There are millions of things to occupy you in New York state. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. New York has it all: beautiful state parks, fun young cities, bucolic small farms in the mountains, and everything in between. When you live in NYC, it feels like the world ends in the Bronx. It doesn’t. Here are a few of the best things to do and attractions to visit in Upstate New York.
Things to Do in Upstate New York
This list is divided by regions in Upstate New York. This is why and how we define Upstate New York, which we’re going to use as everything north of NYC. From the Adirondacks to Buffalo to the Catskills. Did we miss something interesting? Drop us a comment below!
The Catskills REGION
1) Do a Railroad Tour with Rail Explorers
Rail Explorers are a tour company with electric pedal-powered ‘rail explorers.’ You can book a tour with Rail Explorers to see the Catskill Mountains in a unique way. The historic heritage Ulster & Delaware Railroad is a great way to see the region while getting some light exercise in. The little railroad carts are electric so if you’re tired, just chill.
If you visit in the fall and book one of the tours during Golden Hour, you’ll see some of the most breathtaking views of the Catskill Mountains.
2) Take a Horseback Riding Tour
Another unique way to see the Catskills is to take a horseback riding tour. Rural New York state is horse country and I recommend taking advantage of that and getting on a horse, even if you’re new to the experience. In the Catskills, there are a few different ways to take a horseback riding tour.
This one that you can book on Airbnb is a great option if you want to book a private group or join a larger group. You’ll be with a tour guide the entire time and they do tours during all seasons, dependent on weather.
3) Llama/Alpaca Hiking & Farm Experience
It’s time to pet some soft, cuddly llamas and alpacas. This is a great way to get some hands-on time with animals and learn all about camelids (the biological family that llamas and alpacas are members of) from educator and homestead owner, Andrea.
Take a stroll with some of the llamas and alpacas through pastures and fields in either a private group or a large tour. You can even get a llama selfie in a perfect countryside setting.
4) Cuddle with Farm Animals
In Upstate New York, there are a lot of small farms and farm animal sanctuaries. I don’t recommend visiting a sanctuary that houses wild or exotic animals without a lot of research beforehand about the history of the place, how they procured those animals, whether they breed them, etc.
The sanctuaries that house farm animals are typically just small farms where individuals bought or saved farm animals from slaughterhouses or similar fates or breed and raise farm animals themselves. These animals are usually comfortable with human interaction and can often be used in helping kids with autism or soothing people with anxiety. Hanging out with goats and pigs is a great way to spend the afternoon. Keep in mind that goats can be mean though!
5) Visit a Swimming Hole
There are tons of lakes scattered throughout the Catskill Mountains. Stay in a cabin rental for a weekend in the summer and hit up a different lake and swimming hole after a hike every day. Keep in mind that a lot of these swimming holes have grown in popularity in the past few years. Peekamoose Blue Hole is the most famous which means there is a long list of pros and cons for visiting this one.
If you want to visit some lesser-known swimming holes, there are a few options. Check out Diamond Notch Falls which you can reach by a few different hikes of varying difficulty. You could also hike Kaaterskill Falls and hang out in the swimming holes below the waterfall but that is a steep hike and can still get a little crowded on the weekend.
6) Visit Woodstock (not the site of the Woodstock Music Festival)
A very common misconception is that the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival happened in Woodstock, NY. It didn’t. It happened in Bethel, a town 60 miles southwest of Woodstock. You can still see performances at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, where Woodstock Music Festival took place.
The town of Woodstock is still worth a visit. The town’s shops, cafes, and restaurants smartly the allure and ideology around Woodstock Music Festival and all it symbolizes. Main Street has a great array of shops and boutiques where you can support local artisans.
The Finger Lakes REGION
As our readers know by now, we LOVE the Finger Lakes region. There are several cute places to stay in the Finger Lakes,
7) Visit Harriet Tubman’s House
Harriet Tubman spent the latter part of her life in Auburn, New York. Her home is now a United States National Park. You can visit her home and go on a tour. There are two guided tours a day and you must book ahead of time. As of March 2022, the tours are outside, and people are not allowed inside the buildings on the property. That might change in the future so definitely check when you’re making an appointment for the tour.
Go and learn all about the amazing abolitionist, political activist, and first woman to lead a military operation in the United States.
