If you’re looking for a great family vacation destination with plenty of kid-friendly activities, look no further than Denver, Colorado. The Mile High City is chock full of things to do with kids year-round. From getting up close to real mermaids, to Halloween and holiday events galore, here are 15 reasons you should put Denver on your family vacation bucket list stat.

1. Children’s Museum of Denver

Ask any parent—local or visitor—and Children’s Museum of Denver in Downtown Denver is high up on their must-visit list. Expect tons of engaging, hands-on play areas like the fire station, box canyon and altitude where your kiddo will scale three stories to a glass-capped peak with 360 degree views of the city.

What’s coming up: this fall the Museum’s Adventure Forest in Joy Park, a 500-foot long aerial adventure course opens. Other highlights this season include Trick or Treat Street, a three-day Halloween festival, and Noon Year’s Eve, a mid-day celebration on December 31.

Online: mychildsmuseum.org

 

 

2. Downtown Aquarium

Ever seen a mermaid in real life? Now’s your chance at Denver’s Downtown Aquarium. Watch as mermaids swim amongst their sea life friends, while they teach kids the importance of caring for the environment. Beyond the enchanting mermaid shows, the Aquarium boasts numerous aquatic exhibits and a restaurant that’s surrounded by a floor-to-ceiling 50,000 gallon aquarium.

What’s coming up: sign up for breakfast with Santa. These fun events happen throughout December. Learn more here.

Online: aquariumrestaurants.com/downtownaquariumdenver/

 

 

3. Union Station

Union Station is so much more than just a train station. The historic building is home to a variety of dining and shopping. Check out the weekly farmer’s market and then head over to the Tattered Covered bookstore to pick up a new bedtime book.

What’s coming up: Don your finest Halloween costumes for BOOunion, a kids Halloween parade and party happening Oct. 25 at 5 p.m. Trick-or-treat, enjoy a mini-train ride, get your face painted and partake in more fun Halloween happenings.

Online: unionstationindenver.com

 

4. Stay at the Marriott

All of this exploring means you’ll want a relaxing and welcoming place to stay. Turn to one of the Marriott International locations throughout Denver for every creature comfort your family needs. With over 15 locations in the Denver metro area, you can stay close to your favorite attractions. Click here to learn more and save up to 15% this holiday season.

 

5. The U.S. Mint

After a free, guided tour of the U.S. Mint, your kids will be able to make heads and tails of where money actually is made. Denver’s U.S. Mint produces billions of coins each year. Find out how at this tour, which is best suited for kids seven years old and up. Same-day tickets for tours are released at 7 a.m. each morning, Mon.-Thur. until tickets are “sold out.”

Online: usmint.gov/about/mint-tours-facilities/denver/visiting-the-denver-mint

 

 

6. The 16th Street Mall

For a leisurely stroller-friendly walk, head to the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long, pedestrian-friendly mall in downtown Denver. Window shop, grab a bite at one of the 42 outdoor cafes, or check out the street performers, musicians and face painters. Need a lift? Hop on the free shuttle buses that stop at every corner along the Mall.

What’s coming up: Don’t miss Denver’s beloved Parade of Lights. The annual holiday event is scheduled for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The two-mile parade route is packed with marching bands, floats and of course, Mr. Claus himself. Learn more about this spectacular event here.

Online: denver.org/things-to-do/denver-attractions/16th-street-mall/

 

 

7. Denver Zoo

Located on 80 acres right in the middle of Denver’s City Park, the Denver Zoo will get your animal-loving kiddo up close and personal with elephants, penguins and tigers (oh my!). Must visits: the Edge where your family will get as close as 12 feet to Amur tigers, the train that winds its way through the Zoo, and the Elephant Passage, which boasts two miles of passages with elephants, rhinos and tapirs rotating throughout.

What’s coming up: heading to Denver this fall or winter? Be sure to check out Boo at the Zoo and Winter Zoo Lights, both of which are popular holiday happenings. For a full event line up click here.

