See Denver Like A Local on This Half-Day Driving Itinerary

The Aspire Team
May 16, 2023

So you say you want to see Denver through the eyes of a local? Then boy (or girl), do we ever have the Denver day trip for you!

This ain’t your typical tourist itinerary — sure, we’re going to cruise by the State Capitol and Art Museum — but this is more of a cultural tour. Based on our Seeing Denver Tour, it will give you an impression of the real Denver, not just the touristy spots.

In just half a day, you can see a few of Denver’s top tourist attractions, plus stop by local neighborhoods that highlight Denver’s thriving art and food scene.

While we love the Capitol Hill Mansion and the Denver Mint, we prefer to spend more time taking you where the locals go—locals like us!

The Best Way to Spend a Few Hours In Denver

Denver city skyline at sunset with the Front Range in the background
Downtown Denver glows at sunset. Photo by Sheila Sund on Flickr.

We’ve heard it many times: you’re in town for a weekend and want to see Denver in just a few hours, but don’t want to just do the touristy stuff. You want to see the real city.

That’s exactly what this itinerary is, and there’s a good reason why it’s a driving itinerary, not a walk, or a TukTuk ride, or an eBike trip.

Here’s the thing: as much as we love Denver, it’s impossible to see it all without a car. You just won’t have the time! When you have just half a day to see downtown, Lodo, RiNo, and maybe even the Highlands, you’ve got to drive.

(Didn’t get a rental car? No worries; our Denver City Tour leaves from Union Station, or private tours can pick you up directly from your place of stay.)

Your Denver Driving Trip Itinerary

A tourist group walks the streets of Denver's Santa Fe Arts district
A tourist group walks the streets of Denver's Santa Fe Arts district.

This itinerary will give you a local perspective. The opportunity to support local businesses. And a showcase of local culture, art, and architecture.

If you only see one part of Denver, you didn’t see much of it at all. You need to hop around and feel the shift in energy that each unique neighborhood offers.

Here’s our list of the top places to see, in order:

16th Street Mall & Union Station

An Aspire tour guide meets a group outside Union Station
An Aspire tour guide meets a group outside Union Station.

First, Union Station — a pretty darn cool transportation hub. Step inside to check out the architecture and grab a coffee to put some pep in your step for the next few hours.

Union Station is right by the 16th Street Mall, Denver’s central shopping district with a plethora of hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. You likely stayed in your hotel nearby, so we’re going to skip this strip for now, but be sure to explore it later if you wish!

Historic Lower Downtown & Central Business District

A giant blue bear statue looks into the Colorado Convention Center
Denver's famous giant blue bear looks into the Colorado Convention Center

To start the drive, pass by some of Denver’s most famous landmarks in historic Lower Downtown (LoDo) and the Central Business District. Here’s the order we recommend:

  • Larimer Square
  • Colorado Convention Center
  • Performing Arts Complex

Make sure you catch a view of Denver's famous big blue bear at the Colorado Convention Center, whose official name is "I See What You Mean.”

Drive just a bit further southeast to see:

  • Colorado State Capitol
  • Civic Center Park
  • Denver Art Museum
  • Denver Public Library
  • Denver Mint

This is a great spot to stretch your legs and get a photo at the mile high marker on the Capitol steps. If you have time, walk through Civic Center Park to get a peek at the Denver Art Museum, a true architectural masterpiece by the famous architect Daniel Liebskind. The outdoor sculpture at Denver Public Library is another unusual surprise.

Five Points and the River North District

A mural in Five Points with paintings of famous African Americans reads, "Our Stories, Our Legacy, Our Lives Matter"
A mural in Five Points celebrates the neighborhood's African American history

Next, we’re going to head north to drive through Five Points, a neighborhood rich with local history. It was once known as the “Harlem of the West” due to its majority African-American population, who were excluded from nearby areas due to discrimination. Many famous jazz musicians performed at the clubs here, and it’s now home to the Juneteenth Music Festival and the Five Points Jazz Festival.

Just northwest of Five Points is the River North District, which the locals call RiNo (pronounced rye-no). Here, you’ll find Denver’s most active arts, food, and brewery scene. If you visit with one of our guides, they’ll be sure to recommend places to eat, drink, shop, or catch a show.

Just a few of the spots you might want to visit include:

  • Denver Central Market
  • The Source
  • Award-winning breweries and taprooms, including: Our Mutual Friend Brewing, Ratio Beerworks, Odell Brewing, Great Divide, New Belgium, Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Jagged Mountain, Spangalang, Wynkoop, and more!

Stroll around to check out a few of the remarkable street art murals, stop by a gallery or two, or taste some of Denver’s local brews at one of the many breweries and tap houses. When you’re ready for a bite to eat, drop into The Source or Denver Central Market, two gourmet marketplaces and food halls with lots of local options.

Lower Highlands

People standing in line for ice cream outside a building shaped like a giant milk can
Little Man Ice Cream in the Highlands. Photo by Harrison Warters Photography.

If you buzzed through Five Points and RiNo, you’ll have some time to cross the river (and the highway) to see LoHi, the locals’ nickname for the Lower Highlands.

This is another hub for local eats, including the famous Little Man Ice Cream, who serve handcrafted ice cream out of a 28-foot-tall milk can (it’s the kind of thing you just have to see to understand). A double scoop of vegan chocolate salted Oreo is the perfect way to end your jaunt.

If you run out of time for this stop, never fear! You can get a taste at Little Man’s kiosk near gate C27 at DIA.

That’s a Wrap!

You’ve just gotten a taste of what it’s like to be a Denverite. Are you hungry for more?

If You Have a Full Day

A dusting of snow in Rocky Mountain National Park
A dusting of snow covers the mountainsides in Rocky Mountain National Park

Naturally, that’s not all there is to see in the city. If you have longer than half a day to explore, check out some of the following spots – or escape the city entirely and join us on a tour to the Rocky Mountains to see what makes Colorado really special.

  • Santa Fe Art District
  • Denver Mint
  • Denver Botanical Gardens
  • Cherry Creek Shopping Area
  • Denver Country Club
  • Meow Wolf Convergence Station
  • Capitol Hill Mansion
  • Colfax Avenue, known for dive bars and music venues
  • Denver City Park (includes Denver Zoo, the Museum of Nature & Science, and skyline views!)
  • Cherry Creek Shopping District
  • Berkeley
  • Baker
  • Capitol Hill
  • Congress Park

We Can Take You

If this itinerary sounds a bit overwhelming, never fear! You don’t have to guide yourself, trying to DIY-it in your rental, missing turns and struggling to find parking. Book a Denver city tour with Aspire to catch a ride in a comfy van or SUV, and be entertained by the commentary from our friendly, knowledgeable driver.

We don’t need Google Maps for this. We know where we’re going because we go there all the time. We’ll give you the local nuance, cool stories, and personal experience that makes Denver, Denver.

If you book a Private Denver City Highlights Tour with us, the tour is highly customizable, from the start time to the stop-and-explore locations. Something in particular you want to see? Just let your guide know! We’re nimble enough to adjust on the fly to accommodate whatever your group is feeling.

Let’s put together an incredible tour to see Denver for you. Book a tour of Denver with Aspire for your next Mile High vacation.


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