The Finger Lakes offers a little bit of everything for all types of travelers. That’s why it’s one of my favorite places to visit in New York State! For outdoor lovers, this includes stunning waterfalls, swimming holes, horseback riding, and some of New York’s most epic hiking trails. If you love culture and history, the Finger Lakes offers world-class museums, heritage sites, and local festivals. And for us foodies? This region is famous for its wine trails, breweries, cider houses, and many unique restaurants. And if you love charming small-town vibes, the Finger Lakes offers some of the best small towns in New York! So with all these options, you may be feeling overwhelmed wondering “where to stay in the Finger Lakes?” That’s totally understandable! And we’ve got you covered with a simple breakdown of how to pick the best Finger Lakes regions by lake + the best things to do in each area.
Choosing the Best Area in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes region is comprised of eleven beautiful lakes which span across a massive part of New York State. Therefore, to begin exploring pockets of this amazing region, start by choosing one of these eleven lake regions (pictured above) to base yourself out of. Next, choose a cute town near that lake or narrow it down by one of the many cool boutique hotels, rentals, glamping spots, or luxurious resorts. There are so many splendid Finger Lakes lodging options to choose from for all budgets.
Below are the best places by lake region to help you choose where to stay in the Finger Lakes. So you’ll be ready for days of exploration on your New York getaway.
Choose Carefully Where to Stay in the Finger Lakes – Maps Can Be Deceiving
As you all know, we LOVE the Finger Lakes. So much so that we dedicated an entire travel guide of things to do in the Finger Lakes for first-time travelers. It is one of my favorite places in Upstate New York to get away any time of the year. However, as your plan your Finger Lakes trip, please note: it is nearly impossible to see and do everything in the Finger Lakes region in one trip. Don’t let what I call “Finger Lakes FOMO” (fear of missing out) get to you as you plan your trip. While many of Finger Lakes attractions and places, all seem close to each other on a map, driving around these long lakes can actually double or triple the time it takes to travel between places.
Our Other New York State Travel Guides to Read
New York State has some of the most beautiful scenery, treasured history, and amazing experiences. If you’re interested in exploring more of our beautiful state beyond small towns, here are some of our top New York travel guides. Subscribe to our newsletter for future New York State travel guides.
- Hidden Gems to Visit in Upstate New York by Region
- 17 Special Places to Go Glamping in New York
- 31 Beautiful New York Waterfalls to Explore
- 32 Charming Small Towns to Visit in Upstate New York
- 17 Refreshing Day Hikes from New York City
- 27 Easy Day Trips from New York City
- Charming Cute Towns to Visit on Long Island
If you’re new to the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake is one of the best places to stay in the Finger Lakes for first-timers. As the largest and deepest of all the Finger Lakes, its surrounding towns offer numerous things to see, do, and taste. Three of my favorite Finger Lakes places to stay by Seneca Lake are the town of Geneva on the far northern tip and the town of Watkins Glen in the south. And about 20 miles south of Watkins Glen, is the very cool small city of Corning which is one of our favorite cities in New York! Here’s why.
Geneva, New York (Hidden Gem)
Geneva is not just a college town (Hobart and William Smith Colleges) but also an art and cultural center. You will see unique works of art, architecture, and other cool points of interest in the downtown area. Geneva’s Linden Street (main downtown street) closes to cars on warm summer nights to become a nightlife destination. If you’re doing some remote work, there are also coworking spaces you can check out like Port 100 Cowork.
For a local and cultural experience in Geneva, you should reserve a spot at FLX Table. This experience brings strangers together in one table to enjoy a multi-course dinner by a renowned chef and master sommelier. At about $80-100 per person, it is not cheap but it’s worth it. Book your reservations ahead of time!
While in Geneva, consider staying in a castle by the lake at the Vinifera Inn located within the Belhurst Castle & Spa. Be treated like royalty at the Isabella Spa, and spend a lazy afternoon meandering the gardens.
Or, if you want a lakefront boutique resort hotel, consider Geneva On the Lake. This historical and luxurious hotel has a restaurant on-site and even a fitness center!
Watkins Glen, New York
For first-time travelers to the Finger Lakes, Watkins Glens is one of the best towns to stay. The town is smack dab in the middle of several Finger Lakes points of interest. For instance, right in the downtown area is the majestic Watkins Glen State Park which offers beautiful hiking trails and breathtaking waterfalls (pictured above). Some of the best Finger Lakes restaurants are also in the town of Watkins Glen such as Nickel’s Pit BBQ, Veraisons, and Graft Wine + Cider Bar. For a unique experience, you can also visit the Farm Sanctuary, where over five hundred rescued animals live on rolling pastures and fresh air.
Corning, New York
This hidden gem is one of the best places to stay in the Finger Lakes. Corning is just 20 miles south of Seneca Lake and offers world-class museums, art galleries, delicious restaurants, and cute boutiques. All this and more is set along the picturesque Chemung River.
