How To Spend The Best Weekend In Albuquerque
Albuquerque is located in New Mexico’s high desert or “The Land of Enchantment” for its gorgeous landscapes and outstanding food. Spending a weekend in Albuquerque is perfect to explore its unique history, culture, and outdoors.
Although there are many things to do in Albuquerque, it is best known for the International Balloon Festival and spicy Hatch Green Chiles that are intertwined into the essence of life here.
From the Old Town to the Sandia Mountains and to seeing downtown from up in the sky in a balloon, Albuquerque is a city to experience.
Other than the balloon festival, I hadn’t heard many positive things about Albuquerque but I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it more than I thought. Santa Fe does get more attention overall for good reason but don’t dismiss all the great Albuquerque attractions to see!
If you plan to visit during the International Balloon Festival then I would add another 3 days. That way you have a few days to attend the festival and in between, you can take a drive up to Santa Fe or nearby attractions. For more info on visiting Santa Fe, read my post here.
Note: For day trips that can be done from either Albuquerque or Santa Fe, take a look at my post, 7 Unique Day Trips From Santa Fe.
If you plan to attend the Balloon Festival, read my post The Ultimate Guide To The Albuquerque Balloon Festival to have the best time!
Or if you plan to drive to southern New Mexico don’t miss out on exploring 11 Top Things To Do In White Sands National Park!
Hotels In Albuquerque
Doubletree Albuquerque – I stayed here and as with all Hilton properties I thought it was very nice and perfect for my stay. Plus located downtown close to all major attractions.
Los Poblanos Historic Inn – On my next visit to Albuquerque I would very much like to stay at the tranquil and historic inn. Read more about it below under day 2.
Hotel Parq Central – This is another hotel that I would recommend as it looked very nice and as a bonus, it has a rooftop bar!
Where Is Albuquerque?
Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico in what is referred to as the Southwest area of the United States.
It is surrounded by the states Arizona, Colorado, and Texas. On the bottom of the state, it is bordered by the country of Mexico.
And no, New Mexico is NOT part of Mexico although many get confused due to its close proximity.
The city of Albuquerque sits on a large high desert plain with the Sandia Mountains on its eastern side and Rio Grande River on its western side.
If you are flying into Albuquerque, you want to book your flight into Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ).
It is about a 10-minute drive from the airport to downtown and about 15-minutes to Old Town Albuquerque. Start planning your trip today and find the best flight deals!
Need a car rental? Explore the best car rental deals here and be ready for your trip!
Tips For Visiting Albuquerque
- Albuquerque is considered the high desert at an altitude of 5,312 feet (1,619 meters) above sea level, so drink extra water and avoid intense exercise at first.
- Try all things with green chile as where else are you going to get these scrumptious food options? I’m still craving green chile meals. I might need to take another trip just for this!
- The best time to visit Albuquerque is in the spring, summer, and fall months but my favorite is in September and October. Overall, spring and fall have the best weather. As an added perk to visiting in the fall, the beginning of October is the International Balloon Festival!
- No matter when you visit add to your buckelist and go on a hot air balloon ride!
- I recommend getting a rental car as everything is pretty spread out and there are a number of awesome day trips to take.
- If you happen to be out and about driving and see a sign for Las Vegas, no it’s not the casino and bling-bling one you might be thinking of! I was extremely confused as to how it was that close! Apparently, New Mexico has its own…
- The TV show Breaking Bad was filmed right here in Albuquerque and for die-hard fans, you can even take a tour of locations where it was filmed.
Best Things To Do In Albuquerque
Day 1 In Albuquerque
Take A Hot Air Balloon Ride
Going for a hot air balloon ride is a bucket list experience and a great way to kick off your weekend in Albuquerque. It is one of those once in a lifetime adventures that literally takes you to new heights! And without question one of the best things to do in Albuquerque.
Prior to my visit to New Mexico, I had never been up in a hot air balloon so I was ecstatic to finally check off this monumental bucket list item.
I attended the International Balloon Festival in early October and had booked months before going up in a balloon during the festival. The only balloon operator during the festival is with Rainbow Ryders and wow it was a memorable experience!
We got to go up with tons of other hot air balloons including the ones competing in the balloon festival. Before going up, it is fun to watch the pilot and his crew set up the balloon and basket.
