Denver, the capital of Colorado, has become a very popular travel destination in recent years. How popular, you ask? Over 17 million people make a visit to Denver annually, on average! And it makes sense when you consider the wealth of activities you can do here. Luckily, there are many free things to do in Denver so you don’t have to break the bank!
Many come to experience Colorado’s world-famous outdoor recreation opportunities in the Rocky Mountains. Or maybe they’re big-time sports fans coming to watch a home game for one of Denver’s seven professional teams. Whatever the reason, Denver is a year-round destination that appeals to the masses. Whenever the best time to travel to Denver is for you, you’re sure to find great seasonal activities and events.
And while Denver is an affordable vacation destination overall, it’s always nice to save a buck where you can! Building in some free things to do in Denver into your agenda is a great way to do this. Here are some of the best to consider.
Incredible Free Things to Do in Denver
1. Take a Commemorative Picture Exactly One Mile High in the “Mile High City”
When making a trip to Denver, also known as the Mile High City, there’s no better way to commemorate your trip than taking a photo exactly one mile high. It’s easy, and completely free of charge.
Hop on the (also free) 16th street mall ride bus, head south, and get off at the Civic Center Station stop. From here, it’s a short walk over to the Colorado Capitol Building (look for the giant gold dome). Find the stairs leading up to the Capitol, and look for the engraved step that says “one mile above sea level.” Stand here, strike a pose or smile, and snap an awesome picture to remember your Denver trip by!
2. Visit Awesome Museums and Attractions…On a Free Day!
Denver has quite a long list of incredible museums and attractions throughout the city. Everything from huge spaces filled with art, history and science, to smaller boutique museums focused on a particular person or place. Denver has it all pretty much covered! And while they typically charge a fee for visitors, there are quite a few days throughout the year where they open up their doors to visitors for free!
Be sure to check out the websites for those that interest you to see if the free dates coordinate with your trip! Some of the biggest and best in Denver to keep an eye on are the Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanic Gardens, Hudson Gardens and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Also, there are a few smaller attractions that are free always. These options include the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum, the Museum of Outdoor Arts, and Hudson Gardens.
3. Catch a Free Ride the 16th Street Mall Shuttle
One well-known attraction is Denver’s 16th street mall. This is a one-mile pedestrian mall, and it’s packed with many incredible shops, restaurants, bars, and more. It’s easy to see why it’s a popular tourist attraction, and something most visitors to Denver check out!
Another awesome thing about the mall is that there is a completely free mall shuttle running in both directions! Driving here is closed to regular vehicles, with only mall shuttles allowed on 16th street. Not only is it a great way to see the mall if you don’t want to (or aren’t able) walk the entire thing. But the shuttles are also a great free transportation option getting from point a to point b in downtown Denver!
4. Explore Denver’s Union Station
One of Denver’s newest tourist attractions is actually over 100 years old. After a recent (and much needed) facelift, this iconic landmark has been properly restored to her former glory.
As the main transportation hub to the city, visitors may find themselves coming through Union Station to get from point a to point b. But don’t make the mistake of simply passing through! Be sure to check out the restored architecture, peruse the shops and boutiques, and see if any special events are happening like weekend farmer’s markets. All are completely free to attend/check out.
5. Get Outside and Take a Hike
Since Denver has the majestic Rocky Mountains as her backyard (to the West), it’s no surprise that this area is a great destination for outdoor recreation. The locals here go nuts for everything from biking, camping, mountain biking, skiing/snowboarding…all of it!
And that list is incomplete without mentioning hiking, of course. Hiking is a big business around Colorado. And luckily for tourists, there are tons of incredible hikes near Denver. Be sure to check out Rocky Mountain National Park (very popular!), or nearby Red Rocks Park. Another popular option is to head to nearby Boulder – you can get an incredible hike in at Chautauqua Park, then make a day of it by exploring the many things to do in Boulder, Colorado!
6. Play Willy Wonka at Hammond’s Candy Factory
Do you have a killer sweet tooth? Or are you simply curious as to how those little delicious morsels are made? Then a free tour to Hammond’s Candy Factory in Denver is just what you need!