Online: denverzoo.org

 

 

 

8. Forney Museum of Transportation

For an outing that’ll please visitors of all ages, head to Forney Museum of Transportation where you’ll find over 600 artifacts related to transportation (think old cars, stage coaches, trains, water vehicles, planes, bicycles and more!). Ring the real bell from an old train and climb on an old model T for a photo opp. Don’t forget to stop at the map where your kids can place a pin to show where they live.

Online: forneymuseum.org

 

 

9. Hammond’s Candy Factory Tour

A free candy factory tour that welcomes kids and stroller?! Sign us up! A tour of Hammond’s Candy Factory is both educational and fun—don’t worry, you’ll leave with plenty of samples at the end. The tour lasts approximately 30 minutes (read: the perfect time for short attention spans) and will show your kids that candy doesn’t just come from the grocery store shelves. Be sure to sign up in advance to reserve your spot.

Online: hammondscandies.com

 

 

10. Denver Botanic Garden

Get lost in Denver Botanic Garden located right next to the Denver Zoo. Spanning 24 acres, the Garden is home to diverse plants from all over the world. Whether you find your zen in the Japanese Gardens or tap into your inner Monet in the Water Gardens, there’s something for everyone.

What’s coming up: The Garden hosts seasonal events throughout the year. Highlights include Glow at the Gardens celebrating the pumpkin, Dia de Los Muertos celebration, Winter Gift Market and Blossoms of Light.

Online: botanicgardens.org

 

 

11. Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Introduce your kids to the performing arts with a family-friendly show at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Upcoming live theater performances include Corduroy (runs Oct. 5-Dec. 9, 2018 at the Conservatory Theatre) and A Christmas Carol (runs Nov. 21-Dec. 24, 2018 at the Stage Theatre).

Online: denvercenter.org

 

 

12. Denver Skatepark

Break out the wheels and head Downtown to Denver Skatepark. The park spans 60,000 square feet and overlooks the Denver skyline. Open seven days a week, admission to the park is totally free. Scooters or skateboards, all gear—and all ages of kids—are welcome here.

Online: denver.org/listing/denver-skatepark/6824/

 

 

13. Little Man Ice Cream

Get a scoop with a side of nostalgia at the ever-popular Little Man Ice Cream. Choose from more unusual flavors like Earl Grey Tea & Cookies and Salted Caramel PB Cup. Or, if you’re more of a traditionalist Little Man carries flavors ranging from Vanilla Bean to Mint Chocolate Chip. If you’re going dairy-free, they even have vegan options to boot. Enjoy your cone (or cup) outside on their patio.

What’s coming up: Bookmark Little Man Ice Cream’s events calendar. They host fun family happenings including a pumpkin carving competition in October and a gingerbread house party in December.

Online: littlemanicecream.com

 

14. Butterfly Pavilion

Located 15 minutes from Downtown Denver, the Butterfly Pavilion houses 1,600 free-flying butterflies in their indoor tropical conservatory. But, butterflies aren’t the Pavilion’s only creatures. Check out Rosie, the famous tarantula and other critters like sea stars, bees and spiders.

What’s coming up: be sure to check the Pavilion’s events calendar. They host fun events, including a family-friendly evening flashlight tour that showcases the critters that make an appearance once the lights go out.

Online: butterflies.org/

 

 

15. Dinosaur Ridge

About 20 minutes west of Denver, travel back to prehistoric times to get your dinosaur fix. At Dinosaur Ridge take in a simulated dinosaur dig, touch fossils, explore geologic sites and hike where dinosaurs used to roam. Explore independently or take a guided tour. During summer months a snack shack is open or pack a picnic to enjoy in the shade near the main visitor’s center.

Online: dinoridge.org

 

The writer would like to thank Elizabeth Silva, Laura Capes and many more friends who contributed to this story.

featured photo courtesy of Mark Byzewski via flickr 

 

RELATED STORIES:

I Let My Daughter Miss a Week of School for Vacation & I’m OK with That

My Kid Won’t Remember This Trip—But She’s Coming Anyways

The Best Family Travel Blogs