Sweet Home Denver, Colorado — the Mile High City. If you’re visiting Colorado, chances are you’ll probably be flying into the Denver airport. Whether it’s your final destination or not, you should definitely spend at least one day in the Centennial State’s capital.
I lived just north of Denver in Boulder, Colorado for two years, and found myself visiting the city frequently. Denver is just a city that truly has it all: cool street art, trendy local shops and restaurants, clean parks, beautiful mountain scenery, and plenty of free things to do.
Spend your days basking in the crisp mountain air and rejuvenating sunshine while lounging in the park, popping into different boutiques, enjoying live music, or exploring world famous hiking trails just outside the city. No matter what you’re looking to do on vacation or what your budget is, you’ll find Denver, Colorado to be a great place to visit!
Keep reading to learn the best free things to do in Denver, from a local who has tried them all.
HIKE AND EXPLORE RED ROCKS PARK & AMPHITHEATRE
Located just outside of Denver in Morrison, Colorado, is the world-famous Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. Red Rocks Amphitheatre is well known as one of the best natural amphitheaters in the United States and the world. Not only are the acoustics incredible, but so are the views and the vibes.
What most people don’t know about Red Rocks is that it’s always free to visit, and there are plenty of awesome hiking trails leading up to it! Some of the best friends I made in Colorado were from a free yoga class I took weekly at Red Rocks. Every Sunday, we would meet early to enjoy a sunrise picnic over the park and then hike down before class.
Aside from live music, yoga classes, and even free drive-in movies, inside the park you’ll also find a Visitor Center and museum where you can learn more about Denver and all the best things to do!
NOSH AT A FARMERS MARKET
One of the best free things to do in Denver is visit one of the many local farmer’s markets, where local Coloradoans sell fresh produce, baked goods, and delicious foods for the community to enjoy. You’ll find these in a lot of parks around the city, so you can grab lunch after taking a stroll, or enjoy some free live music.
Some of the most popular markets to visit include the farmer’s market at Union Station, Highlands Square, or up north in Boulder. One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday in Denver is by taking a walk around Sloan’s Lake and then hitting up the Highlands markets!
EXPLORE THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE CREATIVE DISTRICT
The Golden Triangle is an area of Denver that is known as a cultural and creative hub, as it is home to a number of world famous museums and art galleries, including the Denver Art Museum, Walker Fine Art Museum, and Public Library.
One of the most popular things to do in this area is the First Friday Art Walk. On the first Friday of every month, you’ll find hundreds of local artists sharing their craft with you on Santa Fe Drive. Take a free tour and purchase your vacation souvenirs from a local artist, try some food trucks, and stop into a local brewery for the perfect Denver experience!
TAKE THE HAMMOND’S CANDIES FACTORY TOUR
If you have children or a sweet tooth, you absolutely cannot miss a visit to Hammond’s Candies during your trip to Denver! This handcrafted candy company has been a long-time staple of Colorado, spreading joy and sweets to the community for over 100 years.
They’re open Tuesday-Saturday, and offer free guided tours of their premier candy making facility every day that they are open. See the entire process from start to finish, and try different candies along the way. After your tour, be sure to stop by the store to take your favorites home.
ENJOY A FESTIVAL
Aside from Jazz in the Park, there are tons of festivals going on year round in Denver that are completely free! Food festivals, beer tastings, concerts, art festivals, dance festivals… you name it, there are plenty to choose from.
Try all the best foods, drink margaritas, and dance your heart out at the Denver BBQ and Denver Taco Festivals. Paint the streets of Larimer Square at the Denver Chalk Festival, celebrate Asian American heritage at the Dragon Boat Festival, or learn more about local art education at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. No matter what you like to do, you’ll find a free festival in Denver featuring all the best!
WINDOW SHOP AT DENVER UNION STATION
Union Station is not only a transportation hub, but also a really cool dining and cultural center. Take photos of the iconic building from the outside, and check out all of the shops and restaurants inside.
Check out Denver’s beloved Tattered Cover Book Store to find your next read. If you’re hungry, try a pancake flight from Snooze or grab some ice cream from Little Man’s Ice Cream. If you are searching for a great photo opportunity or a craft cocktail, make your way to Terminal Bar.
Larimer Square is the oldest block in Denver. The very first building in Denver was built on Larimer Square in 1858. It was the city’s first historic district and one of the most iconic streets still to this day.
There are tons of great restaurants, cute boutiques and local outfitters located here now. You’ll always find charming decorations on the street that showcase local Colorado pride. There are a ton of local events that take place on this pedestrian block, so be sure to check the calendar of events and plan a stroll on your next visit!
16TH STREET MALL
If you’re looking for a bustling downtown area to visit, head to 16th Street Mall in Denver. This mile-long strip located in the heart of downtown Denver contains over 250 shops and restaurants.
It has free public transportation (a shuttle bus) that goes from one end to the other, making it a convenient way to stop by all your favorite stores without hurting your feet. Normally, the Denver Money Museum, located next door, is open for free, self-guided tours, but it’s currently closed due to construction. But keep that in mind the next time you visit!
The street ends at Union Station, so I’d recommend visiting both attractions in the same go. Go window shopping all the way to Union Station, and stop in for lunch.
