The American southwest is a vast place full of beautiful natural wonders and some great towns in between them. One of the hidden gems among them is Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico.
Albuquerque sits in the Rio Grande Valley beside the Sandia Mountains, up in the high desert plains of New Mexico. It’s about an hour’s drive from the state capital of Santa Fe and just under four hours to El Paso and the border with Mexico.
The city is served by a large airport called the Albuquerque International Sunport, which has numerous connections across the country. Besides flying in, Albuquerque is a great city to add to a southwestern road trip. Neighboring states within just a few hours’ drive have some great national parks just across the border.
It’s a great place to visit but it’s recommended that you book a rental car, you can use Discover Cars as you’ll get instant price quotes from the best rental car companies out there. By renting a car, you can embark on some amazing day trips and excursions to see all of the natural beauty that surrounds Albuquerque.
Most travelers headed to Albuquerque are looking to enjoy the city’s historical attractions, such as the Albuquerque Old Town, as well as the amazing natural beauty of the high desert. You might be surprised to see just how many things there are to do in this city.
If you’re looking for the top things to do in Albuquerque, New Mexico, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to see the best things ABQ has to offer.
Albuquerque: Rio Grande Valley Hot Air Balloon Ride is a breathtaking hot air balloon ride over the scenic Rio Grand Valley. The flight will take you through beautiful vineyards, over the river, and past the local wineries. This first-class hot air balloon ride is perfect for those who have never flown in a hot air balloon before.
Albuquerque’s craft beer scene has had a recent renaissance, with even more breweries in the planning stages. This tour gives you the chance to get to know three of them - and you will be able to explore these breweries in a small-group setting. Whether you’re looking for something special or just want to learn about the process, this is the tour for you. Enjoy a delicious range of beer styles while learning all about brewing from your guide!
Albuquerque is home to a unique blend of cultures and heritages that make it one of the most interesting places in the country. Walk through Old Town Albuquerque and discover how this modern city emerged from a historic crossroads of Native Americans, conquistadors, and pioneers. On this tour you will experience the history of Albuquerque through its architecture, landscape and fascinating stories.
- Most significant landmark – Albuquerque Old Town
- Best park – ABQ BioPark
- Best free activity – Petroglyph National Monument
- Best activity for kids – Cliff’s Amusement Park
- Best activity for adults – Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
- Best food – Indian Pueblo Kitchen at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
- Best nightlife – Sister Bar
- Best all-around accommodation – TownePlace Suites by Marriott Albuquerque Old Town
Best & Fun Things to Do in Albuquerque, New Mexico
1. Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Address: 2401 12th St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104
The first thing you should know about New Mexico, in general, is that it is full of cultural history for Native Americans, known as the Puebloans. This term encompasses 19 distinct native tribes that inhabit the Southwestern United States and share common religious, agricultural, and social traits.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is a non-profit organization in Albuquerque to preserve, share, and perpetuate the culture and history of the Puebloans. It showcases their rich history from pre-Columbian times to the present day, as well as their impressive accomplishments. The center sits on 80 acres owned and governed by the 19 Pueblos District, a sovereign government, just outside of Downtown Albuquerque.
An admission ticket gets you access to see art, pottery, jewelry, clothing, and other artifacts of the Pueblo people. Visitors can also experience traditional dancing and music, food and cooking, and other cultural events. You can also take home authentic souvenirs from the Indian Pueblo Store and try real Native American cuisine at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen (formerly known as the Pueblo Harvest Cafe).
The 80 acres owned by the Pueblo government also include other stores, restaurants, and hotels, including the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Albuquerque Old Town and the TownePlace Suites by Marriott Albuquerque Old Town. These are two great locations to base yourself in Albuquerque, not only for access to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center but for Old Town Albuquerque as well.
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2. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The next thing to know about New Mexico is that it’s the world capital of hot air balloons. And if you’re wondering what to do in Albuquerque in early October, you have your answer.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest gathering of hot air balloons, taking place at the appropriately-named Balloon Fiesta Park in the North Valley neighborhood during the first full week of every October. What started out as a modest group of 13 balloons during the fiesta’s first year in 1976, has turned into an international phenomenon of more than 500 balloons in the skies above Albuquerque.
Most visitors are very excited to enjoy the views of hundreds of colorful, giant balloons in the clear sky among the beautiful New Mexico desert backdrop. For those who want hot air balloon rides of their own, there are no shortages, and they are available year-round.
