Denver was a complete and total surprise to me.
I had tried to do the most research I could before I left for the U.S. but for some reason, I couldn’t quite figure Denver out. There didn’t appear to be a central hub (like San Francisco had with Union Sq or most cities have with their main shopping streets and squares). To be perfectly honest, I thought I was going to be bored. I remember reassuring myself as I got off the plane that if I didn’t like it, I could just watch Netflix for five days.
I was so wrong.
I was so incredibly wrong.
I take it all back.
Denver was just a treasure trove of surprises. I walked around on the first evening with my jaw on the ground, I couldn’t believe this city; the cleanliness, the friendliness, the pure atmosphere of excitement, of something always going on. It was busy but not in a large bustling city kind of way. I walked around the heart of Denver on that first night and felt more relaxed than I had on my entire trip.
I had been there three hours and was already planning a return trip.
My reasons for going to Colorado are probably a bit different to those I had been telling people. Yes, I did want to go somewhere that wasn’t on most of people’s top US cities list. I had seen New York, Washington DC and at the height of summer, I didn’t want to have to push myself around Chicago or Seattle. Southwest US was out of the question in this heat. So that left Denver.
The other more personal reasons are some that I will explore in later blog posts. But for now, I want to focus solely on the city of Denver.
I found people in Denver to be far more welcoming than any others I had come across in the U.S. The police would say hello to you when you passed by. Waiters and waitresses would almost sit down to talk about what you’ve been up to that day, people in the shops would take time out to ask you all about Ireland and how I ended up here. People in my hotel lift would fill you in on a funny story someone in the lift was telling. I didn’t experience the stigma of a female solo traveller that I had elsewhere. I felt welcome.
To everyone I met in Denver who asked how I was finding Colorado so far, I answered that the people were so lovely, and they agreed. Apparently, that’s what Colorado is good for. All cities have their anti-social issues, and Denver isn’t without them, but never once did I feel unsafe.
LoDo and the 16th Street Mall are where all the action happens. The Mall is a mainly pedestrianised street but allows for transit. It runs 2km long and is home to most of the shops and restaurants in Denver. And you want to know the BEST part? There’s a free bus that travels down the length of the mall to Union Station (where you can get trams, trains and buses to the suburbs and beyond) and there’s one at every block. You miss one? NO PROBLEM, the next one is coming in 30 seconds. Pure magic.
The mall is very European, there are little outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants where you can sit out and people watch. Most Coloradans prefer to sit inside due to the dry heat but coming from Ireland where patio cafes are a rarity, they were wonderful. Larimer Square is the oldest commercial block in Denver and it is so beautifully decorated with Colorado state flags, plants, flowers and little cafes and restaurants.
What struck me the most was how clean it was. It’s illegal to smoke on the 16th Street Mall and officers do enforce that. The State Capitol is home to beautifully kept gardens with plenty of colour and vibrancy (the 13th step of the Capitol is officially one mile above sea level). The public library is a huge institution holding any work of literature you want. It’s everything you’d want in a public library and more.
The city is full of young people thanks to the two large universities nearby, University of Colorado, Denver and University of Colorado, Boulder. The five days I was there, it was five straight days of glorious sunshine and on the last night, when it rained, I was able to sit on my balcony and watch the thunderstorms over Aurora.
The short story is that I loved it.
I could talk for days about Denver (I still do) so here are a few photos to illustrate just what I mean
Denver City Council Building
I met Maggie on the Free MallRide – her owner said she is an absolute diva for attention
American Skillet at Marlowe’s – incomplete without a mimosa
Union Station, which was recently renovated, is definitely one of the most gorgeous city hubs I’ve ever visited.
You can’t go to Denver if you don’t visit a Snooze for breakfast
Denver at 6.30am is a paradise
Tattered Cover Bookstore had been recommended to me by a friend in SF (their main store is on Wynkoop St just outside Union Station). It’s like an Aladdin’s cave of books – you can find anything you want there including copious amounts of magazines on Ireland.
Denver also hosts copious amounts of merchandise stores that are both weird and wonderful. You can get anything from stetsons, fake guns, original Native American artwork and all the weed paraphernalia you could want.
The city is very much a “see it to believe it” kind of city. The photos don’t quite illustrate the vibrant atmosphere, its fun and laidback nature. I find myself now thinking about it more than I did anywhere else. My next big adventure would be to take one month and hire a car around Colorado. It’s like nothing else.
I will be posting lots more about Colorado in the coming days – including my trips to the foothills of the Rockies, Littleton and Boulder.