Denver celebrates the season with holiday weekends, special festive events,
extravagant light displays and hotel and shopping deals
Mile High Holidays, which kicks off during Thanksgiving weekend and lasts well in to January, is the city’s annual celebration of everything festive and holiday-focused. Throughout the season, The Mile High City honors classic traditions and begets new ones with fun events, performances, unique shopping and great deals on hotels.
“This is the perfect time of year to spend time in Denver,” says Richard Scharf, president and CEO of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our community really shines with the spirit of the season – the incredible and unique lighting displays, nostalgic theatrical performances and premier shopping during our Mile High Holidays celebrations make Denver a true holiday destination.”
Below are just a few experiences to be found during Mile High Holidays. For more information on how to spend an evening or a long weekend in Denver, and to take advantage of holiday hotel deals starting at $99, visit MileHighHolidays.com
This season’s holiday weekends are the perfect opportunities to turn a holiday celebration into a weekend full of fun and activities. Below are some suggested activities for the most popular holiday weekends, many of which are free
Thanksgiving Weekend – As the kickoff to the holiday season, Thanksgiving weekend serves as the perfect time for many of the Mile High Holidays activities to begin. After their Thanksgiving feast, families can shop for gifts on Small Business Saturday, check out exhibitions at some of the city’s cultural institutions and lace up their ice skates for some outdoor fun. They can also explore some of the city’s first holiday lights at Zoo Lights at Denver Zoo or Blossoms of Light at Denver Botanic Gardens; the Grand Illumination starting at Denver Union Station; or Light the Lights at the Denver City and County Building.
Parade of Lights Weekend – The Parade of Lights always takes place during the first weekend of December, and the two-night event is a true celebration of the holidays, featuring thousands of lights, marching bands, spectacular parade floats and more. Over a weekend spent downtown for the parade, families can also shop on Larimer Square and at the Denver Pavilions or see a live holiday performance.
Christmas Weekend – When everyone is on break for the Christmas holidays, last-minute list makers can be sure to get theirs to Santa at the Downtown Aquarium’s “Breakfast with Santa.” The City & County Building and Denver Union Station also boast impressive light displays. And, for the last-minute shoppers, Cherry Creek Shopping Center and some businesses in Cherry Creek North and on Larimer Square are open until December 24th.
New Year’s Eve Weekend – Ring in the New Year with Denver's annual New Year's Eve Fireworks. There are two shows, one at the family-friendly hour of 9 p.m. and the other at midnight. There are also plenty of fun parties for both families and adults – from “Noon Year’s Eve” at the Children’s Museum at Marsico Campus to the Colorado Symphony’s annual presentation of A Night in Vienna to numerous parties and festive events downtown. Revelers can spend some time during the day at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for their last chance to see Nature’s Amazing Machines or take one last look at this year’s holiday lights displays. For the first time ever, Red Rocks Amphitheatre will have a New Year’s Eve show, featuring headliners Migos, Post Malone and Young Thug.
Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism, through January 14, 2018
Denver Art Museum is hosting Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism, a traveling exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts that surveys the artistic contributions of women in Paris during the second half of the 19th century, revealing the breadth and strength of their achievements. The exhibition features more than 80 paintings by 37 women artists from across Europe and America, who migrated to Paris to further their artistic careers. They range from well-known artists such as Berthe Morisot (French), Mary Cassatt (American) and Rosa Bonheur (French), to painters who are lesser-known in the United States, including Anna Ancher (Danish) and Paula Modersohn-Becker (German). Visitors can purchase hotel packages from some of Denver’s premier hotels that feature VIP tickets, which will allow them to skip the line and see the exhibition at their leisure.
Nature’s Amazing Machines, through January 1, 2018
Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s exhibition, Nature’s Amazing Machines, uses real objects, scientific models and hands-on elements to showcase the marvels of natural engineering. Discover how a giraffe’s heart pumps blood up its long neck, how a toucan stays cool in the jungle and how it might feel to fly. Visitors will also see modern designs inspired by natural adaptations, like Velcro, wind turbines and chainsaws.
