Albuquerque, N.M., is one of the most interesting cites in the American Southwest, with a unique balance of stunning nature, preserved culture, and modern attractions. For such a large city, Albuquerque retains a fascinating charm that draws in curious travelers looking for adventure and exploration. If you’re planning your first trip to Albuquerque, make sure to check out these top 10 things to do.
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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Albuquerque is world-famous for its annual hot air balloon festival, which takes place in October and is truly a sight to see. Thousands of balloon enthusiasts and interested visitors come to town for the International Balloon Fiesta during a week-long celebration of flight. Balloon Fiesta Park is a huge space that accommodates the balloons and has lots of food and souvenir vendors set up along the sides. You can attend a session in the evening to see the balloons up-close, on the ground, and illuminated. Or get up before dawn to see the mass ascension when the balloons are inflated and take to the sky. The festival is very affordable, although it’s a good idea to take a bus or bike to the festival to avoid traffic congestion. Even if you don’t visit during the festival week, you can still visit the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum to learn about the history of ballooning and its presence in Albuquerque.
Old Town Neighborhood
Old Town Albuquerque has been inhabited for hundreds of years and reflects the shifts from Native American to Spanish and other Latin and European cultures. There is a central plaza in this neighborhood surrounded by cobblestone streets and colorful buildings that will get you in the mood to shop and dine. This is a great place to find souvenirs and jewelry before checking out a local restaurant for lunch or dinner. You can also see the oldest building in town, the San Felipe de Neri Church. If you’ve been to Santa Fe, N.M., you may draw parallels between the downtowns of these two cities. However, Albuquerque’s Old Town is refreshingly less crowded and less expensive, and you can usually find free or cheap parking nearby.
“Breaking Bad” Film Tour
TV and movies often make cities famous, and AMC’s hit show “Breaking Bad” certainly did that for Albuquerque. Local guide companies offer film location tours of “Breaking Bad” and also its spinoff show, “Better Call Saul.” These are must-dos for fans of the AMC shows because they’ll take you to all the spots you remember from the episodes so you can relive your favorite moments. You can even tour the RV where Walter and Jesse made their famous product and enjoy a meal at the restaurant that served as Los Pollo’s Hermanos in the show. Alternatively, you can take a DIY “Breaking Bad” tour by driving to the various film locations yourself based on numerous blogs that detail the spots and their relevance.
Hike in the Sandia Mountains
You’ll see the towering Sandia Mountains throughout Albuquerque, and this is a great place to get outdoors and experience the natural beauty of the area. Popular trails to check out include the easy four-mile Armijo Trail, the moderate six-mile Strip Mine Trail, and the more difficult eight-mile Chimney Canyon Trail.
Sandia Peak Tramway
If hiking isn’t really your thing, you can also see Albuquerque’s natural beauty by taking a ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway. This is an aerial tramway with cable cars that carry passengers up a suspended cable. The ride is about three miles long, takes about 15 minutes from dock to dock, and offers lovely views of New Mexico landscapes from the top.
Petroglyph National Monument
If you haven’t traveled extensively in the American Southwest, you may not be too familiar with petroglyphs yet. There are lots of these ancient rock carvings in New Mexico, and they’re very prominently displayed at Petroglyph National Monument just northwest of downtown Albuquerque. You’ll find thousands of images carved into the rock sides here that tell the stories of the region’s first inhabitants. There are some very accessible and scenic hiking trails here you can explore to see the petroglyphs up close. Stop at the visitor’s center for recommendations, and plan to spend about two hours at the park.
Bike on Paseo del Bosque Trail
Another excellent way to get outside and active while in Albuquerque is to take a bike ride on the Paseo del Bosque Trail. This is a 16-mile paved path that is smooth, scenic, and perfect for biking. It’s easy to make a day trip out of this bike path when you hop off the trail to check out other city attractions, such as ABQ BioPark. It’s pretty flat, so the trail is easy for beginner cyclists. But be aware that it gets crowded on weekends, so you may need to call out “on your left!” a few times while pedaling along.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Native American culture is still strong in Albuquerque, and a great place to learn about these traditions is at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. This facility is a couple miles northeast of the Old Town neighborhood and offers exhibits of art and history, as well as regularly scheduled workshops and cultural events. On certain days, Pueblo dancers perform here as well. For non-New Mexico residents, adult admission is $8.40 and $5.40 for children ages 5-17.
Something you’ll notice while traveling around Albuquerque and elsewhere in New Mexico is all of the beautiful turquoise jewelry sold in stores and in roadside shops. The Turquoise Museum, founded in 1993 by the Lowry/Zachary family, offers a fun way to learn about turquoise mining and traditions. The museum is open by guided tour only on Mondays through Saturdays.
American International Rattlesnake Museum
Hopefully you won’t encounter a rattlesnake unexpectedly while on your outdoor adventures in Albuquerque, but you can learn more about (and even appreciate) this desert creature while in the safety and comfort of a museum. The American International Rattlesnake Museum is an animal conversation museum located on San Felipe Street. The admission price is $5 for adults and $3 for kids, and the museum has more extended hours in the summer compared to other months of the year.