Top 12 Free Things to do in Albuquerque

Last Updated on February 8, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Albuquerque, New Mexico is a vibrant city with a rich history and diverse culture just waiting to be explored. Known for its beautiful landscapes, Native American heritage, hot air balloons, and filming locations for hit shows like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Albuquerque has something for everyone.

ActivityDescription
Rio Grande Nature Center State ParkEnjoy hiking trails and wildlife viewing.
Albuquerque Museum of Art and HistoryExplore art, culture, and history.
Balloon Fiesta ParkWatch hot air balloons.
Breaking Bad TourSelf-guided tour of filming locations.
Sandia PeakEnjoy city views.
Petroglyph National MonumentView ancient rock art.
Albuquerque BioPark Botanic GardenStroll through gardens.
New Mexico Museum of Natural History and ScienceLearn about the region’s natural history.
Albuquerque Garden Center Botanical CourtyardExplore themed gardens.
National Museum of Nuclear Science and HistoryDive into nuclear science.
Open Space Visitor CenterSee wildlife and conservation efforts.
Public Art Walking TourDiscover downtown Albuquerque’s art.

The best part? You don’t have to spend a lot of money to experience the best of what this Southwestern city has to offer. There are many free museums, attractions, tours, and natural spaces that let you dive into Albuquerque’s one-of-a-kind offerings without emptying your wallet.

From breathtaking walks along the Rio Grande River to exhibits detailing the area’s past at free museums, the free things to do in Albuquerque give you a well-rounded glimpse into what makes this city so special. Read on for the top 12 free attractions and activities you absolutely must experience when visiting Albuquerque.

Walk Along the Rio Grande at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park

Name and Location: Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, located northwest Albuquerque along the Rio Grande bosque

History and Significance: Set on the banks of the Rio Grande, this park preserves riverside woods and wetlands that provide an oasis for migratory birds and wildlife while educating visitors on the river’s ecosystems through trails, exhibits and gardens that bring its importance to life.

What to Expect: Walk over 300 species of plants in gardens and along trails spotting birds, coyotes, turtles and other wildlife. Observation deck and platforms let visitors appreciate this riverside stopover for migrating species along the Rio’s flow.

Visitor Information: Open daily 8am-5pm year-round. Free admission and parking. Nature store on-site.

Stretching along the cottonwood forest of the Rio Grande River, the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park offers over 270 acres of hiking trails, wildlife habitats, and educational opportunities free for the public to enjoy. Walking trails wind through the protected riparian ecosystem, offering stellar birdwatching as well as views of ducks, turtles, beavers, and other animals that call this area home.

Don’t miss the interactive learning center detailing the fragile bosque habitat through hands-on exhibits. Rangers also offer free public programs year-round highlighting the wildlife and ecosystem in this National Natural Landmark. With no admission fee and an abundance of natural beauty to take in along the trails and the river’s edge, the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park is one of the top free things to do in Albuquerque.

Immerse Yourself in Art at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

Name and Location: Albuquerque Museum of Art and History located in Old Town

History and Significance: Founded in 1967, this museum brings historic and contemporary art exhibitions alongside permanent displays exploring Albuquerque/New Mexico’s culture, history and artistic expressions through impactful regionally-focused collections.

What to Expect: Expansive galleries feature early 20th century works, Hispanic art, landscape paintings and traveling shows. Historic exhibits look at Albuquerque’s past from early peoples to Route 66 while spotlighting area artists. Sculpture garden offered.

Visitor Information: Open Tues-Sun 9am-5pm. Closed Mondays and holidays. Admission $5-7, under 16 free.

Featuring ongoing collections and exhibitions spanning art, culture, and history, the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History lets visitors freely explore a world of creativity and regional heritage. The museum houses extensive New Mexican art with works from the 19th century to present day. You’ll also gain insight into Albuquerque’s history with photography and artifacts highlighting notable events and time periods in the city and state’s past.

Outside, take time to wander through the lush park-like setting dotted with native plants and sculptures. Temporary exhibitions also rotate throughout the year, focusing on modern art and intriguing themes that keep each visit new and unique. With no admission fee, the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History makes experiencing art, culture, and nature easily accessible during your time in the city.

Marvel at Hot Air Balloons Taking Flight at Balloon Fiesta Park

Name and Location: Balloon Fiesta Park, north Albuquerque

History and Significance: Home to the world’s largest ballooning event since 1972, Balloon Fiesta Park hosts the globally-popular Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta each October when colorful hot air balloons launch en masse, filling the skies while providing spectacular displays and night glows.

