Things to do in Denver

Union Station Square Denver

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For more than 100 years, Denver Union Station has been a key part of the Mile High City landscape. First, as a dedicated train depot that helped bring people west and then as a public space for fun and relaxation, Union Station has withstood the test of time with style.

Here’s everything you wanted to know about this historic locale. Our guide includes info on where Union Station is located, which attractions are nearby, and what the historic station house gives the city of Denver today — spoiler: it’s plenty of things to do.

The History of Denver’s Union Station Square to Present Day

The late 1800s was a time of meteoric growth in the then-budding United States. Train travel gave settlers on the east coast a chance to migrate toward the West. Then, in 1868, a new station went up to serve as a waypoint for the Denver Pacific Railway. Four other line-specific stations followed until Union Pacific Railroad suggested a centralized hub open to all.

The aptly named Union Station went up on the corner of 17th and Wynkoop Streets in 1881. The building was about 500 feet wide, and a stunning 180-foot clock tower made the station the tallest building in the West to date. Unfortunately, a series of fires leveled the original structure. The Union Station of today is the result of a reimagined depot that opened up in 1914.

That early 20th-century renovation heavily influenced the station’s appearance. The original building was a heavy and imposing build that took inspiration from Romanesque revival design. The newer version took on the opulence and orderly embellishments so often seen in beaux arts architecture.

At its peak in the 1940s, Denver Union Station saw traffic in excess of 50,000 people per day. VIP guests included President Theodore Roosevelt, Queen Marie of Romania, and active service members headed east to deploy during World War II.

Though train travel isn’t as relied upon or even preferred as it once was, Union Station still stands. Today, it's a regional nucleus for travel and a local point of interest for anyone who’s looking to eat, shop, and explore.

Photographer: Francisco B

Attractions and Landmarks Nearby

Union Station’s downtown location means there’s easy access to a ton of key attractions, parks, and museums in Denver — including the National Ballpark Museum. Whether you’re looking to fill your belly or your shopping bags, there’s plenty to do without going too far off the beaten path.

1. The Crawford Hotel

One of the best places to stay in Denver is right inside Union Station. The Crawford Hotel has all the contemporary amenities discerning travelers need. Still, vintage features, such as claw-foot tubs and exposed beams, serve as a reminder of the hotel’s historic setting.

From the minute you enter the lobby and gaze up at the 65-foot-tall ceilings, it’s nearly impossible not to be enchanted. Natural light streams through elevated windows and sparkling chandeliers cast a warm glow. Pieces of classic art adorn the walls. All rooms and suites are stocked with an in-room Nespresso maker, and there’s high-speed Wi-Fi available throughout.

But the true difference at The Crawford is the way the hotel serves up a taste of everything Union Square has to offer. As part of the regular room rate, guests are treated to bonuses. Claim your free caffeine courtesy of PigTrain Coffee Co, a daily scoop of ice cream from Milkbox, and one daily craft beer from The Terminal Bar. Other perks include priority seating at Snooze and complimentary fitness club access.

Photographer: Colin Lloyd

2. Milkbox Ice Creamery

Denver’s Union Square is a pretty big deal, but at Milkbox Ice Creamery, there’s a definite emphasis on thinking small — small batch ice cream, that is. There are about 16 flavors up for grabs at any given time, including dairy-free sorbets and vegan scoops made with zero animal products.

Classic tastes such as coffee bean, toasted coconut, mint Oreo, and strawberry share space with more creative combinations. How do basil blueberry swirl, luv chunks (raspberry ice cream with brownie pieces), or spicy Mexican chocolate sound?

Milkbox caters to the 21-and-over crowd with boozy shakes and floats. Bailey’s Irish cream and coffee top the list, but pineapple sorbet topped with sparkling wine isn’t far behind.

3. Stoic & Genuine

Put on your lobster bib and get ready to salivate over the expansive seafood offerings at Stoic & Genuine. All key ingredients are flown in fresh daily, ensuring your snapper and crab are still briny and delicious when you sit down to dine.

Chef Jennifer Jasinski and General Manager Beth Gruitch are already known as a bit of a dynamic duo in Denver. Their other concepts, Rioja and Bistro Vendome, are consistently busy.

