Famously optimistic and outdoorsy, Boulder also has a bit of a reputation for being an expensive place to live in and visit. Rugged mountain views, easily accessible trails, a thriving food scene, and an outdoors lifestyle have made the city an attractive place for high-paying industries such as aerospace, cleantech, and software to base their operations and lure in young talent.
With the change in the demographic of residents, the cost of living has increased in tandem, and budget travelers will also feel the pinch. However, don’t let this deter you from visiting Boulder if you’re on a tight budget. This is also a college town, home to the University of Colorado Boulder and its 35,000 students, many of whom are on tight budgets themselves.
There are plenty of ways to save money and still experience the city like a local. From great food to affordable accommodations, free activities and more, here are our tips for visiting Boulder on a budget.
- Hotel or Airbnb room for two: $70-150
- Public transport day pass: $6
- Sit-down coffee: $3-4
- Cafe sandwich: $9
- All-day bikeshare rental: $10
- Restaurant dinner for two: $40 (plus drinks)
- Local craft beer: $7
- Ticket to museum or gallery: $5
Visit during in spring or fall for lower accommodation prices
Winters in Boulder see a generous amount of snowfall – perfect for ski buffs looking to hit the nearby slopes – while warm and dry summers attract hikers, bikers, runners, and climbers to the city’s trails. Both seasons are perfect times to visit Boulder, but accommodation and flight prices peak.
One of the best ways to save money on your trip is to visit Boulder during the calmer spring or fall. The weather is less predictable, with clear, sunny days mixed in with sporadic thunderstorms, snow showers and high winds, but if you’re willing to venture out, you’ll likely be able to snag a deal on a flight and a place to stay.
Watch out for big university events at weekends, however. Take a look at the University of Colorado calendar before booking your trip – if it's a big weekend for sports, Homecoming weekend in November or Family Weekend in October, prices tend to rise. On the flip side, sometimes the University offers affordable and interesting art exhibits or talks by academics to coincide with these events.
Seek out cheap room rates or stay in the Boulder hills
There are so many incredible things to do in Boulder that you're not likely to be spending too much time in your hotel room, but for the times that you do, there are a few great, affordable, and comfortable options for a place to hang your hat.
Check out Homewood Suites Boulder and Basecamp Boulder for lower-than-average room rates without compromising on standards or amenities. And be sure to browse Airbnb for cheap, unique stays in cottages, houses and cabins just outside Boulder – a great way to experience the mountains like a local.
Explore Boulder by pedal power
One of the best ways to get to know Boulder is to traverse the city by bike. With more than 300 miles of bikeways and an extensive, well-connected network of multi-use paths, it’s incredibly easy to get around town without having to rent a car or purchase a transit pass.
Renting a bike at one of the specialist cycle shops in town can be expensive, even for just a day, but help is at hand. B-Cycle is a local non-profit bike share scheme, will all-day rentals for just $10. Simply download the app and purchase a Day Pass to get an unlimited number of 30-minute trips in town for 24 hours.
Ride the bus around Boulder
Another fantastic way to get around Boulder on a budget is to take advantage of the city’s stellar public transportation system. The RTD bus system is reliable, convenient, and cost-effective, and Boulder's HOP bus routes can get you to just about all of the town’s most popular tourist attractions, including edge-of-city locations such as Chautauqua Park, which is also served by a free shuttle bus from downtown at weekends.
A one-way ride on RTD services costs just $2.80, but day passes allow for unlimited rides for an entire day $6 ($10.50 including airport routes) – broadly the same price as one round-trip journey.
Take in Boulder views with a picnic in the park
Boulder’s multi-use paths provide access to beautiful, expansive parks with epic views of the mountains. Head to a local grocery store for some cheap picnic fare, lay out a blanket in the grass, and enjoy lunch while listening to the lullaby of trickling Boulder Creek. Favorite local picnic spots include Scott Carpenter Park (with its outdoor pool), Eben G Fine Park and Martin Park. Bring a ball, a yard game, a frisbee or a good book and make a day of it.
Take a hike and enjoy Boulder's mountain scenery for free
Arguably the best free thing to do in Boulder is to take a hike on one of the city’s incredible trails. Just about every trail around town will get you an incredible view of the Flatirons and surrounding mountains, and the foliage along the trails is stunning in every season – especially when covered in a layer of snow in winter.
If you’re looking for something easy and traditionally Boulder, try out one of the popular trails from Chautauqua Park to locations such as Royal Arch, Mallory Cave or Enchanted Mesa. Free shuttle buses run here from town from the Memorial Day weekend (May) to the Labor Day weekend (September).
If you’re looking for less crowded hikes, check out trails in Eldorado Canyon State Park such as the paths to Doudy Draw or the Continental Divide Overlook. Eldorado is also a nationally famous climbing and bouldering area.
Seek out inexpensive eateries
When it comes to eating well without breaking the bank, there are plenty of places to choose from in Boulder. Just northeast of Boulder in Longmont, Jefe’s Tacos and Tequila offers $1 taco Tuesdays, where you can fill a plate with delicious tacos for just a few bucks.
Downtown, Village Coffee Shop has a full grilled cheese sandwich meal for just $3.95, and both Illegal Pete’s Mexican restaurant and Zoe Ma Ma Chinese restaurant have budget menus where everything is under $10. There are many other places to find a cheap, filling meal in town – just do some menu browsing in advance, and try to get into some of these places earlier in the day to avoid long wait times.
Hit up Boulder's bars during happy hour
Boulder is famous for its thriving food and drink scene, and downtown happy hours deliver plenty of bargains. Head over to one of Boulder's restaurants or bars in the early evening after a day of playing in the mountains to secure discount prices on dinner and drinks.
Mountain Sub Pub & Brewery has a happy hour that includes $5 pizzas and $3.50 flagship beers, while T/ACO offers $2.50 street tacos, $3.50 draft beers and $4.50 house margaritas, and Japango offers $2 off special sushi rolls and $4 to $8 off bar menu items. Check out this list of all the downtown happy hours for more options!
Sample the season’s bounty at Boulder's farmer’s market
The Boulder County Farmer’s Market runs every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon from April through November, and it’s a great pocket-friendly outing for locals and visitors alike. Following 13th St, between Canyon Blvd and Arapahoe Ave, the market is packed with local produce and it's a great place to meet the farmers who grew it.
Be sure to try out products from up-and-coming natural food brands – an industry for which Boulder is a national hub. Load up on free samples and take a seat in the park nearby to relax and people-watch along the creek for a tasty, entertaining morning or afternoon activity that won’t cost you a penny.
Check out Boulder's free museums and galleries
Boulder has a rich and diverse arts and culture scene, and it's quite budget-friendly. A handful of the museums in town are free, including the University of Colorado-run CU Art Museum and CU Museum of Natural History.
Looking beyond the university museums, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art has an admission fee of just $2. And the Dairy Arts Center – a popular local venue for performances, events, gallery exhibitions, and film screenings – is open every day and there is only a $5 requested donation to visit their galleries.
Attend a free event or festival
The City of Boulder puts on several free public events every year that offer a sampling platter of local food, drinks, arts, crafts and culture. One of the most popular local events is the Boulder Creek Festival, which takes place every year at the beginning of the summer.
Come for free live music and performances, a crafts and artisans marketplace, family activities and a selection of local food trucks – all set up along the Boulder Creek, which you can wade into or tube down as part of the festivities. Not visiting town during the summer? Discover more popular, free public events on the city’s official events calendar.