Last Updated on May 14, 2023
Coming to the southwest for business or vacation? Make sure you stop in one of the best cities in New Mexico. Albuquerque. Named after the Viceroy of New Spain who held the royal title of the Duke of Albuquerque upon its founding in 1706, Albuquerque is often referred to as the Duke City. Being the largest city in New Mexico has its advantages.
It has some of the best restaurants, some of the best activities you won’t find anywhere else, and of course, the best chili in the world! So come on out and see what you’ve been missing.
- Old Town
- Antiquity in the Duke City
- Rattlesnake Museum
- Hotel Andaluz
- Hotel Parq Central
- Petroglyph National Monument
- The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
- Albuquerque BioPark
- Turquoise Castle
- St. James Tea Room
- Chocolate Dude and Coffee
- Brain Freeze Festival
- Crewing at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
13 Best Things To Do in Albuquerque
While Old Town is a place where you take any of your out-of-town visitors, it is decidedly different than any “old town” you’ll visit anywhere else. There are of course, touristy things like the souvenir shops, however, these shops will sell you a candy-covered scorpion if you’re so inclined, chili-infused chocolate, or a rattlesnake mug from the Rattlesnake Museum.
These are things you definitely do not see every day. In addition, there are also some very nice galleries to visit, one of which is strictly local photographers. In addition, you can visit the Iglesia de San Felipe de Neri church which is the oldest surviving building in Albuquerque and the only building in Old Town dating to the Spanish colonial period.
With so much to do in Old Town, you might want to check out some tours below.
Antiquity in the Duke City
If you have some extra cash burning a hole in your pocket, venture down to Old Town and dip into Antiquity. Antiquity is an old-style hacienda converted into a very classy restaurant after many other iterations of other businesses. From what the waiter told us, the building was constructed in the 18th century.
It has two feet thick walls which make it very cozy, with only 14 tables complete with bow-tied waiters, and food that will have you groaning in pleasure. We didn’t have a reservation and when we explained we just wanted to try it out since we’d never been, the maître d’ “squeezed” us in even though it was only 5 pm. Apparently, reservations are recommended.
We could see why once the real dinner hour rolled around. They didn’t rush us out though, which was very kind. We’ll go there again in spite of the price tag.
If you’re like us, our first reaction to visiting a rattlesnake museum was, um…no, but we went anyway because it seemed like a different kind of thing to do. Our first reaction was so wrong. This place is phenomenal and has forever changed our perception of snakes and other reptiles.
The Rattlesnake Museum has been in Albuquerque for 30 years and is not only a museum but a reptile conservation institution. They have a Gila Monster which is on the endangered species list as well as all three New Mexico species of rattlesnakes, which are much smaller than expected. They also have a Red Diamond Rattlesnake which is newly protected in California.
Their two resident tortoises roam the place, so be careful where you step.
When you go, give yourself plenty of time to see everything. We were there for over two hours and didn’t want to leave. Definitely plan on returning. Also, while they do have a rather large gift shop, this is the place where the famous comedian Craig Ferguson got the rattlesnake mug that was featured on his show. A very cool place for sure. Go. You will love it!
The Hotel Andaluz has to be seen to be believed. In the heart of downtown and very close to the convention center, the original hotel was built in 1939 as a Hilton property but has gone through several renovations in its history. Having been redone with Andalucian influence and being placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the latest iteration is completely unique as far as hotels in Albuquerque are concerned.
It has six extraordinarily beautiful casbahs that can be reserved free of charge. You read that correctly…free! All of the casbahs face the interior courtyard which is stunning as well, with furniture and all manner of places to plant your backside while you listen to live music.
There’s also a completely open second floor that surrounds and looks down onto the courtyard. It has tables and chairs to make yourself nice and comfy while you enjoy a drink and hors d’oeuvres from the Ibiza rooftop lounge whose exterior is also very nice in the summer months.
