Written by: Jennifer Kester
When it comes to Colorado travel, luxury destinations like Aspen, Telluride and Vail often eclipse Denver. But the capital city touts its own Rocky Mountain charm, with more than 300 days of sunshine and a picturesque location with 200 snowcapped peaks piercing the sky in the background.
Denver’s appeal goes beyond its beauty. Delve deeper into the Mile High City and you’ll find a burgeoning food scene and amazing beer almost everywhere you turn (including a spa; more on that below). Must-see spots have cropped up and more are on the way to make this a hot destination.
Here are five reasons why our Forbes Travel Guide editors think you should plan your next trip to the city.
A Hot New Hub
The new Union Station debuted in July 2014 as one of the trendiest spots for restaurants, bars, shops and a hotel. While this operational train station has been open since 1881, it underwent a massive transformation as part of an effort to revitalize the declining area.
It will become even more of a can’t-miss spot in the energetic LoDo (Lower Downtown) district when a new 22.8-mile commuter rail between the station and Denver International Airport starts service on April 22. The 30-minute ride into the city will remedy the city’s lack of public transportation options from the airport to its downtown core and the station will act as a hub for all travelers.
The big draw is the Terminal Bar and its Great Hall, an airy lounge that sits in the heart of the space. Queue up to the windows of the historic ticketing office to order a craft beer from the bar’s hefty 30-draught Cole.Evansction that focuses on pours from Colorado breweries and microbreweries. A nice perk is that one liquor license covers the station, so you can take your time finishing off your Crazy Mountain brew, say, while shopping in indie bookstore Tattered Cover.
Our favorite spot is The Cooper Lounge, a small space that oozes 1930s glamour. Clusters of cream tufted chairs, glass tables and gold globe lights are reminiscent of upscale train cars. Cocktails like the Coloradier (Breckenridge bourbon and bitters, sweet vermouth and an orange twist) arrive in unique glassware on small silver trays. Perched on the mezzanine, the lounge affords views of the action in the Great Hall along with downtown vistas through the arched 28-foot-high cast-iron windows.
A weekly farmers market will start up at the station in June. Run by the Boulder County Farmers Markets, the growers-only event will set up every Saturday and offer vendors like Rocky Mountain Fresh and Blair Biscotti.
The Fantastic Food You don’t have to stray from Union Station for great food. At the bright, popular Mercantile Dining & Provisions, chef Alex Seidel keeps his menu seasonal (sourcing from his own farm) and turns out upscale comfort food.
We gravitated to the pastas, especially enjoying the bold spice in the caramelized gnocchi with braised lamb Bolognese, sheep skyr (a tangy Icelandic yogurt) and mint gremolata, as well as the tender poached Maine lobster in the housemade spaghetti with pancetta. A satisfying end to the comforting meal is the thick, creamy milk chocolate pot de crème with salted cardamom caramel, chocolate sable and a dollop of vanilla Chantilly. (Another dessert option: Head to the onsite Milkbox for a scoop of horchata or salted Oreo ice cream, or one of its boozy milkshakes.)
Top Chef Masters alum and established Denver chef Jennifer Jasinski (she clinched Denver’s first James Beard Award win for Best Chef: Southwest in 2013) brought Stoic and Genuine to Union Station. The seafood house offers a wide-ranging menu, including “he crab soup,” a play on Charleston’s famous rich dish that uses king crab (hence the “he”); a New England lobster roll that weighs almost a half a pound; a flight of caviar; an ever-changing list of oysters; and a paella teeming with salmon, mussels, shrimp, squid and housemade sausage.
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