It is fascinating to see up close how big the balloons are and the amount of heat to get these beauties up and away!
Now if you can’t make it to the Balloon Fiesta in October, Albuquerque is still a prime spot to take a ride. I don’t know the science behind it but the weather conditions in this area are extremely optimal for flying.
I am terrified of heights and was nervous about getting into the basket but once we were up it was strangely so calm and peaceful. And what I found odd was that you couldn’t even feel it moving (which I like)!
The only time it got noisy is when he would turn the torch on. The landing can be a bit bumpy but overall, I can’t say enough wonderful things about my experience with Rainbow Ryders!
Albuquerque Balloon Museum
Even if the Balloon Festival isn’t happening, don’t miss out on visiting the Albuquerque Balloon Museum.
The museum is right up against the field where the Balloon Festival takes place and is open year-round. The museum features an incredible review of the history of ballooning worldwide.
It is amazing how people risked their lives to test and push the boundaries of science and flight over the years. I also never realized that there are different types of ballooning, not all powered by hot air that most are familiar with.
You will learn about the pilots that pioneered balloon flight, the construction of, and the materials used to make the balloons.
I have to admit I knew absolutely nothing about ballooning before visiting New Mexico but was completely fascinated by it all!
And if you were wondering, the first balloon flight is documented to have taken place in 1783! Talk about brave souls who took these expeditions…
Address: 9201 Balloon Museum Dr NE, Albuquerque
Wander Old Town Albuquerque
So how old is Albuquerque’s Old Town? Not quite as old as those in Europe but pretty old for the United States at about 300 years old. Old Town is the oldest section of Albuquerque dating back to 1706.
Visually you can see the old buildings and church in adobe architecture that surrounds the central park square.
With several restaurants and shops, this is the perfect spot to wander by foot to shop unique New Mexican items and yes maybe some touristy stuff too…
Make sure to bring your appetite and indulge in a delicious New Mexican meal at Church Street Café! Sit in the outdoor patio and possibly enjoy some live music.
Make a point to visit the San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church along the shady park square.
The Albuquerque Museum and New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science are a few museums that highlight the history of both Albuquerque and New Mexico.
What I love most is the vibrant colors, art, and the chile peppers hanging from storefronts. Old Town is a place to enjoy the music and art for it is a festive area to spend your day.
Sandia Peak Tramway
For spectacular views of Albuquerque, there is no better place (except for maybe in a balloon ride) than the top of the Sandia Mountains.
From the base of the Sandia Mountains, take the Sandia Peak Tramway that is the longest aerial tram in the United States to the top!
Expect the ride up to take about 20 minutes over 3 miles to reach an elevation of 10,378 feet (3,163 meters) to the Sandia summit.
If you can, get a spot along the outer part of the cable car so that you can get a clear and sweeping view of Albuquerque below.
Once you get to the top enjoy the breathtaking view of the Rio Grande Valley. Head out onto the viewing platform or enjoy a meal at the restaurant for a spectacular vista at any time of the day but particularly a sunset.
If you get up there prior to sunset, consider hiking one of the many trails along the peak. No matter when you visit, always dress in layers as the temperatures can be a lot colder than down below (20-30 degrees colder). I was up there at sunset in October and was beyond freezing once the sun went down.
Note: Be prepared to wait for your turn to take the tramway as there can be a 1 – 2 hour wait. I questioned whether it would be worth it and it was! This is one of the top attractions in Albuquerque for sure. I just wish I had planned more time during daylight up there.
Address: 30 Tramway Road N.E., Albuquerque
Dinner @ Tomasita’s
All I can say is wow and you must have dinner here! That is if you love authentic New Mexican food or want to try some of the best.
I first ate at the original Tomasita’s in Santa Fe and was delighted to see that there is a location in Albuquerque.
There really wasn’t a decision to be made, I knew exactly where I would be having dinner on my first night in Albuquerque. The tamales with red chile sauce is now one of my favorite meals! Another excellent choice is the chile relleno where both dishes highlight the unique flavors of New Mexican cuisine.
New Mexican food combines different spices and herbs that blend Native American, Mexican and European flavors. The highlight of this tasty food is the Hatch Chile Pepper, both red and green.
