Can’t decide between Boulder and Colorado Springs? Here’s a hint:
Boulder offers more hiking opportunities and scenic trails. The city heavily promotes an outdoor lifestyle be it biking, running, or any water sport.
Colorado Springs is just as outdoorsy but will likely have more for families traveling with kids.
Because both cities are similar in many ways, it’s often a tough call between the two. But by the end of this guide, you’ll easily be able to choose which city fits your ideal US vacation.
Boulder scores high on the adventurous side, no doubt. But if you’re a foodie and prefer more nightlife options, this city just might be for you.
In fact, the craft beer scene is a rising trend in Boulder. The Boulder Beer Trail is perhaps one of the best places to start, especially for first-time visitors. Not to mention, you’ll find a good number of upscale bars if you’re in the mood to spend a little extra.
From there, don’t miss your chance to experience one of the most beautiful mountain trails: The Rocky Mountain Range.
Hiking is a way of life in this city. So are jogging, biking, kayaking, running, skiing, and more. Since Boulder is geographically located at the foothills of several mountains, a day’s hike is basically tradition.
That aside, the grand scenery and amazing landscape at Boulder also invite many to choose between:
- Unwinding and taking in the breathtaking views
- An early morning or mid-afternoon picnic with a loved one
- Climbing the towering mountain range for an adrenaline-pumping experience
Come nightfall, you can still add in more cardio by biking around the city. A quiet stroll around Pearl Street Mall is also a great way to put in daily steps while exploring the city’s cultural scene.
For any first-timer, Boulder is a no-brainer vacation. It’s easy to get around and the locals are friendly too.
If you’re serious about considering Boulder for your next trip, read on for all of the city’s unique finds.
What Makes Boulder Unique?
It’s the Perfect Weekend Getaway
They say you can experience all there is to Boulder in a week, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. If you’re short on time, 3 days is all you need in Boulder to have the perfect weekend.
What’s included in those 3 days? Various activities that range from adventure and nature exploration to nightlife and relaxation.
So, what can you do in just 3 days in Boulder? Plenty.
A fine place to start your mornings is Lucile’s Creole Café. Hailed as one of the best breakfast spots in the city, Lucile’s Creole Café serves unique breakfast dishes surely worth trying.
Be sure to order the café’s specialty beignets, along with their Eggs Benedict and Creole Omelet.
Once you’ve had a hearty breakfast, head to Pearl Street, which is just one block from Lucile’s. Here, you’ll find one of Boulder’s best attractions: Pearl Street Mall. There’s something for everyone at this strip, even for kids. Around, there are magic shows and talented performers showcasing their unique skills.
Pearl Street Mall also has a lot of unique shops and boutiques, along with 120 different restaurants to try. These shops range from secondhand stores and athletic clothing to fashion boutiques. For book lovers, Boulder Book Store is also worth checking out.
After all the walking and exploring, in case you get hungry, you’re spoiled for food options. After all, there’s a reason why Boulder was called the “Foodiest Town in America” by Bon Appetit.
Easily, you could spend an entire day in Pearl Street Mall.
And to add even more spice to your weekend trip, a hike to the mountains is undoubtedly worth it.
Your options? Chautauqua Park, Eldorado Canyon State Park, and Boulder Creek are just a few options. There’s also Central Park and Scott Carpenter Park for nature lovers. Finally, you can also visit Eben G. Fine Park if you enjoy kayaking.
There’s still more.
From April to November every Wednesday and Saturday is the famous Boulder Farmers Market. The market runs from 8 am to 2 pm and features over 150 stalls.
Planning a picnic with a loved one in the mountains? Before you go, visit Cured on Pearl Street for their prepackaged gourmet picnic. The set comes with trail mix, artisan salami, cheeses, coffee, and more.
Still looking for more things to do on your trip? Give these attractions a go:
- University Hill
- Fiske Planetarium
- Dushanbe Teahouse
- Boulder Chamber Orchestra
- Border Museum of Contemporary Art
All in all, Boulder has a lot to offer tourists even if you’re a fan of the outdoors. In fact, if entertainment and nightlife are your top priorities, that’s exactly what the next section is all about.
The Craft Beer and Nightlife Scene
Boulder’s nightlife scene isn’t over-the-top compared to big cities like Denver. That said, it’s more than enough if you’re looking for a party.
What makes Boulder’s nightlife scene different? Tons of local flavors, be it a downtown brewery, upscale bar, or eclectic dive bar.
For beer lovers, everywhere you go you’ll definitely find a brewery or bar that serves over 20 beers on tap. If you want to be close to where all the action is, the Boulder Beer Trail is your best bet.