What to Expect: Walk launch field trails to appreciate balloons inflating and taking flight while balloonists prepare for America’s ballooning celebration. The park includes dedicated launch pads, powered access and infrastructure to support revelry.

Visitor Information: Park open year-round dawn to dusk. Event ticket required during 9-day Balloon Fiesta each October.

Albuquerque takes hot air ballooning fame seriously with over 500 brightly colored balloons flocking each fall for the iconic Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. But venturing to the dedicated Balloon Fiesta Park is worthwhile any time of year thanks to its free admission to see these giants of the sky take flight. The park features fully outfitted launch fields, with morning and evening being prime times to potentially glimpse balloons drifting upward into stunning desert skies around Albuquerque.

The Balloon Fiesta Museum also tells the story behind the city’s annual nine-day October event that draws ballooners and spectators from across the world. Take time to wander exhibits showing off a balloon basket gondola, balloon memorabilia through the decades, and details on New Mexico’s crucial role ushering in hot air ballooning history starting back in the 1970s. With or without mass ascensions filling the skies, a trip to Balloon Fiesta Park lets you celebrate Albuquerque’s love of all things ballooning.

Embark on a Self-Guided Breaking Bad Tour

Name and Location: Breaking Bad filming locations around Albuquerque

History and Significance: The hit AMC show Breaking Bad (2008-2013) was filmed on location in Albuquerque and put the city on the map. Fans can visit restaurants, homes and other businesses that served as backdrops highlighting the city’s downtown and suburban landscapes.

What to Expect: Self-drive to Breaking Bad filming spots guided by online maps and directions. Take photos channeling the show at pizzas places, Walter White’s house, the car wash and more that played pivotal on-screen roles with ALC-themed souvenirs along the route.

Visitor Information: Free DIY option. Paid trolley/limo group tours also available. Year-round attraction. View sites from public streets. Respect residences.

As the backdrop for the critically acclaimed AMC TV series Breaking Bad, Albuquerque draws tourists wanting to see first-hand iconic filming locations scattered throughout the city. Fans of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s escapades can freely drive past or photo op well-known Breaking Bad spots thanks to helpful online guides pinpointing addresses used in the show’s five seasons.

Stop by Walter White’s unassuming house on Negra Arroyo Lane or grab a bite from Los Pollos Hermanos, fictionalized as Twisters on Central Avenue. Journey out toward the mesa to find Jesse’s aunt’s house or spot the Octopus Carwash still in operation years later. With various businesses featured in episodes welcoming photos or peeks inside, self-guiding your own Breaking Bad filming location tour through Albuquerque is one of the most entertaining free things for tourists to experience.

Enjoy Panoramic City Views Atop Sandia Peak

Name and Location: Sandia Peak Tramway ascending over 11,000 feet overlooking Albuquerque

History and Significance: Since 1966, the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway has taken visitors high atop the Sandia Mountains’ crest via the world’s longest jig-back tram offering unparalleled views overlooking Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Valley expanding to 60-mile vistas of surrounding peaks and wilderness.

What to Expect: Ride the 2.7-mile tram up breathtaking terrain taking 15 minutes to summit the steep incline. Alpine restaurant, nature trails and observation decks reward visitors with panoramic city-to-mountain views from the towering summit in the sky.

Visitor Information: Open Wed-Mon 9am-8pm. Tickets $22-$30. Year-round operation, weather dependent.

At over 10,600 feet elevation, Sandia Peak offers stunning panoramic vistas out across the Rio Grande Valley showcasing Albuquerque and beyond. Reaching the summit means taking the Sandia Peak Aerial Tram, stretching 2.7 miles from the base to the top as one of the world’s longest trams. Roundtrip tickets can add up, but you can instead make the scenic drive to the top and enjoy breathtaking overlooks past rocky cliffs absolutely free.

Bring a picnic lunch to take in the views from scenic pullouts. Hop out for photo ops in front of the summit sign or rocky outcroppings with the city sprawled out picturesquely below the towering peak of the Sandia Mountains. Don’t linger too long, however, as afternoon storms can blow in unexpectedly. Taking in Albuquerque from soaring heights makes for an unforgettable free activity you won’t want to miss.

Admire Petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument

Name and Location: Petroglyph National Monument protecting cultural sites west of Albuquerque

History and Significance: Established 1990 to preserve evidence of Native American petroglyph carvings and early habitation of the lands along the Rio Grande Valley, this park safeguards over 20,000 images etched into volcanic rock dating back centuries representing ties to ancestral Puebloan and early Spanish settlers.

