New York City is not only the biggest city in New York State; it’s the biggest city in the United States, by population. So it usually gets the spotlight when people talk about New York state cities. The whole state of New York is huge though! There are tons of other cool NY cities with great downtown areas, outdoor activities, and rich histories.
An important note: Some New York State cities are undergoing revitalization movements. And unfortunately, a few cities are in decline because of economic shifts, industry changes, and population decreases. Those and other cities in Upstate New York still have great restaurants, easy access to nature, cheap housing, and make great bases to explore the rest of New York state.
And YES – we’ll also be covering cities on Long Island in addition to Upstate New York!
Definition of a “City”
A city is basically a large human settlement. How large that must be to qualify as a city is subjective. But generally, it is a large metropolitan area with a relatively higher population density. Cities are also more industrially developed than towns and villages.
Interesting fact: Some of the richest areas in the state of New York aren’t even cities. That’s because when you average it out, cities in New York State have relatively lower incomes/per capita compared to a lot of the affluent towns. Many of these charming towns in New York have a higher income average and most of the richest towns are on Long Island! As a traveler, this works in your favor because it means outside of New York City, the cities in New York state are pretty affordable to visit.
Interesting Cities in Upstate New York
We love to travel through the many cool places in Upstate New York. And some of these cities serve as the perfect launching pad to explore the regional activities and natural wonders in an affordable way.
BUFFALO, NEW YORK
Excluding New York City and Long Island, Buffalo is the biggest city in New York State by population. It lies on the eastern edge of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes, and shares a border with Canada. Buffalo is a great place to visit and to use as a base city to see other parts of Western New York. Moreover, you can easily hop over into Canada for a day trip (so bring your passport).
The city of Buffalo is also home to several universities, which bring students from around the world to study here. Thus, you’ll find a lively nightlife scene and some cultural activities.
Things You Can’t Miss in Buffalo, NY
- The Buffalo Museum of Science is fun for both adults and children.
- Martin House, an estate designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the most famous American architect of all time, is in Buffalo. You can take guided tours of the house.
- The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens are beautiful from the spring-fall months.
Cultural Highlights in Buffalo, NY
- Albright-Knox Art Gallery (pictured above)
- Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
- Shea’s Performing Arts Center
Keep in mind that Buffalo is COLD in the winter. Cities and towns on the edges of the Great Lakes often see lake-effect snow so bring your gloves if you’re visiting in the winter. Lastly, don’t forget to try the buffalo wings here! The recipe originated at The Anchor Bar on Main Street in Buffalo, New York.
Buffalo’s Population size: 253,793 (2020)
Rochester, New York
Rochester is one of the United State’s first boomtowns. It’s another major city in Upstate New York that saw a lot of industrialization in the 1800s. And today, there are some great programs underway in Rochester, like the Roc the Riverway Project to revitalize the riverfront.
Rochester is rich in history, heritage, and diversity. The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived in Rochester for several decades. There is a monument to him and you can take a self-guided tour to learn about him, his life, and his work. Also, Susan B. Anthony’s home is here if you would like to visit it. best
Other Iconic Rochester Spots to Visit
- George Eastman Museum
- Rochester Museum & Science Center
- Strong Museum of Play are all great places to keep warm in.
Rochester is also home to several universities and thus has a really fun nightlife along with a diverse population.
Please note: Rochester has one of the largest deaf and hard of hearing people populations in the United States. So please be respectful of that and keep that in mind when interacting with the local community.
Rochester’s Population size: 204,768 (2020)
Syracuse, New York
If you follow college basketball, you’ve probably heard of the city of Syracuse, famously home to Syracuse University.
Syracuse is located at a juncture where western and central New York meet. And at the very end of the Finger Lakes. So it’s a perfect city to stay in if you’re planning day trips to the Finger Lakes wineries, the Great Lakes, and/or the Thousand Islands region. Syracuse also has a great food scene so you’ll always have something delicious to eat for dinner.
