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If you are staying in Denver for a weekend or a few days on a budget, here are top attractions to do in Denver or on daytrips from Denver. And best of all they are free (or almost free). Create your own budget weekend by combining some free city sites with one or two daytrips as suggested below.
I have updated this as of May 08, as some of the information was outdated.
Climb up the stairs at the outside entrance and you will be exactly one mile above sea level in the Mile High City! Enter the building and request a free tour of the history and architecture, including fascinating information about the unique gold-leaf dome. Free tours are offered M-F. Note last tour is at 3:30 PM. No reservations required.
Edit May 08: Since writing, they have resumed the capitol dome tours (go up to top of gold leaf dome from inside). These are also free, M-F, last tour 2 PM. Reservations required (you can still do the regular historical tour without reservations as long as not a large group.)
Check out the location in LoDo (downtown Denver). Amazing selection of books in an historic building, with lots of nooks and crannies for curling up. Perfect for escaping the occasional Denver thunderstorm. And all for free (until you find some books you can't live without).
This shopping "mall" is actually mostly an outdoor pedestrian shopping area. Shop 'til you drop, and best of all when your feet get tired, the buses running along the course of the mall are free!
Here is a place where you can pinch a penny while finding out how a penny is made! The Denver mint offers free tours Monday-Friday. Note that the last tour is at 2:00 PM. Reservations are needed and can be made via the website (some walk-up availability MAY be possible based on space available if you don't have reservations) and security is tight, but it is worth it for the up close and fascinating history on our US currency.
Less than an hour west of Denver on I-70 is a free place to view dinosaur fossils. Stop at the visitor center (9-5 M-Sa, 12-5, Su) to pick up a self-guide ($2.00) and explore prehistoric remains and prints. Also near there you can view the geological stratas that occured during the upheaval of the Rocky Mountains.
Although concerts in the specatular red rocks ampitheater may cost a pretty penny, you can always visit during the day for free! Gorgeous brilliant red rock formations and trails. Plus there is a free hour-long tour with information on geology as well as the famous musical concert history of the park at the free visitor center. From here consider taking the back road to Evergreen through bear creek canyon for a drive that rivals any National Park drive with no Park fees!
Edit May 08: They now charge for the tour (10 AM daily), but visitor center/entrance to park is still free.
Evergreen has a gorgeous lake with free access. Walk around it and relish the surrounding mountains reflecting over the surface. You can also fish the trout-stocked lake for free with a license and your own equipment (or rented elsewhere) . Also browse the cute downtown and scout one of many inexpensive places for a quick lunch. When heading back towards Denver along I-70, don't forget to pull off at the Genesee exit and observe a herd of buffalo grazing on the north side of the interstate.
Also, less than one hour west of Denver (and on your way back from Evergreen), take a free 45-minute tour of the Coors Brewing Company in Golden and learn how the beer is brewed. At the end get free samples!
Edit May 08 Tour days have changed:
Coors Brewery Tour hours:
Thursdays - Mondays, 10:00am - 4:00pm,
Sundays, 12:00pm - 4:00pm.
We will be closed for tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and major holidays.
Perhaps instead of heading west from Denver, you might fancy a daytrip south to Colorado Springs. In the Garden of the Gods, you will find spectacular rock formations, and best of all the park has no entrance fees. The visitor center offers free 20-minute nature programs. For a nominal fee there is a movie at the visitor center ($2.00 adult/$1.00) child. 30 minute bus tours are also offered ($5.00 adult/$2.50 Child).
Want a day trip North of Denver to the beautiful and ecclectic Boulder area? Walking on the pearl street mall and viewing the scenery is free, but another free attraction is the Celestial Tea Factory tour. See the factory in operation and have a sample.
Tours depart hourly:
Monday-Friday: 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Saturday: 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.