Mile High City – Denver | A Travel Diary
The United States is a vast country spread out across 50 states. With so many destinations to choose from, Denver—the capital city of the state of Colorado—might not be the most popular choice, especially for those traveling from Europe. But as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, the “Mile High City” offers plenty of outdoor activities. Its lively downtown area and culinary offerings won my foodie’s heart in a beat.
“Why Denver?” — our American friends would ask us when we told them that we would like to visit Colorado’s capital this year. And frankly, they had a point. Denver is certainly not on the typical German’s bucket list when traveling to the US, and even most Americans instead visit Colorado for its outdoor activities, particularly skiing in the Rocky Mountains, than visiting their capital. However, since we had a vague dream of seeing as many US states as possible this year, Denver was more of an easy bucket list tick with its short 2.5 hours of flight time away from the Bay Area.
How to get to Denver
Admittedly, Colorado’s capital doesn’t immediately pop into most of our heads when we think about a trip to the U.S. from Germany. However, with its three-hour flight, Denver is an excellent destination to visit over the weekend – or, in our case, over a long weekend. From the Bay Area, Southwest, United, and Frontier fly daily, non-stop, to Denver. By the way, we visited Colorado’s capital over Thanksgiving weekend, which turned out to be a very cost-efficient hack for those who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, as flights were relatively affordable while accommodations were actually pretty cheap. I guess city trips on a holiday weekend are not very common for the average American.
Mile High City
Denver is known as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains (a trip we a certainly eying for another time), but it’s also known for its exceptional restaurant and bar scene. To be precise, Denver is known for having a culture that is built around drinking. Some go so far as to call Denver the binge-drinking capital, with every restaurant having a liquor license, even the coffee shops, which surprised me. And that’s although the “Mile High City” is situated at a high altitude of 5,280 feet (one mile high), making alcohol pop all the more. That altitude can cause trouble for visitors and new residents to the city. It’s not uncommon for people unused to a higher elevation to develop altitude sickness. There are also fun effects that come with the altitude, such as the fact that golf balls fly up to 10 percent further in Denver.
It’s also said that people who live at altitude have a significantly longer life expectancy and fitness. However, short-term visitors must first acclimate to the plummeting air pressure (in which the body produces more red blood cells), which can take longer than the entire trip. Headaches, nausea, extreme fatigue, and shortness of breath are just a few symptoms that can be pretty common. I, for example, felt a headache throughout the weekend in Denver and was out of breath significantly faster. Conversely, I was exceptionally energized and full of beans back in San Francisco. Many athletes would also like to achieve a positive reversal effect with “altitude training”.
But enough facts for now. Next, I’ll share our travel itinerary with you and, mainly, where to eat, drink, and play in Denver.
We stayed at The Catbird Hotel. I liked the hotel, although I am unsure whether it would suit everyone’s needs, mainly because its location is a little remote. “RiNo” (short for River North”) is a gentrified area that is undoubtedly up-and-coming but doesn’t offer the same liveliness that the city center has just yet. For our 4-day trip, however, the hotel was just perfect, primarily due to one unique feature: A short-throw HD laser projector and blackout shades that let us stream Netflix, Cable, and others and watch comfortably from our lofted bed. Since the World Cup was airing during that time, we had fun watching soccer while hanging out in bed, drinking wine, and eating snacks. That also saved us some money that we would have otherwise spent out and about.
The hotel charged us $25/day and the person upon initial check-in, which was a bummer; however, these charges included one (!) complimentary, delicious breakfast per day and free beverages during happy hour.
Other accommodations on my list included:
The Crawford Hotel – Residing within the historic transportation hub, Denver Union Station, the Crawford Hotel is as central as it gets. And the terminal bar in the hotel lobby is worth a visit.
The Ramble Hotel – 50 rooms, purposefully furnished and vintage-inspired, and above all, home to an offshoot of the infamous Death & Co. Bar.
