A maze of cobbled courtyard walkways leads to hidden patios and gardens, where many of Old Town's 150 galleries and shops are located. Adobe buildings, many refurbished in the pueblo revival style of the 1950s, are grouped around the tree-shaded plaza, created in 1780. Pueblo and Navajo artisans often display their pottery, blankets, and silver jewelry on the sidewalks lining the plaza.
The buildings of Old Town once served as mercantile shops, grocery stores, and government offices, but the importance of Old Town as Albuquerque's commercial center declined after 1880, when the railroad came through 1 1/4 miles east of the plaza and businesses relocated to be closer to the trains. Old Town clung to its historical and sentimental roots, but the quarter fell into disrepair until the 1930s and 1940s, when artisans and other shop owners rediscovered it and the tourism industry burgeoned.
When Albuquerque was established in 1706, the first building erected by the settlers was the Church of San Felipe de Neri, which faces the plaza on its north side. It's a cozy church with wonderful stained-glass windows and vivid retablos (religious paintings). This house of worship has been in almost continuous use for nearly 300 years.
Though you'll wade through a few trinket and T-shirt shops on the plaza, don't be fooled: Old Town is an excellent place to shop. Look for good buys from the Native Americans selling jewelry on the plaza, especially silver bracelets and strung turquoise. If you want to take something fun home and spend very little, buy a dyed corn necklace. Your best bet when wandering around Old Town is to peek into shops, but there are a few places in which you'll definitely want to spend time. An excellent Old Town historic walking tour originates at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History at 11am Tuesday to Sunday during spring, summer, and fall.
The very helpful visitor center, which provides advice, maps, and recommendations, is tucked way back in a little courtyard and hard to find.
Plan to spend 2 to 3 hours strolling around.