What’s along this trail? Everything beer from the eastern end to the western end of Downtown Boulder. The entire trail spans 15 miles (24 km), linking 12 microbreweries for beer lovers to hop from one brewery to the next.
You can easily download a map online as well. Among many of the breweries found here, Bohemian Biergarten is often mentioned. Here, you’ll find German-style beer and must-try pretzels. The Post Brewing Co. and Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery are also worth checking out.
Now, if you’re looking for the best brewery in town, there are a lot of mixed opinions regarding this topic. After all, Boulder’s craft beer scene is what the city’s known for.
It’s more accurate to say you should at least try whatever you’re in the mood for. Because the majority of Boulder’s breweries serve A+ beer.
What about cocktails, wine, tequila, and margaritas? Don’t worry. Boulder’s got several that will surely catch your attention.
One of the top bars in the city is Tahona Tequila Bistro, a local favorite. And just as the name implies, Tahona is known for its 130 tequila variations, along with its margaritas and convenient location.
So far, Tahona’s margaritas are arguably the best in all of Boulder. The best part? They’re located at Pearl Street Mall, so it’s an easy find for just about any first-time visitor.
Do you prefer cocktails but your spouse only drinks beer? No problem, just head over to The Bitter Bar. This bar has earned its rightful reputation for serving killer cocktail drinks. There’s also a great selection of beers and wines if you want to mix it up.
But if you’re more of the mezcal type, Centro is perhaps the bar to visit. Even better, Monday night in Centro is happy hour all night. Plus, it even comes with an outdoor patio with slick mountain views so it’s just perfect.
Although Centro doesn’t serve a lot of beers, their Bloody Mary is well worth a try. That includes the bar’s frozen daiquiris, margaritas, and pina coladas.
Lastly, these bars are also worth visiting if you want even more nightlife options:
- The Sink
- No Name Bar
- License No. 1
- Bramble and Hare
- Rayback Collective
A Mecca for Adventurous Souls
Boulder’s longstanding reputation as a hub for outdoor adventure is certainly not misplaced. The first thing you’ll notice as soon as you arrive in the city? The awe-inspiring backdrop of the Flatirons and the Rocky Mountains.
But by no means are these gorgeous landscapes solely meant for canyon gawking. Hiking and rock climbing are two of the most popular outdoor activities here. And with a scenic landscape this stunning, why wouldn’t it be right?
That being said, there’s a long lineup of outdoor activities apart from trail running and climbing mountains. Mountain biking, cross-country skiing, fly fishing, and road biking are other activities worth mentioning.
Now, where exactly would you go to experience Boulder’s long list of adventurous experiences?
Take your pick—
There’s the Boulder Reservoir, which offers a beautiful running trail and excellent views. You can also do stand-up paddleboarding here, or simply relax under the sun. For any biking-related activity, Valmont Bike Park is a top-notch area.
Mt. Sanitas and Boulder Falls are also great places to go hiking. And if you want a real challenge, head to Bear Peak. Without a doubt, there’s no missing out on Boulder’s two prized jewels: Rocky Mountain and Flatirons.
Chautauqua Park is also perfect for a lazy day but at the same time offers several hiking trails for every skill level.
Great Art Scene
Past the outdoor adventure and beautiful landscapes, Boulder also plays host to a vibrant art community. The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is just one example to note.
But if you’re wondering just how vibrant the city’s artistic scene is, just take a stroll around the city. There are over 100 colorful murals spread throughout. In fact, the Creative Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to turning Boulder’s blank walls into creative mural designs.
For more art inspirations, check out the art galleries at Pearl Street Mall. Or, you can head to the NOBO Art District where you can connect and meet with a ton of artists. It’s also undoubtedly the best area in the city if you’re looking for creative inspiration.
Colorado Springs combines historical towns and landscapes with outdoor pursuits and family fun. Being a small city, you’ll be surprised to find a wide range of activities to keep you busy throughout.
For the most part, outdoor lovers can spend an entire week in one place: Pikes Peak. The famous attraction is well known for its geography and stunning rock formations.
However, it’s also the same place for everything outdoors. Think of it as a hub for rock climbing, hiking, biking, jeep tours, Segway tours, and more.
Now if you’ve set your mind to a vacation that focused on relaxing, Colorado Springs has plenty to offer too.
On that note, Old Colorado City is a great place to unwind. It’s a charming town filled with shops, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and even a few bars. From morning to night, Old Colorado City is the place to go if you’re looking to chill and relax.
Those who prefer to connect with nature as a form of relaxation will find it in Mueller State Park. This involves quite a bit of hiking but is worth every step if you’ve been meaning to slow down and recharge.