8) Do a Wine Tasting Tour
The three most popular wine trails in the Finger Lakes region are the Cayuga Wine Trail, Keuka Wine Trail, and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Between the three trails and around the Finger Lakes region, there are more than a hundred wineries to visit. You can go on one of these Finger Lakes wine tours, visit them on your own (drive safely and smartly), or book private transportation like a limo to be your chauffeur for the day.
One of our favorite and best wineries in the Finger Lakes to visit is Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard. Make sure to sip on the different Rieslings. Riesling is King in the Finger Lakes so if you’re a Riesling fan, the Finger Lakes will be heaven.
9) Kayak or Boat on a Finger Lake
You can kayak everywhere in the region. The most popular lakes to kayak on are Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake, Keuka Lake, and Canandaigua Lake. Kayaking is so popular in the area that there is a significant chance that whichever lake vacation home you are staying in may have a kayak for you to borrow. If that’s not the case, no fear. There are several rental agencies in the region.
If you already own a boat, then it’s pretty simple to get out on the water. There are ten launch sites on several different lakes. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has the full list with details. There are also dozens of tour operators that run boat tours, many of which combine the boat tour with winery visits, and other activities.
After a long day on the water, I recommend you drink some of the bottles you bought during your wine tasting the day before.
10) FLX Table Experience in Geneva
Foodies rejoice – it’s not just New York City with a stellar food scene. The rest of New York state continues to have amazing dining opportunities. In Geneva, F.L.X. Table has a very small space with 14 seats and a pre-set 4-course menu for dinner service Thursday – Monday. Guests share the space with the chefs in the kitchen. There is no barrier so the atmosphere is intimate and charming – as if you’re at a dinner party in someone’s home.
The prix fixe menu is constantly changing based on what’s in season in the region. Past menu courses have included items like a Chicken Royal with burgundy truffle and quinoa. If the worst happens and you can’t get a reservation at F.L.X. Table, check out some of the other F.L.X. food options, like F.L.X. Fry Bird for fried chicken.
11) Go Horseback Riding in Burdett
Watkins Glen State Park in the Fingers Lake region is gorgeous. Make an appointment with Painted Bar Stables in Burdett to go horseback riding on the trails in Watkins Glen State Park. You’ll see some of the best waterfalls in New York State and see why the Finger Lakes area is known for its beautiful nature, as well as great wine.
Don’t stress if you don’t know how to ride a horse. You won’t be helped onto a horse and then just get a wave goodbye. You get a guided tour which means you’ll also get to hear about the region from a local.
12) Check Out Some of the Finger Lakes Hikes & Waterfalls
There are several state parks, a national forest, and outdoor areas to take a hike in the Finger Lakes. If you’re not sure what one to do, check which state park is closest to where you’re staying. Hikes across the Finger Lakes range in difficulty so you should be able to find something that suits you.
We recommend hiking in Buttermilk Falls State Park to see some beautiful gorges and waterfalls. Or checking out Finger Lakes National Forest which has over 30 miles of trails and stunning pastures where cattle graze depending on the season.
13) Stop by the Farmers Market in Ithaca
Ithaca is a friendly young college town on the shores of Lake Cayuga. The Ithaca Farmers Market has been operating since 1973. All 130+ vendors at the market grow or produce their wares within 30 miles of Ithaca. It’s a great place to pick up some snacks before or after a hike or horseback ride.
During the outdoor season, the market takes place at a park on the Cayuga Lake waterfront so not only will your belly be full, but the views are a feast for your eyes. In the indoor season, the market is Triphammer Marketplace. Check their website for their schedule as it changes,
14) Visit the Museum of Glass in Corning
The very small city of Corning has the world’s largest space dedicated to contemporary art and design in glass. The older I get the more it feels like a lot of museums feel the same – same old dark paintings in ornate frames in room after room of an old palace that’s been converted into a museum. That’s not the case at the Museum of Glass in Corning.
You could spend hours here. You can watch other people blow glass, learn how to make glass yourself, and then actually make glass! There are also interactive exhibits and informative galleries with information about things like how wine and glass have interacted over history.
15) Go on a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park is known as “the Grand Canyon of the East” for good reason. Some of the most gorgeous waterfalls in the United States are here. Like any other state park, you could visit it and take a hike or a walk. Or you could do a hot air balloon ride.
