16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Albuquerque
The largest city in New Mexico, Albuquerque is located right in the center of the state along the muddy Rio Grande. A diverse and cosmopolitan city, Albuquerque's high desert environment offers many fun things to do throughout the year. A great first stop for any visit is Old Town, the most historic part of the city, with a relaxed and inviting atmosphere and access to many other cultural attractions in the area.
The Sandia Mountains that define the eastern edge of Albuquerque provide many outdoor recreation places, such as the Sandia Peak Tramway and the Elena Gallegos Open Space. The ABQ BioPark is also a fun family destination within the city and home to the Albuquerque Aquarium, the Rio Grande Zoo, and the Rio Grande Botanical Gardens. One of the biggest tourist draws of Albuquerque are the sights and colors that fill the air each October at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
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 more than 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.
Adjacent to Balloon Fiesta Park, where the main part of the fiesta takes place, the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum is open year-round with a great selection of ballooning history and exhibits. Permanent installations at the museum include a Balloon School, the Weather Lab, and an experiential 4-D theater. The museum offers a wide-assortment of children's programs focused on science and creativity.
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 wood carvings, and even art from the likes of Georgia O'Keeffe, the museum also hosts traveling and temporary exhibits.
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 of tourist-friendly attractions like art galleries, souvenir shops, little museums and restaurants. It's the perfect place for an afternoon stroll and casual sightseeing.
One of the anchors of Old Town, the San Felipe de Neri Church is a large centuries-old Catholic church featuring a rectory, convent, school, museum, and some impressive historic religious artifacts. It is simply one of the most beautiful and peaceful buildings not only in the city, but throughout the entire state.
4 ABQ BioPark
Not far from Old Town, the ABQ BioPark is home to the Albuquerque Aquarium, the Rio Grande Botanical Gardens, the Rio Grande Zoo, and Tingley Beach. With its expansion and upgrades of the past decade, the zoo has become a premiere destination hosting hundreds of species (many endangered) and one awesome playground. The aquarium is perfect for kids interested in sharks, while the botanical garden is a lush environment to discover butterflies and other insects. Tingley Beach has three designated fishing ponds open to the public and pedal boats for rent. This is an excellent place for an all-day family outing.
Address: 903 10th Street Southwest, Albuquerque, New Mexico
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 two miles 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. Also of interest, the on-site Pueblo Harvest Café is a restaurant and bakery well known throughout the area for their New Native American Cuisine.
6 Unser Racing Museum
Named after a legacy racing family in the Albuquerque area, the Unser Racing Museum features a wide range of motor vehicles from throughout the last century. While the vehicles look immaculate on the museum floor, many of the cars and motorcycles on display come straight out of the Unser family history and timeline. This is a fun experience for both automobile enthusiasts and racing fans, but anyone will enjoy learning about the exciting history behind motor-engine racing. A racing simulator within the facility also allows visitors to get behind the wheel themselves.
Address: 1776 Montaño Road Northwest, Albuquerque, New Mexico
7 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 theater 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!
Address: 423 Central Avenue Northwest, Albuquerque, New Mexico
8 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 miles 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. Detour attractions lining the path include Tinley Beach and Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. The trail can be accessed via multiple points along the river.
9 Rio Grande Nature Center State Park
The Rio Grande Nature Center State Park is located on the east bank of the Rio Grande just north of downtown. Exhibits at the Education Center within the park introduce the ecology, geology, and history of the Rio Grande Valley. Outdoor exhibits include gardens, ponds, and wetlands, as well as a great blind for bird watching along the Rio Grande flyway. A small hiking trail meanders throughout the area, and for more hiking pursuits, the neighboring Rio Grande Valley State Park has other loops to explore. This nature center is a good access point or side adventure stemming from the Paseo del Bosque.
Address: 2901 Candelaria Road Northwest, Albuquerque, New Mexico
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 feet, the rugged summit of the range offers a superb view of sprawling Albuquerque. The tramway offers a rather stunning ride along a 2.7-mile suspended cable from the eastern edge of the city to the summit. You can literally see for hundreds of miles around. To add some exercise to the experience, ambitious and prepared hikers can climb the 7.5-mile La Luz Trail to the top and take the tramway back down.
Address: 30 Tramway Road Northeast, Albuquerque, New Mexico
11 Elena Gallegos Open Space
On the eastern edge of the city limits, Elena Gallegos Open Space is a 640-acre park set in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. This is a popular place for hikers, bikers, and equestrians, and a network of multi-use trails spreads throughout the area, often connecting with other trails that lead deeper into the Cibola National Forest. Elena Gallegos is a popular gathering place, with seven covered picnic areas that deliver on spectacular views. A wildlife blind, shaded rest stops, and original art also surround the picnic space. The stunning sunsets bring out the pink "watermelon" color that the Sandia Mountains are named for and are another popular reason to visit.
Address: 7100 Tramway Boulevard Northeast, Albuquerque, New Mexico
12 New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
Located near Old Town and the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, this institution focuses on the ancient geologic history of the area. Through several life-size dinosaur skeletons and models, a hands-on Naturalist Center, and an inside look at extracting dinosaur fossils, this educational center provides interest for every member of the family. The Planetarium at the facility features a 55-foot, full dome theater with regular shows concerning space, constellations, and the never-ending world of fractals. Regular programming takes place at the museum, with classes and events catering to children, adults, and families.
13 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 20,000 ancient images hewn 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. A popular area of the park is the Boca Negra Canyon day-use area, with restroom facilities and a drinking fountain, as well as access to three self-guided trails and more than 100 petroglyphs to observe. The visitor center offers excellent interpretive exhibits along with a wide-range of educational programs.
14 Explora! Science Center and Children's Museum
Just on the outskirts of Old Town, next to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, the Explora! Science Center is a unique place full of discovery. Catering to the younger minds in the community, Explora features experiential exhibits designed around science, education, and fun. Permanent exhibits at this two-floor education space include the Shapes of Sounds, a Paradox Café, and a Water Flow Patio. Explora also offers a wide range of camps, classes, and events, all of which encourage a collaborative environment of scientific learners.
Address: 1701 Mountain Road Northwest, Albuquerque, New Mexico
15 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 more than 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.
16 American International Rattlesnake Museum
A few blocks from the ABQ BioPark, this animal conservation museum has one of the largest collections of live rattlesnakes in the country. Striving to educate the public about these sometimes "less desirable" reptiles, the museum displays 34 species of rattlesnakes from around the world, as well as snake-related artwork, photography, and various other memorabilia. The Rattlesnake Museum encourages visitors who are frightened of snakes to come check them out in this safe and controlled environment and to learn more about these resident animals of the American Southwest.
Address: 202 San Felipe Street Northwest, Albuquerque, New Mexico
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.
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- Nearby Cities: If you are traveling through New Mexico, don't miss an opportunity to see the sites of beautiful Santa Fe, just an hour away. A little further afield, the pueblos and other attractions around Taos are also worth the 2.5-hour trip north. For a complete look at ideas for stop in New Mexico, see our list of top attractions in New Mexico.