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    Albuquerque in New Mexico: what to see between Old Town and Balloon Festival

    Who I am
    Martí Micolau

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    In this article we talk about Albuquerque, affectionately renamed ABQ by the locals, the capital of Bernalillo County and the largest city in New Mexico. Let's go and discover all the secrets of this place that knows how to reserve many surprises for those who want to visit it.

    It's nice when dreams come true; finally in our itinerary along the west coast we arrived to visit New Mexico, defined as "Land of Enchantment”(Land of enchantment) and there could be no more appropriate definition. Our mind is now full of indelible memories of the wonders of this great state, land of Indians and cowboys, rodeos and western styles, adobe buildings, enchanting rock formations, plateaus called mesa, gypsum dunes, artifacts in turquoise, villages called pueblo , Navajo, Apache and Zuni handicrafts, but also the land of red pepper (the chili hanging in the form of braids) and mother road 66.

    Despite being quite large, Albuquerque is not plagued by the hustle and bustle of other cities in the country; you perceive the activity but also a pleasant air of tranquility and its lively Old Town, always crowded, you never feel uncomfortable. The city embraces us with its mix of modern, Hispanic and native, and it's a real treat. Coming from the north along the I-25, the skyline appears almost suddenly because in downtown there are few buildings that can be defined as skyscrapers and those that are there are not high enough to be seen in the distance, but coming from other areas , for example from the west or from the south, you can better see the skyline of the city center.


    • How to reach it and how to move around the city
    • Map of Albuquerque with its attractions
    • We visit the Old Town of Albuquerque
    • Downtown and other attractions
    • L’Albuquerque di Breaking Bad
    • International Balloon Fiesta and Albuquerque events
    • Shopping tips
    • The best places to eat
    • Where to sleep in Albuquerque
    • Excursions from Albuquerque
      • Santa Fe
      • Acoma Pueblo

    How to reach it and how to move around the city

    To reach Albuquerque you can refer to his airport international Sunport (2200 Sunport Blvd SE) taking into account that it does not operate direct flights from Europe. About 6 and a half hours away the Denver International airports (8500 Peña Blvd.) and Phoenix Sky Harbor (3400 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.) instead operate direct flights from Europe.

    we recommend to rent a car to be more independent both in the city and in making excursions. But there are still no problems for those who do not want to drive. You can move around through the service of bus named Albuquerque Ride o ART (Albuquerque Rapid Transit).

    Map of Albuquerque with its attractions

    We visit the Old Town of Albuquerque

    Oddities aside, the most characteristic and consequently the most touristic neighborhood in Albuquerque is the Old Town. It is not very extensive and develops around the Old Town Plaza which houses a gazebo, a focal point for folkloristic shows and performances, for example by Native Americans and mariachis. The buildings are almost all in adobe, many with arcades very useful to provide shade to the natives intent on selling their handcrafted creations, especially jewelry.

    With the same architectural structure, the square stands out church of San Felipe de Neri (2005 N. Plaza / Monday-Friday 9-16.30, Saturday 9-17) founded in 1706 with interiors in Spanish colonial style, managed by Franciscan missionaries. The building creates a nice color contrast with the blue sky. The cloister develops on one side of the church.

    The Old Town is cheerful, colorful and lively, there is a great coming and going of people, visitors and local people; it is pleasant to stroll, visit shops, cafes and museums while enjoying the live music that comes from various locations on street corners. Along the streets that develop from the square there are pretty corners with arcades from which "dangle" small and large braids of chili, the red pepper protagonist of many typical dishes. If you love spicy do not miss the dishes with this ingredient by trying restaurants and cafes.

    Also go into the various shops and take home something typical, for example an Indian "dream catcher", native crafts, turquoise jewelry, a Stetson, the typical cowboy and cowgirl hat, or a bolo, the western cord in black leather tied around the neck by a silver clasp.

    A fundamental and active part of the culture of this area of ​​New Mexico are the native Indians. For this reason I 'Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (2401 12th St. NW). Every day from 9 to 17 at a cost of $ 6 you can admire products of their crafts, in particular jewelry and pottery. Inside the museum there is a restaurant with a bakery serving typical Indian cuisine (at least so they say, we have not tested it but the appearance was inviting) and there is also a shop where you can buy Indian objects.

    To learn about the art and history of the southwestern States, we recommend theAlbuquerque Museum of Art and History (2000 Mountain Rd. NW) operating since 1967 and hosting exhibitions, live performances in the amphitheater, a garden with sculptures and an inevitable shop with cafeteria. The building is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 17pm. The cost of the ticket is a few dollars depending on the age. It is also possible to enter for free in the following moments; Sundays from 9 to 13, the first Wednesday of the month from 9 to 17 and the third Thursday of the month from 17 to 20.30.

