Long before there were twinkling Christmas lights, the humble paper bag luminaria lit the way to the door of houses each Christmas Eve. Albuquerque luminarias are part of a southwestern tradition that has its roots in the 1500s when bonfires were lit along roadways to light the way to midnight mass. They started as a Christian tradition, commemorating the birth of Christ, and the journey of Mary and Joseph as they found their way to the stable.
In the early 1800s, people began to use inexpensive paper bags instead of building bonfires. These small lanterns (called farolitos in northern New Mexico), have become a tradition, and are no longer limited to Christmas Eve.
The simple beauty of the luminous paper bags sitting along adobe buildings creates a quiet feeling of journey. Enjoy the magic that a luminaria tour offers as you stroll through the Albuquerque neighborhoods where the tradition brightens the darkness every year.
For some families, touring the luminarias through Albuquerque neighborhoods is a tradition. Walking can be fun, but many choose to take a bus tour, eliminating the need to find parking or getting caught in traffic delays. The City of Albuquerque offers an annual luminaria tour through Old Town and the Country Club area via bus. Sit and relax in the warmth of the bus, where you can forget the crowds and walk in the dark.
Tours start at the Albuquerque Convention Center and are scheduled for Monday, December 24. The tours last about one hour. Buses pick up passengers at the east side of the Convention Center, along 2nd Street.
The Luminaria Tour tickets go on sale beginning at midnight on Friday morning, November 29. Buy them online or at the Hold My Ticket office at 112 Second Street SW in downtown Albuquerque, in the Sunshine building.
Routes, Rentals, and Tours offers a special Lights & Luminarias tour. Visit the heart of Albuquerque on Christmas Eve on the back of a bicycle. It begins in Old Town, where the city has its most dense concentration of luminarias. Then head to the nearby Country Club neighborhood, where the streets are also densely lined with brown paper lights. Each bike is decorated in festive lights of their own, and each tour is led by a seasoned guide.
Many choose to walk through Old Town, which has the highest density of luminarias to buildings. It is a wonderful tour and well worth the effort. Old Town is closed to driving tours with the exception of the city bus tours. Parking can be found at the lots east or south of Old Town. There is also parking in the museum lots nearby (Albuquerque Museum, Explora and the Museum of Natural History). While in Old Town, enjoy the San Felipe de Neri Church, which opens its doors to the public, and has several nativity scenes.
Look for the Cottonwood Madonna behind the church. The Plaza Don Luis across from the church has a giant Christmas tree that is made of multiple Christmas trees; see if you can discern how it is made. Many like to visit the shops while in Old Town, with some favorite stops being the Christmas Shop and the Old Town Card Shop, which carries southwestern holiday cards.
The Albuquerque Country Club neighborhood creates a winter wonderland every year, dotting the streets with paper bag lanterns. Most people choose to walk, but some do drive, so caution is taken on both sides. The streets in this area meander in all directions, so any route is pleasant. The large houses are decorated in seasonal garlands and the walk can take as little or as long as you like.
The Ridgecrest/Parkland Hills tour can be a walkthrough, but it is a long walk, so most choose to drive. Begin at Ridgecrest and Carlisle and drive southeast along Ridgecrest Boulevard until Jackson or Truman. Turn at either street and turn around in the Parkland Hills neighborhood before continuing back in the opposite direction along Ridgecrest again.
Before Heading Out
- When crossing streets from Old Town to the Country Club, use well-lit intersections. Cross at Central and Rio Grande or Lomas and San Pasquale.
- When driving, turn off lights and move at a very slow pace, about 5 miles per hour, for safety reasons. Walkers can dart into streets and act unpredictably.
- Be sure to dress warmly; don't forget a hat and scarf, mittens and gloves. Even on warm nights, the temperatures in Albuquerque drop drastically once the sun has set.
- Children enjoy the tours, but tire easily. Bring strollers, wagons, and flashlights, and be sure they are bundled in. Bring extra blankets to cover anyone in strollers or wagons. For older children, glowsticks make the walk more enjoyable.
- Map your route ahead of time. Choose one destination and savor the pace that walking brings. Stop at local touchpoints, such as the Albuquerque Little Theater in the Country Club area, where hot chocolate can be purchased. See the sights along the way.
- Older children enjoy the tours, and it can be made more fun when a route is mapped out ahead, and they can look for landmarks and destinations. Make a game of finding the Rattlesnake Museum skull or the hot chocolate stand at the Little Theater or the tiny park in the Country Club neighborhood.
- If you choose to walk the Old Town circuit, there are places to stop for warm drinks such as coffee or hot chocolate, so be sure to bring a little cash. Local merchants stay open late during luminaria tours for holiday shopping ease; consider taking a handled bag.