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14 Best Cities in New York

Written by Shandley McMurray
Aug 7, 2020

While most visit the Empire State to catch some of that one-of-a-kind, New York City vibe, this East Coast gem boasts so much more than its largest, noisiest, and most iconic metropolis. From Long Island City's mini MoMa to Lake Placid's tranquil beauty to Ithaca's perfect mix of nature and culture, New York state boasts a bevy of great cities to explore.

No matter what you fancy — from eating good food to antiquing to hiking, you'll find it in lovely New York state. Go skiing in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains, swim in the Finger Lakes, or mow down on excellent dishes in foodie-friendly Rochester. Love to shop? You can practice some retail therapy in each of the best cities on this list, especially the Big Apple.

Not sure where to start? Choose the perfect places to visit with our list of the best cities in New York.

1. New York City

Sunset over New York City

The proverbial apple of New York State's eye, Manhattan is the most popular tourist destination, not to mention one of the best places to visit in New York State. It's also one of the best cities in New York and, arguably, the world. It's in New York City that you'll find literally everything your heart desires — from the rarest antique cufflinks to the most delicious entrée to grace your lips.

The Big Apple also offers unbeatable museums. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (a.k.a. the MoMA), Guggenheim Museum, and American Museum of Natural History are three of the best museums in New York City.

You can run laps in Central Park, get lost in the Ramble, watch the sea lions perform at the Central Park Zoo, catch a show on Broadway, admire the view from atop the Empire State Building, board the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty close up, and shop till you drop on Madison or Park Avenue. Head to SoHo for more eclectic finds among the bespoke shops and galleries.

When hunger pangs hit, grab a bite in Hell's Kitchen or break the bank with a meal at the Momofuku Ko or Jean-Georges. A stay at the divine The St. Regis New York hotel will top off your vacay in style, though it may leave you with little cash left to get home.

2. Lake Placid

Adirondack chairs on the shore of Mirror Lake, Lake Placid

Technically more of a village than a city, Lake Placid is perhaps the most beautiful town in New York State. If you're looking for a scenic spot to eat good food, shop in small boutiques, and spend the day skiing down hills or kayaking on a lake, Lake Placid is the place to be.

Lush forests and giant, craggy mountains replace the tall skyscrapers found in bigger cities (ahem, Manhattan). The cacophony of horn-honking and shouting is traded for serene sounds of snow falling or birds chirping in trees. With such a tranquil and stunning backdrop, Lake Placid is the place where worries melt away. No wonder it was chosen to host the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980.

Not surprisingly, the top attractions in Lake Placid are Olympic based. We dare you not to hold your breath while watching young skiers practice jumping and flying (as far as the length of a football field) at the impressive Olympic Jumping Complex. In the center of town, you'll find the massive Olympic Center. It boasts skating rinks and a museum dedicated to past Olympic athletes.

The Olympic Sports Complex is an amazing place. This is where bobsled, luge, and skeleton events take place. The best part? You don't have to be an athlete to participate. Sign up for a turn on the track or jump on the soon-to-be-opened, Lake Placid Mountain Coaster, which is a bit more controlled.

When you're not being immersed in sports knowledge, head to nearby Mirror Lake. A stunner in all seasons, this crisp, clear, sparkling lake is especially picture-perfect during the colorful fall.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Lake Placid

3. Buffalo

McKinley Monument on Niagara Square in Buffalo

For years, Buffalo has had a bit of a bad rap. Once an economic powerhouse (it literally got its power from Niagara Falls), the city fell upon hard times, which resulted in empty buildings and a few less than stellar areas of town.

Today, those times are far behind this bustling city, the second largest in the state. Architectural masterpieces by Frank Lloyd Wright, HH Richardson, and Louis Sullivan have been restored, and its professional sports teams entice fans to visit from across the country.

Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Buffalo attractions include inspiring art galleries and museums, a vibrant entertainment scene, and fabulous restaurants. Keep the kids happy with a trip to the Buffalo Zoo. Try the city's namesake chicken wings and add a trip to the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens to your sightseeing itinerary.

Discover more about the city's brief history as a leader in the auto industry at the Pierce-Arrow Museum. And if you're an art lover, hit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Insider's tip: Most visitors add a trip to the nearby Niagara Falls to their journey (the famous landmark is only a half-hour drive north).

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Buffalo

4. Ithaca

View over Cornell University in Ithaca

Ithaca offers visitors a truly inclusive vacation filled with shopping, entertainment, academia, and some of the most gorgeous scenery in the state. This fun college town is set on the stunning southern edge of Cayuga Lake, the largest of New York's Finger Lakes. A tranquil city, so beautiful, your camera will quiver with excitement, you'll want to spend days, not hours, in this picturesque spot.

Ithaca is most notably home to Ivy League Cornell University and Ithaca College. Imagine being surrounded by deep gorges and cascading waterfalls as you hit the books. Not a bad backdrop to help quell exam worries.

