Albuquerque is a vibrant, sprawling city near the center of New Mexico. It is the largest city in the state, acting as the media, educational, and economic center of New Mexico, as well as the home of the state’s only major airport, making it a common entry point into New Mexico.
Any visit to New Mexico would be incomplete without taking in what Albuquerque has to offer, as New Mexico’s only major city has pleasant scenery, colorful history, and a wealth of great attractions in its own right.
Here, in a setting that has been made familiar to many by the television series Breaking Bad, you’ll find many excellent museums, colorful neon signs along old Route 66, the naturalistic beauty of the Rio Grande and the Sandia Mountains, and a spectacular hot-air balloon festival in the fall.
Despite this, Albuquerque is often overshadowed as a tourist destination by Santa Fe, just 60 mi (97 km) to the north.
Things To Do In Albuquerque
American General Stephen Kearny fought for Albuquerque with the Spanish. Its strategic location is in the midst of the Sandia Mountains and Volcanic rocks. That makes Albuquerque nearly impregnable.
After all these centuries, cultural diversity has made its mark in the city. It has also become an educational and arts hub. We mention some things you should do when you are here.
STREETS OF OLD TOWN
Remember what it feels like, to walk down the corridors of your old school? In the Old town too, you will come across a likely feeling. The Old town which was once the center of Spanish settled is now wearing a New Mexican attire.
Both cultures blend well together to give tourists a unique experience. Cobblestone paths wind through the town square and will take you to medieval buildings. There is are numerous shops and restaurants lining the streets. You can make your stop, at whatever you like.
A nice sightseeing area, Old Town is where the city was founded in 1706 and is a place where centuries of history and modern life merge; 18th-century architecture with narrow brick paths is blended with adobe architecture, and there are lots of little nooks and crannies, small restaurants, and specialty shops.
At the center of the district is the pleasant 10 Old Town Plaza, which has a gazebo, historic exhibits, and is bordered on the north by the 11 San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in Albuquerque.
In Christmas time, thousands of luminarias (paper bags filled with sand and illuminated from within by a lit candle) line the streets. Guided tours of Old Town are available from a private operator or from the Albuquerque Museum.
There are several museums within easy walking distance of the Old Town Plaza. Most of them are on Mountain Rd., just a few blocks northeast of the Plaza.
A TOUCH OF HAUNTED GALLERY
Our curiosity spikes up when we hear about ghosts and goblins in destinations. Many of us plan our trips to rumored haunted places. The KiMo Theatre in Ken Lund is a classic Art Deco building.
It was in tatters, in the late 1990s. But after its renovation in 2000, it now shines as the city’s major destination. Art buffs can study the Native American paintings which are on display.
FLY IN A BALLOON
If you are acrophobic, then this is not for you. But those who are daredevils and nature lovers can hop in a hot air balloon. Albuquerque hosts the International Balloon Fiesta each year in the month of October.
Its location in the mountains, which makes temperature unbearable. But October witnesses a dip in temperature, which is an excellent time for tourists to visit. Ride the colorful balloons in the chilly air of a cold winter morning.
You can visit http://www.ballonfiesta.com to know about the events.
DAY IN BIO PARK
After hearing the name, many might want to scrunch their noses (except science geeks). But believe us it is a perfect place for a whole day family outing. It comprises an aquarium, botanical garden, and a zoo.
Three of these elements come together to make the Albuquerque Biological Park. Your kids can ogle the giant sharks in Aquarium or chase butterflies in botanical gardens. Entry fees are just $4-$6 for children; adults have to pay $ 15-$20.
SERENE SAN FELIPE DE NERI
What holds a whole city together? For Albuquerque, the answer is Church of San Felipe de Neri. The three centuries-old church stands in Old Town.
The Roman Catholic church adorns a medieval architecture. It also has a museum in the premises which display important historical artifacts. No entry fee is required to visit it.
UP ON A TRAM
It is also not something for the faint-hearted. On the glorious heights of Sandia mountains, there is a Tramway. The Sandia Peak Tramway is 10000 feet high, on the rugged contours.
