Top 12 Things to Do in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nestled along the banks of the Rio Grande, Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city and a unique blend of multicultural influences, natural beauty, and urban excitement. From its Pueblo Native American roots to its cowboy culture frontier days, Albuquerque’s rich history shines through at every corner.

AttractionActivity TypeNotable Features
Petroglyph National MonumentHistorical SiteAncient petroglyphs, hiking trails
Sandia Peak TramwayOutdoor AdventureScenic ride, mountaintop views
Old Town AlbuquerqueCultural ExperienceHistoric plaza, adobe architecture, galleries
Albuquerque International Balloon FiestaEventHot air balloon displays, October event
Route 66Exploration/DrivingHistoric route, nostalgia, diners
Turquoise TrailScenic DriveArt enclaves, mining towns, galleries
Local CuisineCulinary ExperienceChile-infused specialties, New Mexican cuisine
Wildlife Along the Bosque TrailNature/WildlifeTrail along Rio Grande, wildlife sightings
Shop for Native Treasures at Petroglyphs RoadShoppingNative American artisan galleries, jewelry
La Luz TrailHikingSteep hike, Sandia Mountains views
Albuquerque’s Brewery TrailCulinary/Drinking ExperienceCraft breweries, local beers

Beyond history, Albuquerque boasts spectacular landscapes from the red Sandia Mountains to the volcanic cinder cones scattered around town. It provides endless opportunities for hot air ballooning, hiking, biking, and exploring the great outdoors. Of course, no visit is complete without indulging in flavorful New Mexican cuisine loaded with chile-infused specialties.

With so much to experience, planning your Albuquerque itinerary can feel daunting. To help narrow it down, here are the top 12 things you absolutely must do when visiting this Southwestern city. From iconic attractions to local favorites, these activities offer a quintessential Albuquerque experience.

See Ancient Petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument

Name and Location: Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. It stretches 17 miles along Albuquerque, New Mexico’s West Mesa.

History and Significance: Containing over 24,000 images, the petroglyphs of this site illustrate cultural expression by Ancestral Puebloans, early Spanish settlers and indigenous groups. Designated a national monument in 1990, it preserves this archaeological heritage and site access for affiliated tribal communities.

What to Expect: Visitors can view rock art via biking, hiking trails and roadside overlooks. Interpretive signs explain petroglyph meaning and tools used in creation. The visitor center features museum exhibits explaining regional history, native culture and past lifeways tied to the West Mesa landscape. Rangers offer guided hikes.

Visitor Information: The monument is open daily from dawn to dusk year-round. Entry is free. Pets allowed on trails. Visitor center open 8:30am-5pm, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Trail lengths vary from 0.2 miles to 2.2 miles over uneven terrain. Restrooms at the visitor center and Boca Negra Canyon only.

Just a short drive from downtown leads you to Petroglyph National Monument, featuring one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. The protected area contains over 20,000 ancient images carved into volcanic rocks by Native peoples and Spanish settlers as far back as 700 years ago.

Both easily accessible trails and permits to hike undeveloped rock faces put you up close with depictions of animals, people, cultural symbols, and geometric designs marked in the desert varnish. Visitor center exhibits showcase artifacts to enrich what you see. It’s a magical step back in time to view rock art unexpectedly complex and well-preserved.

Take a Scenic Ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway

Name and Location: The Sandia Peak Tramway transports passengers from the base of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico to the 10,378 ft Sandia Peak along a 2.7 mile cable ride described as the “World’s Longest Aerial Tramway.”

History and Significance: Completed in 1966 after 10 years of construction, the tram has offered generations scenic mountain vistas as it ascends nearly 4,000 vertical feet in 15 minutes along one of the world’s longest single reversible cable car spans with no supporting towers between terminals.

What to Expect: Passengers experience breathtaking views through large windows as they leave the desert landscape below before the tram opens atop a mountain hosting hiking trails, picnic facilities and a fine-dining lodge restaurant at the summit.

Visitor Information: The tram runs year-round weather permitting from 9am to 8pm (5pm in winter). Length round trip lasts 60-90 minutes. Fares run from $26 (child) to $38 (adult). Tickets recommended in peak season. Hikers can take the La Luz trail 9 miles downhill instead of the return tram.

Albuquerque spreads across the valley floor with the impressive Sandia Mountains rising sharply to the east. Enjoy a bird’s eye perspective of both city and range by riding the Sandia Peak Tramway. The 2.7-mile route whisks you up over 4,000 feet in elevation as you dangle with panoramic views emerging below and around you.

