Before I moved to Colorado I had never thought about visiting downtown Denver with my kids for fun.
To be honest, the same was true for Italy until I moved there. Yup, I have lived in Italy. And that turned out to be absolutely phenomenal.
It takes courage though, to take that step. To be brave to do something out of the ordinary. I didn’t plan on going to Italy for vacation ever, let alone live there. But I did it anyway.
I don’t know about you, but even though I am adventurous, my family visited the same few locations every year.
So that kind of stuck with me. That is what you do right? You repeat the patterns you were taught.
- What was your travel experience growing up?
- Is your experience different from what your kids are exposed to?
- Let me know in the comments!
Now that I am living in Boulder Colorado, we are occasionally drawn to visit downtown Denver with our kids and enjoy the many fun family attractions, like Elitch Gardens or the Children’s Museum.
Especially as an expat and a homeschool mom, there is so much value in field trips or in traveling in general.
For a city trip, you can easily fill a weekend of fun family activities in downtown Denver or even a week and explore the surroundings of Denver too.
Denver, also known as the Mile-High City, is located at 5280 feet at the base of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It appeals to millennials and families due to the access to outdoor recreation.
The downtown area has been considerably updated in the past couple of years, which you can experience by visiting Denver Union Station.
It makes it a fun place to explore and experience the culture with the family and the 300+ days of Colorado sunshine is a welcome bonus.
10 Best Things to do in Downtown Denver With Kids
There are so many fun things to do and I am here to share my top 10 of fun activities and destinations in Downtown Denver with kids.
It was a challenge to only pick 10 and I might even have snuck in a couple extra just for you!
#1 Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus
Museums targeted to children like these were not a thing when I was growing up. When we first visited this museum, we all felt like kids in a candy store. There was so much to see and do.
Over the past couple of years, they made some changes and additions to the Children’s Museum in Denver and it got even better.
To name a few things. There is a fire truck, which is a big hit with my boys, a climbing tower, water play inside and outside (so bring dry clothes just in case), lots of science discovery areas, a tinker area, a play and picnic area outside and a zipline and their latest addition… a huge Adventure Forest.
On the first Tuesday afternoon of the month from 4 pm-8 pm it is free. So if you plan on going at that time, expect it to be busy. For more information visit the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus.
#2 Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park
Going to Elitch Gardens is a highlight for my kids. With a dedicated Kiddie Land and waterpark, this theme park has something to offer for everyone. And from Union Station, it is only one stop on the Light Rail.
If you have special needs, make a stop at Guest Services and they will help you out. Our experience up till now with services for our special needs kids have been excellent. For more information visit Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park.
#3 Denver Zoo
We go to Denver Zoo rain or shine. Since we are in Colorado we are lucky to have lots of days with sunshine, but even on a cold, sunny or snowy day, we love to explore the zoo.
It is interesting to see how animals react to different weather circumstances. If you visit the zoo on your birthday you get free entrance, an ice cream cone, a free ride on the train or the carousel and a discount at the gift shop. For more information visit Denver Zoo.
#4 Denver Museum of Nature & Science
No trip to downtown Denver with kids would be complete without visiting the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
If you can’t travel the world then visit this museum. It will not only show you animals from all over the world, it will also allow you to travel through space and time.
You can imagine why this is one of our favorite places to visit. Besides going to the library for books, we go here to have visual experiences.
When we were studying Egypt, we went here to visit the Egyptian exhibition. When we were studying Vikings, they had a traveling exhibition and so on.
The museum has an IMAX 3D theater, a planetarium, a discovery zone for hands-on experiences for kids, just to name a few things. The view from the deck is also a must-see!
For more information visit the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
#5 The 16th St Mall bus and explore LoDo (Lower Downtown)
Do you want to spend the day shopping?
Explore the 16th St Mall in Downtown Denver and hop on the free Mall Bus. I don’t know about you, but my kids love riding public transport. While you are on 16th St you can visit the Denver Mint for a 45-minute tour and learn all about the history of our money (dollar). Tours are available Mon–Thurs. from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information visit Denver Mint.
If you love books, pay a visit to the Tattered Cover Book Store. They also host lots of free children’s events, so it is worthwhile to check out their website.
Wander around LoDo (Lower Downtown) at Larimer Street and enjoy Larimer Square. For me, it has a little bit of a European feel.
#6 Denver Union Station
My kids and I have different reasons why we like this place. They like it because they love public transport and it is this great hub, plus there is a splash pad outside. I like it because I enjoy architecture. They did a beautiful job renovating this building and there are lots of options to eat there. Being in this building and looking at it makes me feel nostalgic, it brings me back to the olden days and I wonder what it was like. For more information visit Union Station Denver.
#6.1 The Brown Palace
When you love history and architecture, bring a visit to The Brown Palace. Twice a week they offer a 75-minute hotel tour, which are complimentary for overnight hotel guests. But you can walk up to the concierge and ask for the tour. Tours are offered on Wednesdays and Saturday. When you visit The Brown Palace on any other time, they have a self-guided tour available. Check details here.
