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.
ATTRACTIONS TO VISIT 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.