Albuquerque may not be New Mexico’s capital, but it is the largest metropolitan city in the state. If you find yourself visiting the Duke City you’ll find no shortage of things to do. Don’t let a tight budget deter you from exploring one of the Land of Enchantment’s most underrated cities. Our list of free things to do in Albuquerque includes quirky gems and off the beaten path favourites, all without spending a penny.
Where: University Boulevard SE, Albuquerque.
Directions: Take I-25 south to exit 220, then east on Highway 500/Rio Bravo Blvd. SE. Turn right at the traffic light onto University Blvd. SE. Look for the large snake sculpture in the median and continue uphill to see the second snake.
This giant sculpted diamondback rattlesnake takes pride of place in a highway median on University Blvd. Unfortunately the powers that be neglected to realise the curb appeal of this reptilian roadside attraction. There is no parking. So for those of you hoping to take a photo there is only a partial shoulder to pull in on to grab a quick snap.
Strangely enough this 400 ft slithering sculpture is unknown to the majority of Burqueños themselves. In fact, there are actually two rattlesnake sculptures, within the same median.
For those of you who would like to know more about rattlesnakes and are o.k. with paying $6 admission per adult, visit the American International Rattlesnake Museum. Conveniently enough this museum is located in Albuquerque.
Paseo del Bosque Trail a.k.a. Riverside Bike Path
Tip: Bring water and sunscreen.
Bosque Definition: A woodland/cluster of trees found along river banks.
Of all the free things to do in Albuquerque the most enjoyable is an early morning walk along the Paseo del Bosque Trail. And when I say early I mean early – sunrise early! There are 2 main reasons to take this sunrise stroll; firstly to beat the heat and secondly this is a prime location in the city to see hot air balloons in a stunning location, pretty much daily.
The paved trail runs parallel to the Rio Grande, though you cannot see the actual river from the paved trail. However there are dirt trails through the cottonwoods that run right along the nearby river. The paved trail runs along a levee with vistas of the Sandia Mountains, as well as surrounding farmlands and countryside. All of this in Albuquerque!
The 16 mile trail is flat except for at underpasses, where there are minor dips. There are no roads to cross. It is common to see coyotes, road runners and rabbits on this urban nature trail. You may even see a porcupine resting in the trees above. It feels like a world removed from the veritable sideshow of downtown Albuquerque. No wonder it was listed as one of the best bike trails in the Western US by Sunset magazine.
The Paseo del Bosque trail is open to walkers, joggers, dog walkers, cyclists, equestrians and is great for photographers.
Pueblo Montaño Sculpture Garden
Where: 4100 Montaño Road NW, Albuquerque.
Directions: Take I-25 north to Montgomery/Montaño Exit 228, then west on Montaño across the river. The Pueblo Montaño Sculpture Garden and picnic area is one block east of Coors Blvd. on the south side Montaño Rd.
This pleasant, minor diversion off of Paseo del Bosque Trail was borne out of an unfortunate event. 250 acres of the bosque within this area was destroyed by fire in 2003.
Fortuitously Mark Chavez, one of the firefighters who battled the blaze, also happens to be a chainsaw artist. As part of the rehabilitation effort of the scorched area Mr. Chavez carved remnants of the charred trees into local, familiar subjects.
Included in these identifiable representations are coyotes, a road runner and all manner of wildlife that call the bosque home. He even pays homage to the legend of La Llorona (the ditch witch). This phantom of Mexican and New Mexican folklore found wailing along bodies of water has been striking terror into children for over 500 years!
Rio Grande Nature Center State Park
Where: 2901 Candelaria Road NW, Albuquerque.
Phone: (505) 344-7240
Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Daily. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Admission: Free. Parking is $3.00
If you are walking along the Paseo del Bosque Trail it’s possible to incorporate the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park into your walk, depending on where you pick up the trail. Otherwise entry is free but parking is $3.
The Nature Center offers both indoor and outdoor viewing areas, perfect for wildlife and bird watching. If you’ve got the family in tow and are looking for things to do in Albuquerque with kids this natural distraction is educational and fun, especially for the younger ones.
Here, not only can you learn about man’s impact on the mighty Rio Grande but the hands on exhibits provide information on the local natural history, and flora and fauna too. Check online for visitor center hours as well as special events and kid’s activities, including storytelling time.
Spaceship House/Bug House
Where: 3501 Monte Vista Boulevard NE, Albuquerque.