Interesting Spots in Syracuse, NY
- The Erie Canal Museum and the Everson Museum of Art are both located in Syracuse and worth visiting.
- Syracuse is also home to the first Dinosaur BBQ, a BBQ institution for New Yorkers.
- The downtown area is undergoing a bit of construction, but there are also cafes, restaurants, and a theater that shows traveling Broadway performances.
Syracuse’s Population size: 141,073 (2020)
Albany, New York
New York City is not the capital of New York state. Albany is! Albany is a fun city in the center of New York state. It is conveniently located between the Adirondacks and the Hudson Valley — making it a perfectly affordable launching pad for your New York State travels.
In Albany, there are over a dozen universities making it a city filled with young people, politicians, and educational stimulation.
Albany is one of my favorite cities in New York. There is a lot to do here so if you want to stay local, don’t worry about renting a car. You can take buses and Uber all around the city. Here are the top things you can’t miss:
- You should visit the Empire State Plaza and New York State Capitol. You can even take a tour of the New York State Capital.
- The city has loads of cultural institutions, like the New York State Museum, the Albany Institute of History and Art, and the Albany Center Gallery.
- There are festivals throughout the year, including Riverfront Jazz Festival, Tulip Fest, and LarkFest.
- There are tons of great restaurants and bars in Albany. Especially on Lark Street. Some personal favorites are Ye Olde English Pub and Pantry for drinks and Dove + Deer for a meal.
- Albany is also just 10 minutes from the vibrant city of Troy (listed below).
Albany’s Population size: 94,807 (2020)
Utica, New York
You might be tempted to skip Utica. Don’t. Not only because it’s in a great location in the center of New York state. It’s also midway between Syracuse and Albany and perfect for a stop on your New York state road trip. It’s also a stop along the Amtrak train!
- Come to chow down on some awesome food, sip on great coffee, and run in the famous Boilermaker.
- Visit Utica Coffee Roasting Company for a latte and Utica Bread for a good croissant.
- Take a scenic train ride on the Adirondack Railroad, a historic railroad built in the late 1800s.
- After you’ve walked and eaten your way through Utica, use it as a great place to base yourself while you visit nature throughout the New York State Parks in central New York.
- Take a day trip to the Herkimer Diamond Mines for some cool gemstones
- Try the famous Utica pizza!
Utica’s Population size: 58,880 (2020)
White Plains, New York
White Plains is one of the largest and most dense cities in New York. It’s located in Westchester County, which is just above the Bronx. If you’re a Revolutionary War history buff, then rejoice! Miller House, one of George Washington’s headquarters, is in White Plains.
White Plains is an excellent place to base yourself if you want easy access to public transportation to get in/out of New York City and to see other places in the lower Hudson Valley. Both Sleepy Hollow and Rockefeller State Park Preserve are close.
Population size: 58,013 (2020)
Troy, New York
Located just outside of Albany, Troy was once the 4th richest town in the United States due to its bustling textile industry and its access to several major waterways during the Industrial Revolution. Today, this small town-like city in upstate New York is working to reinvent itself as a diverse community for artists, students, and young entrepreneurs. You can see the growing shifts in the downtown area where family-owned restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops are popping up along beautiful tree-lined streets. Visitors can enjoy farm-to-table dining at many restaurants like New World Bistro Bar or Healthy On Lark. There are also plenty of co-working spaces to choose from, should you decide to stay here longer.
Fun fact: The Central Troy Historic District is one of the most perfectly preserved 19th-century downtowns in the United States. Because of that, it’s one of the shooting locations for HBO Max’s new show The Gilded Age.
Troy’s food scene is excellent. A great way to check out all your options is to support a local tour group, like Taste of Troy to make sure you eat everything you can. You can try all sorts of cuisine here, from Dominican to Korean food. Amazing!
If you visit during the summer months, stop by one of the best farmer’s markets in upstate New York, Troy’s Waterfront Farmers Market. Shop local boutiques, sample delightful culinary offerings, and enjoy a lively environment along the waters of the Hudson River.
