Thousands of Farolitos Light Up This New Mexico Town This Christmas Season

In Albuquerque, gaze at this seasonal display of lanterns, see flamenco dancers, hit the bike trails, and more.

Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico
Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico | Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash
Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico | Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash
Welcome to Two Days Away, our series featuring weekend-long itineraries within a five-hour drive of your city—because sometimes we all just need a little adventure fix.

Thanks to a certain television series (or two), Albuquerque’s tourism sector draws plenty of curious travelers discovering the area for the first time. But any resident will tell you that ABQ was worth visiting long before anyone wanted to check out Jesse Pinkman’s house. In fact, the city has always been one of the Southwest’s most underrated gems, teeming with culture, exceptional dining, and award-winning bars.

It’s incredibly easy to spend a weekend in ABQ: The drive from Phoenix is very straightforward, and the airport is small and simple to navigate with quick flights from Phoenix. However you do it, get to ABQ and experience it for yourself: You’ll wonder why you’ve never been before.

Travel Time:

6.5 hours from Phoenix, Arizona by car.
6.5 hours from Denver, Colorado by car.

Luminaria in the streets of Old Town, Albuquerque. | Courtesy of via Visit Albuquerque

If you don’t do anything else: Celebrate Las Posadas at Christmastime

The strong religious and cultural influences of Mexico and Spain are most prominent during the holiday season, when the Las Posadas celebration is in full swing. The Christmas season event found across Mexico is traditionally celebrated for nine days, from December 16 through December 24, to represent the nine months Jesus was in the womb. In Albuquerque, most locals only celebrate on Christmas Eve, when carolers go door to door acting out the story of Mary and Joseph. Everyone also celebrates with food and more music. Check local parishes, including the historic San Felipe de Neri, for Las Posadas processional events.

All over Old Town, you can find luminaria (also called farolito) displays, which are small paper lanterns commonly used to decorate at Christmas. Old Town, the first neighborhood of Albuquerque, has been the heart of the city for over three centuries, so take some time to stroll around the area and enjoy the glowing lights.

Photo by Kyle Hinkson on Unsplash

Fill your days:

Outdoors activities in Albuquerque

Albuquerque is the land of the balloon (and host of world’s biggest hot air balloon festival each year). Visitors can set sail in the colorfully topped baskets, with plenty of outlets offering the experience. The largest of those, Rainbow Ryders, has over 40 years of providing hot air balloon experiences under its belt. You can do sunrise or sunset flights, but it is very hard to beat the quiet simplicity of sun rays rising over the Sandia Mountains.

With over 400 miles of paths and trails, it’s also easy to soak up the city on two wheels. Start with the 16-mile-long Paseo del Bosque Trail, popular for its mix of both natural and cultural landmarks to stop and explore. Didn’t bring a bike? There are plenty of rental shops around and if you fancy a guided tour instead of a solo ride most offer those too. Routes Bicycle Tours and Rentals offers a full range of rental bikes plus numerous tour options that even very casual bicyclists can enjoy, including the most delectable ABQ Bike and Taco Tour.

Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque | Courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department | Visit Albuquerque

Cultural destinations in Albuquerque

Albuquerque is North America’s flamenco capital—and the University of New Mexico even offers a minor in it. The National Institute of Flamenco offers plenty of opportunities to experience the highly expressive Spanish dance yourself, including Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque shows every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Hotel Albuquerque’s intimate and purposefully built flamenco space. The Friday and Saturday shows include a four-course, prix fixe Spanish dinner.

For a look into Albuquerque’s Native heritage, head to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The center provides a fascinating look into the history of New Mexico’s Pueblo tribes, along with pieces by Pueblo artists and vivid murals around the complex. You can also try some Indigenous dishes at the onsite restaurant, Indian Pueblo Kitchen, or at least take a treat home from the bakery case.

Meanwhile, the National Hispanic Cultural Center is a great way to both enjoy community events and learn about Hispanic influences. The campus is huge, with a performing arts center, art museum, and educational building, but one of the most unique parts is the library. Its impressive historical collection includes a substantial genealogy room, with materials that can help those with Hispanic heritage trace their roots.

Courtesy Sawhill Market

Eat, drink, and sleep

Restaurants and bars in Albuquerque

With a cuisine rich in flavors that bring together Spanish, Mexican, and Indigenous influences, it’s virtually impossible to not get amazing food in Albuquerque. Start your day with some seriously delicious and old school New Mexican food at Barelas Coffee House. The small restaurant has been serving the local community for decades, and you can’t miss the huevos rancheros or carne adovada for breakfast.

Head to Campo at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm for one of the most in-demand dinner reservations in town—rightfully so, because the menu is loaded with local ingredients. For something a little more laidback, try Sawmill Market, the state’s first food hall. It houses 27 local merchants hawking cocktails, wine, and beer; Mexican street fare like crispy, chocolate-dipped churros; and the unmatchable red and green chile emblematic of New Mexican cuisine. For a more modern take, try rooftop restaurant Level 5, where executive chef Marc Quinoñes spins a refreshing take on New Mexican ingredients. It’s the perfect place to take in the view of the city alongside sunset cocktails and fried quail coated in blue corn and buttermilk. Plus, there’s a killer chicken wing decked out in a piñon gremolata.

To satisfy a sweet craving, something legendary should do the trick: Try Golden Crown Panaderia for scratch-made biscochitos. New Mexico’s state cookie since 1989, the shortbread-like sweets are rich with flavors of anise, sugar, and cinnamon. The decades-old institution even installed a cookie ATM so customers could get their biscochito fix 24/7. (Don’t pass up the pizza with green chile crust either.)

The bar scene in ABQ is strong. This year, Tales of the Cocktail named the bar team at Happy Accidents. With in-house distillation and a hyper-focus on cocktail perfection, it’s absolutely worth checking out. Plus, its Central Avenue location makes it a great launchpad to check out some of the other bars in town. Stop in at Teddy Roe’s and sip on the seasonally changing That Good Vodka Drink while you check out the historical articles and pictures dotting the small speakeasy. For a good craft beer, head to Bow and Arrow Brewing Co., a German-style beer hall founded by two Native females offering a rotating selection of local brews. And to get a fill of local gin and wine, try Town and Ranch Lounge, which is owned by Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm. The onsite distillery’s two gins are available alongside thoughtfully created cocktails and New Mexican wines.

Los Poblanos hotel in a field of lavender
Courtesy of Los Poblanos

Where to stay in Albuquerque

To stay near the historic Old Town of Albuquerque, book a room at either Hotel Chaco or Hotel Albuquerque. Sitting next to each other, both luxury hotels are just a 10-minute walk to the shops and restaurants of Old Town, as well as the Sawmill Market. For some peace and quiet outside of town, stay at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm, where the rooms look onto lavender fields and peacocks wake up guests. And to be in the heart of Route 66 and Nob Hill, stay at the very eclectic and fun Hotel Zazz, which features bright colors, retro finishes, a disco ice machine room, a magic giraffe statue that opens a secret bar door, and more to make it unlike anywhere else you’ve ever stayed.