Not so long ago, Denver was known as a “cow town” where Stetsons, cowboy shirts and conservative Western sensibilities were the norm. Far from being considered liberal or progressive, the city was famous for John Denver’s folk-rock song Rocky Mountain High and the local delicacy, Rocky Mountain Oysters (bull testicles).
forward to today and Colorado’s capital has almost entirely shed that image. The
Mile High City (at 5,280ft, it is exactly one mile above sea level) is open-minded
and cultured, with amazing outdoor spaces and a brace of stylish, arty
neighbourhoods where you can eat, shop and play. Luckily, there are several
ways to experience Denver’s funky, indie buzz, while still paying homage to its
Culture that differs by neighbourhoods
new Denver is multifaceted and varies by neighbourhood. Happening
LoDo (Lower Downtown) is the heart of city nightlife, home to bars and eateries
including the best tapas this side of Madrid.
The Golden Triangle has some of the city’s most outstanding museums, and Uptown,
Denver’s “hippest hood”, has some of the city’s best
restaurants. The Art District on Santa Fe Drive is the place to
browse galleries, while “SoBo” (South Broadway) offers an eclectic, bohemian
mix of antiques, avant-garde clothing, second-hand books and a vibrant
late-night music scene.
An energetic arts scene
brilliant museums like the Denver Art Museum and the
challenging Museum of Contemporary
Art, Denver is known for its “art walks” where Santa Fe and SoBo
galleries open their doors for free on the first Friday of each month. The huge Denver
Center for the Performing Arts hosts performances of opera, ballet,
theatre and more. Jazz is big in city nightspots, and there are free concerts
in city parks during the summer.
A mecca for outdoor enthusiasts
hundred days of sun a year, this is a city where it is cool to keep fit. Winters
here are cold and crisp, with enough snowfall to be
decorative. Summers are dry and sun-soaked. It is a perfect climate to
get outdoors and into the Rockies -- under an hour’s drive away -- for winter skiing and
the city, people run and rollerblade in the summer, cross-country ski in the winter
and take to the miles of city bike paths year-round. Perhaps the most
incredible sporting facility is at Confluence
Park where kayakers play in the rapids of Cherry Creek and the South
Platte River, right in the heart of the city.
Denver also has every kind of free public
park: walking parks, skate parks, bike parks, dog parks, lake parks, grassy
parks. There is something for everyone, from the playgrounds at Cheesman Park
to the waterskiing at Sloan’s Lake to the tranquil natural landscapes of Bear
An increasingly diverse population
industries have brought thousands of interstaters and internationals to Denver,
which has built a highly-educated, outward-looking populace that celebrates
immigrant cultures. You can get your news from local newspapers published in
Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Russian; and you are just as likely to eat
Ethiopian (or Brazilian, Greek, Thai, Moroccan or Nepalese) here as you are
those notorious bulls testicles.
An environmentally aware city
the US’ largest alternative-fuel public transport fleet and has some radical
plans to become even more environmentally friendly – such as planting
one million trees by 2025. For visitors this means the pleasure of strolling
down pedestrianized streets like the 16th St Mall, or hopping on a
bike from the city’s bike sharing operation to
cruise along leafy avenues.
Funky places to stay
Many of the
city’s old, classic hotels have had contemporary makeovers, and the vibe here
is smart sophistication. Try the Oxford in LoDo where you
can sample Denver’s best seafood at McCormick’s
Fish House, or the excellent Brown Palace Hotel.
Coming here for the arts? Then stay at Hotel Teatro,
artily decorated with photos of productions at Denver’s performing arts
Denver’s Western roots
their new-found cool, Denverites are not afraid to remain (just a touch) pearl-buttoned Western.
They proudly celebrate their annual National Western Stock Show with
rodeos, long horns and a cattle drive through the city. And if you ask any
Denverite for the city’s must-try restaurant, they may well name the Buckhorn Exchange, where
you can eat elk, buffalo or Rocky Mountain Oysters while taxidermed creatures watch
you from the walls.
The article 'Denver’s cowboy culture gets cool' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.