The 20 Best Things to do in Albany, NY for First Timers

New York State Capitol

As the capital of New York, Albany has more than its fair share of attractions. With beautiful streets to stroll, quaint boutiques to shop, fascinating museums to visit, and more parks, historical sights, and street performances than you can shake a stick at, it makes a great destination. If you’re headed there for the first time, don’t forget to try at least a few of these great things to do in Albany.

Chester A. Arthur Memorial Tomb

20. Chester A. Arthur Memorial Tomb

Visiting a graveyard might not seem your idea of fun, but don’t knock a visit to the Chester A. Arthur Memorial Tomb until you’ve tried it. As the final resting place of President Arthur, the tomb, titled “Angel of Sorrow,” is a sculptural masterpiece, featuring a life-sized winged angel laying a palm upon Arthur’s exposed casket. Once you’ve paid your respects to Arthur, don’t hurry off too soon: the cemetery ranks as one of the most beautiful in the country and is well worth a tour.

C.H. Evans Brewing Co.

19. C.H. Evans Brewing Co.

If all your sightseeing has given you a thirst, there’s only one place in Albany to head – C.H. Evans Brewing Co. One-part restaurant, one-part brewery, it’s the city’s premier destination for some good food, great beer and, of course, a little sprinkling of history to round things off with. Built in 1874, the building offers a fascinating insight into the history of brewing in Albany, featuring turn of the century photographs and some fascinating memorabilia for you to view. Once you’ve had your fill of the past, take a seat at the Pump Station diner for some great bites and even better brews.

Huck Finn's Playland

18. Huck Finn’s Playland

If you’re traveling with the family in tow, don’t miss a visit to Huck Finn’s Playland. It may be small, but this is one amusement park that packs a punch well above its diminutive size. Crammed with classic rides that look like they’ve been transported straight from the 1950s, it guarantees tons of fun for toddlers and tweens.

The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence

17. The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence

Step back in history with a visit to the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence. It was at this same 19th-century townhouse that former slave Stephen Myers and his wife Harriet lived. Over the course of 30 years, the pair helped hundreds of others escape from slavery, as well as doing much to improve the lives of the Albany African American community. Today, the house tells the history of the Underground Railroad Movement in the Capital Region, offering visitors the change to learn more about the birth of the civil rights movement and the untold stories of the abolitionists at its heart.

Rensselaer Lake

16. Rensselaer Lake

If the buzz of the city’s getting too much, head to Rensselaer Lake, a tranquil stretch of water that forms part of Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Perfect for kicking back and relaxing, there’s also a bevy of recreational opportunities on offer, including fishing, boating, hiking, and picnicking. For kids, there’s also a fun little playground, while birdwatchers shouldn’t miss the wildlife watching possibility afforded by the nature viewing platform. Quiet and oh so peaceful, it’s the ideal reprieve from the go-go-go of the city.

Erie Canal System

15. Erie Canal System

“Historical, magical, and real Americana’, says one TripAdvisor commentator about the Erie Canal System, and we’re loath to disagree. Rent a boat (or bring your own, if you’re so inclined) before meandering your leisurely way along the city’s waterways. Along with affording stunning views of the surrounding landscape, the journey will take you through some of the most interesting sights in the city. Watching the operation of the lock along the path, meanwhile, is a lot more interesting than you’d think… make the journey once, and we promise you’ll be planning your next canal adventure before you know it.

Palace Theatre

14. Palace Theatre

Palace Theatre is one of Albany’s gems. Originally built as an RKO movie theater, the Palace served as the city’s biggest movie theater before it started expanding into other facets of entertainment. Today, it’s the ideal place to take in a show, a concert, or a movie. Regardless of who’s on stage, however, they’ll be hard tasked to eclipse the truly breathtaking beauty of the theatre and its impressive array of original features, including the awe-inspiring murals by Andrew Karoly and Louis Szanto and the magnificent brass chandelier in the lobby. You might come for the performance, but it’s the architecture you’ll be talking about afterward.

Times Union Center

13. Times Union Center

As home to the AHL River Rats, NLP Attack and the Siena Saints MAAC basketball team, a visit to Times Union Center is a must for any true sports fan. The huge complex can accommodate up to 17500 people at once and is the perfect place to catch a game or a concert from one of the many big-name artists that regularly pop by for a performance. Be sure to check the event schedule on the website so you can plan your visit accordingly.

Erastus Corning II Tower

12. Erastus Corning II Tower

As one of Albany’s most iconic landmarks, Erastus Corning II Tower is a must-visit for any first-time visitor to the city. Standing 42 stories high, it’s an architectural marvel, combining glass, marble, and sharp angles to spectacular effect. Visit the Observation Deck on the top floor for the most breathtaking views of the cityscape you’ll find anywhere in the city. Look hard enough and you’ll even manage to see the foothills of the Adirondacks, the Catskills, and Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

Crossgates

11. Crossgates

If the thought of visiting yet another museum makes you yawn, grab your wallet and head to Crossgates. Offering a choice of 180 shops from brands like Apple, Michael Kors, LUSH, Lucky Strike Social, lululemon athletica and more, it’s the perfect place to shop till you drop… although if you do feel yourself flagging, a quick pit stop at one of the many excellent restaurants and cafés should soon revive you.

