For the last four years that we lived in the United States, we made it our mission to visit all 50 states (check out all of the states here). One by one, we have slowly been crossing them off our list and New Mexico is the third to last state for us to visit!
There is some debate about what constitutes having "been" to a state, but we believe that to truly say that you have been to a state and experienced it, you should spend a decent amount of time there. At the very least have one meal there, and preferably enjoy exploring it for a weekend. Neither of us had been to New Mexico before, and having heard so much about the incredible scenery and Native American culture, we couldn't wait to experience it ourselves.
Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico, so it was an obvious choice to get the first taste of New Mexico. The city is most famous for its annual Balloon Fiesta which occurs each October. The Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon festival in the world with over 500 balloons attending. That's a lot more than the 13 balloons in it's first year, way back in 1972.
If you're not able to visit in October, there are still so many fun things to do in Albuquerque, New Mexico year-round. Since Albuquerque has on average 310 sunny days a year - there is really no bad time to visit for a weekend or a longer vacation! Plus, you can still enjoy a hot air balloon any time of the year!
These are the 5 best things to do in Albuquerque for a weekend:
- ABQ Trolley Tour
- Explore the Albuquerque Old Town
- Admire Local Street Art
- Visit the Turquoise Museum
- Ride the Sandia Peak Tramway
We are also sharing the best places to stay while you're in this cute city and which restaurants you can't miss out on.
We worked with Visit Albuquerque to be able to share our weekend getaway with you and were hosted by Hotel Chaco and Nativo Lodge. Our meals and excursions were covered as we toured the best things to do in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We are excited to share our trip with you and all opinions are our own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that support us!
Please note that some of the links in the below article are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Click here for the full disclosure statement.
Fun Things To Do in Albuquerque
Albuquerque has so much to offer, it is a shame to not explore the city for at least a full weekend. Here are our top things to do in Albuquerque today, that you can’t miss out on on your visit to the city.
ABQ Trolley Tour
There is really no better way to see the city and all its sights than from the comfort of a trolley with the ABQ Trolley Tour. The Best of Albuquerque tour is a narrated 1 hour and 45 minutes tour that takes you to all of the significant area of the city from Old Town Plaza, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, along Route 66, down Nob Hill, and more! It is an incredibly informative tour and you will get an appreciation for the many different neighborhoods in Albuquerque.
This is a great activity to do at the beginning of your visit to Albuquerque as the tour highlights the many neighborhoods and sights of the city so that you can properly plan the rest of your weekend full of all the fun things to do in Albuquerque.
The highlight of the tour by far is exploring the street where Breaking Bad was filmed and admiring several other filming locations around Albuquerque. There is something about seeing famous TV locations in real life that fascinates me - especially if they are from Breaking Bad!
ABQ Trolley Tour Key Information
Dates: Tours begin daily, Tuesday to Sunday. Check the ABQ Trolley Tour calendar for the latest 'Best of ABQ City Tour' and others offered.
Time: Tours begin at 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM from the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town and last approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes
Cost: Tickets range from $14 USD to $42 USD, purchased online or in person.
What's Included: A 'Best of ABQ City Tour' ticket includes:
- Narrated trolley tour of Albuquerque
- Complimentary parking at the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town
Explore Old Town
After you get a feeling of the city with the ABQ Trolley Tour, you get dropped off at Hotel Albuquerque which is only a few steps away from Old Town. Walking through the streets of Old Town felt somewhat surreal as the pueblo style houses are something you don't get to see every day, and one of the great free things to do in Albuquerque.
The unique architecture together with the colorful decorations and the blue doors will give you the feeling of being in a totally different country. This is the place to shop for jewelry, rugs, pottery, and other souvenirs from the various artisan stores that are throughout Old Town.
If you want something a little more unique to do in Albuquerque downtown, consider an evening ghost walk and learn all about some of the spooky history here.
Admire Local Street Art
Another one of the best fun and free things to do in Albuquerque! The city has a rich art scene and the city actively promotes murals and street art from local New Mexico artists. This became very evident as we completed our trolley tour, but also as we walked around the streets of Albuquerque as you could find colorful murals at almost every corner. What is unique about these murals compared to other cities is that many of them represent some portion of Albuquerque's rich history.
Visit the Turquoise Museum
One of the best-kept secrets of Albuquerque is the fact that they have their very own Turquoise Museum - all owned and operated by the Zachary family. Now, if you follow us on Instagram, you will quickly understand how spending time at the Turquoise Museum is an absolute must for me. In addition to my love for everything and all things turquoise - seeing turquoise jewelry on display around the Albuquerque Old Town shops peaked my interest in this gem stone even more.
