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Layover Lowdown: Denver International Airport

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Our “Layover Lowdown” series feature airports and destinations around the world where you’re likely to be stuck between flights, offering tips on navigating and spending time in the airport, as well as some things to do if you find yourself with time to explore the nearby city. TPG Contributor Katie Hammel guides us through Denver International Airport.

Jeppesen Terminal. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport
Jeppesen Terminal. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport

Denver International Airport (code DEN, though it’s often called DIA), is the largest airport in the U.S. by total area—a whopping 53 square miles—and the fifth busiest airport in the country. Thankfully, its design makes it feel more compact and easier to navigate than its size would have you assume. In fact, this Frontier Airlines hub—and major hub for United and Southwest, as well—was voted the Best Airport in North America six years running (2005-2010) by Business Traveler Magazine and America’s Best Run Airport by Time Magazine in 2002.

At the Airport

Special features

The Denver Airport is most known for its uniquely designed roof—the white peaks evoke the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and the Native American teepees that once dotted the surrounding plains. The airport consists of the Jeppesen Terminal—where check-in, baggage claim, car rentals, several shopping and dining options, and security points are located—as well as three concourses (A, B, and C) which are accessed post-security via airport transit. Concourse A is also connected to the Jeppesen Terminal by a pedestrian bridge that offers views of taxiing planes below and the Rockies to the west.

The white peaks of DIA's roof. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport
The white peaks of DEN’s roof. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport

Concourse A has a shared American Airlines Admirals Club/British Airways Executive Club Lounge and a USO lounge. Concourse B has two United Clubs—one near gate B31 and one near gate B44. There’s also an Interfaith Chapel and Prayer Hall in the Jeppesen Terminal, open 24 hours. The Smokin’ Bear Lounge is located in Concourse C.

DEN has taken several steps to reduce its environmental footprint. The white canopy roof lets in tons of natural light and reduces electric usage, natural gas heats and powers much of the airport, and there’s an extensive recycling program in place, as well as water-filling stations in each terminal and electric vehicle charging outlets in the garage. The airport is also quite pet friendly: a new on-airport pet resort, Paradise 4 Paws, offers private suites, massages, and obedience training.

Water refilling station. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport
Water refilling station. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport

Other perks include free WiFi throughout the airport and free global calling stations (free for the first ten minutes) in the Jeppesen Terminal, and A, B and C Gates.

There are also several art installations, including “Open Windows” (near gate B51), which features an 11-foot-tall tower of lights that react to a person’s movement. If the Rockies are enough to keep you enthralled, though, head to Concourse C; the best mountain view is by gates C23 and C24. And if you need to stretch your legs or work off the airplane food, take spin around Concourse B, which is a whopping 3,300 feet long.

Luggage storage

Baggage storage is located in the Jeppesen Terminal on Level 5.

Greetings from Colorado. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport
Greetings from Colorado. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport


DEN has all the basics covered when it comes to shopping. All concourses and the Jeppesen Terminal have Hudson News and Bose stores. In Concourse A, grab some sweet treats from See’s Candy, books and magazines from Spirit of the Red Horse, shades (for all those sunny Colorado days) at Sunglass Express, local souvenirs from Greetings from Colorado and tax-free goods from the duty-free store.

Concourse B offers a few more options, such as BlueWire, Brookstone, InMotion Entertainment, MAC, Johnston & Murphy, Sunglass Hut, Swarovski, TUMI, Mile High Harley Davidson, and a Team Store for branded apparel and souvenirs featuring Colorado sports team logos. In Concourse C, there’s another Bluewire and Team Store, as well as See’s and The Body Shop.

Of course there's beer - it's Denver. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport
Of course there’s beer – it’s Denver. Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport


The Jeppesen Terminal has several pre-security options to choose from, ranging from the Boulder Beer Tap House to French-themed Pour la France to chains like Einstein Bagels, Taco Bell, Panda Express, Burger King and Jamba Juice. In fact, for a city with a reputation for being health-conscious, the Denver airport has a surprising amount of fast food chain options.

Every concourse has a Caribou Coffee and a McDonald’s. Concourse A also has Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Dunkin Donuts, KFC/Pizza Hut, Panda Express, Quizno’s and Schlotzsky’s. For something a little more upscale with table service, there’s the Denver ChopHouse, Mesa Verde Bar & Grill and Vino Volo wine bar.

Concourse B has more fast food and chain options—Jamba Juice, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, TCBY, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Wetzel’s Pretzels—as well as Aviator’s Sports Bar & Bar-B-Que, Cantina Grill, Crú Food and Wine Bar and Wolfgang Puck.

