1 Fun-Filled Day of Free Things to Do in Denver

FlyAwayU | Free Things to Do in Denver: Denver Skyline

How often do you play tourist in your hometown?

Rarely?

That’s the answer for most of us. We go sightseeing everywhere we visit but rarely in our hometowns.

I found myself bugged by this answer recently. David and I live in the lovely city of Denver, Colorado, a place I’ve called home for about ten years. I’ve been to all the museums and art complexes (which I highly recommend). But I hadn’t taken the time to see all the free things to do in Denver, like the Colorado State Capital building, or the Denver Mint, or the Federal Reserves.

That had to change! Here we were, travelers of the world, and we hadn’t even spent the time thoroughly exploring our home city. So we played tourists for a day seeing some of the free things to do in Denver. And to make things more fun, we set ourselves a total budget of $30 for the entire day.

$30 may sound like a reasonable amount of money for a day of sightseeing, but Denver is expensive. It’s a city where bacon, eggs, and coffee for two can cost more than $25 (unless you eat fast food). Which is why $30 for the day is a challenge.

How did we do?

Not too bad! Here are the results of our day of sightseeing in Denver with a $30 total budget, including all our tips, free things to do in Denver, a Google map and a downloadable list of all the places mentioned.

Free Things to Do in Denver

Since our goal was to only find the free things to do in Denver, we skipped the museums. Denver’s museums aren’t free except for a few select days of the year. But, we did stop along our route for a couple of photos outside the Denver Art Museum.

FlyAwayU | Free Things to Do in Denver: the Denver Mint
David outside the Denver Mint

The Denver Mint

Admission: Free + free souvenir.

We started our day with the US Mint’s 8 am tour, one of the oldest institutions in Denver (opening in 1897).

We enjoyed the fun 45 minutes – hour-long tour, learning how coins are made and fun facts about the Mint. Like did you know the Denver Mint has never been robbed? Well from the outside anyway! It has had one robbery, but it was an inside job carried out by an employee.

The old building is impressive with giant crystal chandeliers and grand hallways clothed in marble and granite. The one disappointment? Not being about to take photos inside. But we did score a free souvenir: a free uncirculated penny and penny blank for the year we visited.

Things to Consider

Visiting the Denver Mint requires getting there early. The ticket window opens at 7 am and closes when the last ticket for the day is given out. NO reservations! Tickets go fast, so getting there before 7 am is a must.

You are only allowed to carry in your cell phone (turned off), a wallet, and medical items. NOTHING else is allowed, including purses, packs, cameras, strollers, food, and drinks. No lockers are offered at the Mint or in the area. Which is the reason why we drove instead of taking the bus and saving on parking.

FlyAwayU | Free Things to Do in Denver: Colorado State Capital
Colorado State Capital

Colorado State Capital

Admission: Free, including a guided tour of the building and dome.

From the Mint, we booked it back to the car to grab our cameras and gear. Then it was off to the Colorado State Capital for a tour of the historic building and its gold dome. On the way, we stopped for photos in Civic Center Park which gives you an awesome view of the Capital.

I had been waiting to see the view from the dome since moving to Colorado. Unfortunately, the dome was covered with construction scaffolding for over eight of the years I lived in Denver, making it impossible to access. It was worth the wait. The 360-degree views of Denver are fantastic.

Besides seeing the dome, I’m glad we did the guided tour. Our funny guide seemed to know more about beer than he did the Capital but still was able to fill us in on some fun facts about the building.

Interesting facts we learned from our incredibly funny tour guide: he knew more about local beer than he did the Capital, the 24K gold plating the dome was mined in Colorado, and walls covered with rare Colorado Rose Onyx.

Things to Consider

You can only climb up to the dome if you join the FREE 45-minute guided tour of the capital (a self-guided option is available if you don’t care to see the dome). Take it slow because the steps are steep and narrow.

Don’t forget to take a pose at the mile high marker, located precisely at 5,280 feet, on the Capital’s front steps.

FlyAwayU | Free Things to Do in Denver: Lunch on the 16th Street Mall
Lunch on the 16th Street Mall

16th Street Mall

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the 16th Street Mall. It’s more a tourist trap filled with retail shopping, souvenir shops, and chain restaurants.

