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5 free things to do in New Mexico’s largest city

  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows the Route 66 Malt Shop along Central Avenue in Albuquerque, N.M. A self-guided tour along this section of Route 66 offers boutiques, restaurants and a variety of neon signs, many of them vintage. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

    This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows the Route 66 Malt Shop along Central Avenue in Albuquerque, N.M. A self-guided tour along this section of Route 66 offers boutiques, restaurants and a variety of neon signs, many of them vintage. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

  • FILE - This Oct. 6, 2011 file photo shows hot air balloons inflating during the 40th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M. There is an entrance fee for the annual fiesta, but the colorful spectacle can be seen from many vantage points around the city once the balloons lift off. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

    FILE - This Oct. 6, 2011 file photo shows hot air balloons inflating during the 40th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M. There is an entrance fee for the annual fiesta, but the colorful spectacle can be seen from many vantage points around the city once the balloons lift off. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows brown water in the Rio Grande due to runoff from a series of recent thunderstorms as it flows under a biking and walking path at the northern end of Albuquerque, N.M. The paved path along the cottonwood and willow forest that borders the river stretches 16 miles from one end of the city to the other. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

    This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows brown water in the Rio Grande due to runoff from a series of recent thunderstorms as it flows under a biking and walking path at the northern end of Albuquerque, N.M. The paved path along the cottonwood and willow forest that borders the river stretches 16 miles from one end of the city to the other. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows local artisans preparing to sell jewelry and other crafts along the historic Old Town portal in Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

    This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows local artisans preparing to sell jewelry and other crafts along the historic Old Town portal in Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

  • This Sept. 12, 2013 photo shows the historic KiMo Theatre in downtown Albuquerque, N.M. The KiMo is located along historic Route 66 and is among the tourist attractions in the downtown area. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

    This Sept. 12, 2013 photo shows the historic KiMo Theatre in downtown Albuquerque, N.M. The KiMo is located along historic Route 66 and is among the tourist attractions in the downtown area. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

  • This Sept 17, 2013 photo shows a tourist outside of the Covered Wagon souvenir shop in historic Old Town in Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

    This Sept 17, 2013 photo shows a tourist outside of the Covered Wagon souvenir shop in historic Old Town in Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows Chile ristras lining a street in historic Old Town in the heart of Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

    This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows Chile ristras lining a street in historic Old Town in the heart of Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

  • In this Sept. 17, 2013 photo vintage and modern neon signs hangs above the sidewalk in the Nob Hill district along historic Route 66 in Albuquerque. A self-guided tour along this section of the route offers boutiques, restaurants and a parade of neon. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

    In this Sept. 17, 2013 photo vintage and modern neon signs hangs above the sidewalk in the Nob Hill district along historic Route 66 in Albuquerque. A self-guided tour along this section of the route offers boutiques, restaurants and a parade of neon. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

  • This publicity image released by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White walking away from the Los Pollos Hermanos, a set from the series "Breaking Bad." A few nondescript locations around Albuquerque have become famous in just the last few years thanks to AMC’s hit television series “Breaking Bad.” Go online, print out a free map to the filming locations scattered around the city and don’t forget your camera or smartphone. You won’t be able to resist taking a “selfie” in front of Los Pollos Hermanos or the Dog House Drive In. (AP Photo/AMC, Richard Foreman)

    This publicity image released by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White walking away from the Los Pollos Hermanos, a set from the series "Breaking Bad." A few nondescript locations around Albuquerque have become famous in just the last few years thanks to AMC’s hit television series “Breaking Bad.” Go online, print out a free map to the filming locations scattered around the city and don’t forget your camera or smartphone. You won’t be able to resist taking a “selfie” in front of Los Pollos Hermanos or the Dog House Drive In. (AP Photo/AMC, Richard Foreman)

  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows Chile ristras lining a street in historic Old Town in the heart of Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

