Last updated on January 10, 2024 by Wandering our World
With its majestic landscapes of snow-capped mountains and sandy deserts, Colorado is a beautiful and fascinating state to explore. And, if you’re planning a trip to the Centennial State, you’ll most likely want to base yourself in one of its two biggest cities: Denver (the state capital) or Colorado Springs. But which one should you pick?
On the one hand, there’s Denver. By far the biggest city in Colorado, this is a lively, dynamic metropolis, renowned for its distinctive skyline and long list of impressive landmarks. Whether you’re sightseeing at the State Capitol, admiring the collections of the Denver Art Museum, or catching a game at Coors Field, you’re sure to have fun in the Mile High City.
On the other hand, you could visit Colorado Springs instead. It’s smaller than Denver, but still has much to offer, like its dramatic mountain surroundings and awesome outdoor recreation opportunities. It’s a prime touristic spot for hikers, climbers, and adventurers, while also boasting an impressive array of attractions, like the Garden of the Gods and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Clearly, there’s lots to love about both of these cities, and choosing between them can feel like quite a challenge. Fortunately, this guide is here to help out. Below, we’ll dig into a detailed Denver vs Colorado Springs comparison, exploring all the key differences in the aspects that matter most, like attractions, activities, nightlife, food, and average costs.
- A Quick Overview Of Denver vs Colorado Springs
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Day Trips?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Is Best For Food?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Denver vs Colorado Springs: Which Is Better?
Wandering Our World’s Ten-Second Comparison
A Quick Overview Of Denver vs Colorado Springs
Denver: A Quick Overview
Denver is the state capital and the most populous city in the state of Colorado. It’s home to approximately 715,000 people, putting it in the top 20 biggest cities in the U.S. Situated in the South Platte River Valley, just east of the Rockies Front Range, Denver is also noted for having an elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level, giving it the nickname “Mile High City.”
A range of indigenous peoples lived on the land that would eventually become Denver, but everything changed during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1858, when many prospectors and other settlers flooded the area. They formed multiple settlements, including one named after the former Kansas Territorial Governor, James W. Denver: Denver City.
In the years that followed, Denver grew in size and importance, becoming the state capital in 1881. These days, it’s the second-biggest city in the Mountain West region, home to many businesses and innovators, while also boasting a strong and diverse economy. It’s even been ranked as one of the best U.S. cities to live in.
From a touristic perspective, Denver has much to offer. It’s got everything from family attractions like the Denver Zoo and Botanic Gardens to historic landmarks, like Larimer Square and the Molly Brown House Museum. With so much to do, Mile High City is a fantastic place for visitors of all ages and from all walks of life.
Colorado Springs: A Quick Overview
Colorado Springs is the second-biggest city in Colorado. It’s located in El Paso County, of which it is the county seat, around 70 miles south of Denver. Over 475,000 people live here, so it’s not quite as populous as Denver, but still feels lively and exciting. It’s also higher up, sitting over 6,000 feet above sea level, and enjoys beautiful views over the Southern Rocky Mountains.
Indigenous peoples like the Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne lived in the area that eventually would become Colorado Springs. Just like with Denver, the Pikes Peak Gold Rush brought lots of new settlers to the area, leading to the founding of a city called Colorado City in 1859. The area swiftly developed and was renamed Colorado Springs in the early 1870s.
Like Denver, Colorado Springs rapidly developed in the decades that followed, soon standing out as one of the state’s most popular touristic hotspots. Its prime location near Pikes Peak and the Rockies made it a great place for outdoor activities, and tourism is still a major part of the city’s economy to this day, with millions of people heading to Colorado Springs annually.
And it’s not hard to see why people flock to this city in such high numbers. There are dozens of exciting attractions, like museums, galleries, parks, and gardens, along with world-class outdoor adventures in the mountains and plenty of fun events like the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off, featuring dozens of colorful hot air balloons taking to the skies.
Which Is Best For Activities?
