Free Things to Do in Denver in the Winter

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So many holiday lights in the Mile High City make it worthwhile to visit Denver in the winter. #Denver #holidaylights #winterwonderland
So many holiday lights in the Mile High City make it worthwhile to visit Denver in the winter. Photo: VISIT DENVER

Looking for an action-packed winter wonderland? Look no further than Denver, Colorado. Though the state’s capital never fails to please art-lovers, foodies and outdoor adventurers, the Mile High City is particularly enchanting in the winter months, when snow blankets the surrounding Rocky Mountains.

With free ice skating, festive parades, cozy eateries and art celebrations, Denver offers a vibrant winter scene for all types of travelers. The city is also a convenient weekend or day trip from Rocky Mountain National Park as well as a number of popular ski resorts, including Winter Park Resort. Adventurous travelers will find no shortage of hiking trails and outdoor activities including sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snow tubing in the neighboring mountains.

Bundle up and venture out into the cold with our list of 17 free things to do in Denver this winter season.

Think you know the Mile High City? Read these 10 things you didn’t know about Denver.

ice skating is free in denver
In the winter, Denver offers free ice skating at Southwest Rink at Skyline Park. Photo credit: VISIT DENVER

1. Free Ice Skating in Denver

Downtown Denver Ice Skating

The Downtown Denver Rink returns every winter from November to February to celebrate Denver’s holiday spirit. A popular winter activity, the ice rink attracted more than 40,000 skaters last year.

Located in Skyline Park at 1601 Arapahoe St., the ice rink is free to all who bring their own skates. Adults can rent a pair of skates for $11 and kids 12 and under can rent a pair for $9. All ages are welcome.

Get in on the free things to do in Denver starting at the Denver International Airport with free ice skating. and other festive holiday themed entertainment.
Get in on the free things to do in Denver starting at the Denver International Airport with free ice skating. Photo credit: DEN Denver International Airport

Denver International Airport Ice Skating

Are you a traveler arriving or passing through the Mile High City in the winter? Take advantage of the airport’s completely free ice rink and go ice skating in the Denver International Airport Plaza.

Find this 40 x 60-foot rink between the Jeppesen Terminal and the Westin Hotel. The rink is typically open November through January from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Pick up your free rentals inside the Westin and hit the ice!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Magical outdoor ice skating rinks abound throughout Colorado during the winter months.

2. First Friday Art Walks

Denver embraces its art communities with monthly celebrations that take place in neighborhoods across Denver. Scheduled for the first Friday of every month, First Friday Art Walks feature cultural performances, music, art exhibits, art walks and more in Denver’s art districts.

My favorite is the Santa Fe art district. From 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., this event draws crowds to Santa Fe Drive to enjoy cultural exhibits and tasty food trucks.

3. Explore More with Denver Story Trek

Transport Denver’s history directly to your cell phone with the free downloadable Denver Story Trek. Pick up a free map at one of the city’s museums and set off to explore the city on a self-guided tour.

4. Warm-up at LoDo’s Tattered Cover Bookstore

Step out of the snow and into the Tattered Cover Bookstore at McGregor Square, one of the largest independent bookstores in the U.S. where many famous authors host free book signings. Sip your favorite coffee drink while perusing the shop’s extensive selection of books, games, cards and stationery. For travelers, this is the perfect stop as WiFi and browsing are free.

A second Tattered Cover Bookstore is located across from Denver East High School and a satellite store is located inside Denver’s Union Station.

5. Be a Fan at the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Museum

Sports fans won’t want to miss the free Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Museum, which pays tribute to the sports legends of the state. Located at the Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the museum is open Thursday through Saturday.

Channel your inner cowboy or cowgirl at legendary Rockmount Ranch Wear in downtown Denver.
Channel your inner cowboy or cowgirl at legendary Rockmount Ranch Wear in downtown Denver. Photo credit: VISIT DENVER

6. Channel your Inner Fashionista at Rockmount Ranch Wear

Fashionistas remember the Wild West by browsing the historic Rockmount Ranch Wear, the inventor of the western snap-button shirt. Located in LoDo, the walls are a celebrity gallery of famous personalities, from Elvis Presley to Toby Keith, who have worn their shirts.

While the store is free to browse and window shop, you’ll be tempted to purchase a snap-button Western shirt.

Entry is free into Downtown Denver's family friendly Christkindl Market.
Entry is free into Downtown Denver’s family-friendly Christkindl Market. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

7. Denver’s Christmas Market

Located at Skyline Park, the family-friendly Christkindl Market is Denver’s version of the European Christmas Market. Entry is free and the market is open mid November through December 23. Local artisans and vendors from all over the world, including Germany, Ukraine, and Ireland offer hand-carved figurines, candles, ornaments and more for sale. Listen to traditional Christmas carols and live German music. Traditional German food, hot spiced wine and hot chocolate are available for purchase.

holiday lights at denver union station, one of many free holiday activities in Denver
Grand Illumination and Merry & Bright Lights at Denver Union Station brighten the area with holiday cheer. Denver Union Station Photo courtesy Denver Union Station/ Evan Semón Photography.

8. Grand Illumination

Downtown Denver’s Grand Illumination lights up downtown each year. The streets of the city shine brightly when the switch is turned on from Denver Union Station. The lights stay on through the end of December.

Held late November, the annual Grand Illumination kick-off event features the lighting of the station’s outdoor 40-foot-tall Mile High Tree tree with more than 7,000 holiday lights. Stick around to meet Santa, hear holiday classics from the Denver Dolls and then splurge with drinks at the Terminal Bar at Union Station.

