An image of downtown Colorado Springs next to an image of Pearl Street on Boulder

Colorado Springs vs Boulder: The Best City to Visit in 2024

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Colorado Springs or Boulder, which city is better to visit? Keep reading for thoughts from a local!

Colorado Springs and Boulder are both beautiful Colorado cities with exceptional access to hiking, fun downtown areas, and great higher education institutions. Located to the south and northwest of Denver, respectively, either can be visited as a day trip or its own distinct destinations.

The first time I visited Boulder, I was a junior in high school and I was immediately taken with it. Between the lively bustle of Pearl Street, the jagged flatirons, and the new age-y energy, I was quickly hooked on this small Colorado city. 

I’m originally from Lakewood, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. After college, I moved back to my home state of Colorado, this time to Boulder. While I was there, I spent about five years exploring, hiking, and eating my way through the stunning and more-than-a-little eccentric city. 

That’s not to say that Colorado Springs is anything to sneeze at. Despite not being as glittery and chic as Boulder, Colorado Springs has a vibrant downtown, a number of fabulous restaurants, and it’s home to the awe-inspiring Garden of the Gods. Truthfully, you could have a great visit to either place!

Colorado Springs vs Boulder

Table of Contents
Colorado Springs vs Boulder: Which City is Better to Visit?
Comparing Costs
Best Things to Do
Top Accommodations

Colorado Springs vs Boulder: Which City is Better to Visit?

If you can only visit Colorado Springs or Boulder, I’d recommend that you visit Boulder. I’m biased, as someone who has lived in and loves Boulder, but it’s the sort of place I keep going back to and long for when I’m away too long. No matter the time of year, you’ll find people cozied up in cafes, bustling restaurants along Pearl Street, and active locals exploring the surrounding foothills and mountain ranges. 

On Saturday mornings in the summer in Boulder, you’ll find crowds of locals enjoying the Boulder Farmers Market. There are stands selling vegetables from nearby farms, food stalls, and coffee carts all through the market. To me, it’s quintessentially Boulder: community-oriented, bright, and cheery. 

Colorado Springs, for its part, is a much more ‘real’ sense of Colorado life, and more closely resembles the culture of other parts of the state that I’ve lived in or visited. It’s significantly cheaper, representing a far bigger (and less ultra-wealthy) group of Coloradoans. As a bonus, it’s far cheaper to visit than Denver or Boulder, so it’s more friendly to all types of travelers. 

If you’re still torn and want to visit both cities, the good news is that they’re only about 90 minutes apart. Within a few days, you could easily see both Boulder and Colorado Springs, in addition to the capital of Denver. 

A trail leads through the long grass in Chautauqua Park towards the foothills
A trail through Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado.

About Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is a sprawling Colorado city with a cute downtown and fabulous access to natural areas. You’re only a short drive from Pikes Peak, Manitou Springs, and a number of other local peaks. It’s also home to the Garden of the Gods, a park full of staggering red sandstone rock formations and rolling hills that is completely free to visit. 

Downtown Colorado Springs has a similar flavor to the downtowns of Golden or Fort Collins, but it’s a little less distinctive. The main streets have restaurants and breweries, many of which feature outdoor patios where you can bask in the sun and sip a local brew on a warm summer day. 

One significant benefit to choosing to visit Colorado Springs is that it’s much cheaper than other areas in Colorado. Despite its current population boom, Colorado Springs is nowhere near as wealthy as Denver, Boulder, or the popular mountain towns like Aspen or Vail. 

Nowhere in Colorado is cheap, per se, but you’ll probably be able to find some deals if you stay in Colorado Springs. 

A few locals walk up and down the sidewalk in front of Solar Roast Coffee in Colorado Springs
Shops and eateries in Downtown Colorado Springs.

About Boulder

Boulder is one of my favorite places in the world, and it was my home for many years during my 20s. The small city feels like a large mountain town, with a bustling downtown, lots of walking trails, and plenty of opportunities to hike. Chautauqua State Park is one of the most instantly recognizable places in Boulder; it’s the grassy park just below the Boulder Flatirons on the southern side of the city. 

