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6 Best Towns in Upstate New York to Visit in 2024

by Staff

There is much more to the Empire State than towering skyscrapers and highways, such as Ithaca, which is surrounded by over 150 waterfalls, gorges, and forest preserves. With many charming towns in Upstate New York, these towns are the crème de la crème to visit this year. Seneca Falls is the “Historic Gateway to the Finger Lakes,” so any choice you make is sure to be a hit!

From exploring antiques and design fixtures in Skaneateles to enjoying Saratoga Springs’ mineral waters and experiencing Ithaca’s youthful vibe, you’re sure to explore with eyes full of wonder and return feeling rejuvenated! Start planning a vacation, or, at the first sign that city life is wearing you down, use this list to embark on a perfect escape in 2024.

Cooperstown

Main Street in Cooperstown, New York state. Image credit Ritu Manoj Jethani via Shutterstock.com

Everyone must visit Cooperstown at least once in their life, so make 2024 the year to visit this surprisingly vibrant town, home to just over 2,000 residents. With something for everyone here on the south side of Otsego Lake, this gem in the region is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Attracting hundreds of thousands of people a year from around the world, it is a real must-see, even if you’re not into baseball. In the summer, visitors can enjoy budget rentals of canoes and kayaks to explore the lake’s cooling waters in picture-perfect scenery.

Culture enthusiasts will be pleased to discover a robust art scene, disproportionate to its small size, and several museums, including the Fenimore Art Museum, which houses impressive artworks, and the Farmers’ Museum, focusing on local agriculture. Quaint and welcoming, with ample accommodations in the small village, visitors can admire beautiful neoclassical buildings such as Hyde Hall and explore various breweries and wineries. Although baseball wasn’t invented here, Cooperstown is a mecca for sports enthusiasts, featuring parks, fields, and engaging attractions for staying active, such as the Fernleigh Estate Stone Bridge and hiking trails along the Susquehanna River.

Ithaca

Ithaca, New York: Cayuga Street in downtown Ithaca with trees in fall colors
Ithaca, New York: Cayuga Street in downtown Ithaca with trees in fall colors, via Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

Still one of the state’s coolest small towns in 2024, Ithaca‘s vibrant student culture means there’s always something new and exciting for both fresh faces and returning visitors. This must-visit small town nestles splendidly overlooking the southern end of Cayuga Lake, offering superb waters and scenery for boating, fishing, and swimming. Home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, its spirit centers around a rich cultural and arts scene, offering an unreplicable energy that rejuvenates both young and old alike. From the downtown hub to the surrounding countryside and some of the state’s best waterfalls, the Finger Lakes Discovery Trail connects eight different museums and attractions, including the Sciencenter and the Cornell Botanic Gardens.

The small town in New York’s Finger Lakes region is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, hence the slogan “Ithaca is gorges.” With over 150 waterfalls, including New York’s finest examples like Taughannock Falls, Lick Brook Falls, and Triphammer Falls, as well as gorges and dense forests with hiking and biking trails, it’s a nature lover’s paradise. You can start your exploration right on the main streets, featuring unique shops and restaurants such as Moosewood Restaurant, Buffalo Street Books, and State of the Art Gallery, along with numerous charming B&Bs. For a wildlife hike and bird watching, trek the 3-mile loop in Sapsucker Woods. When you come for the water fun, don’t miss the summertime concert series, and try camping right along the Ithaca Trails!

New Paltz

Summer Street Scene New Paltz New York
Summer Street Scene New Paltz New York, via Michael LaMonica / Shutterstock.com

“Beautiful, Brainy, Sporty, and Cultured,” New Paltz is more vibrant than ever in 2024! Anchored by a state university and with a river at its heart, the small town offers a complete package of green spaces and progressive politics. Find enlightenment through its arts and history along streets decorated with architecture, shops, and galleries. Its modern developments stand in stark contrast to the resplendent Huguenot Street Historic District, stretching over 10 acres with 17th-century homes. The Mohonk Preserve, with its 70 miles of heritage trails including carriage roads and over 50 miles of bike trails, complements the adjacent Minnewaska State Park.

Just 80 miles north of New York City, the town in the cradle of a mountain range is perfect for a weekend getaway in the fresh-aired meadows and forested preserves. The towering stone archway and monolith, known as the Testimonial Gateway, mark the historic former entrance to the Mohonk Mountain House. After you’ve scratched the surface of the ample outdoors, the charming Water Street Market welcomes you to recharge over local sights at destination spots like Antique Barn, the Cheese Plate, and Main Street Bistro. For the active, scaling the rock scramble at Mohonk’s Lemon Squeeze, either by hiking or climbing, offers sweeping Hudson Valley views from the top.