At Stoic & Genuine, Jen and Beth have created an ode to coastal cuisine. There’s an oyster bar and an exhibition kitchen, both of which contribute to the joyous energy and interactive feel of the restaurant. The menu's genius comes in waves, starting with chilled crudos. Then come starters such as octopus mortadella with candied lemon vinaigrette, pistachio, and micro sorrel.

Entrees are just spectacular, with Thai flavors and German influence playing peek-a-boo from dish to dish. The cocktail and wine lists are carefully curated to support — but never obscure — the chef’s works of art. Instead of dessert and a cappuccino at the end of your meal, try Go Eat Worms. This chilled boozy concoction has Flor de Cana rum, turbo syrup, and coffee granita.

4. Ultreia

Utreia Denver is another Jasinski/Gruitch masterpiece, this one with a more Spanish influence. The restaurant serves brunch, lunch, and dinner. Dishes such as Croquetas de Jamon, moorish spiced ribs, and trout a la plancha bring Iberian flavors to the heart of downtown Denver.

Specialty gin and tonics are central to Utreia’s cocktail list. Try the Ambrose, with Barr Hill gin, spiced honey, and Fever Tree light tonic. Or go for a floral-meets-citrus twist with Dreams of You, a G&T made with Leopold Small Batch gin, Leopold orange liquor, Montenegro, falernum, and lavender bitters.

Happy hour runs every weekday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with deals on drinks and small Spanish snacks called pintxos. House sangria, cava, and red, white, and rose wine are all reasonably priced. So are vermouth and gin and tonic cocktails — all perfect matches for spicy bites.

Offerings such as the Happy Hour Charcuterie Board with pan con tomate, chorizo picante, manchego cheese, and marinated olives are perfect for satisfying a rumbling tummy. Dine in before you head off to make an appearance at one of our productions or another must-see event.

5. Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf is hard to explain, and at least part of the confusion is intentional. It’s like an art installation you can explore from the inside. Leaving some of the messaging and intent open to interpretation only deepens the intensity of the experience.

Everywhere you look, there’s a riot of color, boisterous structures, and general mayhem. Special spaces such as Sips (with a Z), Galleri Gallery, and The Perplexiplex all serve their own purposes.

The first provides handcrafted cocktails and snacks, and the second is a rotating showcase for local Denver artists. The third hosts concerts heightened by interactive technology.

It’s all part of a dynamic cityscape the creators call the Convergence. Are they alien worlds? Are they an artistic experiment? Will you ever want to leave? It’s the same genre-defying, viscerally moving, and breathtakingly unique environment we heavily favor — so of course this attraction is one we highly recommend checking out.

6. Elitch Gardens

Elitch Gardens is a complete departure from the grandeur and indoor retreat that is Denver Union Station, yet it’s just a 4-minute drive away. You might as well walk to this theme and water park.

That way you can work off some of that nervous energy before you start lining up for the park’s best rides. There are 13 roller coasters for the adventurous. Family-friendly rides include a towering Ferris wheel and tike bikes for your littlest explorers.

You can buy a two-park pass and head to the water park side of Elitch's to go tubing down a thrill side or play in the splash pool.

Keep in mind that Elitch is only open from April through October, so go while you can. As the holidays near, the park reopens for Luminova Holidays, a seasonal extravaganza that includes over 4 million sparkling lights, a 65-foot-tall Christmas tree, 300-foot-tall candy canes, interactive activities, and a visit from the jolly old elf himself.

Photographer: Acton Crawford

Exploring Union Station Square Today

Today’s Union Station in downtown Denver takes the best of the old-school vibes and seamlessly melds that classic ambiance with contemporary attractions and modern storefronts. In the past, people came through Union Station on their way in or out of town — shopping and dining were incidental or done out of pure necessity. But now the depot is a destination all its own.

Photographer: Colin Lloyd

7. Eating at Denver Union Station

People come here on purpose, either because they’re locals who already know what Union Station has to offer or because they’re tourists who want to experience Denver's history firsthand. While they may not be on our list of top rooftop restaurants in Denver, these indoor spots should be on your itinerary.