Ultimate Dinosaurs, through January 15, 2018
This Denver Museum of Nature & Science exhibition will go beyond familiar dinosaurs to showcase some of the most spectacular fossils unearthed in recent years. Evolving in isolation, the new discoveries from Africa, South America and Madagascar are among the strangest creatures ever on display. The exhibit will feature dozens of life-size fossils and casts alongside augmented reality displays of the creatures in lifelike settings.
Backstory: Western American Art in Context, through February 11, 2018
Artists of the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries captured the landscapes and people of a rapidly changing West – as events set in motion dynamics that still shape the region today. Backstory: Western American Art in Context at History Colorado Center pairs nearly 50 masterpieces from the Denver Art Museum’s renowned collection with History Colorado’s wealth of artifacts to tell the stories beyond the art.
Holiday Performing Arts
RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, November 14-21
A re-imagining of Puccini's La Bohème, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning RENT follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. With its inspiring message of joy and hope in the face of fear, this timeless celebration of friendship and creativity reminds us to measure our lives with the only thing that truly matters—love. The tour will run at the Buell Theatre.
A Christmas Carol, November 24 - December 24
A Christmas Carol is an annual tradition during the holiday season in Denver. Based on Charles Dickens' classic novel, this joyous and opulent musical adaptation traces money-hoarding skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge's triumphant overnight journey to redemption. Live from the Stage Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, A Christmas Carol illuminates the meaning of the holiday season in a way that has resonated for generations.
The SantaLand Diaries, November 24 – December 24
Crumpet the Elf returns to The Jones Theater in the Denver Performing Arts Complex for more hilarious holiday hijinks in this acclaimed one-man show. David Sedaris' offbeat tales from his stint as a Macy's elf in New York City are the sure cure for the common Christmas show.
The Nutcracker, November 25 - December 24
Children and adults will enjoy Colorado Ballet's 57th annual production of the classic Christmas ballet The Nutcracker, held at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House and featuring unforgettable characters, classic choreography, exquisite sets, dazzling costumes and Tchaikovsky's extraordinary arrangement performed live by the Colorado Ballet Orchestra.
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis, December 9-10
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis has been a favorite holiday tradition for more than 30 years. Grammy Award winner Chip Davis has created a show that features Mannheim Steamroller Christmas classics along with a selection of compositions from his groundbreaking Fresh Aire series, which introduced the distinctive Mannheim sound to all of America. The program at Denver’s Buell Theatre celebrates the group’s recent 30 year anniversary of the first Christmas album and 40 years since the first Fresh Aire album; and it includes dazzling multimedia effects in an intimate setting.
ELF The Musical, December 13-17
ELF The Musical at the Buell Theatre is the hilarious tale of Buddy, a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. Unaware that he is actually human, Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. With Santa’s permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity, and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.
Waitress, December 19-31
Inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s beloved film, Waitress tells the story of Jenna — a waitress and expert pie maker – who dreams of a way out of her small town and loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s new doctor may offer her a chance at a fresh start, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes for happiness. But Jenna must summon the strength and courage to rebuild her own life. Brought to life in the Buell Theatre by a groundbreaking all-female creative team and Denver Center for the Performing Arts, this irresistible new hit features original music and lyrics by six-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles (“Brave,” “Love Song”), a book by acclaimed screenwriter Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam) and direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin, Finding Neverland).
Mile High Holiday Events
The Polar Express™ Train Ride, November 9 – December 23
The Colorado Railroad Museum recreates the charm and magic of the acclaimed children’s book and movie, The Polar Express, during the holiday season. The theatrical re-creation surrounds family with the sights, sounds and intrigue of this classic children's tale – complete with an actual train ride, golden souvenir ticket and hot chocolate.
Denver Christkindl Market, November 17 – December 23
The Christkindl Market at Skyline Park includes vendors from Germany, Ukraine, Ireland and other countries, as well as local artisans, offering high-quality, handcrafted gifts such as traditional hand-carved wooden figurines, handmade candles and ornaments. Traditional German food, warm Glühwein (hot spiced wine), and traditional Christmas carols and live German music make the market a full holiday experience.
Downtown Denver Rink at Skyline Park, November 22, 2017 – February 14, 2018
One of the most popular holiday events in Denver, the Downtown Denver Rink at Skyline Park returns in 2017 with ice skating and family fun. The rink is FREE and open to the public with the option to bring your own skates or rent a pair at a minimal cost.
