The Children's Museum of Denver is all about kid-powered learning, aka interactive fun and exploration for children from newborn to eight years. Entry for members and children under age 1 is free. Among the popular exhibits is Kinetics!, a space dedicated to physical science where kids build ramps and tracks to send bright orange balls soaring all over the room. The Center for the Young Child is the hot spot for the very youngest visitors. Other favorites include spaces where children and families can explore bubbles, water, a fire station and energy, among other intriguing options. There's also an art studio, an area called Assembly Plant where kids use real tools and their vivid imaginations to create objects (check to see if it has reopened), and an expansive outdoor adventure space. Every exhibit is geared for particular ages, e.g. 0-3, 2-5, and 4-8. Some exhibits are closed due to COVID.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Children's Museum of Denver is an excellent museum for ages eight and younger and it has free days.
Christine's expert tip: Typically visits on First Tuesdays are free between 4-8pm. Due to COVID, however, the museum is only open Wednesday to Sunday, with two play sessions each day, reservations required. Subscribe to the museum's newsletter for latest info and news about surprise events.
Even if you don't ride yourself, this is the place to see how it's done by some of the best boarders in the city tackling Denver's largest and most celebrated skate park. At 60,000-square-feet it's massive, a concrete paradise of ledges, rails, banks and bowls, with territory for all skill levels and ages. Located just north of downtown between 19th and 20th streets on Little Raven, this park offers awesome riding and views, and it has bathrooms, picnic tables and a water fountain among its amenities, but check the parks website to see if the've been reopened since COVID. There are no rentals or concessions so you need to bring all your own gear. The park is open every day and it's free. Denver urban parks open at 5 a.m. and close at 11 p.m. Staying in a park after hours is prohibited.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Denver Skate Park is one of the city's gems. Its creative design and expansive space draw riders from across the metro area. And it's free.
Christine's expert tip: No marijuana use is permitted in this or any other Denver park.
Since its founding in the 1970s, Tattered Cover has become one of the nation's great independent bookstores. It has weathered a retail climate less than friendly to brick-and-mortar booksellers and now has four locations In the city, including an expansive space on Colfax in a former theater. Book lovers can browse, sip coffee and listen to authors read from their works. There are also calendars, toys, games, cards and other gift items. Best of all, staff members know and love books and can offer genuinely helpful advice. If you have a young child, head to a cozy chair in the children's area and read a book together. No one will mind however long you linger and share the joy of reading (but buying books helps support this incredible store). In Spring 2021, the 16th Street Mall store moved a few blocks away to a fantastic new space in McGregor Square.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Denver's most revered bookstore is the ultimate free hang-out spot. Not only is there free Wi-Fi on site, but you can browse all day.
Christine's expert tip: Tattered Cover also has stores at Denver International Airport on concourses A, B and C.
When the 16th Street Mall opened downtown in 1982, RTD began running the Free MallRide bus. Since 2018, fully electric buses travel the one-mile route from Union Station to Civic Center Station and back, seven days a week, with stops on every block. Busses have three doors, 18 seats, two wheelchair spaces, hold up to 88 passengers and are air-conditioned. Passengers can hop on and off anywhere along the route at no charge. Weekdays the first bus starts out at 4:59 a.m. from Union Station, on Saturdays and Sundays the first buses start at 5:23 a.m. and 6:08 a.m., respectively. The last bus of the day is always at 1:19 a.m. from Union Station. There's a lot of construction downtown these days, so check RTD's website to find out about any closures or changes in bus stops.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The MallRide provides free transportation up and down one of Denver's busiest resident and visitor corridors, the 16th Street Mall.
Christine's expert tip: There's also Free MetroRide during weekday rush hour, running between Union Station and Civic Center Station along 18th and 19th streets with limited stops. Hours are from 5:45 to 9 a.m. and 2:46 to 6:28 p.m.
First Friday Artwork in the Santa Fe Arts District, the city's first major art district, features art galleries, studios and creative spaces. South of downtown, the district is bordered by 13th Avenue on the north, Alameda on the south, Kalamath Street to the west and Inca to the east. Most galleries are walkable from one to another between 5th and 11th avenues. Gallery exploration can make you hungry and thirsty, so look for food trucks and many of the area's restaurants along 7th and 9th streets. Not every business stays open between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. when the Art Walk takes place, but many do. No car? No problem. Take the light rail to the 10th and Osage stop. Because traffic can be heavy, public transportation or ride sharing are highly encouraged. A few free parking area are available on First Fridays only. Locations are on the district's website.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Art District on Santa Fe's First Friday Art Walk is a fine way to spend an evening and support Denver artists and food trucks.
Christine's expert tip: If you plan to bring a dog, check first with each gallery you want to visit. Some allow dogs in but others do not.
