Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.
Denver is often the first stop for visitors to Colorado. With its proximity to the Rocky Mountains and walkable downtown, the Mile High City has the benefits of both an urban and outdoors destination.
For the budget-conscious traveler, there are many interesting, free things to do in Denver — here are a few highlights to take advantage of in the city. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some of these attractions may be closed or have reduced hours of operation, so be sure to check before you plan your visit.
1. Enjoy the Local Art Scene During First Friday Art Walks
Denver is one of the many cities that offer open galleries and events during the first Friday of each month. Enjoy a night of art, food, drink, and culture while visiting the district’s galleries, studios, breweries, and restaurants. First Friday events are currently on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, but you can check out the virtual events on the Art District on Santa Fe Facebook page.
2. Hike at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
Widely known for its status as the top outdoor venue in the country, the Red Rocks Amphitheater is also a great attraction during the day when there's no concert. Denver residents are frequently found here exercising and participating in group yoga classes or hiking and biking around the park.
3. Learn About Local Breweries on the Denver Beer Trail
All craft beer lovers should be familiar with Denver’s beer scene, which includes dozens of breweries. The Denver Beer Trail is a self-guided tour that can be found online or in print at any of the Visit Denver Tourist Information Centers, and it stops by some of the city’s best breweries, many of which offer free tours. Some locations may be closed due to the pandemic, so research your stops before you go.
4. Bike Cherry Creek Trail
Starting in downtown Denver and ending in Franktown, this 40-mile path runs alongside Cherry Creek, meandering through historic urban districts, high grasslands, and cottonwood groves. Visitors are welcome to walk, bike, or jog sections or the entirety of this trail, taking in the sites along the way.
5. Tour the State Capitol
Modeled after D.C.’s Capitol Building, this magnificent building made of Colorado white granite, rose onyx, and yule marble houses stained glass that depicts events and people essential to the state’s history. Free tours are offered between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the week, and it often has temporary exhibits and visitor galleries. The Capitol is currently closed to the public — check the website for reopening updates.
6. Enjoy Free Festivals
Each year, visitors can enjoy experiences unique to Denver at many free festivals that the city offers. Every Fourth of July weekend, the Cherry Creek Arts Festival treats attendees to visual art, live music, and cuisine. Another festival to check out is the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, held in Sloan’s Lake Park, also in July. Many festivals were canceled or moved to a virtual format this year, with plans to come back in 2021.
7. Learn How Money Is Made at the U.S. Mint
From Monday through Thursday between 8:00 a.m. and 3:30pm, the Denver U.S. Mint offers free 45-minute tours, teaching visitors about the history of our currency and giving a glimpse into how it is created. Tours are currently on hold due to the pandemic — check the website for updates.
8. Tour Hammond’s Candy Factory
No one can turn down a free tour, complete with free samples, at a candy factory. Hammond’s has been making candy in Denver since 1920, and it offers tours that allow visitors to see what goes on behind the scenes. The factory is currently open for tours.
9. Spot Wildlife at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
Located just outside of downtown Denver, this wildlife refuge is home to over 330 species of wildlife, including deer, raptors, bison, and black-tailed prairie dogs. Visit the interactive exhibit at the visitor center before embarking on a stroll along one of the refuge’s many trails. The visitor center is currently closed due to the pandemic, but trails and Wildlife Drive are open.
10. Explore City Park
Denver's largest park has plenty to offer visitors. Enjoy skyline views as you explore this public green space without spending a dime, or opt to purchase tickets to the Denver Zoo or the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, located within the park.
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