Updated for Covid 19
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.
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12 Things To Do With Kids on a Denver Christmas Season Getaway
Holiday Season Fun Downtown
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, 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).
• If you still have holiday shopping to do or you just want to carry on the festive atmosphere, head to the Denver ChristKindl Market downtown.
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.
All these events are happening this year, along with a new holiday lights walking tour, a second holiday market and live outdoor performances. Plan on your Santa photos being socially distant though.
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.
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 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.
The Zoo and Botanic Gardens are both having their holiday lights events in 2020, with some new restrictions. But Southwest Rink is taking a year off.
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.
• 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.
As you might imagine, live performances are cancelled for this year. You can catch the Nutcracker on a handful of dates on Rocky Mountain PBS, though.
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
• Denver 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. Watch her on YouTube.
Photos are courtesy of the event organizers except and by Diana Rowe where noted.