12 ways to experience Denver on a budget


Denver is a budget-friendly destination when compared to its Rocky Mountain neighbors like Aspen and Vail (and especially so when compared to much bigger metro areas like New York and Los Angeles).

But as this mid-sized city’s profile continues to rise, so do prices. If you wanted to, you could easily drop a hefty chunk of change on a luxurious Mile High City vacation.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. Denver still offers plenty in the way of affordable activities, eats and transportation. If you’re hoping to do Colorado’s capital city on the cheap, here are some tips for keeping more money in your pocket.

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Daily costs in Denver

  • Hostel room: $45–75
  • Basic room for two: $175–500
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): $100–380
  • Public transit ticket: $3–5.25
  • Coffee: $4
  • Sandwich: $10–20
  • Dinner for two: $50–100
  • Beer at the bar: $6 

Average daily cost: $300–450

Downtown Union Station is well connected, so you can get everywhere in Denver without a car © georgeclerk / Getty Images

Skip the rental car

Between gas, parking and rental fees, the costs of renting a car in Denver can really add up. But the truth is, you don’t really need one. From Denver International Airport, hop aboard the A Line train, which will drop you right downtown at Union Station for just $10.50. From here, the entire world of Denver public transit opens up to you, including buses that can take you up into the mountains. In the city, you can also ride shared electric bikes and electric scooters via Lyft and Lime.

Avoid flying to Denver during ski season

Winter in Denver is a bit of a paradox. Flight prices tend to be high as skiers and snowboarders descend upon Denver International Airport, then head up into the Rockies to hit the slopes. But because many travelers skip Denver and head straight for the mountains, lodging in the Mile High City tends to be more affordable in the winter. (And if you’re hoping to ditch the crowds, winter is also one of Denver’s least busy seasons.) From December through March, driving or taking a train — like Amtrak’s California Zephyr route — are likely your most budget-friendly transportation options.

Go for craft beers, not cocktails

Colorado’s craft beer scene is legendary, and Denver is right in the middle of the action. Though you’ll pay between $4 and $7 for a pint of craft beer, that’s still much cheaper than between $15 to $20 for a craft cocktail. And if you find a style you really like, many craft breweries will sell you cans, bottles, crowlers or growlers to take back to your hotel, which are even cheaper options than ordering what’s on draft at the bar.

Bunk up with friends

Denver has many affordable hostels, such as Hostel Fish, 11th Avenue Hostel and Ember Hostel. But a growing number of traditional hotels are also starting to offer some budget-friendly room configurations that allow multiple friends or family members to stay together and split costs in a private space. Rooms with bunk beds, for instance, are available at the Ramble Hotel, the Maven Hotel, the Eddy Taproom and Hotel and the Rally Hotel, to name a few. (These are also great for families, whether traveling on a budget or not.)

A strip of neon lights mark the way to a series of restaurants lining a road at night in a city
Denver’s food scene is strong, and there are many great affordable places to eat © John Coletti / Getty Images

Opt for more casual dining

The Denver food and beverage scene is on the rise, with numerous fine-dining restaurants opening up their doors in the Mile High City in recent years (and catching the eye of the James Beard Foundation and the Michelin Guide). But while multi-course tasting menus with wine pairings are becoming more and more prevalent, you can still find plenty of casual, affordable options in town. Head to one of the many Denver-area food halls — like Avanti Food & Beverage, Edgewater Public Market, Stanley Marketplace, Mango House and Denver Central Market — for tasty bites from dozens of vendors, many of them serving up diverse, international fare. You’ll also usually find a food truck parked in front of many Denver breweries.

Check out the farmers market and cook for yourself

Denver has a wide array of lodging options equipped with kitchens, from vacation rentals and traditional long-term hotel chains to trendy, modern options like the Catbird Hotel, which even includes half-teaspoon portions of various cooking spices in its cleverly designed studios. Even better, hit one of Denver’s farmers markets and cook with fresh, Colorado-grown ingredients for an even more authentic experience. Union Station Farmers Market, the City Park Farmers Market and the Cherry Creek Fresh Market are just a few of your options.

Another cheap way to combine entertainment with food is to head to one of Denver’s many “u-pick” orchards and farms, which are especially fun for little ones. You only pay for the fruits and veggies you pick and take home (usually by the pound, so be careful not to overload your basket).

Head to the suburbs

Denver, like many metros, is surrounded on all sides by smaller cities, like Arvada, Wheat Ridge, Aurora, Edgewater and Littleton — and they’re far from being boring, cookie-cutter bedroom communities. Many have walkable downtowns, local shops and restaurants, thriving arts scenes and funky neighborhoods. By and large, they also tend to be more economical than downtown Denver and its adjacent neighborhoods. Staying outside the city center — or even just taking a day trip to an adjoining city — can help you keep costs in check while also offering a glimpse of what’s beyond the well-known tourist attractions.

Take advantage of free samples

Though freebies alone won’t sustain you, they do offer a good opportunity to try before you buy so you don’t end up wasting your money on something you don’t like. The vast majority of Denver’s many craft breweries will let you sample as many craft beers as you want (though the expectation is that you’ll eventually find one you like and buy a pint or two). You can also get samples during a free tour of Hammond’s Candies factory.

A father has fun helping his toddler daughter who is jumping up the stairs at Red Rock Park, Colorado
Head out to Red Rocks for your exercise, as the Denver locals do © Layland Masuda / Getty Images

Work up a sweat

You don’t need to spend money to go to the gym while visiting Denver. Many hotels have fitness centers, and even if you’re staying at a vacation rental or hostel without one, there are plenty of free workout options in the Mile High City. You could, of course, just head outside and hit one of the city’s hiking and biking trails. But to sweat like many Denver residents do, head to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre and join the folks running, lunging and burpee-ing their way up and down the steep rows of seats at this outdoor concert venue. You’ll also find an array of free workout sessions all over town, especially during the warmer months. Denver is also home to numerous free meetup groups for runners, hikers, cyclists and nearly every other sport or activity you can imagine.

Hit the thrift shop for souvenirs

Search for budget-friendly souvenirs to take back home with you by visiting second-hand shops like Mile High Thrift, Rags, Common Threads, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Goodwill and many others. Though you have to pay to get in ($2 to $3 per person), Mile High Flea Market is also a great place to score deals and do some fun people-watching.

Catch a show

If you love music, comedy and other types of entertainment (and you’re not too picky about who’s performing), you can skip the pricey tickets at venues like Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, Ball Arena and Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre. Many Denver-area bars, restaurants and breweries have some form of free entertainment nearly every night of the week to get customers through the door. In the summer, you can also catch free concerts at City Park Jazz, Levitt Pavilion and several other recurring series around town. 

Mark your calendar for free days

Hopping from museum to museum can be expensive. But Colorado’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) — a regional tax district that supports the arts — sponsors an array of free days at Denver-area venues, including the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, just to name a few. Of course, the timing of your trip will need to align, but it’s worth taking a few minutes to check the free day calendar to see if you can save a few bucks during your vacation. Denver also has tons of free things to do year-round.

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