BUT the mall does have some advantages. It’s a great place to find several delicious ethnic food carts and has the FREE mall ride.

AND it’s designed by the famous architect I.M. Pei. While I haven’t seen it yet, if viewed from above, the Mall’s tile design looks like the pattern on a rattlesnake.

Things to Consider

Pickpocketing and theft can be an issue along the Mall, so keep a close eye on your stuff.

Lots of homeless people hang out on the Mall, so it sometimes feels a little icky.

The Mall is an excellent place to people watch. So take a break and enjoy one of Denver’s many sidewalk patios and enjoy the view.

FlyAwayU | Free Things to Do in Denver: Colorado Convention Center and the Big Blue Bear
Colorado Convention Center and the Big Blue Bear

The Convention Center, the Big Blue Bear and the Denver Performing Arts Center

Located on 14th, the Denver Convention Center is the site for large conventions, impressive architecture, art and Lawrence Argent’s iconic 40 foot tall Big Blue Bear. It’s a must when doing the touristy thing. Plus, the bear is cool!

After snapping a few photos, we strolled on down to the Denver Performing Arts Center. If you’re an architecture buff, then you’ll enjoy the Denver Performing Arts Center. This architectural delight houses several theaters, concert halls, and the Sculpture Park.

Things to Consider

You can store $10 tickets to shows at the Denver Performing Arts Center by signing up for their email.

Don’t miss the two 50 foot tall white dancers in the Sculpture Park. The locals call them the Dancing Aliens.

FlyAwayU | Free Things to Do in Denver: Federal Reserve and the Money Museum
Federal Reserve and the Money Museum

The Federal Reserve Bank and the Money Museum

Admission: Free + free souvenir. 

Jumping back on the Mall Ride, we head over to visit the Federal Reserve Bank and Money Museum. Another of the free things to do in Denver!

It was interesting seeing circulated bills from the beginning of US money-making history all the way to current times. Plus, counterfeit $20 bills and a stack of $30 million one dollar bills. The highlight was David posing as the face of a $100,000 bill. It would be so sweet to have a few of those to spend!

Don’t forget to take your free bag of money souvenir when you leave.

Things to Consider

You can take pictures in the Federal Reserve Money Museum. Just don’t photograph the employees and security cameras.

FlyAwayU | Free Things to Do in Denver: Denver Union Station
Denver Union Station

Denver’s Union Station

It’s back on the Mall Ride for our final stop, Denver’s historical Union Station. The recent 54 million dollar makeover makes this a desirable place to visit. Enjoy shopping in the many high-end restaurants, patios, a hotel, coffee, and ice cream shops. Plus, there’s FREE wi-fi and plenty of outlets for charging up your phone or laptop.

Union Station is also the place to catch all forms of Denver public transportation, including the light rail and buses. Denver’s bus system connects Denver to all the surrounding cities and goes up into mountains for visiting Breckenridge and Vale. Plus, you can catch the light rail to the airport ($9) and the Amtrak.

After a tiring day of sightseeing, the Union Station was a perfect way to end our day. We rested, people watching while sipping milkshakes in the lobby for a bit before using the Mall Ride to return to our car.

Things to Consider

Union Station is a travel hub, so be conscious of your sightseeing, or you may end up run over by someone with a suitcase.

If you have kids, during the summer months, the water feature outside is the perfect way to cool off.

FlyAwayU | Free Things to Do in Denver: Food

Food

Food is where we spent the majority of our $30 budget.

Santiago’s

Breakfast Burritos: $6.75

We love breakfast burritos, and Denver has plenty of options, but our favorite is also one of the local’s favorites, Santiago’s. Breakfast burritos in Denver come with potatoes, eggs, meat (if you want), and green chili. At Santiago’s you can order your green chili hot, mild, or half-half (our pick), depending on your heat levels. And at $2.25 each, Santiago’s breakfast burritos fit right into our budget.

