What´s more fun to explore beautiful Denver on a hot summer day than by bike? My thinking, so I packed my inflight supervisor and grabbed one of these convenient rental roadsters which are great for everyone who likes to discover places while being a little active on the side. And the great thing about these what I call “community bikes” is that you can pick them up and leave again at any of the countless docking stations around Denver at your convenience. It is only up to you to not getting lost.
I always thought I was a great map reader. I mean, until today I managed to always find my way around the world when being by myself, wherever I was in a car or hiking the mountains. But as soon as Christine and I had lifted off for our Denver sightseeing bike tour that beautiful Saturday morning in July, I simply could not manage to bring us towards the next docking station without taking the wrong turn twice.
What an embarrassment, lol. But how convenient to have Christine with me who is a deep-sea diving junky and who has visited the most astonishing diving locations around the planet. Every time that we get to fly with each other (and that is more or less once a year, sometimes twice) we can both catch up on each other´s wonderful travel stories, which is so much fun. But I am not going to wander off the topic here, what I simply wanted to say is that someone who manages not to get lost in the open sea will surely do much better with the map than I do. And wasn´t I surprised that she did.
But anyways, our first stop was the DAM – Denver Art Museum. One of the largest art museums in North America with its distinctive edgy Frederic C. Hamilton building designed by star architect Daniel Libeskind. It inherits the largest collection of American Indian art and has in addition roundabout 70,000 other artifacts on display.
Not too far away, the highly popular Blue Bear leaning against the window of the massive Colorado Convention Center. This statue is also widely known as “I see what you mean” by artist Lawrence Argent who designed the sculpture after a historic real life photograph of a black bear venturing through the streets of Denver, curiously peeking through a window.
Just down the street, we halted for a short moment to enjoy the gorgeous outside lobby of the Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Company Headquarters Building. It was built in what was described as Modern American Perpendicular Gothic style (whatever that means) and the walls feature mural cycles by local artist Alan True, who has also fitted the State Capitol.
Right across the street: The impressive Denver Performing Arts Complex.
Larimer Street and Larimer Square are both known to be the historic center of what is modern Denver today, located in the LoDo District (Lower Downtown Historic District). It was laid out back in 1858 to become a thriving business location, but with the Great Depression, the block turned into a run down area. It was not before 1965 that Larimer was restored. Today, it is a bustling neighborhood with chef run restaurants, bars, shops and boutiques and site for street festivals and other public events. The whole area is beautiful to stroll through and get a vast impression of what life in Denver must have been 200 years ago.
The main transit hub, Union Station, seemed a little undersized for a big city like Denver. Yet once you´ll step inside, the flair of the grand times of transcontinental railway travel arouses instantly. While most stations around the world are hectic places, Union Station´s main hall is created like a mixture of a tremendous bar and cafe with seating. The atmosphere is therefore truly relaxing and people lounge in comfortable armchairs and sofas. It almost seemed as if only the minority was actually here for traveling and the rest were here for social reasons. Gorgeous architecture! Christine was sneaky enough to guide us to the upper gallery (take the hallway to the left before the exit and then the stairs up) from where you have an excellent view onto the main atrium. There is also a boutique hotel inside the station which runs a lounge bar up there.
On Saturdays, make sure to pay visit to the weekly Farmer´s Market hosted right outside Union Station. There are lots of cool artesian stands from the area to showcase and sell their organic products. Fantastic for sampling or bringing home a few souvenirs. Christine and I decided that this was the perfect timing for a little snack and we tried out the wonderful beetroot graved salmon on European bread. Delicious!
And to cool off on a hot day like this, why not taking a walk through the massive fountain outside the train station?
From here, we checked out the Denver Millennium Bridge. It is the world´s first cable-stayed bridge with its mast rising 61 meters high into the skyline. It connects the LoDo district with the Highland neighborhood and is used by many people to access the public parks located at Platte River.
While Denver has amazing nature waiting just outside the city limits, the city itself offers quite an array of recreational areas and parks. The closest to downtown are Confluence and Common Park. Lots of trails and open meadows invite for running errands or simply sun bathing. It is also a nice place to enjoy a picnic with friends.
We once again headed back into LoDo and just walked criss-cross through the historic downtown area. There are lots of beautiful red brick buildings and cute back alleys to discover, some of them painted with modern graffiti, which in my eyes can add very much to the cityscape.
By chance we located Rockmount Ranch Wear on Wazee Street. This traditional Western and cowboy outfitter is a definite must see when in Denver selling probably the coolest souvenirs that you can get: Very unique snap shirts and boots and other accessories. This Denver classic was established in the early 20th century and its founder Jack A. Weil worked in the store until the age of 107! As soon as you take a glance through the windows outside, his statement “The West is not a place. It is a state of mind” makes perfect sense. Great place!
Headed slowly back to the hotel, another distinct landmark of the Denver skyline lies right on 16th Street Mall: The Daniels & Fisher Tower. With 99 meters in height, the clock tower was at the time it was built (1910) the highest building between the Mississippi and California. It belonged to the famous department store Daniels & Fisher which was demolished in 1971. It has an observation deck and the space behind the massive clocks can also be booked for events and toured. We did not have the time, but I surely would like to try this out the next time I am in town.
One thing I particular noticed about Denver over the times that I came here for work is that it is one of the few big American cities where the business downtown district is revived on the weekends with festivals, public events and markets. There is always something going on, making the city a popular weekend excursion location for the whole family. I loved to walk over the different little street markets and get inspired by local artists and manufacturers.
Another thing that makes Denver quite unique is the 16th Street Mall. At first glance, it seems like any other shopping street. But this one mile long pedestrian promenade was designed as an outdoor mall with a free shuttle bus service running along. It is always busy, there are tons of different shops (from main brands to local enterprises) and the center lane exhibits public art and installations. Want to try yourself out at the free-standing piano? Go ahead, you will have your audience.
Having been a driving force in the development of Denver, George Schleier´s mansion, an immigrant of German heritage, is one of the city´s most popular residences. Having started his career as a hat maker, Schleier later in his life discovered his real passion: Real Estate. He was the first person to establish a residential building in what was to become the future Denver in late 1858, so he can well be described as a pioneer in the development of the city.
Washed-out by the hot sun and an entire day of biking and walking around, Christine and I decided to end the day with a glass of red and some finger food (and a sun burn) on the terrace of her hotel room. Of course, we had not seen the entire range of places worth seeing yet, but the downtown area could well be marked as “pretty much done”. Before we flew back the next afternoon, we did pay visit to two more highlights: The Denver State Capitol and the Molly Brown Museum. You can read about each visit by clicking onto the links!
Well, I hope I could encourage you to take this tour on your own the next time you are in Denver, Colorado. The Mile high city is so much more than just another American business center.