One of the best things about Denver and Colorado Springs is the wide range of activities you can find in either city. Whether you’re into typical cultural attractions like museums and galleries, outdoor recreation, shopping, nature, or something completely different, you’ll find plenty to fill up your days, no matter which city you visit.
Denver: The Activities
As the state capital of Colorado, Denver is a fantastic place to embrace history and culture. And what better place to start than at the hugely popular Denver Museum of Nature & Science? Perfect for families, this museum boasts everything from dinosaur bones to mummies from the days of Ancient Egypt.
Denver also has many more interesting museums, like the Denver Art Museum, with tens of thousands of works by legendary masters from around the globe, and the Molly Brown House Museum, a wonderfully-preserved former home to one of Denver’s most eccentric and intriguing denizens: socialite and Titanic survivor, Margaret “Molly” Brown.
Families will find much to love in Denver, with lots of kid-friendly attractions to see, like the Elitch Gardens theme park, with its towering rides and high-speed rollercoasters. Denver Zoo is another great place to go with kids, boasting a population of over 4,000 creatures, as well as the Downtown Aquarium, filled with 500+ marine species.
There are also plenty more landmarks to uncover simply by wandering around Denver on foot, like the beautiful Denver Botanic Gardens and the decorative Union Station, which is both a working public transport hub and a thriving shopping center. The dynamic neighborhood of Larimer Square is another must-see, filled with the city’s top shops and restaurants.
Colorado Springs: The Activities
Colorado Springs also has many fun activities and enjoyable attractions, especially for those who love nature and the great outdoors. One of the city’s most famous attractions is the Garden of the Gods, a beautiful natural park with otherworldly red rock formations, forged across thousands of years.
Nearby Pikes Peak, which towers over the city, is another must-see spot for outdoor adventurers, perfect or hiking, climbing, and snapping some jaw-dropping photos. Or, you could head to Royal Gorge, yet another natural wonder near Colorado Springs, offering zipline tours, rock climbing, hiking, and a dramatic suspension bridge, 900 feet above the Arkansas River.
If you prefer to stay in the city itself, you’ll still find lots of interesting attractions. There are multiple museums dedicated to various subjects, like the National Museum of World War II Aviation and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, as well as some quirky spots, like the Ghost Town Museum or the old Cheyenne Mountain Nuclear Bunker.
Arty Manitou Springs is also worth touring around, with its many galleries and indie boutiques, while those looking to spend time outside may like to visit one of Colorado Springs’ many green spaces, like Mueller State Park or North Cheyenne Canon Park. Meanwhile, families are sure to have fun at the Cave of the Winds Mountain Park or Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Overall, both Denver and Colorado Springs have lots of fun attractions and activities, but Colorado Springs, despite its smaller size, has more options. It’s great for museums, galleries, family fun, and especially for nature and hiking.
Which Is Best For Day Trips?
Clearly, there’s lots to do in both Denver and Colorado Springs, But you might also like to spend a day or two outside of these cities, visiting some other parts of the Centennial State. But which one is the best for day trip fun? Well, that all depends on what kinds of experiences you’re looking for.
If you’re in Denver, some of the best local towns and areas to visit include the beautiful foothills city of Boulder or the historic hub of Fort Collins, with its wonderful 19th century Old Town district. You could even consider a trip over the state line to Cheyenne, the capital of Wyoming, where you can visit the Frontier Days Old West Museum and embrace rodeo culture.
Meanwhile, if you’re based in Colorado Springs, there are lots of awesome outdoor recreation areas to visit nearby, like stunning Red Rock Canyon, with its many scenic sandstone formations, or Rocky Mountain National Park, which offers a near-endless array of cycling and hiking trails.
Overall, it all depends on taste. Denver is better for cities and towns, while Colorado Springs is best for natural scenery and outdoor adventures.
Which Is Best For Nightlife?
Given that Denver and Colorado Springs are both big, exciting cities, they’re also excellent places to visit if you like drinking, dancing, and having fun in the evenings. But which one has the best nightlife scene?
