Most people don’t think of museums when they picture Upstate New York, due to New York City stealing most of the state’s spotlight. But Upstate New York is brimming with important cultural spaces, important history, and meaningful heritage sites. In addition to the natural wonders, consider adding these wonderful Upstate New York museums on your next road trip.
Some of these museums are tucked away in the Adirondack Mountains, while others sit on Main Street in Upstate New York cities like Buffalo or Syracuse. The opportunities to immerse yourself in the art, history, and culture of our vast New York State are neverending.
Pssttt… What is Upstate New York? Read our report on the silly debate!
Read Our Other New York Blog Posts
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- 17 Cute Farms in Upstate New York to Visit
25 Top Best Museums in Upstate New York
1. Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center ★
If you’re looking for a museum bursting with authentic Native American culture, you must stop at the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center. Open from July to August to the public and September by appointment only, you can explore over 3,000 artifacts, a host of storytelling lectures, and browse an amazing shop of handmade gifts representing the beauty and values of the indigenous communities of the region. The exhibits focus primarily on the Haudenosaunee culture– people of the long house– and teach guests about the importance of protecting the natural resources of the Adirondack Mountains. Best of all, it’s free!
2. The John Brown Farm State Historic Site ★
The John Brown Farm State Historic Site is a perfect stop if you’re staying in Lake Placid, one of the most popular towns in the Adirondacks. The museum is built within the home of abolitionist John Brown and serves as his final resting place. They offer site tours for visitors looking for in-depth history and exciting re-enactments of historical events from the 1800s. Admission to the museum is free, and the grounds include several hiking trails, picnic areas, and winter snowshoeing/cross-country skiing paths to make a day out of your visit. You can download a digital map on the website to help you plan ahead. Don’t forget to pack some food and drinks!
3. Harriet Tubman National Historical Park
The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park celebrates the grand life and core values of Harriet Tubman and the extraordinary contributions she made during her lifetime as an American abolitionist and social activist. Tucked away in Auburn in the Finger Lakes region, the park features three sites for visitors: the Harriet Tubman Residence, the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, and the Thompson A.M.E. Zion Church. There are outdoor tours offered on Tuesday and Saturday as long as the weather is good. While you don’t have to make an appointment, we recommend it if you want to guarantee a spot. To schedule, call the number on the website and follow the instructions listed.
4. Corning Museum of Glass ★
This unique attraction is all about exploring the wonders of glasswork and was the production site for Thomas Edison’s first hand-blown glass light bulbs! The Corning Museum of Glass offers stunning exhibitions, glassmaking demonstrations, and tons of hands-on activities to participate in. All museum tickets are good for a two-days. It’s highly suggested to buy tickets in advance online, especially to reserve your spot to make your own glass! You can plan to be here for about 3 to 4 hours to look at all the museum offers. Corning is one of the most adorable towns in Upstate New York, so you may want to stick around.
5. Storm King Art Center
Named for its proximity to the gorgeous Storm King Mountain in Orange County, Storm King Art Center is a great place for outdoor art lovers to flock. This museum features the country’s largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures on 500 sprawling acres of Hudson Valley beauty. Storm King’s founders were heavily influenced by stewarding the local landscape, full of mountains, meadows, and forests. Their frequently rotating exhibitions give visitors a new twist of art to view on every visit. Timed entry tickets are required and can be purchased online. There are a number of admission options, including adding a shuttle ride from Beacon.
6. The Rockwell Museum ★
If you’re looking for things to do in the Finger Lakes region, check out The Rockwell Museum in Corning! This attraction is a Smithsonian Affiliate museum of American art and has been deemed one of the “best-designed small museums in the Northeast.” Located in the Corning Old City Hall, locals and visitors of all ages love to gather here, making it more of a community center rather than just a museum. The galleries are filled with exhibitions illustrating the experiences, ideas, and natural beauty that have shaped our country. Tickets can be bought online for The Rockwell, or you can buy a combo ticket including the Corning Museum or Glass. If you have young visitors, try adding the new Art Lab onto your admission to keep them busy!
7. Rochester Museum & Science Center
The Rochester Museum & Science Center is one of the best museums in Upstate New York, and there’s more than one reason why! This fantastic attraction is dedicated to igniting a passion for science and technology in every visitor crossing who enters. One of the museum’s current exhibits is the Flight to Freedom–a tale of Frederick Douglas and the history of the Underground Railroad in Rochester New York. The museum also operates the Strasenburg Paletarium next door and the Cumming Nature Center– 900 acres of pictureesque preserve tucked away in Naples. You can purchase general admission tickets online, with ticket combos available if you wish to visit the planetarium and nature center.