Up top, hiking trails let you explore further high altitude vistas. Or grab a meal with a vista at the mountaintop restaurant while you soak in the sweeping city skyline before gliding back down. It’s a memorable way to admire Albuquerque’s unique placement within the landscape.

Wander Old Town’s Charming Historic Plaza

Name and Location: Old Town Albuquerque refers to a historic neighborhood established as a Spanish colonial outpost in 1706, filled with historic adobe buildings, museums, shops, restaurants and parks clustered around the central Plaza. It serves as a heritage tourism hub along Rio Grande Blvd NW.

History and Significance: One of Albuquerque’s most historic areas, Old Town contains architecture, streetscapes and culture harkening back over 300 years to its early Spanish founders and pre-American governance as part of Mexico and later the New Mexico territory, forever shaping regional traditions.

What to Expect: Visitors enjoy shopping handmade arts and crafts, touring museums showcasing frontier lifestyles, dining classic New Mexican cuisine with entertainment by costumed reenactors bringing early settlement into the present with carriage rides, music and seasonal events rooted in traditions.

Visitor Information: Historic Old Town stays active year-round during daytime hours daily when retail and attractions open from at least 10am to 5pm. Free parking lots and paid garages provide access. Walkability and transit connections allow easy exploration between sites.

For a journey into Albuquerque’s Spanish colonial heritage, historic Old Town is a must with its plaza-centered cluster of adobe architecture built between 1706 and the late 1800s. Today the restored buildings house sidewalk cafes, galleries, shops bursting with handcrafted wares, and museums that relay the stories from Spanish settlement to territorial days.

Strolling the leafy central Plaza amid weathered church facades and people watching from benches delivers all the old world charm. Peak into the San Felipe de Neri Church or get your fortune told. Let an hour or afternoon slip memorably away no matter how often you return.

See Hot Air Balloons Grace the Skies

Name and Location: Daily sunrise hot air balloon launches and evening balloon glows occur across the north and south valleys surrounding Albuquerque during annual International Balloon Fiesta events or other flyouts attracting visiting balloonists throughout the year at designated fields.

History and Significance: With over 300 days of ideal winds, flying conditions helped establish Albuquerque’s ballooning activity starting 1972. Today multifaceted balloon festivals and year-round pilots make balloon sightings routine as hundreds lift off especially during October’s renowned Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta recognized as the world’s most photographed event spanning nine days.

What to Expect: Visitors in peak season can expect to glimpse balloons inflating and taking flight mornings and evenings as these colorful aircraft drift slowly across azure skies alone or in floating armadas visible from countless vantages across town with prime views requiring pre-dawn positioning at launch sites like Balloon Fiesta Park.

Visitor Information: Year-round mornings and summer evening balloon activity available. Largest density visible mid-October during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Event schedule and viewing tips posted online. Park & Ride shuttle services offered from offsite lots during Fiesta peak attendance periods help mitigate traffic.

A hot air ballooning capital of the world, Albuquerque skies ignite early mornings and evenings with a sea of floating jewel-toned spheres. The annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta each October draws over 500,000 spectators. But you can witness this graceful armada nearly any sunny day thanks to year-round tour companies offering flights.

Watch waves of balloons lift off from various launch sites around town. Book a ride yourself to admire Albuquerque from airborne vantages dancing upon the winds. Or be content finding a parking lot viewpoint before dawn or at sunset when balloons of all hues fill the horizon in mass poetic motion.

Explore Along Route 66 Through Town

Name and Location: Historic Route 66 passes right through downtown Albuquerque along Central Avenue where vestiges of its neon motel heyday persist today alongside newer attractions as the mother road approaches the Rio Grande and continues westbound beyond the river.

History and Significance: Part of the early transcontinental highway bringing waves of migrants and travelers through Albuquerque starting 1926, Route 66’s iconic role only grew through succeeding decades before bypass Interstates ultimately rerouted motorists away leaving many businesses shuttered by the 70s, though resilience of remaining venues and nostalgia keeps the Mother Road’s memory alive.

What to Expect: Explorers admire preserved neon signage and mid-century architecture intermingled among contemporary city sights. The historic but still operating El Vado Motel presents classic Route 66 lodging today. Conveyor belt sushi, ax throwing and escape rooms also offer modern twists alongside classic dining and bars where vintage cars sometime cruise by.

Visitor Information: Route 66 passes through Albuquerque parallel to I-40 via Central Ave before turning with NM-47 briefly. Begin Route exploration westbound by the Rio Grande or east from Tijeras Ave traveling miles in either direction. No fees, always accessible. Parking varies by site.