Shondiz Foodcart, Downtown

Gyro and Falafel Pita Sandwiches: $13

If you like middle-eastern flavors, Shondiz’s is the place to enjoy them. We enjoyed the lamb/beef gyro and falafel sandwiches wrapped in warm pita. Both were topped with tangy tzatziki sauce, ripe tomatoes, and crunchy lettuce. A nearby table gave us the perfect place to enjoy our food while people watching.

Milkbox Ice Creamy

Milkshakes: $8

The Milkbox Ice Creamy features ice cream made by Little Man Ice Cream, another Denver institution. So creamy and delicious, our milkshakes were the perfect ending to a fun-filled day. They did throw up $2.75 over our $30 budget, but we felt completely worth it. Without them, we could have easily achieved the challenge goal.

Transportation/Parking

Parking in Denver is a bitch!

It’s overly expensive, and there’s not enough of it. We set timers on our phones to help keep from paying the meter witches $25 for running out of time.

Ideally, we would have used the bus. BUT because we were visiting the Denver Mint, we needed the car to stash our gear.

Cheap Parking Lots

Parking: $5.

We parked at the parking lot across from the Denver Art Museum, paying $5 for the day. There’s also a garage at the Colorado History Museum for the same cost. It’s an easy location for accessing downtown Denver. From here you can easily walk or catch the Mall Ride.

16th Street Mall Free Ride

The Mall Ride runs every 10 minutes from Denver’s Union Station down 16th Street and turns around at Broadway. Hop on and off at stops located on each block as much as you like for FREE.

FlyAwayU | Free Things to Do in Denver: Colorado State Capital
Colorado State Capital

Extra Add-Ons

If you’re looking for more free things to do in Denver, visit the Denver Central Library. This seven-story building is home to more than just books. You’ll find art exhibits, free classes and plenty of impressive Denver views outside the many windows. It’s also a free wi-fi stop and a relaxing place to take a break.

The McNichols Civic Center Building located in the northwest corner of Civic Center Park offers free admission and art exhibits inside and out.

Several parks are along the route are great for rest stops or enjoying different views of the Denver skyline. Plus feature art and sculptures. Check out Civic Center Park, Skyline Park, Confluence/Commons Park, and the Centennial Gardens.

At the end of the day we realized that we had:

  • gone through metal detectors three times
  • been patted down once
  • acquired two sets of uncirculated pennies
  • a bag of free money
  • loads of fun photos
  • tasty bites
  • and some amazing memories.

All the attractions we did were free. So, we spent our whole budget on food and parking for a total of $32.75. We came in $2.75 over budget but we felt the milkshakes were worth it after our fun-filled day.

Looking for more cheap or free things to do when traveling? Check out our post How to Enjoy London on a Shoestring Budget.

1 Fun-Filled Day of Free Things to Do in Denver ~ FlyAwayU

18 thoughts on “1 Fun-Filled Day of Free Things to Do in Denver

  • 07/01/2018 at 19:33
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    Gosh, does Denver not have anywhere for homeless people to be? I guess they hang out where there’s a chance of people being generous.

    Love the big blue bear and the idea of the visiting the mint. I also explored my home city as a tourist recently, super fun idea .

    Reply
    • 08/01/2018 at 00:51
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      Cassie, the homeless thing is a real issue in Denver with no solution to solve at this point. It’s really heartbreaking but can also make things not so nice in some areas for sure.

      It really is fun exploring home as a tourist. Where is your home city?

      Reply
  • 07/01/2018 at 20:48
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    Definly it make us think. I mean, the fact that we travel around the world with restless curiosity and we pay no attention to our home town. Tomorrow I will do the same in my own city and I will see what will happen. Thanks for sharing, I am sure It will inspire many other travelers!

    Reply
    • 08/01/2018 at 00:52
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      Hi Gabi,

      It is funny how we don’t have the same curiosity at home. Enjoy your adventures in your own city. And please send us a link if you blog about it, because we would love to see how your adventure went.

      Reply
  • 08/01/2018 at 00:52
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    What a fun post this is and I love that you have offered many free options in Denver. I am also a budget traveler so it’s always exciting that you get to do so many things without spending a lot. I didn’t realize that Denver could be a budget option. I have my eye on the Union Station and the money museum. Sound like those two are such cool places to check out!

