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Did somebody say free!? That’s right, there are many incredible free things to do in Denver, Colorado, and the surrounding area, which can make it a great place to visit if you’re traveling on a budget.
We moved to Denver back in 2020 and still love doing a lot of the free activities in Denver, especially when we have families and friends visit. That’s because Denver’s free activities are actually fun and can provide you with some great memories, especially if you’re visiting the city for the first time.
So, what are you waiting for? Read on to learn about the best free things to do in Denver CO!
Meet locals at a farmer’s market
There are many different farmer’s markets in Denver and the surrounding area, especially throughout the summer. These are completely free to visit and can be a great way to meet other locals!
Even though it’s free to visit, you may not be able to help yourself but buy some of the incredible things that get sold at these markets.
One of the most popular markets in Denver is actually hosted right at Union Station, which is impossible to miss if you’ll be staying at a hotel in LoDo.
Walk around the 16th Street Mall
One of the best free things to do in Denver is to visit 16th Street Mall. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very touristy street, but it will most likely be where you’re staying because a lot of the hotels surround it.
The mall is located pretty centrally right in LoDo and is filled with shops, bars, restaurants, and more. If you want any souvenirs, the shops here are pretty decent, though can be a bit on the high end. (Pro tip: for some cooler souvenirs, head to Boulder.)
The mall is fairly long so if you want to move from shop to shop easily, be sure to make use of the free mall ride. This bus stops at almost every block, and you can hop off and hop on for no charge.
Take in the view from Lost Gulch Overlook
While it’s technically not located directly in Denver, Lost Gulch Overlook is a short drive from the city center, and it should be on your list. This is especially true if you’ll only be visiting Denver for a short period of time because it is one of the closer outdoors lookouts.
Lost Gulch Overlook is located in Boulder, one of Denver’s best day trips. The view from the overlook is incredible, and you’ll often find people taking senior photos or even couples photos up there. You might even sport an engagement session or two!
One of the great things about this lookout is that it’s not commonly busy. Every time I’ve been there, it’s been super easy to get a spot, even in the middle of summer. There are benches, so you could even pack a picnic lunch and eat it while enjoying the view.
Attend the Five Points Jazz Festival
The Five Points Jazz Festival is an annual event that takes place in Denver. The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the history of Five Points, one of the neighborhoods in Denver. It normally takes place in June.
For those who love music, you absolutely can’t miss out on the Five Points Jazz Festival because it’s one of the best free things to do in Denver. It can also be a great activity with kids!
Head to Union Station & Visit the Shops
It’s near impossible to miss Union Station when visiting Denver. In fact, it’s very possible that you made it into the city by taking the train from the airport to this train station. You can also take the bus or even the Amtrak and light rail at this station.
Union Station is a historic landmark that is truly breathtaking. The inside has unique architecture and is truly a marvel. In winter, it gets all decked out with holiday lights and trees; you won’t want to miss it!
The station is almost always busy, but it’s worth at least stopping inside and checking out the shops. Right outside are more spots to sit and also a fun fountain that turns on in the summer months.
If you’re hungry and do want to spend some money, be sure to check out ACME Delicatessen (they have the best sandwiches), Milkbox Ice Cream (for the best ice cream), or Snooze. an AM Eatery (for the best breakfast and brunch).
Snap a photo at the Welcome to Golden sign
If you’ll be renting a car during your trip to Denver, then hop on over to the town of Golden. This town is quaint and has a distinctly wild west feel to it, and the main area is lined with fun shops that you won’t want to miss.
One of the most photographic spots of the town is their welcome to Golden sign. It spans right over the street, and in winter, it even gets decorated with fun holiday decor! This town is always a lot quieter than Boulder, which is another great place to visit nearby.
Take a tour of the Colorado State Capitol Building
Located in downtown Denver, you absolutely must take a tour of the Colorado State Capitol Building! It has a bright gold dome on top and is at the end of the 16th Street Mall, so you can visit both in the same afternoon.