THE Adirondacks REGION
16) Hike in the Adirondacks
- Indian Head Hike: You don’t have to hike the high peaks to get a killer view in the Adirondacks. Hike Indian Head, a rocky overlook with great views of Lower Ausable Lake in a day and you’ll get those Adirondack sights without the massive effort. You’ll still have to put in some effort though – it’s not a walk in the park.
- Cobble Lookout: If you’re looking for the closest thing to a leisurely walk you can find in the Adirondacks, then walk the 2 ½ mile trail to Cobble Lookout. It can be done in about 1 hour and you still get a beautiful Instagram shot at the lookout.
- Whiteface Mountain: On the opposite side of the hike spectrum from Cobble Lookout is Whiteface Mountain. This is a challenging hike that can be done in the summer when it’s muddy or in the winter when it’s snowy. Start early and have fun but be safe and make sure you’re prepared for this hike.
17) Ausable Chasm Tour
Ausable Chasm is a canyon in the Adirondacks. No matter what, you must pay a fee to enter the canyon. The cheapest fare will give you access to the trails that you can walk at your own pace. If you pay for a tour, then you can tube ride down the rivers, get a guided tour, rock climb, and more.
Visiting Ausable Chasm is one of the best things to do in New York state. It’s the perfect place for New Yorkers to experience the stunning nature available right here in the state.
18) Visit Cascade X-C Ski Center
If you’re a skier, then definitely make sure you visit the Adirondacks in the winter. Cascade X-C Ski Center in Lake Placid has everything you’ll need. Not only can you rent apparel and equipment, but you have access to 12+ miles of trails for skiing, a restaurant, and you can stay at their bunkhouse.
Staying in a bucolic cabin in the mountains of Upstate New York is a dream for many but sometimes it’s out of your price range. If you stay at the Cascade X-C Ski Center bunkhouse, you’re paying discount rates but still getting that cabin rental in Upstate New York vibe.
19) Stay at Whiteface Lodge or Lake Placid Lodge
There are many cute cabin and lodge rentals in Upstate New York. Some of our favorites are in the Adirondacks.
Whiteface Lodge: When you stay at Whiteface Lodge, you are experiencing Lake Placid at its finest. It’s a luxury lodge and spa in the middle of the mountains. You can hike all day, and then get a massage at the spa, a scrumptious 3-course meal, and a perfect nightcap.
Is there a small movie theater and a two-lane bowling alley on-premise? Of course. Whiteface Lodge is a great place to unwind and properly relax for a few days. There’s something for everybody, whether they’re a mountain hiker or not.
Lake Placid Lodge: We also love the Lake Placid Lodge for a quieter but still luxurious experience! They have a beautiful outdoor space that literally extends onto the actual Lake Placid.
Mirror Lake Inn: And Mirror Lake Inn is simply stunning and it has an amazing restaurant + bar. It’s one of our favorite places to eat in Lake Placid!
20) Kayaking/Swimming in the many Adirondack Lakes (Like Lake George)
Lake George is a perfect long weekend getaway from New York City in the summer. Rent a cabin and hang out at the beach. You can also go on boat tours, rent kayaks, learn how to water ski, and experience Upstate New York Lake Life.
Grab an afternoon ice cream from Lake George Ice Cream in town before you head back to Million Dollar Beach for the rest of the day. Lake George is also the southern gateway to the Adirondacks so you can always head into the surrounding area for a hike.
Bonus: In the winter, Lake George offers several outdoor opportunities as well. And even hosts a Winter Festival which includes an ice castle.
The Hudson Valley
21) Visit Dia Beacon Museum
Dia Beacon is a contemporary art museum on the shore of the Hudson River. It’s housed in an old Nabisco box-printing factory and the light in the space is ethereal. The museum displays art from the 1960s to the present day. It also has an array of rotating exhibits.
You can even visit Dia Beacon without a car. Hop on a Metro-North train Hudson Line train at Grand Central Station and get off at Beacon. You can walk to the museum from the train station. When you’re done at Dia Beacon, check out a café or restaurant on Main Street. One of my favorite places is All You Knead Artisan Bakers.