The locals are, for the most part, very active and outdoorsy. On especially snowy winter days, you can sometimes catch them cross country skiing down the sidewalks. Almost every Monday morning work meeting will start with a recap of which hikes or activities you enjoyed over the weekend. It’s a way of life. 

Boulder is known for being expensive and very highly educated, partly due to its careful urban planning and the University of Colorado Boulder campus. There is a significant student population, mostly based around an area called The Hill, centered around College Avenue and 13th Street. 

I’d recommend that you avoid The Hill when choosing an accommodation, as the area can get loud on weekend evenings, especially towards the beginning or end of the semester. 

European-looking statues hold candles facing signs reading "No Public Restrooms" and "We love ice cream too, but please... Finish all food and drink before coming into the store."
The entryway to the Boulder Bookstore.

Comparing Costs: Colorado Springs vs Boulder

You’ll be hard-pressed to find any city in Colorado that’s particularly cheap. The state is a popular place to live, and the cities are generally busy and costly to live in. The influx of tourists and transplants in recent years have driven up prices throughout the region. 

It’s not all bad, though; the increased population has also contributed to improvements in the local infrastructure and diversified the restaurants and shops. 

That said, Colorado Springs is significantly more affordable than Boulder. Boulder is famously expensive, with costs that are driven up by its very strict zoning policies, high rent costs, and notoriously highly educated population. Colorado Springs is a more middle class city, with a far more diverse (and growing) population. 

Whether you’re making a pros and cons list before moving to Colorado or just visiting, your total trip cost will likely be significantly lower in Colorado Springs. 

An intersection at El Dorado Way and E Palmer Divide Ave next to a grazing horse in Colorado Springs. There only a few houses visible in the distance.
Colorado Springs is far less densely populated than Boulder. This is a suburban area about 20 minutes outside of the city.

Average Costs in Colorado Springs 

On the whole, a trip to Colorado Springs will be cheaper than a visit to Boulder.

The cost of accommodations and food are both likely to be lower in Colorado Springs, largely due to it being a larger and more diverse city. Transportation costs are likely to be similar, though Boulder has a better public transportation system. Given the nature of the activities, you may also pay more for entertainment in Colorado Springs than you might in Boulder. 

Keep reading for more detailed information about costs in Colorado Springs. 

A paved walking trail through the Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs
A walking path in the Garden of the Gods park.

Transportation Costs in Colorado Springs

Be sure to drive or rent a car to get around Colorado Springs. 

I wouldn’t recommend that you rely on the public transit in Colorado Springs unless it’s absolutely necessary. There’s no local train system and the buses are not very reliable. Further, parts of the city are unsafe, especially at night. 

Luckily, parking is reasonably priced and it’s normally not too challenging to find some street parking downtown. Most residential areas near downtown are full of free, unlimited parking, so don’t be afraid to travel a few blocks out of your way to find a spot. 

Accommodation Costs in Colorado Springs

You stand to save the most money on your accommodations if you choose to visit Colorado Springs over Boulder. For one thing, there are simply far more accommodation options in Colorado Springs. From very cheap motels to high end hotels, you’ll have a choice of price points in this larger city. 

Boulder, by contrast, is a much smaller city with very little new construction each year. For this reason, there are a finite number of hotels for travelers to choose from, driving up the costs. 

Food Costs in Colorado Springs

Meals and groceries in Colorado Springs come at average prices, with a few gems and great deals to be found if you’re willing to look. The best Mexican food I had on my recent trip to Colorado was at Arceo’s Mexican Restaurant right off of I-25 and Nevada Avenue. Two tacos are around $9 and enchiladas run around $13, including several vegetarian options. 

For lunch, a sandwich or salad from Poor Richard’s Restaurant runs about $11-13. For a family-friendly meal at Azada Mexican Grill, three tacos is about $18 and a smothered burrito is $20. Breakfast burritos at Azada Mexican Grill are $13 and there are a few flavors to choose from. 

Sauce-covered chilaquiles with sides of black beans topped with cheese and a piece of toasted bread
Chilaquiles from Arceo’s Mexican Restaurant in Colorado Springs.

