Denver: Join the mile-high club

Everything is big in Denver, from the mountain peaks to the shoulder pads of Dynasty.

By Sharron Livingston, October 11, 2011
The Denver skyline offers a vista of high rises and snow-capped mountain peaks that tower over the city

The Denver skyline offers a vista of high rises and snow-capped mountain peaks that tower over the city

The mile-high city of Denver, famed for the Dynasty TV series (remember those padded shoulders and over-the-top fashion the women wore?). It's not just a place to land before heading on to the Interstate 70 Highway to Vail, Aspen or Crested Butte ski resorts. This sprawling city is a year-round destination famed as the culture capital of Colorado, and the former cow town is a beautiful city in its own right.

The streets are beautified with a wonderful mix of architecture and an abundance of green areas with the stunning backdrop of the Rockies towering on the horizon. The city has a substantial Jewish community and a little-known fact is that Denver is twinned with the city of Karmiel in Haifa, with whom it shares a mild climate, low humidity and an appealing mountain backdrop.

Here are my top picks in and around this highly navigable metropolis. So, get your spurs on and see 'em while they're hot:

Must swoop in
The only airline that flies direct to Denver International is British Airways. Economy fares start at £234 one way.

Must stay
For a funky retro-styled boutique hotel that thinks it's a stand-up comedian, stay at Curtis Hotel. You are welcomed with warm chocolate chip cookies, and the lift sings out differing songs on arrival depending on the theme of your floor – could be movie, music or TV. It is ideally located in Downtown Denver within walking distance of the Art Museum, and you get great views over the Rockies.

Colorado State Capital building: miles above the rest

Colorado State Capital building: miles above the rest

Must stay for business traveller
If the Curtis sounds a little juvenile, go for the far more elegant Marriot hotel located opposite the Cherry Creek shopping mall. Valet parking, large marble reception, spacious, well-decorated rooms with marble bathrooms and a plush Concierge Club (for those staying on floors 10 and 11) all set a truly sophisticated scene.

Must visit
The Denver Art Museum is a sensational icon in the heart of the city. It has been created with shimmering titanium and glass and was designed by Daniel Libeskind who took his inspiration from the Rockies. Inside is an equally sensational collection of American Indian, Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art. There's a funky Andy Warhol contribution called The American Indian. Top tip: The museum is free to visit on the first Saturday of each month.

Must pray
There are a handful of synagogues of varying denominations in Denver but the BMH-BJ is the only one to offer separate orthodox services: one with a mechitzah and the other offering mixed seating. Its membership numbers 650 families and you can pray with them in their spacious, modern synagogue and admire their lovely stained-glass windows.

Must pop by
Be sure to pop into the colourfully packaged Mizel Museum. It depicts the historical journey of Jews throughout the millennia and offers a great introduction for kids and those who wish to know more.

Also, if you have a moment, there is a memorial at Denver's 27-acres of parkland at the corner of Yale and Havana called Babi Yar Park. It commemorates the thousands of Jews, gypsies, Ukranians and others who were murdered between 1941 and 1943 at the Babi Yar ravine in the ouskirts of Kiev.

Must shop
Cherry Creek shopping centre is vast and has everything from Saks, Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom and Banana Republic. Also head out to Downtown Denver to 16th Street open air mall where a free shuttle service is on hand.

Must get the look
Denver has shrugged off its cowboy image and frontier lifestyle that came with the likes of Buffalo Bill and the Gold Rush in favour of city living. But a well buffed pair of cowboy boots, a finely shaped Stetson, a pair of wrangler jeans with a buckle belt and a pearl-snap Western-cut shirt can still look fetching. And since "Papa" Jack Weil invented the snap-button Western shirt (as worn by rock stars and presidents) right here in Denver, it seems churlish not to check out the flagship store and museum in Lower Downtown at Rockmount store. Their hall of fame includes photographs of Ronald Reagan and Eric Clapton in full Western wear.

Or trot over to Sheplers where you can rustle up all sorts of designer Western gear (including Levis jeans).

Must chill out
The appealing Larimar Square, a historic block in Downtown Denver, is hemmed with plenty of independent shops and an eclectic mix of chef-owned restaurants and nightlife options from comedy to beer haunts and wine bars.

Must jog
On Sunday mornings, the people of Denver awaken early to jog around any one of 200 local parks. But the largest and most beautiful is Washington Park. Join them on your bike, skateboard or in a pair of trainers. This 63-hectare space has two sensational formal gardens, one of which is a replica of George Washington's garden at Mount Vernon. There are two lakes (where you can fish if you so happen to have a rod), bowling greens, tennis, basketball courts, playgrounds and an indoor pool.

Must sip the local brew
Denver brews so much beer (more than 100 varieties at the last count) that you can think of it as the Napa Valley for beer. Probably the most famous, and indeed the city's first brewpub, is Wynkoop. This jovial drinking hole was founded by the mayor, John Hickenlooper, who sold out when he became Colorado state governor. It sprawls over two floors with bars on both floors. On the upper floor are 22 billiard tables (they spawned many a champion) and two shuffle boards. There is a menu of comfort food and if you order the humous plate, they suggest you twin it with their light Rail Ale 4.5% ABV. For something a little sweeter try their Cowtown Milk Stout, 4.8% AVB which goes well, they say with their chocolate brownie, cream cheese and walnut dessert.

Must smell the flowers
The Denver Botanic Gardens is a floral feast in the heart of the city. There are 45 gardens, an eight-acre corn maze, a huge observatory, streams and fountains offering lots of inspiration for your inner gardener.

Must take a hike
Nestling in the Rockies as it does, the city has come up with a unique mountain park system for hikers and cyclists. It comprises 14,000 acres of splendid scenery where your eyes can graze on buffalo herds while following a rocky trail, or fish in Echol Lake.

Must go to a concert
Be sure to also fit in the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. All the good and the great have sung here alfresco, surrounded by huge red rocks and beautiful greenery and mountains. There is a summer-long programme of concerts but even if there is no show, visit anyway. There is a museum with a film to watch, and when the sun is ready to set take a seat and watch the light show as it descends behind the rocks.

Must go for a drive
Get hold of some wheels and head for the lovely Bohemian town of Boulder around 40 minutes away. This is where hippies would hang out in the late 1960s. Saunter through Pearl Street Mall, browse the weekly farmer's market and then have tea at the ornately decorated Duchanbe Tea House - a gift from its sister city Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, in 1987. The tea-house is by a brook, as is the Tajik way.

Must play golf
Tee off or simply take tea at the 18-hole Arrowhead Golf Club in nearby Roxborough.The foothill views are simply breathtaking and you may encounter a squirrel, deer or even a bear on your way round.

The course is surrounded by extreme elevations and thousands of ancient yet stunning, red sandstone rocks.

Be warned, though, this course is not designed for beginners. Hole number 2 is uphill par 5 and the shot onto the green is blind. At number 13 you tee off from an elevated T box, which drops down to a much lower green. And getting around tends to be slow because players can't help but admire the views and take pictures. The cost is $100, which may sound a lot, but it includes the green fee, cart fee, practice balls, meals, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.

Must join the mile-high club
The stately Colorado State Capital Building, home of the Colorado Legislature, has an unmissable, sparkling domed roof encrusted with 303 ounces of 24-carat gold. Pillars on the west entrance are topped with carved stone statues. Inside are several hand painted images of US presidents from George Washington through to Bill Clinton.

Top Tip: Stand on its 13th step and you will be 5,280 feet above sea level - exactly one mile high.

Last updated: 11:34am, October 17 2011