Though New York State’s capital is often overshadowed by the five boroughs, Albany is a destination of its own, especially if you’re looking for a quieter getaway only 3 hours north of New York City. Albany is home to nearly three centuries of legislative history, meaning there are plenty of well-preserved historic sites to visit within a few blocks of one another.
With the Adirondack Mountains to the north and the Catskills to the south, the city’s Upper Hudson River Valley location is rich in Native American culture and outdoor recreation. Albany is also not all museums and mansions — there are plenty of other things to do in Albany NY. Alongside art and historical exhibits, the city’s downtown is full of international restaurants, nightlife and cultural venues.
Easy to reach from New York City and anywhere in New England or the Mid-Atlantic, Albany is a unique crossroads of American history and emerging development; you’ll find plenty of opportunities to learn from the city’s relics and kick back among locals, all in one day.
Here are 14 things to to in Albany NY that you and your crew will enjoy.
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN ALBANY, NY
- Best Downtown: Hampton Inn & Suites Albany-Downtown is located in Albany city center, moments away from the city’s most popular attractions. You’ll find a free breakfast and onsite restaurants here as well.
- Best Pool: Hilton Albany features an indoor pool, an onsite restaurant, and a great location in Albany’s city center.
- Best Historic Hotel: At the Renaissance Albany, you will be nestled in the heart of the Capital of New York state, in the historic DeWitt Clinton Hotel, and at the base of the Capital Steps. The Hotel combines old world charm with handsome dark wood paneling and stunning marble floors, with modern touches of convenience and flare.
NEW YORK STATE MUSEUM
If you’re planning to spend a day walking Albany’s downtown district, be sure to start with the New York State Museum, located on the city’s Empire State Plaza. In operation for nearly two centuries, the museum is the oldest state museum in the United States, and holds New York’s creative, anthropological, and historical archives.
Rotating exhibitions delve into the state’s many identities through storytelling, scholarship and a contemporary lens; you’ll find geology, paleontology and ecology equally represented alongside ethnography, archaeological studies and art from various periods. The museum’s collection goes far beyond exploring just New York State’s capital or its largest city to paint a full picture of a region formed by countless influences.
The museum is open by suggested donation from Tuesday to Sunday. Keep an eye on the institution’s programming schedule for tours and behind the scenes glances into exhibitions. Don’t miss the institution’s 4th Floor Gallery and Carousel, Cafe and gift shop; make sure to check for temporary closures before visiting all parts of the museum.
NEW YORK STATE CAPITOL
While touring the New York State Museum, time your visit to catch a guided tour of the New York State Capitol as well. Tours are available Monday through Friday and take place at 10am, noon, and 2pm, with advance reservations recommended.
The Capitol building has housed the state’s government since the late 19th century, and you’ll be able to walk through the legislative chambers as your guide introduces each room. The building’s opulent atmosphere and ornate interior add to its wealth of history as one of the country’s most significant government seats.
Once you get to State Street Hill, check in at the Information Desk in the Capitol lobby. After entering the building through its underground entrance, expect your tour to last about 45 minutes.
ALBANY INSTITUTE OF HISTORY & ART
After checking out Empire State Plaza, head a few blocks north to visit the Albany Institute of History & Art. Dating back to the late 18th century, this museum holds artifacts from all over the world, with a special focus on the roles they played in Upper Hudson Valley life.
You’ll learn about the history of the capital region, including its Native American culture and rise as an industrial area. The institute’s library is home to manuscripts, original prints, publications and other works documenting the voices of the area’s residents throughout the centuries.
Ongoing and temporary exhibitions bring artwork and historical objects of the Upper Hudson Valley, from the 17th century to the present day together, while public programming offers art classes and educational workshops. In celebration of the local landscape, the collection also features Hudson River School Art Trail paintings by Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and other well known painters from the region.
Stop by the museum shop on your way out to pick up a uniquely New York gift or souvenir created by a local artisan. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, and walk-ins are welcome along with advance reservations.
THE CORNING TOWER OBSERVATION DECK
Counting 42 stories, the Erastus Corning Tower is yet another attraction enjoy while in the Empire State Plaza area. Named for a former mayor of Albany who contributed significantly to the creation of the plaza itself, the tower is one of the most recognizable structures within Albany’s panoramas.
The tower’s Observation Deck is located on its highest floor and open to visitors from 10am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Visitors can take the observation Deck elevator from the ground floor on the Plaza and ascend to the very top of the building.
From the deck, you’ll take in not only views of the capital, but also the Adirondacks, Catskill Mountains and rolling Hudson Valley landscape. This is truly one of the best things to do in Albany NY.
SCHUYLER MANSION STATE HISTORIC SITE
Located on Albany’s Catherine Street just south of Lincoln Park, the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site invites visitors to tour an 18th century mansion and Revolutionary War site overlooking the Hudson River.
The mansion is the former home of one of the war’s four major generals, who went on to play a role in the Senate. Famous guests to the home include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, among others. You’ll be able to walk in the footsteps of the country’s Founding Fathers while enjoying the old-world feel of a colonial architectural marvel.
If you have the time, be sure to visit the Ten Broeck mansion as well; this home is located north of the Schuyler Mansion and was the home of one of Phillip Schuyler’s fellow major generals.
Guided tours are available, along with public programming and rotating exhibits. Drop by the onsite Visitor Center for a quick orientation to learn more about Schuyler before taking in the mansion itself; don’t miss the gift shop as you wrap up your visit.
Venture down to the banks of the Hudson to visit Albany’s chief Destroyer Escort navy ship, the USS Slater. After a long career that included World War II service and a foray to Greece, the ship found its permanent home in Albany.
