Denver is the state capitol of Colorado and their capitol building is free and open to visitors during normal operating hours. It’s a beautiful late 19th century building with a gold-leaf dome. Best of all you can get there for free on either the MallRide or MetroRide buses by hopping off at the Civic Center terminal.
During my visit both the state house of representatives and state senate were in session. The photo in the gallery above is the representatives who were going through some dry procedural issues like scheduling.
I also got to see part of a press conference downstairs where the governor was speaking. Only recognized him thanks to finding his photo on Google on the way over.
A somewhat unusual feature for a state capitol is a gallery of painted portraits of every US president. They were all painted by the same artist except for Obama, as the artist passed away by that time. There’s currently space for Trump once the portrait is completed.
The capitol building has a free guided tour running every hour. More information here.
I went in and asked at the information desk about the tour. As it turns out that’s where you sign up for the tour — this isn’t mentioned on their website — and although the next tour was minutes away from starting I was lucky enough to be able to join in. If you visit during peak tourist season it’s recommended to get there much earlier.
The tour goes through most of the public spaces in the building, covers some of the art honoring the historic figures of Colorado, and finishes in a fantastic place most tourists aren’t allowed to visit: the dome’s balcony.
At the top floor visitors are allowed to enter on their own is a small exhibit on the history of the building and Colorado’s government. The exhibit walls feature windows where you can see the large attic space between the building’s roof and interior ceilings.
On the tour the guide unlocks a door leading into this “in between” attic space and directs everyone to a utilitarian metal staircase. At the top of the stairs is a narrow walkway on the interior of the dome.
The real treat though is walking out to the exterior balcony where there’s an amazing view of the city. I was lucky enough to visit on a clear day where the snow-capped Rocky Mountains were visible in the distance.
Many of us on the tour had questions for the guide about what we were seeing in the distance and down below, and he happily answered every question.
Outside the building on the steps to the west entrance (not a public entrance) there words “One Mile Above Sea Level” are engraved into the steps. Denver is known as the mile high city, after all.
As it turns out measuring a mile above sea level is a bit of a fool’s errand when the sea is nowhere in sight. In fact there are two different medallions embedded in the steps claiming to be the one mile high mark — one on a couple steps above the engraving, and one a couple steps below. More information on why these measurements differ can be found on Atlas Obscura.
My recommendation: If you want to glimpse a state government in action, you enjoy American neoclassical architecture, you want to know more about American history, or even if you just want a nice view of Denver, it’s all there at the Colorado State Capitol building and costs nothing. The tour itself is 45-60 minutes. You’ll have to locate the mile high marker on your own but it’s pretty easy to find and the tour guide can point you in the right direction if you ask.