Looking for an adventure but trying not to break the bank? There are tons of free things to do in Albuquerque, from watching hot air balloons, experiencing outdoor fun, and much more.
1. Watch hot air balloons
Albuquerque is known as the hot air balloon capital of the world. Get your fix of dragon breath (the heat blasts that keep the balloons aloft) morning and dusk year-round from any vantage point in the east or west heights. On almost any day there are a half dozen or more hot air balloons aloft in the early morning.
2. Everything hot air balloon
Visit the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum to explore the exciting history of all types of balloons and lighter-than-air-flight and their roles in everything from art to space exploration. Test your flying skills in a balloon flight simulator. Don’t skip the gift shop. Admission is free every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the first Friday of every month.
3. Mile high picnic
Take Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, the highest scenic drive in the Southwest, via NM 536 about 14 miles to get a full view of the city from 10,678 feet. The route is paved and open year-round. Along the route are pullouts and parking areas for easy access to hiking trails and photo ops. This beautiful drive also provides an opportunity to see birds, possibly golden eagles, and wildlife, such as mule deer and black bear. Pack a picnic and perch on a rock overlooking the Rio Grande. The summit overlook even offers viewing telescopes. A visit near sunset allows you to watch the city lights twinkle across the valley at dusk.
4. Where everyone can roam
For a different perspective of the Sandia Mountains, stop at the Open Space Visitors Center in the Coors Trail district. In addition to a tourist information center, acres of open space and numerous hiking trails have the Sandia Mountains as the backdrop.
The Open Space Visitor Center visitor center also offers comfortable indoor and outdoor viewing areas where you can watch sandhill cranes and other migratory birds. At dusk, rest your feet and watch the mountains turn the watermelon red color that gives them their Spanish name: Sandia or “watermelon.” This is one of the best free things to do in Albuquerque!
5. Duck for meteorites!
Take your curiosity and your budding anthropologist to the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. This museum features permanent and temporary exhibits that explore archaeology and contemporary cultural diversity of the Southwest.
While on campus, unwind by the Duck Ponds, a complex of ponds, walkways, a bridge, and a waterfall. Observe the activities of humans and turtles, ducks, and geese. Comfortable benches and chairs provide seating under the shade of large trees.
6. Reflect in an historic church
Located near the Plaza in Old Town, the San Felipe de Neri Church, a Spanish colonial church constructed in the 1790s, features Gothic Revival elements, bell towers, and thick adobe walls. San Felipe de Neri Parish, 2005 North Plaza NW.
While you are in the area, seize the opportunity to explore the historic Old Town Plaza, window shop, and catch local events. Discover local art in the more than 50 murals around Old Town.
If history is your passion, join the Albuquerque Historical Society for a free Downtown walking tour offered every Saturday at 10 a.m. from February through November. Learn the history and architecture of some of the landmark buildings in the city’s business district.
7. Put on a hard hat!
At the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society, a group of volunteer welders, pipe-fitters, and mechanics are restoring the 1944 Steam Locomotive 2926 to full working order. They share their passion in free tours at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Parking is free and donations are encouraged to keep the restoration process alive.
1833 8th Street Northwest
8. Ancient rock art
Ponder the mysteries of ancient rock art at Petroglyph National Monument as you hike the trails from sunrise to sunset. There are no petroglyphs at the visitor center. However, the knowledgeable park staff will suggest trail options based on your available time, then provide you with driving directions to the trail of your choice. The visitor center is located at the intersection of Unser Boulevard NW at Western Trail.
9. Get your kicks on Route 66
Iconic Route 66 runs along Central Avenue and through historic neighborhoods along Central Avenue. Buzzing neon signs light the night as you drive by mid-century buildings original to Route 66. While you might be tempted to spend a few bucks on a cup of coffee or a slice of pie in one of the diners, it’s free to cruise through Nob Hill and Old Town.
10. Mingle with sculpture
At the Albuquerque Museum, stroll the natural paths through landscaped grounds and take in the contemporary building designed by New Mexico architect Antoine Predock. The sculpture garden includes works by many of the most important sculptors of the Southwest (the City of Albuquerque provides a mobile app guide to the garden). Its garden features more than 50 works of art, including sculptures, a mosaic, a fresco, and an earthwork.