Albuquerque is a vibrant, sprawling desert metropolis near the center of New Mexico

Although it is the largest city in the state, Albuquerque is often overshadowed by Santa Fe, 60 miles to the north. But Albuquerque has a number of great attractions in its own right, with pleasant scenery, colorful history, and a spectacular hot-air balloon fiesta in the fall. 

Albuquerque was founded in 1706 as a small Spanish settlement on the banks of the Rio Grande and was named for the Duke of Alburquerque (hence Albuquerque’s nickname, “The Duke City”). 

In the 1880s the railroad came to town, and almost overnight a new city grew up around the train tracks a couple of miles away from the original settlement. This “New Town” became the hub of commerce for the state, and the city grew exponentially (eventually the “New Town”, which today is Downtown, and the original “Old Town” settlement were joined to become part of the same city). 

In the 1920s the federal government officially recognized a series of highways that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles as Route 66, and Albuquerque was one of the towns “The Mother Road” passed through. 

Today, Albuquerque is still a hub of activity and transportation. While Santa Fe is the state capital and the principal tourist destination of New Mexico, Albuquerque is New Mexico’s only truly urban area with a metropolitan population of nearly 900,000. This is where you’ll find the headquarters of the state’s businesses, the University of New Mexico, many of New Mexico’s largest employers, and the Albuquerque International Sunport, the only major airport in the state. 

Albuquerque is in the high desert [35.11N -106.64W (Elev. 4989 ft)] and has a generally warm, dry climate with four distinct seasons. Spring is sunny and windy, although temperatures at night can be unexpectedly cool. 

Summers are hot (highs average 90-95 degrees, and temperatures near 100 degrees are not rare) and still mainly dry, but monsoonal conditions develop in July or August and produce furious if short-lived thunderstorms. Have rainwear available in the summer, although you won’t use it most days. Fall is delightful, with comfortable temperatures and a return to generally dry conditions. 

Winter can be blustery, with overnight lows below freezing, but subzero temperatures are rare. One winter-weather issue for the traveler: snow, while infrequent and short-lived, does occur, and its relative rarity means that local drivers don’t deal with it well. If you happen to be in town for a snowstorm, expect road chaos far out of proportion to the amount of snow that falls. 

This is a casual town. Expect shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals to be entirely acceptable almost everywhere. People tend to be friendly. While Albuquerque has a large non-native population, it is predominantly white, Hispanic, and American Indian.