Activities Costs in Colorado Springs

As with many other places in Colorado, outdoor activities will be free or very cheap, perfect for a budget traveler. You can climb the Manitou Incline, explore the Garden of the Gods, or drive up Pikes Peak for only a few dollars in fees for your car. 

In order to visit other popular sites, like the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, expect to pay larger entrance fees. The Royal Gorge Bridge, for instance, can quickly get expensive, especially if you’re traveling with a larger group. Coach tickets for a train ride on the Royal Gorge Railroad start around $89, with only a small break in price for children aged 2-12. 

A cast iron statue of four athletes jumping for joy as if they've just won their races or sports
A statue in front of the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Average Costs in Boulder

Boulder is an expensive place to live and visit, with accommodation and food costs that are higher than Colorado Springs (and many other parts of the state, for that matter). Transportation costs are likely to be similar, but you could potentially save money by relying on public transit. 

You might see a break when it comes to activities, though. There are plenty of free or cheap things to do in Boulder, and free events are common throughout the year. 

Transportation Costs in Boulder

I would strongly recommend that you rent a car when visiting Boulder. Although there is decent local public transit and a number of walkable areas, a car will allow you to explore into the mountains and the surrounding towns. If you were to move to Boulder, however, I think you might be able to get away without a car, provided you had a bicycle and were comfortable taking public transit. 

You can save money by street parking in the areas north and south of Pearl Street instead of paying for a garage spot. Watch the signs, but typically once you get a few blocks from a busy area the parking shifts to being residential and free. 

If you do decide to take the bus, you can purchase a 3-hour pass for $2.75 or a day pass for $5.50. The fare to/from the airport is $10, and that bus is very convenient if you won’t be renting a car at the airport. The journey from Boulder to Denver is now included in the 3-hour pass, and I far prefer taking the bus to driving when I can. 

Cars parked along a sidewalk in Boulder, Colorado with a bike in view in the background. The sidewalk is wide and easy to walk along, but cars are still necessary.
Although parts of Boulder are walkable, I’d still recommend that you rent a car.

Accommodation Costs in Boulder

As mentioned above, accommodation costs are high in Boulder. Not only is Boulder generally a more expensive city to visit, the hotels that are located in the city tend to be higher end and come with a commensurately high price tag. You’ll find slightly lower prices in East Boulder, but they’re probably not going to be as cheap as the hotels you’ll find in Colorado Springs. 

To save money on your accommodations in Boulder, I suggest looking at hotels and Airbnbs in the surrounding areas outside of Boulder. Lafayette, Golden, Louisville, and even Loveland (the town, not the ski resort!) are all decent options. 

Food Costs in Boulder

Another place where you can expect to pay significantly more when visiting Boulder is for food and restaurants. Boulder is notorious for having very few family-friendly joints, opting instead for trendy happy hour spots, breweries, and higher end eateries. 

One of my favorite places for breakfast in Boulder is Lucile’s Creole Cafe, which serves New Orleans-inspired dishes like Eggs Pontchartrain, featuring pan-fried trout, and Pain Perdu, a NOLA-style french toast. Many dishes come with a freshly made buttermilk biscuit and are served with a housemade jam. Breakfast entrees run about $10-15. 

For dinner, a burger at the cash-only Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery, expect to pay $11 to $17, with an extra $3 for french fries. Mountain Sun is not only a great local brewery, it’s a Boulder institution. You can sample beers and admire the chalk paintings on the walls while you wait for your table – my favorite beer is the Number One. 

A cheese omlette and roasted potatoes in a red sauce from Lucile's Creole cafe.
A vegetarian cheese omlette from Lucile’s Creole Cafe.

Activities Costs in Boulder

One way that Boulder may be a bit cheaper for the average traveler is the wealth of free activities. From wandering up and down Pearl Street, to strolling along Boulder Creek, to hiking a nearby trail, there are lots of things to do in Boulder that are completely free. I consider this a lucky byproduct of being a college town! 

