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.
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.
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, not far from the Mile High Tree. Skating is free if you bring your own skates. No skates? No problem. Rentals are available for all ages and there are both double- and single-bladed skates available. Rink hours vary depending on the day and month so check the website before heading out. Parking is a challenge in downtown, especially over the holidays so opt for public transportation if possible. The free MallRide stops right by the rink.
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
At Chatsfield Farms, Denver Botanic Garden's facility in the south Metro Area, the trail of lights runs past the illuminated cottonwoods, boxelders and pine trees that line the path through the Green Farm, Crossroads, Deer Creek Discovery Children's Play Area and the 1880s Hildebrand Ranch homestead. Fun features for 2021 include synchronized music in the children's play area, singing Christmas tres and two three-sided light tunnels, plus there are beverages and snacks for purchase. Find the three Geico geckos hidden throughout the display, take a picture of them, and you could win $250. In line with the Gardens' core value of sustainability, all lights used in the event are LED.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Chatfield Farms' Trail of Lights offers a different, more rural, experience than Blossoms of Light at Denver Botanic Gardens' York Street facility. Visitors should see both.
Christine's expert tip: Although the full experience is along a path that's just under a mile, there's an option for those who prefer a shorter walk
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.
Union Station's New Year's Eve party for ages 21 and up is the place to see and be seen. This year's event channels the glam of the golden age of train travel, fitting for Denver's magnificently renovated Beaux Arts train station. Different tickets give revelers access to different areas. There's the Main Cabin, the Bar Car at Cooper Lounge and the Dining Car, with prices ranging from $95 to $250. Expect guests to be glammed up in keeping with the theme. For a top-of-the-line experience, stay overnight at the Crawford Hotel, set inside the station. New Year's Eve isn't the only holiday event at Union Station. Merry & Bright Lights will once again transform the exterior of the station into an every changing painting of lights created by local artists. Santa will visit the station several Sundays, and Miracle pop-up bar is there, too.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Denver Union Station is a premier holiday hotspot, thanks especially to its annual New Year's Eve event where you can see and be seen.
Christine's expert tip: Buy tickets early and expect large crowds.
In case you didn't know, Christmas pop-up bars are a thing. There are several Denver Metro options, but for those wanting to be in the heart of Mile High holiday happenings, Union station is the pop-up bar to choose, and it's only available for a month. Miracle is a sweet spot for raising a glass with friends to toast the holiday season and celebrate celebrating. The menu offers up a selection of fun, holiday-themed cocktails. Maybe you'll be entranced by a Christmapolitan or a Snowball Old Fashioned. Menus may change but the whimsical, irreverent holiday spirit is always in full force (a cocktail themed on that craziest of all holiday movies, Diehard? Yes, please). Unabashedly Christmas to the max, there's also a Hanukkah table during the eight days of Hanukkah.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Miracle at Union Station is the quintessential holiday pop-up for a night out with friends to "cheers" the season with a holiday cocktail in hand.
Christine's expert tip: Reservations are a must
Downtown isn't the only Denver area for holiday cheer. Cherry Creek North goes all out with brilliant light displays and events to bring the whole family together. Just 16 city blocks, Cherry Creek North is packed with holiday cheer. Nov. 18-Dec. 31, Light Extravaganza features more than 600 trees wrapped in nearly half-a-million twinkling lights. Not only is the Winter Wonderland Light Walk free, you could win a $1,000 shopping spree. Find the eight sparkling trees choreographed to music, scan the QR codes and you're entered eight times. The Cherry Creek Holiday Market on Fillmore Street between 1st and 2nd runs Nov, 18-Dec 24. More than 30 local businesses take part, plus there's live music and beverages to sip. Saturday evenings from Dec 4-18 look for acrobats, stilt walkers, jugglers and more, and don't miss the cool Domino Effect Art Installation, an interactive light exhibit of 120 humongous musical dominos.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Cherry Creek North offers a month and a half of holiday lights, events, cool local gift shopping and all-around family fun.
Christine's expert tip: Street parking in Cherry Creek North is free on Sundays.
Elitch Gardens has been thrilling and entertaining Coloradans and visitors since 1890. This year, it offers a brand-new experience and another worthy option to Denver's collection of holiday displays and events. The beloved theme park has been transformed into its first ever Luminova Holidays, a celebration of light and color to capture the imagination of young and old alike. The dazzling immersive experience runs evenings Nov. 26, 2021-Jan 2, 2022. It includes, among other things, larger-than-life holiday displays, fun rides and strolling entertainers. Did we mention interactive activities–"light-up hopscotch anyone? In addition to three-million+ glittering lights, St. Nick will be on hand, too. Some of the park's rides will also be open and are included with the Luminova Holidays ticket. A couple of rides, however, will cost extra. Plan on spending about two hours, though you can stay as long as you like once you enter. Reservations required.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Luminova Holidays gives Coloradans and visitors yet another option for immersing themselves in the festive spirit of the season.
Christine's expert tip: While park favorites Sling Shot and XLRBR will be open during Luminova Holidays, you'll have to pay extra to ride them.
Denver's Mile High Tree is an experiential holiday wonderland disguised as a 110-foot tall, 39-foot-wide tree. Set on the corner of 16th and Welton, it's free to the public and gives merrymakers of all ages a crazy perspective on Christmas trees--one from the inside. The outside of the tree is cool, but it's what happens inside that makes the magic. There's room for up to 140 people to gather in the tree to experience a thrilling immersive light and music show that runs about every 15 minutes. There are areas to purchase 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.
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. 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 comfy, slip-proof shoes and warm gloves as paths can be icy and the evening winter weather can be chilly. No matter how many times you've seen Blossoms of Light, it never gets old because each year brings something different.
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: You must reserve a time in advance. Time slots start just as the day darkens.