There are free tours of the Colorado State Capitol building Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. You don’t even have to make a reservation for the tour unless you’ll be touring with ten people or more.
Find Denver’s best photo spots
Because of how picturesque Denver is, there are actually tons of amazing spots to take a photo that will help you remember your day in the city. Some great spots for a photo include Red Rocks (which you’ll learn about later in this post), Confluence Park, and Coors Field.
Explore Tattered Cover Book Store
I know what you’re thinking, a bookstore on the list of free things to do in Denver? Well, duh! The Tattered Cover Book Store is one of the best Denver bookstores, and it has quite a few locations throughout the city. The best one downtown is in McGregor Square by Coors Field.
Dating back to the 1970s, this bookstore is truly a staple in the city. They have tons of fun books and a lot of the locations even have a cafe. Be sure to take some time to peruse the store. Maybe even grab a book or two if you do want to spend some money during this otherwise free activity!
Walk the Cherry Creek Trail
Walking along the Cherry Creek Trail is one of the best free things to do in Denver. It’s fairly long, but you can definitely just do a portion of it to enjoy what the city’s path has to offer.
The trail is paved, so it’s fairly easy. Walk kids with a stroller, go on a morning jog, or just walk part of it to get your legs moving. Along parts of the trail, you can even walk beside a peaceful creek.
People watch in Confluence Park
Situated right in downtown by 16th Street, Confluence Park is one of the most peaceful spots that you can find in the city. We used to live in LoDo and would come to this park fairly often when the weather was nice, for either a quick walk or even a picnic.
There’s lots of green space throughout the park where you can sit and enjoy the view or even lay out a blanket. People always bring their furry friends too, so you may even meet a puppy or two while you’re there!
In the summer, this can be a pretty good spot to catch the sunrise or the sunset. It’s usually mostly filled with locals who live in the apartments nearby.
Visit The Denver Public Library
Another of the best free things to do in Denver is to go to the Denver Public Library. Libraries are always a good bet if you’re looking for something affordable to do in any city, and the one in Denver is no exception.
The library opened in 1889 and visitors are welcome to go inside and explore. If you’re a book lover, this can be a fun way to pass the time, and it can also be a great place to explore if it’s raining during your trip.
They host some events throughout the year, so be sure to check their website to see if there will be one during your trip.
Watch the National Western Stock Show Parade
Hosted in January each year, the National Western Stock Show Parade is a unique event that you should add to your calendar. During this parade, guests can see more than thirty different Longhorn cattle!
It’s a super fun event to attend because you see a piece of the wild west juxtaposed with the modernity of the city. It’s very different than anything else you’d see in Denver!
Check out the view at the Red Rocks Amphitheater
A short drive from downtown Denver is Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre. While it’s commonly known for being the top spot in Colorado to watch a live show, it’s also a great spot to hike, relax, and take in the view.
Everywhere you look while at this landmark, you’ll see bright red rocks and the mountains in the distance. It’s open during the day and can be visited for free. Note that it does close to the public a little earlier on days that there is a concert scheduled.
Sometimes, you can even attend yoga classes and other fitness groups here!
Go stargazing (no, really)
Even though Denver is a city, there are spots to go stargazing nearby. That’s one of the beauties of Denver; it’s like NYC where you can’t escape the city. In fact, you can end up in the middle of the wilderness with just a 30-45 minute drive, depending on the direction.
There are a few spots to go stargazing in Denver and the surrounding area, including Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater, Garden of the Gods, and Rocky Mountain National Park if you want to make the drive.
Visit The Denver Mint
If you love money and history, then you’ll want to stop by The Denver Mint. This museum is fun and unique and first opened back in 1906. Tickets for a tour are free but time for the tours is limited because it’s such a popular one in the area.
When you’re done, be sure to stop in the gift shop.
Attend Denver PrideFest
Each year, Denver goes all out with PrideFest. We’re part of the queer community, and we can attest to that! It’s a super fun event that is completely free to attend, and it normally happens during one of the last weekends in June.