Firstly, let me start by pointing out this is a private residence, please respect the privacy of the homeowners. Indeed the homeowner is Bart Prince himself, the architect behind this unique structure.
Affectionately referred to as the Spaceship House or the Bug House, this quirky construction and it’s neighbour easily stand out from the surrounding adobe homes. This is also a stop on both the ABQ Trolley Tour and the Breaking Bad Tour if your budget is so inclined.
D.I.Y. Breaking Bad Tour
The final episode of this cult hit series aired in September 2013 but Breaking Bad lives on in memoriam, not least because it is possible to visit so many of the locations where it was shot throughout Albuquerque. Indeed many would credit this series for making Albuquerque a destination. Not only have die-hard fans made the pilgrimage here but major movie studios have taken note, building studios and becoming a presence in the local economy and landscape.
The official Breaking Bad tour costs $75 per person. Grant it you do get to visit all of the stops in a Bounder RV just like the one Walt and Jesse started their enterprise in. So how do you go about saving $75 and pursuing your own D.I.Y. Breaking Bad tour?
As with just about anything these days Google has the answer. Simply cobble together your own tour from all of the information, including locations that you can easily find online. You will need a vehicle, be it your own or a rental – Albuquerque is one massive sprawling city. For the ultimate scavenger hunt combine locations from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Just remember many of these locations are private residences or businesses – please be respectful of private property.
Bonus Tip: Walter White’s Headstone
Where: 6855 4th Street NW, Albuquerque.
Directions: Located on the left (west) side of 4th Street, just north of the retro El Camino Motor Hotel sign. The headstone is on a wall at the back of the Village Shops at Los Ranchos strip mall.
Although the headstone played no role in the Breaking Bad show itself, you can visit the Walter White memorial. Finding it is the tricky part.
Downtown Albuquerque Street Art
Like most metropolitan areas these days, street art has come to adorn many downtown Albuquerque buildings. Central Avenue and 2nd Street are the main thoroughfares of interest, but keep your eyes peeled for structural adornments of all kinds everywhere. Albuquerque’s legendary role on iconic Route 66 is proudly depicted on many facades.
Street artists often use their talents to incorporate historical and controversial subject matter into their work. Entire murals may be dedicated to topical issues. In other instances the subtle inclusion of a figure or two can speak volumes on local matters. For example, look closely at the mural below.
Where: Rio Grande Valley State Park, Albuquerque.
Directions: From downtown head south on 2nd St. Barelas Railroad Park is on the right side, just beyond this is “2315” spray painted on plywood. Turn right at this sign and park at Riverside Trail; walk over the hill to the site of the Glass Graveyard. The shimmering glints of millions of pieces of broken glass confirm your arrival here.
Not only is this one of the more unique free things to do in Albuquerque, it is quite possibly one of the more unusual things to do anywhere! The Glass Graveyard encompasses about 20 acres and is part of the Rio Grande Valley State Park. It was once part of the city’s Old River Landfill from 1920 until 1948.
Over the years rubbish has been burned in the landfill, so much so that mixed amongst the shards are congealed and warped blobs of molten glass. Today all that remains of yesterday’s rubbish are acres of shimmering shards of broken glass and pottery covering the ground. Every now and then it is possible to find complete old glass containers of all different hues.
If you’re partial to a scavenger hunt this is the place for you. Local artists moonlight as glass detectorists here, recycling uncovered treasures into their latest creations. Finding complete bottles is a combination of luck and a little digging; bring a shovel if you are serious.
Tip: Wear suitable shoes, you will be walking across broken glass. It should go without saying but flip flops or sandals are not suitable footwear here.
Old Town Albuquerque
Albuquerque was founded in 1706 with historic Old Town representative of it’s colonial beginnings. The only remaining building dating to the actual Spanish colonial period is San Felipe de Neri Church built in 1793. The historic adobe structures within Old Town Albuquerque date to the 19th and 20th centuries.
Old Town Plaza Albuquerque is the heart of this historical neighbourhood. The plaza dates to the founding of the city although it is smaller than it’s original precursor. Such central plazas are inherent to former Spanish Colonies throughout the world. These days local artisans line the sides of the plaza selling their handmade jewellery. Known as the Old Town Portal Market, this is the place to buy or simply peruse traditional, iconic Southwestern pieces.
