Albuquerque contains a compact and well-defined core comprising just a handful of neighborhoods—Downtown, Old Town, the University of New Mexico (UNM) district, and adjacent Nob Hill—that's encircled by a somewhat sprawling and less clearly defined region. Colorful Historic Route 66 (Central Avenue) unifies the older, central neighborhoods, cutting west to east through the center of the city. This route, where crossed by the 1880s-era rail tracks, determines the city’s quadrants; the Sandia Mountains to the east and the Rio Grande to the west define the core. Visitors tend to spend most of their time in the Old Town to Nob Hill corridor, as it contains the majority of the city's notable dining, lodging, shopping, and sightseeing. The outlying neighborhoods are mostly residential and encompass the historic Rio Grande valley’s Los Ranchos/North Valley and Barelas/South Valley sections, and the less-defined areas of the Northeast Heights, East Side, Airport, and West Side.
Old Town. This historic neighborhood contains the oldest buildings in the city. It's also home to numerous galleries, shops, and museums, plus a few hotels. It's just west of and adjacent to Downtown.
Downtown/EDo. A handful of mid-century and more modern office towers create the modest Downtown skyline. Bisected by Central Avenue, this relatively compact district has a limited—but choice—set of attractions. There are also a number of noteworthy hotels, restaurants, and shops. Downtown is within walking distance of Old Town, which lies just to the west.
Barelas/South Valley. Extending just south of Downtown and Old Town, historic Barelas is home to the acclaimed National Hispanic Cultural Center and is an otherwise mostly residential area. It gradually gives way to the rural South Valley.
UNM/Nob Hill. Off-campus life is focused directly to the south and east of the University of New Mexico, stretching along Central Avenue from University Boulevard east through the Nob Hill neighborhood. Budget eateries, specialty shops, and music and arts venues are tightly clustered within the college-named streets just to the south of Central; things get more upscale as you head farther east.
Los Ranchos/North Valley. The North Valley (along with its sister South Valley) is the agrarian heart of Albuquerque. All along the Rio Grande Valley, where first Pueblo peoples, then generations of Hispanic and Anglo families have resided, you will experience the city’s deepest sense of tradition.
Northeast Heights. This is quite a large neighborhood, taking in the area north of Interstate 40 and rising steadily east into the foothills of the Sandias, where there's great hiking and an incredible aerial tram to the top of the peak. You'll mostly find houses and shopping centers in this part of town, but it's worth the drive for the mountain close-up.
East Side. Ranging east of Nob Hill through a somewhat seedy stretch of old Route 66 and state fairgrounds neighborhoods, this area is notable as the gateway to the Sandia Mountain route to Santa Fe and home to the must-see National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.
Airport. The mesa-top neighborhood immediately southwest of the airport has a lot of hotels, but, aside from great views, has little else to see or do. It is, however, a short drive from Downtown, UNM, and Nob Hill.
West Side. Head west across the Rio Grande and discover near its far banks the fascinating sandhill crane flyway and nesting ground at the Open Space Visitor center and memorable Petroglyph National Monument. The rest is residential sprawl.