This walking tour will take you to some of the best spots in downtown Denver, where the city’s past and present come together in utterly unique ways. Many of the sites and buildings are listed as official Denver Landmarks, or included in the National Register of Historic Places. Many also have historic markers and plaques noting their original intended purpose and construction dates.
Use the 16th Street Mall as your anchor. Designed in 1982 years ago by I.M. Pei, the 16th Street Mall is a mile-long pedestrian promenade lined with outdoor cafes, flower baskets and retail shops, making it the perfect starting point for an adventure-filled day. Free shuttles travel both directions the entire length of the Mall from early morning to late at night. They stop at every intersection so it’s easy to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. Grab yourself a cup of coffee and let the day begin.
This area comprises a 25-block area that just a decade ago, wasn’t much more than abandoned warehouses and rail yards. Today, it has been restored and renovated to make LoDo (Lower Downtown) one of the liveliest areas in the city - not to mention one of the most historic.
1701 Wynkoop St.
Start your tour of the area at Union Station. At its height, 70 trains a day at one time passed through Denver. Not quite as many trains pass through Union Station these days, but the beautiful building (originally constructed in 1881) still attracts visitors with its Breaux Arts-style design, expansive interior and stone clock tower. Cross Wynkoop Street and learn about the early history of the area from historic markers that can be found on buildings at 1801 Wynkoop St. (The Littleton Creamery - Beatrice Warehouse) and 1635 17th St. (the Denver City Railway Building). NOTE: Denver’s historic Union Station is undergoing a major restoration as it moves towards becoming the city’s main transportation hub, opening in July 2014. Access to the station may limited.
Keep walking down Wynkoop towards Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies, the Major League Baseball team established in 1993. Though it was constructed in the mid-90s, the ballpark has already earned a reputation as one of the best in the country, combining state-of-the-art technology with a nostalgic ambiance. It was modeled after the Camden Yards Ballpark in Baltimore, and its red brick construction matching the red brick architecture of much of LoDo. Don’t miss the baseball art displays as you enter from Wynkoop.
Your next LoDo stop is the classic Oxford Hotel, the oldest still-standing hotel in Denver, constructed in 1891. You’ll find a historic marker on the outside that will give you the lowdown on this LoDo gem. Inside, take a look at the Cruise Room, an Art-Deco bar that was designed after a lounge on the Queen Mary cruise ship.
On the corner of 16th and Wynkoop, you’ll encounter one of Denver’s most treasured attractions - the independently owned and operated Tattered Cover Book Store. Of course, calling Tattered Cover merely a “bookstore” is doing it some injustice. Its multileveled location is filled wall to wall with books, magazines, greeting cards, gifts and souvenirs. There’s also a great café serving coffee, pastries and sandwiches. This is a great spot to take a break in and settle in with a good book - browsing is strongly encouraged! Also enjoy the architecture. This building once housed the Morey Mercantile warehouse business which thrived in the late 19th century.
Much of what you’ll find in LoDo still retains its historic feel, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for modern architectural wonders. Case in point: the recently opened Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, at 15th and Delgany, designed by cutting edge London architect David Adjaye. Its sleek exterior houses works by some of today’s most innovative artists.
Connecting Riverfront Park and the 16th Street Mall is the Millennium Bridge, constructed in 2002. This unique tubular steel footbridge was designed to resemble the mast of a great ship, stretching an impressive 200 feet into the sky. Either climb the stairs or take the glass elevator to the top. From there, you’ll be treated to a great view of downtown, as well as the Platte River. On the other side of the bridge, Riverfront Park is a wonderful spot to relax and enjoy the gently rolling Platte River.
OK, you’ve explored LoDo - time to head to the center of downtown. Either walk up 16th Street, or hop on the free 16th Street Mall Shuttle. The Theatre District is a few blocks west on 14th Street, highlighted by the incredible Denver Performing Arts Complex.
Hear those bells tolling? That’s the D&F Tower (Daniels & Fisher), one of 16th Street’s most distinctive buildings. When it was completed in 1910, this was the highest building west of the Mississippi River. It is modeled after The Campanile (St. Mark’s Bell Tower) at the Piazza San Marco in Venice and its four clocks (one for each side) are a whopping 16 feet high. So if you’re caught without a watch, just look up. The Tower was built to house one of Denver's largest early 19th century department stores. Today, the basement of the D&F Tower has been renovated into Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret, an entertainment venue.
Ground zero for the Denver performing arts world is, naturally, the Denver Performing Arts Complex (DPAC). Located in the heart of downtown at 14th and Curtis Streets, the DPAC houses the 2,700-seat Boettcher Concert Hall (the nation’s first in-the-round concert hall), the Helen G. Bonfils Theatre Complex (with four separate stages), the 2,830-seat Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre, the Donald R. Seawell Grand Ballroom and the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The Denver Center Theatre Company makes its home here, and since 1979 has created an impressive body of classic and contemporary drama and world premieres. Downtown Denver is filled with fun public art - pretty much everywhere you look you’ll see something. Over at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, get an eyeful of the fifty-foot tall “Dancers.” Around the corner at the Colorado Convention Center (14th and California Sts.) is “I See What You Mean,” AKA the Blue Bear. Designed by Denver-based artist Lawrence Argent, this curious, 40-foot-tall bear has rapidly become a Denver icon, and is a great spot for a family photo. The public art in Denver isn’t all visual either - stroll down the 1500 block of Curtis Street and you’ll hear Jim Green’s “Soundwalk” - there are speakers under six ordinary-looking grates connected to a tape recorder in a nearby building, playing 40 to 100 selections per hour, including rumbling, gurgling water and other whimsical sounds.
The Equitable Building, built in 1892, is designed in the lavish Italian Renaissance Revival style and features some stunning stained glass windows inside. Look for the historic marker on the exterior to learn more about this downtown landmark.
The Paramount Theatre is one of many historic theaters in Denver. Built in 1930, the Paramount was originally a classic Art Deco movie house; today, it hosts an amazing array of live music and performing arts. Look for the historic marker on the exterior to learn more.
Designed in 1887 by Robert Roeschlaub, Colorado’s first licensed architect, the Trinity Methodist Church is a splendid example of the Gothic Revival style. The church was constructed entirely out of rhyolite from Castle Rock, Colo. and features a stained glass window by the Tiffany Company. Head inside to gawk at the gargantuan Roosevelt Pipe Organ - with its network of thousands upon thousand of pipes, it can make quite a sound.
At the end of the 16th Street Mall you’ll come upon the Golden Triangle, one of Denver’s cultural hubs, with museums (naturally), restaurants and shopping options galore. The neighborhood is also home to several wonderful art galleries, all worth a visit.
The splendid Civic Center Park resulted from the inspiration fostered by the "City Beautiful Movement" following the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Elements of well-designed and beautiful parkways, fountains and tree landscaping were merged together in this space and in many other U.S. city park beautification programs. The City and County Building, completed in 1932, anchors the west end of this park. During the summer months, Civic Center Park hosts multiple fun festivals. From Civic Center Park you can look over many of downtown’s architectural gems, including the Denver Public Library designed by Michael Graves and the original 28-sided Denver Art Museum designed by Gio Ponti Nearby you’ll find the Center for Colorado Women’s History at Byers-Evans House Museum, which was built in 1883 and is now a museum, and the U.S. Mint, modeled after the Plazzo Riccardi in Florene, which was built in 1904. Civic Center Park is also full of public art, from Old West-inspired pieces to modern wonders.