    Reply
    • 08/01/2018 at 01:48
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      Hi Abigail,
      I’ll admit Denver is not the cheapest places to visit but with some careful planning, it can be done on a budget. You can even do the museums if you plan a trip for the first of the month or any of the free days during the years for the museums, zoo and botanical gardens. But it’s a beautiful city and plenty of things to do. And if you come in the summer, loads of free concerts, movies in the parks and other fun events.

      Reply
  • 08/01/2018 at 12:16
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    What a fantastic challenge to do – $30 to explore the city that is usually expensive. Your adventure with food sounds delicious and it’s so great to see that you managed to find some affordable delights. I think the Denver Mint would be so interesting to learn how coins are made – but so good to know that you need to be there FIRST THING IN THE MORNING bright and early. I mean after all, tickets are free so I am not suprised that they sell out quite quickly. Also good to know why you ended up driving here – since you are only allowed to bring in very minimal items.

    Reply
    • 08/01/2018 at 15:03
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      Hi Soraya,
      We do wish the Mint had lockers because it would be so much easier than driving, but it’s a necessary evil if you want to have your stuff with you the rest of the day. But it is completely worth the effort. It’s an interesting process and such a beautiful building. It’s almost a shame the gorgeous insides are kept hidden away.

      Reply
  • 09/01/2018 at 07:17
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    This is so cool! It is true sometimes we don’t take time to get to know our own cities, so kudos to you for exploring Denver! The performing arts center looks like a great way to spend the day and I loved the parking tips! I am in San Francisco right now and parking fees are just ridiculous! So it’s always good to know in advance where are the good parking spots. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • 09/01/2018 at 14:26
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      Haven’t parked in San Francisco yet, but its reputation precedes it. It’s much worse than Denver at this point, but Denver is working to compete. LOL. The performing arts center is amazing. I must admit San Francisco is on my bucket list but will have to enjoy Denver for now 🙂

      Reply
  • 09/01/2018 at 09:42
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    All free options are great to do that too in one day in Denver. I loved the architecture of Denver union station. 30$ budget for full day… it sees like a joke for such an expensive city, but you have managed your budgets very well.

    Reply
    • 09/01/2018 at 14:24
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      Yukuti,

      $30 is hard for a full day in Denver especially if you wanted to do any of the paid sites. But if you stick to free stuff and shop your food carefully, it is doable 🙂

      Reply
  • 12/01/2018 at 18:26
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    This is a very interesting idea. Giving yourself a budget of $30 and exploring your hometown and sharing the ideas with others. I can’t believe food is so expensive in Denver ! Glad to have cheaper options available as per your suggestions. Thanks for this list of great things we can do on a budget 🙂

    Reply
    • 12/01/2018 at 21:05
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      Hi Medha,
      Yeah of food is pretty high here but if you look around and go into the ethnic neighborhoods, it’s possible to eat for a lot less. Of course, another option is to find a grocery store as well. It’s an expensive city but still not as bad as San Francisco or New York.

      Reply
  • 15/01/2018 at 01:51
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    It is a sin that museums in Denver are not free entry. Despite that, I would consider visiting the Federal Reserve Bank and Money Museum, and having a keen on public transportation system I would love to visit Denver’s Union Square to admire how it works. Is a good advice the one about the cheapest parking, wow, 5 bucks for all day long is not bad at all!

    Reply
    • 15/01/2018 at 15:45
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      Hey Edoardo,
      It’s not so common here in the States for museums to be free and it is a shame because it does limit people from enjoying amazing art and history. If you time a trip here right, they do have free days throughout the year. And you would definitely love Union Station.

      Reply
  • 17/01/2018 at 14:21
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    It’s quite cool that Denver has so many free things to do. Especially the money museum -admission is free and you get souvenirs. On another note. I think you guys did quite well with your budget.

    Reply
    • 17/01/2018 at 16:12
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      Free souvenirs are always nice 🙂 And if you visit during the summer, Denver really has a lot of free things to do.

      Reply

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