If you’re looking for a unique place for your next vacation, look no further than Albuquerque, New Mexico. Nestled around the Rio Grande River and the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque feels like no other city in the United States. And though the city is surrounded by desert, mountains, and forests, it is still incredibly accessible to travelers.
But it’s more than just the access to the outdoors that makes Albuquerque unique. The area’s food, architecture, arts, and other cultural forms are affected by the region’s history of settlement and colonization by different groups. Founded in 1706 as the Villa de Alburquerque (that first “r” has since been dropped) and named for the then-current Viceroy of New Spain, Albuquerque has had plenty of time as a home to many different groups of people. Beginning with the Tiwa Puebloans that first farmed along the Rio Grande and through New Mexico’s history as Spanish, Mexican, and part of the U.S., you can feel the different influences and their melding even today.
Between everything Albuquerque has to offer, there is so much to do that it could take more than one vacation to do it all. To save you time, let’s look at the top five things to do in Albuquerque.
Attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Every October, all roads lead to Albuquerque for the International Balloon Fiesta. For nine days, the city of Albuquerque grows even more colorfully beautiful, courtesy of hot air balloons racing in the sky. The festival is a navigation contest to see who can best maneuver to the destination.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon festival in the world, and you get to experience it locally! The festival began in 1972 with only 13 balloons and about 10,000 guests. In 2022, 50 years later, over 600 hot air balloons and hundreds of thousands of guests were expected to grace the event. The festival is also a great show of incredible talent within the United States. The first ever fiesta sourced pilots from all over the country, including Iowa, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.
Expect to see more than just balloons in the air. The nine-day event also features a series of interesting activities. You’ll see the mass ascension of the balloons, a chainsaw carving exhibition, an auction, and even skydiving. This is the perfect place to rekindle the fireworks with your partner as you soak and get mesmerized by the glamour of the fireworks show.
Ride the Sandia Peak Tramway
The Sandia Peak Tramway is excellent if you love seeing nature from a bird’s eye view. And, you’ll have one of the more unique experiences you can find in the world. That’s because the Sandia Peak Tramway is the third longest single-span tramway in the world and the longest in the U.S.
The experience gets better during winter if the weather allows, as you can enjoy the area’s fantastic skiing. You may also hike in Cibola National Forest and explore the beautiful trails.
Relax during your ride, then enjoy lunch or dinner with a magnificent view at the 10,000 feet above sea level, TEN3 restaurant. Remember to get a souvenir at the gift shop to support local artisans.
Hike or Ski the Sandia Mountains
A ride at the Sandia Peak Tramway takes about 30 minutes. Use the rest of the day for hiking or skiing in the Sandia Mountains — the option available depends on the season when you’re visiting. Hiking is best done during summer. The forest service provides a detailed trail guide for the Sandia Mountains, including information about elevations, difficulty ratings, and distance to cover. The service also issues alerts and warnings to ensure safety.
The tramway’s Ski FAQ section advises you on ways to have a great experience and provides details on the gear and skill level needed to descend the mountain. For a better experience, go along with friends to cheer each other along and test your limits. Don’t forget to carry snacks.
Appreciate Art at an Albuquerque Museum
The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History is a must-visit attraction for art and culture lovers. Located at 2000 Mountain Road NW, the Albuquerque Museum welcomes guests during regular business hours most days a week.
The Albuquerque Museum has quite a large collection of over 45,000 works of art. The permanent collection consists of needlework magazines from the 1930s, early Native American crafts, and pieces that explore the European influence in New Mexico. You’ll find Native American jewelry and textiles, Hispanic religious art, and art from the U.S. Southwest, too.
The Albuquerque Museum also hosts events, including gallery tours, Old Town walking tours, exhibitions, garden tours, and family art workshops. You can also try the nearby Biopark if you’re looking for a more intimate garden tour.
Explore Old Town Albuquerque
After you visit the Albuquerque Museum, you should take a look around Old Town. As the name suggests, this is the oldest part of Albuquerque, and whether you’re traveling with children or on a friends’ trip or romantic getaway, you’ll have plenty of things to enjoy about Old Town.
Most of the action happens around the Old Town Plaza. During the summer, there are concerts each weekend in the plaza with bands playing various genres, including mariachi, jazz, funk, and country. There are also concerts and events at the plaza coinciding with the balloon fiesta and Christmas. Surrounding the plaza are shops selling everything from T-shirts and shot glasses to ceramics from Indigenous artisans.
For art lovers, there are also many galleries in Old Town. Whether you’re interested in more traditional Southwest art or the contemporary and postmodern, there will be something for you. The Yucca Art Gallery is an artists’ collective that has been around since 1964. It features work from local artists in various styles and mediums. If your tastes tend towards the contemporary and experimental, look to the Lapis Room right off the plaza. A benefit of the Lapis Room is that you can have a glass of wine while you look at the art. The back of this gallery opens right into Noisy Water Winery’s tasting room — just be careful not to spill.
Noisy Water isn’t the only place for food or libations in Old Town. If you want to stay by the plaza, one of the best is High Noon, which serves typical gastro-pub fare and a range of New Mexican specialties. Here’s a tip for New Mexican cuisine: If you’re asked whether you want red or green chilies with your food, don’t forget that, in New Mexico, you can get both on the same dish by answering “Christmas.”
If you’re willing to walk or drive to the northern edge of Old Town, you’ll also find the new Sawmill Market, a food hall that will satisfy your traveling companions, no matter how picky they may be. It’s easy to find a fun meal in the Sawmill for under $20 — you might try sushi, pizza, Vietnamese food, pasta, tacos, and more between the different merchants. And no trip to the Sawmill is complete without stopping by Neko Neko for taiyaki, soft-serve ice cream inside of a fish-shaped ice cream cone. If they haven’t sold out of it by the time you arrive, give the ube (a purple yam) flavor a try; it’s the perfect way to cool off after a day in the Albuquerque sun.
Visit Albuquerque for a world-class tourism experience. Ride the world’s third-longest single tram at Sandia Peak Tramway, marvel at the International Balloon Fiesta, and experience the history and activities of Old Town. The museums can take you on a journey through centuries to explore culture, art, and history. We’ve only scratched the surface of what Albuquerque can offer you as a destination.