It spans across a length of three miles, from the top of the mountain to the peak of the city. After taking a tram ride, you will see slopes which are studded with restaurants and covered in snow.
Albuquerque Biological Park
Includes the city’s aquarium, botanical garden, zoo, and Tingley Beach (see below under Do).
Combo tickets for the Biological Park can be purchased and include the price of train rides on a small narrow-gauge train running between the Aquarium/Botanic Garden and the Zoo. The train runs at 30-min intervals.
ABQ BioPark Zoo
It may not be as big as your average big city zoo, but this zoo is surprisingly comprehensive for its size, with most of the popular species you can expect to find at any good zoo: polar bears, lions, zebras, tigers, giraffes, elephants, gorillas, etc.
And like any good zoo, the animals are in nice, naturalistic exhibits. The highlight exhibit areas are the seals, the polar bears, a large Africa area, and a large elephant enclosure.
Every day there are scheduled feedings of the seals and the polar bears; during the warmer months more feeding times, activities, and outdoor concerts are scheduled.
A small narrow-gauge train runs through the zoo at 20-min intervals, with a conductor pointing out some of the animals and explaining what goes on behind-the-scenes. A separate train line runs to the Aquarium/Botanic Garden.
ABQ BioPark Aquarium
Albuquerque’s small but pleasant aquarium is well-curated, with exhibits designed to simulate the Rio Grande and the saltwater marshes of the Gulf of Mexico before moving on to ocean species.
Among the sea creatures on display are jellyfish, seahorses, eels, and plenty of colorful reef fish, with the highlight being a huge tank at the end with sharks, sea turtles, and rays.
ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden
Located next door to the Aquarium, this expansive botanical garden is one of Albuquerque’s real gems. The place is an oasis with a variety of gardens to explore, with an emphasis on high desert plants but also with many highlight exhibits that are great for children.
There is an indoor conservatory with lush Mediterranean plants, an insectarium with plenty of creepy-crawlies, an indoor butterfly pavilion that’s open in the summer, a large Japanese garden with a koi pond and a waterfall, a recreation of an early 20th-century farm with a barnyard petting zoo, a model railroad, and a fantastic children’s “Fantasy Garden” made to look as if you’ve shrunk down to a bug’s size, with giant pretend vegetables, garden tools, and bugs.
Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum
Overlooking the balloon launch field is this very interesting museum dedicated to the science and history of ballooning, with exhibits on hot air balloons and other lighter-than-air craft, collections, and memorabilia from famous balloonists, and extensive exhibits on ballooning in Albuquerque.
If you can’t make it to the Balloon Fiesta, this is next best thing, and if you can make it to the Balloon Fiesta, this makes for an excellent complement to a morning spent at a mass ascension.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
A tourist complex operated by the 19 Indian Pueblos of New Mexico. Though there is a museum about pueblo history and culture on-site.
The museum is rather small and tucked away, with most of the complex given over to more lucrative ventures like an art gallery, a restaurant, and a large gift shop (a better museum experience can be found at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture up in Santa Fe).
Besides the gift shop, the best reason to visit this place is the regularly scheduled Indian dances which take place in the courtyard.
National Hispanic Cultural Center
A large complex of buildings dedicated to Hispanic culture, with a small but very interesting art museum with changing exhibitions of Hispanic art.
There is also a library and genealogy center, restaurant, gift shop, and a regular schedule of special events and performances. $6, ages 16 and under free.
National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
A museum devoted to things nuclear, with extensive exhibits on the history of nuclear weapons including replicas of the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs dropped in World War II as well as other weapons and displays on arms control and uses of atomic energy.
Even for those who are skeptical of the merits of nuclear arms and power, a visit to this museum makes for an interesting experience; a particularly illuminating exhibit is a guestbook where visitors are invited to share their thoughts regarding the use of atomic bombs on Japan, and as one might expect, such a controversial matter invites a wide variety of strong opinions.
Outside the museum is a collection of nuclear-capable aircraft standing alongside rockets, missiles, and even a cannon designed to fire nuclear bombs.
