Every city has colorful light displays, shopping and holiday concerts. But in Denver, they’re all just a little bit unique in their own way. And that’s what we find so endearing about this city in December: somehow, even buying a gift or watching The Nutcracker feels like an only-in-Colorado experience.

Below we round up our favorite holiday happenings in the city.

Holiday Shopping

Some people are last-minute shoppers. Others have been meticulously organized with their “to get” list since last month. Whether one of these describes you (or you are somewhere in between), the city of Denver has you covered. We love walking over to Union Station to go shopping for the newest books at the Tattered Cover, for trinkets and handmade jewelry at 5 Green Boxes, and for curated art and (yes!) more jewelry at Bloom.

But no Lower Downtown shopping excursion is official until you’ve stopped in and tried on a bona fide, one-of-a-kind Western shirt at the iconic Rockmount Ranch Wear on Wazee Street. 

See the Light(s)!

Denver has always been big on light displays. Denver’s spectacular Greek-revival City and County Building in Civic Center Plaza has long been lavishly appointed for the holidays, and this year it has the towering Mile High Tree to accompany it. 

But our recommendation for light displays is on the east side of the city. First, head to Cherry Creek North — undeniably the best high-end shopping district in town — where a reported one-million holiday lights illuminate the pedestrian-friendly streets. Next up, go north a mile to the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light. This annual rite turns the already-stunning gardens into a forest of colors. The refreshments offered at the Hive Garden Bistro only add to the cozy charm. Finish your evening with an outing to Blossoms of Light with Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo — just north of the Denver Botanic Gardens —  to really embrace the season.

Holiday Performing Arts

We all like to think we’re the opposite of Ebenezer Scrooge, but perhaps that’s why his redemption in A Christmas Carol has made the play such an iconic part of the holidays. For decades, the DCPA Theatre Company has staged this play to the delight of Denverites. Also at the Denver Center for Performing Arts is Colorado Ballet’s presentation of The Nutcracker. If the exceptionally elegant dancing doesn’t move you, the superior acoustics of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House certainly will. 

The Denver Center for Performing Arts is just a 10-minute ride (or 20-minute walk) away from the Limelight Denver.

Camp Christmas

Further afield in Aurora is the Stanley Marketplace, a former ejection-seat factory turned into a renowned food hall. This holiday season, Stanley’s expansive event space has been taken over by Camp Christmas — a super kitschy, tongue-in-cheek wonderland of holiday oddities, humor and bedazzlement. We got an early sneak peak of Camp Christmas last month and it is a blast, with pun-themed Christmas trees, light displays and interactive brain teasers that will either have you laughing or befuddled (but in a good way). Order one of the holiday-themed mocktails at the start and savor the goofy side of an American Christmas landscape. Few things in Denver are better tailored for Instagram this holiday season. 

About Julia Aldrich