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9 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Rochester, NY

Written by Lana Law
Jan 16, 2019

With a 95-foot-high waterfall thundering over a cliff in the center of downtown, Rochester is a memorable place to visit. The city is also fortunate to have a large number of well-preserved historical buildings, great museums, and wonderful places to eat. Downtown is easy to navigate, and many of the key attractions are a short distance from each other. A visit here, combined with a day trip to nearby Pittsford and the Erie Canal, can make for a very enjoyable weekend getaway. For ideas to help plan your trip, see our list of the top things to do in Rochester.

1. Eastman Museum & Mansion

Eastman Museum | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company and the man who brought photography into the lives of everyday people, lived in Rochester. Today, his incredible Colonial Revival mansion is a museum and gallery, where visitors can learn about the history of photography, visit galleries, and tour the beautiful home and gardens.

A variety of galleries on the history of photography will be of interest to photographers. But even non-photographers will enjoy listening to staff members recount interesting stories of Eastman and his development and marketing of film and cameras. On display are examples of various types of photos and cameras from throughout the years. Cameras and other items donated by Ansel Adams, including his very first camera given to him as a child, are on display.

Wandering through the mansion, you can see how Eastman lived, with some rooms still decorated in period. Other rooms have been turned into special exhibits, including one room that allows you to walk into the box of a camera obscura and see the inner workings of a camera. Other unique items include Eastman's pipe organ and a tiny old elevator hidden behind a door, which you can still use. On the main level are movie theaters offering special showings and a cafe serving homemade sandwiches, coffee, and other beverages.

Address: 900 East Avenue, Rochester, New York

Official Site: www.eastman.org

2. The Strong National Museum of Play

The Strong National Museum of Play | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Focusing on the history of play, The Strong is a cross between a traditional history museum and an interactive children's museum, and can be enjoyed by adults and children. Exhibits range from Sesame Street, the Berenstain Bears, right through to the eGameRevolution. The museum is also home to the National Toy Hall of Fame and the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

The Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden is the largest of its kind in New York state. This year-round indoor exhibit offers a chance to see butterflies, as well as turtles, a panther chameleon, and birds, as you wander along the path. Other points of interest in the museum are the coral reef aquarium and the Elaine Wilson Carousel and Strong Express Train. Rides require a small fee. Ensure that you allow plenty of time to visit. With over 285,000 square feet, this museum feels massive.

Address: One Manhatten Square, Rochester, New York

Official Site: www.museumofplay.org

3. Memorial Art Gallery

Memorial Art Gallery | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Memorial Art Gallery has a diverse collection of art and is one of the key cultural establishments in the city. The museum was founded in 1913 and today holds more than 12,000 items in its collection. Pieces on display range from 17th-century paintings to ancient drums from Borneo, right through to mummies from ancient Egypt. The collection is spread out over two floors. Don't miss the pipe organ in the main room on the second floor. Traveling exhibits come through on a regular basis, so be sure to check the museum's calendar prior to visiting.

Address: 500 University Avenue, Rochester, New York

Official Site: https://mag.rochester.edu

4. Highland Park & the Lamberton Conservatory

Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

One of Rochester's most beautiful public parks, Highland Park is set on 19.6 acres of rolling hills, with massive oak, pine, and maple trees; walking trails; and open spaces. It's a wonderful place to go for a walk on the wooded and winding trails, or simply soak up the serenity. In fall, when the leaves are changing color, it's spectacular.

One of the highlights of the park is the Lamberton Conservatory. The original building with its beautiful glass dome and windows was built in 1911, but was completely rebuilt according to the original plans in 2008. The atrium, filled with tropical plants, makes a pleasant indoor escape on cold days.

Address: Highland Park Conservancy, 180 Reservoir Avenue, Rochester, New York

Official Site: www.highlandparkconservancy.org

5. High Falls

High Falls | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Rochester's unique position on the Genesee River means one of the area's most beautiful natural attractions can be found right downtown. The rushing river tumbles 95 feet off the escarpment at High Falls, which is surrounded by historic 19th-century buildings.

The best view of the falls is from High Falls Terrace Park, where you can look across to the falls from a high vantage point. Restaurants perched on this side of the gorge are just a short walk away from the park and make a nice lunch stop.

For a close-up view of the water rushing over the edge of the falls, head across the river to the High Falls Lookout near the Gorsline Building. For another view over the falls, walk out on the pedestrian-only Pont de Rennes Bridge.

