Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque, New Mexico

This Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque, New Mexico, is “just enough without the fluff.” Find out what to do in Albuquerque with this up-to-date guide. I created this informative Albuquerque guide for you–the explorer who wants to go deeper. Deeper into culture, roads less traveled and personal connections to the people who live and play in Albuquerque. AS WITH ANY TRAVEL, CHECK WITH STATE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS BEFORE YOU LEAVE.

This Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque, New Mexico dedicated to Alwyn, the Welshman

Young woman stands in front of hot air balloons ready to lift off at Albuquerque Balloon Festival - Albuquerque guide
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta® | Photo by Rebecca Harris on Unsplash

Alwyn rented a car and drove off to Albuquerque because, as he said in his Welsh accent, “I’ve always wanted to visit this place with such a curious spelling.” He’d come all the way from Wales to attend Der Ring des Nibelungen, the veritable “Super Bowl” of operas performed in my hometown of Flagstaff. Almost 25 years later, I remember his enthusiasm when he returned from Albuquerque. For me, Albuquerque was a place that I drove through on my way to somewhere else. Until I visited Albuquerque to write about their wine region, I didn’t know what I’d been missing.

So this Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque is dedicated to you, Alwyn. This is the Albuquerque guide I wish I’d written before I sent you off to “The Q.”

Table of Contents

Where is Albuquerque?

Aerial view of Albuquerque with Rio Grande River below and Sandia Mountains in the background. I took this photo for the Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque from a balloon.
The Rio Grande River flows through Albuquerque, New Mexico making the city a long-time crossroads. ©Photo by Stacey Wittig

Albuquerque, New Mexico, is located in the American Southwest

  • 790 miles (1271 km) from Los Angeles,
  • 420 miles (676 km) from Phoenix, and
  • 450 miles (724 km) from Denver.

Each day, Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) averages over 150 takeoffs and landings by commercial airlines. Fly into the sunny city on Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, jetBlue, Southwest or United.

You can ride the rails to Albuquerque on Amtrak or drive the infamous Route 66 right through town. Albuquerque has long been a crossroads since it lies on the Rio Grande River, a 1,885 mile-long natural corridor. El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the “Royal Road of the Interior,” is a network of prehistoric footpaths turned wagon track in the 1500s. It carried Spanish colonists from Mexico City through Albuquerque to Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo), the first Spanish capital in New Mexico.

Today I-25 follows the north-south course of the old Spanish road. Where that interstate highway intersects I-40 (which connects Barstow, California with Willingham, North Carolina), you’ll find the heart of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

 I was on assignment for Arizona Vines and Wines magazine when I first spent an overnight in Albuquerque. Wanting to uncover what was going on with Gruet Winery, I set out to discover why they were hitting it out of the park with their sparkling wines. They’d just been named US Producer of the Year at the 2010 International Wine & Spirit Competition.

Turns out, the Gruet family hails from the Champagne region in France. During our tour of numerous wineries that weekend, I also learned that Monsieur Gilbert Gruet was not the first European to grow grapes in New Mexico. Read on to learn “a secret” about New Mexico wine.

New Mexico, the Oldest Viticultural Region in North America?

Two story adobe building with tile roof stands behind grand circular drive. A statue pirouettes in the middle of this circle driveway a perfect Albuquerque guide
Casa Rondeña Winery is one of about ten wineries in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico | Photo courtesy of Casa Rondeña Winery
According to Christian Gallagher, our host at Casa Rondeña Winery:
In 1629, Fray [Gracia de Zuniga] smuggled the first European grapevines to New Mexico [from Spain.] He celebrated the first vintage in 1633, over 200 years before vinifera vines were planted in the Napa Valley of California.
That makes New Mexico the oldest viticultural region in North America. The Albuquerque winery tour was ten years ago, and Albuquerque’s wine country, deep history and New Mexican cuisine have been calling me back ever since. On account of that, I’ve drunk her wine, hiked and mountain biked her trails and even wrote a guidebook about nearby Bandelier National Monument.

Albuquerque’s Four Quadrants: Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque

Albuquerque is divided into four quadrants – remember I said I-25 and I-40 intersect her heart?

  1. In the southeast quadrant, you’ll find The University of New Mexico, hipster restaurants, and Nob Hill with its exciting mix of historic architecture.
  2. The southwest quad is home to intriguing Albuquerque Old Town, shops and the green space, Rio Grand Bosque, that borders the Rio Grande.
  3. In the northwest, you’ll explore Petroglyph National Monument and the wine country of Rio Rancho and Corrales in the outskirts north of the city.
  4. In the northeast quadrant you can ride to the summit of the Sandia Mountains on Sandia Peak Tramway.

To the east are the Sandia Mountains, which reflect red-pink sunsets.

Albuquerque Guide: Sandia Peaks to the east of Albuquerque. Photo Courtesy of Albuquerque Convention and Visitor Bureau.

Albuquerque guide insider tip: Pink reflections and arched profiles like huge melon halves left on the flat desert floor are what gives Albuquerque’s mountains their name–Sandia, meaning watermelon in Spanish.

Albuquerque’s Dry Climate is Quintessential Southwest

Albuquerque delivers an average of 310 days of sunshine per year. Photo of Kuaua Ruins (Coronado Historic Site) Bernalillo, New Mexico ©Photo by Stacey Wittig

Albuquerque’s dry climate is quintessential Southwest USA with cool nights and warm, sunny days. Expect 310 days of sunshine per year. Best times to visit Albuquerque are late March through May and mid-September through mid-November. Temperatures during those months range from highs of 64F-81F (18-27C) and lows around 36F-51F (2-11C.)

Summertime sees average highs between 90F and 93F (32C and 34C) and lows 61F to 66F (16C to 19C.)