Sandia Peak Tramway
Operates every 20-30 min from 9 AM until evening (no morning rides on off-season Tu), with closures in April and November for maintenance.
Runs from a lower terminus in the northeast heights to the top of 10,400-foot (3169 m) Sandia Peak east of the city, and is one of the longest and most spectacular aerial tramways in the world.
The 15-min ride to the top is incredible, bringing you right up to the rocky face of the Sandias. The view of the city from Sandia Peak is tremendous (especially after sunset), and there is a visitor center at the top.
Closed for two weeks in spring and fall for “maintenance,” but spring winds are so intense that you really don’t want to be on an aerial tram then anyway.
Unser Racing Museum
Operated by the local Unser racing family, this museum is dedicated to the racing legacy of the Unsers and to the sport of auto racing in general.
Albuquerque Museum of Art and History
Guided walking tours of Old Town start here. An excellent example of a city-specific museum, with a large permanent collection of Southwestern art, changing art exhibitions, artifacts from the history of colonial New Mexico and Albuquerque through the years (with some pretty neat items, like conquistador armor and antique cars), and an outdoor sculpture garden.
The Albuquerque Museum also operates tours of the historic home of Casa San Ysidro in the nearby village of Corrales, which offers a glimpse into Spanish colonial life in the valley.
American International Rattlesnake Museum
This great little museum’s claim to fame is the largest collection of different species of live rattlesnakes in the world. There’s lots of snakes (and various other reptiles) and snake-related memorabilia, such as artwork and films, and the gift shop is not to be missed.
Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum
A truly splendid science and children’s museum, this museum has lots of interactive exhibits teaching science, technology, and art. There are some fantastic exhibits here, like a laminar flow fountain with water jets you can turn on and off, an experiment bar, a high-wire bike, and a robotics lab.
New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
This splendid museum has well-constructed geological and paleontological displays which illustrate a “journey through time”, covering everything from the birth of the planet to the Ice Age.
There’s plenty of dinosaurs around, from the statues outside the main entrance to a T. rex in the atrium to one massive hall with several complete (and massive) dinosaur skeletons.
Additionally, an entire wing of the museum is devoted to astronomical exhibits, and there’s also an exhibit about the birth of the personal computer, which happened right here in Albuquerque. A planetarium and a large-screen theater are also in the building.
While the location isn’t ideal (in a strip mall near Old Town, rather than in the historic district), this small gift shop and museum has some interesting exhibits about turquoise and its manufacture, history, and mythology. Reservations required.
University of New Mexico
By far the largest institution of higher education in the state, UNM has a significant presence in the center of the city. The main campus makes a very pleasant diversion, with its Pueblo-Revival adobe buildings and pleasant landscaping.
Near the center of the campus is a 17 Duck Pond, a popular relaxing spot for students where you can rest on the lawns and feed the birds.
Maxwell Museum of Anthropology
The anthropology department at UNM has been acclaimed as one of the finest in the nation, and over the years its field schools have amassed an impressive collection of artifacts.
The museum has changing exhibits and two permanent exhibits; one showcasing the evolution of humans from primates, and the other focusing on the prehistoric native cultures in the American Southwest, with a reconstruction of an archaeological dig in Chaco Canyon. FREE.
Meteorite and Geology Museums
In the university’s geology department building are a pair of galleries with minerals, fossils, and meteorites collected by UNM faculty and students, as well as exhibits about local geology. FREE.
University Art Museum
Changing exhibitions of art, with a focus on New Mexico and UNM artists. FREE.
Breaking Bad Tour — A tour of filming locations from Albuquerque’s main claim to fame: the popular television series Breaking Bad, which was set and produced almost exclusively in Albuquerque.
This itinerary contains most of the filming locations for the show as well as some local businesses selling show-inspired products.
Open Space Visitor Center
The center for the city’s open space program, which encompasses land from around the city to preserve for environmental and recreational use. The visitor center has exhibits on the natural and cultural resources of the area, an art gallery, a nature area, and views of the bosque and mountains. FREE.
