Denver, being the capital of Colorado, obviously has a lot more to offer as the bigger city. But if you’re looking for a slower-paced vacation where everything is within easy reach, Boulder is the better choice.
Still, Boulder has plenty to offer when it comes to recreational outdoor activities. Whereas Denver has outdoor adventure too, but not nearly as outdoorsy as what you’ll find in Boulder.
If all that has left you feeling confused, don’t worry. This guide walks you through the main differences between Boulder and Denver. Plus, what type of vacation you can expect from each city.
Boulder can be thought of as a close-knit community of outdoor lovers. Hiking, rock climbing, biking, you name it. So essentially, for any outdoor lover, Boulder’s your spot.
The best thing about Boulder is its closer proximity to the mountains, right in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain Range. This means that finding a hiking trail or biking path is very close by, and easy to get to – about 5 minutes distance.
In fact, if you stroll just about anywhere around the city, you’ll find a lot of people wearing sportswear. In other words, when you’re in Boulder, you dress for the trail.
And that’s because leading an active lifestyle is perhaps the most noticeable trait of the community at Boulder.
There are several attractions, shopping malls, and great restaurants too. However, if there’s one thing to enjoy about Boulder, it’s truly the recreational activities it offers. Both for tourists and locals.
Another perfect reason to spend your vacation in Boulder?
For those who prefer a relaxed vacation or enjoy a slower pace will find Boulder to be an ideal fit. Plus, everything is within close reach so getting from one place to another is convenient.
The locals are also known to be down to earth, so mingling with the locals isn’t difficult at all. If you’re planning to spend your next vacation in Boulder, here are a couple of other reasons why it’s worth visiting.
What Makes Boulder Unique?
A Thriving Outdoor Culture
Boulder’s list of outdoor recreational activities extends way past biking paths and hiking trails. The city is well known for its natural beauty, terrain, and of course, the Rocky Mountain Range.
But while mountain ranges and hiking trails seem to hit the front page so often, it’s not only what’s worth talking about. On the topic of natural beauty, did you know Boulder even has the Eldora Mountain Ski Resort?
Eldora offers rideable terrain for skiers and snowboards of all levels, even if you’re still learning the ropes.
After a more peaceful outdoor activity? Head to Brainard Lake. Granted, there are plenty of hiking and biking opportunities here, but also, you can opt for horseback riding, fishing, and even nature observation.
Brainard Lake even has year-round camping accommodations and seasonal hunting. That said, the best part about visiting Brainard Lake is simply enjoying the view and slowing down.
For anyone that’s eager to go hiking, your options are boundless. After all, hiking opportunities are perhaps the best reason to visit Boulder. Many offer beautiful scenery, some are challenging and fulfilling, while other trails are perfect for a leisure walk.
Here are several of the best worth mentioning:
- Chautauqua Park
- Boulder Creek Path
- The Peoples’ Crossing Park
- Eldorado Canyon State Park
Think of Boulder as one massive stretch of land filled with mountains, trails, and outdoor adventure. And in the center of it all is where you’ll find shopping centers, shops, and restaurants.
With so much to do in the great outdoors, it’s no wonder Boulder’s culture leans strongly towards an active lifestyle. As a matter of fact, the outdoor culture is so apparent that trending fashion is mostly outdoor wear.
If anything, the common dress code is a shirt and jeans for men and a blouse for women. But more than half the time, expect to see locals dressed for hiking, biking, or any other recreational activity.
There’s Something for Everyone at Pearl Street Mall
Pearl Street Mall is Boulder’s main entertainment strip. Here, you’ll find just about everything from restaurants and shops or boutiques to cafes and bars.
The entire mall covers four blocks and is arguably Boulder’s largest shopping center. However, people don’t always come here to shop. Rather, Pearl Street Mall is a great place to chill, have coffee, hang out, or simply stroll around.
You’re welcome to shop here, of course, but it may be more worthwhile to try the food options here. After all, Pearl Street is also Boulder’s main attraction for eating and drinking to your heart’s content.
