Old-Fashioned Fun to State-of-the-Art Pyrotechnics, Denver Delivers Holiday Magic

When the holiday season arrives, the Mile High City offers plenty of cheer. To start there are lights galore, in downtown at the City and County Building and at Union Station, as well as at the stellar Denver Botanic Gardens and Denver Zoo. Each November to February, part of Skyline Park in downtown is transformed into an old-fashioned ice rink, and there are opportunities to rekindle the spirit of a non-commercial holiday season with traditional and free activities and a chance to meet Father Christmas himself. Of course, there's also shopping but not just any shopping. Holiday Market by Denver Flea, spanning the entire plaza in front of Union Station, offers tents overflowing with local and nicely crafted products by Denver makers, along with live entertainment and holiday food and drink. For those who want to bolster their holiday fun with a gift to Coloradans in need, there's the carousel at Denver Pavilions, a partnership of the Pavilions and Food Bank of the Rockies that provides thousands of meals for less fortunate families. And when it's time to ring in the new year, Denver has that covered, too, with spectacular fireworks shows over downtown. So put on your holiday best (plus warm outerwear) and go celebrate all that the season has to offer.


Denver residents and visitors can ring in the New Year with a celebration along the 16th Street Mall and spectacular fireworks overhead. You don't even have to stay awake until midnight to if you don't want to because the city provides two shows, one at 9 p.m. and the second at midnight. The fireworks are launched from two locations. Each show lasts about eight minutes and is synched to music from DJs lining the 16th Street Mall. On New Year's Eve, the mall is even more pedestrian-friendly than usual. Between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. RTD Light Rail trains don't cross the mall, and the free mall shuttle stops temporarily during the fireworks shows. For variety, spend the beginning or end of the evening at Union Station's New Year's Eve Countdown Party, a short ride away on the free mall shuttle.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The New Year's Eve Fireworks show downtown is the city's premier event to celebrate the new year, and it's free!

Christine's expert tip: For out of town visitors, Denver offers a slew of hotel deals for New Year's Eve. Check out the Visit Denver website,, for more information.

Read more about New Year's Eve Fireworks Downtown →

Downtown Denver, from Union Station to the City and County Building, gets its holiday glow on in late November. For 2018, the date the lights go on is Nov. 23. Each year following a much-anticipated countdown, the switch is thrown at about 6:30 p.m. At that moment, the Denver City and County Building at the edge of Civic Center Park and Union Station in LoDo, are bathed in colorful lights. There are also lights at Skyline Park, the D&F Tower and a long the 16th Street Mall. If you miss the first moment the lights go on, don't worry. You can wonder throughout the downtown area and enjoy the festive lights display each evening through mid-January.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's one of the city's longtime significant holiday events and brings a multitude of festive color to the downtown area.

Christine's expert tip: This is a free, very popular event so expect crowds!

Read more about Downtown Denver Grand Illumination →

Four Mile Historic Park sits on 12 acres along the banks of Cherry Creek, just four miles from downtown Denver. It's home to Denver's oldest standing structure and celebrates the spirit of early Colorado when pioneers made one final stop before reaching the city of Denver four miles away. One day each year, the Park also brings back the true spirit of Christmas, when the holiday was not about shopping deals and sales but about fun and connection with friends and family. This year, Father Christmas hosts a brunch that includes feasting on seasonal fare, participating in traditional holiday merrymaking activities and photo opportunities. The brunch runs from 10 a.m. to noon on December 8.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Four Mile Historic Park's old-fashioned holiday event evokes the true, utterly non-commercial spirit of the season.

Christine's expert tip: The park offers free days throughout the year on the second Friday of the month, from 12-4 p.m., courtesy of Denver's Scientific & Cultural Facilities District.

Read more about Brunch With Father Christmas Four Mile Historic Park →

Holiday Market by Denver Flea
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

Denver Flea has been producing markets in Denver for years. Now there's a holiday market in the expansive plaza in front of Union Station with dozens and dozens of tents, most filled with goods by local artisans and makers. Surely this is one place where there really is something for everyone, plus it's a festive vibe loaded with holiday cheer. In addition to the tents to wander through, there's live music and plenty of food and drink, both inside the holiday market and just steps away inside Union Station. The cost to enter the expanse of tents and browse to your heart's content is just $5. You can purchase a pass onsite or get one ahead of time online.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Holiday Market by Denver Flea puts the emphasis on shopping local and supporting the many talented artists and makers who call Colorado home.