Although the Money Museum is closed until Nov. 2021, you can experience it virtually via online digital exhibits, such as "Let Us Put Our Money Together: The Founding of America's First Black Banks." When the Money Museum reopens, families with school-age children can once again learn how paper money is made, how and when it's destroyed, how credit works, what Federal Reserve banks do, how to spot counterfeit bills and more, all at no charge. Hands-on activities include creating your own "money" and moving a knob along a track to see how much money you lose paying off a loan over six years vs. one (a lot!). There's also a case with authentic and counterfeit bills, and if you can't tell the difference look for hints on the sides of the case. Plan on 30 to 60 minutes at most and rememberto take your free bag of shredded bills.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Money Museum is the perfect quick stop along the 16th Street Mall for families with school-age children, plus it's free and highly informative.
Christine's expert tip: The Money Museum will reopen Nov. 2021.
Denver Union Station has it all. It's a transportation hub for the city's light rail and bus systems, an Amtrak station taking travelers west to California and east to Chicago, home to multiple food and beverage options inside and out and is home to an upscale hotel, not to mention a Saturday morning Farmers Market. Almost any time of day or night you'll find people sitting at tables or in the station's cozy seating areas working, people watching or meeting with friends. Union Station offers free Wi-Fi all the time and, when it's not temporarily shut down due to COVID, the nearly block-long fountain in front of the station provides kids of all ages (and a few dogs) with one of the city's best places to cool off from the summer sun. Like the Wi-Fi, the fountain, blue sky, sun and laughter are all complimentary so go ahead, indulge.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: In addition to being a transportation hub, Union Station is a place to work and play thanks to free Wi-Fi and a free fountain.
Christine's expert tip: If you get tired of working on your iPad or mobile device, duck into one of the excellent restaurants in Union Station for a bite and a beverage, especially at happy hour.
Colorado's State Capitol Building, the only LEED Gold-certified state capitol, typically offers free public tours 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, along with self-guided tours. Currently, tours are suspended due to COVID and the dome is closed, but there are free virtual tours about different parts of the building on the capitol's website. Opened in 1894, the building was designed by Elijah E. Meyers to evoke the layout of the nation's capitol. The white granite, rose onyx and marble were quarried in Colorado, and the 200 ounces of gold it took to gild the dome were a gift from Colorado gold miners in 1908. Inside, there are carved statues, stained-glass windows and renderings of U.S. presidents. Outside, view memorials dedicated to state and national patriots. The 13th step on the building's west side is the place to snap a selfie at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, a mile high.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Colorado State Capitol Building provides state history, insight into the building's architecture and design and a place to stand exactly a mile high.
Christine's expert tip: Because school groups book many of the tour times as much as a year in advance, consider going when school isn't in session. While tours are temporarily suspended, check out the capitol website to access free virtual tours.
Denver Art Museum (DAM) is highly regarded for its Indigenous Arts of North America collection, with over 18,000 works from more than 250 indigenous nations. But the museum, which spreads across two buildings, also has impressive displays of ancient American art, a stellar Asian collection, textiles and photography and modern American and European paintings among its collections. When the architecturally intriguing Frederic C. Hamilton Building opened in 2006, designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the museum itself became part of the art it offers. Now, the fully renovated and expanded Gio Ponti designed Martin Building will reopen Oct. 24 (a free day). DAM's museum shop is fantastic (say yes to holiday shopping) and there are excellent family and children's programs in English and Spanish. The new Martin Building includes a full-service lunch restaurant and quick-service cafe. Check the museum website for entry info, which has been changing due to COVID.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It's Denver's premier art museum and one of the most impressive art museums west of the Mississippi--and it has free days every month.
Christine's expert tip: All year long, general admission is free to children 18 and under, and you can check the museum's website for the selected free days for adults during the year.
Experience the dramatic formations of Denver's celebrated Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, part of the city's Mountain Parks collection, for free. Red Rocks combines 640 acres of geological wonders with a concert venue acclaimed for its acoustics. Although concerts aren't free, much of the park is, including the massive red sandstone formations, some more than 250 million years old. The Trading Post and Mt. Vernon Creek trails offer moderate hiking and worthy photo ops. The longer Red Rocks Trail is also accessed here. For a wealth of information on the park check out the Visitor Center, while the Colorado Music Hall of Fame at The Trading Post details the impressive history of music at Red Rocks. The famed Easter sunrise service is a free annual event, and those wanting a free robust workout at 6,400 feet can join the throngs who challenge themselves on the amphitheater steps at designated times.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Red Rocks Amphitheatre is one of the most celebrated music venues in the world, but the park also offers hiking, walking, fitness training and exploring.
Christine's expert tip: Yoga on the Rocks is not free but is an experience any yoga lover should try. Tickets are available online only, no walk-ins permitted.