9 Reasons to Visit Denver at the Holidays
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Holiday Season in Denver includes a month-long series of family-friendly parades, special seasonal performances, lots of local shopping, and the largest holiday light display in Colorado.
Here are some of my family’s favorite things to do.
Outdoor City Fun
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 new Hyatt Place Downtown Denver. If we get cold, we can step into the hotel, order a hot chocolate for the kids, something grown-up for us, and warm up in the lobby.
Tip: For a VIP experience, consider purchasing grandstand tickets, which place you in front of the illuminated City & County Building.
Other Outdoor Fun
Another popular event my family never misses 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.
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. You can treat your family to hot chocolate and hot cider to keep warm, too.
New this year: There is also an interactive dynamic light display in the amphitheater
Indoor Seasonal Events
The City also always offers two Christmas classics: The Colorado Ballet does The Nutcracker. For several years, my daughter, my now-12YO granddaughter and I make the Nutcracker a girls night out. We dress up, eat at a fancy dinner, and then and then head to the theater. Our finale is after-theater drinks at the Curtis hotel. So much fun!
My family also likes to go to the Denver Performing Arts Center for its local staging of A Christmas Carol, where we are reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.
Other family friendly seasonal shows are on DPAC and during select weeks after Thanksgiving. Parents with older teens might consider this year’s staging of David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries.
New Year in Denver
Our city ends the old year and rings in the new with New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. Earlier in the evening you can enjoy a mini-parade with magicians, costumed performers, balloon artists and more.
Beyond the Holidays
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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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