The plaza also plays host to cultural exhibits throughout the year. If you’re lucky you may catch a concert on the gazebo or you may even be treated to a mariachi or flamenco performance. Alternatively, grab a bench with some shade and simply sit and people watch.
There’s no doubt that Old Town Albuquerque is a major tourist hub with the typical temptations whereby you and your cash part ways rather easily – shops and restaurants beckon at every doorway! Looking for fun, free things to do in Old Town Albuquerque besides window shopping? Take a stroll through the 10 blocks that comprise this historic district, but whatever you do make sure you have your camera with you. Old Town Albuquerque is a photogenic beauty, full of opportunities to capture that quintessential New Mexican shot.
Hot Air Balloon Museum
Where: 9201 Balloon Museum Drive NE, Albuquerque.
Directions: From downtown, take I-25 north to exit 233 (NM 528/Alameda Blvd). Turn left (west) onto Alameda Blvd. Continue straight for several blocks; turn right on Balloon Museum Drive.
Phone: (505) 768-6020
Free admission Sunday 9:00 am – 1:00 pm and the first Friday of the month – excluding October.
Albuquerque is synonymous with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This annual event is the world’s largest hot air balloon festival and also the most photographed event in the world! Not only is Balloon Fiesta Park home to the balloon fiesta, it also is home to the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.
The museum encompasses all aspects of hot air ballooning, from the early days of balloon flight to it’s use in WWII and beyond. Exhibits detail the use of hot air balloons in espionage, record breaking experiments, space exploration and doomed adventure in the North Pole. There are interactive exhibits to keep the kids occupied and everyone can have a go at the balloon flight simulator.
If you are a serious balloon enthusiast, you will love this specialty museum. For the rest of us who love hot air balloons – i.e. being mesmerised by looking at them in the sky or hoping to one day take a ride in one, well, there’s a lot of information to take in. The typical admission fee of $6 per adult won’t break the bank but why not take advantage of this museum when admission is free?
Hike 3 Volcanoes
Where: West side of Albuquerque. This is part of the Petroglyph National Monument.
Directions: I-40 West to Exit 149. Head North on Atrisco Vista Boulevard (formerly Paseo del Volcan) for 4.8 miles to the access road for the volcanoes.
Hours: The parking lot is open 9:00 am – 5:00 pm daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day
- There are no petroglyphs in this area of the National Monument.
- This is an exposed area, hence there is no shelter from the elements. Be weather aware, especially for lightning strikes and wind.
- Beware of rattlesnakes. Stay on the trail, but also keep your eyes peeled.
- Wear sunscreen, as there is no shade here.
- Bring sunglasses and a hat.
- Bring water and snacks, especially if you plan on doing the 13 mile loop trail.
There are actually five dormant volcanoes but three in particular dominate this otherwise flat landscape. These three dormant volcanoes are known locally as the Three Sisters or the Albuquerque Volcanoes. Although the volcanoes are part of the Petroglyph National Monument, there are no petroglyphs here. Instead, walk amongst the three geographical wonders – JA Volcano, Black Volcano and Vulcan Volcano. Whether you have any interest in mineralogy or not the trails make for a unique, peaceful stroll. The volcanoes are a mere 5 minute walk from the parking lot.
Although the volcanoes are dormant smoke was observed rising from them in 1881. Geologically they are still in the cooling stage. On the rare occasion that it snows in Albuquerque, this is the first area in the city where the snow melts due to the residual heat!
Sign up for the AllTrails app to access the 13 mile Volcano and Petroglyph Trail hike. It’s a bruiser so come prepared with sunscreen, snacks and lots of water. Most importantly, know the weather forecast beforehand. If there is even the slightest possibility of storms do not attempt this 13 mile hike.
Even More Things To Do In and Around Albuquerque
Whether you’re travelling solo, as a couple or as a family, we’ve got lots of suggestions to keep you occupied in the Duke City and beyond. For fun family activities check out our day trips from Albuquerque. Looking for a romantic getaway or just a comfy place to rejuvenate? Perhaps a night or two of indulgence at a historical luxury spa is the answer!
If you’d like to combine a hike with a rewarding soak in one of New Mexico’s many natural hot springs, check out our guide to 9 New Mexico Hot Springs. On the other hand if all you want is just a good hike, guess what? We’ve got you covered for hikes near Albuquerque too. If time is really on your side and you want to explore more of the state, we also have a guide to the best things to do in New Mexico.
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