One Epic Day in Albuquerque (Itinerary)

Last Updated on 24 Mar 2021 by Jim

The most unique city with the absolute best food, go to Albuquerque. Follow our one day in Albuquerque itinerary and don’t miss out on the good stuff!


Albuquerque is one of my favorite cities in the entire country. I lived there for one year when I was in my twenties and in the Air Force. I fell in love with it immediately. It looks, feels, smells, and tastes different than anywhere else I’ve been. Whenever I get the chance to go back, I do.

The last time I was there was when we did the I-40 cross-country road trip, and as you know we only had one day dedicated to each stop so we really had to do our road trip planning up front. It was definitely more road trip than sight-seeing, but we made the most of it, and couldn’t help but stop in my favorite city. Here’s our itinerary for making the most out of one day in Albuquerque, wether you are on a business trip and have extended a day or you’re just passing through.

In this article we’ll make sure your one full day of seeing Albuquerque will take you to the best things to do in the city. You’ll get:

Vintage blue truck drives through Old Town Albuquerque.
Old cars and trucks and old adobe buildings in downtown Albuquerque. This scene could have been taken anytime in the last 40 years.

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Cartoon bunny and suitcases.
All I knew of Albuquerque before going there the very first time.

What to Bring

Albuquerque is high and dry. It’s great for getting outdoors and being sporty, but you need to come prepared. Here’s a few things you need to have when touring this city.

1 Day in Albuquerque Itinerary

  • Breakfast at Range Café
  • Petroglyph National Monument
  • Lunch at Frontier Restaurant
  • Albuquerque Old Town
  • Sandia Peak for Sunset

Morning

At an elevation just short of one mile high (5312 ft.) and in high desert, Albuquerque can get quite hot. I remember walking on the flightline and my feet would sink into the concrete sealant that was all but melted on hot days. So, you will want to mix your day with indoor and outdoor activities.

I personally like renting a car for the day for the flexibility it gives you, but you can also hire an Uber. Just make sure the driver is willing to wait for you at all the stops.

Interior of the Range Cafe.
Cool art accompanied our breakfast at the Range Cafe.

Breakfast at The Range Café

Eat breakfast at the Range Cafe, and make sure to try the Huevos Racheros and get into the Albuquerque spirit right off. We ate at the Cottonwood branch. As with most other meals in New Mexico, you’ll be faced with a choice: red or green. Here we’re talking about the chile sauce, red chile or green chile. I prefer green, but Jim loves both–that’s Christmas style!

Take a Walk Through the Petroglyph National Monument

This amazing park is filled with petroglyphs, or rock carvings, that date back to between 1300 and the late 1600s. Although some are extremely difficult to find, it’s estimated over 25,000 petroglyphs can be found on the park grounds.

A roadrunner rests atop of a petroglyph with a sheep carved on it.
A roadrunner rests atop of a petroglyph with a sheep carved on it.

The Petroglyph National Monument is open at 8:30, and I would suggest getting there as soon as you can while the day is still comfortable. You can wander for as long as you want, but even if you only have one hour you won’t be disappointed.

Depending on the time, you can visit one of the museums below or do Old Town before lunch.

Lunch Near the University of New Mexico

Universities also offer great little museums. If you have time, check out the ones on the UNM campus. Then head across the street and eat lunch at the Frontier Restaurant, an Albuquerque favorite for over 40 years. Here, I recommend the green chile stew and the carne adovado burrito.

Symmetrical view of main entrance to the San Felipe de Neri.
One iconic must-see in Old Town is the mission of San Felipe de Neri.

Afternoon

Albuquerque Old Town

Just like the name says, this is the oldest part of the city dating back to the Spanish colonial era. Now you can enjoy the bustling central plaza, shops, and restaurants. As you walk around, you’ll notice there are plenty of things to do from souvenir shopping, art galleries, museums, and grabbing a bite to eat. You can easily spend a couple of hours here.

While in the old town, don’t miss the Mission of San Felipe de Neri, founded in 1706 by a Franciscan priest named Fray Manuel Moreno, who arrived with the founding families of the city.

The mission is in a spectacular adobe building and is surrounded by a peaceful garden directly across from the main square in Old Town.

Live rattlesnake found in the Rattlesnake museum.
Live rattlesnake found in the Rattlesnake museum.

We never miss a chance to visit this charming part of the city, and this last time we just had to venture into the rattlesnake museum where you can meet many varieties of live snakes and well-curated information about this deadly species.

A silhouette of a pine tree on Sandia Peak at sunset.
A silhouette of a pine tree on Sandia Peak at sunset.

Take in the Sunset on Sandia Peak

After your fill of Old Town, save a little time to get to the Sandia Peak Tramway and up the mountain before sunset. It is by far my favorite place in the area. When I lived there I would go up every weekend in the winter to ski, and the rest of the year for some fresh, cool air with great hikes and views.