Petroglyph National Monument
On the west side of town, Petroglyph is a unit of the United States National Park System and preserves a significant archaeological site with an impressive number of petroglyphs. Despite their proximity to an urban center, the petroglyphs are in good condition with very little vandalism or theft.
The monument has a visitor center with some interpretive exhibits and a few short trails that lead past numerous petroglyphs. Also within the monument are a series of volcanic cinder cones overlooking the city, accessible by hiking trails from Atrisco Vista Blvd along the backside of the monument. FREE.
Rio Grande Valley State Park
A very pleasant state park running along the banks of the Rio Grande through Albuquerque. The park encompasses almost the entirety of the bosque (cottonwood forest) in the city, which is home to much wildlife, such as geese, roadrunners, beavers, rabbits, squirrels, and numerous other species.
Numerous trails criss-cross the park, most notably the Paseo del Bosque paved bike/walk trail which runs the length of the park and offers a scenic walk or bike ride.
The park’s trails are also utilized by an active equestrian community in the area. There are also several picnic areas and wetland areas, with the two most prominent listed below. FREE.
Rio Grande Nature Center
The bosque provides a tranquil setting for this small but delightful nature center, with its wildlife pond and exhibits on the native wildlife.
Nature lovers will particularly enjoy the enclosed views of the pond behind the visitor center. Two short trails head into the bosque from the visitor center. FREE.
A facility of the Albuquerque Biological Park, this park along the Rio Grande has fishing ponds for adults and children, a model boating pond, a cafe, and a gift shop where you can buy fishing licenses, fishing gear, or rent a pedal boat for a ride on the central pond.
Trails lead into the bosque to the edge of the river and to a pair of restored wetland ponds. A narrow-gauge train links Tingley Beach to the Albuquerque Aquarium/Botanical Gardens and the Rio Grande Zoo (listed above under See). FREE.
The Sandia Mountains
The Sandia Mountains offer outdoors opportunities ranging from straight hiking (the La Luz trail is popular, perhaps too much so) on to serious, multi-day rock climbing. Mountain biking is also really popular, and there are great trails in the foothills as well as at a ski area on the other side of the mountains during the summer.
If less athletically inclined, ride the Sandia Peak Tramway (see “See” section above) to the top. At the base of the mountains, near the tramway, you can find magnificent views of the city and mountains and access trails into the mountains, especially around the 6 Elena Gallegos Picnic Area. For a map of Sandia Mountain trails, see the Cibola National Forest website.
During the winter, the Sandia Peak Ski Area serves skiers and snowboarders; see Cedar Crest for details. The ski area can be reached either by taking a 45 min. drive around the mountain to the base lodge or by taking the tramway up to the top of the mountain—presuming there’s enough snow at the top (skiers get a discount on tramway tickets, but you have to bring your own equipment).
Culture of Albuquerque
Albuquerque is a casual town: expect shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals to be entirely acceptable almost everywhere. It’s also a very humble city, with something of a self-deprecating vibe; you may hear a local remark on how backward and small it is compared to larger Western cities, though this frequently gets rebuked with a passion from locals who adore their home. Either way, people here tend to be extremely friendly and exhibit very little pretension.
Albuquerque is in the high desert [35.11N −106.64W (Elev. 4989 ft/1521 m)] and has a generally warm, dry climate with four distinct seasons. Spring is sunny and windy, although temperatures at night can be unexpectedly cool.
Summers are hot (highs average 90–95°F/34°C, and temperatures near 100°F/38°C are not rare) and still mainly dry, but monsoonal conditions develop in July or August and produce furious if short-lived thunderstorms.
Have rainwear available in the summer, although you won’t use it most days. Fall is delightful, with comfortable temperatures and a return to generally dry conditions. Winter can be blustery, with overnight lows below freezing, but subzero temperatures are rare.
One winter-weather issue for the traveler: snow, while infrequent and short-lived, does occur, and its relative rarity means that local drivers don’t deal with it well. If you happen to be in town for a snowstorm, expect road chaos far out of proportion to the amount of snow that falls.
June 28, 2019 3:10 pm
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