What to Expect: Hike scenic trails through rugged terrain dotted with ancient carvings left by Indigenous inhabitants depicting animals, people, spirals and geometric symbols cut into dark boulders contrasting brightly-hued stones seemingly consonant with the Southwest’s natural palette.

Visitor Information: Free access daily dawn to dusk. Visitor Center open 8:30am-5pm. Guided hikes available.

Boasting the largest petroglyph site in all of North America, Petroglyph National Monument shows off over 24,000 ancient designs etched into volcanic rocks centuries ago by Native American and Spanish settlers. The alluring glimpse into history is easily accessible thanks to a number of free trails open to hikers, walkers, and explorers wanting a closer look at the impressive rock art numbering between 400 to 700 years old.

Opt for the short, flat Boca Negra Canyon trail offering multiple petroglyphs along the path less than one mile roundtrip. Or take in more designs along the 2.2-mile Sandia Cave trailhead hike featuring tiny caverns used by ancestral Puebloans. With each trail showcasing a unique look at distinctive historical etchings up close, Petroglyph National Monument merits a spot on any list of the top free things to do located right in Albuquerque’s own backyard.

Stroll Through Flowers and Gardens at Albuquerque BioPark Botanic Garden

Name and Location: Albuquerque BioPark Botanic Gardens located downtown along the Rio Grande

History and Significance: Completed in 1996, these gardens cultivate displays focused on plants native to the Southwestern region alongside aquatic habitats and exotic species from Mediterranean and tropical locales that comprise beautiful themed spaces encouraging interaction within Albuquerque’s riverside oasis.

What to Expect: Winding paths reveal a children’s fantasy garden, heritage farm display, carnivorous species, daffodil hill, zen rock structures, hummingbird enclosure, Victorian-style conservatory and seasonal flower shows housed through thoughtfully orchestrated sites.

Visitor Information: Open daily 9am-5pm except Thanksgiving/Christmas. Admission fees apply: $7.50-15 adults, discounts for seniors, youth 4-12, under 3 free.

Part of Albuquerque’s innovative BioPark spanning 64 acres in the heart of the city, the Botanic Garden lives up to its unofficial nickname of “Albuquerque’s Backyard” thanks to feeling like an urban escape into nature. The family-friendly attraction features numerous themed gardens like perennials in bloom across the Heritage Farm, an aromatic herb garden, water-wise perennials, a Victorian-style conservatory awash in tropical plants and koi ponds, and more. The gardens come alive through events like holiday-themed lighting experiences that also maintain free access for getting into the seasonal spirit.

Walking past ponds, meadows, dedicated gardens, and special exhibits, the Botanic Garden portion of the BioPark makes for an ideal place to relax among floral beauty and outdoor spaces without an admission fee. Bring along a bike or scooter if visiting on Tuesdays when wheels are permitted on trails weaving through New Mexico’s distinctive flora.

Tour the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

Name and Location: New Mexico Museum of Natural History in Old Town Albuquerque

History and Significance: Founded 1986, this Smithsonian-affiliated museum offers detailed chronicles of New Mexico’s natural history using interactive displays on regional dinosaurs, evolution, geologic eras, climate changes, space discoveries and technological innovations to engage visitors to understand sciences shaping the planet.

What to Expect: Permanent and traveling exhibits invite learning across paleontology, geology, astronomy and more through collections of real artifacts, replicas bringing scientific developments to light creatively, including a planetarium and observatory on site.

Visitor Information: Open daily 9am-5pm except major holidays. Admission $10 adults, $7 students/seniors/military, $4 children 3-12. Planetarium shows extra fee.

Detailing everything from New Mexico’s geological beginnings to dinosaur fossils and artifacts from ancestral Puebloan settlements, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science brings together a sweeping look at the state’s long history and prehistoric past. Lovingly known as “Nature’s House” by locals, the expansive museum houses ongoing paleontology and archeology galleries in addition to rotating exhibits tied to natural history themes that manage to fascinate all ages.

Stand beneath the towering Seismosaurus Hallorum replica skeleton from one of the longest dinosaurs ever found at over 120 feet long. Glimpse into ancient ways of life through 800-year-old architecture and artifacts left behind by those inhabiting areas long before even Coronado’s controversial excursion into New Mexico. From start to finish, every visit immerses you in new stories springing from fossils, finds, and the culture of native peoples calling this corner of the Southwest home long before Albuquerque came onto the scene. The wealth of intriguing exhibits makes the New Mexico Museum of Natural History one of the most insightful free options in the city.