#7 Denver Art Museum
With an art collection from all over the world and a lot of kid activities throughout the museum, this is fun for young and old. Free for kids every day and free for everyone on every first Saturday of the month it is made accessible to most families. For more information visit the Denver Art Museum homepage.
#8 Denver Botanic Gardens
Who doesn’t love to explore a beautiful garden? To wander around and make “The Secret Garden” come to life. The Denver Botanic Gardens have two locations: York Street and Chatfield Farms. Up until now, we have only been to York Street, where depending on the time we explore the whole Botanic Garden or only the Children’s Garden.
Every time we spend time here, it feels like a vacation. For SNAP EBT cardholders, the entrance fee is $1.- per person, up to 10. For more information visit Denver Botanic Gardens.
#9 Downtown Aquarium
This is the place my kids absolutely love! Why is it my number 9? Because of the entrance fee.
If you want to go here and are planning on multiple things, look into the Denver CityPass, which I mention below. We had a membership for one year and we went almost every week.
It is a small aquarium, so if you have been to an aquarium before it’s good to realize this. My husband and I have been to a couple and we both were not impressed with the size. However, we love how cozy it is and how friendly the people are and often we have the place to ourselves, because… when you arrive 10 minutes before closing time, they stay open until you leave! Isn’t that awesome!
My kids love that they can feed the stingrays and are excited about the flood experience, the tigers, the sharks, and the mermaids. The restaurant has great food and the mermaid show is darling. For more information visit Downtown Aquarium
The Denver Trolley stops right in front of the Downtown Aquarium and is a fun and educational historical tour of Denver. It offers a seasonal service. You can find more information here.
#10 State Capitol
We love teaching our kids about culture and country while on a trip. We like to visit churches and official buildings and learn about the way things work and people who live there. Colorado’s state capitol is a beautiful building!
There are free tours Monday through Friday but you can also walk around on your own, making it a great downtown Denver destination with kids. The last tour ends at 3pm and the stairs to the top of the dome close at 4pm. For more information visit Colorado State Capitol.
More Downtown Denver Tips
Invest in a Citypass Denver
When you are preparing for your visit to Denver, it might be worthwhile to invest in a CityPASS, especially when you like to go to Downtown Aquarium since admission seems to be more pricey there. Your CityPass is valid for 7 days and you can choose to visit 3, 4 or 5 attractions. For attraction options and prices click here.
If you already have a membership to your local museum or science center, check the reciprocity. It might save you some money.
Where to stay in downtown Denver with kids
Disclosure: The author received a sponsored stay at the Hyatt Denver. All opinions are the author’s.
Easily located in Downtown Denver and within walking distance of 16th St Mall, we stayed at Grand Hyatt Denver Downtown. I like staying at Grand Hyatt because of the service and the quality of their beds and pillows.
When I’m away from home I want to make sure that my nights are excellent and I am well rested so I can enjoy my trip. The rooms were clean and spacious with a sitting space and a desk. I really liked the bathroom with the mirror.
The staff at Grand Hyatt Denver Downtown were super friendly and helpful.
Another thing I enjoy about Grand Hyatt is their Grand Club. They offer tea, coffee, and juice throughout the day. In the morning there is a wonderful buffet breakfast. There was a lot I could choose from as a celiac warrior. Which can be tricky. But I was really happy with the breakfast options and the food throughout the day.
Above all, the people that work here are so friendly. They saw to all our needs. And that service is what makes us come back to Grand Hyatt.
Overall the food was excellent. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to eat out. If you do, there are lots of great dining options in the nearby area.
There is a gym and a small-sized swimming pool, which is great for kids.
If you are a runner or a tennis player, this hotel is for you. They have an outdoor running track and a tennis court on the 4th floor. It is amazing!
Additional Tips for Getting the Most out of your Downtown Denver Trip with Kids
- Take the Light Rail from the airport to Downtown Denver
- Visit Casa Bonita, not for the food but for the experience! For the Casa Bonita South Park episode S7E11 click here.
- If you have a dinosaur lover, plan a visit to Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison. It is an outdoor museum and a visitor center. Real dinosaurs were found here in the late 1800s. You can still see real footprints. A tour is well worth it, although you can do it on your own (free) as well.
- Close to Dinosaur Ridge is Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre also in Morrison. This beautiful naturally formed outdoor venue is a gem to visit.
- Visit Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave in Golden and experience the Wild West.
- Drive around Rocky Mountain National Park, see if you can spot some wildlife and go on a hike at Bear Lake to Alberta Falls. The first time we drove around Rocky Mountain National Park, we spotted so many animals. Owls, elk, mule deer, yellow-bellied marmots even moose. It was amazing. Depending on the time of year Trail Ridge Road may be open. Visit Hidden Valley in wintertime for some fun family sledding time.
- Drive to Colorado Springs for the day (leave early) and visit the Garden of the Gods. A beautiful, naturally formed park. While you are in Colorado Springs, you can hop over to visit the Airforce Academy and see Cadet Chapel as well.
- If you have time and want to add a day of skiing with kids, Keystone is the place to be. It is a very kid-friendly area with a great ski & snowboard school. For more tips on skiing with kids click here.
Have fun and let me know how your trip was!