It would be an understatement to say that these peppers are hot. They are very spicy so if you can’t handle spicy food, use with caution…
In being cautious, order the red or green sauce on the side. And if you can’t decide which one you want to try, then order it “Christmas” style where you get both!
Other than the two meals I mentioned, a few New Mexican favorites to try during your stay are the enchiladas, burritos, green chile burger, posole, and sopapillas.
At Tomasita’s, they bring you a sopapilla (frybread) with butter and honey slathered on it that is heavenly!
Address: 4949 Pan American Freeway NE, Albuquerque
Day 2 In Albuquerque
Grab A Pinon Coffee
If you are like me, you have never heard of Pinon Coffee unless you have visited New Mexico!
Pinon is a Spanish word for “pine nuts”. They are edible pine nuts from pine trees that are abundant in New Mexico and used frequently in New Mexican cuisine.
Unique to the region of New Mexico, the particular pine tree that produces the pinon nut grows between 6,000 and 8,000 feet.
New Mexico’s high desert is the perfect environment for them to grow. The coffee is made by combining roasted arabica coffee beans with roasted pinon nuts.
The traditional Pinon Coffee you will likely try is a dark roast that has a rich nutty flavor. From what I was told, people either love or hate it. I personally love it and am surprised that I enjoy it black.
With most coffee, I can’t drink without adding milk. Order your Pinon Coffee with a dark roast, medium roast or flavored (dark fudge is spectacular)!
It is likely something you will only come across in New Mexico, so don’t miss out on trying it. In fact, a weekend in Albuquerque isn’t complete without trying it!
I like it so much I brought a few pounds of the coffee beans home with me. And when I ran out, I bought some online from the New Mexico Pinon Coffee Company.
Note: You can get a cup of Pinon Coffee or beans at one of many New Mexico Pinon Coffee Company, Pinon Coffee House or at grocery stores in New Mexico.
Golden Crown Panaderia
If you are looking for some breakfast or a light snack that will satisfy your sweet tooth then head over to Golden Crown Panaderia.
It is a well-known New Mexican bakery that is famous for its “biscochito” (New Mexico’s state cookie) and green chile bread among many other delicious bites!
The biscochito is a crisp butter cookie that is made with anise and cinnamon blended with Spanish and Native American flavors.
It isn’t super sweet yet yummy to eat with hot chocolate. Once you arrive, you will be greeted with a free biscochito!
You can also find various fresh bread, sandwiches, empanadas, and pastries. They offer wine and beer too that you can enjoy out on the outdoor patio on a beautiful day.
Address: 1103 Mountain Rd NW, Albuquerque (Old Town area).
Boca Negra Canyon
Boca Negra Canyon is a great spot for short easy hikes, excellent views, and getting to see petroglyphs as you walk.
There are three quick hikes that you can take through the canyon to see around 100 petroglyphs.
Once you pull in and park, the first hike you will see is the Mesa Point Trail and the most popular one. This is also the hardest (yet not bad) of the three and is 0.4-miles that takes you to the mesa top.
You get a 360-degree vantage point of the canyon, the city of Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains in the distance.
As you make your way up to the top, keep your eyes alert to see various symbols, characters, and animals carved into the black volcanic rocks.
The petroglyphs in Boca Negra Canyon are estimated to be up to a few thousand years old by the ancient Indian settlers in the area.
Depending on how the light hits the rocks can make a big difference with seeing the petroglyphs. So, take your time and search for the ancient drawings!
The other two trails are the Macaw Trail (0.1-miles) and Cliff Base Trail (0.2-miles) taking about 1 hour to see all three. There isn’t any shade so go early or late in the day especially if there are hot temperatures.
Tips: Parking is $1 during the week and $2 on weekends. There isn’t a lot of parking so another good reason to go early. Open at 8:30 am and closes at 4:30 pm (might vary throughout the year so check the website).
If you plan to visit several of the U.S. National Parks during the year, consider purchasing the America Is Beautiful Pass.
It gives you access to 2,000 National Parks and Monuments in the U.S. including Petroglyph National Monument!
If you are planning to visit Bandelier National Park and Tent Rocks National Park on day trips then it can be used at both as well.