You can do a general hour-long tour of the Rio Grande Valley above Albuquerque or choose a sunrise special or sunset spectacular. You’ll always get an FAA-certified balloon pilot (of which Albuquerque has the most in the country), and there is no experience quite like a balloon ride. If heights aren’t your thing, then check out the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum to learn about the history of ballooning and try it in a simulator.
3. Albuquerque Museum
Address: 2000 Mountain Rd NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104
Albuquerque is a place full of history and culture, which the city proudly displays at the Albuquerque Museum. This museum houses art, maps, photographs, stories, and artifacts from all over New Mexico and the Middle Rio Grande Valley, as well as special exhibitions from around the country and the world.
Some of the history that can be seen in this New Mexico Museum include armor of the conquistadors, weavings from colonial life, an outdoor sculpture garden, and a collection of over 130,000 historic photographs. North of the city, the museum also operates the Casa San Ysidro, which dates from the 18th century and provides a unique look into the daily life of this time period in Albuquerque.
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop, either, and see what kind of interesting films are playing in the museum’s auditorium. The Albuquerque Museum is closed on Mondays, and admission prices are quite affordable.
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4. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
Address: 1801 Mountain Rd NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104
A great addition to your visit to the Albuquerque Museum could be the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, which are just across the street from one another. This interesting museum features both permanent and temporary exhibits on the natural environment of the state that will take you on a massive journey through time.
The experience begins at the birth of the universe over 13 billion years ago, visits the Ice Age and the era of the dinosaurs, and details the times of New Mexico’s seacoast and volcanos, among others. Visitors will see dinosaur skeletons and fossils, as this state was once home to many Jurassic creatures thanks to a warm, dry climate.
There’s also a planetarium with daily educational programs, as well as displays on outer space and its exploration. The observation deck opens on certain evenings, allowing visitors to look through the beautiful, clear sky of New Mexico.
5. Explora Science Center & Children’s Museum of Albuquerque
Address: 1701 Mountain Rd NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104
Let’s finish off the three museums on Mountain Road, and add a great thing to do in Albuquerque with kids: The Explora Science Center & Children’s Museum of Albuquerque. It’s just next door to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (and, therefore, the Albuquerque Museum) and is a great way to inspire the curiosity of your kids.
The name “Explora” comes from the Spanish word for explore, and that’s what the exhibits at this museum encourage kids to do. The interactive displays are there to spark interest in science, technology, and art for all ages. Examples include seeing real-life exotic desert animals, experimenting with the physics of water flow, and toying with ramps and balls to understand the engineering of gravity.
The museum is a ton of fun for the whole family and an easy addition to the others in the area. It is closed on Mondays. Families looking to stay nearby or who want more space for everyone during their stay in Albuquerque should consider renting a private “Casita” house for an affordable and authentic stay.
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6. National Hispanic Cultural Center
Address: 1701 4th St SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102
Another major contributing culture to New Mexico and Albuquerque is that of the area’s Hispanic settlers and those from south of the border. Hence, it’s only right that the National Hispanic Cultural Center is found right here in Albuquerque.
The center is located on the banks of the Rio Grande in the southern part of Albuquerque, where a historic trade route to Mexico existed. Since 2000, the 20-acre site has been home to displays of art, music, dance, theater, cooking, history, and literature of Hispanic people. There are performance theaters, a museum, a library, and a genealogy center on the site.
Most visitors to Albuquerque come here for the art museum or to see a performance, or for a special exhibition. Check out their event calendar to see what’s happening during your visit. By the way – some excellent Mexican food can be found in this historically-Hispanic neighborhood!
7. Petroglyph National Monument
Address: 6510 Western Trail NW, Albuquerque, NM 87120
If you’re a national park and monument enthusiast, you will definitely want to visit Petroglyph National Monument. This massive preserve is in the west of Albuquerque atop the massive mesa formation that dominates the horizon from town.
This desert-like area was formed by volcanic eruptions long ago, and a chain of these volcanos forms the western boundary of the monument. The rocky terrain makes for fun hiking, with favorite areas including Rinconada Canyon, Mirehaven, and Black Volcano.
