10 things to do in Denver for free as a student

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Are you studying in the cosmopolitan city of Denver, Colorado? As a university student, there are plenty of things to do in Denver for free — or near enough.

The “Mile-High City” was named one of the top two best destinations to live in the US by the US News & World Report in 2019. Its strategic location near the Rocky Mountain makes Denver a haven for nature lovers.

The semi-arid, four season-environment experienced in the Denver Metro region provides an ideal environment for visitors and students looking to get away from the sticky, humid subtropical climates found in the American Gulf and East Coast states.

Denver is also home to bustling attractions that give the city a vibrant and lively feel, whether it be taking a stroll and admiring the charm of the city’s historical block known as Larimer Square, to enjoying lively music venues which have seen the likes of famous celebrities perform such as rock ‘n’ roll icons The Beatles and folk music connoisseur John Denver.

The best part about Denver? It’s pedestrian and bike-friendly — splendid news for students who would like to save on transportation costs. Denver is one of the most walkable cities in the US and is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US.

Denver is a city where students get to enjoy as much playtime as much as their study time, providing a healthy work-life balance for those looking to unwind and soak in what the city has to offer. If your interest is piqued, these are the top 10 things to do in Denver.

10 things to do in Denver for free — or near enough

For those who appreciate natural landmarks: Red Rocks Amphitheatre

If you’re looking for something that stands out in Denver, you should definitely check out the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Formed by natural landmarks which consists of two monoliths called the “Ship Rock” and “Creation Rock”, the 300-foot sandstone walls provides a picturesque overview of the city of Denver and is recognised as one of the best music venues in the world.

In fact, Red Rocks Amphitheatre is one of four venues where The Beatles performed which still stands today. Red Rocks concerts have showcased musical performances from famous rock bands and solo artists such as U2, the Dave Matthews Band, Rob Thomas, Stevie Nicks, Incubus, Jimi Hendrix, and The Grateful Dead.

When not being used as a concert venue, admission is free to visit the Red Rocks Park, Amphitheatre, Visitor Centre, Trading Post and the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Red Rocks is a great place to do yoga exercises, and it’s common to see visitors jogging up and down the stairs at the amphitheatre.

If you’re looking to be more adventurous, consider hiking along the Trading Post Trail, mountain biking or maybe horseback riding along the Red Rocks Trail. Both scenic trails provide stunning views of the park which hosts a diverse range of geological formations, trees, wildflowers and wildlife.

For those who appreciate famed musicians in Colorado: The Colorado Music Hall of Fame (CMHOF)

Colorado Music Hall of Fame (CMHOF) is located at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre Trading Post. The museum is a great place to bring visiting friends and family to learn about famous music figures and institutions which have shaped the culture of Colorado’s music history.

CMHOF exhibits famous Colorado musicians such as John Denver, Dan Fogelberg, Judy Collins and the institutions such as the well-celebrated Caribou Ranch recording studio. Admission is free and the exhibits include artefacts, video biographies and written overviews that inductees have left on Colorado’s music history.

For lovers of nature and recreational outdoor activities: Cherry Creek Trail 

You don’t have to travel too far to enjoy a scenic trail in Denver. Cherry Creek Trail provides a 42-mile track that begins in Downtown Denver and continues through urban areas all the way to Cherry Creek Reservoir and Franktown.

The popular trail provides relief and tranquillity for bicyclists, joggers and scooter riders who want to get away from the busy streets and enjoy the changing sights and terrain along the way. Cherry Creek joins the South Platte River at Denver’s Confluence Park in LoDo. Here, visitors can enjoy water-based activities such as kayaking and tubing during the summertime.

For fans of the wildlife: Rocky Mountain Arsenal Mountain Wildlife Refuge

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal Mountain Wildlife Refuge provides an expansive view of various wildlife normally only accessible in the outskirts or rural part of town. However, this Wildlife Refuge can be accessed by travelling 10 miles northeast of Downtown Denver.

Enjoy the scenic views of wildlife through 20 miles of hiking trails or bicycle trails. If you prefer something more sedentary, take a 11-mile wildlife drive auto tour while listening to the Refuge podcast while basking in the gorgeous views.

You can also test your photography skills like the experts at National Geographic, photographing wildlife such as deer, bison, raptors, waterfowl, songbirds, coyotes and prairie dogs.

For those who love window shopping: 16th Street Mall

16th Street Mall is a mile-long, pedestrian-friendly mall. Known as a shopping and foodie paradise, the walkway is littered with decorative trees and potted shrubs to give it a Mediterranean feel during the day. At night, 16th Mall street is illuminated with ornamental bright lights which are hung on a string.

The street provides an amazing shopping experience for consumers with its diverse collection of 300 shops including cafes, restaurants and bars which line the street. If you’ve never seen or been on a horse carriage ride before, 16th Street Mall has plenty of services catered to this recreation.

Shopping and hopping on a horse carriage ride isn’t a free endeavour, but you are free to check out the talented street performances which include buskers and talented performing artists. There are also free shuttle buses to carry you back and forth the walkway.

Things to do in Denver for free: Watch street perfomances

One of the best things to do in Denver is watching an amazing display of street performances. Source: Donald Miralle/AFP.

For lovers of historical architecture: Denver Union Station

Denver Union Station is home to a mix of bars, restaurants and shops.

You can explore the station — which is rich in history and architecture — by joining a free tour that showcases many places of interest within Denver. There is, however, a third-party ticketing and booking system with a two US dollar booking fee per guest.

Alternatively, you can window shop at the Union Station and check out some up-and-coming retailers.

For a blend of history and modernity: Larimer Square

Going back to its earliest roots, Larimer Square is Denver’s first designated historic district. Named after the pioneering town planner General William Larimer, Larimer Square is home to first residence, city block, city hall and commercial district, dating back to the 1800s.

While the square has the best-preserved 19th-century buildings in Denver, it hosts a lively collection of clubs, bars, restaurants and independent shops with a modern appeal. While those experiences aren’t exactly free, you can take a lovely stroll along Larimer Square where you might stumble upon something you might enjoy for free, like this amazing chalk art display.

For flora lovers: Denver Botanic Gardens

If you have an immense appreciation for the natural beauty and diversity of flora, then the Denver Botanic Gardens is a must-see attraction.

Though an admission fee is typically required for entry into the botanic gardens, you can visit without paying a single cent on free days.

There are two locations: York Street, which has the Science Pyramid Exhibition, art galleries and a children’s garden; while the second location on Chatfield Farm is larger, with 700 acres displaying a diverse range of stunning flora. It is also ideal for bird-watchers.

For lovers of fascinating art collections: Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum isn’t usually free throughout the year (non-resident college students can expect to fork out some US$15 for a ticket), but there are free days where visitors can gain admission without doling out cash.

It is an opportunity not to be missed, as the art centre located at the Denver Civic Centre offers a stunning display of art from across the globe, including Oriental, Latin, and African art.

Love free samples? Visit Hammond’s Candies Factory Tour 

Established in 1920 by Carl T. Hammond Sr., Hammond’s Candy Factory started as a small family business that grew a local following. It soon expanded to become an iconic brand with international distribution.

Free tours are given to visitors at the company’s North Washington Street for half an hour to explore the way the candies are produced. Each tour can accommodate up to 50 participants, who will enjoy a walkthrough of the processes involved in making the high-quality candies and chocolate bars.

The best part? Free treats are given to visitors at the end of the tour.

Other special mentions:

There are plenty of other free things to do in Denver as a student beyond what’s been covered. Special mentions include:

 





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