Test Your Green Thumb at Albuquerque Garden Center Botanical Courtyard

Name and Location: Albuquerque Garden Center houses an urban botanical courtyard in Old Town

History and Significance: Developed 1933 around a historic hacienda, this hidden gem offers free afternoon access to intimate walled grounds landscaped with lush gardens, unusual Southwest native specimens and seasonal blooms cultivated through community education programs.

What to Expect: Winding brick paths reveal magical spaces – shade garden, iris terrace, rose plantings, textured cacti and desert flora, pond and sculpture accents across a blissful backdrop for enjoying horticulture before special events may privatize certain evenings.

Visitor Information: Courtyard open to public daily 2-4pm. Guided tours by appointment. Rentals offered for private events. Year-round access during daylight hours.

Tucked into a cozy courtyard featuring glistening ponds and towering trees awaits the lush Albuquerque Garden Center, run mainly by volunteers well-versed in all things plants and nature. Staff eagerly impart their green thumb wisdom through regular horticultural classes and demonstrations open to anyone wanting to better understand gardening in New Mexico’s often challenging desert climate. Monthly presentations also showcase knowledgeable speakers on diverse botanical topics to deepen your understanding of outdoor spaces ranging from xeriscaping to participating in plant exchanges.

Visitors are free to explore elaborately themed demonstration beds showing off ideal plants for shade, butterfly habitats, vegetables perfect for small spaces, and different garden styles like English cottage or Zen rock. It’s all neatly packed into a little over one acre, giving you fresh inspiration to implement next time your own garden needs a little TLC courtesy of the Albuquerque Garden Center’s offering of free year-round guidance rooted in botanical expertise.

Visit the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

Name and Location: Located in Albuquerque, east of Old Town

History and Significance: Chartered by Congress in 1991, this museum preserves artifacts to tell the story of the nuclear age’s emergence and evolution featuring the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic weapons culminating with current scientific applications innovating global energy, medicine, agriculture and research.

What to Expect: Permanent and traveling exhibits chronicle nuclear history and science through displays explaining radiochemistry, nuclear technology including reactors, missiles and bombers while engaging visitors across immersive galleries and via tours led by veteran guides.

Visitor Information: Open daily 9am–5pm, except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission $10 adults, $8 seniors/military, $7 students, $4 youth (7-17), free under age 7.

Few people may know Albuquerque houses the nation’s only congressionally chartered museum focused entirely on nuclear studies, offering an intriguing look into atomic science and warfare free-of-charge to visitors. The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History contains extensive exhibits tracking the Manhattan Project that made New Mexico integral for ushering in the atomic age starting back in 1943. Visitors gain perspective into subsequent eras dominated by Cold War fears and the lingering impact of radiation moving into modern day.

Roam past displays on uranium’s complicated legacy tied to its origins on Native lands and role powering nuclear arms and energy over the decades. Take time to experience radiation first-hand through engaging demonstrations showing atoms at work. Hop aboard cockpits capturing pilot experiences being among the first to harness atomic innovations during World War II and beyond. By exploring stories, items, and experiences highlighting nuclear technology’s complexities, the National Museum of Nuclear Science’s wealth of exhibits educate and intrigue with no cost to take it all in.

See Wild Coyotes and More at the Open Space Visitor Center

Name and Location: Open Space Visitor Center located alongside the Sandia Foothills to the northeast.

History and Significance: Situated on the edge of the Sandia Mountains containing moderately-trafficked trailheads, this center features floor-to-ceiling viewing windows with telescopes focused towards the protected Bosque and foothill habitats where wildlife wander daily and golden eagles nest seasonally against the dramatic high-desert panoramas framing Albuquerque’s eastern skyline.

What to Expect: Scan hillsides from indoor vantage points searching for mule deer, red-tailed hawks, jackrabbits and cheeky coyotes roaming native terrain across mesas leading towards 10,600-foot Sandia Crest while exploring informative exhibits.

Visitor Information: Free access daily 9am–5pm. Center houses gift shop with snacks, microbrews and regional products along bathrooms and trail maps. Seasonal naturalist-guided hikes available.

Offering a window into Albuquerque’s natural land and critters that dwell on preserved tracts around the city, the Open Space Visitor Center gives tourists and residents alike free rein to discover native wildlife and vegetation. Well-placed telescopes inside allow for exceptional viewing opportunities if lucky enough to spot bounding jackrabbits, soaring red tail hawks circling lazily overhead, or the occasional coyote family passing through the protected landscape.

