What to Do on a Layover in Denver

Photo of Stephanie Harper
10 September 2017

Layovers in Denver can be tricky, given that that the uniquely designed Denver International Airport which is actually 25 miles from downtown. However, recent public transportation developments have made it possible to make it to the city on longer layovers and the airport itself has a lot to offer travelers waiting out a shorter layover time.

If you have 3 hours…

If you have a few hours to spare at DIA, be sure to walk around and take in the amazing art and design of the airport itself. DIA was named “Best U.S. Airport for Art” in USA Today’s “10 Best Reader’s Choice” travel contest in 2013. Some favorites include the Children of the World Dream of Peace mural in the Jeppesen Main Terminal and the interior garden at the center core of the C Gates.

Many travelers stop for a quick drink at one of the many bars where Colorado beers are prominently featured. Try the Boulder Beer Tap House in the Jeppesen Terminal or Rock Bottom Brewery and Restaurant at Terminal C. If you need a coffee, be sure to stop at one of the many Caribou Coffee and Tea shops throughout the airport.

<Peace mural @Devon Hollahan/Flickr>

If you have 5 hours…

While five hours might be plenty of time to get out and explore the city in some better situated airports, it’s safest to stay put on your layover at DIA. By the time you get to the city, it’ll just be time to turn around and come back to make sure you make your flight, and you don’t want to risk cutting it too close. But there are plenty of interesting features at the airport that a shorter layover doesn’t allow the opportunity to explore.

Browse the great selection of shops on Concourses A and B including See’s Candies, Brookstone, Swarovski and Denver’s own Tattered Cover independent bookstore. Or enjoy some fine Mile High dining at Denver ChopHouse on concourse A, Crú Food and Wine Bar on concourse B, Timberline Steaks & Grille on concourse C, or the award-winning Root Down, also located on concourse C.

See’s Candies @Janine/Flickr

If you have 7 hours…

A longer layover will give you the opportunity to travel to downtown Denver. The A-Line RTD train will take you directly from DIA to Union Station and takes just over 30 minutes. A single day pass costs $9. Once at Union Station, enjoy the stunning architecture of the renovated 1914 Beaux-Arts train station while you visit 10 chef-owned restaurants and bars, such as Mercantile Dining and Provision or Stoic & Genuine for the freshest seafood in Denver. There are also several boutiques worth perusing.

You’ll also find plenty to do clustered in the surrounding area. Hop on the free MallRide shuttle and take it up to 16th Street Mall, a mile-long pedestrian mall with shops, restaurants, and cafés. You can take the mall up to Civic Center and the Colorado State Capitol area. Or head north over several bridges, including the incredible Millennium Bridge, visit the idyllic Commons Park and wander into the LoHi neighborhood, where you can grab a beer at Denver Beer Co or an ice cream at Little Man Ice Cream, shaped like a giant milk can.

Union Station @Amy Aletheia Cahill/Flickr

If you have 12 hours…

Take advantage of your long layover to explore some of Denver’s best cultural institutions. Once you take the train into the city, any of these places can be reached easily on foot or by taxi. The Denver Art Museum (DAM) is in the city’s Golden Triangle and is walkable from Union Station, especially if you take advantage of the free MallRide shuttle up 16th Street Mall. The DAM features over 350,000 square feet of space, filled with artwork from around the world.

Take a ride over to City Park and enjoy the park’s many recreational amenities. You can also visit the Denver Museum of Nature and Science or the Denver Zoo. The Denver Museum features a wide array of exhibits where you can learn from a variety of exhibitions, programs, and activities about the natural history of Colorado, the planet, and the universe. The Denver Zoo is Colorado’s top cultural attraction and is open 365 days a year.

To get a taste of Denver’s more scenic offering, consider a ride out to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. About 40 miles from the airport, Red Rocks not only features two hiking trails and some of the most scenic views close to Denver, but you can also visit the amphitheatre itself, a natural marvel frequently voted one of the best music venues in the country.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre @Quan Ha/Flickr

For more ideas of how to spend your time in Denver, check out these Denver attractions.

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