There’s something for anyone and everyone in Pearl Street. And here’s something you probably didn’t know about it either. Food & Wine magazine named Pearl Street one of the 10 Best Foodies Streets in the US.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there’s an amazing food market that draws in a huge crowd every week.
And that’s not all.
Pearl Street Mall also has something for art fanatics, history buffs, shopaholics, and even live music fans. Seeing as how it’s only a 4-block walk, exploring and strolling around is the perfect afternoon itinerary.
Before leaving Pearl Street, don’t forget to try some of the most popular restaurants in the area too. For those craving seafood, head to Jax Fish House. If you’re after something unique, the Mediterranean Restaurant is a great choice.
Close by, there are two sushi restaurants worth trying as well: Japango Sushi and Hapa Sushi. Don’t miss out on Black Cat and Pizzeria Locale too, which are local faves.
Finally, you may also want to visit Pearl Street in the morning as well and enjoy a Southern breakfast at Lucile’s. The diner is famous for its Creole cuisine and has been serving delicious breakfast and brunch for 35+ years.
In the event you’re looking for a good nightlife experience, Pearl Street is also the place to go. There are a number of breweries and bars perfect for a great casual night out with friends or with a romantic partner.
Flatirons Is the Best Place to Unwind and Enjoy All the City Has to Offer
Many attribute the Flatirons Mountain as solely a place for breaking a sweat or hiking. But that’s not entirely true. The most popular attraction of the city packs a powerful punch in your Boulder itinerary.
You can have picnics around the area, take breathtaking photos, or simply enjoy the sights and nature around you.
The best way to describe Flatirons is it’s as if you’re entering a different world separate from Boulder. This place is peaceful and beautiful, perfect if you want to self-reflect or meditate, and it’s excellent for a date.
But of course, this iconic landmark draws in hikers and rock climbers the most. First time going on a hike? Flatirons will be your most memorable thus far. Beginners and new hikers usually take the Flatiron Loop Trail, which covers about 2 miles (3.2 km).
That’s not so bad, right?
If you want a truly scenic experience, take the Woods Quarry trail. The view includes a historical landmark, open fields, the ponderosa pine forest, and a rocky yet intriguing scree.
For adrenaline junkies, hiking may seem a little too light. So, there’s one activity you can do that Flatirons is also famous for: rock climbing.
The climbs range between 4 to 10 pitches, and in fact, some have even climbed the mountain using roller skates! Some have also tried climbing it under a full moon…but with no headlights.
At the end of the day, the Flatirons Mountain has become an iconic Boulder landmark for many reasons. If not hiking and rock climbing, it’s got to be the natural beauty and scenery. And if not for that, it’s because of the bright and peaceful vibes that attract couples, families, and friends to spend the day in.
Either way, should you decide to visit Boulder, it’s highly recommended to save one or two days for Flatirons. For any outdoor lover, this will easily be the highlight of your trip.
Enjoy the Craft Beer Scene and Upscale Nightlife at St Julien
Who would’ve thought that Boulder had a strong craft beer scene? Excellent brews are everywhere in this college town, with Upslope and Avery serving the best of the best. Both are also the most popular, so be prepared if the place feels a little more packed than usual.
But don’t let those two be your only options. Bohemian Biergarten is another brewery famous for its craft beer selection, along with its food and cocktails. Boulder Beer Trail is the definition of delicious grub and pub food meets craft beer.
Bohemian Biergarten is also found on this trail, along with several excellent choices:
- West End Tavern
- R Gallery + Wine Bar
- The Attic Bar & Bistro
- The Post Chicken & Beer
- Mountain Sub Pub & Brewery
Now if you want to get a little fancy, there’s one place with exactly that kind of vibe: St. Julien. The 4-star hotel boasts views overlooking Flatirons Mountain. And while the drinks are pricier, you’re also paying for the sophisticated vibe and top-notch ambiance.
