Downtown Denver CO

11 Ridiculous Mistakes to Avoid Making in Denver, Colorado

Planning Denver weekend trips or a Denver bachelorette party perhaps? Whatever your reason for travel, these tips will help you make the most of your trip!

-A guest post-

Planning on traveling to Denver, Colorado’s capital city? Let me be the first to say: you’re in for a real treat! Denver is an amazing city full of arts, amazing food, outdoor recreation, local breweries and so much more.

However, planning a trip to a new city leaves a lot of unknowns. And I want to ensure you have the best trip possible, without making some avoidable mistakes. So take it from a long time resident, and keep these tips and tricks in mind when visiting Denver.


1. Not Knowing Where the Mountains Are

As a tourist visiting an unfamiliar city, the chance is relatively high that you may find yourself turned around at some point. Luckily when in Denver, we have a pretty hard-to-miss landmark that will help you out of it.

And that would be the majestic Rocky Mountains. They sit beautifully to the west of Denver. And as long as you can find them, you can figure out what direction you are going, or need to go.

And if you happen to get directions from a friendly stranger, there’s a good chance they may include turning “towards” or “away from” the mountains. They are our favorite directional beacon.

2. Under Preparing (or not at all) for High Altitude

Colorado mountains
Photo by Joshua Woroniecki

Denver is famously known as the “Mile High City,” and that is because our elevation is exactly one mile above sea level (5,280 feet). For those of us who live here, you grow accustomed to living at a higher elevation.

However, for visitors, altitude sickness can cause myriad issues. Things like fatigue, headache, bloody nose and more. Pretty much everything you don’t want to deal with during a vacation!

Therefore, it’s best to plan ahead to keep the altitude sickness at bay. Before leaving for Denver, increase your water intake, and keep it up while you’re here. Once here, avoid strenuous activity, give yourself time to ascend things like stairs, and monitor alcohol intake (if you can).

3. Not Experiencing Boozy Brunch

Brunch is big business in Denver. For reals. It is so beloved that the options are plentiful for amazing brunch spots. And that added competition means they’re always trying to one up each other with the best food, or the best bottomless mimosa deal.

And the atmosphere at brunch is unparalleled. Friends laughing and catching up, cheers-ing everyone you know, and yelling “wooooo” when you hear a bottle of champagne pop. It’s really quite fun!

As a tourist, you’re probably not getting up at the crack of dawn anyway! So be sure and work a brunch into your Denver itinerary by experiencing one of the best bottomless mimosas Denver has to offer.

Planning a Denver bachelorette party? Wondering where to stay in Denver? Check out this guide here for more of where to stay, eat and explore in Denver!

4. Neglecting to Explore Outside of Downtown

Listen, you could visit Denver and never leave downtown and still have a fantastic trip. There’s tons of amazing spots smack in the center of the city. However, it would certainly be more of a one-sided feel.

If you really want to dig into what Denver is about, you’ll want to explore neighborhoods outside of downtown proper. Where you can experience the local culture without the hustle and bustle of the city center. Neighborhoods like the Highlands, Wash Park, and Cherry Creek shouldn’t be overlooked when planning your Denver itinerary.

5. Thinking Getting to the Mountains is Easy

When looking west from Denver, it would appear the mountains are right there. They’re big and beautiful, and it gives the allure that they are closer than they truly are.

From Denver, getting anywhere into the mountains is at least a 30 minute drive. And that’s just getting into the very border of the mountains and the foothills. If you want to visit Colorado Rocky Mountain hot spots like Vail, Steamboat or Aspen, you’re looking at a more significant drive.

You also have to take into account the mountain traffic. It’s just like rush hour traffic in a city, except concentrated on two lane highways (one lane each direction) with a cliff drop off one one side and a rocky mountain on the other. Depending on the season, it can mean doubling the amount of time spent driving from point A to point B.

Now, don’t let that rule out visiting the mountains if it’s something you’re interested in doing. It’s worth it! But keep timing in mind when planning your itinerary.

6. Striking Out on Denver Sports

Coors Field Denver sports

Denver is a very sports-centric city. We have a professional team for pretty much every popular professional sport in the United States. Our stadiums see good butt-in-seat numbers during a game, and our sports bars are full of barstool referees.

Therefore, it is highly likely that one of our teams are in season no matter what time of year you visit Denver. Check out the calendars and see if you can catch a game while you’re here. The Colorado Rockies stadium is especially nice, as the outfield opens up to the west with our gorgeous mountains as the backdrop.

7. Missing Out on Drinks with a View

rooftop view Downtown Denver at sunset

Remember those majestic Rocky Mountains that I mentioned are positioned to the west of the city? They sure make for an amazing backdrop, especially with a drink in hand at sunset.

Which is why you simply cannot miss out on viewing the mountains from one of Denver’s many rooftop bars. It’s a beloved pastime for locals, so there are plenty of options to choose from. However, if you’re only here for a short time, you may as well focus on one of Denver’s best rooftop bars. You won’t be disappointed!

8. Thinking We’re All About Weed

Unless you’ve been living under a literal rock, you probably know that Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana a few years back. Being one of the first states to do so means Denver immediately saw a huge boom in the marijuana industry.

However, that certainly doesn’t define us in Denver. The initial pomp and circumstance of the legalization has worn off, and it’s pretty much back to business as usual around here.

If you want to partake, great. If you don’t, great. Just don’t come to Denver expecting some Pineapple Express weed mecca or something, as you would be unfortunately disappointed.

9. Not Eating at Denver’s Most Iconic Restaurants

It’s easy as a tourist to stick with what is familiar in a new city. Maybe eating at more big, national chain restaurants than local hot spots. But don’t do it! Break that cycle and branch out.

When visiting Denver, you absolutely have to dine in the most iconic restaurants the city has to offer. The spots that people know Denver for, and put us on the culinary map.

There is a long list of options, which can certainly be narrowed down through your own trip planning research. However, you can’t go wrong with Sam’s No 3 (Denver’ most loved diner), The Buckhorn Exchange (Denver’s first restaurant), Elway’s (owned by John Elway himself), or Linger (Denver hot spot).

10. Not Budgeting for Ground Transportation Costs

Geographically speaking, Denver is a very spread out city. Driving from the north metro area to the south metro area can easily take 45+ minutes without traffic.

And while we have a public transportation system in place, it really isn’t the greatest. There aren’t that many stops along the Light Rail routes, so it’s likely you will still have to figure out getting yourself from the stop to your final destination.

Therefore, if you want to explore outside of downtown Denver (which you should), it’s likely you will either need to rent a car, or take a significant amount of ride share services. Be sure to account for this in your overall budgeting for your trip.

11. Spending Too Much Time on the 16th Street Mall

16th street mall

The 16th street mall is a very popular area in downtown Denver. It’s basically a one-mile pedestrian mall with tons of shops, restaurants, and shopping areas along the way. There are also free mall ride buses that run up and down each direction of the mall for those who can’t (or don’t wish to) walk it.

As a tourist, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing the 16th street mall and then never really leaving it. Settling for what you know with all the Hard Rock Cafe and Chili’s you can handle. But this would be a huge mistake.

Certainly check the mall out…it’s worth a visit. But then venture on away. There’s so much more to Denver than this one stretch.

Author Bio: Kara is the one-woman team behind Happening in Denver, a travel blog. After fleeing small-town life in Wyoming, Kara has called Denver, CO home for the last 12+ years. When she isn’t living that travel life, she can be found petting every dog that will let her, and laughing (loudly) at any opportunity.

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