Eateries such as Wafels and Dinges make breakfast beautiful again, while The Cooper Lounge’s mezzanine-level setting delivers breathtaking views of the station’s Great Hall while you sip on cocktails like a true Prohibition-era bon vivant.

There are options for nourishment even if you’re on the go and strapped for time. The ACME Delicatessen is a sandwich lover’s paradise, and James Beard Award-winning chef Alex Seidel’s Mercantile Dining & Provision is set up like a European-style market, so you can do a DIY picnic brimming with locally sourced meats and cheeses.

8. Shopping at Denver Union Station

Make the most of your layover and get the best holiday gifts in town at the retail shops inside Union Station.

Tattered Cover Book Store has been around since the early 1970s. The independent shop has stood the test of time by combining incredible new and used books with exceptional, highly personalized service. Landfall Floral Co. has a similarly special feel.

Owner Emily Guin takes great pride in sourcing from small growers, and her bouquets and displays incorporate striking florals and lush greenery with smashing results.

At 5 Green Boxes, everything is a potential heirloom treasure. Jewelry, home goods, accessories — buy something for yourself or a loved one and rest easy knowing it’s not another mass-produced tchotchke from a big-box store. The same goes for Bloom by Anuschka, a charming jewel box of a boutique that specializes in fine art, fabrics, and decor.

9. Experiences at Denver Union Station

In addition to all the permanent brick-and-mortar shops and restaurants inside Union Station, there are also pop-ups and seasonal experiences that help make this place truly one of a kind. As winter approaches, so does Miracle at Union Station.

This spirited holiday gathering includes a pop-up bar and coincides with other themed events, such as an outdoor holiday light show featuring interactive visual imagery crafted by local artists.

Other events on the calendar include cooking classes, New Year’s Eve bashes, and philanthropic get-togethers launched in support of Denver nonprofits.

Getting to Union Station Square

Denver’s Union Station began as a travel hub, bringing people and supplies to a growing city center. Today, transportation is still a primary focus of the present-day Union Station building. You can use it as an entry point into Denver from almost anywhere in the continental United States.

The Union Station neighborhood is located in Denver’s downtown area, about 37 minutes away from Denver International via the airport rail line.

Amtrak trains run through Union Station in Denver, including the popular California Zephyr line. It's well known for its daily service from Chicago to San Francisco.

If you need to get to the station itself from inside the city or from the station to your hotel, a friend’s house, or one of Denver’s awesome attractions, you have a couple of options:

  • RTD: There are 10 Regional Transport District rail lines in Denver, and seven of them connect to Union Station. There’s also RTD Mallride. This free shuttle service takes shoppers and tourists around downtown. Covered areas include Union Station, the 16th Street Mall, and Civic Center Station. Denver Union Station is on the RTD bus lines too, with fares starting at just $3 per ride.
  • Drive and park: If you drive to Union Station, you can park on the street in meter spaces or use the valet services through The Crawford Hotel. Those valets are on duty around the clock, with the easiest drop-off point being the valet stand on 17th and Wynkoop St. Parking rates start at $24 for non-validated tickets, but guests who validate via participating Union Station vendors pay just $20. Cars parked over 8 hours or overnight will be charged the max rate of $53/day.
  • Car rentals: There are no car rental services available on Union Station property. However, several area rental companies will pick up at the square upon request.
  • Rideshares and taxis: Grab an Uber or Lyft out front on Wynkoop St. Both apps also have bikes and scooters for rent.
Photographer: Colin Lloyd

Celebrating Denver’s History and Future at Union Square

Denver’s Union Station is an integral part of the city’s past, but it’s anything but stagnant. A recent renovation has breathed new life into the century-old facade. An influx of who’s who in fine dining and independent shops keeps things fresh while preserving the station’s extraordinary appeal.

While Union Square is a practical place for those in need of transportation across or away from Denver, it's also home to incredible restaurants recognized by critics across the nation. This is where you want to go to shop, drink, or people-watch before a big event. It’s the best of Denver carefully collected under one roof, and it’s well worth a visit.

While you’re building your Denver itinerary, keep up the theme of artistic attractions and authentic experiences by booking tickets to one of our shows in Denver. Like Denver, our productions are rich in history, diversity, and joy. Making our show part of your night out on the town might just be your best creative decision to date.

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