3 unexpected things you can do at Denver International Airport

Denver International Airport, DIA, DEN, Colorado, Colorado travel
Denver International Airport…a necessary evil

Since the start of this year (and remember, it’s just March), I’ve already taken air transportation three times, once to Los Angeles and twice to San Francisco – and it’s only going to be more frequent as time passes.

All my flights have originated from one of the busiest airports in the country: Denver International Airport – what we locals call DIA, but what’s now going by its official airport code, DEN, in its current marketing campaign. We’ll still call it DIA, out of habit.

Take the 15 years before now, where I’ve flown at least twice a year to mostly California or some other place, and you could say I’ve become quite the DIA/DEN expert.

Just like any fiscally murky civic project, we’ve poked fun at the airport since its opening in 1995 because truthfully, there’s no shortage of targets:

  • The airport’s official location is outer Kansas (not really, but it seems that way)
  • It’s 25 miles from downtown Denver (this is an extension of the Kansas joke, above) – not exactly practical for people who need to stay around it
  • The exterior of the main terminal looks like a circus tent in snow (it’s supposed to be mountain peaks)
  • The recent A line train that takes people to and from DIA has broken down enough that it’s the target of ire with some travelers (supposedly, it’s been fixed…supposedly)
  • And then there are those weird urban legends about child prisoners and alien storage (but I won’t get into them here).

But I now see that DIA is not the object of scorn that’s been its calling card for the past two decades.  It’s somewhat cool, as airports go.

Here are three things you wouldn’t expect the Denver airport to offer, but they’re yours for the taking:

1.) Stay on the premises

There are at least a dozen hotels in the DIA vicinity, with more to come. All require a drive to get there, with nothing around except the few restaurants and the occasional tumbleweed.

That changed about two years ago, when the Westin Denver International Airport opened. Some say it looks like a “W” (for obvious reasons), a bird or a moustache – my personal favorite interpretation. It’s Jetsons-futuristic, encased in glass all around and minimalist in design. If nothing else, it’s a better but expensive alternative to sleeping on a waiting room bench or the floor if you’re flight is delayed or cancelled.

2.) Eat well

The Denver Post recently wrote that DIA offered the best airport food in the country.  This incredible honor comes from RewardExpert’s Airport Dining Scorecard.  This surprises me, but that’s because I don’t eat meals other than breakfast.  But while I’ve noshed on my oatmeal and occasionally a breakfast sandwich, the airport has quietly incorporated scaled down yet high-end fare.

Starting with local farm-to-table pioneer Root Down about five years ago, the airport brought in more fine dining experiences.  These eateries now include Cru Food and Wine Bar, Tapas SkyBar, Denver ChopHouse, Mesa Verde Bar & Grill and Elway’s (yeah, owned by that famous football guy and local god).

Needing something quick?  Go to Modern Market, the best of the fast-casual places, and Tamales by La Casita for killer New Mexican dishes.

3.) Drink better

When you must suffer through a delay of your flight at Denver International, an alcoholic beverage often eases the pain.  The previously mentioned Tapas SkyBar and Cru Food and Wine Bar, as their names imply, serve up their signature libations. But you don’t have just those two to choose from.  All the following are a few steps above the usual airport watering holes.

The longest-standing establishment is the Boulder Beer Tap House.  It’s a good place for a brew but not necessarily the food. Craft beer pioneer New Belgium has its own place, as well as the national chain Rock Bottom Brewery5280.

If you prefer wine, you’ll have the local Lounge 5280 Wine Bar and airport standby Vino Volo. Many of the fine restaurants – the sit-down and be served places – will also have a decent selection.



  1. Reply
    Agness of Fit Travelling

    I love the picture, Janice! These tips are so helpful!
    Agness of Fit Travelling recently posted…Kicking it in Brazil – The Art of CapoeiraMy Profile

  2. Reply
    janice Post author

    Hi Agness – Thanks so much! You will have to try one of these places if you come through DIA. Pretty good for airport food 🙂
    janice recently posted…3 unexpected things you can do at Denver International AirportMy Profile

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