Before I-40 bypassed the Mother Road, Route 66 once funneled motorists directly through Albuquerque. Traces of the legendary highway still bring flashes of nostalgia throughout town. The Route 66 Diner with its classic car signage dishes out filing retro eats. The neon-rimmed KiMo Theater now hosts concerts alongside films in iconic Southwestern architecture.

But downtown holds the longest intact stretch showcasing 1940s Americana. Snap an Instagram selfie beside the Route 66 side street sign. Hunt down other Route 66 symbols in sidewalks or building facades as you explore quirky shops inside converted motels and auto garages from decades gone by.

Marvel at the Turquoise Trail

Name and Location: The Turquoise Trail refers to a National Scenic Byway spanning 15 miles from Albuquerque traveling directly along old Route 66 eastbound through Tijeras Canyon towards Santa Fe showcasing unique nature, communities and mining heritage found nowhere else in the state.

History and Significance: Used by indigenous people for centuries before conquistadors sought rumors of azure rocks, the path later served freight routes ultimately cementing permanence once pavement arrived in 1937 along the legendary Mother Road sightseers admire today for its blue hues and unspoiled high desert mountain scenery Explorers admire preserved neon signage and mid-century architecture intermingled among contemporary city sights providing a convenient nature escape from urban areas.

What to Expect: Travelers traversing this specially-designated route observe rural villages, vibrant foliage transforming the Sandia mountain backdrop over the seasons and unique geological formations created by ancient volcanic events that occasionally expose blue-green copper tints that inspire the name and sightseer awe as the state gemstone.

Visitor Information: The National Scenic Byway stays open year-round beginning in Albuquerque traveling east alongside I-40. No fees. Rest areas with facilities and signage present intermittently describing sites. Local shops found along the trail.

Just 15 miles outside Albuquerque lies the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, a stunning stretch of old highway dotted with former mining towns turned art enclaves. Named for valuable blue-green stones pulled from local hills, it delivers striking mountain vistas accented with galleries, historic sites, cafes, and trading posts centered around the creative community attracted here.

The experience combines small town charm with top-notch artisans devoted to Southwestern creativity across mediums. Check the calendars in Madrid or Cerrillos for community events from open studios to live music that invite you to mingle with friendly creatives proud of their remote organizations.

Soar High at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Name and Location: The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta occurs annually each October at Balloon Fiesta Park, a 365-acre facility located north of Albuquerque at 5000 Balloon Fiesta Parkway along I-25 and Alameda Blvd perfect for mass balloon launches.

History and Significance: Since 1972, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has grown into the world’s premier ballooning event where over 1,000 colorful hot air balloons fill skies for nine days as pilots from across the globe compete and entertain almost 1 million spectators observing this unparalleled aerial showcase evolving as a beloved tradition for local and visiting families.

What to Expect: From dawn patrols to evening glows, visitors witness balloons inflate and lift-off in waves painting horizons in dots of rainbow gradients floating for miles as the accomplished aviators pilot wispy crafts relying solely on skill and desert wind currents during America’s largest annual spectator event filled with rides, food and community reflecting Albuquerque’s enchantment with lighter than air innovation.

Visitor Information: Event dates run first week of October annually. Ticket pricing varies by day with multiday passes available. Parking/shuttles help mitigate traffic flows. Advance ticket purchases recommended for theme days like weekends or specific glow nights.

No Albuquerque visit is complete without attending the globally famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta held annually each October. Even spectators unfamiliar with ballooning remain awestruck by the sheer scale and visual spectacle offered here across nine days. It’s the largest ballooning event on earth with over 500 balloons participating from across the world.

Arrive before dawn as balloons inflate and glow to music. Return again mid morning when wave after wave launch creating a rainbow sea filling the skies for hours. Afternoon sees special shape balloons launch. And evening sessions repeat night glows coordinated to music. It’s a feat of choreography and scale found nowhere else on the planet.

Savor the Local Cuisine

Name and Location: Signature New Mexican cuisine can be found across Albuquerque at long-standing family restaurants centered especially in historic districts like Old Town, Downtown, Nob Hill and Barelas where native traditions fuse Spanish, Mexican and Western influences.

History and Significance: Evolving for 300 years since first colonization along the fertile Rio Grande, distinct chile-based red and green sauce recipes join blue corn, beans, Spanish rice, tortillas and grilled meats today considered endemic regional specialties mixing cultures while certain longtime eateries help preserve ancestral cooking unlocking an array of smoky, savory flavors for which New Mexico remains renowned.