But, the even more exciting part of this national monument is the ancient petroglyphs within it that number in the thousands. Petroglyphs are carvings made by humans hundreds of years ago into rocks and cave walls, which depict histories, religious stories, or other unknown things. Ancient Pueblo communities made these carvings well before Albuquerque or New Mexico existed, and seeing them today is a fascinating look into the far past.
Start at the visitor center to look at a map and see what is open during your trip, and then drive to your preferred trailheads or attractions. Dogs are welcome in the monument. Be sure to be respectful of the hundreds, if not thousands, of ancient pieces of history you will come across.
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8. Unser Racing Museum
Address: 1776 Montaño Rd NW, Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, NM 87107
Any stock car racing fans will definitely want to make a stop at the Unser Racing Museum in northern Albuquerque. It’s a tribute to New Mexico’s own “racing family,” the Unsers, who were largely born and raised in the city.
The family’s story of driving dates to the invention of cars and motorcycles, but it was Jerry Unser who started racing professionally. His brothers, Alfred and Bobby, their children, and his other relatives were all racers as well, and the family has managed to win the Indy 500 a record nine times.
The museum is shaped like a giant steering wheel and contains Unser racing memorabilia, including real stock cars that they raced. You can also get into a racing simulator and see what it’s like to control all of that horsepower. Stop by the gift shop to take home a piece of a very unique race car experience.
9. Cliff’s Amusement Park
Address: 4800 Osuna Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109
Looking for a day of family fun the way Albuquerque locals do it? Head over to Cliff’s Amusement Park in the northeast of the city for rollercoasters, waterslides, and every ride in between.
The park is open seasonally in and around summertime when the weather is best in Albuquerque. It’s a combination amusement park and waterpark, with carnival-style games and food stands as well. You’ll find favorites like bumper cars, sky-high swings, and several rollercoasters, including the famous New Mexico Rattler.
If it’s hot out, you can cool off on the Rocky Mountain Rapids log flume or The Big Flush raft ride, for example. There are ticketing options for any kind of visitor, ranging from individual ride tickets to unlimited day passes.
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10. Sandia Peak Tramway
Address: 30 Tramway Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87122
Albuquerque is bordered to the east by the beautiful Sandia Mountains. Sandia means watermelon in Spanish, and these mountains’ name comes from the lovely red color of the range at sunset. One of the most fun ways to get to the top and enjoy sweeping views of Albuquerque is on the Sandia Peak Tramway.
This aerial tram begins at the eastern edge of the city in Sandia Heights. A 2.7-mile cable car ride, the longest in the Americas, will bring you on a steep journey of about 15 minutes to the mountaintop at more than 10,000-feet elevation. For any heights-nervous travelers, know that there is an incredible level of safety engineered into the Sandia Peak Tramway.
Along the way, and at many points on the top, you’ll get some of the most amazing views of Albuquerque, the mesa, and the surrounding desert without going up in a hot air balloon. The upper terminus includes the popular TEN-3 restaurant, numerous biking and hiking trails, and a winter ski slope network.
11. American International Rattlesnake Museum
Address: 202 San Felipe St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104
Feeling inclined to see the world’s largest collection of live rattlesnakes? Check out the American International Rattlesnake Museum right in Old Town Albuquerque. This animal conservation museum is dedicated to educating the public about rattlesnakes and is a great experience for the entire family.
A visit to the rattlesnake museum allows you to view over 30 species of rattlesnakes along with tons of memorabilia and artifacts to learn about the role that these creatures have played in our lives throughout history. The museum is also home to several other species of reptiles and spiders.
Be sure to check their website for the most recent opening hours, as they depend on the season and whether it’s Balloon Fiesta season or not, during which opening times are extended. This is a stop easily combined with a visit to the old town area, and doesn’t require much time. You’ll get a certificate of bravery for entering rattlesnake territory, and be warned – shoplifters may be envenomated.
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12. Turquoise Museum
Address: 400 2nd St SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102
New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment, and this is certainly exhibited through the beautiful turquoise jewelry and artwork that you can find throughout the state. The vibrant blue stones are sacred to the indigenous people of this region and still play an integral role in their communities. To learn more about the history of turquoise and how it’s used around the globe, check out the Turquoise Museum.
The museum houses stunning jewelry and art pieces featuring these brilliant stones. Be sure to stop by the Gallery of Mines to discover how turquoise is mined and the different color variations of it you can find.