Christine's expert tip: You can buy tickets online before arriving to avoid a line at Union Station Plaza

Read more about Holiday Market by Denver Flea →

Denver Pavilions Holiday Carousel
Photo courtesy of Visit Denver

Make giving part of your holiday fun by taking a ride on Denver Pavilions' annual holiday carousel. The downtown shopping TK and Food Bank of the Rockies partner on Denver's only holiday carousel with the dual goal of providing inexpensive holiday fun for families and helping families in need to have a better year. Rides are just $3, but if you've shopped and purchased at the Pavilions' stores or if you bring a canned food donation, you can ride for free. In recent years, proceeds from the carousel, with a little extra added by Denver Pavilions, have provided 20,000 meals for Colorado children and families.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This carousel combines the best of the holiday spirit, offering fun for families and helping Coloradans in need at the same time.

Christine's expert tip: Bring a can of food for Foodbank of the Rockies and ride for free.

Read more about Denver Pavilions Holiday Carousel →

Another of the great Denver holiday traditions, the Parade of Lights started back in 1975. Like other holiday festivities of the Denver Downtown Partnership, the parade is free. There are marching bands, huge floats and don't be surprised if Santa shows up, too. The parade starts at the City and County Building at Civic Center Park, travels west on 14th Street, turns right on Tremont Place and goes three blocks to 17th Street. It then travels down 17th Street to Arapahoe Street and turns left, making another left turn on 15th Street and continuing on 15th Street up to Glenarm Place. The parade turns right on Glenarm Place and finishes at 14th Street and Glenarm Place.

Read more about 9News Parade of Lights →

Each year, Denver awaits the opening of the ice skating rink in downtown, one of the Downtown Denver Partnership premier holiday events. The rink, which typically opens each year in late November and closes in February, is located in Skyline Park at 16th Street and Arapahoe. Skating is free if you bring your own skates. No skates? No problem. Rentals are available for all ages for a modest fee–and there are double-bladed skates available for young ice-skating enthusiasts. If you have a co-ed team of 6-12 adults, join the Broomball Challenge at the rink, pick a day and time and see how your team stacks up. Registration fees benefit Volunteers of America and the Parade of Lights.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Ice skating captures the old-fashioned fun and inherent romance of the season.

Christine's expert tip: There are three parking garages nearby: Writer's Square, Tabor Center and Park Central

Read more about Denver Downtown Rink at Skyline Park →

Be prepared for wintry fun! Santa's Village at Chatfield Farms is different than the holiday display on York Street. It combines the beloved illumination extravaganza with live reindeer, crafts, a Santa movie and hayrides, creating a more interactive experience that's destined to become an enduring holiday favorite, especially among young families. Strolling along lighted paths and in and out of illuminated buildings, visitors might pet the reindeer, happen upon Santa's elves and stop to create quick holiday crafts with Mrs. Claus, which they can take home to decorate their own houses. There will be holiday treats and hot and cold beverages for purchase as well.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Chatfield Farms' Santa's Village is a nice complement to the Botanic Gardens' illumination extravaganza at York Street. Visitors should see both.

Christine's expert tip: While some farm buildings will be enclosed and heated, others will not. Guests should dress warmly in layers and footwear appropriate for walks in a wintry wonderland.

Read more about Santa's Village at Chatfield Farms →

Each year, Denver Botanic Gardens at York Street illuminates most of its 24 acres, filling gardens and ponds with glowing spheres and fantastical light sculptures that create magical animated scenes. Each year it appears to get bigger and better. The grand illuminated O'Fallon Perennial Walk and interactive light display in the UMB Amphitheater are visitor favorites. Other special areas include the Romantic Gardens, Japanese Garden and South African Plaza. The Orangery and Marnie's Pavilion are open during Blossom of Lights, but might be closed some evenings for private events. Pick up a bite to eat or a warm beverage at the café or visit snack and beverage stations as you stroll. Remember to wear sturdy shoes and gloves as paths can be icy and the evening winter weather can be chilly. The Gardens is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's days, but open at night for the lights.

Read more about Blossoms of Light Denver Botanic Gardens →

Zoo Lights is one of the city's largest holiday illumination events, and it's spectacular. Each night in December animal sculptures light up–in the trees and bushes and across the zoo's lawns. It's an enormous event, taking zoo staff several months to set up the 70 acres of lights and displays and almost the same amount of time to take them down. In addition to fanciful light sculptures, there are Santa meet-ups, animal demonstration and encounters, carolers and tasty holiday treats at warming stations thorough the zoo. Go early when the event is less crowded and value pricing is offered. The zoo also offers Zoo Year's Eve for the whole family on Dec. 31. Note: Zoo Lights isn't included in regular admission.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Who doesn't want to walk among hundreds of fanciful creatures, all lit up?

Christine's expert tip: Don't stop at the first food and beverage station you come to. Stations farther from the entrance, throughout the zoo, typically have shorter lines.

Read more about Zoo Lights →


Meet Christine Loomis

Christine has written about every aspect of travel, from romance and adventure to family and wellness. She is also lucky to have had three major home states through the years: New York,...  More About Christine