The first time you land in Denver, you will be excused for wondering if perhaps you slept through the part where the pilot announced an emergency landing, somewhere in the Midwest. So flat the terrain and so far away the city (not to mention the Rockies), this isn’t the Colorado of your imagination, this is something else entirely.
To make matters worse, once here, you’re left pretty much high and dry. Great for the rental car companies who can—and do—gouge with impunity. It’s also great for the taxi companies—rates into the city can run you over $70; Boulder costs nearly $90—that’s about as much as some people will have paid for their flight. To get downtown with the ridesharing services, you’re looking at about $30 or more. Trying to save money? Hope you like waiting up to an hour for the bus.
That’s how it used to be, anyway. Everything about arriving in Denver got better this year, when the A Line train began service. This 23-mile addition to a growing network of regional rail transit moves passengers from the airport to Union Station in roughly 35 minutes for a reasonable $9 each way. The fare includes unlimited rides throughout the rail system on the same day. Great, right? Better still, this is one of the fastest plane-to-train connections in North America.
Once at Union Station, a free bus—all day, every day—runs straight down 16th Street, quickly connecting you to pretty much every downtown Denver hotel that isn’t walking distance from the train platform. (There’s even a hotel built right into the station now, the impressive Crawford.) Transfers are available right here to the rest of the network, too. Easy, right?
The A Line—officially referred to as the University of Colorado A Line, thanks to a sponsorship deal—is just one of many steps being taken to tie Denver’s considerable sprawl back together. Eventually, you’ll be able to ride the rails all the way from DIA to Boulder. At the moment, that particular line goes only as far as suburban Westminster, but it’s a start. (If you do need to get to Boulder, look for the new Flatiron Flyer rapid bus service running in and out of Union Station.)
For now, however, there’s so much going on at the heart of the city, you could easily do a proper weekend getaway without bothering to rent a car. The sights begin right when you step off the train; the station has been beautifully reimagined as a proper, 21st century transit hub, while adjacent neighborhoods are more vibrant and alive than ever before.
From the post-industrial Platte Valley right behind the station to oft-overlooked areas north of Coors Field, change is everywhere you look—interesting new projects such as the Source public market give new purpose to old industrial buildings, one can barely move without bumping into new residential development. Museums, stadiums, the impressive parks along the Platte River, downtown shopping, even the old Elitch Gardens amusement park—it’s all right here, with the rest of the city an easy cab (or Lyft or Uber) ride away, if you don’t feel like digging deeper into the local transit system.
Don’t like cabs? If you’re signed up to Car2Go or Zipcar (sign up today for $25 in driving credit!) in your home city, Denver has both—Car2Go typically shows dozens of available cars within steps of Union Station during the day; if you’re not signed up for the service, it’s well worth looking into. Unlike typical car sharing services, Car2Go operates on a point-to-point system, meaning you only pay for the time you’re in the car, as long as you park within the home area.
In Denver’s case, this means you can visit the impressive Botanic Gardens, go shopping in Cherry Creek or brunch in the Highlands, pay $0.41 per minute for the time it takes to drive there, park, lock and walk away, rebooking the nearest available car through an easy-to-use app when it’s time to return.
Finally, if you prefer two wheels to four, the city’s BCycle program, with 87 stations and 700 bikes, is a snap for tourists to access, even if short-term use can be somewhat expensive. There’s even a station right when you hop off the A Line, if you want to get started right away.
Booking a trip? If you’re looking for the cheapest fares to Denver, start your search at CheapFlights, or compare multiple sites at once with BookingBuddy. Don’t forget that bundling your flight and hotel together can save you a lot of money; give it a try at either Orbitz or Expedia—both are great places to start a simple airfare search, too. If you’re just after the best Denver hotel deals, start your search at Hotels.com or Priceline, where you can save up to 60 percent on any given night by taking advantage of their Express Deals feature. (This simple tool has probably saved us—no joke—thousands of dollars over the years.) Don’t forget, you can also cross-reference a ton of hotel user reviews with the best rates available from more than 200 web sites at TripAdvisor. If you need a rental car, begin your search by swinging wide to get a sense of the market—a site like Booking Buddy lets you check pretty much every site worth knowing in just a couple of clicks.