8. Dia: Beacon
Sitting on the Hudson River, Dia: Beacon offers beautiful views inside and out. This location has been home to the Dia Art Foundation’s collection since the 1960s and is one of 11 Dia museums across New York State. They feature permanent collections, rotating exhibits, special exhibitions, and public programs. Public tours are offered here every Saturday and Sunday and are free with your admission purchase. The museum is open from Friday to Monday only. Their convenient online ticket calendar is an awesome way to plan your trip with a group so you can see how many tickets are available for purchase on any given day. It’s also close to several other art galleries in the area, such as the Garage Gallery and the Hudson Beach Glass Inc.
9. National Baseball Hall of Fame
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is one of the more unique museums in New York State and a baseball lover’s dream. Set in Cooperstown, visitors will be transported back in time to explore the history of America’s favorite pastime, perusing artifacts, plaques of the greats, baseball memorabilia, and so much more. You can plan to spend anywhere between two to four hours here as there are three floors to go through and a 20-minute theatre movie. The multi-media exhibitions will keep visitors of all ages busy diving into the sport’s history. Ensure you reserve a time slot for your visit before you go!
10. Fort Ticonderoga
Once known as Fort Carillon, Fort Ticonderoga was built back in the 18th century and is full of history to share with visitors. It was originally constructed by the French on the narrows of Lake Champlain, one of many favorite towns in the Adirondacks. Guests can book a boat tour, join a lecture, participate in hands-on activities, and catch lively reenactments on Mount Defiance. The museum offers many featured events and special programs throughout its season, open from May to October, weather permitting. In the fall, we recommend taking a hike on Carillon Battlefield or exploring the Heroic Corn Maze to soak in all the surrounding foliage.
11. Iroquois Museum
The Iroquois Museum is one of our favorites! This educational institution is dedicated to promoting Iroquois artists and their rich culture by sharing their creations with the world. Located right on ancestral lands of the Mohawk people, the museum loves using art to foster an understanding of the unique history and traditions of the Iroquois nations with their guests. The building alone is stunning, inspired by the historical longhouse design. They also have a spectacular gift shop with dozens of handmade creations. Hours of admission vary based on the season, so check the website before you go. If you are interested in a guided tour, you must have 10 or more paid visitors!
12. National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House
This museum in Rochester was the actual home of Susan B. Anthony for 40 years. The National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House celebrates the legacy of this fierce woman and her critical efforts in the women’s rights movement. Along with this being her residence until her death, this building was the former site of the headquarters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association when she served as president. The story of Susan B. Anthony is truly incredible. We highly suggest reserving a tour to get a first-hand view of her history and unfinished works.
13. Buffalo Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKG Art Museum)
Visiting the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is one of the best things to do in Buffalo, NY! This world-class art museum offers works from some of history’s most famous artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. Wow! You can also enjoy 20th-century artwork from painters like Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe and Pablo Picasso. And that’s just a drop in the bucket. This museum also has a yummy restaurant with good food and drinks. It is a true cultural gem in Buffalo.
Update: It is currently closed for renovations. Please stay tuned for updates.
ARTISANworks is another gem in Rochester, located in a 40,000-square-foot renovated factory building. The gallery features over 500,000 pieces of art, automobiles, and antiques while also showcasing local artists through its incubator program. ARTISANworks is open for admission every Friday and Sunday, with free tours included in admission on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm. For private and special events, the museum is also open 7-days a week! If you’re interested in purchasing art during your visit, ARTISANworks sells, leases, and has a lease-to-own program.
15. George Eastman Museum
The George Eastman Museum, also known as the George Eastman House, not only has one of the world’s oldest film archives, but it’s the oldest museum dedicated to photography. The grounds contain George Eastman’s historic mansion–with original furnishings and artifacts– and exceptional surrounding gardens that were restored to the glory of the time period they were created. Two of the four gardens are open to visitors without needing to purchase admission: the Rock Garden and Grape Arbor, and the West Garden. Current exhibits include Perspective: Recent Gifts of Contemporary Art and FLOODZONE by Anastasia Samoylova. Non-members are encouraged to purchase advanced tickets on the Eastman Museum site.
16. Erie Canal Museum
Founded in 1962, the Erie Canal Museum is set in the historic Syracuse Weighlock Building, built back in 1850– the only remaining weighlock building in the country! The museum is open every day and has a suggested donation of $10 for admission. Guests can explore a variety of Canal materials and artifacts that paint a picture of what life was like back in the days of the Erie Canal and learn about its vital role in the growth of the Upstate New York region. There are two galleries to visit: the Link Gallery and the Weighlock Gallery. See the front desk to inquire about guided tours, typically held daily. Face coverings are still required to visit this museum.
17. Everson Museum of Art
Everson Museum of Art is in an I.M. Pei-designed building and features a variety of famous American paintings, drawings, and sculptures. In fact, this was the first museum to dedicate its space to American art and feature permanent collections of video art and ceramics! They recently commissioned a beautiful installation by Derek Porter–an architectural lighting and product designer who uses unique light to stun his audience. The museum is located right in downtown Syracuse, one of the most popular cities in Upstate New York, and is surrounded by a ton of other attractions to pair with your visit.
