Denver, Colorado, USA: 10 things to know about the Mile High City

I NEED TO GET MY BEARINGS

Downtown Denver is handily mapped by districts which track its evolution from a gold rush campsite to a growing city laden with cultural experiences. For a concentration of galleries and museums, head to The Golden Triangle Creative and River North Arts (RiNo) districts. Lower Downtown (LoDo) has an abundance of restaurants and bars in historic buildings and the 16th Street Mall, paved in granite in a diamondback rattlesnake pattern, is worth a promenade. The Five Points Historic District was once known as the Harlem of the West, with the likes of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong playing in its clubs. The district hosts  the annual Five Points Jazz Festival in May and is home to the Black American West Museum. Track the changing fortunes of a city in Larimer Square, Denver's first city block. It fell on hard times in the 1900s and its historic buildings were under threat of demolition by the late 1950s. Local citizens, however, saved the day and it went on to become the city's first designated historic district.

I WANT TO ARRIVE BY TRAIN

A 37-minute train trip from Denver International Airport brings you to Denver Union Station, a grand Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival-Style building of carved granite and terracotta. The station is a LoDo landmark and home to the Crawford Hotel and a Great Hall with leather couches, shuffleboards, bars and restaurants. Winter Park ski resort, a favourite with locals, is a two-hour trip from the station aboard the Winter Park Express. See unionstationindenver.com; winterparkresort.com

I WANT TO EAT WITH THE LOCALS

There are no bookings so join the queue then hoe into a breakfast of sweet potato pancakes or corn beef hash at Snooze at Denver Union Station, established in 2006 by brothers Jon and Adam Schlegel. The vibe is friendly and contagious, and in addition to excellent coffee, the morning drinks menu includes the likes of the AM Manhattan (Breckenridge Bourbon, espresso, Irish cream, steamed milk and cherry) or the Brewmosa (Belgian-style wheat beer and fresh orange juice). See snoozeeatery.com

I WANT TO SEE THE WRITING ON THE WALL

Power, politics, gender and race are on show during a graffiti tour along the streets of RiNo. Sometimes hopeful, sometimes bleak and mostly colourful, it's an enlightening two hours in which Erin Spradlin gives context to the murals which are by local and international artists. The tiny sanitation workers by Belgian artist Jaune are a tribute to the often-overlooked workers in public utilities and the pink-hued baby faces are rumoured to be the work of local artist Yiannis Bellis and represent the suffering of Syrian children. Yarn bombs by members of the local Ladies Fancywork Society hang off a roof. See denvergraffititour.com

I WANT TO WATCH SOME SPORT

Denverites love sports and the city is home to seven professional teams - the Colorado Rockies for baseball and the Denver Nuggets for basketball included - as well as six sports stadiums. Coors Field, the 30 hectare ground in LoDo, gives fans in the first-base and right field areas a view of the Rocky Mountains. Prepare for some big hits; the thin air in Denver, which sits at about 1609 metres, means a ball will travel 9 per cent further than it would at sea level. See mlb.com

I WANT TO SEE SOME ART

Let an enthusiastic volunteer guide you through the comprehensive Denver Art Museum (DAM) which houses more than 70,000 works of art across categories including American Indian, western American, photography, textile and Spanish Colonial. The American Indian collection has works from nearly every tribe across the United States and Canada. Creativity is encouraged with hands-on spaces including The Incubation Effect, a larger-than-life insect nursery made from sewn inflatable sculptures. The North Building is one of only two buildings in North America designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti. The Frederic C. Hamilton Building by architect Daniel Libeskind is said to have been inspired by the craggy cliffs of the Rockies. A short walk from the DAM, the works of Clyfford Still, an innovator in Abstract Expressionism, are on display at the eponymous museum, which contains one of the most comprehensive single-artist collections in the world.

See denverartmuseum.org; clyffordstillmuseum.org

I WANT LUNCH

A few steps past the bronze sculpture Scottish Angus Cow and Calf on the DAM lawns, delightful staff serve hearty sandwiches made with freshly baked rye at newcomer Leven Deli Co. Settle into a wooden booth for Pastrami Reuben and Smashed Chickpeas sandwiches served with cauliflower pickles and fennel, with mint coleslaw on the side. Described as one part Jewish Restaurant, one part Mediterranean Deli, with the mantra "Everyone's welcome. Nobody leaves hungry", plus a wine and beer list, this is an ideal place to spend an afternoon. See eatleven.com

I'M READY FOR MORE ART

International pieces from Bauhaus to Art Deco periods sit alongside paintings from the American West and make for an atmospheric experience at the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art. The "salon style" display of 4400 works from a collection of more than 30,000 items also includes works by the museum's namesake, the distinguished Colorado painter Vance Kirkland. To see a 1920s Peacock Chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and Rocky Mountain Sunset by Henry A Elkins from 1871 is time travel at its best. See kirklandmuseum.org

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I'M HUNGRY FOR ASIAN FOOD

Executive chef Thach Tran's early years were spent helping out at his grandmother's noodle shop in Saigon. These days, he serves modern Asian food from an open kitchen at his popular restaurant, Ace Eat Serve. Back up your wontons and bao with a game of ping pong in the adjoining hall. In a heroic nod to inclusiveness, the restaurant has a separate menu catering to diners with nut, seafood and lactose allergies. See aceeatserve.com

ONE MORE THING

While the temptation might be great for skiers and outdoors lovers to skip the city and head straight to the hills, breaking the journey with a few days in Denver will help you acclimatise to the higher altitudes beyond the city.

I WANT THE FACTS

POPULATION

About 680,000 in Denver city; about 3 million in the Denver metropolitan area.

LOCATION

Denver is the capital of Colorado in the western United States and perched on high rolling plains. More than 200 mountain peaks are visible from the city.

CLIMATE

Denver is exactly a mile (1609 metres) above sea level. Humidity is low and its residents enjoy more than 300 days of sunshine a year.

ARCHITECTURE

The evolution from 1800s frontier town to booming city is reflected in the city's restored and diverse architecture, from the Brown Palace Hotel in red granite to the Colorado State Capitol Building with its 24 carat gold dome. The LODO district has one of the largest concentrations of Victorian and early 20th century buildings in the US.

ACCOMMODATION

The Art Hotel is a short walk from the Denver Art Museum and houses its own collection of original works from 20th- and 21st-century artists, including a driftwood-like bronze sculpture of an otter by Deborah Butterfield. Rooms from $US249 (about $365) a night. See thearthotel.com

MORE

traveller.com.au/denver

denver.org

Jane Reddy was a guest of Visit Denver (denver.org).

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