When most people hear "New Mexico," they think of Santa Fe, with its historic adobe buildings, world class museums, and quaint, rambling streets. But as the largest city in the state, Albuquerque has a lot to offer visitors venturing off the beaten path. When I moved to the city a few years ago, I was surprised to discover a whole new world of great food, local art, and scenic charm that I hadn't expected.
Wondering what to do in Albuquerque? If you're interested in getting to know the city a little better, there's plenty to keep you busy, from shopping to sightseeing. Head to the local galleries downtown to see fine arts and crafts by southwestern artists, or find an unexpected gem in the excellent vintage and antique shops.
With its funky, easygoing vibe, diverse and colorful local culture, and central location, Albuquerque is a fantastic destination for an offbeat southwestern getaway. And if you love it as much as I did, you might even want to stay! Read on to discover seven of my favorite attractions in this historic city. Forewarning, you might find yourself with a sudden craving for green chile and blue desert skies.
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1. Cycle Along The Rio Grande Bosque
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For travelers more inclined to natural attractions than urban culture, the Rio Grande Bosque winds through Albuquerque for miles, offering extensive riverside trails for both walking and cycling — so bring your running sneakers! Stop in at the Rio Grande Nature Center, where you can meander through interpretive nature trails and demonstration gardens, or — my Sunday afternoon activity of choice — kick back and watch the local wetland wildlife from the center's glass-walled observation room.
2. Visit Nob Hill
Hit the streets of Nob Hill, the most popular walking area in the city. Look for unique home goods with a southwestern take on zen at Hey Jhonny, or, for fellow geeks, get your fangirl on at the local comic book shop Astro Zombies. If you need to stop for a break between shops, there's plenty of places to grab a bite in the area. For an easygoing evening with friends, I love Empire Boardgame Library, where you can rent hundreds of different games to play, order snacks or lattes at the coffee bar, and join local gaming groups. With diverse restaurant options that range from easygoing pubs to full-on fine dining, you'll be able to find something to satisfy even the pickiest eater.
3. See The Exhibits At Albuquerque Biopark
If you're looking for a fun place to spend an afternoon, or you just love animals of every shape and size, the Albuquerque Biopark has everything you need for a memorable walk on the wild side. I'm always impressed by everything there is to see here. I've spent countless afternoons strolling through the park and checking out the ever-changing new exhibits. The Biopark complex is comprised of four separate sections. Check out creatures both exotic and familiar at the zoo and aquarium, then wander through the botanical gardens, or try your hand at fishing at Tingley Beach.
4. Watch All The Hot Air Balloons
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Pack your warmest jacket and comfiest boots for an early morning expedition you won't forget. Every fall, Albuquerque holds the International Balloon Fiesta, where hundreds of hot air balloonists from all over the world launch their balloons into the desert sky over a period of nine days. Get up early to watch the balloons take off, or book a ride with an experienced balloonist for a bird's eye view of Albuquerque. Pro tip: take the local shuttles to Fiesta Park, since parking can get pretty insane this time of year.
5. Tour Old Town
If you want to travel back in time, make sure to check out Albuquerque's Old Town district — a historic haven of authentic adobe buildings that house everything from candy and curio shops to the quirky yet educational American International Rattlesnake Museum. For a memorable meal, book a reservation at my favorite intimate dining spot, Antiquity Restaurant. Or, take a peek into New Mexico's art and culture at the Albuquerque Museum. No matter what you choose, you won't be disappointed with this district's southwestern charm.
6. Hike The Sandia Mountains
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When you just want to get away from it all, why not strap on your hiking boots and enjoy the city from above? Ride the Sandia Peak Tramway, which will take you up the Sandia Mountains for an unparalleled view, hiking trails, and a breath of fresh air. If you want to make an evening of your experience, head to High Finance, a fine dining experience at the mountain peak. Situated two miles above sea level, the views are breathtaking and the food is delicious.
7. Take A Trip To Los Poblanos Lavender Farm
My absolute favorite location for getaways both long and short, Los Poblanos Lavender Farm is a rural gem just twenty minutes from the heart of Albuquerque. It's the perfect place to stay on your trip to the Southwest — conveniently close to the city, but a complete experience in itself. Stay in one of the suites of the authentic hacienda style inn if you're in the mood for a luxurious desert retreat, or just come for the day. You can tour the facilities, take a class, or eat dinner at the farm's own restaurant, which offers a sophisticated spin on fresh, farm-to-table ingredients.
Images: Wikimedia Commons (4), Pexels, Shutterstock (3)