Life House, Lower Highlands – New boutique hotel concept that pays tribute to the history of its locations with each location. This is also the case in Denver, where the Life House, unlike a classic hotel, feels like a private residence. Basically, you’ll feel like staying with wealthy friends.
Restaurants & Bars
Let’s move to my favorite activity while traveling: Eating. Those who know me know only too well by now that I usually eat and drink my way more or less through the city—especially on city trips. I love trying local cuisines and discovering beautifully designed coffee shops and bars. Unfortunately, there’s only so much food and drinks (especially alcoholic) one can have over the span of one weekend. Hence, I didn’t manage to try all the restaurants and bars I had bookmarked before. I will still share them with you, though, as they just wait for my next visit. And if you’re in Denver and try one of my tips, feel free to let me know what you think!
Coffee shops & BAKERIES
Let’s start with the first meal of the day. Breaking the fast is––unfortunately––very different in the US from what we are used from Germany. American people seem to either don’t eat breakfast at all (or just get something quick and easy on their way to work) or attend extensive brunches on weekends that usually start fairly late and include consuming booze.
That’s why Daniel and I had to adapt when we moved here and usually go with the “eating on the way” flow for breakfast when we are traveling and have a very late lunch later to manage eating out costs. Sometimes, we’ll have an American brunch though, and just have snacks at night, but that’s less often the case. Since I need my coffee in the morning, we mostly go for the first route, it’s just more convenient and means more joints, restaurants, and shops to try too.
What I quickly realized in Denver is that pretty much every coffee shop also serves alcoholic beverages, which seemed kind of random to me. But as I said earlier, almost every shop has a liquor license, and since Denver is known for its drinking culture, it makes sense, I guess. Fairly, that made exploring the F&B culture even more accessible, as I could kill two birds with one stone and try out way more than in other cities. It also means that I’ll name some coffee shops or bars twice in my list below since they serve both, coffee and drinks.
Heart – Super cute local coffee roasters with stylish chinaware made by a local potter and excellent homemade pastries.
Queens Eleven – A coffee joint slash bar that serves incredibly-good-looking Espresso Martinis. I will have to come back here next time.
Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen – Modern deli serving NY-style bagels, sandwiches, and smoked fish – the perfect stop for a quick yet filling breakfast in the morning.
Queensberry Coffee – Pastries and coffee look incredibly delicious.
Nowhere Coffee – A wandering coffee shop (in an air stream!).
Since fine dining in the U.S. can lead you to spend a lot of money, we usually limit ourselves to one dine-in meal per day. It can sometimes get tricky when you’re on your feet all day and especially when it’s cold outside. For that kind of city-trips, we make sure to make plenty of stops in coffee shops/bars (as described above), which Denver was predestined for, with all of their shops having a liquor license.
During our weekend in Denver, we ended up dining in only twice (well, thrice if you count brunch!), on our first evening (which was Thanksgiving Day), and on our last evening (which was a Sunday).
Here’s where we ate:
narrative. – I was hooked by their branding (gotta love me some lowercase letters and dots in brand names) and their photos. We attended their Thanksgiving Dinner, which was nice and yummy, but, truthfully, it seemed way too expensive for what we got. Since the narrative. is located in The Jacquard Hotel, I’m still convinced it is a great option for those staying in the upscale Cherry Creek neighborhood. I wouldn’t come back just for the food, though.
Olive & Finch – We had brunch here, including a homemade Bloody Mary, and their Farmhouse Scramble was excellent.
Il Posto – Chic and sophisticated Italian restaurant with a chic interior, homemade pasta, and an extensive wine selection.
These are the restaurants that I would love to visit next time:
Humboldt Kitchen + Bar – We originally had plans to spend Thanksgiving Day here, however, their dinner was booked out far in advance which speaks for their exclusivity and quality.
Leven Deli Co. – European sandwich shop with authentic sourdough bread sandwiches and Mediterranean wines. I found it to be super pricey, hence we skipped it this time, but their interior looked very welcoming that I would like to come back here once.