    This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows Chile ristras lining a street in historic Old Town in the heart of Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows the Route 66 Malt Shop along Central Avenue in Albuquerque, N.M. A self-guided tour along this section of Route 66 offers boutiques, restaurants and a variety of neon signs, many of them vintage. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
  • FILE - This Oct. 6, 2011 file photo shows hot air balloons inflating during the 40th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M. There is an entrance fee for the annual fiesta, but the colorful spectacle can be seen from many vantage points around the city once the balloons lift off. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)
  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows brown water in the Rio Grande due to runoff from a series of recent thunderstorms as it flows under a biking and walking path at the northern end of Albuquerque, N.M. The paved path along the cottonwood and willow forest that borders the river stretches 16 miles from one end of the city to the other. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows local artisans preparing to sell jewelry and other crafts along the historic Old Town portal in Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
  • This Sept. 12, 2013 photo shows the historic KiMo Theatre in downtown Albuquerque, N.M. The KiMo is located along historic Route 66 and is among the tourist attractions in the downtown area. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
  • This Sept 17, 2013 photo shows a tourist outside of the Covered Wagon souvenir shop in historic Old Town in Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows Chile ristras lining a street in historic Old Town in the heart of Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
  • In this Sept. 17, 2013 photo vintage and modern neon signs hangs above the sidewalk in the Nob Hill district along historic Route 66 in Albuquerque. A self-guided tour along this section of the route offers boutiques, restaurants and a parade of neon. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
  • This publicity image released by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White walking away from the Los Pollos Hermanos, a set from the series "Breaking Bad." A few nondescript locations around Albuquerque have become famous in just the last few years thanks to AMC’s hit television series “Breaking Bad.” Go online, print out a free map to the filming locations scattered around the city and don’t forget your camera or smartphone. You won’t be able to resist taking a “selfie” in front of Los Pollos Hermanos or the Dog House Drive In. (AP Photo/AMC, Richard Foreman)
  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows Chile ristras lining a street in historic Old Town in the heart of Albuquerque, N.M. The Old Town Plaza area boasts shops and restaurants as well as brick sidewalks and a collection of adobe buildings. Old Town is also home to San Felipe de Neri Church, the city's oldest church. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Really, it’s not that hard to spell. Just remember, there are three U’s and a couple of Q’s.

Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, has a history that stretches back to the days of the Spanish conquistadors. They were responsible for its name and their influence persists 300 years after they founded the community. Straddling the river banks of the Rio Grande and in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains, the city is more than just a pit stop along the road to New Mexico’s art meccas and other better-known tourist destinations.

Albuquerque hosts an international fiesta that draws hundreds of hot air balloon pilots each October (this year, Oct. 5-13). You have to pay to stake your spot on the launch field, but the colorful spectacle can be seen for free from nearly anywhere in the city. And while you can pay for a balloon ride any time of year, a good pair of hiking shoes, a bicycle or a car can get you a free look at everything around town, from neon signs along historic Route 66 to the dormant volcanoes and lava escarpment that border the city’s west side. And be sure to enjoy the mild climate, sunsets and starry nights while you’re exploring.

Rio Grande Bosque

A 16-mile recreational path runs from one end of Albuquerque to the other along the cottonwood and willow forest that borders the east side of the Rio Grande. The path is accessible from many points. In some spots, dirt trails lead to the river’s edge, providing opportunities to see migrating cranes, geese and other wildlife. The riverside forest – known to residents as the bosque – changes colors with the seasons.

Sandia Crest

From Albuquerque, you can take a scenic drive up to Sandia Crest, an overlook at the top of the mountain range that faces the city. A mile above the surrounding landscape, the crest offers expansive views. If you’re more adventurous, put on your hiking shoes and head either north or south from the observation area to see limestone laced with brachiopods and other fossils. Remember, at 10,678 feet, the air is thin up there.

Old Town Plaza

At the heart of Albuquerque is Old Town Plaza, the San Felipe de Neri Church and several blocks of historic adobe buildings that now house restaurants, galleries and other specialty shops. Walk along the plaza’s portal and you’ll find American Indian artisans from nearby pueblos selling silver and turquoise-laden jewelry and other items.

Historic Route 66

Reserve a few hours to take a self-guided cruise along Old Route 66 – now Central Avenue. You’ll pass the historic KiMo Theatre in downtown Albuquerque, the University of New Mexico campus, countless diners and dives, and the eclectic boutiques of the Nob Hill Historic District. The highlight though is the collection of neon signs – many of them vintage – that get to buzzing around dusk.

‘Breaking Bad’

A few nondescript locations around town have become famous in just the last few years thanks to AMC’s hit television series Breaking Bad.

Go online, print out a free map to the filming locations scattered around the city and don’t forget your camera or smart phone. You won’t be able to resist taking a “selfie” in front of the Dog House Drive In or Twisters, called Los Pollos Hermanos on the show.

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