden and the Rock Alpine Garden. The Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory is America’s biggest and contains cloud forest orchids and banyan trees. This is one of our favorite places to recommend for those visitors looking for our top things to do outdoors in Denver.
#5. The Big Blue Bear
Denver is the proud home of an amazing piece of art entitled I See What You Mean. This amazing monumental sculpture was created by the late Lawrence Argent, a Colorado artist, and stands outside the Colorado Convention Center. The sculpture is in the form of a 40-feet-tall, blue bear standing upright and peering into the convention center through its windows.
The bear has remained curious since 2005 and is now one of Denver’s most iconic attractions. The artist was inspired by the meetings held in the convention center and the curiosity he felt every time he passed the building. He chose a giant bear because it is reminiscent of the scale of the surrounding Rockies and the wildlife living there. The bear is blue due to an accident with the printer, when his first design came out blue and he liked how it looked! Whatever the reason, it makes for one of our most Instagrammable photo sights in Denver.
#6. Buffalo Bill’s Grave
While in Denver, you should check out the Rockies. Just 19 miles west of the city center, you’ll find Lookout Mountain, the site of Buffalo Bill’s grave. William Cody said he wanted to be buried here, so his grave and a museum now stand high atop Lookout Mountain. The site overlooks the Great Plains to the east and the Rockies to the west. Take along a high-quality camera, both to capture the scenery and the wildlife you encounter.
In 1948, Buffalo Bill’s grave was at the center of a controversy when the town of Cody he founded offered a reward for his body so he could be buried there. A guard had to be mounted over the grave on Lookout Mountain to prevent body snatchers from stealing away his corpse to collect the cash.
#7. The Colorado Railroad Museum
Not far from Buffalo Bill’s grave, in the town of Golden, you’ll find the Colorado Railroad Museum. The museum features an 1880s-style railroad depot, 100-year-old tracks, and a collection of notable steam locomotives. These locomotives include the 1881 Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad No. 346 and the 1890 Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad No. 683.
The museum is in a beautiful location beside Clear Creek between South and North Table Mountains. Main exhibits include 100 pieces of rolling stock, a working roundhouse, railroad artifacts, a huge collection of historic photographs, model railroads, and train rides on Saturdays.
Want to see and experience some of these sights on foot with a local? Join one of our Denver Walking tour experiences, for an up-close, in-person opportunity to make some great memories and see the top sights in Denver!