Denver Christkindl Market 2020: What you need to know before you go

Standing in line for Denver’s annual Christkindl Market, it’s hard not to be reminded what year it is — especially now that the market has moved to Civic Center park to allow for more social distancing.

All around you are buildings with boarded-up windows, a remnant of the recent election and the protests that have sporadically continued since. If you happen to visit on a day when a protest is scheduled at the Capitol, your wait in line may also include large groups of police in riot gear rushing past and multiple groups of protesters marching around the area. The sound of helicopters circling overhead is inescapable. Same for the sirens as groups of riot police move from intersection to intersection, staging themselves in accordance with protesters’ movements.

Did I mention this is the scene before you even get inside the market? And would it surprise you to hear all of that was totally worth it once we got inside this little European Christmas wonderland?

If you go

Denver Christkindl Market, 101 W. 14th Ave. Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (alcohol sales end at 8 p.m. per Denver’s current last call) until Dec. 23. Admission is free.  

The Christkindl Market is a 20-year-old Christmas tradition in Denver, opening the Friday before Thanksgiving and running through Dec. 23. Usually held downtown at Skyline Park, this year’s market — with its adorable little wooden huts, each serving up treats like spaetzle, bratwurst, European chocolates, handmade goods and, yes, ample bier and gluhwein — is at Civic Center park to allow for more space (60,000 square feet of it, to be exact). The market is hosted by the German American Chamber of Commerce of Colorado and filled with small, independent businesses.

It may be very different this year — and there are a few things you’ll definitely want to know about before you go — but once inside the gates, it felt like a safe and wholesome way to put a little holly jolly into a year that could really use it. And, unlike previous years, when the market is insanely crowded and difficult to navigate, the lack of crowds inside makes for a lovely user experience.

But, as with all pandemic activities, preparation is very key.

Here’s what you need to know before you go this year:

  • You will wait in line — and maybe for a while. We arrived at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21, the day after the market opened for the season, and were in line just under 90 minutes to get in. Why so slow? The market is broken up into two “zones,” and only 75 people are allowed in each zone at a time. There’s no way around it: There will be lines, and they’ll be slower during busy hours, like evenings. But if there’s one thing we’re all accustomed to these days, it’s a pandemic line. Factor that time into your trip.
  • There are two entrances, one near the intersection of West Colfax and North Broadway, the other off of West 14th Avenue at the Greek Amphitheatre. We used the entrance at Colfax and Broadway; in hindsight, we should have scoped out the second entrance and queued up accordingly.
  • You’ll have to fill out a form for contact tracing and also sign a COVID-era waiver. While you’re waiting in line, an employee will share the QR code that enables you to do so on your phone.
  • If you visit on a day when there are protests, your time in line could be a bit more eventful. Things feel most tense when there are multiple groups of protesters marching at once, so plan accordingly and try to visit on a day when the Capitol is quiet. If riot police began to unload and move about the park, as happened during our visit, it can feel a little unnerving, but just hold your place in line and stay calm.
  • Civic Center park has its own population of daily users, and you’ll encounter them, too. Be kind. If things feel hectic at one entrance, maybe try the other.
  • Inside the gate, the market is adorable, socially distanced and festive as ever. There are plenty of tables, which you’ll need to use while eating or drinking. The food is fun and comforting (seriously, don’t skip those smoked salmon latkes) and the gluhwein goes down even smoother with a bonus shot of blackberry schnapps or spiced rum. And, of course, there are ample vendors to support with your hard-earned cash when they need it most.
  • Come into it with the right mindset. Yes, you may wait in line to get in and yes, Colfax will be Colfax. But if your Christkindl Market visit was anything like ours, you’ll be talking about this new holiday memory for many Christmases to come.

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