6. Rochester Public Market

Rochester Public Market | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Rochester Public Market is a hive of activity on market days: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. This year-round market has been a Rochester institution since 1905. Over 200 vendors sell all manner of fresh food in stalls located in outdoor sheds and one large indoor hall. It's an ideal place to find the freshest local and international produce along with meats, seafood, and cheeses from specialty producers. In addition to fresh food, there are cafes, food stands, and even a florist on-site. Saturday is by far the busiest day, and parking can be a challenge, so go early if you can.

Address: 280 North Union Street, Rochester, New York

Official Site: www.cityofrochester.gov/publicmarket

7. Erie Canal in nearby Pittsford

Erie Canal in Pittsford | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Pittsford is a historic village just a short drive from central Rochester and is perfect for a day trip. Here, you'll find quaint shops and restaurants lining the picturesque Erie Canal, along with a historic downtown. First settled in 1776, the village has done a good job of retaining its historic charms. In summer, this is a pleasant spot to park the car and stroll around, stop in at local boutiques, or have lunch and watch the boats motor by.

8. National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House

Susan B. Anthony Square Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Susan B. Anthony lived in this restored heritage house with one of her sisters. This is the location of the famous arrest of Ms. Anthony, when she attempted to vote in 1872. Tours are available daily. Note that the house has three levels, and climbing stairs is required. Tours take about an hour to complete and are led by docents. The home next door was owned by another of her sisters.

Down the street is the Susan B. Anthony Square Park, with towering trees and a bronzed sculpture titled "Let's Have Tea" by local artist Pepsy Kettavong, featuring Ms. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.

Address: 19 Madison Street, Rochester, New York

Official Site: http://susanbanthonyhouse.org

9. Unique Dining and Restaurants

Eggplant dish

You don't have to go far to find some excellent and interesting dining options in Rochester, be it casual or fine dining. For fine dining combined with history, try The Club Room, where exposed brick, wooden ceilings and black-and-white photos take you back to the era of the 1930s and 40s. With a varied menu to suit all tastes, The Revelry is another great dining choice with indoor and outdoor space in summer. It also serves a tasty brunch. And for a full selection of tasty, casual food, from breakfast to dinner, head to the Highland Park Diner. This traditional looking diner is a bit of an institution in the city.

Where to Stay in Rochester for Sightseeing

Rochester's main attractions are relatively close to one another, and it's an easy city to get around. Staying in the older historical part of the city near the museums is preferable. Below are some highly rated hotels in good locations.

  • Luxury Hotels: A top choice for both luxury and location is The Strathallen Rochester Hotel & Spa - a Double Tree by Hilton. This hotel is situated just down the street from the Memorial Art Gallery in a beautiful and historic part of the city. Rooms are large and come with balconies, and hotel amenities include a rooftop fire pit and indoor pool.

    For a more intimate atmosphere, perfect for couples, try the Inn on Broadway This boutique property features 25 tastefully decorated rooms and offers exceptional service. The hotel's restaurant, Tournedos, is one of the city's best dining spots.

    Handy to the Amtrak station and connected to the convention center is the recently renovated Hyatt Regency Rochester. At the top-end of the mid-range category, this hotel is well located in the heart of downtown Rochester and is also close to the Blue Cross Arena. High Falls is only a short stroll away.

  • Mid-Range Hotels: Located right near Rochester University is Staybridge Suites. This riverfront hotel features suites complete with fridges and microwaves and a separate sitting area. Monday through Wednesday, a complimentary evening reception is held with light bites and beverages.

    Located nearby is the Hilton Garden Inn Rochester/University & Medical Center. This recently built hotel features modern and comfortable rooms and is located in the new College Town complex, close to numerous attractions.

    The East Avenue Inn & Suites offers recently renovated rooms in a fantastic location. The hotel has a complimentary shuttle that will drive you anywhere within a three-mile radius which, considering the hotel's location, takes in a majority of the main attractions in Rochester. The hotel also has a free shuttle to the airport, Amtrak, and bus stations.

  • Budget Hotels: Budget hotels can be found a short distance outside the downtown core. Access to the city is via Interstates, so travel time is relatively short. The Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Rochester Airport - University offers spacious rooms, a decent breakfast, and an indoor pool. Several types of rooms are available.

    Another good option is the Holiday Inn Express Rochester - University Area, with an indoor pool and complimentary breakfast. A bit more economical and a little farther out, the Econo Lodge is right off Interstate 80 but has quiet, comfortable rooms and offers a basic continental breakfast.

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Upstate New York: In this area of New York, you can find interesting cities, all with historic architecture and traditional and vibrant city centers, perfect for a weekend getaway. For some ideas, see our Top Attractions in Buffalo, and nearby Niagara Falls. And just an hour from Rochester is Syracuse, with a full range of attractions, basketball and football games, and incredible shopping.

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