Guide to Christmas in Denver: Lights, Parades, and Holiday Markets

If you're planning a winter vacation and looking for a place to put you in the holiday spirit, Denver offers plenty of ways to enjoy the Christmas season every November and December.

From theatrical and musical performances of classics like "The Nutcracker" and "Messiah" to festive lighting displays at the city zoo and botanic garden, there's something that everyone can enjoy in the Mile High City this year. If you are in Denver for the holidays, make sure to add these great holiday events and attractions to your itinerary.

01 of 10

Explore Zoo Lights

Denver Zoo lights
designsbykari / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Zoo Lights return to the Denver Zoo for over 28 years with over a month of nightly entertainment, animal encounters, and a colorful display of holiday lights.

Two million Christmas lights will be strung up across the zoo's 70 acres for the Zoo Lights event this year, which runs through early January. Other highlights of the event include a Festival of Lights, visits with Santa Claus, and a special 4D movie experience called "Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas."

Zoo Lights is a ticketed event that requires a separate admission price from your entry to the Denver Zoo. The zoo will close at 5 p.m. and reopen at 5:30 each night for the Zoo Lights event.

02 of 10

Witness the Parade of Lights

Denver Parade of Lights
Brian Papantonio / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Since 1975, this holiday parade has graced the streets of downtown Denver each year with a spectacle of holiday lights and performances. The Denver Parade of Lights will return to the Civic City Park for two days this year, December 6 and December 7, 2019.

This free event also features special visits from Santa Claus and the official mascot of the parade, Major Waddles the Penguin, and you can also watch the parade in relative comfort at the 9NEWS Grandstand seating section, but reserved seats cost $19 for guests 13 and older and $16 for children 2 to 12 years old.

03 of 10

Watch the Nutcracker Ballet at the Ellie

Colorado Ballet Nutcracker

Colorado Ballet / Terry Shapiro

If you want to introduce your kids to opera this year, catching a performance of "The Nutcracker" is a great way to do it—and a fun experience to share as a family.

Fortunately, seeing "The Nutcracker" has been a Denver tradition for over 50 years because the Colorado Ballet has performed Tchaikovsky's Christmas ballet at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House ("The Ellie") every year since 1960.

In 2019, the Colorado Ballet and Orchestra will return for its 59th year producing "The Nutcracker" with 27 performances of this beloved classic at the Ellie from November 24 to December 24.

This holiday event typically sells out quickly, so be sure to book your tickets well in advance so you don't miss out on the opportunity to share ballet with your family this year.

04 of 10

Have High Tea at the Brown Palace Hotel

Afternoon tea at the Brown Palace

Brown Palace

The Brown Palace is a historic luxury hotel in downtown Denver that opens its grand atrium for high tea in the afternoons throughout the year. However, during the holiday season, you can also enjoy a special breakfast with Santa at the hotel every Saturday from November 24 to December 24.

During high tea, which is served daily from noon to 4 p.m., you'll be treated to delicate finger sandwiches, scones, and miniature pastries accompanying your choice of gourmet tea served in a silver teapot.

If you opt to visit on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be wandering throughout the resort's many dining establishments for the Breakfast With Santa event. Throughout the morning, the holiday couple will pop into specialty brunches at Ellyngton's, Ship Tavern, and Palace Arms and dance with the crowd to live musical performances at the Lobby Tea & Cocktails and Ship Tavern.

You'll need to make reservations for both high tea and Breakfast With Santa because these popular events fill up fast, especially closer to Christmas.

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05 of 10

Take a Ride on the Denver Pavilions Carousel

Denver Pavilions Carousel


The holiday carousel at the Denver Pavilions shopping mall allows children to enjoy the magic of the season from the perch of a horse as the twinkling Christmas lights of the pavilion swirl around them.

After taking a spin on the carousel, you can do some Christmas shopping at the pavilions and then stroll along downtown's famous 16th Street Mall, which features tons of specialty shops and boutiques perfect for last-minute holiday shopping.

06 of 10

See a Holiday Show by the Colorado Symphony

Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver
Aranami / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Each year, the Colorado Symphony presents a showcase of holiday performances throughout the Christmas season.

In 2018, events kicked off with "A Classical Christmas," a new musical revue of Christmas classics new and old, which takes place in the Boettcher Concert Hall starting at 7:30 p.m. Selections include songs from Handel's "Messiah," Holst's "Christmas Day," and Berlioz's "L'enfance du Christ."

Check the symphony's website for this year's schedule.

07 of 10

Wander Through Light Shows at the Botanic Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Light
Raymond Johnson / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Blossoms of Light returns to the Denver Botanic Gardens on York Street from late November to early January. Blossoms of Light transforms the garden into a winter wonderland full of over two million twinkling holiday lights, sure to enchant guests young and old alike.

Meanwhile, at the Botanic Garden's Chatfield Farms location, the Rocky Mountain foothills serve as the backdrop for another light-based attraction, the Trail of Lights, which features moving animal sculptures, several crafting activities, and even a hayride through the colorful displays.

08 of 10

Browse the Georgetown Christmas Market

Carolers at the Georgetown Christmas Market

Visit Georgetown

A Victorian Christmas awaits in the historic mountain town of Georgetown, located just an hour west of Denver. Georgetown's Sixth Street transforms into a Christmas vision with a European-style outdoor market, roasted chestnuts, horse-drawn wagon rides, and Christmas carolers.

You can spend the day browsing hand-crafted goods and locally-grown produce or wander through the shops on Sixth Street to find the perfect last-minute Christmas present.

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09 of 10

Laugh out Loud at The SantaLand Diaries

The SantaLand Diaries

Denver Center for the Performing Arts / John Moore

Whether you've been naughty or nice this year, you deserve to see the dark comedy of "The SantaLand Diaries." The production is based on humorist David Sedaris' essay in which he details his experiences working as an elf at Macy's in New York and will take place at the Jones Theatre. 

The Jones is located inside the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, check their website for this year's performances.

10 of 10

Ice Skate on Evergreen Lake

Evergreen Lake with people enjoying iceskating

Evergreen Park and Recreation District

This Christmas in Denver, you can go ice skating at Evergreen Lake, which is about 40 minutes from downtown. Weather permitting, a portion of Evergreen Lake opens for ice skating in mid-December, but before heading out, you should call the skating hotline at 720-880-1391 to check if the lake is frozen enough to skate safely.

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