Sleeping in Airports

Denver Airport Layover Sightseeing

This article includes links to our travel partners at Tripadvisor, where you can read traveller reviews, book tours and plan your visit to Denver.

Denver Airport Layover Sightseeing
Photo Credit: steheap / Fotolia

Denver International Airport (DEN) is located 25 miles (40 km) from Colorado’s beautiful capital city of Denver. With a total land area of 34,000 acres (54 sq. miles), it is the largest airport in the continental United States. Easily recognized by its tent-like aesthetics and unencumbered views of the Rocky Mountains to the West, Denver International is undoubtedly one of the most scenic airports to host a lengthy layover. However, if you have six or more hours to kill and wish to get out and experience the Mile High City, be prepared to take a lengthy bus ride (over an hour in rush hour traffic) or a cab. Once in downtown Denver, there is plenty to see and do- key attractions include the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Denver Zoo. Check out our Denver Layover guide below for information on what to do and how to do it!

Airport Overview

If you end up with a layover of less than six hours or don’t feel like commuting into the city, staying put and exploring some of the attractions at DEN might be the best option. One activity you can spend some time with is the airport scavenger hunt. There are gargoyles, coffee shops, and hidden art in each one of its terminals that will test your detective skills. This is certainly not one of the most accommodating or entertaining overnight airports, lacking 24-hour dining choices and free dedicated rest areas – but during regular business hours, you can take a stroll to take in some of the world-famous unique public art displays and fine dining. Stop by the “Open Windows” interactive LED light display for a surprisingly fun way to spend some time while waiting for a flight. For more information about the airport, check out our Denver Airport Guide.

Denver Sightseeing Attractions

Below are a few of the top things to do in Denver:

Denver Botanic Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens
Photo Credit: Denver Botanic Gardens

If you’ve decided to take a trip to the city, start your sightseeing adventure at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Hosting a wide diversity of plants found worldwide, visitors can take in the sights and smells of some unique flowers (like the 60-inch tall ‘corpse flower,’ which smells like rotten meat). At an elevation of over a mile above sea level, the Denver Botanic Gardens feature some of the most significant collections of high-altitude Western plants in the U.S., including the must-see’ rock alpine garden’ and the ‘Roads Water-Smart Garden.’ Several art exhibitions are on display during certain times of the year, so be sure to check whether they require a separate fee before buying your ticket.

  • Time Required: You can see as little or as much as you want at the gardens, but generally, walking through the different displays and exhibits takes one to two hours. The most significant chunk of your time will be getting here from the airport.
  • How to Get There: From the airport, hop on the AS bus line from Island #5 towards Stapleton. Get off at the Stapleton Park n’ Ride and take the #43 bus line towards Downing Station via MLK Boulevard. After 22 stops (17 minutes), hop off at MLK Boulevard & York Street and walk over to the #24 line stop heading to C-470- University Park n’ Ride station. After 11 stops, get off on York Street & 9th Avenue, where the gardens will be directly to the West. The total travel time is 1 hour and 17 minutes. Check out this Google Map for public and private transit options and the required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the Denver Botanic Gardens, book a tour or read traveller reviews.

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Photo Credit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

With three levels of amazing exhibits and interactive displays, visitors to the Denver Museum will undoubtedly find lots of fun things to see and do. There is something for everyone, from ancient Egyptian mummies to prehistoric dinosaur bones. Be sure to check out the ‘Space Odyssey’ zone on the first floor for a taste of what it must be like to be an astronaut exploring the surface of Mars. Upstairs, you can walk through the stunning wildlife exhibits and even catch a movie at the Phipps IMAX theatre – one of the largest high-definition screens in the U.S.

  • Time Required: Visitors can easily spend a whole day exploring all the displays and exhibits here, but three to five hours would allow plenty of time to get the entire experience. Depending on whether you visit during a weekday or a weekend, lines can be long with school tours and families. Try to visit early or later in the day- if you can- to avoid the crowds.
  • How to Get There: From the airport, take the AS bus line from Island #5 towards Stapleton. Exit the Stapleton Park n’ Ride Gate B and get on the #105 towards Ulster Tufts via Havana. After ten stops, you’ll get off on Montview Boulevard and Beeler Street and walk about one minute to the #20 bus line towards Union Station. 21 stops later, get off at the Colorado & Montview Boulevard stop and walk directly across the street to the museum. Total travel time is one hour. Check out this Google Map for public and private transit options and the required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the Denver Museum, book a tour or read traveller reviews.