Hotel Parq Central
While the Hotel Parq Central is extremely nice now, it didn’t start out that way. It was opened in the early 1920s as a hospital and eventually was sold and became a psychiatric hospital for children and teenagers suffering from mental illness. During this phase there were reports of paranormal activities, apparitions, things moving, you get the idea.
It closed in the 1980s and later became a film location listed through the Albuquerque Film Office.
Having experienced the spooky stuff firsthand while working on a movie set there, it was decided to steer clear of the property for an indefinite period. Fast forward to 2010, the entire property was renovated and turned into a boutique hotel, and a very swanky one at that.
The interior is beautiful, it’s not terribly overpriced and the rooftop bar has an amazing view of the west mesa, complete with beautiful southwest sunsets unavailable anywhere else.
Just be aware of the potential of ghostly happenings, also unavailable anywhere else.
If you’re interested in experiencing more spookiness around Albuquerque, check out this haunted tour.
Petroglyph National Monument
The Petroglyph National Monument is a 17- mile archeological site filled with ancient rock drawings by the Rio Grand tribes, some as far back as 10,000 years. Seventeen miles may seem a little daunting to some folks, so, if you want to do something a little more manageable and still very cool, head over to Boca Negra Canyon on the west mesa.
It’s a small climb on trails up to the top and you’ll see approximately 100 petroglyphs along the way. Do be careful though – don’t move any rocks (snakes!) or touch the petroglyphs since the oils from human hands damage them.
The first time we climbed up the rocky path, it was over 100 degrees (what were we thinking?!), so you may want to avoid really hot days – unless you like that type of thing. Either way, be safe.
The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
We came across this museum in search of a movie set, which we did end up using for a day. At first, we were kind of nervous because, well, the nuclear radiation thing and all that. But rest assured, it is so not that. It’s so much more.
You’ll see replicas of both atomic bombs, Fat Man and Little Boy, that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To see them rendered in actual size is extremely sobering.
Inside, there are tons of artifacts from WWII which are no doubt very cool, and there are many science exhibits as well. Kids and adults will have fun here. The docents will walk around with you if you like and tell you about every single one.
If you want to go it alone, you can do that too. However, to us, the coolest part of the museum isn’t inside, but out back…an honest-to-goodness aircraft boneyard. There’s even a replica of the Enola Gay – the B-29 Superfortress Bomber that dropped the aforementioned bomb on Hiroshima.
A Trinity Tower replica is a recent addition to the boneyard. The original tower was vaporized when they first test-detonated the atomic bomb. The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is also the only Smithsonian Affiliate museum in Albuquerque.
Having visited many zoos and bioparks in our travels, we can honestly say that the Albuquerque Biopark is probably the favorite. It’s actually four facilities; the Albuquerque Aquarium, the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden, The Rio Grande Zoo, and Tingley Beach.
It has over 1,100 animals in its care. It’s not only world-renowned, but it is also one of very few that is an environmental museum.
What is an environmental museum, you may ask? It’s a facility that is doing things differently in terms of infrastructure, energy usage, waste management, and much more to reduce their impact to ensure global heritage and culture are preserved for future generations.
On 2nd and Lead Streets, close to downtown is a castle. It was built in 2008 and used as a private residence until the former owner, Gertrude Zachary, passed away recently.
Now, they’ve thrown open the normally closed gates and are inviting the public to visit the newly installed Turquoise Museum. According to the executive director, Jacob Lowry, putting turquoise in a castle is “elementary and it will be something uniquely New Mexico”. Visitors can purchase a ticket for a self-guided tour or upgrade for a guide.
Once inside, we were a bit shocked at the sheer number of rooms, but I suppose that’s what a castle is…lots of rooms. The staircase itself is beautiful and there are 127 chandeliers throughout. If it weren’t for the extensive collection of turquoise and the education going on in every single room, I would have compared it to the eccentricity of Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. And it may have been when the owner lived there.
