‘I went to the city famous for pilsners and IPAs – there’s even a beer spa’

A girl’s soulful eyes stare at me, etched on to the metal slats of an abandoned factory. But when I walk further down the street, a different face looks back from the same spot – this time of a boy, who gazes out in wonder.

An optical illusion designed to stop you in your tracks, this is Larimer Boy and Girl, one of the most memorable street murals in the city of Denver, Colorado’s capital.

In the River North Art District – or RiNo, ­pronounced like the animal – they lean heavily on their industrial past, revitalising historic ­warehouses and factories with creativity rather than tearing them down. There’s a striking mural of jazz legend Billie Holiday, who along with Nat King Cole and Miles Davis, performed in the jazz clubs on Welton Street.

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A “Power and Equality” slogan on wall art depicting civil rights activist Angela Davis has become the photo to post from RiNo. Bold, thoughtful and provocative, the artwork leaps out from every surface here.

Discover Denver offers tours packed with history and context to explore the many colourful pieces adorning alleyways and parking lots. Denver’s creative energy is very much alive around the rest of the city too.

A most surprising and entertaining walking tour took me past “Big Sweep”, a giant broom and dustpan, outside the Denver Art Museum. It was made by Claes Oldenburg, a major figure in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, who was known for fashioning larger-than-life sculptures of ordinary objects.

There’s also the 40ft high blue bear peering into the windows of the Colorado Convention Center. Created to inject a sense of fun and playfulness, it is the work of local artist Lawrence Argent and after its installation in 2005, it quickly became a Denver icon.

The tour group came to a halt in a cluster of skyscrapers where a charming clock tower stands a few storeys lower than the rest of the buildings. Constructed as part of the Daniels & Fisher department store in 1910, the D&F Tower was once the tallest building between the Mississippi River and the state of California at a height of 325ft. It survived demolition in the 1970s and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Head a little further out of the city, beneath an unassuming underpass, and you’ll find one of Denver’s most eye-popping creative experiences.

Opened in 2021, Meow Wolf Denver, Convergence Station, is a surreal walk-through art installation, with interactive rooms and bizarre sculptures. Inside, I found myself on C-Street, which is an incredible life-sized recreation of a sidewalk crammed with touchable artwork. As I journeyed through four psychedelic alien worlds, it was easy to see how its intense creative energy has attracted a cult following.

The Maven hotel was my home-from-home for my trip. Located at Dairy Block, near the Coors Field baseball stadium in downtown Denver’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) district, the boutique property is spilling over with more than 700 amazing sculptures, paintings and photographs by Denver artists.

After a night at Nocturne jazz club, where the Spencer Zweifel Trio blew me away with Burt Bacharach’s greatest hits, I slept soundly in my Journeyman bunk room.

Direct flights get you from London to Denver in just under 10 hours, so a night in a lovely hotel like this will set you up for an action-packed trip. With the ski slopes of Aspen just a stone’s throw away, Denver is known as the gateway to the Rockies.

With Aspire Tours, I embraced nature at its purest with a trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was the middle of elk mating season, and to see the huge beasts offering their bugling calls was just a little unnerving. In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, you’ll also find the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a stunning setting for concerts with some of the best acoustics in the world.

I was thrilled to have bagged a ticket to see Arctic Monkeys during my visit. With a backdrop of 400ft red sandstone rocks that are millions of years old, every note bounced off the natural walls as frontman Alex Turner performed a very lazy Macarena to hits such as Fluorescent Adolescent and Do I Wanna Know?

The venue is just as impressive if you visit, for free, in the daytime when the stage is empty. Climb the 250 steps to the top of the theatre for views of the park and Denver or take in the amazing rock formations on the miles of walking trails. There’s a visitor centre as well as the Colorado Music Hall of Fame to explore too.

Denver is also famed for its pilsners and IPAs and there are tours to sample some of the best offerings. My first stop was the Prost Brewing Company, where I was encouraged to 'drink like a German'. At this family-owned brewery with an authentic Oktoberfest vibe, there’s even a food truck serving bratwurst, which go down easy with a pint of Hefeweizen.

Next up is the 14er Brewing Company. Named after the 58 mountains in Colorado that measure more than 14,000ft, it produces unique blends, from Key Lime Pie Cream Ale to its Pina Colada Milkshake IPA. But for those who really love their beer, the Oakwell Beer Spa, located just outside the RiNo district, is an irresistible combination of great beer and relaxation.

After changing into a pair of sliders I entered the taproom area, where I was invited to choose from a range of self-serve beers, ciders and wines. Then, with glass fully charged, I made my way through to a treatment room. Consisting of an infrared sauna, shower and a small hot tub with bubbles infused with hops and barley, I was immediately relaxed by the chilled vibes.

Even better were the zero-gravity massage chairs, which tilt you into a semi-foetal position before squeezing out the tension from each muscle individually. It left me with that blissful floaty feeling. This, in fact, turned out to be the perfect state for enjoying some of Denver’s best cuisine.

For the first time ever, the Michelin Guide has recognised restaurants in Colorado with some of its highest distinctions in 2023. They include the Bib Gourmand, which is a gong handed out to “affordable”eateries that fit Michelin’s stringent criteria.

One of these is the incredible Tavernetta, an Italian restaurant offering wholesome pastas and European wines. Another is Mister Oso, a Latin American eatery specialising in tacos. Also not to be missed is Linger – which offers a “torrent of flavours” within the setting of an old mortuary. Whether you fancy delving into the creative side of city life, doing drinks, dining in style, or delighting in its natural beauty, there’s so much to discover in Denver.

Book the holiday

  • United Airlines flies from Heathrow to Denver, Colorado, starting at £458 return. united.com
  • Rooms at The Maven hotel in Denver start at around £313 a night. themavenhotel.com
  • Holiday Extras provides Heathrow and other UK airport parking, hotels, lounges and transfers with the Flextras option allowing cancellation or amendments without charge. holidayextras.com 0800 316 5678.
  • More info at denver.org

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