10 Reasons to Visit Albuquerque that You Maybe Didn’t Know AboutBow & Arrow photo by Missy Begay. Tram photo by Jay Blackwood. Stranger Things photo courtesy Netflix. Other photos by Fiona Chandra. Travel Lists Albuquerque
Albuquerque is perhaps most well-known for the International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot air balloon festival in the world that is held there every October. The festival brings over 500 hot air balloons each year, and it’s said to be the most photographed event in the world. More recently, the city has also become more popular thanks to the hit TV series Breaking Bad and its spinoff Better Call Saul. The city has so much more to offer beyond balloon rides and Breaking Bad tours (though those are always fun). Here are 10 facts you may not know about Albuquerque that make it a great destination to visit, whether during the balloon festival or any other time of year.
1. Albuquerque has more parkland per capita than other city its size.
When most people think of New Mexico and Albuquerque, a desert probably comes to mind, but Albuquerque in fact has 172 city parks and 20% of the land in Albuquerque is used for recreation. The most essential of all of them, perhaps, is the Bosque. The name means “woods” or “forest” in Spanish and it refers to the cottonwood forest that lies along the Rio Grande river.
The Paseo del Bosque Trail is a paved 16-mile walking and biking trail that follows the river. The trail is pretty flat and easy with plenty of stops to see along the way (you can rent bikes from Routes Bicycles Tour). Beyond the Bosque, the Petroglyph National Monument and Rio Grande Nature Center State Park are also worth exploring.
2. It’s home to the first native/female/queer-owned brewery in the country
Shyla Sheppard and Missy Begay opened Bow & Arrow Brewing in 2016 and it became the first brewery in the country owned by a queer, indigenous female couple. Sheppard is a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes and Degay is of Navajo (Diné) heritage. With the help of head brewer Mike Donovan, Bow & Arrow brews great beers using local ingredients from blue corn to lavender. The brewery also spearheaded the Native Land beer collaboration, where breweries around the country brew beers based on a Native Land recipe (which changes annually) starting from November, in honor of Native American heritage month. Profits from the beer sales are then donated to Native American non-profits.
3. Albuquerque has the largest concave fresco in North America
The Torreón, a tower at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, is home to the largest concave fresco in North America. The fresco is titled Mundos de Mestizaje and was completed by a New Mexico artist, Frederico Vigil. It depicts Hispanic culture and history in a 4,000 square-foot painting that was created using the same technique called buon fresco, which is the same technique used for the Sistine Chapel. There are a lot of details to explore in this larger-than-life painting, from Mesoamerican culture to the historic Spanish explorers. The public can visit the Torreón from Tuesday to Saturday, but to get the full experience, join one of the guided tours that are offered every Thursdays and Fridays at 11 a.m.
4. Albuquerque is the only place where Route 66 crosses itself
Most people are familiar with Route 66, which at its peak was perhaps the most famous road in the U.S. Even after it was decommissioned as a highway to make way for bigger and faster roads, Route 66 is still popular for those seeking nostalgia and Americana on their road trips. What is less well-known, though, is that Route 66 was changed and realigned in 1937, and the pre-1937 and post-1937 Route 66s actually cross in Albuquerque. This crossing is the intersection of Fourth Street and Central Avenue, right in the heart of all the happenings in Old Town.
5. Old Town Albuquerque is not the oldest neighborhood in Albuquerque
Yes, that’s right. Despite its name, Old Town Albuquerque is actually not the oldest neighborhood in Albuquerque. Old Town was established in 1706 by a group of Spanish settlers, but another neighborhood called Barelas which lies south of Old Town was a Spanish colony that dates back to 1662. Today, Barelas is still a neighborhood with deep Hispanic roots. The family-owned Barelas Coffee House serves some of Albuquerque’s best New Mexican breakfast like huevos rancheros and menudo.
6. There are still farms within the city limits
When one thinks of the fact that the Rio Grande runs through Albuquerque, it should probably come as no surprise that there is still farmland within the Albuquerque city limits. Some of these farms have adapted to coexist with the rapidly developing urban area, allowing the public to visit and enjoy farm-to-table cooking. One example is Los Poblanos, a historic inn and organic farm known for their lavender fields. Their restaurant, Campo, sources ingredients directly from their own farm as well as other local farmers. Another one to visit is Old Town Farm, which not only has produce for sale on Fridays and Sundays, but also runs a bike-in coffee shop with a great food menu.
7. Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque is the first venue in the U.S.A. built specifically for flamenco performances
Albuquerque is the Flamenco capital of North America. Not only that, but the city also has the first performance venue that is built specifically for flamenco performances. The venue where flamenco shows are performed is called a “tablao”, which is called such because of the wooden floorboards on which the performers dance. Since Tablao Flamenco at Hotel Albuquerque was built from the ground-up for flamenco shows only, everything from the intimate layout of the room, the acoustics and the stage have been optimized for flamenco performances. Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque is certainly the best place to experience flamenco first-hand, and it doesn’t hurt that the food at their dinner shows is actually good.
8. Albuquerque was a popular filming location long before Breaking Bad
Albuquerque is well known for being the setting for the TV series Breaking Bad, but there have been numerous movies and TV shows filmed in this city, even though the city acted as other cities and states in some of these shows. The city boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year, so film producers love Albuquerque for the lack of weather issues delaying production. Some of the movies that have been partially filmed here include The Avengers, Transformers and Stranger Things season 4.
9. New Mexico was the first state to introduce a state cookie
Not all states have a state cookie, but New Mexico certainly does. New Mexico was the first state to introduce a state cookie in 1989 with the biscochito, a delicious shortbread cookie made with cinnamon, sugar and anise. It is said that the biscochito dates back to the Battle of Puebla in 1862, and these days the cookies are a must have for celebrations in New Mexico. One of the most popular places to get these in Albuquerque is at Golden Crown Panaderia, where they serve traditional biscochitos as well as blue corn, chocolate and cappuccino-flavored ones.
10. Albuquerque has the longest aerial tramway in the Americas
The Sandia mountain range got its name from its pinkish colors (“sandia” means watermelon in Spanish) and it’s the most visited mountain range in New Mexico. One of the most popular ways to go there is to ride the Sandia Peak Tramway, which is the longest aerial tramway in the Americas (it was actually the longest in the world until 2010). The Sandia Peak tramway is 2.7 miles long and goes from an elevation of 6,559 in northeast Albuquerque up to an elevation of 10,378 feet on the Sandia Peak. The ride takes 15 minutes and there are plenty of hiking trails once you get up there, plus fine dining with a view.
Fiona Chandra has written for Thrillist, Fodor’s, and more.