One thing to note about St. Julien is you’ll find fewer crowds here compared to elsewhere. There are a few great drinks on tap here as well, but it’s more known for its cocktails and party atmosphere.
If Boulder is more low-key, Denver has a lot more going on. Being the capital of Colorado and the bigger city, Denver has more options all around.
Think restaurants, shopping malls, things to do, places to see, and so on. If you want better nightlife, go to Denver. Want more entertainment and attractions to see? Denver is the better choice. Avid sports fan? You’ll find a lot of sports stadiums in Denver too.
That being said, outdoor activities slightly differ in the capital too. For example, Denver isn’t as close to the mountains as Boulder is. And as a result, you won’t find as much recreational outdoor activity in Denver compared to Boulder.
That’s not all.
Denver also has art museums, theme parks, outdoor parks, and even the famous Denver Dairy Block. With all that said, Denver is a large city with so much to offer tourists.
And if that’s the type of vacation you’re looking for, Denver just might be the city of your choice. But before making a decision, here are the full details on what you can expect from Denver and more.
What Makes Denver Unique?
You’re Never Far From a Beautiful Park
Denver is a fairly busy place year-round, but it’s not without its green spaces available for respite and recharge. If there’s one thing to love about the city, it’s the little patches of green scattered all throughout.
Because after all, Denver is one of the few cities in the US that offers several of the most beautiful parks.
Washington Park is the most popular and known even for those who’ve never been to the city.
The park’s wide grassy field has been Denver’s centerpiece attraction for years and still is to date. If you’re thinking of visiting Washington Park solely to relax, any day is fine except the weekends.
For a mix of woods and open-air spaces, there’s no better place to be than City Park. The park also frequently hosts festivals, live Jazz music, and various events. There are two ponds around City Park too, perfect if you’re looking for fishing opportunities.
What’s more, City Park is very close to the Denver Zoo. If you’re visiting with family, you can easily visit the zoo and spend time in the park late afternoon.
If you’re looking for a park with more outdoor activity, Confluence Park may be a great option. Just close by is Cherry Creek, which happens to be one of Denver’s most popular biking trails.
Anyone interested in water sports like jet skiing, boating, and fishing will enjoy their time in Sloan’s Lake Park. Sloan Lake is also the largest lake in Denver, so there’s plenty of space for everyone to enjoy without feeling packed.
All in all, Denver is home to so many parks you won’t have any trouble finding a good place to take a break. With no shortage of beautiful parks to choose from, a place of rest is never too far away.
Denver Has a Wide Range of Tours That Cover a Lot of Themes
Not sure of what else there is to do in Denver? Take your pick: architecture, gold rush history, shopping, craft beer, books, hiking, fine art, thespian life, etc.
When it comes to art, Denver has several museums that will surely catch your eye. To start, hit up the Denver Art Museum. From there, make your way to the newly opened interactive art museum: Meow Wolf.
After all the sightseeing, you may also want to check the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. If you love theater, this is the place to be.
Come nightfall, Larimer Square is by far one of the first attractions you should make time for. It’s the oldest commercial block in the city, but it certainly doesn’t feel old at all. Larimer Square is known as a shopping and dining center, offering several chef-driven restaurants for all to enjoy.
If you’re looking for shopping opportunities, there’s no shortage of places to unleash your shopaholic side. 16th Street Mall is a great place to start. The massive shopping center stretches over several city blocks and has more restaurants than you can possibly count.
Not to mention, there are more than 42 outdoor cafes in 16th Street Mall. Other places to shop include the following:
- Flatiron Crossing
- Cherry Creek Mall
- Colorado Mills Mall
- Belmar Shopping Center
From shopping, you can explore Denver’s music scene at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Or, you can take a peaceful stroll and gaze at beautiful flowers at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Baseball fan? Head to Coors Field to catch a Rockies game.
Last but not least, Denver’s food culture is also worth mentioning. For affordable, delicious chow, visit The Golden Triangle. But if you want to grab a taste of what the locals love, The Highlands has it all.