22) Go Hiking in the Hudson Valley
- Anthony’s Nose: Anthony’s Nose is an easy hike that you can do in under 4 hours out and back. It gives great views of the Hudson River, Bear Mountain Bridge, and Bear Mountain. There are 2 paths up the mountain and my favorite is the back way.
- Labyrinth and Lemon Squeeze: Visit Mohonk Preserve and hike the challenging hike and rock scramble. It’s tough but well worth it for the views you are rewarded when you reach the viewpoint and see Shawangunk Ridge and the surrounding area.
- Mount Beacon: One of my personal favorite hikes, Mount Beacon checks all the boxes. It’s tiring but not grueling, it’s got great views at the top, and you can finish it in half a day so you can get some food in Beacon when you’re done.
23) Visit Kingston: The Original Capital of NY
Kingston is a small city along the Hudson River that’s a perfect weekend getaway from NYC. History is all around you. Pop into a book store at Four Corners, the only intersection in the United States where all four buildings were built before the Revolutionary War.
You can take a boat tour down the Hudson River or visit the small farmer’s markets that pop up in Kingston. Kingston is perfectly placed for easy access to nature in both the Hudson Valley and the Catskills.
24) Visit Storm King Arts Center
Storm King Arts Center is wholly unique. It’s a massive open-air museum with the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures in the United States. If old stuffy dark museums aren’t your cup of tea, but you want to experience some art, then Storm King Arts Center is the perfect thing to do in Upstate New York.
You can wander around the grounds, checking out sculptures like the Three-Legged Buddha or Suspended. It’s so big that you won’t even notice the other people you’re sharing the park as you all wander around mouths agape.
25) Visit a Cider House
Hudson Valley is apple country. And what can you make with apples? Cider. Delicious, crisp, tart cider. Apple cider used to be a common American beverage and cider houses in the Hudson Valley are bringing that mentality back. There are dozens of cider houses you can visit in the Hudson Valley.
Some of the cider houses are also working orchards and/or farms where you can pick apples too. Some of my favorites are Twin Star Orchards and Kettleborough Cider House. Twin Star Orchards often has live music, and you can buy food. Kettleborough Cider House has one of the best views of Shawangunk Ridge.
The Capital Area
26) Visit Soul Fire Farm
The food system, like most institutional systems in the United States, is often a deeply racist mechanism. Soul Fire Farm is an Afro-Indigenous-centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system.
Soul Fire Farm does amazing work, providing training for Black and Brown farmers and growers, food justice workshops for urban youth, and more. There are a dozen different ways to get involved, but if you’re just visiting the Catskills for a short time, take a tour, volunteer, or attend a public speaking event.
27) Relax at Roosevelt Baths & Spa at Saratoga Springs Spa Resort
The last couple of years have really taken their toll on us all. To help ease the anxiety that’s crept into your muscles, you should be hitting up the spa more often than ever. Saratoga Springs Spa Resort is over 85 years old and is one of the coolest places to visit in Upstate New York. The natural underground spring waters are used for a variety of treatments.
At the Roosevelt Baths & Spa, you can get a facial, massage, mineral bath, and more. The spa is open almost every day except major holidays and is an affordable way to experience muscle relief and properly relax.
28) Tour the New York State Capital: Albany!
It’s always been important to be involved in our federal, regional, and local governments. In the past few years, it’s become more apparent that a lot of crucial life-altering legislation is being fought out at the state level. So, it’s time to get to know New York State government a little better.
One of the coolest things to do in New York’s capital city Albany is to tour the New York State Capital. Hear about the building’s history, as well as learn about the different government officials who create legislation and govern New York state.
29) Learn about the Underground Railroad in New York
Stephen and Harriet Myers were Black abolitionists who were central figures on the Underground Railroad in New York state. Their residence now houses the Underground Railroad Education Center. You can take a tour of the Myers’ home, learn about the role regular people like the Myers’ played in ensuring a more democratic future for all, and attend events.
Stephen Myers was born a slave in New York before becoming a leading anti-slavery activist in the region after slavery was abolished in 1827. He and Harriet Myers worked on a newspaper that espoused abolitionist ideas and helped people escape slavery for decades out of their house in Albany.
