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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. 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 and themed parties in Union Station, among others. So put on your holiday best (plus warm outerwear) and go celebrate all that the season has to offer.


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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 →




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. Between shows, costumed entertainers including magicians, balloon artists, stilt walkers and comedians interact with the crowds. 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, denver.org, for more information.

Read more about New Year's Eve Fireworks Downtown →




It's a cool place for cocktails and jazz all year long, but it's one of Denver's best venues for New Year's Eve, too. For the 5th year, Nocturne invites revelers to celebrate New Year's Eve in style. The night includes live music, a four-course tasting menu, cocktails and a champagne toast at midnight. Live music will be provided by a quintet of well-known Denver jazz musicians, some of whom have played and toured with well-known jazz greats. Reserved seating includes the four-course dinner and welcome cocktail; guests in the late seating will also toast the new year with a complimentary glass of Champagne at midnight. The late seating starts at 10 p.m. while the early seating runs from 6-9 p.m.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's the classy, sophisticated option for New Year's Eve in Denver

Christine's expert tip: Buy tickets online in advance

Read more about Nocturne →


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Union Station turns into a multi-themed, multi-venue New Year's Eve party for ages 21 and up. All three parties start at 9 p.m. First, there's the Great Hall Silent Disco & Light Show, with dancing/mingling to your choice of three different live but silent disco DJs. If people watching is your thing, drop in to watch people dancing to music only they can hear! The Roaring 20s VIP Speakeasy takes revelers to the lower level of Union Station for libations, bites, a piano performance and access to the Great Hall event. Finally, Cooper Lounge, high above the Great Hall, is the place for a selection of small bites and, of course, Champagne. This, too, includes access to the silent festivities of the Great Hall. Ticket prices range from $80 per person to $120 per person.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Union Station has become one of Denver's premier spots for holiday happenings

Christine's expert tip: Buy tickets early and expect large crowds.

Read more about Denver Union Station New Year's Eve →


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. This year the Blue Knights Brass Ensemble will kick off the season with a free performance in front of the carousel at 2 p.m. on Sat. December 21. Food Bank of the Rockies is once again the designated charity partner for 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 you can ride for free. In recent years, proceeds from the carousel, with a little extra added by Denver Pavilions, have provided more than 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 →




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. You can buy season passes for adults and kids as well. The rink hours vary depending on the day so check the website before heading to out. Parking is a challenge in downtown, especially over the holidays so opt for public transportation if possible.

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 →




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. New this year is a 360-degree immersive light experience. Pick up a bite to eat or a warm beverage at the café or visit snack and beverage stations as you stroll. Carolers perform select evening. 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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Blossoms of Light brings the winter-dormant gardens back to vibrant life for a few weeks, and it's well worth the trip to see them.

Christine's expert tip: Considering purchasing HoloSpex glasses when you arrive at the gardens–they add another dimension of artful fun to the experience, perhaps especially for children.

Read more about Blossoms of Light Denver Botanic Gardens →




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. New this year is a giant snow globe to play in (and a cool photo op.

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 →




Denver's newest holiday attraction is a walk-through tree of lights that gives merrymakers a true insider's view of a brilliantly lit tree. At 110 feet tall and 39 feet in diameter, it can be seen from from various points downtown, but don't try to look at it while you're driving down Speer! The conical structure has cool lights and music shows every 15 minutes throughout the evening and can host up to 140 people at a time for an immersive viewing experience within the tree itself. There are areas to purchase both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks as well as holiday treats. Wear your cool-weather attire, including gloves and hats.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's just plain cool and it's interactive, a treat for all ages.

Christine's expert tip: Opt for public transportation as parking is a challenge at this time of year. If you must drive, the convention center parking lot is probably your best bet.

Read more about Mile High Tree →




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 80 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 →


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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

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