This tour takes you behind the scenes to discover how candy is made. And considering they’ve been making it since 1920, Hammond’s definitely knows their stuff! Tours are offered most days of the week, excluding Sunday. It’s a unique free attraction that will leave you with plenty of new knowledge (and plenty of free candy samples).
7. Make Friends with Animals at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge
In Denver, you don’t have to venture too far from the city to feel like you’re in the wilderness. A (free) visit to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge offers over 15,000 acres of sanctuary for bison, deer, bald eagles and more. In fact, over 330 species of wildlife call this refuge home!
The refuge is open seven days a week, and is always free to visit. And visitors can enjoy a variety of activities including wildlife observation, fishing, hiking trails and more.
8. Play in the Park
Did you know that Denver has more than 200 parks within the city? And more than 20,000 acres of parkland in the nearby mountains? Well it’s true! Add in over 300 days of annual sunshine, and it becomes quite clear why Denverites make good use of their parks.
Whether for working out, playing group sports, or simply catching a tan, you will find many recreational opportunities at Denver parks in warmer months. Some local (and centrally located) favorites include Washington Park (Wash Park by locals), Cheesman Park (legend says it’s haunted!), and City Park.
9. Gallery Hop and Window Shop in the Santa Fe Arts District
Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe is a cherished local gem. It’s a place in the city where hundreds of artists, theaters, art galleries, studios, installations, and other creative businesses have made their home.
Visitors to the art district can plan and follow their own adventure, window shopping from place-to-place completely free (unless you find a piece you love, of course). But the big draw here for locals and tourists alike is the district’s signature event, the First Friday Art Walks! These events happen on the (you guessed it) first Friday of each month, all year long. The event takes place in the galleries, and spill out into the neighborhood with live music, street vendors, and more. It’s a must for those who love the arts!
10. Tour the Denver U.S. Mint
Did you know there are only four US mints remaining that are active and coin-producing? Well one of them happens to be located in downtown Denver! The Denver US Mint supports the United States by producing billions of coins each year. Yes, billions! And visitors to Denver can see it for themselves by attending of their daily free tours.
And while the tour may be free, tickets are still required (in order to manage capacity). You can only get a free tour ticket same day by going to the “Tour Information” window. Find this window located nearby the entrance to the gift shop. And be aware, this tour is very popular! Be sure to plan in advance and secure your tickets early (on the day you wish to attend). This is one of the most unique free things to do in Denver!
11. Attend One of Denver’s Many Free Annual Festivals
Denver has quite the slate of annual festivals each year! Between beer festivals, music festivals, arts festivals and more. And the best part? A good number of them are completely free for visitors to attend.
Be sure to check out local favorites like A Taste of Colorado, the Denver Chalk Art Festival, the Cherry Creek Arts Festival or Denver’s Oktoberfest. All are completely free to get into the grounds, and feature free live music/concerts as well! You can keep it 100% free, or pay for some added incidentals like food, drinks, and carnival-like rides and games.
12. Catch a Tour in the “Napa Valley of Craft Beer”
Denver has quite the storied history with beer. In fact, the Coors facility to the southwest in Golden, CO is the world’s largest single-site brewery. And within the surrounding metro area of Denver, there are over 150 individual breweries!
With all those breweries, many are more than happy to open up their businesses for free tours to curious tourists. Many also include free samples along the way! For zero cost craft brewery tour options in the city of Denver, stop by one of the biggest brewpubs at Wynkoop Brewing Company. Or, head over to the River North (RiNo) neighborhood and check out the Great Divide Brewing Company’s barrel bar and packaging facility. And if you find yourself venturing near Boulder, Avery Brewing is a local favorite. This is one of the greatest free things to do in Denver.
Meet the Guest Author: Kara
Bio: Kara is the one-woman team behind Destination: Live Life, a travel blog. After fleeing small-town life in Wyoming, she has called Denver, CO home for the last 12+ years. When it comes to travel, she appreciates traveling like a local, and never paying full price for a trip. And when she isn’t living that travel life, she can be found petting every dog that will let her, and laughing (loudly) at any opportunity.