I marvel at what they’ve done with the place. We had no idea turquoise is as rare as they say it is and that there are so many different varieties. Apparently, royalty has worn turquoise as a symbol of wealth and prestige for centuries. Who knew? Visit the Turquoise Museum. You’ll love it.
St. James Tea Room
Visiting England is one of our favorite things to do. There’s nothing like “high tea” to make someone feel special. You get that feeling at the St. James Tea Room. Someone took me there for my birthday and up until that moment, I had no clue that it was there.
I don’t have to buy an airplane ticket anymore if I’m in the mood for high tea. They have themed settings and you are perfectly welcome to dress up if you like, hats and all. The teas are paired with whatever is on the menu for your particular sitting.
Our favorite thing is the scones and clotted cream. No calorie skimping here. This is the real deal.
They also have a few smaller areas where you can buy authentic English tea sets, soaps, jewelry, hats, etc. Go. You’ll love it so much that you’ll want to come back every week.
Chocolate Dude and Coffee
Like coffee? Chocolate? Chocolate Dude and Coffee is definitely the place for you. We had probably the best coffee and the best champagne truffle ever during our visit. They are fashioned after the “Portland” style of coffee shops, laid back and down to earth.
They even have a counter with a VW Bus front panel made of wood. Very cool if you’re a VW aficionado. You can watch the chocolate being made by hand and one of their claims to fame is that they will dip anything! That could be a scary thing, but as good as this chocolate is, I’d probably eat whatever it is.
Have a nice lunch at any one of the many food establishments on Central Blvd. in the Nob Hill district, then make a beeline to Chocolate Dude and Coffee for dessert. It’s so worth a visit. You’ll never look at truffles the same way again. Yum…
Brain Freeze Festival
Last summer there was an announcement on Facebook about something called a “Brain Freeze Festival”. It was a no-brainer, we had to go for nothing else, but to find out what it was. Turned out, it was an ice cream festival and the local ice cream company, Blue Bell Creamery, was all the rage.
There were many flavors offered, but you could tell by the size of the lines at different flavor booths, which ones were the local favorites. There’s something about eating ice cream on a hot summer’s day that creates great memories, not just of eating ice cream, but of all the families participating in the activities.
They had painting classes, foam parties and knocker balls where the kids could get inside, run at each other and knock each other down then roll around, rock wall climbing and jump houses. A good time was had by all. If you have the opportunity, take it. It’s well worth it. Besides, who doesn’t like ice cream melting in the sun?
Crewing at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon festival in the world. We have over 250 balloons and balloonists over a ten-day period in October every year, as well as special shapes, balloon glows, mass ascensions, and the list goes on.
That doesn’t even begin to cover the classic carnival food that is terrific at any hour of the day. The atmosphere is one of awe and reverence that these hot air balloons can even fly. But the best thing is all the action before it even goes up. If the opportunity presents itself, get yourself on one of the many balloon crews.
These folks work very hard for the pilot so he or she can get their balloons up in the air. This part is what people who attend, clamor for. Once the basket is attached, sideways no less, the show really begins. The pilot is laying down in the basket and begins the process of getting hot air into the balloon with the help of their crew.
It progresses from here all the way to get the balloon up and back down again. It’s definitely a party atmosphere and there’s nothing like it. Even if you can’t get on a crew, get there early enough so you can watch the process. It’s truly incredible.
Interested in hopping in a balloon yourself? See below for some hot air balloon tours where you can experience the beauty of Albuquerque from above.
Where to Stay in Albuquerque
Looking for where to stay in Albuquerque? Check out hotels centrally located in Albuquerque.
Is Albuquerque Worth a Visit?
Albuquerque is a city filled with historic places to explore, a multitude of beautiful outdoor landmarks and most important of all, great food! This city is definitely worth a visit, you’ll be swept away by its vibrancy and beauty.Albuquerque