Well, when it comes to nightlife, Denver’s a great place to be. It’s got an awesome bar scene, with lots of trendy spots around the downtown area serving everything from craft beers to fine wines. There are also some lively rooftop lounges and dance clubs, mostly dotted around Denver’s Soco district.
Not to be outdone, Colorado Springs also has a decent nightlife scene. It’s especially appealing for those who appreciate a good drink, with dozens of cool craft breweries and diverse bars to check out. You’ll find some of the best nightlife spots in the city’s downtown district, with more than enough clubs to keep you busy all night long.
Overall, there’s no clear winner in this category. Both cities rank highly when it comes to nightlife, so you shouldn’t have to worry about being bored if you’re looking for stuff to do once the sun has set.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
Shopping is another terrific way to spend some time during your visit to either Denver or Colorado Springs. And, when it comes to the quantity and range of shops, Denver is the best place to be in all of Colorado, offering malls and stores galore. Whether you want big-name fashion, outlet stores, bookshops, or something else, you’ll find it in Denver.
In comparison, Colorado Springs’ shopping scene isn’t quite as deep or diverse. There are still more than enough stores here to entertain the average shopaholic, like the upscale boutiques of The Promenade Shops or the quirky stores of Manitou Springs, but you won’t find quite as many options as you would in the state capital.
So, if shopping is one of your top priorities, head to Denver.
Which Is Best For Food?
Colorado is a fine state to visit if you appreciate good food. There are lots of top quality restaurants in the Centennial State serving up all sorts of treats, from traditional American fare to Asian delights and fancy European menus, too. But which city has the best dining scene between Denver and Colorado Springs?
Well, when it comes to food, Colorado Springs ranks very highly. It’s got a really interesting and eclectic array of eateries, from fun fast food burger bars to gourmet-grade culinary establishments. Whether you want sushi, pizza, BBQ, seafood, or almost anything else, you should be able to find it in this city, which also has a super craft beer scene too.
Then, there’s Denver, which also has dozens of diverse menus to delight your taste buds. The scene here isn’t quite as broad or varied as it is in Colorado Springs, but there are still lots of tasty foods to try, with some excellent American and international restaurants serving steaks, salads, sandwiches, and more.
Overall, you’ll easily find fine food in either city, but the restaurants are just a little better overall in Colorado Springs than in Denver.
Which Is Best For Families?
Planning a Colorado adventure with the whole family? If so, Colorado Springs and Denver are both excellent destinations to consider. They’ve both got plenty of family activities and kid-friendly attractions, and both feel safe and welcoming. In short, there’s no wrong answer between these two cities, but one of them may be more appealing to you than the other.
For example, if your family is really interested in hiking, wildlife, and nature, you should probably plan a trip to Colorado Springs. It’s a truly world-class destination for those who appreciate the outdoors, with so may canyons, mountains, and thrilling natural expanses to explore. Whether you want to hike, climb, or watch wildlife from afar, you can do it all here.
Denver is a family-friendly town, with lots of play areas, parks, and family attractions. Kids of almost any age can have magical times at the likes of Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, for example, and you can easily while away the hours with little ones around the Botanic Gardens or over at Coors Field.
Overall, both cities can work well for family escapes, but Colorado Springs is a little more appealing to most families, thanks to its diverse outdoor recreation opportunities.
Which Is Best For Couples?
Couples, too, can have a wonderful time touring either one of Colorado’s biggest cities. They’re both fine places to visit with a special someone by your side, especially if you enjoy the kinds of things that the Centennial State is famous for, like mountains and majestic natural scenery. But which one is best?
Well, it’s a pretty close call! On the one hand, you have Denver, which has a fantastic shopping scene, along with lots of decent live entertainment venues and attractive, engaging neighborhoods to explore hand-in-hand with your partner. The state capital also has lots of cozy spas, grand parks, and beautiful botanic gardens to spend romantic moments with your partner.
