How To Spend A Weekend In Albuquerque, New Mexico

How To Spend A Weekend In Albuquerque, New Mexico

Published July 16, 2021

Of all the regions in the US, the American Southwest is one that I haven’t gotten to explore nearly as much as I’d like. That’s exactly why I booked a last-minute long weekend getaway to Albuquerque, New Mexico upon learning I had a few days off from work!

I had no idea what to expect when I booked my trip, but my first trip to Arizona a few months ago was one reason I chose Albuquerque! The landscapes, the food, and the sunny weather were reason enough to explore another Southwestern state. This post will give you an idea of how much of Albuquerque you can see in two or three days! To skip down to any topic, click or tap one of the numbered links below!

  1. Sandia Peak Tramway
  2. Petroglyph National Monument
  3. Old Town
  4. Downtown (Central Ave)
  5. University of New Mexico & Nob Hill
  6. Food
  7. A Day Trip Idea: Madrid, NM

1. Sandia Peak Tramway

If you ask a local what you should do in Albuquerque, there’s a good chance they’ll mention the Sandia Peak Tramway. This suspension cable car offers incredible views of the city as you climb in elevation up to the top of the Sandia Mountains.

To visit, you’ll first need to buy tickets online, although this can be done on the day you want to go. Then, navigate to the tram terminal station on the northeastern edge of the city, located here. Once you’ve boarded at the bottom of the hill, you’re in for a treat. The tram ride up offers amazing views of the city below and dramatic rocky mountains above. It’s also a smooth ride, and the employees do a great job explaining what you can see in every direction.

At the top, there are three things you can do. The first option is to grab something to eat at the restaurant, Ten 3. I chose not to because a couple locals told me that it might be overpriced and underwhelming. The second option is to admire the views, including of the ski slopes on the opposite side of the mountain. This is what I chose to do, and I’m glad I did! That’s because the third option is to go on a hike.

Don’t get me wrong, I normally love a hike with great views! However, visitors should be aware that Albuquerque has an elevation of 5,312 feet (more than a mile) and Sandia Peak is almost double that at 10,378 feet. Since I’ve lived in Chicago (i.e. only 600 feet above sea level) the past few months, I could really feel a difference walking around at the peak visitor center, and I didn’t want to risk putting too much strain on my body with one of the hikes. I’m sure people who live in Albuquerque would have an easier time at the top of Sandia Peak, but don’t ignore your body if it’s signaling that a hike might be too much.

2. Petroglyph National Monument

If you look at a map of the city, you’ll see that this large, outdoor historic area is so close to the city center that you can’t even call it a day trip. I highly recommend visiting at least one of three trail loops where you can see petroglyphs, which are works of art carved into the outermost layer of volcanic rock. It’s believed that the majority of the petroglyphs here were created between 1300 and 1700 by the Pueblo people.

It’s important to know that there are no trailheads at the visitor center (located here). Instead, you have to drive a few miles to Boca Negra CanyonRinconada Canyon, or Piedras Marcadas Canyon. I chose the first one, as it’s supposed to be the easiest mini hike.

Other than a few dollars for parking at Boca Negra Canyon, seeing the petroglyphs is free. Some of them clearly depict faces, animals, and symbols, while others are a bit more abstract. It’s incredible how old they are and how well they’ve survived the elements!

3. Old Town

Albuquerque’s historic district is filled with restaurants, shops, museums, and more. You could pretty easily spend a full day here depending on how quickly you explore some of the attractions featured below.

Old Town Plaza

The highlight of Old Town for me was definitely the unique architecture. This is also a great area for souvenir shopping, and if you’re looking for a good cup of coffee, check out Blackbird Coffee House.

Albuquerque Museum

This large museum right on the eastern edge of Old Town has an impressive collection of local and regional artists’ work in addition to some historical exhibits. Admission is also only 6 dollars per adult without NM state ID, so it’s definitely worth checking out for an hour or two.

Sawmill Market

If you’re looking for a place to eat in Old Town, consider trying Sawmill Market. Apparently this building used to be a lumber warehouse, but was converted into a market-style dining hall only a year or two ago. With a few dozen vendors, there are a variety of cuisines to choose from and lots of seating. It seems to be a pretty popular place!

Since I was eating non-stop throughout my weekend in Albuquerque, I didn’t have a chance to try a meal at Sawmill. I did, however, get to try a delicious fruity cocktail from their Botanic Bar!

ABQ BioPark Aquarium & Botanic Garden

The last thing I recommend visiting near Old Town is the Botanic Garden. I think the $14.50 ticket includes both the gardens and the aquarium, which seemed like it was geared more towards kids. The gardens are huge, and the various sections are all so pretty.

If you’re into plants and nature walks, be sure to explore the far end, which is where you’ll find the Japanese Gardens and an old Great Depression-era farmhouse replica.

4. Downtown (Central Ave)

This was a bit of an odd area to visit, to be completely honest. I went on a Monday morning, expecting a typical workday crowd. That wasn’t the case at all. I did find a cool cafe called Humble Coffee, but the entire neighborhood was weirdly quiet.

The one thing I did like about this little stretch of Central Avenue SW is its abundance of street art. However, I felt like a quick walkthrough was all I could do given how empty the place was. Maybe it comes alive later in the day?

5. University of New Mexico & Nob Hill

I don’t always make it a point to visit college campuses when I travel, but UNM is a short drive from Old Town and Downtown. I spent about an hour exploring on foot and reminiscing about what it was like to be in school!

In the center of campus is the UNM Duck Pond, which feels like an entire mini park. If you’re lucky, you might even find some super cute ducklings!

I was told by an Uber driver or two that the neighborhood directly to the east of campus, Nob Hill, is a hub for restaurants and breweries. Unfortunately, this was the final area I had time to briefly explore before flying out of Albuquerque, so I didn’t have a chance to properly experience the food and drink scene.