America Is Beautiful Pass is good for one year from purchase and also includes 3 other adults that are in your car. If you just visit 3 or more national parks or monuments it is worth buying and pure savings after that!
Note: There are restrooms and picnic tables at the canyon.
Los Poblanos Historic Inn
On my next visit to Albuquerque, I would like to stay at the lovely Los Poblanos Historic Inn. It has so much charm and a tremendous amount of history on over 20 acres.
There are numerous cottonwood trees, gardens, and a lavender farm onsite. It is by far one of the prettiest places to visit in Albuquerque…
Although I didn’t stay here, I booked a walking tour of the grounds going into the various buildings to learn about the art and history. There are different tours to choose from and may vary depending on the season. For example, if you are visiting in June you can take a tour of their lavender farm.
As you walk around, you will see endless beautiful architecture, courtyards, and art that are a surprise to see. I won’t give away all the fascinating details of the farm and inn’s history so that you can find out for yourself!
Make sure to pop into the Farm Shop to get one of many lavender products using their own lavender. The shop smells heavenly with the intoxicating scent of lavender…
They also sell fresh bread, sandwiches, and treats that you can enjoy at the tables outside.
The day I visited, there was a wedding about to start and I was envious I wasn’t a guest!
Address: 4803 Rio Grande Blvd NW, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The restaurant on-site serves breakfast and dinner only.
Watch The Sunset @ Apothecary Lounge
What to do in Albuquerque at the end of a fun-filled day of sightseeing? The ultimate way to end your weekend is to have a cocktail while enjoying the sunset from a rooftop bar.
The Apothecary Lounge at the top of the Hotel Parq Central is the spot to be if you like margaritas! A yummy choice is the prickly pear margarita!
If margaritas are not your thing, there are a number of Prohibition-era cocktails to quench your thirst.
This is a great stop to have a few drinks before heading to dinner. Plus, you get stunning views of the city of Albuquerque and nearby mountains.
The hotel has a lot of history as it dates back to 1926 when it used to be the Santa Fe Hospital and then in later years a psychiatric hospital.
For those reasons, it is said to be haunted by patients who had passed away. I guess a stay is needed to determine if it really is haunted…
Address: 806 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque
Dinner @ Cocina Azul Downtown
If you aren’t tired of eating New Mexican food yet, another awesome restaurant to dine at is the Cocina Azul Downtown. On top of having traditional-style New Mexican food, they have a number of mouthwatering burgers to choose from.
There are three locations in Albuquerque to choose from but if you are staying in the downtown area, visit the original Mountain Rd location.
Besides not being able to stop eating the homemade chips & salsa a few must dishes to try are the posole, carne adovada plate, and green chile burger. Oh, and anything that has brisket! End the tasty meal with a sopapilla if you are not too full.
Address: 1134 Mountain Rd NW, Albuquerque
Happy travels and have a wonderful weekend in Albuquerque!
If you are looking for more to do and see, here are a few bonus things to do in Albuquerque!
- Indian Pueblo Cultural Center – dedicated to New Mexico’s 19 pueblos where you can learn about the culture and tradition.
- Casa Rondena Vineyard – This is something I wish I had had time to visit. You can visit their tasting room daily from noon to 7 pm.
- Route 66 runs through Albuquerque – If you are curious as to where Route 66 actually is, you can use the Route 66 Diner address at 1405 Central Ave NE to get you there. On a map you might see Central Ave instead of Route 66.
Got Travel Insurance?
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Looking For More Travel Inspiration?
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I loved the article and photos! It totally makes me want to visit!!!
Thank you! I was surprised at how much I loved New Mexico. I definitely want to go back already. You should try to visit for the balloon festival as the weather is awesome then too. 🙂
Having just relocated to Arizona, I’m always looking for weekend getaways. I honestly had no idea Albuquerque had so much to offer outside the hot air balloon festival. I’m adding this to my list of places to visit.
Oh visiting New Mexico is a great quick getaway from Arizona! Since Albuquerque and Santa Fe are only an hour apart, I’d visit both depending on how much time you have. Enjoy your visit when you go! 🙂
Looks like such a fun place! I’m lowkey terrified of going up in a hot air balloon but I have to admit the views are stunning haha.