Looking down at ski runs and trees covered in snow. Skier is on his way down. The City of Albuquerque is seen - snowless - below
Albuquerque Guide: Sandia Peak Ski Area boasts four lifts and 35 trails. Photo courtesy of Visit Albuquerque

During cool Decembers and Januarys, you’ll experience highs of 49F (9C) and lows of 25F (-4C). With those winter temps, this Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque, New Mexico, warns that you can expect some snow, however, average precipitation is only 11 inches (28 cm) per year.

Albuquerque’s Diverse History

Prehistoric ceramic pot decorated with a parrot. what to do in Albuquerque? Go to Maxwell Museum of Anthropology
Ceramic bowl from the collections at Maxwell Museum of Anthropology - University of New Mexico ©Photo by Stacey Wittig

Brief Timeline of Albuquerque History

12,000 years ago, Paleo-Indian nomadic people hunted ancient bison and mammoths. Archeologists named the famous Paleo projectile point—the Clovis Point—after nearby Clovis, NM, where they discovered it.

1250 –Tiwa people who built multi-storied stone buildings and farmed corns, beans and squash begin settling along this portion of the Rio Grande.

1540-41 – Spanish first visit the area. About 20 Tiwa villages spread out along the 60-mile stretch of the Rio Grande. Today their descendants still live in some of these places—named pueblos by the Spanish.

1629 – Fray Gracia de Zuniga smuggles the first European grapevines to the region.

1680 – Camino Real runs through the Albuquerque area on which seventeen Spanish ranches (estancias) are reported.

1680 – Tiwa, along with neighboring Tewa people, drive Spanish out of New Mexico during the Pueblo Revolt.

1692 – Spanish return and resettle los estancias.

1706 – Town chartered as Alburquerque, the original spelling, in New Spain.

1821 – Mexican Revolution: Albuquerque, as it is now spelled, is under the Mexican flag.

1850 – New Mexico becomes a territory of the United States of America.

1880 – First Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway train pulls into Albuquerque. Fred Harvey manages Albuquerque’s Alvarado railside hotel and restaurant when it opens in 1883.

1926 – Route 66 runs through Albuquerque.

1941 – US Army impounds airport and so begins what are now Sandia National Laboratories and Kirkland Air Force Base.

What to do in Albuquerque

Two middle aged women squat down on Albuquerque sidewalk to view jewelry made by Native artisans
Shopping, hiking, biking and hot air ballooning are only some of the things to do in “The Q.” Photo courtesy of Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Center.

When wondering what to do in Albuquerque, the first idea that floats into my head is hot air ballooning. The city is the home to Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta®, the world’s largest hot air ballooning event. However, you needn’t wait for the October happening to check ballooning off your bucketlist. Albuquerque’s dry, sunny weather makes for year-round hot air adventures.

Sunny skies are perfect for hiking, biking and other outdoor adventures. The dry clime preserves ancient dwellings, pottery and other artifacts, so archaeology buffs from around the world come here to explore parks and museums. Descendants of the ancient ones are a vibrant part of Albuquerque’s diverse cultural scene, so watch Albuquerque’s calendar for art shows, dances and Feast Day ceremonies.

If you’re a Breaking Bad fan, you’ll want to visit filming locations. Don’t forget the winery tours that I mentioned previously. As for me, I’ve yet to visit during the lighting of the luminarias on Christmas Eve, a centuries-old New Mexican tradition.

Click here for more Things to do in Albuquerque

Places to Stay in Albuquerque

Hotel lobby with white sofa and modern native art sculptures
Experience modern Native New Mexican art throughout Hotel Chaco ©Photo by Stacey Wittig

From comfy adobe bed and breakfasts to distinctive hotels, which reflect the local culture to affordable Route 66 motels, there’s a place to stay in Albuquerque for every budget. Relax at the Chocolate Turtle Bed and Breakfast, indulge at luxurious Hotel Chaco surrounded by contemporary Native New Mexican art, or go Route 66 retro at El Vado Motel.

Click here to discover more Places to Stay in Albuquerque

Where to Eat in Albuquerque

White plate of Northern New Mexican cuisine garnished with fresh bean sprouts
Chilaquiles with house-made red chile, Tucumcari jack and cheddar, potatoes with herbs de Poblanos, eggs and chorizo at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. ©Photo by Stacey Wittig

No Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque would be complete without a “Where to Eat in Albuquerque” section. My favorite cuisine in the world is New Mexican (shhhh…don’t tell my French friends.) So I dive into traditional dishes like green chile enchiladas or chile rellenos at family-owned places like El Pinto.

Since Spain is a huge part of Albuquerque’s unique blend of culture, it only makes sense that local restaurants have picked up on the tapas craze. Many of you know I love Spain—most of my days abroad are spent on the Iberian Peninsula—so I can’t resist Albuquerque’s tapas restaurants. Check out MÁS Tapas y Vino at the Hotel Andaluz and Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque for tapas and flamenco.

Healthful restaurants abound—I enjoyed The Grove Café & Market, filming location for one of Breaking Bad’s most talked-about scenes.

Check out more of UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s picks for Where to Eat in Albuquerque

As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, she will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the ever-increasing costs of keeping this travel blog active. Thanks for reading.

Enjoy this Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque, New Mexico? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.  Or on your Facebook or Twitter pages. Please feel free to share this article with any or all of the red- and blue-colored social media buttons below. Want more free travel tips and inspiration? Then simply “subscribe” below to get updates delivered directly to your email inbox.

2 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Albuquerque, New Mexico”

    • Thanks so much for the link to New Mexico’s travel restrictions. That is really helpful. Let us know what you find to be “different than before” during your upcoming travels in the time of Coronavirus. Bon voyage!

      Reply

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