Greetings Internet Stranger! This one day in Albuquerque itinerary includes one of the most special events in the United States. Many cities are primarily associated with one special event. New York City has the ball drop at Times Square on New Year’s. New Orleans has Mardi Gras. Pamplona has the running of the bulls.
And the largest city in New Mexico has The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The balloon fiesta is one of the most remarkable events in the United States. In fact, it is the largest festival of hot air balloons in the world.
But even if you aren’t in Albuquerque at the right time of year to see the Balloon Fiesta on your One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary, don’t fret! Albuquerque has more than enough to entertain any world traveler. Join me for a One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary and we will eat the world’s greatest cheeseburger, buy pottery we can’t afford, and so much more!
One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary
Where to Stay?
I love the Bottger Mansion in Old Town. It’s run by a friendly couple who know everything about Albuquerque. There’s a delicious, multiple-course breakfast served every morning and fresh cookies available during the day. Plus it’s within walking distance of Albuquerque’s charming Old Town!
And if you’d rather explore great deals on almost 200 other hotels in Albuquerque just click here!
One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
New Mexico can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary
Morning: Balloon Fiesta
Few things in life go according to plan. The world can be a sad and cruel place. But one thing we can always count on is the fact that the Balloon Fiesta appears in Albuquerque every October and lasts for nine days. There are a staggering number of events all week. Spectators can participate in anything from the “Krispy Kreme Morning Glow” to sky divers and laser light shows. (I don’t know exactly what the Krispy Kreme Morning Glow is, but I assume it involves setting a donut on fire and then eating it.)
You can spend all 24 hours at the Balloon Fiesta if you want, but we are going to limit ourselves to just one morning. Albuquerque has so much else to do! The balloons themselves are so gorgeous, you’d probably be happy if I just showed you my million amazing snaps. But I refuse to let you off that easy, Internet Stranger! You need to know…
Three fun facts about the balloon fiesta
1) What’s the best time to see hot air balloons?
People familiar with hot air balloons know that the best times to ride one are at sunrise or sunset. (Tradition!) This is because these are the coolest times of the day. Once the sun starts to heat up, it makes the air unstable. Then it’s not as safe to fly the hot air balloon. And you don’t want the Balloon Fiesta to end early because a group of pilots died in a fiery explosion, do you? Have a heart.
So this is why, if you want to get your hot air balloon on, you need to show up early in the morning to watch the ascension at the Balloon Fiesta. I suggest getting there by 6 or 6:30. That way you’ll be on time for the spectacular Mass Ascension that usually takes place at 7.
Regular readers of this blog know I can’t drive, so I just asked my auntie who lives in New Mexico to take me to the Balloon Fiesta. I plant aunts, uncles, and cousins of mine all over the country just to chauffeur me around. SMORT!
Not a morning person? Neither am I! Stay in a hotel at Albuquerque with coffee in the room, and as soon as you get to the Balloon Fiesta, grab a coffee and a breakfast burrito. Trust me, all those giant balloons rising in the air will soon wake you up, especially if one falls on your head.
2) What kinds of balloons are there?
The star of the Balloon Fiesta is always undoubtedly the special shape. This is any kind of balloon that doesn’t follow the standard, classic French shape. You can see balloons shaped like cows, penguins, a vampire, Yoda, the Wells Fargo wagon, a pirate, a cactus, and Vincent Van Gogh. Guess how many of those I just made up? None! Here’s proof.
Special shapes are exciting to watch but hard to get off the ground. It’s not uncommon to watch these misshapen balloons attempt to soar and then flop pitifully down to earth. This was the case with the Wells Fargo wagon, and people cheered as it hit the ground. I guess people are still angry about all those fraudulent accounts Wells Fargo created in their names! People can be so touchy like that.
3) What if I’m not there during the Balloon Fiesta?