Exhibits also detail efforts undertaken to balance recreational opportunities across Albuquerque’s Open Space stretching a whopping 89,000 acres. Don’t miss the short film providing an inspirational overview of the unique terrain and animals that managed to persist despite pressures of urbanization increasingly encroaching decade after decade. For an enriching glimpse into Albuquerque’s wild outskirts and conservation success stories, the Open Space Visitor Center offers engaging exhibits, panoramic views, and potential wildlife sightings without having to pay a cent.

Take a Public Art Walking Tour of Downtown

Name and Location: Collection of murals and sculptures scattered site-wide downtown

History and Significance: Albuquerque’s public art installations numbering over 100 pieces span decades as city initiatives commissioned renowned artists to beautify buildings, walls and streets with paintings and steel shapes celebrating cultural pride, Western spirit and the local people who’ve shaped surface streets into an outdoor gallery curating an ever-evolving exhibit.

What to Expect: Interpret symbolism and artistic expressions that capture area identity from Native American/Hispano roots to Route 66 nostalgia while spotting animals, icons and abstract concepts colorfully rendered across unlikely canvases. Custom tours available.

Visitor Information: Free, year-round sightseeing. Use online guides to identify pieces. Tips: Parking meters active weekdays until 6pm. Obey traffic laws.

Merging artistic expression with the streets of New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque’s public art installations breathe life across concrete walls, buildings, and open spaces downtown and beyond through colorful murals, intricate mosaics, and thought-provoking sculptures. Many pieces capture sentiments relating to the city’s cultural heritage tied to Native American and Hispanic roots. Sculptures might depict influential historical figures while street art reflects more modern representation touching on complex social issues. No matter the medium, creatively designed public artworks seen across Albuquerque’s urban landscape intrigue and inspire.

Follow any number of self-guided walking tours available online highlighting coordinates to the most iconic and elaborate works sprinkled throughout downtown. Snap photos beside giant desert hares magically positioned upright on two legs or a certain whimsical mosaic creature welded from salvaged car parts. Let your spontaneous art walk open your eyes to the captivating stories behind Albuquerque’s diverse public art that transforms ordinary spaces into extraordinary galleries to enjoy completely free of charge.

Experience Agriculture History at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm

Name and Location: Los Poblanos Inn located just north of Old Town Albuquerque

History and Significance: First cultivated in 1932 when construction began on the Pueblo Revival-style Hacienda, Los Poblanos surrounds lavish lodging with 25 acres of gardens, fields and historic ranch structures framing sweeping mountain views as the long-time family-owned operation maintains educational displays interpreting two working farms focused on historic preservation and organic practices.

What to Expect: Cultural and agriculture walking tours guide visitors through artifact-filled rooms inside the Inn while exploring barns, lavender labyrinths and seasonal flower/produce gardens representative of generations respecting the fertile Rio Grande Valley supporting diverse crops and livestock.

Visitor Information: Historic tours run Saturdays at 1pm. Farm tours by appointment. Grounds open daily dawn to dusk year-round except major holidays and special events when access limitations apply.

Transport back to Albuquerque’s early agrarian days with a visit to Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm established back in 1932. The working lavender farm and cultural bed and breakfast gem offers free access for the public to wander acres of meticulously maintained gardens, vineyards, and agricultural fields. Walking paths then open up to the historic ranch quarters comprised of multiple 1930s hacienda-style buildings seamlessly interwoven with lush grounds through formal courtyards and plazas linked by picturesque portales.

Visitors gain a glimpse into the early 20th-century architecture and heritage tied to the days when lavender keeping and dairy farming formed the backbone of the sprawling property. Beyond the structures lies multiple photogenic birdwatching and wildlife viewing spots with over 40 acres dedicated to keeping the vibrant cultural landscape thriving through holistic ranching operations continuing today. For an enriching walk connecting Albuquerque’s past to innovative approaches around historic preservation and organic farming, Los Poblanos’ open grounds offer a scenic trip back through time absolutely free.

Final Thoughts

Albuquerque overflows with vibrant culture, epic landscapes, and thrilling history no shortage of visitors want to experience first-hand. Luckily, some of the best attractions around New Mexico’s colorful city can be enjoyed without emptying your travel budget. Gorgeous parks and natural refuges let you soak up the nature surrounding Albuquerque up close. Free museums and galleries offer artistic stimulation paired with insights into the region’s diverse heritage. And unusual sites detailing atomic legacies or the backdrop to a cult classic TV drama add eccentric surprises that could only unfold against Albuquerque’s singular desert horizons.

With the freedom to walk, hike, learn, and explore across these 12 options, this Southwestern city presents tourists and locals alike memorable moments around every corner without ever having to pay admission. Taken together, Albuquerque’s range of free things to do gives the perfect introduction to an unforgettable destination quite unlike anywhere else.

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