Ice Skating Rink at DEN, November 24, 2017 – January 7, 2018
Back for a second year, Denver International Airport’s (DEN) free ice skating rink will be on the DEN Plaza for everyone to enjoy daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. This year's rink will be bigger and will be accompanied by a variety of entertainment and family-friendly music playing in the background.
Small Business Saturday – November 25
On Saturday, November 25th, Cherry Creek North will celebrate Small Business Saturday with holiday fun throughout the entire 16-block district. To sweeten the deal, the Cherry Creek North business improvement district is raffling off Cherry Creek North gift cards worth up to $500 to four lucky shoppers. To enter the raffle, shoppers must show proof of purchase from a local Cherry Creek North business on November 25th from 11am-2pm at Small Business Saturday Headquarters (2nd & Fillmore).
9NEWS Parade of Lights, December 1 (8 p.m.) and 2 (6 p.m.)
The 9NEWS Parade of Lights is a signature event of the downtown Denver holiday season. The countless sparkling lights, marching bands, giant balloons, majestic floats and delightful characters will once again wow hundreds of thousands. Viewing along the parade route is free, and grandstand tickets are sold for seating in front of the beautifully illuminated City & County Building.
Winter Fest, December 9
Cherry Creek North will host the free Winter Fest on Fillmore Plaza and throughout the neighborhood from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The celebration will transform Fillmore Plaza in to a winter wonderland featuring live ice carving, temporary fire pits, face painting, warm beverages and snacks. Businesses throughout the area will also host activities, such as ornament decorating, entertainment and more.
Breakfast with Santa, December 9 -24
Join Sharkey and Santa for a delicious breakfast buffet at Denver's Downtown Aquarium. After breakfast, explore the Aquarium Adventure Exhibit with more than one million gallons of extraordinary marine life.
43rd Annual TubaChristmas, December 17
More than 300 tuba players from all over the region will play favorite holiday tunes in Skyline Park, which will be decorated for the season, making it a perfect setting to experience this holiday spectacular. The TubaChristmas Concert is one of the most celebrated and longest-running holiday festivities in Colorado; and participants have ranged in ages from 7 to 86 with instruments including tubas, sousaphones, baritones, euphoniums, antique tubas from the Civil War era, decorated tubas, and more.
National Western Stock Show & Rodeo, January 6-21, 2018
Held every January at the National Western Complex, it is the world's largest stock show; and each year is bigger and better than the last, with more than 15,000 animals, Mexican rodeos, bull riders, horse shows, livestock competitions, auctions and booths selling everything from cowboy boots to Native American jewelry.
Holiday Light Displays
Downtown Denver's Grand Illumination and Light the Lights, November 24
As part of Downtown Denver's Winter in the City program, Nov 24, 2017, Downtown Denver's Grand Illumination event will illuminate Denver Union Station; and at 6 p.m. Light the Lights will emblazon the City & County Building at Civic Center Park. Denver Union Station will glow with brightly colored floodlights illuminating the historic structure in the heart of Lower Downtown and its lighted tree in front. The lights at both buildings stay on through the end of December.
City & County Building Holiday Lights, November 24 – December 31
The largest lighting display in Denver comes on nightly at 6 p.m. at the City & County Building, where 600,000 lights deck the neo-classical building. The bell tower plays carols nightly as well.
Blossoms of Light, November 24, 2017 – January 1, 2018
Embrace the holidays with thousands of colorful lights draped in elegant designs at Denver Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light. The 2017 event will display more than one million colorful lights draped in elegant designs highlighting the Gardens' winter beauty. Visitors can enjoy sparkling passages, new displays and romantic spots under the mistletoe, all made even more beautiful through HoloSpex glasses. Warm drinks and tasty treats will also be available.
Zoo Lights, December 1 – December 31
Zoo Lights span 70 acres of Denver Zoo's campus, with nightly entertainment, animal encounters, Santa meet-and-greets and, of course, illuminated animal sculptures that swing through trees, jump across lawns hide in bushes and appear in places where they are least expected. New this year, guests will be able to control some of the sculptures at special interactive stations featuring “kid-level” control panels. Visitors can get a sneak peek of the lights over Thanksgiving weekend, November 24-25.