Even if you’re not enjoying your One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary during the Balloon Fiesta (poor you), you can still fly like a Frenchman on a hot air balloon. The company Rainbow Ryders does sunrise ascensions every day of the year and sunset ascensions in the winter. If you’ve always been dying to check “fly in a hot air balloon” off your bucket list, here’s your chance. Also you get a free glass of champagne with your flight. Hot air balloon flying started in France, and apparently so did the tradition of drinking champagne when you land safely. The French know how to live!
If you prefer to keep your feet firmly attached to terra firma, check out the Balloon Museum instead! It’s located on the Balloon Fiesta grounds. You can learn all about why Albuquerque has such perfect weather conditions for flying hot air balloons. Plus you can buy more hot air balloon merchandise than you can shake a stick at. (I got hot air balloon earrings, naturally.)
24 hour treasure: 66 diner
Albuquerque used to be a major stop on the legendary Route 66. Fortunately some of the Route 66 structures have been preserved. Take this gas station that was converted into an adorable diner! Swing on in here for some authentic New Mexican diner cuisine.
24 hour treat: green chile bacon cheeseburger
The reason this burger is so delicious, aside from all the meat and fat, is that it is slathered with New Mexico’s own green chile. New Mexico is one of the few places where you can get fresh green chile as well as red. In fact, New Mexico has a State Question and it is “Red or Green?” That’s how seriously New Mexicans take the question of chile. PS. the correct answer is “Christmas”, which means red and green.
You also need to get two desserts at the 66 Diner. That’s a direct order! The first is any flavor of creamy, sinful, milkshake goodness that you wish. I vote for the Elvis, which is peanut butter and banana. Supposedly Elvis liked this combination on his sandwiches and who am I to argue with the King?
The next dessert needs to be diner cherry pie. Diner cherry pie is on my list of top five favorite desserts, along with key lime pie, cannoli, blintzes, and sticky toffee pudding. This is the best diner cherry pie because they use tart cherries so you’re not overwhelmed with sweetness. If I actually lived in Albuquerque, I’d eat this once a week.
One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary
Afternoon: Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
We’re going to shift gears a bit away from the hot air balloons of the Balloon Fiesta and Route 66 to a different part of New Mexico’s history. Obviously New Mexico was populated by Native Americans long before anyone else arrived. Today it has the second highest percent Native American population in the country. (Only Alaska has more.) So it’s impossible to know anything much about New Mexico unless you are interested in learning about the Native American pueblos and their way of life.
Fortunately Albuquerque has the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center for visitors seeking to learn more about New Mexico’s 19 pueblos. (A Pueblo, according to the museum, is a synonym for a tribal nation.) It’s both museum and cultural center, so you can educate yourself, buy Native American art, and on weekends you can attend Native American dance performances. I’ll point you in the right direction with…
Approximately top 5: indian pueblo cultural center
1) Native American pottery
Many people know that New Mexican Native Americans are known for their pottery. But each pueblo has its own unique style of the ceramic arts. For example, the Acoma Pueblo produces orange, black, and white pottery with striking geometric shapes. The most famous might be the San Ildefonso Pueblo and its inky black-on-black designs. (Before seeing this pottery, I never realized it was possible to paint black on black. You really need to see it in person for yourself.
My favorite style is micaceous pottery, which is made using clay that naturally glitters because of the mica in the earth. It appears to my inner sparkle pen-using, unicorn-loving child. You can window shop more pottery at the Cultural Center’s store, Shumakolowa. It’s more expensive than Native American art from some other stores, but you can be sure it’s fairly traded.
2) drum frames
I never thought of drum making as an art before visiting this museum. The frame is made from local trees like pine or cottonwood. You have to hollow out the tree and let it dry so it doesn’t break when you drumify it. Then you get to sand it, polish it, and make it your own. Next comes the step of adding the rawhide covering. The result of making all the drums by hand like this is that each drum has its own unique sound.
I personally think all drummers should be required to make their own instruments. Then we’d have so many fewer pretentious and terrible drummers out there. Who wouldn’t root for that?
