Avoiding these mistakes people make when visiting Denver helps you make the most out of your trip – and stay on the good side of the locals. Like any other destination around the world, Colorado’s capital city has certain quirks or customs that are vastly different from what you’re used to back home.

    If you’re visiting Denver for the first time, it’s worth knowing these rather common misconceptions about the city (and its residents). We’ve also included some ways to sidestep the tourist traps so that you can truly experience the city’s local charm.


    Underestimating the city's altitude

    There’s a reason why it’s called “Mile High City”

    Denver sits at 5,280 ft in elevation, which means you’re closer to the sun than in most cities in the U.S.. Out-of-towners need some time to acclimatize to the city’s altitude – you might experience headaches, dehydration, sunburns, and even nosebleeds if you’re not careful.

    Always carry water and sunscreen when you’re exploring Denver, especially in summer. It’s also a good idea to pace yourself when enjoying outdoor activities like hiking in Denver, even if you lead a rather active lifestyle.


    Only staying in Downtown Denver

    Experience local culture in the city’s coolest neighbourhoods

    Downtown Denver is a good place to stay if you want a central location, but you shouldn’t overlook the city’s many cool neighbourhoods. Enjoy a vibrant jazz scene in historic Five Points, luxury shopping strips in Cherry Creek, or leafy parks and 20th-century bungalows in Sloan’s Lake. Best of all, just about every Denver neighbourhood has excellent hotels, iconic landmarks, and local culture to discover.


    Getting around Denver by automobile

    Try cycling to avoid traffic

    Renting a automobile in Denver is unnecessary unless you’re planning to head for the mountains. Traffic congestion is pretty much inevitable if you’re driving, ridesharing, taking a cab, or riding a bus to reach your destination.

    If you’re able, cycling is one of the best ways to get around Denver. The city has miles of protected bike lanes and neighbourhood bikeways that can lead you to lush parks, historic landmarks, and excellent shopping neighborhoods.


    Visiting Denver just for the snow

    The city is enjoyable in all 4 seasons

    Denver is usually busiest in winter, thanks to its proximity to several world-class ski resorts. However, the city is beautiful any time of the year, making it a great base for journeying out into Colorado’s diverse and magnificent landscape.

    Springtime skiing is possible in the Arapahoe Basin, while hiking is a must-do at the 700-acre Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. Back in the city of Denver, music festivals, outdoor movie theaters, and farmers’ markets take place in spring and summer.


    Forgetting to pack for all seasons

    Dressing in layers is the way to go

    The weather in Denver is notoriously changeable due to its high altitude. We highly recommend packing for all seasons, especially in summer. You can expect extreme temperatures – sometimes far over 90°F – as well as heavy downpours.

    Follow the locals’ fashion style by wearing layers and comfortable footwear. It's quite easy to get sunburnt in Denver, so wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses when you’re out and about in summer.


    Driving to the Rockies on a weekend/vacation

    Plan a weekday trip instead

    The Rockies is an outdoor lover’s dream destination, with hiking trails leading to rugged peaks, majestic waterfalls, high alpine lakes, and lush meadows.

    It’s no surprise that Denver residents make their way to the mountains on weekends and vacations – which means heavy traffic on Interstate 70, usually from 10 am on Saturdays. Consider planning a weekday visit to the Rocky Mountains if you want to avoid traffic congestion (and wasted time on the roads instead of the great outdoors).


    Not planning a trip to Colorado's state parks

    Some are less than 1 hour from Downtown Denver

    Colorado has 42 state parks, all of which are just as beautiful and vast as the iconic Rocky Mountains National Park. The state’s diverse landscape is made up of rocky cliffs, lush meadows, glacial valleys, and snow-capped peaks.

    Some of Colorado’s state parks are within 1 hour from Denver, making it easy to spend time in nature. The Golden Gate Canyon State Park has over 35 miles of hiking trails and 150 campgrounds, while Chatfield State Park offers scenic campgrounds and water sports on the Chatfield Reservoir.


    Missing out on Denver's food halls

    Dine like a local by skipping chain restaurants

    Ever since The Source was established as Denver’s first dedicated food hall in 2013, more than a dozen similar dining concepts have populated the city over the years. Food halls in Denver mostly host mom-and-pop businesses, attracting both locals and tourists with their affordability and diversity.

    A popular option in the RiNo Art District, the Denver Central Market hosts an artisan bakery, coffee shop, fish market, butcher, chocolate shop, ice cream parlor, wood-fired pizza restaurant, salad bar, and a cocktail bar. Other standout food halls in Denver include Avanti, Edgewater Public Market, and Zeppelin Station.


    Skipping microbreweries

    Discover Denver’s thriving craft beer scene

    There are around 150 microbreweries in Denver alone, so deciding where to go can be a bit of a challenge. Coors Brewery and Breckenridge Brewery Golden are some of Colorado’s most popular brands, but it’s quite easy to find their products in your local grocery store. 

    A good place to discover Denver’s craft beer scene is RiNo (River North). The district has over a dozen microbreweries, brewpubs and taprooms offering their own takes on IPAs, lagers, and pilsners. Must-visits include 10 Barrel Brewing Co, Epic Brewing, and River North Brewery.


    Assuming the locals have a lax attitude toward cannabis

    There are strict laws to abide by

    Colorado has been a marijuana-friendly state since 2014, so you’ll find many medical and recreational dispensaries in Denver. However, that doesn’t mean you can simply smoke a joint on the street.

    There are a few strict rules to follow if you want to consume cannabis in Denver. The most important is that you must be at least 21 years old to visit a dispensary. Smoking in public (even in your own vehicle) will result in a hefty fine, too.

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveler

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