Concourse C’s options include Auntie Anne’s, more Einstein Bagels, Jamba Juice, and TCBY plus a Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, another Vino Volo, Villa Pizza, Timberline Steaks & Grille, Root Down, Tamales by La Casita and another Wolfgang Puck.

Suffice to say, whether you want to grab a quick bite to go or sit down and relax, you won’t go hungry, that is, unless you have a late evening flight; most options close by 9pm.

Travel to the City Center

DEN is located 25 minutes northeast of downtown. The airport’s bus line, SkyRide, is operated by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), and runs from approximately 3:30 am to midnight. The cost to downtown Denver is $9 each way and the ride takes about an hour. The buses depart from Jeppesen Terminal Level 5 and there’s an RTD info booth in Jeppesen Terminal. Shared shuttle buses are another option.

A taxi costs about $55 to the city center; Uber and Lyft are also available.

The 16th Street pedestrian mall. Photo courtesy of Albert Pego via Shutterstock
The 16th Street pedestrian mall. Photo courtesy of Albert Pego via Shutterstock

If You Have Half a Day

Many of Denver’s main tourist attractions are clustered in the downtown area, so it’s easy to plan an afternoon of sightseeing getting around on foot, by bus and taxi. Visit the Denver Mint (the largest mint in the U.S.), wander past the Colorado Convention Center—easily recognizable by the three-story-tall blue bear peering into the windows—and take a tour of the beautiful Colorado State Capital (weekdays, reservations recommended).

Check out the art and culture of the city at the Denver Art Museum, which contains more than 350,000 square feet of space filled with artwork from around the world, the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Science and Nature, the Forney Museum of Transportation, the Colorado Historical Society, or the Museo de las Americas.

The beautiful Colorado State Capitol building. Photo courtesy of f11photo via Shutterstock
The beautiful Colorado State Capitol building. Photo courtesy of f11photo via Shutterstock

If you’d rather enjoy some fresh air and sunshine, visit City Park, Washington Park or Chessman Park, wander the Denver Botanical Gardens, or head to the Denver Zoo. There’s also an Elitch Gardens amusement park located on the edge of downtown.

Or, pick one of Denver’s neighborhoods to explore. Stroll the 1.25-mile length of the pedestrian 16th Street Mall; check out the shops of Larimer Square, Denver’s original city block and now a revitalized historic district; or head to LoDo (Lower Downtown) for a beer at Wynkoop Brewery or a tour of Coors Field. Beer lovers can make it a brewery crawl, and sample from dozens of beers at Falling Rock Tap House or take the tour at Great Divide Brewery—both are nearby.

Hiking at Red Rocks. Photo courtesy of Thomas Barrat via Shutterstock
Hiking at Red Rocks. Photo courtesy of Thomas Barrat via Shutterstock

If You Have a Whole Day

With a whole day you can cover most of downtown Denver, of get just a taste of the city and then head to the hills, or rather, the mountains. Just 30 miles from Denver, near Boulder, you can go hiking in the Flatirons, where there are several trails that range from three to four miles round-trip. Be wary of taking on too much; Boulder sits 5,400 feet above sea level and even some of the shorter trails climb to 7,000 feet or higher. Closer to Denver, Red Rocks Park has two hiking trails—one 1.4 miles long and another one six miles in length—that weave around and over the park’s dramatic red sandstone rock formations.

For some evening entertainment, check out Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret, a slightly risqué cabaret show under the clock tower on the 16th Street Mall.

Room at the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver
Room at the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver

If You Have a Night

Denver Airport’s new Hotel and Transit Center will include a 519-room Westin Hotel (as well as a public transit center serving the new East Rail Line that will connect the airport to downtown in 35 minutes) but, unfortunately, that won’t open until late 2015. For now, there’s no hotel connected to the airport, but there are several options within ten miles of DEN: Aloft (with rates starting at $100 or 7,000 SPG points per night), Crowne Plaza Denver Airport (starting at $144 or 25,000 IHG points per night), Marriott at Gateway Park (starting at $159 or 30,000 Marriott Rewards points per night), and Hyatt House Denver Airport (starting at $134 or 8,000 Gold Passport points) are all nearby.

In the city, the funky Curtis Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, has a prime location steps from the 16th Street Mall. There’s an onsite restaurant and the hotel incorporates plenty of playful touches and extra amenities—each floor has a different pop-culture theme and every room has an iPod docking station and complimentary WiFi. Rooms start at around $150 per night or 40,000 HHonors points. The Westin Downtown Denver Hotel has an on-site fitness center and spa, and offers (for a fee) rental workout gear. The hotel offers late check-out at 3pm on Sundays and rates start around $200 or 10,000 Starpoints.

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