Santos are an artistic tradition that come from Spain. You can find them all over New Mexico. Since Spanish colonial times, they have been kept in Catholic homes as a source of prayer. Back then, santos might have been the only form of entertainment or decoration that Spanish colonial homes would have had. No Netflix for them! And I complain when my internet loads kind of slowly for five seconds.
I knew that many Hispanic homes in New Mexico have traditionally had santos, but I didn’t know that there were also many Native American santeros (makers of santos). The Spanish colonists converted more Native Americans to Christianity than the English colonists did back east. Many New Mexican Native Americans are still practicing Catholics to this day.
When I went to visit Taos Pueblo, there was an operational Catholic church on the premises. However, I was told that Native American Catholics often continue to practice certain elements of their traditional religion as well. That’s a freedom they wouldn’t have had under Spanish colonial rule.
4) Pueblo Languages
This tree above will help you learn a few words from one of the Pueblo languages, if you are so inclined. But don’t think that will help out with all the Pueblos. There are five different Pueblo dialects and three different language families. That’s an amazing amount of linguistic diversity in one smallish area.
There’s a movement in New Mexico to teach these languages so they don’t become extinct. I think they should be offered as language options in New Mexican schools. It’s not fair that so few people speak these languages any more! If you are interested in doing your part, there are bilingual Zuni/English materials on the University of New Mexico website. I plan on sharing some of these with my students.
5) Pueblo cooking
This replica of a Pueblo kitchen looks…like a perfectly ordinary New Mexican kitchen. That’s because Pueblo residents have actual jobs and go to school and can’t cook using traditional methods every single day. They tend to save the traditional preparations for Pueblo feast days. The most famous dishes are probably the baked goods. The Pueblo breads are prepared using a traditional outdoor oven called a horno. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste this if you ever visit a Pueblo!
One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary
Evening: Mas Tapas Y Vino
New Mexico is a very proudly Spanish-influenced culture. Many New Mexicans can trace their ancestry back to Spanish colonial times, just like New Englanders like to trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower. So why not get into the Spanish swing of things with adding tapas and sangria to our One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary? We’ll be headed to Mas Tapas Y Vino in the Hotel Andaluz.
As a bonus, since it’s in Downtown Albuquerque, you’ll get to pass the Kimo theater on your way. There’s no real reason to mention this. I just think it’s the prettiest building on earth and I talk about it all the time.
Instead of dessert, I had a blood orange sangria. I needed to take the edge off after a long day of watching other people fly hot air balloons.
The most traditional tapas I had was the plump and fragrant garlic shrimp. I think it might be against Spanish law to not serve garlic shrimp at your tapas restaurant. Like Juan Carlos himself will just rush in to your non-garlic-shrimp-serving tapas place and rush you off to jail.
24 Hour treat: bacon wrapped dates
Now I got a little funky with honey bacon-wrapped dates. The dates were stuffed with goat cheese, which was an excellent idea. Each bite alternated sweet and salty: honey-bacon-date-goat cheese. I love experimenting with different flavor combinations. (Bitter and sweet! Umami and sour!) But salty-sweet is a true classic.
This was the first time I’d eaten chicken with piri piri sauce at a tapas place. However, piri piri sauce is Portuguese/African, and Portugal is Spain’s skinny neighbor, so it makes sense that piri piri might pop up at a tapas restaurant. Piri piri chicken is made by marinating chicken in the spicy sauce made from the piri piri chile. The potentially bland chicken is transformed, phoenix-like into a fiery beast! It will breath garlic and piri piri sauce as it ascends into the skies!
As much as I liked the chicken, I think typing piri piri so many times might give me carpal tunnel syndrome. The life of a blogger isn’t always glamorous.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary!
What would you do on a One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Albuquerque right now? If you had to create a special shape balloon, what shape would it have? And exactly what laws has the former King of Spain made concerning tapas variety? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have a One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary. If you have another One Day in Albuquerque Itinerary, add this itinerary!