    Even if the Old Town area around the square is not very large it is very characteristic and well represents New Mexico. The energy that is in the square and around it is tangible and we regret having to leave it solely for reasons of time. In the neighborhood you can park along the street for free for 2 hours or in paid parking lots (1-6 $).

    Downtown and other attractions

    But our "lineup" still takes us to another really interesting place, theAlbuquerque Bio Park (903 10th St.), a beautiful reality composed of various structures that host different attractions: a zoo, an aquarium where you can also stay overnight and a botanical garden that includes a Japanese garden, a butterfly house and a castle for the little ones with lots of dragon. The park is open every day from 9 to 16.30. Tickets cost $ 14.50 for adults, $ 7.50 for over 65s and $ 6 for kids up to 12 years of age.

    Il downtown, with the classic American structure with perpendicular streets, it is the area of ​​the city center where offices, restaurants and some shops are located. It differs in its architecture Kimo Theatre (423 Central Ave.) built in 1927 in art deco, pueblo and revival style. The iconic route 66 passes along the theater road. For those wishing to take advantage of bus and train transport, the structure of theAlvarado Transportation Center is at 100 1st Street NW.

    If you move away a little from the central areas you can enjoy beautiful nature at Rio Grande Nature Center State Park (2901 Candelaria Rd. NW) in an environment of forests, meadows, farmland and wildflowers. The area can be visited by car or you can choose to walk the two paths. The park is the habitat of migratory and annual animals: beavers, coyotes, turtles, woodpeckers, blue herons and Canadian geese. Inside the Visitor Center you will find all the information you need to make the most of this park open from Monday to Sunday from 8 to 17 at a cost of $ 3 per vehicle.

    In the city, as mentioned, Route 66 passes, now Central Avenue, more precisely in the commercial district of Nob Hill (not far from downtown) with shops, restaurants and some signs that light up in the evening highlighting that this is the mother road. A peculiarity: in this district the Spaceship House (3501 Monte Vista Blvd.) a really strange house that is inspired by a spaceship and belongs to the contemporary architect Bart Prince. Its exteriors are nothing short of original.

    L’Albuquerque di Breaking Bad

    You are among those who have heard of Albuquerque for the first time by watching the TV series of Breaking Bad.? One of the reasons you have decided to include New Mexico on your itinerary is to be able to visit the home of Walter White? Do you want to tell your friends that you ate at Pollos Hermanos? Well, if the answer to all these questions is yes, you just have to read our article entirely dedicated to Breaking Bad Albuquerque, and find out how to visit all the iconic locations of the series.

    International Balloon Fiesta and Albuquerque events

    In Albuquerque there is no shortage Events which increase the influx of visitors. In March the Rio Grande Spring Show (Expo-300 S. Pedro Dr. NE) during which artists and craftsmen from all over the country exhibit works ranging from leather objects to jewelery and from pottery to wood. You can also see demonstrations by the "masters" as they create their works, live entertainment and taste good food.

    Since 1962, the New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair (2501 San Pedro Dr. NE); during this event, New Mexico artisans and artists display their artifacts at one of the nation's largest trade shows. Young talents still of school age are also valued and presented. There are also the usual food vendors.

    But the most famous event in the city is theInternational Balloon Fiesta (Balloon Fiesta Park-5000 Balloon Fiesta Pkwy NE) which takes place annually for nine days in October (usually starting the second week). It is the largest balloon event in the world with two types of show; during the day the balloons hover in the sky highlighting some bizarre shapes, while in the evening the show is on the ground, in the large park, when the hundreds of colorful balloons take shape before the eyes of the spectators and create a magical game of lights that turn on and off.

    In the large lawn we felt like real ants in the midst of giants! Despite their commitment to the show, the owners of the balloons are happy to chat with visitors. There are also stalls, food vendors and the stand of Canon, sponsor of the event. At the end of the evening a fireworks display closes the event with a flourish.

    Chinese traditions are highlighted in November during the New Mexico Lantern Festival (Expo-300 S. Pedro Dr. NE). The event consists of the exhibition of manual works created by Chinese artists which are illuminated in the evening for the benefit of visitors. During the day, however, you can taste the typical food of this nation and attend shows.

    Shopping tips

    To lovers of Shopping we point out three shopping centers:

    • il cottonwood Mall (10000 Coors Bypass N-W)
    • il Coronado Center (6600 Memorial Blvd. N-E)
    • theAlbuquerque Uptown (2200 Louisiana Blvd. N-E)

    While a classic, long thoroughfare with restaurants, hotels and shopping areas is the Coors Boulevard with the Sandia Mountains in the background.

