This is a guest post by Kara from Destination: Live Life on the best things to do in historic Denver, CO for history buffs.
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The Best Things to Do in Historic Denver, CO for History Lovers
Denver, the capital of Colorado, is known for many things. Most famously, for being the “Mile High City” – with an elevation of exactly one mile above sea level. Or for being an outdoor lover’s dream. And for enjoying 300+ days of sunshine per year.
But for a city founded in 1858, Denver also has a deep, interesting history. The city served as a gateway to the Wild West and flourished in the gold and silver mining booms.
Today, Denver is attracting transplants in droves. And between those Wild West beginnings and modern-day advances, a whole lot of cool stuff happened in between!
So if you fancy yourself a history buff, below are some of the best things to do in Denver, CO to quench your history cravings.
Visit the (Unsinkable) Molly Brown House
Titanic fans will certainly recognize the Unsinkable Molly Brown, having been on the ship and survived (likely due to her social status). What stands today as the Molly Brown House Museum was once the home of Molly and her husband, J.J.
They owned it for thirty years and even rented it out to wealthy families. Including at one point being the Governor’s mansion. Forced by a declining neighborhood thanks to the Great Depression, Molly ultimately turned it into a boarding house. That is until her death in 1932 when it was sold.
Fast forward to 1970, and the home was saved from demolition by a group of grassroots history buffs. And today, you can visit the impeccably restored Victorian to learn all about Molly’s life and ties to Denver.
Take the Denver Story Trek
The Denver Story Trek is a unique way to tour Denver’s most prominent historical landmarks without taking (or paying for) an organized tour. The site has everything you need for a completely self-guided tour through Denver’s history.
For each location along the way, you are provided with the physical address and an audio file with all the titillating facts about that spot. Unlike organized tours, you can visit as many or as little of the stops as you like. And you can walk, scooter, or drive from one place to the next. The choice is yours to build a custom Denver history tour.
Dine (or Drink) in a Former Mortuary at Linger
Once a mortuary that handled the remains of none other than Buffalo Bill himself, Linger is now a popular spot for food (the bottomless mimosa brunch is especially popular here) and drinks alike. When the building was initially taken over by the current owners, they decided to own their morbid past loud and proud.
Water is served from old-timey formaldehyde bottles. Metal conveyor belts that were once used to transport bodies have been turned into high top tables. And large openings once used to receive hearses carrying corpses are now modern garage doors to create an indoor/outdoor feel.
If seedy history piques your interest, then you must make a stop here (plus the food and drinks are phenomenal!).
Visit the Ghosts of Cheesman Park
Today, Cheesman Park is a popular recreational area for BBQs, exercise, and general leisurely activities. However, this wasn’t always the case.
Opening in 1858, this land was originally used as a cemetery. And it stayed that way until the 1890s. Congress allowed the City of Denver to change the status of the land, and Denver chose to make it a park.
However, moving all those bodies from the cemetery proved to be no easy feat. Allegations were made that bodies were being dismembered to fit into child-sized coffins. And it was so poorly mismanaged that the undertaker was fired before all the graves could be relocated.
It is estimated that up to 2,000 bodies remain buried beneath the surface of the park today. Because of this, there are many haunting tales of supernatural experiences occurring in the park. Is it true? You’ll have to visit (preferably at night!) to find out.
Check Out Buffalo Bill’s Grave
Being a key player in the historic mining booms meant Denver saw some famous visitors of the time. Buffalo Bill made his first visit to Colorado in 1859, as well as many more times throughout the years until his 1917 death.
His final wish was always to be laid to rest on Lookout Mountain outside Denver, overlooking the surrounding plains and the Rocky Mountains. And this is where he lies today.
Visitors to the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave can learn about the life of one of the most prominent figures in Wild West history. And, of course, pay your respects at his gravesite.
Step Back Into Time With Drinks at a Speakeasy
Sometimes a history buff needs to take a break from all the learning and have a drink! But luckily there are options in Denver where you can kick back with a cocktail while also enjoying some historical ambiance.
A stop at Williams and Graham will have you feeling like a prohibition rebel, as you enter through a turning bookshelf located in a nondescript storefront. The demand is high for this spot, but the inside is intimate with only seven tables. It’s worth the wait, however, to experience their creative classic cocktails.
Another option is to check out Green Russell – located in Larimer Square, Denver’s most historic block. To find it, follow signs to the door that says “Wednesday’s Pie.” Upon entering the pie shop, let the hostess know you are looking for Green Russell. You can then follow her through what appears to be the kitchen entrance but actually leads to the concealed bar.
Eat Wild Game at the Buckhorn Exchange
The Buckhorn Exchange is arguably Denver’s most historic restaurant. Not only does it hold the distinction of having the state’s first post-prohibition liquor license, but it is also the oldest continually operating restaurant in Denver (opening in 1893).
The founder of the restaurant ran in the same circles as Buffalo Bill, even joining his band of scouts. And through the years the restaurant has had many famous visitors including US Presidents and Hollywood heavy hitters.
When you visit, that rich history is showcased in the decor. And while the menu includes your standard steakhouse fare of beef, chicken, and chops. The real draw is their wild game offerings. Be sure to venture out and give the yak, ostrich, elk, or Rocky Mountain oysters a try.
Discover Denver’s Luxurious Side at the Historic Brown Palace Hotel
Open since 1892, the Brown Palace Hotel & Spa is Denver’s most historic hotel. A byproduct of the mining booms, the hotel came to be so people stopping in Denver on their way to the mountains had somewhere to stay. The tallest building in Denver at the time, no expense was spared when realizing Henry Brown’s vision.
$2 million to be exact.
Which was A LOT of money in the 1890s. And today it maintains that air of luxury and historic charm. As one would imagine, rooms here today are not cheap. But if your budget allows, it’s a worthwhile splurge.
And if you’d rather not spend $300+/- per night, you can always visit the historic Brown Palace, it’s quite common! They are especially known for their amazing champagne brunches and afternoon tea.
>>Check room availability, prices, and reviews for the Brown Palace Hotel & Spa.<<
Tour the U.S. Mint
There are only four United States mints in the entire country, and one of the production facilities is located in Denver. Here you can learn the history of the mint, an institution in the U.S. since 1858. And also see exactly how billions of coins are produced each year.
The guided tour is free and enjoyed by adults and children alike. No advanced tickets are assigned, so this stop requires some advanced planning to ensure you’re able to take this very popular tour.
Kara is the founder, writer and editor behind Destination: Live Life, a travel blog. After fleeing small-town life in Wyoming, Kara has called Denver, CO home for the last 12+ years. When she isn’t living that travel life, she can be found petting every dog that will let her, and laughing (loudly) at any opportunity.
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to Colorado
The Lonely Planet Colorado guidebook. It can be kind of a pain to find the major guidebooks once you land, or you’ll find them overpriced. I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
An Unlocked Cell Phone so that you can use a local sim card while here to help navigate public transportation and when you’re on the road. (For people without American cell phone plans).
Backup Charging Bank for your cell phone since you’ll be using it as a camera, GPS, and general travel genie.
A Great Day Bag so you can carry what you need with you (like your camera, snacks, water, sunscreen, cash, etc). My current favorite is the Pacsafe Citysafe, which is especially great for Denver because it has many anti-theft features designed to deter pickpockets. It also transitions to a night bag more easily and won’t embarrass you if you go to dinner directly after sightseeing all day.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Before you leave for Colorado make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be hanging enjoying time in the beautiful (but occasionally slippery) outdoors.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for three years, and I happily recommend them. If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you’ll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what’s stolen or broken.
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