What’s so great is that there are also normally other events happening throughout June for Pride as well, especially in the area. Boulder even has its own fun Pride events, so if you’re in Denver in June at all, be sure to look into those!
Explore the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame
If you’re looking for free things to do in Denver CO and you love sports, then consider going to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. There’s free admission, and it’s one of the more overlooked free attractions in the city.
The museum first opened back in 1965 and is located at Empower Field at Mile High. This is where the Denver Broncos play, so the environment is super fun.
Hike up to St Mary’s Glacier
One of the most beautiful hikes in the Denver area is St Mary’s Glacier. This is a moderate hike that does have quite a bit of elevation (around 1000+ feet), but it’s rather short otherwise, and the view is so rewarding.
It’s located near Idaho Springs, and while the hike itself is free, you do have to pay a fee to park. Consider carpooling with others in the area for it to cost less!
Relax at City Park
To get outdoors, head to City Park. Relaxing there is one of the best free things to do in Denver this weekend and any weekend at that! The park is absolutely massive and covers around 300+ acres of land, so it’s easy to find a quiet spot for yourself.
Throughout the park, there are trails for walking and biking. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the Denver Zoo is also located in City Park.
Note that the park is a bit outside of downtown, so it is easier to get there by car or by using public transportation. We tried riding the electric scooters there from LoDo once, and needless to say, we don’t recommend trying to get there like that, haha!
Catch the New Year’s Eve fireworks show
Every year in Denver, there’s a fireworks show on New Year’s Eve. It’s usually downtown and is completely free to see! Plus, if you’re in LoDo in one of the hotels for your trip, you may even be able to see them from there.
The best place to scout out these fireworks is along the 16th Street Mall. Sometimes they’ll even be playing music along the Mall that will sync up perfectly with the fireworks. It’s a super fun event!
Attend the Christmas Market
I won’t lie, ever since moving here, one of our fave Denver events has been the Denver Christkindl Market. It’s free to attend, though it can get quite crowded. We recommend going as early as possible in the day to avoid the long lines for food!
It’s held annually in December (sometimes starting in late November) leading up to Christmas. As one of the best free things to do in Denver, admission is free, but you will have to pay if you want to try any of the food.
I highly recommend trying some schnitzel, Glühwein, or even spaetzle. Those have been our favorites, and they can’t be beaten! There are also usually some great desserts, too, if you have a bit of a sweet tooth.
Attend the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival
The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is a free-to-watch event that happens every July. In 2022, it was held at Sloan’s Lake Park, which is a short drive from downtown Denver.
At the festival, similar to the Christmas Market, there are paid booths and other happenings. So, you can definitely buy some tasty Asian food if you want to, or just enjoy watching the boats along the river.
Visit The Source
One of the more unique places to visit in Denver is The Source. It’s technically a hotel but has a market hall too. It’s free to visit and walk around the interior, which has a super fun industrial vibe to it.
Of course, you can again purchase anything if you want to. There are many places to eat and shop, but our personal favorite is a BBQ place called smōk. This restaurant truly serves up some of the best BBQ in Denver that we’ve ever had, and it’s so underrated!
Go hiking in Chautauqua Park
If you’re visiting Denver with a car, take the quick trip over to Boulder to hike the Flatirons. This is completely free to do, and it’s one of the most popular hiking spots in the area. It’s also a really easy way to visit the outdoors near Denver without heading all the way to RMNP.
There are lots of different trails here, so you can make the route as long or as short as you want to be. Keep in mind that parking is sometimes limited, so you’ll want to plan on having a bit of an extra walk from your car.
Tour Great Divide Brewery
Obviously one of the best things to do in Denver is to try some of the local beer. If you’re visiting on a budget though, you can still learn more about the brewery scene by going on a free tour at Great Divide Brewery.
The brewery has been open since 1994, and you do have to be 16 or older to go on the tour. The tours are also limited to only ten people, so try to reserve your spot in advance to make sure you don’t miss out.
See the animals in the Denver Zoo (on a free day!)