If you still have more room in your belly to fill, don’t miss on these two spots either:
- Cherry Creek North
- Denver Tech Center
Great Nightlife Scene
If you’ve come to Denver to bar-hop and meet people, you picked the right place. Denver’s craft beer scene is impressive in itself, but that’s only one part of the city’s eccentric nightlife.
Want unique and innovative cocktail drinks? The Reynard Social located on the sixth floor of the Thompson Denver Hotel is a great place to quench your alcoholic thirst.
How does a sparkling sake One in a Melon sound? Or perhaps an amaro-filled Paper Passion if you prefer a drink with an oomph to it? What’s more, the Reynard Social comes with a killer city view, so it’s the perfect place to enjoy any glass of alcohol on hand.
If you’re craving delectable bites to pair with your drinking session, stop by Dew Drop Inn. The place is classy, sophisticated, and cozy enough to make you want to spend the night. What’s even more appealing is their all-day beer offer for $8. Or, you can always go for their fancy cocktail menu too.
To pair, you can order a big bowl of karaage chicken, mussels, or pork green chili. Dew Drop Inn also serves sandwiches, food to share, and desserts, all of which come with generous portions.
For something unique, you may want to visit The Crypt – Denver’s vegan/goth dive bar/eatery. In short, it’s a vegan bar. You won’t find any fancy cocktails here, but if a $7 shot appeals to you, this is the bar for you.
If you’re feeling extra and in the mood to splurge, check out Bezel. This bar isn’t quite like the others when it comes to the topic of “unique cocktail drinks.” Because although its cocktails are indeed unique, it’s the specialty ice that makes it stand out.
Going to Bezel for a beer? [That doesn’t quite sound right.] You could, but it’d be a shame to miss out on that lavish frozen water they so prominently and proudly serve.
Moving past cocktail drinks is one thing many can all agree on: a good rooftop bar. And The Red Barber does it right, from its wide outdoor space, panoramic mountain and city view, and seasonal cocktails.
There’s also Ghost Donkey if you’re up for mezcals and any alcoholic drink with the theme “Mexican.” Of course, this also happens to be the best bar for you if you’re a nacho lover. Because, well, as many have said about this place, you get a lot of nachos.
For wine lovers, be sure to check out The Roxy and Noble Riot. But if you want something more formal, sleek, and James-bond-like, The Cruise Room serves excellent martinis.
And finally, PS Lounge is one of the few bars in the city that serves strong drinks. Strong enough to turn strangers into friends in just a few hours.
All in all, Denver’s list of bars doesn’t seem to end. The city has an excellent craft beer scene, killer cocktail drinks, and plenty of options for wine and spirit lovers. Plus, many of the bars in Denver serve great food to pair.
With this many options, where can you go wrong in Denver if you’re here to have fun, enjoy, and have a blast?
Affordability and It’s One of the Most Walkable Cities in the US
Denver is not an expensive vacation, all things considered. There’s plenty to do and see, but prices aren’t so expensive that it exceeds your budget. One of the best ways to save even more? Walk.
Did you know Denver is one of the most walkable cities in the US? In fact, there are more than 300 stations for rent if you prefer to explore the city via bicycle. It’s even quite possible to spend less than $100 for the entire weekend in Denver.
But of course, if you’re adding shopping into the picture, there’s no doubt you’d need to extend your budget. However, there are a few places to save even on shopping expenses. Places like TJ Maxx, Ross, and Nordstrom Rack usually offer steep discounts.
Some tours are also reasonable, like the downtown food tour. And not all bars serve exorbitantly priced drinks. For beer lovers, prices are reasonable too.
One thing to note as well is there are a lot of free things to do around Denver. Visiting the city’s many parks is one example, and downright beautiful no matter the time of the day.
In the River North Art District (RiNo), you’ll find a ton of street art. Larimer Square, a popular attraction, is also free to stroll around and explore. And if you want a good outdoor activity, head to the mountains, which is also what the city is known for.