Albuquerque is fun especially during the balloon festival. My anxiety kicked in right before taking off in the balloon but once up it was so calm and you feel no movement except for the landing. The views really make it a wow experience and one I hope you try one day! 🙂
Okay, I have a confession to make…I am not totally sure what a tamale is… but all the mexican food looks amazing, so I’d totally give it a try!
I love the look of riding in a balloon (good for you for going up despite your fears!!) but all those desert hikes are really luring me in. I didn’t even know that Albuquerque is good for walking!! It’d be a good introduction to walking at high altitude too…
Omg Josy, you’re killing me that you haven’t had a tamale! Haha, just kidding. Tamales are corn masa filled with pork or beef usually with a chile sauce wrapped in a corn husk. They are so good and vary in style depending on the region. Tamales would be a little different within the Southwest of the U.S. and a little different from Mexico. You must try one sometime! 🙂 Yes, Albuquerque is an awesome outdoor place to play with the ballooning, hiking and those desert landscapes!
Albuquerque looks absolutely amazing! I am looking to go sometime this summer when I do my road trip. I’m totally keeping this handy. Great article!
That’s awesome! Albuquerque is a great stop on a road trip and the iconic Route 66 goes through it! 🙂
Wow this city is so vibrant, colorful, and beautiful! And the food is mouth watering.. Thank you for sharing!
You’re welcome. I’m glad the beauty, culture and delicious food shined through the post! 🙂
Wow this is beautiful. Would love to go visit some day! Thank you for sharing!
You’re welcome! I hope you do get the chance to go one day and see it for yourself. 🙂
I didn’t know much about Albuquerque before so found it very interesting to read all about it. I’d love to do the hot air balloon ride so good to know that you found it ok as I’m also scared of heights. That Piñon coffee sounds really good, would have to try some of that while there too.
Thanks Wendy, I’m so glad you found it interesting! The only part that I found a little scary was the actual landing of the balloon but that lasts just a few seconds. When up in the air it was so beautiful and peaceful. I think you would like it for that reason! 🙂
Stunning place! I’ve remembered Albuquerque on the High School Musical series, now I love this place <3
Oh that is so cool that it brought back great memories of Albuquerque! Well hopefully you can get back there soon. 🙂
Ugh, your post makes me wanna go back to Albuquerque! The food, the mountains, the bright colors, the culture… it’s such an incredible place. I didn’t realize there is a balloon museum there – will check that out next time. Thanks!
I didn’t know there was a museum until I walked past it to get to the festival. Lol. It was way more interesting than I thought it would be and gave me a whole new respect for ballooning! 🙂
This looks like a perfect weekend getaway. I didn’t realize there was so much to do in Albuquerque. Would love to visit and get on a hot air balloon. I would be terrified like you, but you put me to ease. Great post.
I hope you do go and get to ride up in a balloon! The taking off and flying is so calm and you can’t detect movement. The only time you can is when you land which was a little scary for like a second. Overall it was fun and a memorable experience. 🙂
There is so much more to Albuquerque than I though! Would love to visit one day and will follow this guide 🙂
Have a great time when you do get the chance to go and enjoy all the activities there!
I want to visit Albuquerque so bad, I have heard nothing but amazing things about it – and your pictures just make it look even better! The restaurant with the view looked incredible, I am so happy you provided the address for it. All of the food looked so yummy, I had to scroll quickly past the foodie photos so I wouldn’t get too hungry!
Thanks Natalie, I’m glad to have added some inspiration to visit Albuquerque! If you can, time it for the beginning of October for the balloon festival for added fun! And yes, the food is so delicious… 🙂
Flying in a hot air balloon is sooo high on my bucket list!! Looks like a great location to do it!
Albuquerque is one of the best places in the world to fly in a balloon and such a great experience. I hope you get to do one day! 🙂
I have never considering visiting Albuquerque before but now I really want to! Especially the balloon rides and some of the cool restaurants you suggested 🙂
I hope you get the chance to go now that I have piqued your interest! Albuquerque might not have as many attractions as other cities but there are lot of things that make it worth visiting on top of the amazing balloon festival. 🙂
I’d never thought of Albuquerque as a place to visit but now I really want to go! Gorgeous photos and a really great write up, as usual!
