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Denver With Kids: 12 Wonderful Days Of Christmastime Fun

Denver With Kids: 12 Wonderful Days Of Christmastime Fun

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 my hometown between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

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Holiday Season Fun Downtown

denver becomes one big festive lights display during its grand illumination in december.

• 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.

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

Our favorite spot to view the parade is at 14th & Glenarm streets, next to the Hyatt Place Downtown Denver. 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). It’s also a central, family friendly hotel if you’re coming in from out of town and need a hotel.

• If you still have holiday shopping to do or you just want to carry on the festive atmosphere, head to the ChristKindl Market downtown.

the denver christmas market features german food, american sweets, and a variety of vendors, all below the city's holiday lights.

A Christmas market with a German accent, it offers a tent with live music, vendors selling handmade and imported items, and food vendors serving beer, German dumplings, sausages and cookies as well as familiar goodies like hot chocolate.

Don’t miss the Chocoidea, where they mold chocolate into houses, trains, violins, shoes and more.

Holiday Season Events Around Town

• 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.

the denver zoo lights up with neon outlines of animals at christmastime

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!

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 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.

ice skating in the park in downtown denver. two kids use skating helpers.

• If you want something a bit more active, try ice-skating at Southwest Rink at Skyline Park right downtown reopens in November 2022.  Admission is free and skate rentals are inexpensive. The rink stays open for most of the winter.

Indoor Christmas Events

• 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. 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.

a festive denver christmas carol

• DPAC schedules other family friendly seasonal shows for most weeks after Thanksgiving. A musical retelling of Elf should appeal to a wide range of ages. Teens might like the Hip Hop Nutcracker.

Plan This Trip!
• Find the best seasonal rates for Denver hotels on TripAdvisor.
• Consider renting an apartment right downtown with VRBO.
• Use Expedia to find the best flights and packages from your town.

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.

• 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.

Beyond the Holidays

• The Mile-High City offers free events year-round, including free days and evenings at select museums.  

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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.

Photos are courtesy of the event organizers except and by Diana Rowe where noted.