Often confused for the alpha world city that occupies its southeastern corner, New York State is the vast hinterland that spreads out to the north and west from this megalopolis. This also includes the expansive coastal wonderland to its east that is known as Long Island, home to many beaches, adorable coastal communities, and homes of the rich and famous.
While your experiences in the Big Apple will create indelible memories that will undoubtedly rank among the highlights of your trip to the USA, taking the time to explore the smaller cities upstate that New Yorkers escape to during their precious time off will deepen your understanding of what makes this corner of America tick.
New York State, while not overly large compared to other states further afield to the south and west, it is positively monstrous compared to most of the states in New England, so if you are entering from this region, give yourself plenty of time explore the many modern attractions and natural wonders that exist within its borders.
While New York City is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, historical and culturally significant sights await the intrepid explorer all over New York State. From battlefields to horse racing, chicken wings to architecture, and Ivy League Schools to stunning lakes beset by numerous vineyards, this central portion of the Mid-Atlantic Region will engage you no matter where you choose to travel.
What To Do – Culture & History
While New York City is covered in intimate detail inside its own city article, one sight that you should see before leaving the Big Apple is the Statue of Liberty. Symbolic of New York City being a beacon of freedom and opportunity for incoming immigrants arriving by sea, this colossus was actually a gift to America by the government of France, as it was shipped over in pieces and installed in 1886.
Visitors can ascend the statue from the interior and get an excellent view of the skyline of New York City, making a trip out there the perfect way to end an extended visit to one of the greatest cities in the world.
While New York City is home to many well-heeled businesspeople, celebrities, and other entertainers, the pressure of big city life and the stifling heat in the summer have led many of these individuals to establish second homes in an eastern stretch of southern Long Island known as The Hamptons.
Being a series of towns situated on excellent oceanfront property, they contain numerous mansions that collectively make this region one of the most expensive real estate markets in the nation. While cobbling together a down payment for one of these bad boys may be sadly out of the question, you can still enjoy spacious sea beaches, art galleries with inspired works from local artists, and the trappings that wealth and celebrity bring with them to this collection of charming seaside communities.
After you have had your fill of attempting to star watch on Long Island, begin your voyage upstate by making your first stop in Saratoga Springs. This community is famed for its natural hot springs, which granted this stately town part of its name. Because of this fortunate natural property, it quickly became a retreat from the urban madness of NYC in the days of yore, which also caused it to develop other attractions like horse racing, another quality for which it is well known today.
The town is also close by to the site of one of the largest battles fought in the American Revolutionary War. In 1777, American forces executed a pincer manoeuvre on a British battalion that was sweeping south from Canada with the intention of separating the north/south supply lines that was sustaining the Continental Army.
This battle ended badly for the Brits, effectively shifting momentum in the conflict towards the Americans, as this success led France into the conflict. The battlefield is located a short 15 mile drive from town, giving your leisurely time in Saratoga Springs an element of learning as well.
Situated more than 70 miles west of the state capital of Albany in its bucolic rural hinterland, Cooperstown has quite a few things going for it: its position at the foot of a gorgeous lake, weathered brick and stone buildings that grace its downtown, and houses that almost exude the spirit of Americana.
What this small burg is best known for on the world stage though is the fact that it is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, a museum paying homage to what is widely considered to be this nation’s official pastime. While much of the displays here detail the long storied history of Major League Baseball, it also pays tribute to game’s humble roots and its growth around the world.
Continuing westward to the Finger Lakes region, take time to drop by Cornell University in Ithaca, as this institution of higher learning is one of America’s highly vaunted Ivy League colleges. Sitting amidst glacially carved lands and within close proximity of Cayuga Lake, this storied school is a pleasure to stroll, with ivy-covered walls adorning architecturally sharp structures mixing in well with its natural surroundings.
Culture hunters will want to explore the Johnson Art Museum, which houses an impressive collection of art from Asia on its fifth floor, but it also has a respectable amount of works from other corners of the world as well, making it one of the most significant university museums in America.
As you traverse New York State westward towards Buffalo, chances are you will eventually come across the Erie Canal, an ambitious act of engineering that changed the economic fortunes of this region for the better in the 19th century. While shipping interests no longer rely upon this waterway, which also opened up America beyond the Appalachians to settlers, it is still enthusiastically plied by sailors in yachts. If you are an avid boater, it is an outstanding way to get in sync with the spirit of the rural portions of New York State.
Rochester was one city that benefited in a big way from the success of the Erie Canal, as massive factories sprouted up here like mushrooms in the years that followed. Waves of immigrants that moved here to populate these machinations of industry brought their culture with them, and with it, various cuisines that blended together over time.
Combined with culture of convenience and fast food that dominated in the past century, it gave birth to a culinary monstrosity (but a delicious one at that!) known as the Garbage Plate. While Nick Tahou’s Hots is the official birthplace of this calorie bomb, it can be found all over the city. A Garbage Plate consists of your choice of meat atop macaroni salad, home fries and onions, with hot sauce, ketchup, and/or mustard dressing a concoction that makes poutine look like health food by comparison!
Located on the eastern shore of Lake Erie and downriver from world famous Niagara Falls, Buffalo is the largest city in Upstate New York. It owes this fact to its position at the western terminus of the Erie Canal, allowing industry to explode in the decades following its completion. A wealth of architecture is the endearing legacy of Buffalo’s prosperous past, and while some of the building stock has developed a gritty edge in recent years due to the negative effects of deindustrialization, it is still well worth seeing, with Buffalo City hall being one of its most commanding structures.
Finally, if it weren’t for a moment of pub style culinary innovation back in the 1960’s, the bar appetizer staple known as Buffalo Wings would have never been brought into being. The Anchor Bar is where this nourishing snack was birthed, so pay your respects with a tall pint of Bud and a basket full of spicy, meaty goodness – all in all, the perfect way to end off your cultural tour of New York State.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
After having an epic feed of breaded chicken wings and sleeping off the subsequent aftereffects, begin your tour of New York’s natural wonders by making the short drive north to Niagara Falls, one of the most famed and romantic waterfalls in the nation. Having said this, most of the urban attractions found here are on the Canadian side of the river, as are the Horseshoe Falls. The American Falls are quieter and less touristed than their cousins on the other side of the border, so if you are seeking an impressive cataract without the crowds, you will find yourself at home here.
The Finger Lakes, the region where the formerly profiled Ithaca is located, is a series of long, narrow lakes formed by erosive action of glaciers in the last ice age. Letchworth State Park, found 60 miles east of Buffalo, is a gorge so deep that it is termed the Grand Canyon of the East, numerous waterfalls dot the landscape, including several in the Ithaca area, and vineyards thrive on the shores of the shores of these elongated lakes, which will please the nature lover in your party.
While the denizens of New York City lack mountain getaways that their western counterparts have within easy reach, they make the most of the highland terrain found in the Adirondacks. Adirondack Park may be a long drive from the city, but it is well worth it for outdoor people that are stuck living in NYC, as this parcel of land is the largest tract of government protected territory in the lower 48. Outstanding hikes of all lengths, climbing, boating and even skiing can all be done here, making it worthy place to spend up some of your valuable time enjoying.
If you wish to spend a day at the beach, but you don’t want to stray far from NYC, then heading out to Fire Island National Seashore will prove to be a worthwhile excursion. Being a barrier island, there is no shortage of sand to stretch out upon, and a local visitor center expounds upon the significance of the dune system here for those looking to learn more about this special place.