Overall, Denver offers so much to do that it may feel overwhelming if your time is limited. But rest assured, you’ll never feel bored in this city.
Is Denver or Boulder Better?
Denver is better if you prefer a busier vacation with more to do, from nightlife and entertainment to tours and shopping. Denver also has more options when it comes to food, art, history, and sightseeing.
You don’t visit Denver to slow down and relax, but rather to make the most of every minute of your trip. For example, you can do mountain hiking in the morning, watch the theater in the afternoon, and stroll Larimer Square at night.
Alternatively, you can go bar-hopping from a craft brew distillery to a luxury cocktail bar and so on.
Your vacation itinerary in Denver is practically endless. It’s ideal for those who enjoy having more options paired with tons of nightlife, entertainment, and excursions.
Boulder is perfect for outdoorsy people who enjoy a slower-paced vacation. There isn’t much to see and explore in Boulder, but it stands out for its epic outdoor adventures.
Looking for a naturistic or wilderness escape? Go to Boulder. Prefer more recreational activities like kayaking, hiking, biking, and rock climbing? Boulder is the ideal choice.
Compared to Denver, you’ll find a lot more places to recharge and unwind in Boulder. With more than 18,210.9 hectares (45,000 acres) of unspoiled open spaces, Boulder is truly for outdoor and nature lovers.
Should I Stay in Denver or Boulder?
Between Boulder and Denver, Boulder might be the better place to stay if you’re into nature, food, and good music. If you plan to do a lot of hiking, Boulder is also the better choice because of its closer proximity to the mountains.
Denver, on the other hand, has more options, so finding cheap accommodations should be easy. Boulder has cheap options too, but are more limited compared to Denver.
If you’re worried about the price, both aren’t too expensive either. That said, the cost of living is higher in Boulder.
Denver has the vibes of what any big city would feel like, with excellent food, nightlife, and entertainment. Boulder, in contrast, is quieter and has a nightlife too, but it’s not as eccentric as what you’ll find in Denver.
Either way, both are excellent places to stay at. But if you prefer more outdoor adventure, Boulder is a great option. If spending alone time in a beautiful place is your main priority, Boulder is also the ideal choice.
That being said, Denver has its fair share of romantic and peaceful places. The city’s many parks are prime examples of that. But if you’re thinking of adding bar-hopping to your itinerary, Denver is the better place to stay.
Boulder Elevation vs. Denver
Boulder’s elevation is 1,655 meters (5,430 ft) above sea level. Whereas Denver is slightly lower, coming in at 1,609 meters (5,280 ft).
Is Boulder Higher Than Denver?
Boulder is higher than Denver by about 46 meters (150 ft). The difference in elevation between the two cities isn’t as noticeable as you might think.
Boulder to Denver
Traveling from Boulder to Denver takes a short while as both are only 30 minutes apart. If you take the Highway 36 route, the estimated travel time is between 30 to 50 minutes, depending on the traffic.
In total, there are four ways to get from Boulder to Denver: car, bus, shuttle service, and taxi.
Renting a car and driving from Boulder to Denver is one of the most common ways to travel between cities. But if you’d rather not deal with the traffic, you can take the bus which is cheaper as well.
Taking a shuttle service is possible if you’re coming from the Denver International Airport. Alternatively, you can also book online. Lastly, you can book a Lyft, Uber, or taxi to travel from Boulder to Denver. That said, booking an Uber or Lyft will likely cost less than a taxi.
Bus From Denver to Boulder
From Denver to Boulder, you can take the Regional Transportation District (RTD) bus. This route usually includes a few stops along the way and a total travel time of up to one hour.
If you want to check all the bus schedules from Denver to Boulder, you can easily do so on the RTD website.
Taking the bus from Denver to Boulder is also the most economical option, with tickets costing $10.50 one-way. Take note that bus fares are paid in cash and directly to the driver upon boarding the bus.
Denver to Boulder by Shuttle
If you have a lot of luggage, booking a shuttle service from Denver to Boulder might be the best option. Trips usually take an hour but are more expensive than taking the bus.