However, one really unique attraction in Nob Hill is pictured above. Known as the Spaceship UFO House, this private residence is located on a nondescript residential street. As such, visitors should be respectful, but you can still take a picture or two from the sidewalk.

6. Food

One of the best reasons to visit Albuquerque is the local cuisine! If you love Mexican food, New Mexican cuisine has some subtle variations on classic dishes. The main distinguishing factor is the use of local hatch chile, which usually comes as a sauce on top. There are red and green varieties, and restaurants will usually ask you which one you want with your food. If you’re looking to try both on the same plate, you can even answer, “Christmas” like a local. Below are three restaurants where you can get hatch chile and other local dishes.

Los Compadres

This restaurant only has one location in Old Town, but it was probably my favorite of the three I tried. I went for a very late lunch one day (around 3:00 p.m.) and still had to wait a little while for a table, which should tell you how popular they are. I ordered a chile relleno plate (Christmas-style) that ended up being delicious.

Sadie's of New Mexico

According to their website, Sadie’s has three locations in Albuquerque. When I went, I wanted to try one of their “Original Creations,” so I went with a plate of Brian’s Spicy Carne Adovada Ribs. Carne adovada is a way of slow-cooking meat in a red chile sauce.

I was warned that the ribs would be a massive plate of food, but I decided to go for it anyways. Served on a bed of home fries and pinto beans, it was delicious, not to mention the spiciest meal I had in Albuquerque.

If you’re curious about why every table has a bottle of honey on it, they’re for the sopaipillas! These fried, bready desserts are also a New Mexico specialty that can either be plain or contain a variety of fillings.

Little Anita's New Mexican Food

This regional chain restaurant has nine locations in New Mexico and two in Colorado. The combo plate I ordered at their Old Town location (also Christmas-style) was good, but the service was less so. A margarita I ordered never came, so I had to have it removed from the bill. They weren’t super busy either, so I’m not sure if they were having an off day or if service is usually like that.

7. A Day Trip Idea: Madrid, NM

There are lots of great day trip options from Albuquerque, and I decided to drive out to Madrid, a tiny artist town about 55 miles northeast of the city. The trip out there is scenic, and once you arrive, you’ll be able to park and browse the many art galleries along New Mexico State Road 14, the only main road that goes through town.

Grab a Latte at Java Junction

By the time I had reached Madrid, I was ready for a coffee! I tried an iced peppery mocha at Java Junction, the first cafe I came across. They also use coffee ice cubes, which means the drink doesn’t dilute as the ice melts!

Get Lunch at The Hollar

After eating New Mexican food for three meals in a row, I was finally ready to try another type of cuisine. The barista at Java Junction actually recommended I try The Hollar, and I’m so glad she did! Known for their fried green tomatoes, this inviting southern-inspired eatery with a large outdoor patio was a nice change of pace.

If you can do it, I have to recommend trying both the green tomatoes and the fried okra, which you can get as a side with their delicious buffalo burger. It’ll be a heavy meal, but everything is so good!

A Few Final Tips for a Visit to Albuquerque

Getting around ABQ is fairly easy as it’s not a massive city. However, I found that as of July 2021, Uber and Lyft were pretty expensive. I tried doing rideshares on my first day, then rented a car for the rest of my trip. I would recommend the rental, especially if you’re interested in a day trip. The city doesn’t have a metro network, and with current Uber prices, you’d probably break even on an economy rental vehicle.

In terms of day trips, Albuquerque has much more to offer than just Madrid. Santa Fe is about a 70 minute drive away, and I was told that another interesting day trip option is to drive out to Mountainair, which is a one hour and twenty minute drive southeast of the city.

As a first-time visitor and solo traveler, I really enjoyed my three-day introduction to New Mexico! A long weekend in Albuquerque was enough time to see a variety of unique sites without having to rush too much. Are you planning a trip to the area? Leave a comment below and let me know! And if you found this post helpful, consider sharing it on Facebook, tweeting it, or pinning it on Pinterest! Thanks for reading!

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This post was published on July 16, 2021

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. arv

    To be honest, I have never heard of this place before but this looks like a great place to visit. My favorite is Sandia Peak Tramway. The views are awesome. Another place is Madrid. I’m glad I came across this post.

  2. Kez

    I’ve heard of Albuquerque from cartoons I watched as a kid so I’ve always been interested to find out more about it.

    It looks like a lovely town and i definitely want to check out the petroglyphs!

  3. Jane

    Like you, this is an area I do not know at all well. I have dipped down into New Mexico, but we did not make it to Albuquerque. It looks really interesting though and the pictures of the food has my mouth watering. The tram car is a great introduction to the area too. I love the idea of combining the work of present day local artists with historical artefacts in the museum, definitely a place to visit!

  4. I would have to do the Sandia Peak Tramway. Those views look sensational! That was good advice to not bother eating at that point, since it seems there are so many more nice eateries around. The petroglyphs would have been fun to explore. Good tip to hire a car instead of trying to Uber, especially if time is of the essence.

  5. Sarah Wilson

    I would never have thought of visiting Albuquerque but it looks kind of cool. That tramway looks scary, just what I love. Seeing just that made me realise I would like Albuquerque.

  6. Renee

    I always like to get to know a place by starting with the downtown, so I would head there first and then the food. I love that you managed to squeeze in a day trip to Madrid and that there were art galleries along the way. My kind of day trip!

  7. Candy

    Wow, I was having so much fun looking at all your photos of Albuquerque. I’ve always wanted to visit and this makes me want to go even more. I was surprised about the drastic elevation change. That’s pretty challenging for sure. I also really would love to stop by Old Town. I love roaming around streets with unique architecture.

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