Before planning our trip to Albuquerque, I only knew a couple of things about The Duke City. First, it hosts the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in which hundreds of hot air balloons participate. Second, its metro area was the setting for the crime-drama television series, Breaking Bad. By the time we left, I realized that there are more things to do and places to visit in Albuquerque, New Mexico than we could accomplish in 24 hours.
We arrived in Albuquerque in the late afternoon and left the next day at about the same time. Although it is a big city, we were still surprised to see how much we achieved by the time we headed out. We checked off seven of Albuquerque’s must-see attractions.
Planning a one-day trip to Duke City and wondering how much you will be able to see? Whether you’re a first-time visitor or not, follow this detailed 24-hour itinerary. It will lead you to the best places to visit in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
4:30 p.m. – Ride the Sandia Peak Tramway
If you only have a few hours in Albuquerque and have to pick and choose what to do in the city, the Sandia Peak Tramway is without doubt one of the best places to visit in Albuquerque.
After checking in at the hotel around 4 p.m., we headed out to Sandia Peak Tramway. Located about 15 miles from Albuquerque’s city center, the gondolas of the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway travel over 2.7 miles from its base to the top of Sandia Peak, which is approximately 10,400 feet high. The 14-minute ride to the top offered spectacular views of the rugged mountains, odd-shaped rocks, and the deep canyons below. Words can’t adequately describe the scenery.
Once we reached the summit, the landscape was astonishing in every direction. Several hiking trails, beginning on both sides of the visitor’s center, wind through tall pines and lush green fields. If you are not in the mood for a hike, the restaurant observation deck is a great alternative to take in the breathtaking views.
Be aware that the temperature on the summit is 20 degrees cooler than in the city of Albuquerque. Depending on the time of the year you will be visiting, be prepared. It is advised to go online and book tickets in advance.
Note: During our visit the Tram was operating at approximately 1/3 of its total capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Face coverings were mandatory.
7:30 p.m. – Dine Albuquerque’s typical cuisine
First things first: understand the local language when ordering your dish. If you’re at a restaurant that serves New Mexican cuisine, your server will likely ask you, Red or green? The question is a reference to their well-known chile pepper sauces.
New Mexican culinary is a fusion of Mexican, Native American, and Spanish influences with an emphasis on local spices, especially the red and green chile peppers. Albuquerque’s cuisine alone is a great reason to visit the city.
After checking the reviews online, we chose Cocina Azul for dinner, as we wanted to taste the authentic New Mexican cuisine. We were not disappointed. While many dishes sound familiar, such as tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, the flavor does have a twist. Our waiter kindly explained that green and red chile are the same vegetable. Nevertheless, red means ripe, so it has less heat and offers an extra smoky flavor. Knowing that it was our first time in Albuquerque, he advised Christmas style, which means a taste of both.
Note: We visited Albuquerque in August 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. All seats were on an outdoor patio.
6:00 a.m. – Go on a sunrise hot air balloon ride
Did you know that the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest hot air balloon festival?
Taking place every October, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta had its humble beginnings in 1972, when only 13 hot air balloons were launched. Today, it brings together over 600 brightly-colored hot air balloons from around the world which rise and flow into the skies before sunrise and sunset on each of its nine days. Seeing this colorful and amazing sight was still on our bucket list.
We had caught a glimpse of it while we traveled through New Mexico. Planning on spending one day in Albuquerque, I Immediately booked a sunrise balloon ride for our family.
We arrived at the site before dawn and watched the team inflate the balloon. After climbing in the basket, we were off, and soon we were 10,000 feet in the air. The sun rose slowly over the Sandia Mountains, and the first golden rays illuminated the vast desert horizon, the clouds, and the city below us. Other balloons appeared from different locations and joined us in the sky. The beauty was beyond description.
Our skilled pilot was an excellent tour guide. He shared important information on ballooning history, including the tradition of drinking champagne after the flight, along with some entertaining personal experiences from his many years of being a professional balloonist.
Landing didn’t mean the end of excitement. When our balloonist was looking for a wide-open spot to touch the ground, our balloon hovered low above neighborhoods. We could hear the city waking up. Dogs barked at our balloon, folks waved to us from their yards, and our pilot jokingly asked them if we could land there. In the end, we had a smooth landing on a street in the suburbs of Albuquerque.