While visiting the Denver Zoo is normally a paid excursion, there are certain days of the year where you can visit for free. This can be a great activity if you’re visiting Denver with kids or if you just want to learn more about animals!
You can check out the latest free dates for the Denver Zoo here on their website.
Attend the Denver Parade of Lights
One of the best free activities in the Mile High City for the holidays is to attend the Denver Parade of Lights! This is an annual event that the whole city shows up for. Enjoy watching a parade at night that’s all lit up; it’s truly fun for all ages.
Note that you’ll definitely want to pack for the weather. Winter temperatures in Denver in the winter are seriously no joke!
Visit Denver Central Market
Denver Central Market is one of the cool, trendy food halls in the city that you can visit. It’s located in RiNo, an area known for its street art. The food hall is filled with tons of restaurants, so you can buy some food if you want to.
However, even if you just want to walk through, it’s super fun. We always bring our friends and family here when they visit because we love it so much. There are also tons of great Instagram spots in RiNo, and the market is definitely one of them.
Go on a free walking tour
If you’re new to the city of Denver, consider booking a free walking tour! We did one way back when we first moved here in 2020 and it was a great introduction to the city. Plus, you’ll normally get paired with a guide who really knows their stuff.
Note that while the tour is free, a reservation is normally required, no matter who you book through. You’ll also want to give a tip to your guide at the end of the tour to thank them for it.
I’ve done a tour with Denver Walking Tours when my family visited and can highly recommend them!
Catch a movie in the park
Some of the parks in Denver will host free movie nights throughout the summer months! This can be a great way to get outdoors without leaving the city and it’s particularly a fun thing to do among families visiting the area.
Drive through the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge
One of the hidden gems in Denver is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. This is completely free to visit, though you will need a car. With a 30-minute drive, you can explore this area of Denver while seeing all types of animals, including bison.
While you won’t always have the best of luck (we’ve visited a few times and only saw the bison super far in the distance), it sure is fun when you get to see them up close!
Attend the Cherry Creek Arts Festival
All art lovers should consider going to the Cherry Creek Arts Festival! During this event, there are normally more than 200 different exhibitors showcasing work and selling items. Plus, there’s normally great food too.
You can check out the next dates for the festival on their website, linked above.
Take in the view from Lookout Mountain
The tallest mountain by Golden is Lookout Mountain! So, as you can imagine, it offers truly one of the best views that you can get.
To get the view, you can either hike to the top of it or drive up; the choice is yours. Keep in mind that the drive is beautiful, but if you’re not a fan of heights, you may want to close your eyes until you get to the top!
Go on a peaceful walk in one of Denver’s many parks
Denver County is home to more than 200 different parks, so there’s truly so many green spaces. Some of the most peaceful walking trails can be found within these parks.
Seriously, just choose any of them and go on a walk. A lot of these are hidden gems, and you never know what you might find! They are especially tranquil in the early morning, when you’ll mostly only find locals walking their dogs.
Hike in Garden of the Gods
A great place to go if you have a car is to head slightly south to Colorado Springs and check out Garden of the Gods. I like to say if you can’t make it out to Moab from Denver, Garden of the Gods is a good option because you can still experience the red rocks and it’s a much closer drive.
It’s completely free to visit and is filled with different walking/hiking trails that you can do. There are simple, easy walks or more difficult ones. My favorite is the Palmer, Buckskin-Charley, Niobrara, and Bretag Trail Loop. It’s long but has great views.
Check out the street art in RiNo
One of the coolest parts of the city is RiNo, and truly, it’s because it hasn’t been super overrun by tourists yet. Often, the tourists will be chilling at the bars downtown, and you’ll find all the locals hanging out in RiNo or River North.
This neighborhood is one of the trendiest and is filled with tons of street art. It’s super fun to just walk around the neighborhood and see what you’ll stumble upon. A good starting point is right at Denver Central Market!
Browse the city with Denver Story Trek
Though it may seem a bit touristy, one of the fun Denver activities for free is to explore the city with Denver Story Trek. This is a tour that will take you around the city on your own, and you can listen in or read about each landmark that you visit on their website.