18. Adirondack Experience
The Adirondack Experience–The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake– is all about exploring and preserving the natural beauty of the Adirondack Park. Set right in the region’s heart, the museum spreads across more than 20 buildings on a beautiful 120-acre property overlooking Blue Mountain Lake. The endless activities make it one of the best museums in Upstate New York, with rich exhibits, guide boat tours, a climb on the ADK fire tower, hiking, and even the opportunity to break up a log jam! You are allowed to bring food and drinks to the museum but note that all food must be left outside when entering the indoor exhibits. The Adirondack Experience is open seven days a week from May to October.
19. Museum of Earth
When you visit the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, be prepared to dive back into the Ice Age! This natural history museum is a part of the Paleontological Research Institution and has spectacular exhibits featuring some of the earth’s most amazing creatures and creations. Visitors will find a host of fascinating exhibits, from the massive 44-foot right whale skeleton to the Hyde Park Mastodon– one of the most complete skeletons of its time! The museum also offers special events such as gorge walks, fossil collecting tours, Art Mondays, and much more. While masks are suggested most days, masks are required to be worn in the museum on the third Monday of every month.
20. Buffalo Museum of Science
Tucked away in Downtown Buffalo, the Buffalo Museum of Science is a perfect spot for locals and visitors to learn about the wonders of our planet. It features a ton of special exhibits, the most recent being the Antarctic Dinosaurs– an exploration of one of the most remote continents in the world and the latest dinosaur discoveries found. You do have to pay a bit more with admission, but it’s worth it! If you’re sticking around Downtown for the day, this is a great stop in between visiting breweries in Buffalo, just minutes from the Spotted Octopus Brewing Co. and Thin Man Brewery.
21. The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum
The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum is definitely one of the best museums in Buffalo, especially for car lovers. Learn about the history of the automotive industry and peruse the extensive collection of vintage and antique cars. The facility is bright, open, and fully accessible to all. This is a great place to spend an afternoon in between other attractions in the area, such as Niagra Falls, Martin House, and the historic City Hall. You can also book a 30-minute tour for $25 per person any day of the week by contacting the museum office.
22. The Strong National Museum of Play
It’s impossible not to have fun when you’re visiting a museum dedicated to playing! The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester is a highly interactive attraction for all ages made to explore the history and scientific approach behind the act of play– how fun! Unst museums, you can step right into the permanent exhibits. One of our favorites is the iconic Seasame Street, where you can pretend you are one of the characters living right in the neighborhood! Other popular attractions include the National Toy Hall of Fame, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, and the famous Skyline Climb, where you can scale above the museum’s atrium on beams, balance obstacles, and rope courses.
23. Museum of Firefighting
The Museum of Firefighting is the world’s largest firefighting museum and one of the best places in upstate New York to pay tribute to our local heroes. Guests can view exhibitions illustrating the critical history of firefighting in our country and how techniques, vehicles, and equipment have changed over the years. The museum has a ton of historic equipment, from 18th-century horse-drawn firefighter carriages to the 1970’s diesel power trucks equipped with 1,000-gallon tanks. There are a ton of hands-on exhibits for visitors of all ages, and don’t forget to look out for Molly the Museum dog! She roams the museum and keeps eyeing everyone to ensure they are having fun.
24. Saranac Laboratory Museum
The Saranac Laboratory Museum is one of the best places to visit in Saranac Lake for history buffs! Built in 1894, the laboratory began as a research hub for the tuberculosis epidemic, where historic discoveries were made. Permanent exhibits educating visitors on scientific research and patient care are available in the main laboratory, while rotating exhibits on various local history topics can be viewed in the John Black Room. Visitors can also watch short films to learn more.
25. American Italian Museum & Cultural Center
The American Italian Museum & Cultural Center is set in a former church and holds a beautiful display of exhibits celebrating the Italian-American immigrant experience. The museum, based in Albany, is committed to preserving and recording the contributions of the Italian Immigrant Story and how their rich culture and heritage have helped shape New York City and the upstate region into what they are today. The center is open Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday but closes throughout the year due to inclement weather. Call ahead before you visit, especially if you are traveling from afar.
5 thoughts on “25 Top Best Museums in Upstate New York + Important Cultural Spaces to Visit”
Did you miss the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton? Far more interesting than several of your choices. Check it out.
Thanks! I’ll add that to my bucket list.
Thanks to our readers for letting us know of a few more museums to check out in upstate New York! How exciting! Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica is high on our bucket list now. The National Comedy Center, Buffalo Naval Park Museum, and
Griffis Sculpture Park, too. Did we miss any other museums?
Herbert F Johnson museum on Cornell campus is amazing. Six floors of art and beautiful views of campus and Cayuga lake at the Top! No charge
Wonderful! Will check that out next Ithaca trip 🙂