Feeling stressed? Hit the lake on a paddleboard, head out for a hike, or try your hand at fishing. No wonder the city's slogan, "Ithaca is gorges," is stuck on bumper stickers everywhere.

As a college town, you can expect to be amazed by Ithaca's bevy of impressive museums and art galleries. Cornell's historic clock tower and Johnson Art Museum draw visitors, as do the city's Museum of the Earth, Sciencenter, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Cayuga Nature Center.

When wandering the streets, though, travelers will notice something even more eclectic than the artifacts they toured — an atmosphere that mixes creativity with academia and an ultimate bohemian vibe. You'll find festivals galore, a pedestrian mall (a.k.a. Ithaca Commons), and canoe and kayak rentals.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ithaca

5. Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs | Doug Kerr / photo modified

Want to feel young again? Take a dip in the waters of Saratoga Springs. Believed by the Mohawk and Iroquois tribes to have healing powers, the waters from the springs in this pretty city were once thought to cure diabetes, heartburn, and kidney ailments, among others. While none of these claims have been proven, they did help turn Saratoga Springs into a top New York State tourist destination by the 19th century.

Today, visitors get a chance to test these theories themselves at the Roosevelt Baths & Spa, located in Saratoga Springs Spa State Park. Not a fan of spas or the hefty price tags that often accompany a visit? You can find nearly 21 mineral springs within the city.

When you aren't trying to sip from or bathe in the fountain of youth, head to the city's beautiful Yaddo Gardens or thrill your inner car lover at The Saratoga Automobile Museum.

Accommodation: Where ot Stay in Saratoga Springs

6. Rochester

Rochester

Rochester is a city built for fun, especially if you're a kid. First off, it boasts a thundering, 96-foot waterfall (a.k.a. High Falls). If you ever want to feel small, stand next to this beauty!

Next up is the youthful and super fun Strong National Museum of Play. Who wouldn't want to visit a museum dedicated to toys and games? This awesome spot even boasts the National Toy Hall of Fame and World Video Game Hall of Fame.

Seabreeze Amusement Park is another winner with families, as is the expansive Seneca Park Zoo and Rochester Museum & Science Center.

Traveling without little ones in tow? You'll have a blast at the historic homes, George Eastman Museum, and Highland Park. Head out for a hike, admire the nearby waterfalls, or play a round of golf. You won't get bored. We promise!

A hub for foodies, Rochester also offers a vast array of fantastic restaurants. Be sure to try a bunch of them to get a taste of all the city has to offer. The food at Sinbad's Mediterranean Cuisine is divine, as is the fine fare served at Pasta Villa.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rochester

7. Niagara Falls

View of Niagara Falls from the USA side

Pretty much everyone has heard of Niagara Falls. A cool, 150,000 gallons of water plunge over this famous landmark waterfall every second. Yes, you read that right. Every SECOND! Everyone should really see these exceptional falls at least once in their life.

While the Canadian Niagara Falls is deemed to have the best view of the watery wonder, the American city of the same name offers a quieter, more resplendent experience. It's been touted the "Honeymoon Capital of the World" for good reason.

Obviously, the main tourist draw is the remarkable falls. Whether you take a boat tour to the base, visit the Cave of the Winds for a wet and up-close view of Bridal Veil Falls, or book a helicopter tour to view the falls from above, you won't be disappointed by a trip to this small city.

The falls aren't the only beauty to be had in this gorgeous region. While in town, be sure to schedule time to visit Goat Island and walk the Niagara Gorge Trail.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Niagara Falls

8. Syracuse

Downtown Syracuse

The fourth largest city in New York state, Syracuse boasts all the impressive elements of a big city: interesting museums (i.e. the Erie Canal Museum and the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology), good restaurants, and boutique shops. It's also home to the 43-acre Rosamond Gifford Zoo, which offers enough indoor attractions to make it a good bet for keeping kids entertained in all types of weather.

The downtown core features shops, cafés, and restaurants, as well as beautiful historic buildings that have been lovingly restored to evoke the simpler days of old. Outdoorsy folks may be more taken with Onondaga Lake Park, Clark Reservation State Park, and Hiawatha Lake, where they can swim, fish, boat, climb cliffs, or hike through the woods.

For many, one of the highlights of a Syracuse visit is a trip to Destiny USA, a humongous shopping mall and entertainment complex. In addition to shopping till you drop, visitors to this retail utopia can drive a go-kart or swing through a rope suspension course.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Syracuse

9. Albany

New York State Capitol in Albany

Beautiful Albany is a historic haven mixed with modern architectural marvels (we're looking at you, The Egg and Empire State Plaza). The New York State Capitol is perhaps its most famous structure, a majestic building set atop State Street Hill. It took over 32 years to build this masterpiece during the late 1800s.

Walking around the city's streets is like traveling through a history book. You'll spot remarkable homes, churches, and other noteworthy buildings peppered throughout. Don't miss the incredible New York State Museum. It's been deemed the oldest state museum in the U.S. and sits in the most unique and striking building.