You should for sure! And thank you, I am glad you enjoyed reading about Albuquerque! 🙂
This looks like such a fun weekend itinerary, Vanessa! It certainly puts Albuquerque on the map as a destination for me with the hiking, the views from that tramway, and spicy food! I also really want to try piñon coffee now!
Yay, I’m glad reading this has got you interested! Yes, the hiking, landscapes, food and coffee are delightful. 🙂
I was vagueeeely close to Albuquerque when I was doing my cross-country road trip last year but didn’t end up stopping by there! I need to go back out there someday! The International Balloon Festival sounds awesome and the food looks delicious! (I’m not even hungry but I kinda want to eat again, haha.)
It can be hard on a road trip determining where to stop but on your next one in New Mexico I highly recommend Albuquerque and Santa Fe! And if you can time it for the balloon festival then that is a bonus! 🙂
I really like the sound and look of Albuquerque. The Spanish influence is clear, and as I love everything Mexican, I’d love to visit. You’ve also persuaded me to give hot air balloons a go; I’m also scared of heights, but your photos were stunning from that height!
There is definitely a strong Mexican influence that is mixed with Native American. You will likely enjoy the food too! Riding in a balloon isn’t as scary as it might seem and completely worth it. I hope you get to experience it one day! 🙂
This looks so fun!! I’ve wanted to visit Albuquerque for a while now especially for the Balloon Festival. I’ll have to order some of that coffee. My mom LOVES trying new kinds. Also that food has me drooling.
Thanks Anna! Haha, I’m drooling remembering the yummy and spicy food… Yes, attending the balloon festival is one of those things you need to do at least once! 🙂
Wow!! I’ve driven through Albuquerque several times but never took much time to enjoy it. Your post highlights some wonderful things. I’d love to be able to visit the balloon festival and to eat all the foods 🙂
Plus omg, the Pinon Coffee sounds amazing. Just my kinda thing!!
Now you have a place to stop the next time you are in the area! The food and coffee are so good. I will definitely go back for the food alone! And add in going for a balloon ride it is an awesome time. 🙂
Gorgeous photos! I’ve never been to New Mexico but it sounds like it is calling my name.
Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed them! Yes, add New Mexico to your list of places to visit! 🙂
What a wonderful read, Vanessa! We can definitely see how much you enjoyed your visit there! And gorgeous photos. You’ve inspired us to revisit Albuquerque, indulge in local cuisine, see the petroglyphs, and, of course, experience the Hot Air Balloon Festival. We had a chance to explore Indian Pueblo Cultural Center many moons ago, and strongly recommend it as well. Excellent post!
Thank you so much! I hope you get the chance to go back to relive old memories and make new ones by attending the festival! 🙂
This is my type of weekend away – great spicy food, coffee and lots of unique and interesting things to see and do.
Exactly! Albuquerque has just what you need for a great weekend! 🙂
I would love to take the hot air balloon at Albuquerque. I have always had Mexico on my list but have never planned as such. I will definitely ensure that I visit Albuquerque when I plan.
I hope you do get to take a balloon ride one day, it is a wonderful experience. Oh and just to clarify, Albuquerque is in New Mexico (U.S.) not Mexico. But it is close bordering the south side of it and a place you will enjoy! 🙂
That hot air balloon ride looks like a blast! You clearly have no fear of heights! 😉 Great post!
Omg, I am terrified of heights but for some reason you never feel like you are high up and don’t feel the movement which made it relaxing! I was very surprised by that for sure. Glad you enjoyed the post, thank you! 🙂
Great itinerary! I love wandering around Old Town – Old Barrel Tea Company is a very fun tea, spice and gift shop.
Thanks so much Sarah! Oh thanks for the tip on the Old Barrel Tea Co as I love both tea and spices. Will have to pay a visit next time! 🙂
The cable car views look amazing! I had no idea Albuquerque had so much to do there. I am seriously hungry after reading this, the food looks so delicious.
The views are incredible from the tram. I barely got up there before sunset so make sure you plan to have more time than I did. Haha. I’m right there with you on being hungry every time I look at these photos. I need to plan a trip back purely for the food! 🙂
adding this to my bucketlist!!! love the pictures