Here are the main attractions to this cute Finger Lakes town:
- The Corning Museum of Glass (pictured above) is the biggest glass museum in the world. Dedicate at least several hours to exploring the exhibits, museum wings, trying some workshops, and much more. You can buy your tickets here.
- Rockwell Museum houses unique multicultural American art. As an artist, the Rockwell Museum is personally, one of my favorites in the world due to the diverse representation of American art. Don’t miss the classic American paintings and sculptures by Robert F. and Hertha Rockwell (the museum founders).
- Downtown Corning has a historic square and is where you can visit boutique shops like Connor’s Mercantile and Pip’s Boutique.
- Nickel’s Pitt BBQ – As a “chicken wing connoisseur”, I can personally attest to them having some of the best chicken wings in New York State! Try the garlic-parmesean-buffalo wings.
The hotel options in Corning are not the best. So if you decide to stay here, we recommend a cute Airbnb like this one!
If it’s your first time to the Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake is also one of the best Finger Lakes to choose. Cayuga Lake’s prized gem and the small city of Ithaca offers an abundant amount of fun activities and cute accommodations to choose from (listed below).
Ithaca, New York
Ithaca is one of my favorite towns in Upstate New York. It offers an excellent mix of artistic/nerdy spaces, healthy food, and beautiful outdoors. This is one of my favorite and best places to stay in the Finger Lakes, hands down.
Ithaca is home to the prestigious colleges of Cornell University (an ivy league) and Ithaca College. Situated on Cayuga Lake, you can venture off into several fun activities while you visit, like glamping at Firelight Camps on La Tourelle Resort and Spa Grounds (pictured above). Hiking or biking the Cayuga Waterfront Trail or sipping your way through the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.
Additionally, we LOVE visiting the Ithaca Farmer’s Market (pictured above), where you can purchase a wide variety of local goods. If you love artisan crafts and local goods, this will be a highlight experience.
Lastly, don’t miss some of New York’s best waterfalls which are just a stone’s throw away from Ithaca like my personal favorite Buttermilk Falls State Park (pictured above) and Ithaca Falls (also pictured above).
Trumansburg, New York
Just minutes from Ithaca is the town of Trumansburg, New York. While this town is more suburban, it’s worth a stop for the annual Grassroots Festival each July and a trip to Taughannock State Park (pictured above). If you love spas, then you have to check out Gothic Eves Inn and Spa, which serves food made from locally-grown ingredients and has private outdoor Jacuzzi tubs.
Aurora, New York
Finally, head to the eastern shores of Cayuga Lake to stay in Aurora.
Aurora, once a short stop on an upstate New York road trip to elsewhere, is now one of our favorite cute towns in upstate NY. What changed? The creator of the American Girl brand once attended school at nearby Wells College. Years later, she returned and began to revitalize and restore the town, giving us the lovely Aurora we have today. Thus, many buildings in the town are on the National Register of Historic Places. For instance, the Inns of Aurora, which was once a stop of the Wells Fargo Express and is now a premier resort (pictured above).
Additionally, Aurora is a sweet town to visit for pottery lovers. MacKenzie-Childs‘ gorgeous ceramics are hand-made here. So you can shop for MacKenzie-Childs ceramics here and/or explore their pottery campus and farmhouse.
Keuka Lake is uniquely shaped like a Y, thinner/smaller, and more quaint yet near tons of things to see and do. This is my favorite one. You can stay in Hammondsport (near antique shops and an Aviation museum) or Penn Yan (a cute little town with good food and near outdoor opportunities yet still close to Seneca Lake).
Hammondsport, New York
At the southernmost tip of Keuka Lake is the town of Hammondsport. This little town has only about 1,000 people and is perfect for a New York City weekend getaway or longer stay. Hammondsport is all about fun outdoor recreation and wine. In fact, this town is a big part of why the Finger Lakes region is so important for the wine scene. All near Hammondsport, you can sip at:
- Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery
- Heron Hill Winery
- Bully Hill Vineyards Winery
- Ravines Wine Cellars
- Weis Vineyards
- Pleasant Valley Wine Company
The Hammondsport area also offers an aviation museum, antique shops, and easy access to Keuka Lake. From here, Watkins Glen and Corning are both about 20 minutes away.
Catch up on sleep at the adorable Moonshadow Bed & Breakfast (pictured above), located near many of the wineries listed above.
Penn Yan, New York
At the very highest point of Keuka Lake is the charming town on Penn Yan, another one of the best towns to stay in the Finger Lakes. The village of Penn Yan has two distinct areas. First, with a noticeable old town feel, downtown Penn Yan has many shops and restaurants. Spend a summer morning in the down area, renting kayaks on the lake and getting lunch afterward. The second section of village area, the general Penn Yan region, holds a number of fabulous wineries and also locally sourced restaurants.