11:00 a.m. – Stroll on the historic streets of Old Town Albuquerque
Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, had its origins with the Native Americans (Pueblos) who had lived in the area for thousands of years when the Spanish first arrived in 1540. Almost two centuries later, Albuquerque was founded as a Spanish colony. Today, each street of Old Town still reveals the historical and cultural roots of both cultures.
This historic ten-block neighborhood was built around the Old Town Plaza, an area that served the earliest settlers. More than three centuries after its establishment, Old Town’s connection to the past is still visible on the Pueblo-Spanish buildings with flat roofs and stucco walls with rounded edges.
There is so much more to see in Old Town Albuquerque! Quaint streets are lined with shops that sell hand-crafted goods made by local artists whose skills were passed down through generations. It is also home to galleries, museums, restaurants, and hotels.
Note: Lunch was take-out from Old Town Pizza Parlor. Due to COVID-19, and to save time, we found it to be our best option. Moreover, our daughter loved the fact that she could build her own pizza. I particularly enjoyed the slightly sweet crust served with fresh, flavorful ingredients.
1:00 p.m. – Visit San Felipe Church
While touring Old Town, we recommend visiting the historic church of San Felipe, located on the northern side of Old Town Plaza. The original church dates back to 1706, and it was initially dedicated to St. Francis Xavier. At the request of the Duke of Alburquerque, the patron saint was changed to San Felipe de Neri, in honor of King Philip V of Spain. In 1792 the church collapsed due to heavy rain, and a new one was built the following year.
Today, San Felipe Church is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city and the only structure in Old Town proven to date to the Spanish colonial period. Definitely worth a visit.
1:30 p.m. – Find Breaking Bad filming locations
Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who struggles with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. To secure his family’s financial future before he dies, White turns to a life of crime by producing and distributing methamphetamine. Together with his student Jesse, they grew a meth business into an empire. If you are a fan of this AMC show, you know that the full story took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
My husband repeatedly says it is one of the best, if not the best, shows he has ever seen. That said, we squeezed one hour of our day to see a few of the most recognizable locations featured on the show. We started with Walter White’s family house (from outside), followed by the A1A car wash where Walter and his wife Skyler laundered the dirty cash. In real life, the building is occupied by Mister Car Wash. Last but not least, we visited the restaurant Twisters in South Valley which, on the TV series, was Los Pollos Hermanos, a front organization for White’s meth distribution operation. Inside, a Los Pollos Hermanos mural displays pictures of the director and the stars of the show.
Note: I recommend a quick stop at the Breaking Bad store located in Old Town. Besides the merchandise that includes t-shirts, replicas of Walter White’s hat, cups, posters, and items from local artists, they also have setups related to the show that offer fantastic photo opportunities.
Check Albuquerque Breaking Bad RV Tours if you’d like to take an organized tour of the filming locations.
2:30 p.m. – Learn Albuquerque’s local history at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center was our last stop.
We knew that Albuquerque’s beginnings date long before the Spanish conquistadors made their way to New Mexico. The region was home to numerous Native American communities–the Pueblo people. Today there are 19 pueblos located near the metropolitan area, each with its own government. Although these indigenous tribes share a common history, each one holds its own art techniques, traditions, and customs.
Interested in gaining more understanding about these communities and their way of life, we spent about 90 minutes at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. At this educational center, owned and operated by the Pueblos themselves, they tell their stories through thought-provoking exhibits. It was heartbreaking to learn about their struggles over the centuries, beginning with the Spanish invaders and continuing to the present time. I particularly enjoyed the native artists’ pottery exhibit, which not only displayed examples of exquisite pottery but also showed the materials and methods for their creation.
If we had more time…
Petroglyph National Monument – it is one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. It shows designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago.
New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science – a journey through New Mexico’s past, from the formation of the universe to the present. It is an interactive museum that features an active volcano, enormous Tyrannosaurus rex and Seismosaurus dinosaurs, and more.
ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden – over one and a half miles of paths through formal and whimsical gardens designed to delight your senses. Exhibits include Mediterranean and Desert Conservatories, 1920’s farm, Japanese and formal gardens and BUGarium.
Where to stay…
I highly recommend staying in Albuquerque’s downtown area, especially if you are visiting the city for the first time. Most of Albuquerque’s attractions, including Old Town and its historic Plaza, plus restaurants and shops will be steps away.
Here are three suggestions for hotels to consider:
- Top-notch: Hotel Chaco
- Mid-range: Casas de Suenos Old Town Historic Inn
- Budget: Econo Lodge Old Town
You can see an extensive listing of hotels in Albuquerque on booking.com.