On the other hand, there’s Colorado Springs, which has the superior dining scene for all those romantic evening meals. This city also has some very luxurious boutique hotels that couples tend to love, along with unbeatable outdoor recreation locations, like Pikes Peak or Red Rock Canyon, guaranteed to appeal to couples who like to hike, climb, and explore the wilderness.
Overall, the best city for you and your partner will mostly depend on what kinds of activities you enjoy the most. However, Colorado Springs is a little more appealing for most people, thanks to its diverse attractions, fantastic food, and impressive accommodation options.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
As well as families and couples, one final group of travelers that might enjoy a trip to either Denver or Colorado Springs is the backpackers. Often traveling with a spirit of adventure and a limited budget, backpackers love places that are exciting, diverse, fun to explore, and not too pricey. So, which city works best for a backpacking adventure?
Well, of the two, Colorado Springs is arguably the best place for backpackers, with many unique advantages. For example, it’s notably cheaper than Denver, perfect for those with strict or limited budgets. It’s also a more walkable city, making it easier for you to get around and see the sights without having to spend extra on public transit.
There are also lots of campgrounds and cheap hostels dotted in and around Colorado Springs, ideal for backpackers who plan on exploring the area’s many hiking trails, parks, and vast natural expanses. In contrast, Denver has higher prices, fewer hostels, and isn’t quite as accessible or accommodating for the usual backpacking crowd.
Which Is Cheapest?
Price is always one of the biggest and most important factors for many travelers to take into consideration when trying to decide between two similar destinations. So, if you’re on a tight budget or just want to get the very best value for money, which city is the cheapest between Colorado Springs and Denver?
Well, if we look purely at the average costs for common expenses like accommodation, food, and touristic activities, Colorado Springs is the more affordable place. It has cheaper hotels, much cheaper public transport, and even more affordable entertainment than Denver. Food prices are pretty similar in both cities, but you’ll usually spend less overall in Colorado Springs.
Budget: Catbird Hotel in Denver, Colorado, captivates with modern elegance. Sunlit corridors lead to chic rooms, adorned with tasteful decor and panoramic city views. A rooftop oasis boasts a breathtaking skyline backdrop, inviting guests to indulge in the allure of Denver’s charm, making every stay a truly beautiful experience.
Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton, Denver, epitomizes opulence with its sophisticated ambiance. Nestled in the heart of Denver, the hotel boasts lavish interiors, plush furnishings, and breathtaking city views. The combination of refined elegance and modern luxury creates an exquisite retreat, inviting guests to indulge in a world of timeless beauty.
Budget: The Academy Hotel in Colorado Springs is a haven of beauty and tranquility. Surrounded by stunning landscapes, the hotel’s architecture seamlessly blends with nature. Elegant interiors, adorned with tasteful decor, provide a serene retreat. It’s a captivating sanctuary where beauty meets comfort, creating an unforgettable experience.
Luxury: Garden of the Gods Resort & Club is a majestic escape, nestled against the iconic rock formations of Colorado Springs. With luxurious accommodations, this resort captivates with its sweeping views, manicured landscapes, and an ambiance that effortlessly harmonizes with the breathtaking natural surroundings, creating an enchanting haven of beauty and tranquility.
Denver vs Colorado Springs: Which Is Better?
Overall, if you want to see, taste, enjoy, and experience the very best that the state of Colorado has to offer, it’s definitely a good idea to visit one of its two biggest cities: Denver or Colorado Springs. Both are worth seeing, but if you only have the time to visit one of them, Colorado Springs is the place to be.
As this guide has shown, Colorado Springs may be a little smaller and less busy than Denver, but it’s arguably got even more to offer than the state capital. There are literally dozens of major touristic attractions here, including everything from sporting museums to grand parks, awesome eateries to spectacular natural spaces. Whatever you love, you can find it in this city.
At the same time, you shouldn’t just rule out Denver right away. It’s not got as many attractions as Colorado Springs and can’t quite compete in terms of hiking and outdoor recreation, but it’s got a fabulous shopping scene, great food, and thrilling nightlife to go along with its many interesting museums and fun-filled family hotspots.