You can purchase your ticket to the Turquoise Museum in advance to skip the line. The museum resembles a castle and is located in Downtown Albuquerque, another popular area to stay in – consider the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Albuquerque, for example. It’s in the heart of downtown and among popular restaurants and the best nightlife in the city, like Effex Nightclub and Sister Bar.
13. Tingley Beach
Address: 1800 Tingley Dr SW, Albuquerque, NM 87104
If you’re looking for a peaceful place to relax and enjoy the outdoors with the whole family, head over the Tingley Beach. This Albuquerque attraction isn’t open for swimming, but it is stocked well with fish, making it a great spot for family fun.
The main pond at Tingley Beach is stocked with rainbow trout and channel catfish, making for great fly fishing or angling. A special children’s pond is also available for kids to try their hand at fishing.
Around the main pond area, you can find an assortment of picnic areas and dog-friendly hiking trails. You might even spot locals enjoying a sunny day outside with their model boats on Model Boat Pond.
The Tingley Beach recreation area is open from sunrise to sunset every day, year-round. If you plan to fish, make sure that you have registered for a fishing license for you and your children over the age of 12.
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14. Historic Old Town Albuquerque
Did you know Albuquerque was founded all the way back in 1706? Experience the history of the city’s cultural center in historic Old Town Albuquerque. Old Town Plaza is home to warm and colorful souvenir shops, several museums, and wonderful restaurants.
One of the first stops you’ll want to make in the old town is at the beautiful San Felipe de Neri Church. This adobe-style Catholic church was built in 1793 during the Spanish colonial period, is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the town, and remains a functioning church today.
Around the central plaza, you’ll find a multitude of restaurants that offer regional and traditional cuisines. Be sure to pop into Church Street Cafe and try their handmade tamales.
To learn more about New Mexico’s unique culture and heritage, I recommend joining this old town walking tour. The two-hour-long tour will allow you to learn about the state’s mix of cultures and ends with a refreshing glass of a local brew or wine.
The Old Town is an excellent area to stay in Albuquerque due to the proximity of so many of the city’s attractions, restaurants, and shopping. Staying a few nights here can eliminate the need for a rental car with proper planning. Consider the Casa de Suenos Old Town Historic Inn for its great location and authentic atmosphere.
15. ABQ BioPark Zoo, Aquarium, & Botanic Garden
Address: 899 12th St SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102
Some of the most fun in the city can be had at the facilities of the Albuquerque Biological Park, known as ABQ BioPark. This organization operates the ABQ BioPark Zoo, Aquarium, and Botanic Garden, along with the aforementioned Tingley Beach. All of them sit along the Rio Grande in the western part of town.
The ABQ BioPark Zoo, formerly known as the Rio Grande Zoo, covers a very large area with over 2.5 miles of walking paths. Here, visitors can see animals both native to New Mexico and from far away, including polar bears, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and even African wild dogs.
North of the zoo is the ABQ BioPark Aquarium, which contains an extensive collection of sea life that you might not expect in a landlocked state. Its state-of-the-art 285,000-gallon seawater tank is home to six species of shark, sea turtles, stingrays, and other open ocean animals. There’s also a fascinating exhibit on the wildlife of the Rio Grande, among many other attractions.
Finally, the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden is just next door to the aquarium. Its 36 acres offer a lovely stroll through manicured gardens, including a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse for desert and Mediterranean plants. Altogether, the ABQ BioPark attractions are a spectacular trip into the nature of Albuquerque and far beyond.
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16. Paseo del Bosque Trail
Of the numerous hiking trails around the Albuquerque area, perhaps the most popular is the Paseo del Bosque. This 16-mile multi-use trail runs north to south through the Rio Grande Valley State Park, along the banks of the river, and through the entirety of the city.
The main trail is paved and great for biking, running, horseback riding, or simply walking along the river. You can expect a reasonable amount of cover from the hot New Mexico sun, as the trail runs mostly through cottonwood forest.
There are some interesting works of art along the trail as well, specifically if you cross the Montaño Road bridge and go to the Pueblo Montaño Picnic Area and Trailhead. A forest fire destroyed much of the area here years ago, destroying many cottonwood trees but preserving their stumps. A local fireman took to them with his chainsaw, creating sculptures out of them to represent the peoples’ love for the bosque, which have become historic wood carvings that this spot is known for today.
17. Maxwell Museum of Anthropology
Address: 500 University Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106
Another great cultural experience in Albuquerque is the University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. You’ll find the campus, where this museum is located, in the east of the city.