Check the Boulder Library or CU Boulder’s events page for free events when you’re visiting. Sometimes there are conferences or talks that bring in high quality speakers from Boulder and the wider area. 

Paid activities in Boulder will probably be comparable to Colorado Springs. Whether you’re interested in a brewery visit, a shopping spree on Pearl Street, or a concert at a local venue, you probably won’t find a big gap in costs when compared to other Colorado destinations. 

During the summer, I suggest that you consider driving up to Golden, Colorado to see a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater. The tickets are usually $50 or more, but it’s an incredible and unforgettable venue, usually played by decently large names. 

A slide and other play features in front of the glassy windows of Boulder's Public Library. The play area is larger than you'll find at most public libraries.
The Boulder Public Library.

Best Things to Do: Colorado Springs vs Boulder

Both Boulder and Colorado Springs are busy, bustling cities with outdoorsy activities, breweries, and hopping historic downtowns. There’s enough to do in either city to fill several days of an itinerary, or longer if you add in some day trips. 

Top Activities in Colorado Springs

Athletes of all types are sure to find something to love about Colorado Springs. From the Garden of the Gods, which boasts some incredible views and gentle hiking trails, to the punishing slope of the Manitou Incline, you can definitely reach your exercise goals when visiting Colorado Springs. 

To admire some of the world’s most impressive athletes, you need only to take a tour of the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. You might even catch a glimpse of a famous figure skater or swimmer while you’re there. 

Visit the Garden of the Gods

You really can’t go to Colorado Springs without visiting the fiery rock formations of the Garden of the Gods. The park is full of red-hued sandstone, with a network of hiking and walking trails for visitors to explore. For the most part, the trails in the Garden of the Gods are gentle, easy enough for children and casual hikers to enjoy. Some trails are wheelchair accessible

The park also features rock climbing for experienced climbers, but there are restrictions. Check posted signs before you go and after you arrive.

Best of all, the park is completely free to visit. I recommend that you avoid the weekends or go early because it can be hard to find parking. 

Jagged sandstone features emerge from the trees and hills in Colorado Springs' Garden of the Gods park
Another view of the Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs.

Climb the Manitou Incline

For a serious challenge, you can climb the almost vertical 2,744 steps of the Manitou Incline. This extremely strenuous trail takes you up about 2,000 vertical feet and then descends on a relatively gentle hiking trail. The view from the top is probably very beautiful, but I was too tired to remember it 😅

I don’t have any photos of the day I did the Manitou Incline, but I’ll never forget it because I was under prepared (and a very kind stranger bailed me out by offering me extra water). I only had one small water bottle and it was a hot day – I really should have had 2-3 water bottles. Bring more water than you think you’ll need, along with sunscreen and snacks. 

Reservations are required, but as of this writing the activity is free. You can book your ticket(s) here. Dogs and other pets are not allowed. 

A person slowly makes their way up the steps of the Manitou Incline near Colorado Springs
The Manitou Incline is an intense physical endeavor.

Check out the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center

Ever wondered where the Olympians train? For several US sports, the answer is at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The center is one of the key training facilities for sports like figure skating, bobsledding, and swimming. 

You can tour the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center by visiting Monday through Saturday. General admissions tickets are $15. Afterwards (or instead), you can visit the nearby US Olympic and Paralympic Museum. General admissions tickets are $20, but a discount is available if you visit both the museum and the training center. 

A statue of four athletes wearing Olympic medals hold up a globe that's several times their size
Another statue in front of the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center.

Top Activities in Boulder

Boulder is home to lots of active locals and fabulous outdoor activities, so it’s probably no surprise that this list includes active activities. From walking to hiking to cycling, many Boulderites spend their free time enjoying and socializing in the great outdoors. 

Shop and People-Watch along Pearl Street

I lived in Boulder for years and never got tired of a walk along Pearl Street, especially on a warm day. 

Pearl Street is Boulder’s downtown and pedestrian mall. It’s the main hub for Boulder, with shops, restaurants, breweries, and street performers when the weather is nice. You can spend a few hours just strolling up and down, popping into shops as you go. 