Albany Institute of History & Art

10. Albany Institute of History & Art

As one of the oldest museums in the US, the Albany Institute of History & Art is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time. Offering an intriguing glimpse into what life was like in the Albany of old, it’s exquisite collection of period fashion, antique furniture, paintings, and photographs promises to both entertain and inform. Once you’re done with the artifacts, head straight to the café for some macrons that are every bit as good as the exhibits.

Schuyler Mansion

9. Schuyler Mansion

Once the home of Revolutionary War general, US Senator, and business entrepreneur, Philip J. Schuyler and his wife, Catharine Van Rensselaer, Schuyler Mansion is today one of Albany’s most visited museums. With an excellent collection of permanent and temporary exhibits, it showcases colonial history with aplomb: if you leave without knowing at least a few things you didn’t when you went in, you’ve no one to blame but yourself. Tours are available and come highly recommended.

Albany Art Room

8. Albany Art Room

Anyone with even the slightest artistic bent shouldn’t miss a trip to the Albany Art Room. Open to people of all ages and skillsets, it aims to create an open space for all kinds of artistic expression, providing all the material, support and space visitors might need to find their inner Picasso.

Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission

7. Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission

The 3,300+ – acre Albany Pine Bush Preserve makes a fascinating trip for the whole family, especially if there’s any aspiring David Attenborough’s in the mix. Home to one of the last inland pitch-pine scrub oak barrens in the world, the preserve boasts hundreds of rare animal and plant species, including the endangered Karner blue butterfly. With 20 miles of trails and every conceivable type of outdoor recreational opportunity of offer (including cross-country skiing, horseback riding, fishing, and canoeing), it’s an excellent way to spend the day.

Historic Cherry Hill

6. Historic Cherry Hill

If you want a real glimpse into the Albany of old, you’ll not do better than taking the trip to Historic Cherry Hill. Build in 1787, the building was once home to 5 generations of the Van Rensselaer family, one of the richest and most powerful clans in Albany. In 1963, the last member of the family, Emily Rankin, died. Keenly aware of the building’s significance in the city’s history, she willed the estate and all its content to the state of New York. Today, it makes for a fascinating day trip, offering an exquisite glimpse into the life and times of the family through its vast collection of personal items, furnishings, photographs, and documents.

USS Slater

5. USS Slater

Anyone with even a vague interest in US Naval history shouldn’t miss a visit to the USS Slater. The World War II destroyer might be resting up on the Hudson River these days, but during World War II, it played an integral role in fighting Nazi U-Boats in the North Atlantic. Following a 15-year restoration, it’s now one of Albany’s top tourist destinations, offering visitors a unique glimpse into maritime history (as well as the chance to see how the sailors really lived and worked). A guided tour is a must, while those who really want to push the boat out shouldn’t miss the overnight camping activity – a unique experience that’ll let you experience firsthand what it was like to be World War II naval officer.

New York State Museum

4. New York State Museum

Occupying more than 300,000 square feet of exhibition space, New York State Museum is a must-visit. Home to some of the finest exhibitions around history, art, science, and anthropology in the state, it’s a treasure trove of unique artifacts, historical paraphernalia, fossils, insects, gems, plant life, and anything else that can be pinned to a board, given a label, and made to delight the whole family. Exhibitions rotate frequently, so it’s worth checking the website beforehand to plan your itinerary.

Washington Park

3. Washington Park

If the hustle and the bustle of the city is getting too much, beat a retreat to the gorgeously tranquil Washington Park. Spread over 84 acres, the park is a nature lover’s dream, packed to bursting with over 100 species of tree and just about every type of flowering plant that’ll survive the New York winter. During spring, the Tulip Festival brings in people from all over the country to admire the spectacular, rainbow-colored display. Even if you’re not lucky enough to catch the festival, there’s still plenty to shout about, not least the opportunity to simply dig your toes into the grass and cool your aching feet for a while.

The Egg Performing Arts Center

2. The Egg Performing Arts Center

If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of State Street, you can’t help but notice The Egg Performing Arts Center, a huge, egg-shaped building that ranks as one of the city’s top tourist destinations. Inside the iconic building, you’ll find two top-notch theaters. The first, Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre, is a giant, 982 seat venue given to large dance productions and music concerts. The second, Lewis A. Swyer Theatre, is a more intimate, 450 seat affair, and is the perfect spot to take in an atmospheric chamber performance.

New York State Capitol

1. New York State Capitol

If you’re headed to New York’s capital, it would be remiss of you not to make at least a fleeting visit to the architectural marvel that is New York State Capitol. Built by hand over a period of 32 years and currently home to the New York State Legislature, the building is a riot of history, culture and artistic expression. To get the most of the experience, opt for a guided tour: as well as learning more about the fascinating history of the building, you’ll get the chance to dig a little deeper into the numerous styles (Classical Romanesque, Renaissance Classical, and Victorian Romanesque, to name but a few) that dominate each floor.


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