Altogether, Colorado Springs is the place to visit if your ultimate goal is to escape the daily grind. Sure, the city does offer an extensive outdoor activity selection, but it is first and foremost a destination to relax in.
Before you say “yes” to Colorado Springs, it might help to read a little more about what the city has to offer below.
What Makes Colorado Springs Unique?
Manitou Springs is Colorado Springs’ crown jewel if you’re looking for a place to relax. Surprisingly, this small town is home to numerous attractions, including the famous Garden of the Gods.
Just how far is the Garden of the Gods from Manitou Springs? Put it this way. The town rests at the foothills of the mountains, making it a gateway to exploring and enjoying nature any day.
Garden of the Gods is a must-visit. You can go hiking, picnicking, running, or simply admire the park’s 290-million-year-old red-sandstone formation.
For nature lovers, you can also explore the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. This archaeological site tells a lot about Colorado’s history, but it’s also more than just a historical landmark. The cliff dwellings you’ll see here are an architectural marvel, and it’s worth anyone’s time if you simply want a break from the city.
If staying active is a must during vacation, Manitou Springs offers several places to break a sweat. The two most popular are the Manitou Incline and Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
Imagine walking 2,744 steps to the summit of a mountain. That’s the Manitou Incline. It’s only 610 meters (2,000 ft) and generally measures less than a mile, yet so many testify to the Manitou Incline’s challenge.
According to expert hikers and runners, the Manitou Incline is a challenging hike. But at the same time, it’s an excellent way to break a sweat.
For active travelers that prefer something on the lighter side, head to the Red Rock Canyon Open Space. The trail is perfect for all levels, including kids. And you’re not limited to just hiking either. You can go rock climbing, biking, or simply do a leisure walk around the trail.
All in all, spending three days in Manitou Springs already covers a huge chunk of your Colorado Springs itinerary. And if you’re still eager to do more around the city, the next sections get into more detail.
Explore America’s Mountain: Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak is without a doubt Colorado Springs’ most popular attraction. But it’s not just because of the park’s stunning panoramic views and landscape. Similar to Manitou Springs, Pikes Peak is also home to several attractions.
One of which is the Pike National Forest. For anyone that wants to connect with nature and loves the wilderness, you can’t miss out on the Pike National Forest. There are lakes, dense forests, vast landscapes, and plenty of wildlife around.
But if you’d rather explore America’s Mountain in other ways, that’s possible too. Driving along Pikes Peak Highway is a fantastic option, or sign up for a jeep tour for the whole family to do.
Prefer to stay active all throughout your vacation?
Enter Barr Trail, also hailed as one the most challenging hikes in Pikes Peak. The elevated trail spans a total of 12 miles (19.3 km) before reaching the summit. That said, despite the challenge, the trail also boasts an endless view of rock formations and lush forests.
Another great aspect of Pikes Peak is Broadmoor Hotel. The luxury hotel is the best place to stay if you want to be closer to Colorado Springs’ best attractions. You also have easier access to Pikes Peak and everything else around the area.
Plus, Broadmoor Hotel already grants amazing views of the entire Pikes Peak landscape. From here, you can also explore several of Colorado Springs’ top-notch attractions like Cave of the Winds Mountain Park.
What is there to do here? Everything from rest and relaxation to adventure and adrenaline-pumping activities. You can go zip-lining, cave tours, family activities, historical walking tours, and so much more.
Overall, there are a lot of reasons to love Pikes Peak on its own. Even exploring the landscape around Pikes Peak alone is awe-inspiring. And it’s definitely one of the highlights of visiting Colorado Springs. Don’t miss it.
“Ivywild is a hub for meeting, eating, drinking, and neighboring.” That’s how Colorado Springs brands it. And while many at first might think it’s a school or college, it’s actually quite the opposite.
Ivywild School used to be an educational institution but was later developed into something more. The classrooms have all been transformed into boutiques, coffee shops, bakeries, food stores, etc.
In fact, there are even several rooms that were transformed into pizzerias and a whiskey tasting room.
In other words, think of Ivywild School as a community center where everyone can dine, drink, and mingle. One of the highlights of Ivywild School? The empanadas. According to many testimonials, you’ll find the best empanadas in Colorado at Ivywild School.
That’s not all. Even the all-American burgers and pizza are said to be outstanding. But if you prefer something light, there’s always a salad stall that serves fresh flavors daily.
For beer lovers, you can grab a cold one at Bristol Brewing Co. Or, head to the Principal’s Office for great cocktails or some whiskey. Even better, the Axe & The Oak Whiskey House arguably serves the best cocktails. If you’re looking for innovative drinks, this ‘house’ is definitely a must.
