What are the best things to do in Albuquerque?

Few southwest towns have as rich of a culture as Albuquerque, which means there’s plenty to see and experience. Between the hiking, horseback riding, gallery walks, epic golf courses and shopping—you’ll need a few days to pack in the city’s highlights. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best things to see and do in Albuquerque:
1. Book a balloon ride. It’s worth waking up early to see the city from above at dawn in a hot air balloon—it’s also a great way to get the lay of the land. First time riders are in luck, Albuquerque has particularly balloon-friendly winds and sunny weather year-round. If you’re visiting the city in October, you’ll be hard-pressed to see a segment of the sky not covered in balloons—Albuquerque is the host of the world’s largest hot air balloon festival.
2. Cruise Route 66. Another excellent way to see the city is on an ABQ Trolley tour, which are run by two enthusiastic locals who drive visitors around the city’s oldest neighborhoods. They’ll share entertaining stories and make you sing along to road tunes as you cruise historic Route 66 — you’ll learn some history along the way, too.
3. Absorb the art scene. You can learn more about the city’s make-up at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, which has a permanent collection of art from local artists and artists from all over the Spanish-speaking world. Take a stroll around Old Town — the adobe buildings are the core of the oldest part of the city. While you’re here, be sure to check out The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History is here, it covers more than two centuries of city lore.  
4. Get cultured. Introduce yourself to the various American Indian communities around New Mexico at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. For an interesting and informative time, try to schedule your visit to coincide with the dances performed by pueblo members in the center’s courtyard.
5. Explore the outdoors. Taking a trip to the scenic Rio Grande Valley is a must when you visit Albuquerque—you can bike or hike the 15-mile trail through the Sandia Mountains; hike the dormant volcanoes or horseback ride along the river.

  • On May 8, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What is the best thing to bring home from Albuquerque?

    The best thing to bring home from Albuquerque is a lovely, handmade piece of turquoise jewelry. Earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces fashioned with this semiprecious stone can be found practically everywhere in town — and half the fun of procuring your piece is looking through all of the different styles on display in jewelry stores and in Old Town Albuquerque's open-air market. Keep in mind that most prices are negotiable, especially if you fall in love with a piece of jewelry that's being sold by the artist who made it. However, it's also wise to educate yourself about the right questions to ask a seller (such as, "Is this natural turquoise?" or "Is it stabilized?") before you start the hunt. A low-quality turquoise charm can be hard to spot for the untrained eye. It can also be just as beautiful as a higher-quality bauble, but it certainly shouldn't cost as much.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best outdoor activities in Albuquerque?

    The best outdoor activities can be found in every direction from Albuquerque. In the center of the city, along the river, the Rio Grande Nature State Park is a good starting point for any outdoor exploring, and is the perfect way to learn more about the local plants and birds.
    Albuquerque’s west edge is dotted with (mostly) defunct volcanoes and eroded lava fields — Petroglyph National Park is an area of protected space where these black stones are covered in designs made by American Indians centuries ago. You can hike among the stones, spotting odd patterns and animal shapes, or clamber up the volcano cones for a view across the city.
    For an even more dramatic view, take the Sandia Peak Tramway up to the top of the mountains on Albuquerque’s east edge (or take the scenic drive around). Then hike along the Crest Rim Trail for a few miles, ducking down into shaded aspen groves along the way. For mountain biking and lower-altitude hiking, you can hit the foothills of the Sandias — a network of trails runs north and south from the base of the tram. And a short drive north of the city is Kasha-Ketuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, where level trails wind through eerie windswept rock formations.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is the best thing to bring home from Albuquerque?

    The best things to bring home from Albuquerque are handmade items from American Indian craftsmen. Silver and turquoise jewelry comes in both traditional and more modern styles, as do hand-woven rugs and pottery are easy to find as well. Cooks may especially like locally made heavy pots for stovetop cooking — great for beans. If you’ve gotten hooked on chile while you’re in town, you can bring some of that home, too. Dried red whole chile pods keep their flavor longest; as for green chile, it’s typically sold frozen in pint containers (including at the Frontier restaurant).
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    Andrea Feucht
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best Albuquerque food experiences?