Brutø – We stumbled across this open-kitchen concept that offers the rare opportunity to witness each and every step in the culinary process while interacting with other guests and chefs alike. The food looks delightful, and it seems that Brutø is one of those restaurants worth a trip. I’m just waiting for them to be added to the Michelin guide.
Tavernetta – Upscale Italian Restaurant close to Union Station.
The Greenwich – New-American restaurant bringing a big enough-to-share, family-style menu to Denver’s RiNo neighborhood.
As I said earlier, I noticed an extraordinary number of coffee shops that also served cocktails – and vice versa. Which was convenient for someone who likes to try out different bars, as I could basically hop from one location to the next and alternative in between coffee and drinks without spending too much money (hello happy hour!), or getting buzzed.
These are the bars we tried:
Hello Darling – Has just opened its doors and has the cutest interior. I really liked hanging out here and tried not only one, but two drinks plus coffee here. 100% recommendation, for various occasions, whether it’s working from a bar, or meeting the girls on the weekend.
Death & Co – One of the best and most famous bars in the U.S., with rather high prices. We’ve been to the offshoot in New York, but I particularly liked the decor at The Ramble Hotel in Denver.
Deviation Destilling – Just Wow. In the middle of the passage of the Dairy Block there is a bar that specializes in home-brewed / distilled whiskey and gin and invites you to sit around the campfire. I had the homemade Negroni Reserve, where even the vermouth was home-brewed—and was it good!
We didn’t try the following bars ourselves, but they are on my list:
Similar to Seattle, there are a couple of market halls in Denver, where you can not only get all kinds of fresh food, but also try directly at large community tables. A visit to the famous Dairy Block is a must during a visit to Denver anyway. But we liked the Central Market almost better and we were here almost every day, at least to take something on the hand.
You see—my list is quite long, and I could have included one or two more bars. But if that meets with your interest, then I just write a separate blog post about it, or post a reel on Instagram.
All in all, I thought Denver was really cool and was especially excited about the restaurant and bar scene. We still have a few other cities on our list, but if someone invites me to Denver—I definitely wouldn’t say no!
Besides the many bars and restaurants, which are probably enough for several visits, Denver serves, above all, as an ideal starting point for a trip to the nearby Rocky Mountains. Besides that, the offer of classic sights in Denver is rather manageable. In a bar, we talked to locals and asked for special destinations and places. From them, we got the following tips:
Red Rocks Amphitheater
In the middle of the beautiful Colorado countryside and only a 25-minute drive west of Denver lies the Red Rocks Amphitheatre – a sandstone stadium built into the famous red rocks (Red Rocks near Morrison) and seating 9525 people. The gigantic amphitheater, with its very special, natural acoustics, is used again and again for film shoots, award ceremonies, and exhibitions of famous artists.
Larimer Square is the oldest part of Denver. Victorian-era buildings now house many of the city’s best restaurants, bars and boutiques.
Colorado State Capitol
Reminiscent of the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, and perched high atop Denver, the Colorado State Capitol Building is not only a meeting place for the Colorado General Assembly, but also a beautiful archaeological wonder with its 24 karat gold dome.
Civic Center Park
Denver Civic Center Park was established more than 100 years ago as the civic heart of the City of Denver. The Colorado State Capitol is located on the civic green space. Arched walkways through the park allow you to stroll among the gardens and marvel at the surrounding architecture, including the Denver City and County Building, the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Central Library. During our visit, a German Christlindlmarkt was taking place. Of course, we didn’t want to miss the visit. However, the Civic Center in actually all American cities is also always a bit sketchy: Especially in the darkness it romped by homeless people and druggies.
Denver Art Museum (DAM)
The Denver Art Museum, one of the largest museums between Chicago and California, features a wide range of art in its 70,000-piece collection. From Native American art to cutting-edge contemporary pieces, interactive exhibits to works that spark deep cultural reflection, DAM (as the locals call it) is a destination for art lovers of all ages.