Overall, Ivywild School has all the essentials to kickstart your morning and everything for the perfect nightcap. Whether that’s a great cup of joe, freshly baked pastries, a cold beer, whiskey, or a great cocktail.
Additionally, Ivywild School has a ton of places to dine and drink. Put simply, you’re not solely limited to dining indoors. You can do so alfresco too, which is perfect when you’re having a drink with friends or even by yourself.
Old Colorado City
Think of Old Colorado City as the suburbs of Colorado Springs. However, there is one exception. Instead of rows of houses, it’s shops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and bars you’ll find here. It’s almost like a one-stop shop for everything you need from shopping and relaxing to eating and nightlife.
While the nightlife is great in Old Colorado City, Tejon Street is a better option if you want more choices. Regardless, people don’t spend hours in Old Colorado City just for the breweries and cocktail or wine bars.
Instead, people visit Old Colorado City to unwind, whether that be early morning or late in the afternoon. If you stroll along the streets, you’ll find a lot of unique shops that may pique your interest.
Every first Friday from April to December is also a free art walk if you want to get your creative juices flowing. There are also farmer’s markets and the famous Fall Harvest Festival, which happens between September and October.
With regards to farmer’s markets though, these are only available every June to October from 7 am to 1 pm.
Finally, it’s worth checking out some of Old Colorado City’s best restaurants, bakeries, and pubs, such as:
- Alchemy Pub
- Paravicini’s Italian Bistro
- La Baguette French Bakery
- Wimberger’s Old World Bakery
- The British Pantry and Tea Room
If you need a break from all the outdoor adventure in Colorado Springs, stroll around Old Colorado City. The suburban-like town has a charm that will gravitate you to stay in the area for longer than expected.
Come October and Old Colorado City is a lively place to be with all the local markets and festivals happening. But most of all, nothing beats coming here for a quiet afternoon with a cup of coffee in hand. Or better yet, a chill night out with friends or a loved one.
Which Is Better – Boulder or Colorado Springs?
Although Boulder has more to offer, there’s no denying the charm you’ll find at Colorado Springs. For adventure junkies, either city makes for an excellent vacation.
Both are situated close to the mountains, so the scenery and outdoor activities are easily accessible. Not to mention, Boulder and Colorado Springs also have several attractions to keep active travelers busy.
That said, there’s an easy way to differentiate the two:
Colorado Springs is more family-oriented and conservative, while Boulder is a mix of everything in between. Put simply, Boulder is great for families, but being a college town, it also adds a young, hip vibe to it.
This means it’s also great if you’re looking for a city with a more vibrant or livelier nightlife. If you’re more fond of food and dining options, Boulder might also be the better choice. Boulder is well-known for its excellent breweries and great dining options.
Plus, shopping is also better in Boulder overall. When it comes to other activities like skiing and biking, Boulder offers more options too, and more trails in general.
However, Colorado Springs might be the better choice if you prefer a vacation where you can take it easy. Granted, the city offers decent nightlife and a lot of outdoor activities.
That being said, Colorado Springs has a lot of tourist attractions to keep you entertained throughout. For instance, Manitou Springs, Garden of the Gods, and Pikes Peak are all fantastic places to visit. The same can be said for the Cog Railway, which is a relaxing trip suitable for every traveler.
Either way, Boulder and Colorado Springs are worth visiting. But if you want more bang for your buck in your travel itinerary, Boulder offers more to do. Whereas Colorado Springs is more on the peaceful side with a little adventure and nightlife in between.
Boulder to Colorado Springs Transportation
The two best ways to get to Colorado Springs from Boulder are via car or bus. If you’re taking the bus, you’ll need to head to Union Station, and take the bus from there. However, the route from Boulder to Colorado Springs is through Denver.
Typically, the average distance from Boulder to Colorado Springs is 97.6 miles (157 km). On a good day, the travel time takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours. But with traffic, the total travel time could reach up to 3 hours.
If you want to do a lot of sightseeing, renting a car is the best option. There are several stops you can make along the way, including Denver. It also might be a good idea to spend one or two nights in Denver if you want to make the most of your drive. It has a ton of parks so you can set aside a day for relaxation, one day for adventure, and another for nightlife.
Colorado Springs to Boulder by Shuttle
There is no shuttle that takes you directly from Colorado Springs to Boulder. Instead, the shuttle takes you to Denver. From there, you can take a bus, taxi, or even an Uber to Boulder.
Even if you book bus tickets online, the route would include Denver and then Boulder. Generally, you’ll have to buy two separate bus tickets. One going to Denver from Colorado Springs, and then from Denver to Boulder.