    If you asked a New Mexican what the five best food experiences in Albuquerque are, he’d probably just say “green chile” five times — but there’s a little bit more than that to try. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ five favorite Albuquerque food experiences, from local treats to farm-fresh.
    1. Green chile. This distinct locally grown chili pepper is the most important in Albuquerque. You must try it, flame-roasted and cut into chunks, in the form of a green-chile cheeseburger — maybe at a local chain like Blake’s. Green chile also makes a great pizza topping, especially with ham or pepperoni.
    2.Red chile. This is the same green chili pepper, just ripened, dried and ground up. And seems to a second favorite in the region. Try it in carne adovada, pork stewed with red chile until it’s a rich, red sauce.
    3. Taco de harina. To start your day the Albuquerque way, have a taco de harina, or breakfast burrito — a flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns, then topped with your choice of red or green chile sauce.
    4. Sopaipilla. These little pillows of fried dough are typically served with main dishes at New Mexican restaurants, but you should hold off and have one for dessert, drizzled with honey.
    5. Local wine. New Mexico’s vineyards have been producing wine since the early 1600s — making it the oldest wine industry in North America. Be sure to stop by a local winery (Gruet Winery is one of the most famous) in the North Valley for some delicious and historic vino.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where is the best nightlife in Albuquerque?

    Students — of which there are many since Albuquerque is home to the University of New Mexico — would definitely say the best nightlife is downtown. Central Avenue is lined with bars and clubs, and the streets are closed to cars later in the evening. The scene can get pretty rowdy, but it’s worth coming down for the vast choice of beers at Anodyne, an indie-rock show at the Launchpad or the more dressed-up cocktail scene at Ibiza Lounge, the outdoor bar at the Andaluz hotel. Farther east in hip Nob Hill, another stretch of more mellow bars awaits — Kelly’s, for instance, is a brewpub in on old car showroom. Get a seat outside, to watch the street scene in this cool part of town.
    Albuquerque’s performing arts scene is also very strong — particularly for theater and comedy. Check the newspaper, as venues can shift, but one long-established black-box theater is the Vortex. For concerts, the best venues are the Roy E. Disney Center for Performing Arts at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the KiMo Theater downtown, which is operated by the city and worth a visit for its vintage pueblo-theme interior alone.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is the best way to see Albuquerque in one day?

    If you have to see Albuquerque in just one day, start with breakfast at the Frontier, dive in to the breakfast burrito and a Frontier sweet roll. Then hop on the ABQ Trolley tour, to get a bit of history and see some of the neighborhoods. After the tour, walk around the adobe buildings of Old Town and visit the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History. For lunch, head for Sophia’s Place (famous for farm-fresh lunch) and then stop by the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum for a gondola-view on the history of the hot-air balloon. If you weren’t interested in going up in a balloon beforehand, you almost certainly will be afterward. At sundown, head for the rooftop bar at Parq Central for a great view of the Sandia Mountains (which turn bright pink as the sun sets) and delicious signature cocktails. Then walk down the street for dinner at Farina Pizzeria, a cool neighborhood spot, and be sure to get some green chile on at least part of your pizza pie. Then check the papers — you could head to a show downtown, or just barhop along Central Avenue for a bit.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where are the best places to eat in Albuquerque?

    While the city certainly has some high-end dining, some of the best places to eat in Albuquerque are more casual. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editor’s top five favorite places to eat in Albuquerque:
    1.The Frontier. This is Albuquerque’s most beloved diner, occupying half a city block and famous for its green-chile stew, fresh flour tortillas and gooey cinnamon rolls.
    2. Golden Crown Panaderia. Not far from Old Town, Golden Crown Panaderia is another local institution — it started as a bakery but has evolved to serve pizzas with green-chile crust, killer espresso milkshakes and salads with greens grown in the store.
    3. Mary & Tito’s. Nearby, Mary & Tito’s is a family-run operation that’s been serving up super-traditional New Mexican food for decades, and doing it well. The restaurant was honored with a James Beard award in 2010.
    4. Sophia’s Place. Up in the North Valley, Sophia’s Place is the labor of love of a chef who worked at Chez Panisse in California. He has his own style of creative New Mexican food, all with farm-fresh ingredients.
    5. Jennifer James 101. And if you do want a special-occasion meal, don’t miss Jennifer James 101, also nominated for a James Beard award. The chef (James herself) combines farmers’ market goodies with a light Mediterranean touch, for a different menu every day. It is important to note that reservations are required.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where are the best places to stay in Albuquerque?

