New Mexico boasts gorgeous desert landscapes and prominent ski resorts nestled in the mountains. From the state’s capital city of Santa Fe to quaint towns like Elephant Butte, New Mexico features numerous Christmas light displays. Visitors to the popular city of Albuquerque can look forward to enjoying renowned museums, performance venues, and upscale shopping centers. After settling into your New Mexico vacation rental, venture out to one of these cities and towns to admire fantastic Christmas lights.

christmas light display
Source: Flickr/Terri Hickox

1. River of Lights, Albuquerque

When you’re looking for the hottest ticket in town, get tickets for the River of Lights at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden in Albuquerque. From the end of November until the end of the year, millions of lights are used to create more than 500 seasonal displays to get your family in the holiday spirit. Imagine the joy on your kids’ faces when they see Santa’s sleigh in lights or an enormous Christmas tree with presents underneath. Hop on the Polar Bear Express run by the Rio Line Train to see the lights without all the walking. After the train ride, kids get to meet with Santa and enjoy a photo op. The garden’s regular concession stands offer hot chocolate to keep you warm and snacks to keep your energy up. Throughout the season, there are special events, so check the schedule before choosing the night of your visit.

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2. Glow, Santa Fe

Enjoy holiday lights and get in the holiday mood at Glow in the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. This annual event starts in mid-December and runs through the first day of the new year. This small garden offers a preview night of the display in early December, but tickets are limited for the event. Thousands of lights and luminaries, white bags with glowing candles inside, line the walkways, tunnels, and almost every available surface. Your kids can sit down with Santa for a photo and tell him what they want this year. When your little ones get tired, take a seat by the fire to enjoy a holiday beverage and take part in singing all your favorite Christmas songs. The Garden’s Gift shop offers a variety of last minute gifts and stocking stuffers to remind you of your trip. Don’t forget to catch the laser light show while you’re in the park.

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3. Elephant Butte Luminaria Beachwalk, Elephant Butte

Combine two of the things that you love most, a trip to the beach and Christmas lights, when you visit the Elephant Butte Luminaria Beachwalk in the Elephant Butte Lake State Park. This annual event occurs one evening only in the first two weeks of December, so plan accordingly when you book your vacation rental. As you walk along the beach, soak in the Christmas spirit that comes from the thousands of luminaries spread out around the shoreline. Choose a great spot for the lighted boat parade. Your kids will squeal in delight as boat after boat putters by covered in festive lighting. Boat owners go all out, so it’s a sight worth seeing. There is even a visit from the big guy himself, and the kids line up for a photograph with Santa. You don’t need to buy tickets, but the park charges a small admission fee. Arrive early to get a good spot for the boat parade.

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4. The Plaza, Santa Fe

Each year, The Plaza in Santa Fe becomes the hot spot in town to see Christmas lights. In late November, the holiday season begins with a special lighting ceremony that attracts both visitors and locals for the festivities. The lights turn on and the sounds of carolers begin singing all of your favorite Christmas songs. Santa Claus arrives in town with a few of his elves to hear Christmas wishes and pose for a picture or two. Even if you can’t make it for the lighting, the festive decor stays up throughout the holiday season. Arrive in town for the weekend that the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs “The Nutcracker,” or opt for dates that include the Las Posadas celebration. It’s a lighted procession that reenacts Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging on the night of Jesus’s birth. If you’re in town for Christmas Eve, consider Midnight Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis de Assisi. This service is open to people of all faiths.

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5. Luminaria Tour, Albuquerque

The Luminaria Tour in Albuquerque is your chance to sit back and let someone else do the driving while you see all the Christmas lights. Your family boards one of the ABQ RIDE buses on Christmas Eve and enjoys a 45-minute tour of the Old Town area and surrounding neighborhoods to see all of the Christmas lights and festive decorations. The ride includes a tour of the Albuquerque Country Club neighborhoods. Each year, there are typically around six different times to reserve seats, but they do fill up quickly, so book as soon as you reserve your vacation rental.

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