14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Albuquerque
Located right in the center of the state along the muddy Rio Grande, Albuquerque is framed by the rugged 10,000 ft Sandia Mountains to the east and a wide volcanic escarpment to the west. Summers in Albuquerque tend to be quite hot, although late-summer rainstorms offer a refreshing relief. Winters are quite cold but generally without snow. Nearly a quarter of the total population of the state of New Mexico resides in the metropolitan area making for an ethnically diverse and rather cosmopolitan city.
Initially a Spanish colonial settlement along the Kings Road from Santa Fe to Mexico City, Albuquerque grew from its humble 1706 founding to an important hub by the time it was taken from the Mexicans by American general Stephen Kearny in 1846. With the arrival of the railroad in 1880 Albuquerque swiftly became the most important and later the largest city in the state.
Long an important commercial town, Albuquerque is an important center of research and development, with a wide range of educational institutes and laboratories as well as the University of New Mexico. In recent years Albuquerque has also become an important regional arts hub.
See also: Where to Stay in Albuquerque
1 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Albuquerque's high desert environment makes for one of the best spots in the world for hot air ballooning. Every October sees hundreds of balloons and tens of thousands of people coming to the city for the International Balloon Fiesta. For over a week, the cold morning skies fill with hot-air balloons from all over the world. Sunset finds the balloons inflated again for evening "balloon glows", where the burners are fired into the stationary envelopes to make them shine against the dark sky. Balloon rides and scores of other events round out the celebration. The balloons can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.
2 Albuquerque Museum of Art and History
This impressive institution offers visitors an in-depth look into Albuquerque's past. Located at the edge of Old Town, this museum hosts a spectacular collection of cultural items from the past 400 years. It is a place where the visitor not only gains a better understanding of Albuquerque's history but about European settlement in the entire southwest. Displaying suits of Spanish armor, historic woodcarvings and even art of the likes of Georgia O'Keeffe, the museum also hosts traveling and temporary exhibits.
Hours: Open Tues-Sun 9am-5pm
Admission: Adults $4
3 Old Town
Site of the original Spanish settlement, Old Town was shaped for centuries by both the Spanish and Mexican cultures as well as the Native Americans of the area. Centered on the large plaza, Albuquerque's Old Town retains a relaxing and charming Southwestern feel characterized by giant old cottonwood trees, cobblestone streets and adobe structures. Old Town is full tourist-friendly attractions like art galleries, souvenir shops, little museums and restaurants. It's the perfect place for an afternoon stroll and casual sightseeing.
4 Albuquerque Biological Park
Not far from Old Town, the new Bio Park is home to the Albuquerque Aquarium, the Rio Grande Botanical Gardens and the Rio Grande Zoo. With its expansion and upgrades of the past decade, the zoo has become a premiere destination hosting hundreds of species (many endangered) and one very awesome playground. The aquarium is perfect for the kids interested in sharks, while the botanical garden is a lush environment to discover butterflies and other insects. This is an excellent place for an all-day family outing.
Admission: Adults $12.50-$20, Children $4-$6
5 Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
For thousands of years, the numerous cultures of the Pueblo people called this area (now New Mexico) home. While dozens of pueblos disappeared with the coming of the Spanish, many remain vibrant. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, located 2 mi north of Old Town, celebrates these living cultures and histories with an outstanding museum as well as cultural events, lectures, workshops and tours. Be sure to make time to attend at least one of the traditional dances.
Hours: Open daily 9am-5pm
Admission: Adults $6, Children $3
6 KiMo Theatre
One of Albuquerque's best-known architectural landmarks, the KiMo Theatre was originally built in 1927. The somewhat gaudy Pueblo-Revival-Art Deco Style incorporates adobe architectural styles with the linear motifs and recessed spandrels more typical of classic Art Deco. Paintings and images of Native American cultures abound. Through the 1970s the theatre fell into neglect and was barely saved from the wrecking ball. A renovation completed in 2000 has allowed the theater to again become one of the city's premier venues. Oh, and it is reputed to be haunted!
7 Paseo del Bosque
Albuquerque isn't just a big city. It also hosts one of the most important environmental corridors in the Southwestern United States. Tracing the forested Rio Grande for 16 mi right through the center of town, the Paseo is a perfect walking and biking path. The route offers a break from the city as well as some great wildlife-viewing opportunities. The trail can be accessed via multiple points along the river.
