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 certainly one of the most scenic airports to host a lengthy layover. However, if you have 6 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!
If you end up with a layover less than 6 hours or just don’t feel like making the commute into the city, it might be worth it to stay put and explore some of the attractions at DEN. One activity you can occupy some of your time with is the airport scavenger hunt. In each one of its terminals there are gargoyles, coffee shops and hidden art 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 itself, check out our Denver Airport Guide.
Below are a few essential sights:
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 all over the world, visitors can take in the sights and smells of some amazing 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 greatest collections of high-altitude Western plants in the U.S., including the must-see ‘rock alpine garden’ and the ‘Roads Water-Smart garden’. There are a number of art exhibitions on display during certain times of the year, so be sure to check whether they require a separate fee before you buy your ticket.
Time Required: You can see as little or as much as you want at the gardens, but generally it takes 1-2 hours to walk through all of the different displays and exhibits. The biggest 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 St 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. Total transit time= 1 hour, 17 minutes. Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
With three levels of amazing exhibits and interactive displays, visitors to the Denver Museum will certainly find lots of fun things to see and do. From ancient Egyptian mummies to prehistoric dinosaur bones, there is truly something for everyone. 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 different displays and exhibits here, but 3-5 hours would allow for plenty of time to get the full 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 10 stops, you’ll get off on Montview Boulevard and Beeler Street and walk about 1 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 transit time= 1 hour. Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.
Located right 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. If you’re planning a trip to this part of the city, you can easily turn a full day of wasted layover time into productive and amusing sightseeing at one of the coolest animal exhibits in the state. With over 3,800 different animals representing 650 species, come spend some time with Denver’s friendly giraffes, elephants and wild peacocks that roam the park.
Time Required: To experience most of what the zoo has to offer, we recommend planning 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 how they’re within walking distance of each other.
How to Get There: Use the exact same directions as you would to get 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 transit time= 1 hour. Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.
16th Street Mall
Located in the heart of bustling 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 (think: rickshaws) whisk passengers to-and-fro 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 get a glimpse at 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 length of the mall in order to see as much as possible, but with the free transit system you could easily get in and out in 1-2 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 transit time= 1 hour. Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.
Denver Airport is located 20 miles (40 km) from the heart of Denver, making short layovers of less than 6 hours nearly impossible to get out and sightsee. There are a number of public and private transportation options available to those that 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: There are a number of taxis readily available servicing Downtown Denver and other popular cities. There is 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 for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to 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? Make sure you 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 long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of 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, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights.