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The 18 best things to do in New York State

From hiking to museum-hopping, these are the best things to do in New York State

Written by Sarah Medina in association with the New York Lottery

New York City gets all the attention. (Albeit for good reason, with its world-class parksmuseumsrestaurants and more). But the rest of New York State is just as beautiful, varied and worth of exploration. Seriously. From bucolic cultural hubs to sleepy towns and real farm-to-table restaurants, a whole other world lies outside New York City's borders. The best things to do in New York state run the gamut from picturesque restaurants and waterfalls to seriously cool museums and hot springs. All you need is a weekend and a willingess to drive (or hop on a train). Fresh air, quiet spaces, fewer people are just a day trip from NYC

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Best things to do in New York State

1. Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is a quintessential American vacation haven. While the Canadian side of Niagara Falls tends to hog the spotlight, don’t let anyone convince you this Western New York destination doesn’t have plenty to offer. Home to America’s oldest state park, fascinating War of 1812 sites, a unique wine region, powerful whirlpools, and, of course, the legendary Niagara Falls, the city presents the perfect blend of outdoor adventure and unique historic locales, sure to make any traveler swoon. 

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2. NYC

From its world-class art museums like the The Met and MoMA to its lit-up attractions, New York City is the best city in the world. Even in the midst of a pandemic, its dining and drinking scenes are still unbeatable with new creatives takes on take-out around every corner. Even locals can find new and wonderful things to do in NYC, whether it's one of the best cozy spots, some incredible views, must-see art, or hidden-gem stores. It'll take more than a couple days to do all the incredibly fun things in NYC.

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3. Dia:Beacon

Dia:Beacon expertly mixes contemporary art and calming scenery with more exhibition space than the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum, and MoMA combined. Peruse the foundation's permanent collection of art from the 1960s and '70s. Each of the artists represented—like Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Louise Bourgeois—have individual galleries fashioned specifically for their creations. When you take it all in, Dia:Beacon represents nearly all the important late 20th century art movements—from abstract expressionism and minimalism to conceptual and pop art. No car? The institution is a pretty five-minute walk from the Dia:Beacon train stop. 

4. Adirondack State Park

There's much for thrill seeekers to see and do in this picturesque state park. Wild Walk at the Wild Center, an 81-acre museum complex in the middle of the forest, takes you up and over the forest canopy for a truly breathtaking view. And a newly opened mountain rollercoaster (the longest one in the country!) takes you on a harrowing journey through the mountains—nearly identical to that of an Olympic Bobsledder during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid. Those looking for a little relaxation can head to Saranac Lake, where the newly renovated Hotel Saranac knows how to pamper guests. 

5. Catskills

There's a ton of things to do and see in the Catskills (mostly centered around hiking and drinking beer), but we have a couple additional must-visits for you. When you're in need of food, head to Phoenicia Diner or Brushland Eating House; Both restaurants are helmed by former New Yorkers who traded in the urban sprawl for trees and a true farm-to-table experience. Can't decide? You'll find jazzed up diner fare at Phoenicia while Brushland Eating House has a famous burger and a bar made from a bowling alley. Finally, the best way to experience this gorgeous setting is in a Getaway cabin. The isolated cabins come fully stocked with everything you need to lock away your phones and enjoy the view.   

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6. Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls State Park's namesake waterfall is one of the most breathtaking natural wonders in all of the Northeast. The falls plunge a whopping 215 feet past rocky cliffs that tower almost 44 feet above the gorge below. Catch a view from above the falls on a rim trail or look up in awe at the thundering waterfall from the end of a gorge trail—either way you're in for a spectacular view. But that's not all there is to this stately state park; Campsites and cabins overlook Cayuga Lake complete with a beach, and in the winter there's plenty of land for cross-country skiing, sledding slopes and natural skating ponds. 

7. Cooperstown

Baseball and bucolic bliss await you in this cute village in central New York. Start off at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a historic shrine to all things baseball, to see awards, memorabilia, museum artifacts and more. Then chat about everything you just saw over a delicious meal at OmmegangSet on 136 acres of idyllic New York farmland, Ommegang is a perfect spot for chilling out by the bonfire.

8. Hamptons

The Hamptons have a reputation as the land reserved for the rich and pretentious. But we're telling you to forget what you heard! The ritzy neighborhood is not just filled with popped-collars and Lamborghinis, especially if you know where to go. Known to locals as “the End,” Montauk offers luxurious beachside relaxation as well as some of the best surfing in the region. For the perfect group day-trip, head to the family-friendly Kirk Park Beach where you can catch some sun, play a game of volleyball at the nets or fly kites.

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9. Hudson Valley

Leafy drives and plenty of farm-to-table dinners await in this picturesque valley 150 miles north of Manhattan. For a glimpse into old-school New York, walk the grounds of Kykuit (Dutch for “lookout"), the Rockefeller mansion in the Valley. Its 250 acres feature vast gardens filled with beautiful sculptures by some of the world’s greatest sculptors. For family trips, the Mid Hudson Children's Museum is one of the region's best family-friendly destinations.

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10. Storm King Art Center

With the Hudson Valley below and Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Pyramidian rising from the skyline, you're in for a breathtaking view from Museum Hill at Storm King Art Center. But its not just the view that draws visitors to this vast outdoor museum. The 55-year-old Storm King Art Center contains more than 500 breathtaking acres that meld art with nature and its rotating contemporary-sculpture collection features about 100 pieces dotted around the property—perfect for a socially distanced day trip. 

11. Thousand Islands

There are 1864 islands that make up the Thousand Islands, which span the United States to Canada, and every one of them is as picturesque as the last. While you won't be able to actually cross into Canada, the Thousand Islands Bridge is a scenic walk. And while most activities in this area focus on the island's many beaches and waterways, there are two stony fascades you shouldn't miss: Boldt Castle on Heart Island and Singer Castle, which stands watch over Dark Island just a few miles down the river. 

12. Lake Placid

For such a small town, Lake Placid has a lot going on. Located in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains (a place so beautiful its on this list twice), here you'll find old forests, clear lakes, mountain peaks, and waterfalls. Stunning Mirror Lake is perfect for a leisurely paddle (no motor vehicles are allowed on the lake) while winter enthusiasts will find great runs at Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort. Bookmark for when it's safe: Roomers, a downtown dance club, is a fun spot to dance the night away. 

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13. Buffalo

In this Rust Belt comeback city, impressive sites from its Gilded Age are now coming back to life in surprising ways. Buffalo's architectural heritage is massive, with works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Frederick Law Olmsted and the country's first certified female architect, Louise Bethel Bethune. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House is a must-see; Designed between 1903 and 1905, it is considered one of the great achievements of Wright's career. And yes, America's beloved hot wing is indeed named after the chilly upstate town in which it was conceived.

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14. Saratoga Springs

Named for its whopping 18 mineral springs, this town has attracted spa-seekers since the 19th century. Almost all the springs are naturally carbonated, so sip on some life-giving sparkling water when bathing in them. The city’s also famous for its market-forward cuisine, with products like cheeses, tapinades and housemade jams prepared by local artisans. After a meal, head to the Saratoga Race Course for some horse racing and stop by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame if you’re not equined out.

15. Corning Museum of Glass

Founded in 1951, the Corning Museum of Glass wows visitors with more than 50,000 glass objects in its collection, some over 3,500 years old. The many galleries showcase works from almost every country in the world, and represent glassmaking from antiquity through present day. Contemporary artworks includes pieces by significant artists such as Klaus MojeKaren LaMonteBruno PedrosaDale ChihulyLibenský / Brychtová and Josiah McElheny. Guests can also watch live glassmaking demonstrations or even learn to make glass at the museum. 

16. Bear Mountain State Park

There’s a hike for everyone among Bear Mountain’s tranquil, woodsy trails, from the short loop around Brooks Lake to the more challenging four-mile segment of the Appalachian Trail. Most impressive is the steep, twisting trek to the Perkins Memorial Tower, from where you’ll have a stunning 360-degree vista of four states (NY, NJ, CT and PA), the Big Apple skyline, Storm King Art Center, the Hudson Highlands and the Hudson River some 1,000 feet below. If you’ve got any juice left after your climb, shoot hoops at the on-site basketball courts.

17. Ausable Chasm

Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks, Ausable Chasm is located in the Adirondacks (our last mention of this beautiful region, we promise!) and is the oldest continuously operating natural attraction in America! The chasm—a long, narrow sandstone gorge that stretches for two miles and is 150-foot-deep—offers tons of outdoor adventures, from rock climbing and river rafting to hiking and tubing. Make a weekend of it by booking an on-site camping spot or cabin. 

18. Historic Huguenot Street

History buffs will love this historic town in New Paltz, about 90 miles north of New York City. Originally founded in 1894 by the descendants of the first settlers to preserve what remained of their French and Dutch heritage, several stone houses and a church constructed by the town's original settlers in 1717 still stand. Marvel at the architecture and furnishings of the residences during the Historic Huguenot Street tour, while several actors, dolled up in period garb, take you through the lives of its former residents.

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