8 Rio Grande Nature Center State Park
The Rio Grande Nature Center State Park is located on the east bank of the Rio Grande at Candelaria Road in Albuquerque. Exhibits introduce the ecology, geology, and history of the Rio Grande Valley. It also offers a small hiking trail, access to Paseo del Bosque and a blind for great aquatic bird watching.
9 Church of San Felipe de Neri
One of the anchors of Old Town, this large 300-year-old Catholic church features a rectory, convent, school, museum and some impressive historic religious artifacts. It is simply one of the most beautiful and peaceful buildings in the entire state.
10 Sandia Peak Tramway
While not as high as the Colorado Rockies, the Sandia Mountains framing the skyline to the east are no shrinking violets. At 10,378 ft the rugged summit of the range offers a superb view of sprawling Albuquerque. The tramway offers a rather stunning ride along a 3 mi suspended cable from the eastern edge of the city to the summit. You can literally see hundreds for miles around. Several restaurants, ski slopes and wilderness hiking trails greet the sightseeing visitor.
Admission: Adults $20
11 New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
Likewise located near Old Town as well as near the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, this institution focuses on the ancient geologic history of the area. Though displaying several life-size dinosaur skeletons and a few other items that will wow children, this museum is not particularly kid-oriented. Still, be sure to check out the IMAX and planetarium schedule for some pretty thrilling showings that the whole family will enjoy.
Hours: Open daily 9am-5pm
Admission: Adults $7, Children $4
12 Petroglyph National Monument
Albuquerque is full of history, but here is where you'll find the really old stuff. Located on the western edge of the city, this 7,236-acre national monument is home to nearly 25,000 ancient images hewed into the volcanic rock by some of the continent's earliest inhabitants. This is an outdoor museum, and most of the images are accessed via numerous hiking trails. The visitor's center offers excellent interpretive exhibits along with a wide-range of educational programs.
Hours: Open daily 8am-5pm
13 Explora! Science Center and Children's Museum
Described as "part science center, part children's museum, part free-choice school, part grandma's attic, part grandpa's garage, part laboratory, part neighborhood full of interesting people, and part of many people's lives….", Explora is a hands-on science center with many facets. Exhibits are created specifically to get visitors to make their own scientific discoveries. Explora also hosts numerous camps and events designed around science, education and fun.
Hours: Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun noon-6pm
Admission: Adults $8, Children $4
14 University of New Mexico
The sprawling forested campus of the University of New Mexico (UNM) is like one massive park located right in the center of the city. The state's flagship institution, UNM is a public research university founded in 1889. Famed architect John Gaw Meem designed many of the buildings on the central campus, which has a unique southwestern feel. Eight of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Here you will find an arboretum encompassing over 300 species, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, the Geology and Meteorite Museums, the Southwest Biology Museum and the University Art Museum in the Center for the Arts. UNM is forever hosting art and cultural exhibits and performances and is surrounded by a lively university district.
Where to Stay in Albuquerque for Sightseeing
Albuquerque's attractions are clustered around the downtown area, and this is the best place to stay, especially for first-time visitors wanting a true Southwest experience. This is where you'll find Old Town, with its quaint cobblestone streets, old Southwest architecture, unique restaurants and shops, and towering cottonwood trees overhead. Below are some highly-rated hotels in this area:
- Luxury Hotels: Downtown, near the convention center, the historic Hotel Andaluz dates from 1939 and typifies refined Southwestern charm. Said to be slightly haunted, the former hospital turned luxury 74-room boutique hotel, Parq Central, is two miles out from Old Town but offers complimentary luxury SUV shuttle service within a three mile radius. Hidden behind the gates of the adobe style compound in Old Town is the Casas de Suenos Old Town Historic Inn, with 21 individual casitas in a lush garden setting, and a cooked-to-order breakfast.
- Mid-Range Hotels: At the top end of mid-range is the Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, with a great location in the heart of Old Town. Very convenient to both Interstate 40 and only a few blocks from Old Town is the Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn. Breakfast is included at the restaurant on the property. Perfect for convention or trade show attendees is the large DoubleTree by Hilton Albuquerque, across the street from the convention center.
- Budget Hotels: Across the Rio Grande from downtown, and about 1.5 miles from Old Town, the Sandia Peak Inn Motel is a stand out for its location, with clean and tidy rooms coupled with friendly charm. Offering exceptional value, the Econo Lodge is just steps from Old Town and features an outdoor pool. On historic Route 66 and easily recognizable by its bright neon sign is the eclectic and unusual Monterey Non-Smokers Motel, offering clean and interesting rooms and an outdoor pool.