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Denver-for-Free: a fun-filled day of free things to do around Denver

by Diane Winger

Whether you are planning a vacation to Denver, or you’re a local looking for something new to see or do, chances are you’d like to find something for free. Good news: you’ve come to the right place!

Let’s start off our free day (if today happens to be a Tuesday during the warmer months) by dropping in at Denver Botanic Gardens. Enjoy a fitness walk through the beautiful gardens, followed by a healthy snack (also free!). To add more balance to your morning, attend the free T’ai Chi class as well. (For more information: call 720-865-3500 or visit
2010 UPDATE: The Gardens aren’t holding their fitness walks and t’ai chi classes this year. Check their website for any changes to their schedule.

That was invigorating! Now, let’s head downtown to the Colorado State Capitol Building. The distinctive dome is plated with Colorado gold. The gold has been replaced several times, using rolls of ultra-thin gold, requiring only 47 ounces of gold to coat the entire dome! As you explore the building on your own, or join a free tour, enjoy the murals, stained glass portraits, wall hanging, and presidential portraits. During the legislative session, step into the Senate or House of Representatives gallery to watch state legislators in action.

For those Coloradoans who’ve visited in the past and remember hiking up and up the spiral stairs into the dome to enjoy the views of the city and of the building below, we have some bad news. After 9/11, this part of the building was closed to visitors. The good news is that visitors are still able to stroll through much of the building to enjoy its beauty and fascinating history. (For more information: call 303-866-2604 or visit

News flash 3/2007: Tours are now available again for the Capitol Dome!  Reservations are required (2 weeks in advance)

As we approach lunchtime, how about browsing the incredible book offerings at one of the Tattered Cover bookstore locations? What’s a bookstore doing in an article about free things to do in Colorado? Well, my friends, the Tattered Cover isn’t just any bookstore. What started out over 30 years ago as a small, cozy bookshop with an eclectic selection of books evolved into an amazing place for anyone who enjoys books. Not only will you find an outstanding selection of books (over half a million in the two original locations, consisting of over 150,000 titles), but you’ll still enjoy the feeling of being in a cozy shop where you feel welcome to curl up on a sofa or sit back in a recliner to enjoy reading a book, magazine, or newspaper. This is the bookstore that some of the “big box” booksellers wish they could be.

Although lunch isn’t free, may we suggest a light meal at the in-house coffee shop. (For more information: call 303-436-1070 or

Are you up for one more tour? If your free day is a Wednesday or Saturday, and it’s now about 2:00 PM, head over to the historic Brown Palace Hotel downtown. Meet in the sitting area beside the entrance to the Ship Tavern inside the hotel, and enjoy learning some fascinating Denver history on this 45 – 60 minute free guided tour. See a hotel that has hosted kings and presidents, executives, rock stars, and even people like you and me. (For more information, call: 303-297-3111 or 800-321-2599 or

Next up: Dinosaur Ridge by Morrison. This site gives new meaning to the term “leave only footprints” when hiking! You’ll be amazed at the variety of prehistoric animal tracks, both large and small, which are available for viewing along this well-preserved site. Stop by the Visitor Center, and then take time to experience the self-guided tour which includes sixteen interpretative signs that describe fossil remains as well as other relevant features of the area. (For more information, call: 303-697-3466 or visit

From Dinosaur Ridge, it’s just a quick jaunt over to the gorgeous Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Visitor Center. From Opera to Rock, Jazz to Reggae, Folk to Swing, Classical to Country; all types of musical performances have occurred at this spectacular natural amphitheatre since the early 1900s. During the day, or late into the evening when no concert is scheduled, you can come explore this beautiful concert venue.

When you’re done exploring the amphitheatre, don’t miss the captivating Visitor Center, which opened in 2003. The Visitor Center is tucked under the seating, so it made a minimal impact on the appearance of the area. Watch a 10-minute film that describes the history – both natural and musical – of the park. Reminisce as you view concert posters from the past 40 years, see instruments belonging to favorite musicians, or use the interactive computer terminals to find out who performed here or to remember a special concert. (For more information, call: 303-295-4444 or 303-640-2637 or visit

Are you up for one final stop and a few free beers? Take a tour at one of Colorado’s best-known companies, Aviator (now known as:  MillerCoors), and enjoy up to 3 free samples of their variety of beer products (if you are over 21), or complimentary soft drinks if you are younger or prefer something non-alcoholic.

More than 250,000 people take this popular free tour each year. Participation is on a first-come, first-served basis; no reservations are taken. Your self-guided audio tour will take you through the main steps of the brewing process at the world’s largest brewery at a single site.

The tour takes 35 to 40 minutes; allow additional time to enjoy your 3 beer samples, to browse the gift shop, and sober up before you drive. (For more information: call 866-812-2337 (toll free) or 303-277-2337 (303-227-BEER) or visit

Whew! That’s enough fun for one day. Thanks for joining me.