Denver Zoo

Denver Zoo
Photo Credit: Denver Zoo

Located next door to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Denver Zoo is one of the city’s most highly regarded (and most visited) attractions. Suppose you’re planning a trip to this part of the city. In that case, you can quickly turn a full day of wasted layover time into productive and amusing sightseeing at one of the most incredible animal exhibits in the state. With over 3,800 animals representing 650 species, spend some time with Denver’s friendly giraffes, elephants and wild peacocks roaming the park.

  • Time Required: To experience most of what the zoo offers, we recommend spending at least 3-4 hours here. It can get crowded and hot during the summer, but it’s always worth a visit. You might consider combining a visit to the Denver Zoo with a stop at the Denver Museum, seeing as they’re within walking distance.
  • How to Get There: Use the exact directions to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, but get off one block earlier on 23rd Avenue instead of Montview. Walk about 0.6 miles West on 23rd, and you’re there. Total travel time is 1 hour. Check out this Google Map for public and private transit options and the required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the Denver Zoo, book a tour or read traveller reviews.

16th Street Mall

Located in the heart of downtown Denver, this historic street has long been used as a pedestrian walkway to explore some of the Mile High City’s most unique and fascinating shops and restaurants. While no cars are allowed on the mall, free shuttle buses and pedicabs (like rickshaws) whisk passengers to and fro with various stops along the way. Grab a meaty burger and witness some rock-and-roll memorabilia at the world-renowned Hard Rock Café, or update your wardrobe at H&M. No matter where you shop, you’ll glimpse local life in Denver.

  • Time Required: You can spend as much or as little time here as you’d like. Most visitors prefer to walk the entire mall to see as much as possible, but with the free transit system, you can quickly get in and out in one to two hours, depending on how long you want to shop.
  • How to Get There: Hop on the AF bus line from Island #5 towards Downtown. This will take you straight to the Denver bus station, where you can get on a free mall shuttle and get straight to the action. Total travel time is 1 hour. Check out this Google Map for public and private transit options and the required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the 16th Street Mall, book a tour, or read traveller reviews.

Airport Transportation

Denver Airport is 20 miles (40 km) from the heart of Denver, making short layovers of less than six hours nearly impossible to get out and sightsee. Several public and private transportation options are available to those who wish to experience Denver outside of the airport.

Public transit options include:

  • Bus: Departing from Jeppesen Terminal Level 5, Island 5, RTD’s SkyRide bus line commutes visitors to and from the airport to numerous stops and Park n’ Ride locations throughout Denver and outlying cities. A one-day pass costs $9.00, and buses depart every 15 minutes. For more information, visit the RTD SkyRide website.

Private transit options include:

  • Taxicab: Several taxis are readily available for Downtown Denver and other popular cities. A flat-rate fee of $56.00 to get to the Downtown Zone A.
  • Shared ride services: Commuter shuttles depart and arrive at Jeppesen Terminal Level 5, island 5. Contact the shuttle provider of your choice to arrange pick-up from DEN.
  • Limousines: If you’re feeling extra fancy, limousine service to Denver can be arranged by contacting one of the providers from this list.

Before You Go: Layover Tips

Now that you are motivated and excited about your mini layover vacation, check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.

  • Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
  • When is your next flight’s check-in time? Double-check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
  • What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for extended security wait times, so research in advance and factor that into your overall time budget.
  • What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights.

Other Useful Resources

Finally, here are a few handy resources to help you plan your layover even more thoroughly:

  • Tripadvisor – Visit Things to Do in Denver to plan a tour or the Denver Travel Forum to check out past threads to see what other travellers have shared about sightseeing during long layovers at Denver Airport and post your questions.