Insider's tip: Board a river cruise to see the city from the water. It's set upon the west bank of the Hudson River, and there are numerous cruises to choose from.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Albany

10. Poughkeepsie

Poughkeepsie

The largest city in the Hudson River Valley, Poughkeepsie is a keeper (sorry, we had to). Once home to Franklin D. Roosevelt, it's also a hub of historical significance. tourists flock here to visit his prior house and the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. They're located in Springwood, a suburb where the iconic president was once based.

Even more popular than FDR's house, though, is the outstanding (and super long) Walkaway Over the Hudson (or Walkway, as it's known to locals). The world's longest footbridge, the Walkway was first built as a railroad in 1889. It was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the tracks in 1974 and opened as a State Historic Park in 2009. You can't beat the views of the Catskills and Hudson Highlands from this gorgeous spot, which hovers 212 meters above the Hudson River.

While in town, be sure to visit the expansive and picturesque Locus Grove Estate, a museum and nature preserve featuring an Italian Villa built in the mid-1850s.

Insider's tip: Save time for a show at the historic Bardavon Opera House (circa 1869).

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Poughkeepsie

11. Binghamton

Aerial view of Binghamton, NY

Science and technology buffs will love Binghamton. Touring its streets, you can virtually feel the creativity seep into your soul. This is the city where IBM was born, not to mention the technology behind virtual reality.

Binghamton is at the meeting place of the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers. Creative thinkers from the mid-1800s built a 97-mile canal, the Chenango Canal, to join Binghamton to Utica. Today, visitors can hike along the five-mile Towpath Trail and visit the self-guided museum in nearby Hamilton.

The Phelps Mansion Museum (once home to successful businessman and mayor, Sherman D. Phelps) is a grandiose, 19th-century masterpiece that begs to be photographed. Inside, you'll get a glimpse into what life was like in the gilded era.

While in town, be sure to picnic in Otsiningo Park after entertaining the kids at the Discovery Center or Ross Park Zoo.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Binghamton

12. Cooperstown

Pitcher and catcher statues at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown | jimcchou / photo modified

You'll want to spend at least two days in charming Cooperstown. Most notable as being home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, this small city is a hit with baseball afficionados and children of all ages.

Catch a game at Doubleday Field, which some have dubbed the birthplace of baseball. Then knock it out of the park by treating your kids to a day riding bumper boats, driving go-carts, and playing mini golf at Cooperstown Fun Park. Cool off with a dip in Ostego Lake, where you can fish, boat, or kayak.

You'll feel the artsy vibe oozing through the walls of this tiny town's well-established shops, cafés and restaurants. Be sure to take the time to sit back, relax, and let it all seep in.

Accommoadtion: Where to Stay in Cooperstown

13. Montauk

Montauk Lighthouse

Talk about idyllic. Montauk is the place where worries disappear. Flanked by the shimmering Long Island Sound, spotted with sandy (yet slightly pebbly) beaches, and overflowing with charm, this lovely slice of heaven is a weekender's dream destination. It's located on the eastern tip of the South Fork in East Hampton.

A laid-back, seaside haven, Montauk is a popular summer destination, especially for frazzled New Yorkers looking for an escape. Popular things to do in Montauk include beachin', seal watching in Montauk Point State Park, swimming, visiting the iconic Montauk Lighthouse, and eating lots and lots of delicious food.

Camp Hero State Park is another must-see. Once a WWII military base, the park is home to trails that traipse through wetlands and forests.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Montauk

14. Long Island City

Long Island City

Long Island City is the Big Apple's smaller, quieter cousin, which technically resides in one of its boroughs: Queens. To get here, hop on the G train from Brooklyn, or the W, N or 7 trains from Manhattan.

Gantry Plaza State Park is one of the city's main attractions. It offers visitors a place to stretch out, walk, run, play basketball, or sip on a coffee. The best part? All this is done with an incredible backdrop of the New York City skyline and 59th street Bridge.

The MoMa PS1 is a treat for art lovers. It's a much smaller, more scaled back version of Manhattan's MoMa where you'll be treated to experimental and contemporary art. Still craving creativity? Head to Sculpture Center, a contemporary arts museum that's sure to inspire.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Long Island City

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Get Outside in New York State: It's easy to stay active and enjoy the outdoors in New York. With a bevy of beautiful lakes in which to swim, kayak, and fish, you'll be set for summer. In winter, head for the hills and hit the slopes at the numerous first-rate ski resorts. You're assured outdoor fun in every season.

Where to Stay in New York: Now that you know where you want to go, it's time to figure out where you'll stay. From top-notch luxury to more affordable small-town inns, you're sure to find a perfect place among these top resorts in New York State. Looking to spend more of your time checking out the scenery of the Adirondacks and Catskills? Try one of these lovely resorts in upstate New York.

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