Some of my favorite shops along Pearl Street include Piece, Love and Chocolate, my favorite chocolatier in Colorado, and Liberty Puzzles. I love Liberty Puzzles because the pieces are interestingly designed, with shapes that fit the theme of the puzzle – they’d make a great and unique wedding or housewarming gift. 

At PLC, I can’t leave without getting a dark chocolate liquid salted caramel truffle. 

Rows of artisan chocolate truffles from Piece, Love and Chocolate in Boulder, Colorado
Rows of truffles at Piece, Love and Chocolate, my favorite chocolatier in Colorado.

Explore Boulder Creek 

Boulder Creek is one of the most iconic spots in the city, and it’s absolutely worth a visit. There is a walking and cycling trail along Boulder Creek that cuts through the city from west to east. On a warm summer day, you can pack a small picnic and wander along the creek until you find a quiet spot to sit for a while. 

For a gentle spot to put your feet in the water, check out the small seating areas just west of the Boulder Library. 

Tubing on Boulder Creek

During the summer, you can also buy rubber inner tubes from local shops and float down the river. It’s a fun and relaxing activity, but it can be dangerous when the water is high and moving quickly. Take all appropriate precautions and know that you’re tubing at your own risk. 

On at least one occasion, I’ve taken a tube down to the creek and decided the water was moving too quickly for me. It’s always OK to give up and try something else if the activity doesn’t feel safe. 

A woman and her dog walk along the path next to the Boulder Creek
Boulder Creek when its flow is low enough for tubing or just getting your feet wet.

Go For a Hike

Hiking is one of my favorite activities, whether alone or with a group. From central Boulder, you can easily access a number of hiking trails on foot, like the First and Second Flatirons Loop or Mt Sanitas

I also love the nearby Eldorado Canyon State Park. This smaller park has an entrance fee and limits visitors, but it’s absolutely worth a visit. There are serious rock climbers scaling the rock faces when you first drive in, and the hikes vary from short and accessible to longer and more intense. 

On the weekends, I strongly recommend that you go as early as possible. By 11am, you might end up waiting for an hour or more for a chance to enter the park.  

A tree-studded view of the mountains in Eldorado State Park near Boulder, Colorado
A view from the Rattlesnake Gulch trail in Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder.

Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is only about an hour from central Boulder, easy enough to go for a day trip. When I lived in Boulder, I visited RMNP regularly on the weekends to snowshoe in winter, when the park is less crowded with visitors. 

On your way into or out of the park, plan some extra time to explore the small town of Estes Park, Colorado. There are some cute (albeit touristy) shops and restaurants, all of which cater to the thousands of visitors who make their way to RMNP each year. 

As for hikes, my favorite trail in RMNP is Emerald Lake. It’s a 3.2-mile out and back hike that ends at a stunning alpine lake, and it’s accessible most of the year. During the winter in Boulder, snowshoeing to Emerald Lake was one of my favorite activities on the weekend. 

My partner and I pose for a photo in our snow gear and snowshoes on a winter day in Rocky Mountain National Park
Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter outside of Boulder.

Top Accommodations in Colorado Springs and Boulder

Choosing where to stay in Colorado Springs or Boulder will probably be the biggest budget consideration you’ll make. While Boulder has some beautiful and centrally-located hotels, they often come at a steep price. Colorado Springs, by contrast, is much bigger and more diverse, so you’ll be better able to find a hotel that’s near the action and reasonably priced. 

Where to Stay in Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is a larger city than Boulder, so you can choose from a number of hotels at various price points. Although downtown Colorado Springs is convenient, you can also have a great visit by staying in a cheaper spot in the outskirts of town if you have a car. 

📍Top Budget-Friendly Pick: Kinship Landing is a hostel in Colorado Springs that’s ideal for budget travelers. As far as hostels go, Kinship Landing caters more towards quiet, independent travelers, and there aren’t many, if any, activities or group excursions. The decor is modern and clean, and the hostel is centrally located for visiting Downtown Colorado Springs. 

📍Top Mid Range Pick: The Element Colorado Springs Downtown is a modern and ideally located hotel just a few minutes’ walk from Downtown Colorado Springs (only a couple of blocks from Kinship Landing). There’s an indoor pool, a hot tub, and free bicycles for guests to use to get around. 