For outdoor lovers, consider hiking or biking the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail. If you love wine, follow the Keuka Lake Wine Trail from Penn Yan. For families, consider Seneca Farms for some creamy hand-made icecream. While in Penn Yan, stay in town at the Los Gatos Bed and Breakfast or Trimmer House Bed and Breakfast.
Skaneateles, New York
Another beautiful place to stay in Finger Lakes is Skaneateles. This town is a hidden gem and one of my favorite towns in the country! Located on the clear shores of Skaneateles Lake, Skaneateles is one of the best upstate New York towns to visit due to its friendly locals, delicious food, walkable streets, and cute boutique shops. While relatively unknown, it’s just an hour away from major cities like Syracuse and Ithaca.
In Skaneateles, you can wake up to beautiful views of the lake by staying at a waterfront spa resort and later take a guided boat tour with dinner, or rent a personal watercraft. Skaneateles Lake is also famous in the region for having some of the clearest and cleanest water in the entire state of New York (pictured above).
After a day exploring the lake, have dinner and a cocktail at Elephant and Dove (truly some of the best food in the region with healthy options). For a relaxing stay, consider staying at Mirbeau Inn & Spa. Or for a classic bed and breakfast, consider resting at Sherwood Inn, established in 1807. We also love these cute Finger Lakes Lodges for a quiet and rustic stay.
Owasco Lake is next on our list of where to stay in the Finger Lakes. Another best town to stay in Finger Lakes, Auburn, rests right on the northernmost shore. Auburn is the largest town in Cayuga County with a population of just under 30,000 residents.
Auburn, New York
Another one of the most unique places to visit in upstate New York for meaningful history is Auburn. Auburn sits on the north end of Owasco Lake. The town got its name from a beautiful poem, “Deserted Village” by Oliver Goldsmith.
While you visit Auburn, stop by Harriet Tubman’s house to pay homage to one of our greatest American heroines. After escaping slavery, Tubman rescued 300 enslaved Americans using a network of safe houses that reached this very region in upstate New York. During the Combahee Ferry Raid, she helped liberate another 700 enslaved Americans! Tubman retired and was buried in Auburn, New York. Today, you can visit her home (pictured above) in Auburn. She is an icon of revolutionary courage and freedom.
Canandaigua Lake, or “The Chosen Spot”, is one of the most beautiful in the Finger Lakes region. It also has one of only two islands located in the Finger Lakes, rich Native American history, and extremely clean water.
Canandaigua, New York
The town of Canandaigua sits on the north side of Canandaigua Lake. This village is one of the best towns to stay in Finger Lakes. Tourism is a major industry here, with many attractions like:
- Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park, a 50-acre estate just a few blocks from downtown.
- New York Wine Kitchen, dedicated to celebrating local New York agriculture.
- Granger Homestead and Carriage House Museum, which hosts historical programs year round.
- The City Pier, a mainstreet on the water that visitors and photographers love.
- Kershaw Park and Bathhouse, located right on the lake.
Don’t forget about the famous Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail, which travels through forty-one miles of wineries, restaurants, and more.
To best explore Canandaigua, stay in some of the best Finger Lakes lodging in the area. This large, three-bedroom apartment is right downtown and only one mile from the Pier. It’s also just under a mile to the Sonnenberg Gardens.
There is a cute bed and breakfast right in town as well. Sutherland House Victorian Bed and Breakfast (pictured above) has lusciously landscaped gardens and a charming patio. They also have romantic fireplaces and hot tubs in a few of the rooms.
HEMLOCK & CANADICE LAKES
The next two Finger Lakes- from West to East- are Hemlock and Canadice Lakes. These two lakes are smaller. In fact, Canadice is the smallest of all the Finger Lakes. They are also relatively rustic, and untouched by industry since the city of Rochester began buying family-owned cottages on the shoreline to begin preserving the lake for cleaner drinking water. This Finger Lakes region is surrounded by beautiful countryside and the old-growth of the Hemlock- Canadice State Forest.
Livonia, New York
Wondering where to stay in the Finger Lakes if this area seems so remote? There is no camping allowed in the state forest, however, there are other places to stay throughout the area. For instance, the beautiful Reed Homestead guesthouse (pictured above) is just a bit north of the two lakes. This sweet brick cottage was built in 1803. You will fall in love with the historic atmosphere and enjoy the gift shop.
Springwater, New York
You can also stay in this cozy, woodland cabin (pictured above). This vacation home is perfect for a family or group of friends- and their furry children. Bring your pets and enjoy this gorgeous cabin with a sprawling backyard for relaxation.
OTHER FINGER LAKES
Of course there are more Finger Lakes to explore such as: Conesus Lake which is home to SUNY Geneseo, Honeoye Lake, and Otisco Lake. The Finger Lakes region of upstate New York just has so much to experience. Regardless of which area you choose, you will want to return for more. And, with so many wonderful places to stay in the Finger Lakes, you’ll just have to return for another unique trip!