Troy is also an affordable NY city to use as a base to explore the rest of the Capital District. It also has several New York State Parks nearby to explore, as well as smaller adorable towns in the Upper Hudson Valley or the northern part of the Catskills region to visit.
Population size: 48,554 (2020)
Niagara Falls, New York
Just a few miles north of Buffalo is the city of Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls is both a city in New York AND a city in Ontario, Canada. Both cities are, of course , named after the massive waterfalls between both countries.
- Go for a boat tour on the Maid of the Mist
- Hike some trails in the oldest New York State Park
- There is an Observation Tower that has the only panoramic view of all three falls
- Walk across the Rainbow International Bridge to have one foot in Canada and one foot in the United States
- You’ll also get perfect views of Niagara Falls and rainbows often appear under the eponymous bridge
Population size: 46,844 (2020)
Ithaca, New York
Ithaca is totally ‘gorges!’ (Locals call it ‘gorges’ on account of all the natural gorges in the area.) Ithaca is located on the bottom edge of Cayuga Lake and is one of the best cities in New York state to live or stay in to explore the Finger Lakes region. Cornell University and Ithaca University are both here so it’s filled with intellectuals from all over the world.
It is one of our editor’s favorite places in Upstate New York. Here’s are her favorite things to do in Ithaca:
- The United State’s first wine trail goes through Ithaca. The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is a perfect way to spend the day. So go on one of the many Finger Lakes wine tours.
- Go horseback riding at Painted Bar Stables.
- Check out the Ithaca Farmer’s Market.
- Go hiking to one of the top waterfalls in New York.
- The Cornell Botanic Gardens to see the beautiful arboretum.
- Take a walk through the I.M. Pei-designed Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.
Ithaca’s Population size: 31,371 (2020)
Poughkeepsie, New York
Poughkeepsie is midway between Albany and New York City. It’s another Hudson Valley city located along, you guessed it, the Hudson River. The Hudson River Valley is one of the oldest colonized areas in the United States and the Hudson River is a large part of why.
Spend a few perfect hours walking across the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge. The Walkway Over the Hudson is now a part of the Empire State Trail so you can continue walking the entire state from here if you want. After your walk, eat at one of my personal favorite restaurants in the Hudson Valley, Mill House Brewing Company.
On the northern border of Poughkeepsie is Hyde Park where you can see the Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home and schedule a dinner date at the Culinary Institute of America. Lastly, Vassar College is located here, which attracts a younger population of students.
Population size: 30,746 (2020)
Saratoga Springs, New York
Saratoga Springs is the best place to base yourself to further explore northern New York state. Our editor loves this little city for its food scene, the outdoors, and easy access to the Adirondacks. It is also the home of Skidmore College.
Things to see and do in Saratoga Springs:
- Go to the spa! Take a dip in some natural mineral springs at the Saratago Spa State Park.
- The Saratoga Performing Arts Center houses excellent music and arts festivals so check out their calendar.
- If you like horse racing and/or automobile history, visit the Saratoga Race Course and the Saratoga Automobile Museum.
- Take a day trip to Lake George, Lake Placid or Saranac Lake.
- Eat at Boca Bistro. Order as many tapas as you can. Thank me later.
If you just spent a few days in the Adirondacks, it’s the perfect city in Upstate New York to end your trip and relax for a few days.
Saratoga Spring’s Population size: 28,809 (2020)
Newburgh, New York
Newburgh has seen tough times. It has the highest density of the upstate New York cities listed here. It’s finally seeing a deserved revitalization in the downtown area. Newburgh is rich in history; George Washington was also headquartered here when he was offered the role of King.
- Take a walk down Liberty Street and you can eat at one of my favorite bakeries, Newburgh Flour Shop, or support any of the other amazing places that have opened up here. I’ve eaten and/or drank at every single one there and I promise you – they are all wonderful.
- Make sure to have a drink at Newburgh Brewing Company.
- If you want to sit along the water and drink or eat instead, head down the hill to the Newburgh Waterfront and the restaurants on Front Street.
