Quirky Albuquerque is a fascinating mix of the Indigenous cultures, the mission-era old southwest, mid-century charm, and a buzzy college town. With mountains to the east and dormant volcanoes to the west, thousands of acres of trails and protected land, well-curated museums, and splashy oddities like the city's penchant for hot air balloons, there's a lot to see and do. Best of all, you can get a taste of what Albuquerque is all about even if you haven't found the riches of El Dorado.
If you're looking for free things to do in Albuquerque, we have ten of the best attractions to start with right here (plus another five not-quite-free but budget-friendly attractions to check out, too).
Editor's note: during COVID-19, there are restrictions on travel, and some of these free attractions may be temporarily closed or require pre-booking. Always check before departure, and be sure to follow local health guidance.
1. Maxwell Museum of Anthropology
The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology will satisfy the cultural anthropologist in you, and holds the largest collection of Ancestral Puebloan artifacts in the world. Temporary exhibits are also on display.
2. Petroglyph National Monument
The lava fields preserved in this large desert park, west of the Rio Grande, are adorned with more than 23,000 ancient petroglyphs (1000 BC–AD 1700). Several trails are scattered far and wide: Boca Negra Canyon is the busiest and most accessible (open 8:30am to 4:30pm; parking $1/2 weekday/weekend); Piedras Marcadas holds around 300 petroglyphs (sunrise to sunset); while Rinconada Canyon is a lovely desert walk (sunrise to sunset; 2.2 miles round trip), but with fewer visible petroglyphs.
3. University of New Mexico Art Museum
There are several museums and galleries packed into the small but peaceful campus of UNM, along with abundant public art and a performing arts center. Most exhibits at the UNM Art Museum are drawn from the university's permanent collection, which is particularly strong on lithographs and regional artists.
4. Albuquerque Museum
Formerly known as the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History, this showpiece museum shouldn't be missed. With an engaging Albuquerque history gallery that's imaginative, interactive and easy to digest and a permanent New Mexico art collection that extends to 20th-century masterpieces from Taos, it's a great place to explore as part of any visit to Old Town. There’s free admission every Sunday from 9 AM to 1 PM. and the first Wednesday of every month
5. San Felipe de Neri Church
Dating in its present incarnation from 1793, the facade of this adobe church now provides Old Town's most famous photo op. Mass is celebrated Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 7am, with an additional Sunday Mass at 11am, plus Saturday at 4pm. After checking out the church, stroll the adobe-lined streets of Old Town for a taste of what this city must have looked like in the 1700s, when it was founded.
6. Paseo del Bosque
A 16-mile multi-use path along the Rio Grande, the Paseo del Bosque is one of Albuquerque's gems. While the paved portion offers easy car-free riding for cyclists, what really makes it special – and beautiful – is the network of trails hidden between the pavement and river. If you rent a mountain bike, you'll have plenty of fun veering through miles of floodplains forest.
7. Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum
Ready to geek out on hot-air balloons? This informative museum covers it all, from the first manned flight in Paris (1783) to Bernoulli's principle (how air pressure creates lift) and an actual Strato-Lab, which reached an altitude of 81,000ft in the 1950s. Take a stab at the balloon simulator here and you'll be ready for the real thing. Admissions are free Sundays 9AM – 1PM and the first Friday of the month.
8. Cibola National Forest
Cibola National Forest covers a sprawling 1.6 million acres in New Mexico, but some of its best sites are close to Albuquerque and cost nothing to enjoy. The Sandia Man Cave is just forty minutes from Albuquerque, for example. This archeological sites was inhabited by man some 9,000 to 11,000 years ago. Other hiking spots are even closer, like the 3 Gun Springs, Embudito, Domingo Baca, La Luz and several other trailheads. There are also campsites and picnic areas in Cibola National Forest– though camping reservations come with a small fee.
9. The Open Lands Visitor Center
Part of a massive public lands collection in Albuquerque, the Flyway Project is a public arts installation near the corner of Coors and Bosque Meadows Road. Artist Robert Wilson was inspired by migrating cranes that pass through this area when he made this runway of old jetty pieces. It's just one of the sites you can see for free at the Open Space Visitor Center, which has exhibits interpreting the natural and cultural resources the Open Space Division protects – including over 5,000 acres of extinct volcanoes, mesas, foothills, and other topography. The Visitor Center also features an art gallery and wildlife, all with the stunning Sandia Mountains in the background.
10. Cruise Route 66
The famous mother road wasn't the first coast-to-coast highway in the United States, but it was the most iconic. Route 66 doubled as Albuquerque's main drag, passing through some of the city's most interesting, historic neighborhoods. 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 lining the route, it's no cost to cruise through Nob Hill, Old Town, and the University campus. Start just east of the city on the section of Route 66 known as "the singing road" – the pavers here are designed to play "America the Beautiful" if you drive over them at 45 miles per hour. As you reach Albuquerque proper and Central Avenue, you'll have a chance to admire the famous neon signs and mid-century buildings that originally dotted Route 66.
Cheap things to do in Albuquerque
Travelers on a budget will appreciate that, in addition to Albuquerque's free attractions, there are even more that cost very little and give back to some of the city's most vibrant communities. For just a few dollars here and there, you can get access to some of the city's best cultural centers and museums for $10 per adult or under.
American International Rattlesnake Museum
Anyone charmed by snakes and all things slithery will find this museum fascinating; for ophidiophobes, it’s a complete nightmare, filled with the world’s largest collection of different rattlesnake species. You’ll also find snake-themed beer bottles and postmarks from every town named ‘Rattlesnake’ in the US. Admission for adults is $6, while children can get in for $4.
National Hispanic Cultural Center
In the historic Barelas neighborhood, near the river a mile south of downtown, this modern, architecturally imaginative center for Hispanic visual, performing and literary arts holds three galleries used for fine arts exhibitions, performances, salsa classes and fabulous eats at Pop Fizz. Check the website for upcoming events to make the most of it. Check the website for upcoming events to make the most of it. Admission for adults is $6, while kids can get in for free.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Collectively run by New Mexico's 19 Pueblos, this cultural center is an essential stop-off during even the shortest Albuquerque visit. Revamped in 2016, the museum today holds fascinating displays sharing the stories of the Pueblos’ collective history and individual artistic traditions, while the galleries offer changing temporary exhibitions. They’re arrayed in a crescent around a plaza that’s regularly used for dances and crafts demonstrations. Pueblo Harvest Cafe is recommended and there’s also a large gift shop and retail gallery. Admission for adults is $8.50 while anyone under 17 years of age can get in for $5.50. Kids under 5 are free.
New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science
Dinosaur-mad kids are certain to love this huge modern museum, on the northeastern fringes of Old Town. From the T. rex in the main atrium onwards, it’s crammed with ferocious ancient beasts. The emphasis throughout is on New Mexico, experienced on the permanent Timetracks exhibit, with dramatic displays on the state’s geological origins and details of the impact of climate change; there's also a planetarium and large-format 3-D movie theater (both of which have additional admission fees). Adults can get into the main museum for $8, while kids ages $3-12 have a $5 admission.