The best things to do in New York State

New York City may lure travelers with its twinkling lights and non-stop excitement, but as you venture outside the five boroughs, a more relaxed program awaits at the Empire State.

Art lovers will find immersive outdoor museums and themed gardens, while the more adventurous can take an Olympic roller coaster ride or hike high above the treetops. Those seeking the high life can drop by castle-like mansions, while the chilled out can kick back on the grounds of a famous music festival.

And the curious — whether it’s a love of baseball, a fondness for glass, or a fondness for chicken wings — will find ways to fulfill those desires, too. After all, activities here are as diverse as the regions, ensuring everyone leaves with a New York state of mind.

Enjoy art sculptures at the Storm King Art Center

The Storm King Art Center—just about an hour’s drive north of New York City—is as much about its dramatic sculpture as it is about its topography. Almost 90 works are on display in the open-air museum’s 500 hectares, which are spread across forests, fields, meadows and hills – the environment plays as much a role in the site-specific exhibitions as the oversized artworks themselves.

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Take a bike ride through the history of the Buffalo Wings in Buffalo

The story is legendary: On a Friday night in 1964, the son of Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of Anchor Bar, was working at the bar when his friends walked in starving.

So Teressa grabbed leftovers from the kitchen and whipped up some snacks, using parts of the chicken that were usually saved for the soup pot — the wings. After frying, she topped them with a secret sauce and made her Buffalo restaurant the self-proclaimed home of the original Buffalo wing.

This is the story most often told, but it may not be the whole story. Black entrepreneur John Young had a thriving restaurant on Buffalo’s east side called Wings and Things with his own secret mambo sauce back in the 1960s. It was popular with the late night crowd and even Buffalo Bills football players.

Though the restaurant is no longer there, Buffalo Bike Tours offers a wing ride May through October to learn more about the city’s secret chicken history, with tastings at several local wing spots — and no, the Anchor Bar isn’t one of them .

Ride a roller coaster along an Olympic bobsleigh track in Lake Placid

Fortunately, no Olympic training is required to experience the bobsleigh track, which was used at both the 1932 and 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics.

In 2020, the country’s longest mountain roller coaster, the Cliffside Coaster, made its debut at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, and now visitors can strap themselves into a vehicle and hurtle through the course’s twists and turns while an audio system provides commentary on how it was on Being an Olympian rolling down the same cliff path.

The Corning Museum contains over 50,000 objects spanning 3500 years © Kit Leong / Shutterstock

Make your own glass at the Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass in the Finger Lakes has put glass in a class of its own. It is not only the most extensive glass collection in the world with more than 50,000 objects from 3500 years of history, but also the leading library on this material – and one of the best glass processing schools. Visitors can take part in the action and create their own glass, be it a glass-blown ornament or a sandblasted sculpture.

Visit the mansions along the Gatsby Gold Coast on Long Island’s north shore

Tucked away among Long Island’s sprawling suburbs lies a world of opulence if you know where to look. In Huntington, tour the French-style grounds and gardens of Oheka Castle (which you’ll recognize instantly from several films and celebrity weddings), then explore the museum and planetarium at Centerport’s Vanderbilt Mansion or marvel at the Guggenheim Estate at the Sands Point Preserve – better known as East Egg from the book The Great Gatsby.

Watch the incoming tides from the Montauk Point Lighthouse

If Montauk really is the end, as it’s called, then the Montauk Point Lighthouse — the oldest in New York State, dating back to 1796 — gives a glimpse of what lies beyond. Located on Long Island’s easternmost tip, the view from above encompasses both the Atlantic Ocean and Block Island Sound, showing the converging tides of the two bodies of water, a natural phenomenon.

A boy and girl look at baseball player name tags inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum offers a scavenger hunt for fans wanting to explore the history of their favorite team © Bob Rowan / Getty Images

Tour the Cooperstown National Baseball Hall of Fame

The National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum is located in a one-stop-light town in central New York — which is fitting, since the museum has more than 40,000 three-dimensional artifacts, not to mention all the baseball cards that move at a slower pace point out life and the simplicity with which the sport began.

For fans who want to explore the history of their favorite team, the museum offers the Starting Nine Scavenger Hunt, which takes you to the most surprising objects from your team’s past.

Learn about herbs at the Cornell Botanic Gardens

With more than 500 acres of gardens and natural settings at the Cornell Botanic Gardens — all free to visitors — the Ivy League campus has a whole second person under its private school facade. A delightful find is a herb garden with themed beds, including one organized around literary references in poetry, prose, myth, folklore and drama The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Enjoy international cuisine at the Culinary Institute of America

People walk over the sprawling earth sculpture Opus 40 in Saugerties, in the heart of New York's Hudson Valley
The building material for Opus 40 was extracted from the local bluestone quarry © fdastudillo / Getty Images

Stroll the earthworks of Opus 40 in Saugerties

Dubbed the Stonehenge of North America by some, the 14-acre opus 40 earth sculpture, created by artist Harvey Fite over the course of nearly 40 years, strikes a balance between the enchanting and the slightly mysterious. Harvested from the bluestone of the local quarry and designed to honor the stone carvings of ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures, the site – a sculpture park and museum – also hosts concerts, theatrical performances and nature walks.

Celebrate women’s rights in national parks

New York State has a strong connection to the women’s suffrage movement. Seneca Falls was the site of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention, and the city’s Women’s Rights National Historical Park is a testament to the hard work and sacrifice of these American pioneer women.

Other notable sites include the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park, which includes the abolitionist icon’s home, church, and grave, and Val-Kill in Hyde Park, also known as the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, where guests stroll the exact grounds walk, which the first lady walked on every day.

See frozen Niagara Falls

The force of Mother Nature roars over Niagara Falls as 3160 tons of water pours over the natural wonder every second. (Yes, second.)

The only thing more magical than seeing that strength is seeing everything come to a halt — or at least the illusion of it. During certain weather events, the surface water and fog falling through the air turns to ice, and the chunks of ice collect underneath, stacking up to 40 feet thick. Technically the water is still flowing, but it sure makes for some stunning photos.

Photo taken from above of a tour boat with tourists passing between islands in Thousand Islands National Park, St. Lawrence River, between Ontario, Canada and New York State, USA.
Thousand Islands cruises offer views of everything from historic castles to modern mansions © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Sail along the Canadian border through the Thousand Islands

Uncle Sam Boat Tours has sailed Canada’s Thousand Islands from Alexandria Bay, New York for nearly 100 years. The cruises meander along the St. Lawrence River between the US and Canada, offering views of everything from historic castles to modern mansions, with an optional (but highly recommended) stop at the unfinished 120-room Boldt Castle, complete with Drawbridge and Italian Garden.

Complete the Fire Tower Challenge in the Adirondacks

On various peaks in the Adirondacks are 25 fire towers that were once used by rangers to spot wildfires. They are no longer used and have been upgraded to aerial viewpoints to give hikers an even higher perspective of the sweeping mountain vistas. And those who tick them all off their list will receive a coveted patch.

Find peace, love and music at Woodstock

Known today as the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the Catskills site of the 1969 Woodstock festival is about a 90-minute drive southwest of the namesake town of Bethel. Reflect on the events of the turbulent decade in the festival-themed museum or experience your own musical bliss in the 16,000-seat outdoor amphitheater.

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