The theme of the museum is “the human experience” of the Southwestern United States, beginning long ago with the ancestors of the human race. Of course, there are extensive exhibitions on the culture, history, customs, and traditions of the Pueblo people native to the area. Visitors can see real-life excavations and recreations of excavations from sites around New Mexico and what they have unearthed.
The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and admission is totally free. Have a look at their website to see what temporary exhibitions are happening during your free time in Albuquerque.
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18. National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
Address: 601 Eubank Blvd SE, Albuquerque, NM 87123
Visitors well-versed in military history may know that the first detonation of a nuclear weapon was conducted in the New Mexico desert. They, along with much of the curious public, might be interested to see the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, appropriately located on the outskirts of Albuquerque near the Kirtland Air Force Base.
The museum, which is a Smithsonian Affiliate, is dedicated to preserving and sharing the story of nuclear science from its astonishing beginnings to its peaceful use today. Those of us who aren’t quite up-to-date with our physics courses can learn, in simple terms, the science behind the atom and how its power can be harvested for both massive explosions and the efficient creation of energy for power grids around the world.
Besides the science, visitors can learn about the role atomic weapons played in World War II and the decision to use them. There are replicas of the infamous Little Boy and Fat Man, as well as real-life, preserved aircraft, such as the B29 Superfortress and Mig-21 (sorry, non-avgeeks, for rambling).
The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm, and active military gets a steep discount. Despite being on the city’s outskirts, you can reach it by bus if you don’t have a car during your stay, so don’t let the location discourage you.
19. Rio Grande Nature Center State Park
Address: 2901 Candelaria Rd NW, Albuquerque, NM 87107
The Rio Grande Nature Center State Park is one of the best ways to appreciate the wildlife of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Valley in its natural habitat. There are 270 acres of wetlands and bosque, or riparian forest, with viewing platforms and trails throughout.
Birdwatchers will be pleased with the more than 300 species of birds that can be viewed in the preserve. There are also porcupines, muskrats, coyotes, various turtles, and other reptiles and mammals throughout. There are elevated viewing platforms and indoor viewing rooms placed in strategic spots to help visitors maximize their chances of spotting something.
There are more than a mile of trails through the cottonwood forests, which make for a great nature hike as well. Guided nature walks, annual festivals, and other events take place at the state park, so be sure to check their website to see if anything interesting is going on while you’re there.
20. Casa Rondeña Winery
Address: 733 Chavez Rd, Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, NM 87107
Wine lovers might be surprised to know that grapes are grown and fermented in the desert of New Mexico, and it would be hard to resist trying some! The Casa Rondeña Winery is Albuquerque’s premiere vineyard and tasting room, located in the northern part of the city.
The Calvin family started their vineyard in the 1990s after some years of living in Spain and learning to appreciate a good bottle. Their creations have been hugely successful and even award-winning, with their Meritage Red having won 11 gold and double-gold medals in recent years alone. Their Riesling blends have won Best of Show in the New Mexico State Wine Competition.
The tasting room is open to the public daily, with no reservations needed. Tasting flights and small plates of cheese, crackers, and chocolates are available. Larger events can be held here with a reservation if you are planning a celebration in Albuquerque.
What is Albuquerque, New Mexico known for?
One of the events taking place in the city known around the world is the famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, when hundreds of hot air balloons dot the beautiful New Mexico sky. Albuquerque is also known for its Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, the amazing Petroglyph National Monument, and its historic and quaint old town.
Is Albuquerque, New Mexico worth visiting?
Albuquerque is a hidden gem of a destination, as it’s not on the top of every traveler’s to-do list, yet is filled with fascinating things to do. There is beautiful natural scenery, unique cultural heritage and history, and tasty Southwestern food in this fun city.
What are the best things to do in Albuquerque, New Mexico with kids?
The best things to see in Albuquerque with children are Cliff’s Amusement Park, the Explora Science Center & Children’s Museum of Albuquerque, and Tingley Beach. Active families will also enjoy the trails of Sandia Peak and the Paseo del Bosque Trail.
Are there free things to do in Albuquerque?
Some of the best Albuquerque, New Mexico tourist attractions are totally free! The Petroglyph National Monument is a fascinating look into the area’s history and comes at no charge. The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology is a free museum, while most of the other museums in town have free days or nights every so often that you can take advantage of.