Maybe it’s the snow or the mountains in the distance or maybe it’s just the fact that Coloradans really dig all things winter, but there’s no city in America quite like Denver at Christmas.
The pandemic may have put a damper in some classic holiday activities, but if you know where to look, there is a ton of Christmas cheer to be had — all outdoors, socially distanced and abiding by Denver’s current Level Red COVID-19 regulations.
All of these holiday wonderlands are free to explore, but if you’re looking to spend, there are great opportunities to bust out your wallet as local vendors, restaurants and bars are all on-site attempting to make up for this year’s lost revenue. Take the cash you saved on free admission and put it toward wintery snacks, hot cocktails and locally made gifts.
As with all pandemic things, trust your instincts. Crowds were distanced and wearing masks when we checked out these holiday attractions, but if it doesn’t feel right on your visit, try again during a quieter time of day.
The 16th Street Mall
If you didn’t catch its inaugural appearance last year, allow us to let you in on a little secret: the Mile High Tree, a 110-foot-tall LED cone that you can step inside to watch a light show set to music, is seriously cool. The free attraction blew our minds last year when it was set up near the Denver Performing Arts Complex, and this year, it’s been moved to a prime spot right on the 16th Street Mall.
While you can see the tree from the sidewalk, the real show comes from inside the structure, but be prepared for lines as capacity is limited. Either way, it’s easy to catch the tree in action, as the five-minute light and music show runs every 15 minutes on evenings when the tree is open to visitors.
It’s in good company on the 16th Street Mall, which is also home this time of year to the 16th Street Mall Holiday Festival, which fills the street with vendors on weekends. If you’re concerned about potential Christmas shopping crowds, here’s a pro tip: Bikes are allowed on the mall on weekends, so you can easily pedal through this oh-so festive winter wonderland, taking it all in on two wheels.
This time of year, it’s our favorite street to ride in all of Denver — just be mindful of pedestrians and buses.
Mile High Tree, 16th Street Mall at Welton Street, open to visitors from 5-9:30 p.m. most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 5-8 p.m. on some Sundays. (See a full list of dates at denver.org.)
16th Street Holiday Festival, Welton and Glenarm, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Dec. 11-12, 18-20. coloradoevents.org/16thstreetmallholidayfestival
If you haven’t been to Larimer Square in a while, you might be in for a shock.
Now that the street has been closed off to cars to enable expanded outdoor dining, this historic block has transformed into a pedestrian-friendly, socially distanced holiday wonderland with outdoor bars, festive decorations, photo ops, live music and even a Christmas tree lot.
It’s easy to dine outdoors at one of Larimer Square’s many eateries, but if you aren’t in the mood for a whole meal, grab a cocktail from Green Russell‘s drink stand or the outdoor bar in front of the new vintage/vinyl store Garage Sale and post up at one of many tables on the block to watch a never-ending parade of sweater-wearing Denver dogs and the owners who love to show them off.
As an added bonus, you can get some Christmas shopping done at the retail stores along the block — and even outfit your pooch with one of the aforementioned dog sweaters before parading him through the square and snapping photos in front of the Insta-friendly backdrops. To catch the block at its most merry, visit in evenings and on weekend afternoons.
Larimer and 15th Streets, larimersquare.com. Christmas tree lot open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Trees start at $75 with free delivery for downtown residents.
With seemingly endless decorations and a cozy (but socially distanced) outdoor bar out front with heaters and hot cocktails, Union Station is always filled with holiday cheer this time of year. But this Christmas, “Denver’s living room” has more reasons to visit than ever.
Restaurants such as Tavernetta and Stoic & Genuine have created happy outdoor dining set-ups to comply with Denver’s current ban on indoor dining, and sipping wine outside amidst the Christmas decorations, watching the trains come and go, feels particularly festive.
RELATE: 24 of Colorado’s coolest outdoor dining rooms, from yurts and chalets to bubbles and gondolas
Also new this year: Merry & Bright Lights, an outdoor light show projected onto the station and set to classic holiday music. The show features animations by local artists such as Maya Dite-Shepard, Kendra Fleischman and Estee Fox and runs daily from 5 to 10 p.m. until Jan. 3.
Things get even more festive with the addition of floats from the Parade of Lights, which isn’t taking place this year — at least not in the traditional sense. Lighted, stationary floats are set up throughout downtown Denver, including at Union Station and the 16th Street Mall, and make for a great holiday photo op.
1701 Wynkoop St., 303-592-6712, unionstationindenver.com
For the past 20 years, downtown Denver has hosted the Christkindl Market, an outdoor holiday market filled with European flair and fare. This year, the market has moved to Civic Center park to enable social distancing at a new 60,000-square-foot space.
Keep in mind that, with capacity limits in place, visiting during prime hours means you’re likely to encounter a long wait to get in. But there’s a way around that: Organizers say entrance lines are shorter Monday through Wednesday.
RELATED: We can pretty much guarantee there will never be another Christkindl Market like this year’s
Once you get inside, stock up on holiday gifts like European chocolates and handicrafts. Stick around for a meal, too — on a crisp winter day, nothing tastes better than hot mulled wine and schnitzel.
101 W. 14th Ave. Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday until Dec. 23. christkindlmarketdenver.com
Cherry Creek Holiday Market
If there’s one event that sums up our entire 2020 social calendar (or what’s left of it), it’s outdoor markets. As one of the few gatherings still allowed under current COVID-19 restrictions, it’s given us a great opportunity to get some fresh air and support local makers while staying safely masked and 6 feet from others.
This year, we got a new one: The Cherry Creek Holiday Market, which features 30 vendors at Fillmore Plaza in Cherry Creek North. There, you’ll find 500,000 Christmas lights, eight holiday displays choreographed to music, ample gift ideas from both street vendors and Cherry Creek retail, live music and festive food and drink in a socially distanced setting.
As an added bonus: This year’s Miracle Christmas pop-up bars had to be scrapped due to indoor dining restrictions, but the festive cocktail destination has moved to the Cherry Creek Holiday Market, where the bar has shifted to pre-order, to-go and delivery for its famous themed cocktails and glassware. Order your Miracle at Home cocktails at miracledenver.com.
The market is free to attend, but reservations are encouraged as capacity is limited.
105 Fillmore St. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. cherrycreekholidaymarket.com
The alley at Dairy Block is all decked out, making this corner of LoDo a perfect spot for holiday shopping. The retail and restaurant destination is also hosting a Parade of Lights float this year, perfect for a family photo op.
But the real festivities come on the weekends, when the AF Holiday Market takes over the alley with vendors, cocktails, live music and apres-ski vibes. Grab a table in the alley and use your phone to order from Milk Market (you’ll be given a $10 gift card for the food hall when you check in) or hit up Bruto’s new alley spot for mezcal cocktails and taco kits. The market is free to attend, but be sure to register in advance, as capacity is limited.
1800 Wazee St., dairyblock.com. AF Holiday Market, open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 11-13 and 18-20, shopaf.co/apresdenver
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