    We report a place that is both a refreshment point and a place to shop. We are talking about the country style chain Cracker barrel (I-40 & Coors Blvd.). The building is recognized by the wooden porch with a row of rocking chairs, for sale, which the customer can of course try and for this reason it is "a classic" to take a picture sitting on one of it. The entrance is directly into the shop that sells a great variety of items: for the home, for the person, gifts, sweets, toys, clothing and items related to particular times of the year, for example Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The shop leads to the restaurant which serves American cuisine and also offers a take out service. Note the large amount of vintage objects on the walls, on the shelves and in every corner; they are a pastime while waiting for food!

    The best places to eat

    As it should be, a trip is not complete without trying at least a little of the local cuisine. We report some restaurants in the city. In a casual and cowboy style atmosphere, the American chain Outback Stakehouse (1022 Coors Blvd. NW) is known for its meat although fish and pasta are on the menu. Since 1973 the Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge (5801 Gibson Blvd. SE) proudly claims to serve fresh, natural New Mexico food, great fajitas and chili salsa in a casual atmosphere; here you can eat well and also satisfy the needs of vegetarians and celiacs.

    For the local materials with which it was built and its lovely patio, the Church Street Cafe (2111 Church St. NW) which dates back to the 18th century is very characteristic of New Mexico. The menu offers local dishes, soups, salads, first courses, desserts and is also open for breakfast.

    The exterior of theOwl Coffee (800 Eubank Blvd.) who welcomes us with the silhouette of an owl; on the other hand with that name it could not be different! Really particular. Here you can enjoy burgers, chili dishes, pancakes and homemade desserts while breathing the spirit of Route 66 and finding yourself in the 50s with a jukebox where you can listen to the best songs of that period.

    Where to sleep in Albuquerque

    In the city there is a good choice of accommodation with different architectural characteristics. We report theHotel Albuquerque at Old Town (800 Rio Grande Blvd. NW), a luxurious hotel with a mix of historic charm and contemporary comfort. The rooms and suites have Southwestern furniture, free wi-fi, views of the mountains and plateaus. The property features a restaurant, bar, outdoor swimming pool, free parking, fitness center, two ballrooms and flamenco shows from Thursday to Sunday.

    From the 1989 Bottger Mansion Of Old Town (110 San Felipe St. NW) is a B&B Boutique Inn located on a 1912 property. The building has seven rooms overlooking Route 66 or the Sandia mountains, equipped with wi-fi, free drinks and snacks. In downtown, theAndalusian Hotel (125 2nd St. NW) is inspired in decor and architecture by the Spanish region of Andalusia. The rooms and suites are spacious. The award-winning hotel is pet friendly and has several restaurants.

    The decoration and design of the Courtyard by Marriott (5151 Journal Center Blvd. NE), inexpensive, reflect the Native American culture of Albuquerque. The rooms have a balcony and free wi-fi. The hotel has an indoor swimming pool, a fitness center, a few restaurants and a lovely garden with a fountain. A good, affordable hotel is theEcono Lodge Old Town (2321 Central Ave. NW.) A stone's throw from the “old town” and close to I-40. Breakfast and wi-fi are included in the price, there is an indoor swimming pool and the property is pet friendly. Some rooms have microwaves, refrigerators and a sitting area.

    Excursions from Albuquerque

    We report two excursions which are about an hour from Albuquerque.

    Santa Fe

    La before it is in St. Fe, the capital of New Mexico, which is definitely worth a visit for the conspicuous presence of adobe buildings not only in its lively downtown. The beautiful Old Town Plaza and Palace of the Governors, under whose porch the natives see handicrafts, they are two must see. A few steps away there are then the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi (131 Cathedral Pl.) E la Loretto Chapel (207 Old Santa Fe Trail) famous for the miraculous staircase, built without nails or supports, and then again the long Canyon Drive with many artisan workshops. In Santa Fe it is worth indulging in a delicious meal or simple dessert Restaurant La Plazuela in casual-chic Spanish style at the well-known La Fonda hotel (100 E. San Francesco St.): colored glass, a fountain and a beautiful green setting make you feel pleasantly seated in a small square with a Latin flavor.

    Acoma Pueblo

    La second hike leads west along I-40 with a detour on Route 23 to the Acoma town, called Sky City, a spectacular village on a 111 meter high mesa inhabited by the Indian homonyms since 1100. The three-storey houses are in adobe and are connected to each other by external ladders. You can visit the urban agglomeration only with guided tours while you can freely enter the cultural center with a museum, projection room, shop and café. In addition to touring their village and selling their handicrafts, the Acoma Indians (as well as many other native groups) have opened a hotel and casino a few miles away.

    Usually New Mexico is not among the top tourist destinations in the States by European tourists, but it doesn't have to be. We too have made this mistake and are only now starting to discover it, after so many journeys. The result is that we are thrilled with it. However, it is a very large area and our week was not enough to see all the pearls it contains.

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