Also in Union Station, an outdoor light show called Merry & Bright Lights displays mesmerizing imagery across the façade of Denver’s landmark train station. Created by local artists, this free show will run from Thanksgiving until just after Christmas from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. each evening.

SheBuysTravel contributor Liana Moore’s family loves visiting the historic Denver Union Station and The Crawford Hotel. Year-round her son loves to watch the trains arrive and depart. Unique art is scattered throughout. During the summer a spray park and farmer’s market entertain the kids.

9. Parade of Lights Weekend and Holiday Lights

Everyone loves a parade, and downtown Denver boasts a fair share. Thousands of locals and travelers flock to downtown for a front-row seat to three Mile High parades in the winter. Begin with the best holiday displays during the 9NEWS Parade of Lights Weekend, held in early December. This nighttime parade features marching bands, ornate floats and appearances by Major Waddles, the Penguin and Santa.

Miss the parade? Take a walk or a drive around the Mile High City. Its holiday lights, especially on the City and County Building, will bring a smile to kids of all ages.

1 of 11 free things to do includes the free family-friendly (early) New Year's Eve fireworks show
Go to the FREE family-friendly early New Year’s Eve fireworks show in downtown Denver. Photo credit: VISIT DENVER

10. New Year’s Eve Fireworks

Ring in the New Year with a Mile High bundle of fireworks. The first set of fireworks will light up the sky at 9 p.m., and a second show will ignite at midnight. For the best viewing, snag a spot along the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. (Even on New Year’s Eve, you’ll find family-friendly things to do in Denver.)

Free things to do in Denver in the winter includes lining up for the National Western Stock show Parade annually each January.
Free things to do in Denver in the winter include lining up for the National Western Stock Show Parade annually each January. Photo credit: VISIT DENVER

11. National Western Stockshow & Rodeo Parade

Texas Longhorn cattle are driven through the streets of downtown every January during the annual Rodeo Parade during National Western Stockshow and Rodeo. This celebration of everything western brings cowboys and cowgirls, horses, live music, floats and horseback riders to welcome the kick-off of one of the world’s largest indoor rodeos, the National Western Stock Show each January in Denver.

Denver Museum of Nature & Science offers kids an opportunity to become scientists at the Biology Basecamp.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science offers kids an opportunity to become scientists at the Biology Basecamp. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

12. Free Museum Days

From Denver’s Zoo to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Mile High City offers multiple free museum days in 2023. Here’s a quick list for 2023:

Free to play and free to admire, the colorful pianos along Denver's 16th Street Mall Pedestrian Walk.
Free to play and free to admire, the colorful pianos along Denver’s 16th Street Mall Pedestrian Walk. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

13. Free Walking Tours

Offered daily at 10 am, these free Denver walking tours start at the Civic Center Park and wind through downtown Denver, ending at Coors Field. These free daily tours are the perfect introduction to the city’s history, architecture, landmarks and local businesses.

14. U.S. Mint Tour

When in Denver, one must-see stop is the U.S. Mint Tour. On free guided 45-minute tours, discover how 50 million coins are produced each day ad stamped with a “D” for Denver. Just be sure to request your free tickets ahead of time, as they are provided on a first come, first served basis.

15. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Marade

United marchers and parade fans assemble at Denver’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Marade.” The memorial march and parade begins at City Park and then marchers continue to Civic Center Park, with the final stop at the Colorado State Capitol Building. This annual event is the largest MLK Jr. Day celebration in the U.S. This year’s march is scheduled for January 15, 2024.

Everyone loves a parade, and Denver's St. Patrick's Day parade is one of the largest.
Everyone loves a parade, and Denver’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of the largest. Photo credit: Visit Denver

16. St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Denver

The luck of the Irish will be with you when you attend downtown Denver’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, and join more than 200,000 parade fans for the largest St. Patty’s parade west of the Mississippi. This fun annual parade returns on March 16, 2024.

17. Hammond’s Candy Factory

Year-round, the Hammond’s Candy Factory indulges your sweet tooth with free tours. Learn how lollipops, candy canes and other Hammond’s treats are made on a 30-minute free tour of the factory.

Not on a tight budget?

If you’re willing to splurge, spend a night in The Brown Palace Hotel, a luxury hotel that has been open since 1892. With a spa and six unique bars and restaurants, the Brown Palace pampers its guests with an unforgettable stay at one of Denver’s finest hotels.

Known for its craft brew scene, Denver is the place to be if you’re a beer drinker. Explore some of the city’s local breweries, like Great Divide, Wynkoop Brewing Company and Cerebral Brewing, and spend the afternoon sampling craft beers.

Attend Denver Botanic Garden’s Blossoms of Light to celebrate the holiday spirit while enjoying stunning natural scenery. Open from mid-November 18th to early January, this annual event transforms the gardens into a winter wonderland and makes for a stunning romantic date or a Christmas adventure for the whole family.

Free Things to Do Outside of Denver

While downtown Denver is amazing, the outskirts of the city also offer fun things to do. Embrace the holiday season in Cherry Creek during its annual and free Winter Wonderland. The streets transform into a festive paradise with live ice carving, temporary fire pits, face painting, complimentary refreshments and giveaways.

Explore Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, an open-air amphitheater hosting world-famous musical acts and experience this stunning geological wonder.

Just 20 minutes from downtown Denver, Golden is an Old-West-themed town that also celebrates the holidays with lights, parades and more. Located in Golden, Coors Brewery is the largest single-site brewery in the world. For $20, take a 60-minute tour of the facility and sample some brews.

If you’re looking for a relaxing weekend getaway to the mountains, drive out to Breckenridge, located about a one-hour-and-45-minute drive from Denver. This historic town attracts skiers and other outdoor adventurers while boasting a rich gold rush history.

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