Newburgh, like Poughkeepsie and Kingston, is also a great place to stay to explore the Hudson Valley’s towns and outdoors. It’s just across the river from Beacon, my favorite town in the entire Hudson Valley, so there are loads to see and do during your stay in these New York state cities.
Newburgh’s Population size: 28,126 (2020)
Kingston, New York
Kingston was New York state’s first capital in 1777. Like many New York state cities, it was in decline for a few decades. Recently, and particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, it has seen exponential change and growth.
The city is located in the upper Hudson Valley and is one of the places many New York City residents decamped to since March 2020. It has a booming arts scene, farm-to-table restaurants, and easy access to nature right on its borders.
Take a leisurely railroad trip on the Catskill Mountain Railroad and visit the Hudson River Maritime Museum. If you really like boat tours, then take a trip on the Rip Van Wrinkle II down the Hudson River.
One of my favorite bookstores is in Kingston. Rough Draft Bar & Books is in one of the buildings on Four Corners. Four Corners is the only intersection in the United States where all four buildings were built pre-Revolutionary War.
Kingston’s Population size: 22,322 (2020)
Corning, New York
At barely three square miles, Corning is the smallest Upstate New York city on this list. Don’t let the size fool you. Corning is small but stunning. It’s in the middle of the Finger Lakes region so there are excellent wineries, restaurants, and outdoor activities.
Make absolutely sure you visit the Corning Museum of Glass. It’s the rare kind of museum where you can spend hours in total contentment. Stop in at the Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate museum of American art, after breakfast at Poppleton Bakery.
Corning is one of the best cities in New York state to visit. It’s perfectly located to explore the Finger Lakes and is an excellent stop on a New York state road trip through western New York.
Corning’s Population size: 10,331 (2020)
Cities on Long Island, New York
Officially, there are only two cities on Long Island! The rest of Long Island is filled with towns, hamlets, villages, and parks. The towns on Long Island are some of the richest towns in New York state. Interestingly, Long Island and Glen Cove are not. They are perfect examples of the duality within a lot of Long Islanders, so make sure you visit both the sleepy beach city and the urban cultural city.
Long Beach, Long Island, New York
Long Beach is a fun day trip from New York City, especially in the summer. It has an excellent beach with a great boardwalk. During the early mornings and off-peak seasons, a lot of surfers visit.
If you’re looking to learn about the history of Long Beach, visit Long Beach Historical and Preservation Society. Head east or west on the island into the smaller towns on either side of Long Beach if you want a less crowded beach. But if you like your city and beach mixed into one, then Long Beach is the perfect small city in New York State to visit.
Long Beach’s Population size: 33,325 (2020)
Glen Cove, Long Island, New York
Glen Cove is on the North Shore of Long Island. It has a very different vibe than Long Beach on the South Shore. Visit Garvies Point Museum and Preserve for a nice walk and the North Shore Historical Museum to get a dose of history about the North Shore.
Glen Cove is also home to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, Long Island’s first Holocaust museum. The center is in one of the mansions on the Welwyn Preserve County Park, an Edwardian estate built in the early twentieth century.
Glen Cove’s Population size: 27,010 (2020)
*All data is from World Population Review.
About the Author: Leah Wersebe
Leah is a TV aficionado and a recovering 9-5 office worker. Her permanent home is in New York, but she has traveled to over 25 countries in search of the perfect latte. In 2022, she’s temporarily living in Galicia, Spain. Leah loves being in debt so has degrees from universities in international politics, film, and wildlife conservation. Follow her on Twitter at @LDWersebe.
About Dominican Abroad LLC
At Dominican Abroad LLC, we believe in intentional and informed travel/cultural experiences. That means that we practice being mindful of the cultural heritage and natural wonders of the destinations we travel to so that as a community we are traveling with knowledge and respect. You can follow our adventures on Instagram or subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated on upcoming trips, cultural guides, outdoor gems, and other travel articles.