📍Top Luxury Pick: The Garden of the Gods Club & Resort is a luxurious resort just 15 minutes from the Garden of the Gods Park. This resort features an Olympic-sized swimming pool, as well as an onsite spa and golf course. Many rooms have fireplaces and/or mountain views.  

A view of a sidewalk in a park in downtown Colorado Springs
A park in Downtown Colorado Springs.

Where to Stay in Boulder

Boulder is not a large city, so you’ll want to try to stay as close as possible to Pearl Street if you can. I wrote another post about the best places to stay in Boulder, but here’s a quick overview for a quick reference. 

📍Top Budget-Friendly Pick: Hampton Inn & Suites Lafayette is a short 20 minute drive from Boulder, so it’s a great choice for those hoping to save money. Lafayette is a cute town, with a small downtown and a few great restaurants and coffee shops. I always make a point of stopping at OTIS Craft Collective in Lafayette when I visit the Boulder area. 

📍Top Mid Range Pick: Foot of the Mountain Motel is a rustic motel set in West Boulder, just a short walk from the western-most part of Pearl Street. Although the rooms aren’t fancy, you’ll feel like you’re staying in a cozy cabin in the woods. A simple but tasty breakfast is usually included in your booking.  

📍Top Luxury Pick: The Hotel Boulderado is a historic hotel in Boulder, set just off of Pearl Street, with tasteful Victorian decor. The lobby has stained glass ceilings, wooden railings, and antique-inspired furniture. The rooms are beautiful and stylish, and some even feature views of the mountains. 

A stained glass ceiling and Victorian-style hotel lobby in the Hotel Boulderado
The lobby of the Hotel Boulderado.

FAQs: Colorado Springs vs Boulder

Planning to visit Colorado Springs or Boulder and still having trouble choosing a Colorado city to visit? Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions from other travelers.

Is Boulder nicer than Colorado Springs?

In general, yes, Boulder is nicer than Colorado Springs. Many travelers prefer the cozy mountain town vibes and collegiate flair of Boulder to Colorado Springs’ more urban feel. Still, both areas have exceptional access to hikes and other outdoor activities, all within a short drive. 

What is the cost of living in Boulder vs Colorado Springs?

Without a doubt, Colorado Springs is a more affordable place to live than Boulder. Colorado Springs is also more affordable than Denver, which has experienced a surge in popularity (and prices) in recent years. On average, it’s estimated that living in Boulder is 28% more expensive than Colorado Springs

What is special about Colorado Springs?

Colorado Springs is probably best known for its nearby natural spaces: the Garden of the Gods and the Manitou Incline. The Garden of the Gods is a gorgeous and completely free park just outside of the city limits where you can walk, hike, and rock climb. Colorado Springs also offers great restaurants that are significantly cheaper than you’ll find in Boulder or Denver. 

Why is Boulder, Colorado so popular?

Boulder is popular because it has a bustling pedestrian mall, ample access to the outdoors, quirky locals, and incredible views of the foothills and the Flatirons. It’s also home to the University of Colorado Boulder, which attracts students from around the world and has renowned sports teams. 

A display train car reads Manitou & Pike's Peak Ry. Manitou
A display train car in Manitou Springs, near Colorado Springs.

Conclusion: Colorado Springs vs Boulder

Truthfully, I don’t think you can go wrong if you’re choosing between Colorado Springs and Boulder. While Boulder is more upscale and wealthy, Colorado Springs has a feisty up-and-coming energy that is definitely catching some steam. 

Having lived in Boulder and grown up in Denver, here’s something I’d suggest that you consider: Boulder will probably be more or less the same city in 10 years. It might get even wealthier and glossier, but I’d guess it’ll be immediately recognizable even to the casual visitor. 

Colorado Springs, on the other hand, is changing quickly. The city is growing into a bustling second city in an already popular state experiencing a population and economic boom. If you want to see some vestiges of Colorado life from before its boom in the 2000s, go to Colorado Springs now.