    Albuquerque’s best places to stay are scattered around the city — from cozy and quiet to large and bustling, you’ll have your pick when looking for a place to stay in Albuquerque. Forbes Travel Guide’s editors have done the footwork for you and narrowed it down to the best five:
    1. Los Poblanos. The historic inn in the North Valley, on 25 rural acres, has 20 rooms. The quiet space sits right along the river near, fronting an organic lavender farm. The inn has carved ceiling beams, hardwood floors, and antique southwest furnishings, and the seasonally driven fare is as fresh as it can be — it all grows on property.
    2. Hotel Andaluz. If you prefer to be in the middle of the action, head down to this historic downtown hotel. It just underwent a $30-million renovation and now the sleekly remodeled historic property (which originally opened in 1939) has a rooftop lounge, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and top-notch amenities.
    3. Parq Central. Just up the road is the equally historic Parq Central, occupying an old hospital building (the flip side of the ‘do not disturb’ sign reads, ‘Nurse.’). Here, the 74-room hotel includes pet-friendly rooms, rooftop yoga and jetted hot tubs. The rooftop bar is also a popular nightly hangout.
    4. The Hotel Albuquerque. A bit west, the Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town is walking distance from the most historic part of the city, a warren of old adobe homes, as well as good museums. It has great modern-Southwest style, along with two on-site restaurants and bars, an Olympic-size outdoor swimming pool and more than 62,000 square feet of event space.
    5. Hyatt Regency Albuquerque. If you’re looking for a larger hotel, in the middle of downtown Albuquerque, check out the Hyatt Regency. Rooms come equipped with work areas, wet bars and views of the mountains. The hotel also has a heated pool, on-site car rentals and dry cleaning services.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where is the best shopping in Albuquerque?

    Some of the best shopping in Albuquerque is found in the hip Nob Hill district. This stretch of Central Avenue is lined with quirky boutiques, vintage-clothing stores and galleries, such as long-established Mariposa Gallery. But downtown, further west along Central, there are a few classic options such as the Man’s Hat Shop, and the ever-interesting Skip Maisel’s, stocked floor to ceiling with American Indian curios such as drums, pottery and turquoise-and-silver jewelry. If you’re really interested in Southwestern jewelry, don’t miss the gift shop at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center — everything is handmade by local artisans, with quality materials and it’s very reasonably priced.
    Foodies, make it a point to stop by the Saturday-morning farmers’ market downtown (June to October only), as well as the farm shop at Los Poblanos, which sell treats and beauty products featuring organic lavender and other locally grown ingredients.
  • On July 30, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best things to do with kids in Albuquerque?

    Touring Albuquerque with kids in tow is a cinch. Kids will have a lot to choose from here, and many of the best things to do with them are along the beautiful Rio Grande These five picks from Forbes Travel Guide’s editors are sure to keep kids entertained:
    1. Go fishing. Go fishing at Tingley Beach — kids are likely to catch a few, too, since there’s a collection of stocked fishing ponds near the river. No need to over pack, gear and day permits are for sale at the office.
    2. Head to Biopark. Hop on the miniature train that runs to the two sections of the Albuquerque BioPark: a zoo in one direction, and an excellent aquarium and botanical gardens in the other.
    3. Bike the trail. The Paseo del Bosque, a flat, paved path that runs 16 miles along the river, is the perfect place for an easy family bike ride. In the summer, you can rent your wheels at Tingley Beach.
    4. Trip to Tinkertown. Around the east side of the Sandia Mountains is one of the city’s quirkier treasures: Tinkertown. This collection of hand-whittled dioramas is mesmerizing, with all sorts of odd moving parts and inventive uses of household bits — it’s a real roadside attraction.
    5. Conquer the peak. Give the kids an aerial view of where they’ve been by taking the 2.7-mile ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway, which runs from the eastern edge of the city up to the mountain peak, at 10,678 feet. (If you’re coming from a low elevation, though, leave this activity for later in your trip, to give you plenty of time to adjust to the altitude.)