You will have plenty of photo opportunities whether you go during the day or not, but the sunset is usually one you wouldn’t want to miss, and you can buy your tickets up to 24 hours in advance to make sure you won’t have any trouble getting to see it.

Native design on exterior wall of shop in Old Town.
Native arts and crafts, from dolls to jewelry, can be found all over Albuquerque.

Albuquerque Museums

If you are like me, you really don’t want to do more than one museum per day, but I do love a quirky museum. Whether you interested in the arts, history, or science you’ll find a museum that will help you understand Albuquerque and its culture a little better.

Here’s a list of a few of our recommended Albuquerque Museums you can choose from if you have more time.

5 Cool Facts About Albuquerque

  1. Elevation of Albuquerque is 5312 feet, which even beats out Denver has the highest metropolitan city. Also, less than 30 minutes away the Sandia Peak rises to 10,679 feet. The tramway that takes you up is the longest in the world at 2.7 miles long.
  2. The weather in Albuquerque is some of the best in the country with days of sunshine 85% of the year. Winter is very mild, but since Sandia Peak is right there, you can go skiing almost every winter day.
  3. My favorite breakfast, the burrito, was invented here during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in 1975.
  4. The personal computer trend probably started in Albuquerque when a second lieutenant at Kirtland AFB invented a kit computer called the Altair. At the very least it encouraged Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft.
  5. Albuquerque is a preferred shooting place for film makers. Many people know the popular series “Breaking Bad” was filmed there, but there are also well over 100 films shot since 2008. You can take a tour to learn more.

The Best Events That Are Worth Traveling to Albuquerque

  • The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta – (October) There might be other balloon festivals in the States, but this one is huge and well worth the trip! You can see the balloons for miles and miles as they light up the sky.
  • The New Mexico State Fair – (September) From homemade pies to bronco-bucking cowboys, this is a state fair that gives you everything you want in a fair with a southwestern flair!

Pro Tip: Albuquerque at Christmas is magical. Drive around the old adobe neighborhoods and enjoy the unique way locals decorate, with luminarias. A luminaria is a lunch-sized paper bag sometimes with decorations punched into it. It’s then filled with some sand and a lit votive candle. Luminarias line the sidewalks and driveways. It’s quite a beautiful sight.

Chili Ristras hang from the balcony over an Old Town restaurant.
Dried chile ristras can be seen all over New Mexico.

What to Eat

It’s all about the chile! The Hatch chile. New Mexican cuisine is just a little different than the rest of the Tex-mex or California-mex you might be used to. It’s proximity to the famous Hatch Valley allows it to capitalize on the green chile. Do not pass up the opportunity to try some of their amazing dishes featuring this incredible New Mexican fruit.

Another local dish you should try is the sopapilla. You may have had these other places, but New Mexican sopapillas are pillowy soft. When drizzled in honey, you can’t beat it. Why are they so much better in Albuquerque? Most people claim it’s the altitude. All I know is, I don’t visit without having them at least once on my trip.

If you are looking to find some great places to eat, you might want to check out this extensive New Mexico restaurant review blog.

Adobe, wooden columns, and rafters are ubiquitous in Old Town Albuquerque.
A quiet afternoon in Old Town Albuquerque’s main square.

Where to Stay in Albuquerque

There are plenty of accommodation options in this capital city, and you can certainly compare amenities and hotel prices here.

The last time we were there, we stayed at the Hotel Chaco, because I really need a swimming pool for every single night in Albuquerque.

Other places we recommend are:

  • El Vado Motel – Clean and spacious, there is a bar and plenty of places to get outside and enjoy that SW cocktail.
  • Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town – feels like the southwest with its decor. It’s the perfect location, has a pool and a relaxing vibe.
The train station in Albuquerque.
The train station in Albuquerque. If you are looking for a unique way to travel through the city, why not a train?

Nearest Attractions

The U.S. west is huge, so things that might be considered “near” are usually hours away, not minutes. However, if you are on a road trip, here are some places you might want to consider visiting.

Santa Fe, NM64 miles (about 1 hour)
Taos, NM132 miles (a little over 2 hours)
Roswell, NM201 miles (3 hours)
White Sands Natl Mon.224 miles ( about 3.5 hours)
Carlsbad Caverns NP302 miles (almost 5 hours)
Bandelier Natl Mon.103 miles (a little over 1.5 hours)
Gila Cliff Dwelling Natl Mon.259 miles (5 hours)
Denver, CO449 miles (around 7 hours)
Flagstaff, AZ323 miles (around 4.5 hours)
Grand Canyon NP, AZ410 miles (6 hours)
Las Vegas, NV576 miles (about 8.5 hours)

Albuquerque Resources for More Information:
Visit Albuquerque
101 Facts
25 Things to Know About Albuquerque
New Mexico

Conclusion

No matter what time of year you go to Albuquerque, take an extra day and see some of the amazing sights we’ve listed here on on our one day itinerary. I’m sure you will fall under her charms and immediately start planning for a return trip.

Pin Albuqerque
One Day in Albuquerque.

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