What to Expect: From relaxed combinations plates perfect for trying quintessential dishes like enchiladas layered with beef or chicken, chimayo-dusted chiles rellenos, tacos stuffed with fried potatoes or classic smothered breakfast burritos drenched in customary sauces that define the local palate to upscale Southwestern fusions, the cuisine’s craveable zest unlimited versatility underlie flavor quests across town daily.

Visitor Information: Year-round but spice levels vary. Lunch and dinner hours typical but some venues open breakfast through late night. Pricing ranges moderately. Expect satisfied crowds during peak times or for signature dishes. Make reservations for finer venues. Be prepared to sweat from distinctive heats.

New Mexican cuisine emerged thanks to blended influences between native agricultural ingredients and Spanish colonists. Nowhere embodies the flavor profile better than Albuquerque restaurant menus bursting with chile-infused specialties. From smothered enchiladas buried under sauce and melted cheese to delicate empanadas pocketing savory fillings, this regional fare stars, along with creative Southwestern fusions.

Don’t leave without trying red or green chile stewed dishes capped with a fried egg. Dig into messy stacked enchiladas, fresh tamales wrapped in corn husks, or slow-braised carne adovada marinated pork. And traditionally top off any meal with sopapillas puffy fried pastries drizzled in honey. Follow your nose to hole-in-the-wall gems for the most authentic tastes.

See Wildlife Along the Bosque Trail

Name and Location: The Rio Grande Bosque Trail parallels the waterway through cottonwood forest communities abundant with diverse wildlife as it meanders for miles from Central Ave under bridges past the botanical gardens and zoo near Old Town and beyond city limits.

History and Significance: Originally inhabited for centuries by Puebloan peoples before Spanish settlers arrived along northern desert banks to channel Rio Grande waters still enabling growth of vegetation clusters rare to the region creating vital sustenance and habitats for Quiver trees, coyote, roadrunners, painted buntings among many types flourishing along channels also permitting trade expansion used today for walking, biking and ecology.

What to Expect: Joggers, bicyclists and birders enjoy encounters with cranes, hummingbirds, ducks, kingfishers and great blue herons fishing waters often visible in early hours and dusk along the long ribbon of dirt and paved trails interweaving nature amid city observing beavers building architecture, turtles sunning by ponds and mule deer alternating opposite pronghorns browsing.

Visitor Information: Open year-round for daytime recreation across dozens of miles. Some segments pass through remote terrain. Free access with multiple trailhead entry points spanning difficulty levels. Restroom facilities limited on routes so prepare self-sufficiently. Dogs allowed on leashes per posted regulations.

Hugging the cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande, the 18-mile Paseo del Bosque Trail delivers wildlife sightings and lovely riverfront views just minutes from downtown. Mule deer, coyotes, roadrunners, jackrabbits and hundreds of migratory bird species wander through the cottonwoods lining the trail.

Bring binoculars and a camera to best glimpse this peaceful natural oasis tucked amid the city and river channel. Or ride along designated bike trails to cover more ground in shorter times. Dawn and dusk promise peak animal activity though the views entice anytime to admire the contrast between the bustling city and this wild sanctuary.

Shop for Native Treasures at Petroglyphs Road

Name and Location: Along I-40 Petroglyphs Road lies the rock escarpment where thousands of ancient Indigenous petroglyph designs inspired an entire 20th century shopping district lined with stores specializing in native pottery, jewelry, rugs and crafts.

History and Significance: Prior to 1940s roadside stands first selling modest handmade wares to motorists when Route 66 curiosity created markets for Pueblo artists needing economic livelihood, today entire enterprises operate global online channels exporting renowned collectible Native artistry mastered for centuries originating from customs tied to nearby carved boulders preserving heritage.

What to Expect: Discerning buyers browse multiple shops populated by knowledgeable proprietors many belonging to original artist lineages conveying symbolism and technique behind precious materials from meticulously hand-coiled pottery fired with ancient pinion methods dating 800 years through intricate inlay silverwork and stone fetishes passed generationally with honor meant for purchasing not appropriating absent understanding.

Visitor Information: Year-round hours daily typically 9am-5pm. Prices range tremendously based on factors like maker provenance, dimensions, complexity of method or signature style. Ensure authenticity with dealers specializing in particular mediums. Custom orders and shipping commonplace.

No trip to the Southwest feels complete without picking up a handcrafted memento recalling the region’s indigenous roots. And in Albuquerque, Petroglyphs Road makes that quest easy. Just north of Old Town, this mile-long strip harbors dozens of Native American owned and operated artisan galleries, jewelry shops, cultural stores, and trading posts brimming with authentic wares.