Shopping and Santa Sightings
With more than 450 unique shops and more than 300 restaurants, downtown Denver is the perfect place to spend the holiday season. Check out the holiday shopping at the Denver Pavilions, Larimer Square, and stroll down the 16th Street Mall for eclectic finds for everyone. There will be free parking on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday in the Denver Pavilions underground garage.
Holiday Festivities at Denver Pavilions, throughout December
Located on the 16th Street Mall, the Denver Pavilions is a 350,000 square foot open-air retail, restaurant, and entertainment complex. With 40 restaurants, shops & entertainment venues, Denver Pavilions is a convenient and fun resource for holiday festivities. The Denver Pavilions Holiday Carousel returns to the 16th Street Mall and complements additional holiday activities at the shopping center; rides are free with any purchase from a Denver Pavilions retailer.
Santa on the Square, throughout December
Historic charm meets holiday cheer during the happiest season of all at Larimer Square. With festive dining options and boutiques filled with treasures for everyone, Larimer Square celebrates the holidays in style. There are also hand painted shop windows, carolers, and Santa on any given day. Visits with Santa are free and open to the public.
Cherry Creek Shopping Center
Cherry Creek Shopping Center is the region’s most popular shopping destination with more than 160 stores and restaurants, including RH Denver Design Gallery, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Macy's and 40 others unique to the region. Shoppers can pick up a complimentary Passport to Shopping at Guest Services, offering incredible discounts.
Santa’s Flight Academy
This season, “Santa’s Flight Academy” returns to Cherry Creek Shopping Center – a one-of-a-kind, immersive holiday experience that combines a giant re-imagination of the North Pole with state-of-the-art technology to enable children to become a member of Santa’s flight crew. Partnering with an elf, each child will help ready Santa’s sleigh so he can deliver presents to children around the world. At the end of the experience, each child will step inside the sleigh for a snowfall dance party before meeting Santa.
Cherry Creek North
Denver's premier shopping and dining destination in the Rocky Mountain region – with twinkling holiday lights and festive atmosphere – this charming district has everything to celebrate the holidays in style. The neighborhood is home to sophisticated fashion boutiques like Andrisen Morton, Kate Spade, Hermes, Lawrence Covell, Calypso St. Barth, Loro Piana, St. John Boutique. Sip, savor and stroll through 16 blocks of more than 200 independently-owned luxury shops, galleries, spas, and top-rated restaurants. Located across the street from Cherry Creek Shopping Center and just five minutes from downtown Denver.
Denver Holiday Flea, December 1-3
The Denver Holiday Flea is a contemporary marketplace showcasing makers and retailers who cultivate the Colorado lifestyle. This year’s biggest and best ever Denver Flea will be the 9th annual; and it will take place at the Sports Castle on Broadway.
Denver Jackalope Holiday Market, December 9-10
Celebrate the holiday season with Jackalope, an indie artisan market on December 9th and 10th from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the newly renovated McNichols Civic Center Building downtown. Shop more than 150 handmade vendors from art and photography, fashion and accessory design, home decor, housewares and more. Enjoy local food, full bar, and DIY workshops at this free and family friendly event.
GIFT SHOPS AT MUSEUMS & ATTRACTIONS
One of the best ways to see the city and find unique holiday gifts is to visit the gift shops at some of Denver’s top attractions. Admission is not necessary for the gift shops, but it is the perfect way to discover more about the attraction itself and the context of the gifts available.
At the Denver Art Museum, buy beautiful posters and prints, in addition to art books and handmade jewelry. Grab a piece of the cutting-edge arts world at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver's eclectic SHOP MCA. The Denver Zoo's two-story gift shop, Kibongi Market, offers hand-crafted ceramic and art items from Africa and a wide selection of toys and clothing. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science's gift shop has a great selection of books, science kits, DVDs, CDs and more. Denver Botanic Gardens' Shop at the Gardens offers all-natural gifts, plants and gardening supplies, art and much more. The Molly Brown House Museum features art deco-inspired jewelry, home décor and gift items.