Central New York Region
30) Hike to Chittenango Falls
You don’t have to go to the Finger Lakes or the Great Lakes to splash in the water. In Central New York, just a little southeast of Syracuse, you can visit Chittenango Falls State Park for a stroll, a picnic lunch, and a dazzling waterfall.
It’s a small park and the waterfall is very easy to walk around. There’s even a little footbridge so it’s a great casual stop that doesn’t require a lot of preparation or time.
31) Check out Syracuse Antiques Exchange
Syracuse Antiques Exchange is one of the largest and longest-running antique stores in New York, outside of New York City. There are four floors full of antiques. The store carries Victorian and Midcentury furniture, an extensive range of lighting, and more.
Antique shopping can feel like a hobby that has a costly barrier to entry. In the Syracuse Antiques Exchange, there are items of various prices so it’s a great place to buy your first antique.
32) Visit Green Lakes State Park
One of the perfect places for cabin rentals in Upstate New York is Green Lakes State Park. The park in Central New York has two lakes, a huge golf course, and campgrounds and cabins for rent. Green Lakes State Park is covered in woods and filled with miles of trails that you can walk in summer and snowshoe in winter.
Another benefit to visiting Green Lakes State Park is that it’s also very close to Syracuse. So when you’re all done with nature, you can head into Syracuse: one of the best cities in Upstate New York.
33) Mine for Herkimer Diamonds
Herkimer diamonds aren’t technically diamonds. They’re quartz crystals. Who cares though! You can mine your own Herkimer diamonds and then keep everything you find. Visit the Herkimer Diamond Mines and see how many you can find.
The crystals are beautiful, and you can even create jewelry to house your haul at the Artisan Center. Don’t stress if you don’t have your own mining hammer and materials. You can get them at the mines with the price of admission.
34) Hike The Chimney Bluffs along Lake Ontario
Commonly known to local Central New Yorkers as The Bluffs, Chimney Bluffs State Park is a beautiful park along the shores of Lake Ontario. Visiting this park was one of our favorite things to do in Oswego when we studied there! Come on a sunny day to see how the dramatic spikey “bluffs” pop up along the waterfront.
You can walk above The Bluffs on a myriad of trails. Students from some of the nearby universities, like SUNY Oswego, often spend time here in spring-fall to soak up the little bit of warmth before winter and chilling temperatures take over Central New York.
Niagara Frontier NY Area
35) Visit Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is so many things – it’s a city, a State Park, and a gigantic internationally-known series of waterfalls. Niagara Falls is one of the coolest things to do in Upstate New York because there are a million things to occupy your time, and everybody could find something different to do.
Take a tour on a boat under the falls, walk one of the trails around the shore, visit an amusement park or gamble in one of the casinos. You can even cross into Canada for the day and see what the iconic waterfall looks like from that side.
36) Museum Hop in Buffalo
Check out all the museums in Buffalo. One of the best things to do in New York state is to soak up all the history. Buffalo is no exception. Stop at the Buffalo Museum of Science for a few hours and channel your inner child when looking at all the dinosaur fossils. Then check out the Buffalo History Museum and learn about the development of the Western New York frontier.
Make sure to wander into the Albright-Knox Art Gallery which actively collects and exhibits contemporary art that reflects our present culture. Pop into the Museum of disABILITY History, a rare and unique museum about people with disabilities and their treatment and role in history. If there’s time, check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, Buffalo Harbor Museum, and more.
37) Check out the Breweries in Buffalo
The micro-brewery scene is constantly growing in New York state. Buffalo has really seen a boom in the past decade and a lot of the beers aren’t found outside of Western New York so make sure you check out a few.
Stop at Big Ditch Brewing Company and drink an ale or an IPA and eat some snacks. Stop at Thin Man Brewery for a hazy IPA and check out their huge rotating tap list. If you have the time, check out Resurgence Brewing Company, Community Beer Works, and the other couple dozen breweries in the area.
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.
CO-CURATED BY: GERRY ISABELLE
Gerry was born and raised in New York City. She is the founder of Dominican Abroad – a culture and travel blog. Her curiosity and passion for culture, history, and the outdoors have taken her around the globe. You can follow her New York State + world travels on her Instagram. Fun fact: She studied in Upstate NY with Leah!
ABOUT DOMINICAN ABROAD
At Dominican Abroad, 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.