Browse rugs, pottery, sand paintings, stonework, clothing, beadwork, and more created by the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, and other Southwest tribes. Chat with shop owners about regional styles or dive into books explaining techniques, symbols and traditions behind favorite finds. It’s quintessential one-stop shopping for quality Native arts unmatched anywhere nationwide.

Adventure up La Luz Trail

Name and Location: La Luz Trail ascends over 9 miles gaining 3,600 feet from the eastern foothills of the Sandia Mountains along the eastern edge of Albuquerque to the crestline highpoint overlooking the entire city with panoramic views stretching 60 miles on clear days.

History and Significance: Carved into mountain switchbacks by the Civilian Conservation Corp 1937 accessing the world’s longest tram terminal opened a year prior after failed bids halted plans for a road, this enduring single track serves as a rite of passage continually attracting athletes or exposure-seekers willing to earn sweeping vantage through sustained challenging effort following sandy contours explored by earliest inhabitants.

What to Expect: Hikers endure relentless incline trajectories negotiating plank bridges, rocky steps and thin bluff traverses that seem endless until emergence atop a granite batholith suddenly reveals the entire Rio Grande valley meandering through desert scattered with evidence of life sustained by the vital waterway guaranteeing a panoramic payoff at the turnaround point before descending back to the trailhead.

Visitor Information: Year-round access allowed but high risk during monsoon floods July-September where little vegetation and loose soils can be precarious. Park at trailhead gates off Tramway Blvd. Arrive early since parking is limited. Find maps online noting bailout options along the route. Bring plenty food/water and prepare for drastic climate changes.

Carved into the steep eastern slopes of the Sandia Mountains, La Luz Trail challenges hikers with over 9 miles roundtrip to reach its namesake peak at 10,678 feet. Along the way, the path gains over 4,000 feet in elevation via switchbacks traversing exposed ridgelines with staggering views across Albuquerque below.

Ambitious travelers willing to test lung capacity are rewarded not only by brag-worthy panoramas at the summit but also sandstone formations, piñon-juniper forests and chance wildlife sightings of red-tailed hawks or bighorn sheep. Just remember to pause when catching your breath to admire the city unfolding dramatically underneath.

Meander Along Albuquerque’s Brewery Trail

Name and Location: Dotting neighborhoods across metro Albuquerque are nearly 20 acclaimed craft breweries comprising the informal Ale Trail where visitors can sample experimental regional IPAs, Belgians, blonde ales and more while connecting emerging destinations into a beer lover’s walking pub-crawl or bikeable day across town.

History and Significance: Originating in grassroots fashion since 1993 when startup brewpubs first emerged among early national microbrew trendsetters introducing obscure styles absent among major labels, the city’s independent community brew scene matured over successive waves into multi-award winners distributing flagships internationally while retaining taprooms retaining distinct neighborhood vibes.

What to Expect: Travelers follow suggested loops stopping to taste creative selections spanning hazy to sessionable IPAs, coffee porters, fruit-forward sours, meticulously-layered wilds aged in wine barrels and lighter classic lagers perfect following spicy New Mexican cuisine across pet-friendly locales focused on quality over distribution filled by passionate, knowledgeable staff.

Visitor Information: Year-round hours vary by site generally noon to midnight.

No activity better embodies Albuquerque’s laidback vibe than grabbing local beers along its famous Brewery Trail highlighting hometown award winners and local drinking dens. From post-industrial warehouse taps to hipster holes in the wall to patio spaces, this ale trail map plots nearly 20 breweries offering craft concoctions place to place across Burque.

Taste widely to discover gold medal IPAs, coffee porters, chili-infused cervezas and wild experiments tapping the city’s DIY spirit. Or claim a corner to knock back pints pouring fresh weekly amid funky wall art repping 505 pride. Wherever you land, the social atmosphere and bubbling creativity prove as impressive as full pint glasses clinking “Salud!”


Albuquerque emerges as so much more than merely a Southwestern stopover location. Its rich heritage and culture shine alongside spectacular landscapes blanketing the city fringed by mountains on one side and desert wilderness beyond. Iconic attractions mingle with vibrant emerging enterprises where laidback locals happily share insider advice on experiencing their communities.

From the ancient past to an eye toward sustainable futures, Albuquerque rewards visitors willing to dig deeper to embrace the complex charms bubbling below its surface. Use this curated itinerary spanning natural wonders, urban adventures and quintessential New Mexican vibes as your gateway to unlocking memorable moments that will linger long after your stay concludes. Just don’t be surprised when the pull of return visits keep whispering back.

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