Go to a museum on a free entrance day
As I sort of referenced before, there are quite a few free entrance days throughout the year. These are at a lot of the museums throughout the city, and it can be a great opportunity to learn for free if you happen to be visiting during one of them.
Some of the museums with free entrance days include the Children’s Museum of Denver, Colorado Railroad Museum, and the Denver Art Museum. The Denver Zoo and Denver Botanic Gardens also have free entrance days.
Visit the Denver Skate Park
Do you like skateboarding? Or at least watching people skateboard while you relax? Then you’ll want to head to the Denver Skate Park. It’s one of the cool free things to do in Denver. The skate park is pretty big and there are always people here showing off some pretty epic moves.
Check out Denver’s food halls
While a few food halls were mentioned on this list like The Source and Denver Central Market, there are even more throughout the city that you should try to find! Some of our favorites are Milk Market right in LoDo and Stanley Marketplace.
You don’t even have to buy anything at these food halls to enjoy them. They’re so incredibly fun to walk through, and each has its own unique style!
See the beautiful art in the Clyfford Still Museum
Another great museum with free days is the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver. They have free days throughout the year where you can go and enjoy the art at no extra cost!
These dates are often on the weekend, but not always, so you’ll want to check their website. On average, there’s one free date a month.
As the name suggests, this museum is mostly dedicated to the artwork of Clyfford Still!
Check out the Santa Fe Art District
One of the great outdoor free things to do in Denver is to head to the trendy Santa Fe Art District! This area is filled with colorful buildings, restaurants, galleries, and more. For a fun time, be sure to attend one of the First Friday Art Walks.
Take a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park
The closest national park in Colorado to Denver is Rocky Mountain National Park. While it’s normally not free to enter, they do have free days throughout the year, normally on MLK Day and the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act, among others.
The park normally announces its free days at the beginning of the year, so you may have to do your due diligence, but if you visit on one of those days, there’s no extra cost!
Attend the St Patrick’s Day Parade
Every year, one of the most fun parades to attend in Denver is the St Patrick’s Day Parade. It takes place downtown and is completely free to attend, though you may want to get there early to make sure you can snag a spot to watch.
After, if you do want to spend some money, do some bar hopping in LoDo or RiNo!
Tour Hammond’s Candy Factory
Yes, you can literally go on a candy factory tour near Denver! Stop by Hammond’s Candy Factory and learn all about how their candy is made on a free tour. If you’re a candy fan, this is one of the free things to do in Denver that you won’t want to miss out on.
The tours are limited to 45 people and run pretty often. They do recommend making a reservation to make sure they save a spot for you.
See the exhibits at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame
If you’re already visiting Red Rocks, be sure to swing by the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. It’s located at the trading post there and is completely free to visit. Any music fan will love perusing the exhibits!
This is different than the musical exhibit on-location at Red Rocks and focuses primarily on Colorado musicians. It normally takes around 45 minutes or so to fully explore and peruse all that the museum has to offer.
Walk around Larimer Square
For a more historic part of the city, head to Larimer Square. It’s located right off of 16th Street Mall, so you could easily explore both places in the same afternoon. Larimer Square is essentially only one block, but it’s filled with tons of character.
This is the oldest square in the city and is often referred to as one of Denver’s historic districts. The buildings haven’t changed since they were first built a few hundred years ago. The street is filled with great restaurants, and there’s tons of outdoor seating!
Plus, the square is often all decorated for some occasion or another.
Go on a scenic drive
There are so many scenic drives in the Denver area, so if you’re feeling up for it, go on one!
There are many to choose from, but some popular ones include the Mount Evans Byway, Peak to Peak Byway, and the Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway. Pack yourself a lunch and some snacks and prepare to be wowed by Colorado’s natural beauty.
This post was all about the best free things to do in Denver, Colorado! What’s your favorite thing to do in Denver on a budget? Leave a comment below!
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