As one of the oldest cities in the United States, Albuquerque boasts a unique multicultural history and heritage. There’s a fun mix of Native American, Hispanic and Latino cultures blending together, to create a hip and vibrant city. For visitors, there is nature, history, architecture and good food. The city has also grown over the past few years to expand its culinary focus. Want another reason to visit – how about 310 days of sunshine? No matter what your interest is, you can find a lot of fun things to do in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Here are just my top seven…
Be Part of Balloon History
The number one reason to go to Albuquerque in October is to see the fun and adventure brought by hundreds of hot air balloons flying in the desert sky. This year the theme of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was – Time Flies. And indeed, time does fly by when you are having fun! I woke up at 4am each morning to go to the Balloon Fiesta Park to watch these enchanting balloons. They surfaced with hot air, glowed in the dark, and the lights synchronized at dawn. There were hot air balloon flying competitions among pilots from around the world. Food vendors, merchandise and spectators filled up the 78-acre grassed field (the size of 56 football fields), making it the biggest balloon festival in the world.
Make sure to book your tickets in advance for the 50th Balloon Fiesta in 2022. Over a million people are expected to attend over the nine-day celebration next year.
In case you are interested in fun ballooning historical facts – the first gathering to watch a flying machine was in France in the year 1783. The spectators were the King and Queen of Versailles, along with a crowd of 40,000 people. The passengers were a duck, a rooster and a lamb. The first human passengers went up some 3,000 feet in the first manned, untethered balloon flight ever recorded on November 21, 1783.
Still afraid of flying in a hot air balloon?
Interact With Your Food and Surroundings
Take a fun trip through Albuquerque with an immersive dining experience at Electric Playhouse. This very unique chef-driven event includes a delicious 4-course brunch, accompanied by 360-degree changing landscapes from around New Mexico. The constantly changing scenery and movement responses engrossing the interactive tabletop projections make you feel like a kid again. You can do a champagne toast with a background of flying hot air balloons and wave away a kaleidoscope of artists colors across your chile relleno crostini. How fun is that?
After your Burque Brunch (available until Dec 31, 2021), check out the projection-based digital gameplay arena where the building itself responds to your movement and the content changes constantly. The 24,000 square foot facility has space for you to run, jump, move, test your agility, and explore.
Watch The Sunset From The Top of a Mountain
If you enjoy nature, make sure to ride the Sandia Peak Tramway to the 10,378-foot crest of the Sandia Mountains. During the 15 minute ascension, you can see miles of Sandia Mountains, surrounding fir and aspen forests, hiking trails, wildlife, and the city unfold below you. On the peak, there is a panoramic viewing area, ski slopes, and a casual and fine dining bar and restaurant. Grab a cleverly named cocktail at restaurant TEN 3 (Tram Car, Lady and the Tram, Sandia Pink) and enjoy the views through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Time your visit so you can see the sunset from the tram. The mountains appear more white in the shade and glow red in the sun, so the scene is always changing.
Make sure to bring warm clothing as the top of the mountain can be 20-30 degrees cooler and windier than in Albuquerque.
Learn About Native American Culture
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is one of the best places to learn about the 19 pueblos of New Mexico. The museum offers a broad understanding of the ancient traditions of the Native American tribes in the area up until the current time. There are murals, pottery, and paintings by local artists. There are also fun and interactive experiences, including active narrations, artist demos, cultural dances, lecture series, and indigenous dinners. The cultural dance programs are typically coordinated by Zuni, Hopi, Acoma and Laguna pueblos. I got to see the White Mountain Apache Crown Dancers, who blessed the audience through vibrant prayer, song and dance in the courtyard on Indigenous People’s Day.
One of my best meals in Albuquerque was at the cultural center’s onsite restaurant – the Indian Pueblo Kitchen. The traditional New Mexican fare is cooked using ingredients sourced from the pueblos. My favorites were Jemez enchilada with housemate red and green chiles, Tewa Tacos with Native American fry bread, and warm pumpkin Pueblo oven pie (very different from your traditional pies). The Indian Pueblo Kitchen also host cooking classes and tasting menus, so make sure to check their calendar before your visit.
Stroll Around an Old Spanish Town
All travelers visiting Albuquerque have a must stop in ABQ Old Town. Shop for jewelry, t-shirts, and souvenirs at the 300-year-old historic pedestrian-friendly streets with adobe facades. There is always live music, weekend markets, and food vendors at the main square, and in front of San Felipe church. You can spend an entire day exploring art and culture at one of the museums in Old Town, such as the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. In June, attend the famed Festival Flamenco Internacional de Albuquerque to experience traditional Spanish flamenco dance performances.
The new and renovated Plaza Don Luis (PDLABQ) is home to several thoughtful locally owned retailers and art galleries. Hydrate at the wine-tasting rooms at Ruidoso-based Noisy Water Winery, Sheehan Winery, and Outpost Brewery and Taproom.
Taste The Local Fare
Sawmill Market is one of the best places in Albuquerque to taste affordable and good quality food from upcoming chefs and entrepreneurs. Housed in a former lumber warehouse, there are 20+ restaurants serving a variety of food. From freshly baked green chili donuts to homemade pasta and lobster Po’boy, you will be surprised by the diverse flavors at the market.
One of my favorite places to eat at in Albuquerque is Los Poblanos historic inn and organic farm. Known for their lavender products, they also have an organic garden, farm-to-table restaurant, and a beautiful kitchen shop.
P.S. Everything I ate at Los Poblanos was excellent!
If you like salsa, nachos, live music and a festive ambiance, you will have a lot of fun at the iconic El Pinto New Mexican restaurant. You may recognize their salsa bottles in your neighborhood grocery store. This is where they make and bottle their famous chipotle salsa, Hatch roasted hot green, and sun dried red chile sauces.
The nachos at El Pinto were rated #1 in America by The Wall Street Journal, and I can vouch for them!
Stay at an Architectural Marvel
If you are looking for a unique place to stay in Albuquerque, book a room at Hotel Chaco. The architectural elements are inspired by Chaco Canyon (one of the most historic sites for Native Americans). Even if you don’t stay there, go take a look at the lobby and entrance of the hotel. There is also a great collection of contemporary Native American New Mexican art on display. The rooms are warm, expansive and have large balconies. The pale stone masonry facade and wooden accents set the tone for a welcoming stay in New Mexico.