If you're not familiar with the gem stone turquoise, you will soon realize that it comes in many more shapes and forms than you could ever imagine. The museum presents the Zachary family's own collection, which includes everything from raw stones, furniture, weapons, lighters, chandeliers, and of course all kinds of jewelry.
The museum also has several interactive stations which teach you how to differentiate the different grades, cuts and polishes of turquoise as well as how to tell the difference between real and fake turquoise! At the beginning we struggled to differentiate between real and fake turquoise, but quickly picked up the skills to identify the true gem stone from the fake knockoffs.
You will learn so much at this museum, as turquoise is part of so many cultures around the world, and yet it is still one of the lesser known gem stones. Needless to say that I could have spent all day at the museum - gazing at the beautiful pieces - and splurging on something for myself in the gift shop.
Albuquerque Turquoise Museum Key Information
Date and Time: The museum is open year-round, though not every day of the week. Check the Turquoise Museum website for the latest opening days and hours. Private tours are available.
Cost: Tickets are $20 USD purchased at the door or online in advance.
What's Included: A ticket to the Turquoise Museum includes:
- Freedom to explore the 8,000+ square feet Turquoise Museum at your own pace, located in the beautiful Turquoise Castle
- Interactive turquoise exhibits
Sandia Peak Tramway
The best views of Albuquerque and New Mexico are from the top of Sandia Peak, which is 10,678 feet (3,255 meters) high and overlooks 10% of the state (that is twice the size of Connecticut!). Getting up to the peak is super easy with the longest aerial tramway in the United States, the Sandia Peak Tramway. It's a short 15 minute ride and the views get better by the minute, easily making it one of the most popular and fun things to do in Albuquerque.
On the way up, your guide will share information about the local Sandia Mountains. They have some incredibly steep drops, rock walls for climbing, and diverse wildlife.
The best time to be at the top of Sandia Peak is for sunset, due to the incredible views over the city of Albuquerque. As everyone is trying to catch the last rays of the day at the peak, the trams after sunset have the tendency to be very full and you may have to wait a bit before being able to take the tram. One tip is to take the tram down just before sunset so that you enjoy the stunning views on your way down.
What to Wear to Sandia Peak
Sandia Peak is over 10,000 feet (3,000 m) high, so the temperature can be quite different than down in the city of Albuquerque. Generally speaking it will be few degrees cooler at the peak, however it can also be much windier which makes it feel even cooler than it is. Wear or pack a wind-proof jacket as well as layers if you plan on taking the sunset. Once the sun goes down the temperature cools down considerably.
Sandia Peak Key Information
Dates: The Sandia Peak Tramway is open year-round, but closes for maintenance for two weeks in April and November.
Time: The tramway opens at 9:00 AM and closes at 8:00 PM, although hours can differ in summer and winter, check the Sandia Peak Tramway website for the latest information.
Cost: Roundtrip tickets are $25 USD for adults and $15 USD for children. It is highly recommended to purchase them online in advance to secure your spot.
What's Included: A Sandia Peak Tramway ticket includes:
- Roundtrip transportation from the base to Sandia Peak
- Parking at the base
- Views of Albuquerque and surrounding New Mexico
Where to Stay in Albuquerque
Albuquerque has a number of great hotels located in the city, however we wanted to share some of our favorites to help you with your travel planning.
The Hotel Chaco is a brand new luxury hotel in Albuquerque. Located less than a block from the Albuquerque museum and within easy walking distance of Old Town, it is a great place to stay to take in all the activities and fun things to do in Albuquerque.
The hotel's design is influenced by Chaco Canyon, which is a National Historic Park located in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Canyon was a major location for the ancestral Puebloans that lived in the area thousands of years ago. Chaco Canyon has a number of ancient complexes, which inspired the design of the Hotel Chaco.
After a busy day exploring, you can cool down at the pool area and ring in the evening with an in-house wine tasting, or dinner and a drink on the rooftop, which offers expansive views of Albuquerque. These rooftop views are some of the best in Albuquerque!
The rooms are very spacious and thoughtfully designed; perfect for a restful sleep as you prepare for the next day of the best things to do in Albuquerque.
Another uniquely New Mexican hotel is the Nativo Lodge, which features Native American artists throughout the hotel. Their uniquely decorated artist rooms feature art work by contemporary Native American artists. No two artist rooms are the same! We stayed in the Essence of Life room which was created by Garrett Etsitty and features two gorgeous wall paintings of a hummingbird.
Half way between Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains, Nativo Lodge is a great pet friendly hotel in Albuquerque for those who want to explore the areas around Albuquerque and enjoy local art work.
