Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival and Highland Games

Two Pipers
© Aileen O'Catherine

Whether you're a member of a Scottish clan or not, the annual Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival in Albuquerque is the place to gather and enjoy Scottish music, Scottish dancing, bagpipes, athletic competitions and more. Each year, the festival puts on the annual Highland Games, with special events such as the cabel throw and the sheaf toss. Locals call the festival the Celtic Festival for short.

The event celebrates the heritage and history of the Scottish people. Entertainment includes Scottish Highland and Irish Step dancing, bagpiping, band competitions, harp competition, celtic music, and celtic fun. There is a shortbread competition to see who makes the most buttery shortbread cookies, and the herding demonstrations put on by the New Mexico Herding Dog Association showcase the best of herding breed dogs at work.

In addition to people dressed in kilts, there are also costumed folk playing mock battles, kings and queens, clan flags, and plenty of pageantry. You'll find rugby, information on clans, middle ages combat, Irish games and even a Viking reenactment. You'll find a good variety of food and drink. Be sure to wear sunscreen and comfortable shoes. You'll receive a schedule upon entry. If you need to take some of your purchases to the car, you can do that and gain re-entry.

What to Expect

The outdoor festival is on a grassy lawn with tents set up for food, drink, vendor booths, and stages. Dress depending on the weather, and expect to do a bit of walking. Wear flat, sturdy shoes and sunscreen or a hat. Wander about and purchase goods or food, and be sure to watch the unusual games. There will be two stages where entertainment will take place throughout the day. Listen to pipes and drums, bagpipes, or any variety of Celtic music groups. It doesn't have to be St. Patrick's Day for anyone to enjoy Celtic culture.

When is the Celtic Festival?

Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22, 2016 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to  5 p.m. on Sunday.

Where is the Celtic Festival?

The Celtic Festival takes place at Balloon Fiesta Park, located behind the Balloon Museum in north Albuquerque. Parking is available off Balloon Fiesta Parkway. Take I-25 to the Tramway exit, take a left on Tramway, another left on Pan American Freeway to Balloon Fiesta Parkway. Take a right onto the parkway to the parking area.


Tickets are available at the gate on the days of the event or in advance online (a small service fee applies).

Adult 1 day pass $15
Adult 2 day pass $20
Child (6-14) 1 day $7
Child (6-14) 2 day $10
Child 5 and under free
Seniors 65+ and active military 1 day $10
Seniors 65+ and active military 2 day $15

Athletic Activites

The athletic events are part of the Highland Games Festival. Competitors test their strength and skill in a variety of competitions that involve strength. The events may vary, but to quality as a Celtic Athletics competition, five of the six following events must be at the games. Participants must be kilted and compete in the majority of offered events. Events include:

  • Caber Toss: tossing a long pine pole so that it turns over
  • Weight Over Bar: throw a weight up and over a bar using only one hand
  • Stone Put: similar to shot put but using a real stone
  • Scottish Hammer Throw: a round metal ball on the end of a rope is thrown after twirling it overhead
  • Sheaf Toss: a burlap bag filled with material is thrown over a crossbar using a pitchfork
  • Weight Throw: weight thrown for distance


  • Bagpipers, drummers, bands and piping events
  • Rugby tournament
  • Highland Celtic games such as the caber toss and the sheaf toss
  • Dance: Scottish Highland, Irish Ceili, and Irish Step. Bagpipes are played for Highland dancing.
  • Harp Competition
  • Shortbread Competition
  • Classic British Car Show
  • Celtic Music: Piper Jones, The Angry Brians, the Singing Pilgrims, Liz Madden, Holy Water & Whiskey, the Anslover Family and more
  • Celtic harp competition
  • Celtic Herding Demonstrations


Children's Activities

Children activities include pony rides, mock sword fights and battles, a treasure hunt and a quest. Children who complete the quest gain Knighthood. A children's tent has Celtic games, books and crafts. There will be celtic animals on exhibit, to include border terriers, Irish wolfhounds and Clydesdale horses.


The festival also features vendors selling Celtic gifts, armor, weapons, kilts, books and more. Pick up a Celtic tile or Claddagh ring.

Craic Fest

Head to the beer garden where some of Albuquerque's microbrews will be on tap. 

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