RELAX AT CITY PARK
You have to plan a visit to City Park at least once during your time in Colorado! It is the home of the Denver Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, two lakes, many different recreational fields, and miles of green space to relax in.
Jazz in the Park is a great festival that has been running at City Park for 130 years now. Every Sunday evening in the summer, City Park showcases 10 jazz concerts that are completely free! This is a must-do event if you love jazz music and a good time.
Spend a day relaxing in the park and be sure to grab a maple doughnut from VooDoo Doughnuts right next door.
TOUR THE COLORADO STATE CAPITOL BUILDING
The capitol building in Denver offers free tours Monday-Friday, and I highly recommend planning a visit during your trip to the Mile High City!
The building itself features some incredible architectural features, including a dome gilded in gold straight from the Colorado gold mines. When you look out the window, you’ll be blessed with beautiful views of the city skyline and Rocky Mountains behind it. Be sure to plan a couple of hours to stop by for a free tour!
SEE THE DENVER CENTRAL LIBRARY ART COLLECTION
The Denver Central Library’s art collection is one of the best kept secrets of the city! Within the library, you’ll not only find books, but also an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures from some of the most incredible artists from Colorado.
The art spans across multiple art movements and features mostly western landscapes, thanks to the state’s inspiring geography. Be sure to stop by to grab a new read and check out some local art!
PINKIES UP AT CELESTIAL SEASONINGS TOUR
If you’re a lover of tea, you’ll really love Boulder! Celestial Seasonings is the largest herbal tea manufacturer in North America, and the Celestial Seasonings factory is located in north Boulder in the Gunbarrel neighborhood.
They offer free 45 minute tours of the facility where you get to check out art, sample teas, see them being manufactured, and even visit the herb garden. It’s a multisensory experience perfect for any tea lover!
Note: Tours are currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns.
STROLL CHERRY CREEK TRAIL AND CONFLUENCE PARK
One of the things I love most about Denver, in comparison to other cities, is the amount of green space available! Over 5,000 acres of it to be exact.
Go for a bike ride or take your dog on a walk along the Cherry Creek Trail, grab some friends and food for a picnic at Washington Park, or watch kayakers run the rapids at Confluence Park. Or grab the kids and a frisbee and bring the whole family for a fun afternoon in the city. Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere over views of the bustling city behind you.
SEE THE ANIMALS AT ROCKY MOUNTAIN ARSENAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
If you’re looking for a quick escape into nature, visit the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge in nearby Aurora, Colorado.
The land has served many purposes over the years, including housing a chemical manufacturing facility for WWII in the 1940s. A lot of time and money went into the restoration of this refuge, and now it is a great place to go if you’re looking to spot some wildlife, or take a quiet stroll and watch the sun set behind the mountains.
VISIT ON FREE DAYS
DENVER ART MUSEUM
The Denver Art Museum is one of the Mile High City’s main attractions, thanks to its impressive collections of American Indian Art, as well as Spanish artifacts. It is one of the largest art museums in the west, and is a must-see during your trip to Denver!
Visiting the Denver Art Museum is not always free, but they do have 1-2 free days each month. You can view the schedule on their website.
DENVER MUSEUM OF NATURE & SCIENCE
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science showcases natural history and science exhibits, and has a really cool astronomy sector featuring an IMAX and planetarium. It’s a great education center, especially for kids who love dinosaurs or planets.
They have a couple of free days and nights each month, so be sure to check the schedule when planning your trip to Denver!
The Denver Zoo is one of the city’s main attractions, located in City Park.
Every once in a while they’ll have a free day, and tickets for these are available on a lottery system. Try your luck to see if you can snag a ticket! Winners are notified via email.
DENVER BOTANIC GARDEN
The Denver Botanic Garden is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend an afternoon. It features a wide range of gardens and plants from all over the world, while keeping the Colorado local heritage strong.
They have one free day per month, including on Earth Day! Visit their website to register for a free day!
COLORADO RAILROAD MUSEUM
The Colorado Railroad Museum is a nonprofit railroad museum located near Golden, which features over 100 different trains.
The museum is always worth a visit, but they do have a few free days each year. Be sure to check their schedule when planning your trip to Denver!
There is no better way to enjoy Colorado than by exploring the outdoors! There are many state parks in and near Denver that are worth checking out. Take your paddleboard to Cherry Creek State Park, go rock climbing at Eldorado Canyon, or check out the hiking trails in Golden Gate Canyon.
Visiting Colorado state parks is only a few dollars regularly, and the funds always go right back to the park. But the first Monday in August, come celebrate Colorado and enjoy the parks for free!
National Parks also offer free days, so if you’re interested in a day trip, be in the lookout for free days at Rocky Mountain National Park as well. It is about a 2-hour drive from Denver and worth the trek!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO COLORADO
- BEST OF COLORADO: 38 Phenomenal Things To Do In Colorado
- HOT SPRINGS: 17 Best Hot Springs In Colorado You Must Visit
- AURORA: 19 Fun Things To Do In Aurora CO You Can’t Miss
- RESORTS: 21 Amazing Colorado Resorts Perfect For Every Type Of Traveler
- SKI RESORTS: 3 Affordable Colorado Ski Resorts Perfect For Out-of-Towners
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