One of the benefits of using a shuttle service is getting dropped off directly at your hotel. Rather than take additional trips when you arrive in Boulder, a shuttle service allows you to check in with convenience.
There are currently three shuttle services you can take from Denver to Boulder:
- Super Shuttle
- Boulder Transport
- Eight Black Airport Shuttle
Costs vary per shuttle service but generally expect costs to be around $55. Shuttle service rates are also dependent on the number of passengers and the type of service you choose.
For instance, Boulder Transport offers luxury limousine shuttle services. Without a doubt, a luxury or premium service means higher costs too. For Eight Black Airport Shuttle, the rate is fixed at $55 to and from your hotel in Boulder.
However, they also charge an additional $30 for additional carry-on bags and oversized luggage. Again, this depends on the shuttle service and the service you’re booking.
If you prefer a hassle-free experience, booking online is the most convenient way to do so.
Boulder to Denver Airport
You can take a taxi, car, Uber, Lyft, or bus from Boulder to the Denver Airport. If you take the bus, simply head to the Downtown Boulder Station and hop on the bus for Denver Airport from there. The complete address is 1800 14th St, Boulder.
If you’re in a hurry though, taxis or booking an Uber or Lyft are your best option. You can also drive from Boulder to the Denver Airport if you don’t mind the possible traffic.
How Far Is Boulder From Denver Airport?
From Boulder to the Denver Airport, the travel time takes between 30 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes. The total distance is about 42 miles (67.6 km). This also depends on the route you take and where in Boulder you’re coming from.
For example, taking the Highway36 route is the most common route. But if you run into traffic, expect an additional 20 minutes. Some opt for the Colorado E470 S route to avoid heavy traffic.
Bus From Denver Airport to Boulder
The bus from Denver Airport to Boulder takes about an hour in total travel time. You can find the Denver Airport bus station at the DEN Transit Center, which is located on Level 1 of the Denver Airport. It’s also close to the Westin Denver International Airport Hotel.
All bus trips from the Denver Airport to Boulder will have a fixed bus fare of $10.50. This, however, is a one-way bus ticket. A roundtrip ticket will cost you around $21.
The SkyRide bus (AB1) is the bus that takes you directly from the Denver Airport to Boulder. Once you’ve arrived in Boulder, the bus service ends at the Downtown Boulder Station.
Shuttle From Denver Airport to Boulder
Taking a shuttle from the Denver Airport to Boulder is the best choice for those traveling with heavy luggage. It’s also more beneficial for those who prefer a more affordable door-to-door service. The only downside of shuttle services is they aren’t available early morning or late at night.
A shuttle bus from the Denver Airport usually costs $49. However, seniors get $5 off the total price and children get the service for free. There are three ways to pay for a shuttle service: cash, credit card at the airport counter, or cash directly on the shuttle bus.
In the Denver Airport, shuttle services are typically located in the Jeppesen Terminal Level 5. Look for the Doors 510-512 and 505-507 in Island 5. Finally, the travel time typically takes about one hour.
Taxi From Denver Airport to Boulder
Taxis are the best way to get to Boulder from the Denver Airport if you’re arriving late at night or early morning. One of the biggest benefits of taking a taxi is the 24/7 service. However, prices are higher than taking the public or shuttle bus, costing around $89.
Official taxis in the Denver Airport are located in Island 1, at Doors 505, 507, and 511 in the Terminal East section. You can also find more taxis at Doors 506, 510, and 512 in the Terminal West section.
Denver Airport to Boulder Uber Cost
If you want to save on costs, taking an Uber offers affordable prices compared to taking a taxi. The average price from the Denver Airport to Boulder via Uber costs around $74 to $151.
The average travel time from the Denver Airport to Boulder via Uber is around 45 minutes. Prices also vary depending on the Uber travel option.
Booking an UberX costs $74 while the Black costs $151. Booking an UberXL costs $118 and finally, the Uber Green costs $75.