Open to the public as a museum, the USS Slater displays various artifacts from the 563 Destroyers that served the Navy throughout the past century. The ship’s store offers gifts and souvenirs, and all proceeds go to continued preservation efforts.
The USS Slater is currently the last Destroyer Escort still afloat in the States, and stepping on board will be both a fascinating and historic experience.The ship is open seasonally, so make sure to double check opening dates before planning your visit.
Nothing makes you hungry like a museum tour, especially with the abundance of historic sites Albany has to offer. If you’re looking for a bite and a fun night out in Downtown Albany, spend an evening at The Yard Hatchet House, located just west of North Pearl Street. Sharpen your reflexes at the venue’s axe-throwing cages or try your luck at one of The Yard’s indoor lawn games.
In between rounds, enjoy frozen drinks, cocktails and a variety of beers and ciders to go with a savory bar snack or charcuterie board big enough for your whole group. Sample more hand-crafted, alcohol infused goodness for dessert with a BoozyMoo! Ice Cream cone.
If you’re looking for more privacy, you can even book one of the venue’s themed greenhouses, which include “Under the Sea” and even “Barbie World” and come with your own bluetooth speaker for the night. Greenhouses, hatchet throwing and lawn games can all be booked in advance, to reserve early to secure your spot.
Located within Albany’s Russell Sage College, Opalka Gallery showcases work by contemporary artists hailing from across the country. Jurored and curated shows feature emerging and established American artists in an intimate environment; the gallery is locally known as a cultural hub for artists, filmmakers, musicians, and other creatives.
The Opalka Gallery also hosts events regularly, including performances and tours. An exhibition tour or artist walkthrough is a unique opportunity to learn more about a particular show from the perspective of a curator or the maker themselves.
The Opalka Gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday, with extended evening hours on Thursdays. Parking is available adjacent to the college’s administration building.
ALBANY PINE BUSH PRESERVE
If you’re craving a day outside of the city, head to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, a natural area just west of the capital. These 3,350 acres nestled in between the Catskills and Adirondacks are locally known for a unique sand-dune landscape and 20 miles of easy, tranquil trails.
The onsite Discovery Center offers educational activities and exhibits about the ecology of the preserve, and special events are scheduled throughout the year. The Discovery Center is open daily, and features a shop with gifts celebrating the fauna and flora of the preserve.
Guided programs led by experienced educators are available for a more hands-on visit, and the preserve’s trails are open to hikers, cyclists and even snowshoers.
While exploring Downtown Albany on a sunny day, stop by Washington Park to take a stroll, people- watch and enjoy a take-out lunch. The park features walking paths and a lake, as well as seasonal events that bring the community together among its gardens.
The park’s Tulip Festival marks springtime, while theatre performances and a local farmer’s market take place in the warmer months. In winter, residents enjoy the ice skating rink that opens on Washington Park Lake.
Nearby Lark Street and Madison Avenue have an abundance of eateries to grab a bite to eat, and the park is a short walk from some of Downtown’s most popular destinations. After spending time at Empire State Plaza or the New York State Museum head a few blocks west to relax by the King Memorial Fountain or on the parade grounds.
As the largest venue of its kind in Northeastern New York and New England, the Palace Theatre is one of the centers of Albany’s cultural scene. The John Erbenson- designed building was built in the 1930’s, and restored in 2003.
Today, the theatre hosts diverse performing acts steps from Albany’s other attractions, making it the perfect way to end a history- filled day. Musicians of all genres take the stage on any given night under the building’s ornate ceilings.
If you’re driving, the closest place to park near the theatre is the Quackenbush Garage, located one block away.
HUDSON RIVER CRUISE
Dutch Apple Cruises is headquartered just south of the USS Slater, meaning you can combine two Hudson River adventures in one day. Inspired by early tourist vessels, the Dutch Apple II hosts sightseeing cruises along the Hudson.
General public cruises include sunset and specialty cruises and feature a full bar, as well as concessions. Adult and 21+ cruises are also on the schedule, and private cruises can be rented for special events.
Once onboard the Dutch Apple II, sit back and enjoy the green banks of Albany and neighboring Rensselaer. Daily cruise schedules can be found on the company’s website, and tickets are available in advance.
For those who get queasy or uneasy on the water and would prefer to stay on dry land, Dutch Apple also offers private walking tours of Downtown Albany. Tours include the city’s most popular historic sites and expert narration.
WALKING IN HAMILTON’S FOOTSTEPS
Hosted by the Historic Albany Foundation, Albany walking tours are your chance to explore the city from a local perspective, with expert insight. The Foundation’s mission is to preserve Albany’s most valued historical structures while introducing the public to the city’s rich past.
From May to September, the Foundation offers Walkabout Wednesdays and Throwback Thursday tours, as well as private guided tours that encompass different parts of the city. Visit historic neighborhoods, see more recent developments and compare and contrast the city’s changing identities.
As one of the best known structures in Albany, the Egg gets plenty of attention from visitors who appreciate it from the outside, without actually stepping foot inside the venue. Towering and instantly recognizable, the building’s surprising oval shape houses two theaters open to guests.
The Egg hosts everything from comedy to film and music performances, with performers from around the world traveling to Albany to take its stages. Ongoing series include the American Roots & Branches music series, the Rhythm International music series, and Dance in Albany.
For those who love to stay active, the Egg also offers yoga classes alongside its performance schedule. Managed by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Performing Arts Center Corporation, the venue is located right at the Plaza, steps away from the Capitol Building and Corning Tower.
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