Saratoga Springs

Downtown Saratoga Springs in New York
Downtown Saratoga Springs in New York

Famed for its unique natural mineral springs, Saratoga Springs has long been a favorite escape from urban life, offering relaxation and rejuvenation. After discovering the mineral waters, the Mohawk people established a settlement around them, believing in the springs’ restorative properties. The town developed into a popular resort and vacation destination, featuring 12 springs within Saratoga Spa State Park that are used for both drinking and soaking. The central downtown street is a walkable shopping area, perfect for indulging in retail therapy and window shopping, with easy access to parks and scenic picnic spots for relaxation.

You can also explore the even more immersive and greener Saratoga Spa State Park, Historic Congress Park, and Waterfront Park, all along the Fish Creek Pond. As one of the country’s oldest racetracks, the historic Saratoga Race Course is a must-visit, offering shows, races, and walking tours for a deep dive into the history of horseracing, with the Travers Stakes as the premier event in August. From the many town greens to its deep Indigenous history and the famed racetrack, Saratoga Springs consistently ranks as a top destination for small towns in New York. Together with the spas and resorts, there is room for everyone to soak up the benefits of the waters and positive vibes.

Seneca Falls

Downtown Seneca Falls, New York.
Downtown Seneca Falls, New York. Editorial credit: debra millet / Shutterstock.com

With the title of “Historic Gateway to the Finger Lakes,” there is no better place than Seneca Falls to get immersed in local culture in 2024! This quaint hamlet, nestled in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, offers a serene experience with low crowds and many notable sites, as well as nearby waterscapes in the summer months. The Seneca Falls Heritage Area encompasses the downtown and harbor, offering diverse vibes and pursuits along water views and small-town businesses. The main street is lined with numerous historic homes and buildings, featuring essential stops such as the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Having hosted the nation’s first women’s rights convention in 1848, with over 300 participants, a stroll through the Women’s Rights National Historical Park is a must. Then, you can guiltlessly visit the popular Del Lago Resort and Casino, which also offers excellent accommodations. Wine lovers will find themselves blissfully torn at the crossroads of the Finger Lakes Wine Trails, encompassing the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, Seneca Lake Wine Trail, and Keuka Lake Wine Trail. With over 70 nearby wineries and tasting rooms, the town’s convenient location between Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake offers the perfect opportunity for a quick dip or a relaxing siesta when you need a break from the trail.

Skaneateles

Street view of Skaneateles. Image credit PQX via Shutterstock.
Street view of Skaneateles. Image credit PQX via Shutterstock.

Carrying its fame as a great Upstate escape into 2024, the charming lakeside town of Skaneateles offers a wide array of attractions, biking, and water activities. Nestled at the northernmost tip of one of the nation’s cleanest lakes, Skaneateles Lake is truly the Jewel of the Finger Lakes. Translating from Iroquois as ‘long lake,’ expect miles of pristine beachside perfect for waterside recreation like swimming, boating, and hiking, surrounded by lush scenery that becomes especially vibrant in the fall. From the short and sweet Charlie Major Nature Trail to the 32-mile bicycle route circling the lake, you can choose to indulge the next day in exclusive pampering at Mirbeau Inn & Spa, returning refreshed and rejuvenated.

Both an overlooked gem and a favorite of Oprah, Skaneateles is the place to experience the beauty, luxury, and hospitality of the Finger Lakes. Visitors can enjoy easy access to quaint, affluent shops, stunning restaurants, charming B&Bs, and colonial residences. The lakeside, trails, and historic downtown district offer the finest, distinctive, and original finds in art, fashion, decor, and antiques. Whether you’re in for a getaway or the ultimate vacation in 2024, enjoy the changing seasons with activities like wine tasting, leaf peeping, and apple picking amidst the autumn foliage. The annual Dickens Christmas celebration, occurring every weekend after Thanksgiving, delights with events and an atmosphere straight out of a storybook.

In New Paltz, Mohonk’s Lemon Squeeze offers a fun hike or climb with sweeping Hudson Valley views, near the towering stone archway and monolith of the former entrance to the Mohonk Mountain House. Upstate New York is ideal for a road trip, especially when you have a plan to visit the best towns. With a lake always nearby, plan for waterside recreation and trails in the warmer seasons, or visit in the fall when these vibrant towns showcase the region’s spectacular foliage!

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