Where to Eat in Albuquerque
Albuquerque has a number of great restaurants to get a taste of New Mexican cuisine, or whatever your heart desires. As this was our first time to Albuquerque and New Mexico, we wanted to try some local New Mexico cuisine.
Largest Restaurant in New Mexico - El Pinto
The El Pinto is a Mexican restaurant outside the city with beautiful patios, surrounded by lush gardens and a very Instagrammable entrance walkway. This hotel is the largest in the state, and very well known for their exceptional food and dining experience.
As we walked through the restaurant, we couldn't believe how many tables there were. Each of their five patios has a slightly different vibe, depending on the atmosphere you are looking for.
This is a perfect place to make a toast to your weekend in New Mexico. El Pinto serves up delicious house-made salsa and tortilla chips as you look over the expansive menu. We can recommend the stuffed sopapillas - a traditional dish in Spanish heritage regions, and the New Mexican Red Chile Ribs. The sopapillas came with the option of home-made green or red chile. The waitress suggested we try both, which is what the New Mexicans call "Christmas style." Experiencing eating chiles is definitely one of the best things to do in Albuquerque, and a quintessentially New Mexico experience.
Both were delicious and we were way too full from the tortilla chips to finish it all or enjoy dessert!
Fine Dining in Albuquerque at Ten 3
If you're looking for the perfect place to have dinner with an incredible view - Ten 3 is your spot! They opened their doors for the first time in August 2019 and we were super excited to be dining with them on their opening weekend! Ten 3 is located at an altitude of 10,300 feet, at the top of Sandia Peak, which provides for the most amazing dining views. To reach the restaurant you need to take the Sandia Peak Tramway, which also happens to be one of the best things to do in Albuquerque!
Ten 3 offers delicious cocktails, and they are prepared in a unique way. Because there is less oxygen in the air at higher altitudes, it is said that you feel the effects of alcohol quicker. Ten 3 takes this into consideration and serves their drinks with slightly less alcohol content than you might typically find. Don't worry if you think you are getting short-changed, you will still feel the effects! You can't go wrong with starting your meal with a bread basket full of home-made creations, or their goat cheese flan.
Kyle and I tried the crispy skin chicken and the red chile buffalo short rib which were both outstanding! If you have never tried buffalo I can highly recommend trying the Ten 3 variation which was so delicious that I was about to steal Kyle's plate!
While you're at Sandia Peak - make sure you walk around the top of the mountain and enjoy the views outside the restaurant as well!
Are You Ready to Plan a Weekend in Albuquerque?
If you're planning a weekend getaway in Albuquerque, make sure you read our 5 top travel tips on how to best explore all of the things to do in Albuquerque below and let us know how you liked the city!
Travel Essentials for a Weekend in Albuquerque
These travel essentials and accessories will help ensure you have a great time in Albuquerque and have everything you need to protect yourself from the sun and the heat. Make sure you bring a camera or your fully charged phone to be able to capture the beautiful memories you create on this trip!
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for Things to do in Albuquerque for the Weekend
1) Water and sunscreen.
As Albuquerque gets 310 days of sun a year and is located in the desert, days can get very hot. Make sure you always carry enough water and sunscreen with you for all of the fun things to do in Albuquerque. We know this may seem a bit boring, and there are signs saying so everywhere, but we really mean it! It reached 100 F (38 C) during our trip!
2) Try the local chiles - yes both red and green!
The New Mexico chile, or Hatch chile, is a big deal in New Mexico. Everywhere you go in New Mexico you will find something on the menu with either red or green chile in it, even at McDonald's. If you can’t decide your favorite, you can always combine them in the same dish which is called "Christmas style." An absolute must-do on the list of things to do in Albuquerque, New Mexico!
3) Start your days early.
As mentioned above, it gets really hot in Albuquerque. To avoid the heat and still get the most out of the city, plan to start your day with the sun! The heat of the afternoon really takes a lot out of you and is not as pleasant to explore the city. That is if you can bear the heat at all. Explore in the morning, refresh yourself indoors in the afternoon, and get back out there in the evening for some amazing New Mexico sunsets.
Speaking of sunsets, visit Sandia Peak 1-2 hours before sunset so that you will get to wander around the peak in full daylight and also get to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the desert before heading back down. The sunset from Sandia Peak is incredible and evolves through many different colors and shades as the sun sets over the desert horizon.
5) You’ll need a car.
While Albuquerque does have public transportation, if you plan to explore all the neighborhoods and take in all of the things to do in Albuquerque, it makes the most sense to get a rental car. It makes it so much easier to get around the city, the various neighborhoods, and up to Sandia Peak. Plus, you have your own personal sanctuary of air conditioning wherever you go!
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