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Plan A Denver Christmastime Visit With Kids

The Christmas season in Denver offers a month-long series of family-friendly parades, special holiday performances, lots of local shopping, and the largest holiday light display in Colorado. Any of these holiday activities are a good start for a December weekend getaway with kids. If you do decide to come to town, here are some of my family’s favorite things to do in the Mile High City between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

(Read more about Yearround Family Activities in Denver and an easy ski weekend from Denver.)

9 Christmas Time Denver Activities For a Family Weekend Away

Outdoor Fun Downtown

the holiday parade in Denver

• We usually kick off the holiday season with the Grand Illumination, part of Downtown Denver’s Winter in the City program.

Each year on the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, someone flips the switch to light up millions of twinkling lights across the city, from Denver Union Station to the City and County Building. The buildings stay lit until the end of December.

• The first weekend in December features the annual 9News Parade of Lights. This free, local favorite features marching bands, giant balloons, majestic floats and lots more lights.

Our favorite spot to view the parade is at 14th & Glenarm, next to the Hyatt Place Downtown Denver (find the lowest seasonal rates). If we get cold we step into the hotel to warm up with hot chocolate for the kids and something grown-up for us (we can also make use of the restrooms).

Tip: For a VIP experience, consider purchasing grandstand tickets, which place you in front of the illuminated City & County Building.

If you still have holiday shopping to do or you just want to carry on the festive atmosphere, head to the Denver ChristKindk Market downtown. A Christmas market with a Germanic accent, it offers a tent with live music, vendors selling handmade and imported items, and food vendors serving beer, German dumplings, sausages and cookies among other goodies. Don’t miss the Chocoidea, where they mold chocolate into houses, trains, violins, shoes and more.

Outdoor Fun Around Town

The Denver Zoo lights up at Christmastime

• Another popular Christmas activity my family loves to do is the Denver Zoo Lights. Imagine 70 acres of illuminated animal sculptures, special animal encounters, entertainment, Santa meet-and-greets.

This event runs all through December with a special preview weekend just after Thanksgiving. Last year, my 2YO granddaughter played hide-and-seek among the lights on the O’Fallon Perennial Walk; super cute and fun!

• On New Years Eve, the Zoo offers a special early midnight countdown for parents with small kids. Enjoy the lights, ring in the New Year and be home by 10:00.

Tip: Tickets are less expensive in the first half of December, when the zoo is also less crowded. After December 15 both prices and crowds increase.

ice skating in the park in downtown Denver.

• Meanwhile the Denver Botanic Gardens offers Blossoms of Light.

Carolers serenade families as they stroll along the O’Fallon Perennial Walk and the Romantic Garden, both lit up by thousands of lights. There’s also an interactive dynamic light display in the amphitheater, which kids love.

When you’re ready you can  treat your family to hot chocolate and hot cider to take away the chill.

• If you want something a bit more active, try ice-skating at Southwest Rink at Skyline Park right downtown.  Admission is free and skate rentals are $6 to $8. The rink stays open for most of the winter.

Indoor Christmas Events

A Denver Christmas Carol

Holiday events in Denver always include two Christmas classics: One is the Colorado Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker.

For several years now, my daughter, my now-tween granddaughter and I would make the famous ballet a girls’ night out. We dress up, eat at a fancy dinner and then head to the theater. Our finale is after-theater drinks at the Curtis Hotel (find the lowest rate to stay here). So much fun!

My family also likes to go to the Denver Performing Arts Center for its staging of A Christmas Carol, where we are reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.

DPAC schedules other family friendly seasonal shows for select weeks after Thanksgiving. Parents with older teens might consider David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries. A live version of the movie Elf, appeals to a wide range of ages.

New Year’s Eve in Denver

Our city ends the old year and rings in the new with New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the 16th Street Mall downtown.

If your kids are too small to make it to midnight, come earlier in the evening to enjoy a mini-parade with magicians, costumed performers, balloon artists and more.

Beyond the Holidays

Denver offers free events year-round, including open days and evenings at select museums.  In winter, try ice-skating at Southwest Rink at Skyline Park.

Planning a trip?
Check reviews and rates for Denver hotels and seasonal activities on TripAdvisor.
Find the lowest Denver hotel rates across major booking sites with HotelsCombined.

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Diana Rowe is a Denver-based freelance travel writer. As a freelance travel writer for nearly 20 years, Diana has explored many local and international destinations. But home is where the heart is, and Denver is forever etched as one of Diana’s favorite destinations, especially during the holidays. Watch her on YouTube.

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