As one of the most-visited states in the U.S., you can bet that there are lots of cool things to do in New York state. Sure, everyone knows about NYC and Niagara Falls – and those places are well worth visiting – but there are other hidden gems that you must see.
During our three years living in Philadelphia, we had plenty of opportunities to explore some of the best places in New York. The different regions have their unique characteristics and charm, from the Catskill Mountains to the northern Thousand Islands, to the beautiful shoreline down south.
If you want to see the best that this state has to offer, here is a guide to the 15 best places to visit in New York. Perhaps you’ll enjoy a luxurious mountain getaway, or maybe you’re looking to do a waterfall hike to some of NY’s lesser-known falls. Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll have a tough time deciding which New York activities to try!
1. New York City, one of the best places to visit in New York
Without a doubt, the best place to visit in New York is New York City. If you’ve never been to the Big Apple before, all the sights and attractions here might be overwhelming. We have a complete guide about things to do in New York City, but for now, I’ll tell you some of the highlights.
The Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and Times Square are a few New York tourist attractions you must see. For entertainment, go watch a show on Broadway or a concert at Madison Square Garden. If you want the best views of the city, check out the observation decks at the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, or the Rockefeller Center.
NYC is also full of historical places and superb museums, and each of its five boroughs has a distinct vibe. If you want more ideas, our guide has everything you need to know.
- Recommended accommodations: The Doubletree by Hilton New York Times Square West has a rooftop lounge and well-equipped rooms with blackout curtains, so you can get a restful night’s sleep. Pod 51 is a cheaper alternative in the same area. I also recommend reading our guide on where to stay in NYC if you want to stay in a different neighborhood.
2. Ithaca and the Finger Lakes, two lovely places to visit in upstate New York
If you’re looking for attractions in upstate New York, make Ithaca one of your stops. This city is part of the Finger Lakes region of 11 narrow lakes in northwestern New York. Cayuga Lake is the closest one to Ithaca, and it’s the longest of the lakes, at 39 miles. The lake is also part of the American Viticultural Area, a designated wine grape-growing region, so you can find dozens of vineyards, wineries, and distilleries here.
Moreover, Ithaca is a college town, so it’s home to some great cultural institutions, including the Sciencenter, the Museum of the Earth, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, and the Cornell Botanic Garden.
Nature lovers also appreciate the wealth of parks and hiking spots in the area. For example, the Finger Lakes Trail branches into secondary routes, and Buttermilk Falls State Park has ten waterfalls, including its namesake falls, as well as a beach, campground, playing fields, and nature trails. Nearby, are the Robert H. Treman and Taughannock Falls State Parks, two other famous places in New York I’ll talk about later.
- Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Ithaca, a pet-friendly hotel with a hot tub, breakfast buffet, gym, and indoor pool.
3. Niagara Falls, another must-see in New York for families
This list would not be complete without mentioning Niagara Falls, one of the most well-known points of interest in New York. This attraction spills over into Ontario, Canada, but the New York side of the falls is just as beautiful.
Located about 20 miles from Buffalo, the NY side of Niagara Falls includes the Bridal Veil Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and American Falls. You can witness the immense power and rush of this natural wonder from several viewpoints, like Terrapin Point along the Niagara River or Prospect Point.
For the more adventurous types, consider taking a boat ride to the falls on the Maid of the Mist, or walking close to the base of the Bridal Veil Falls at the Cave of the Winds attraction. We took this half-day tour that includes both attractions and it was great. Just be sure to bring your poncho!
It’s also worth taking a walk along the Niagara River Gorge and visiting Old Fort Niagara. We have more info about both sides of the falls and where to stay in our things to do in Niagara Falls guide.
- Recommended accommodation: The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino is an excellent hotel with fabulous views, a gym, an indoor pool, and hot tub, a sauna, and massage services. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a busy day at Niagara Falls.
4. Lake Placid (The Adirondacks), one of the best things to see in New York
Speaking of road trips from NYC, it’s also worth visiting Lake Placid. Located in northern New York’s Adirondack Mountains, this village is a must-see in New York if you’re looking for the ideal winter vacation.
Lake Placid was the host of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, so it has all the winter sports venues and facilities that you’d expect. Here, you can try bobsledding, Nordic skiing, ice skating, and other exhilarating events. If you’re visiting with kids, check out the Lake Placid Olympic Museum or the toboggan chute.
There are lots more activities to do here, so if you love the outdoors, Lake Placid is one of New York’s best destinations. Enjoy 288 skiable acres and 90 trails at Whiteface Mountain, take a scenic drive or snowshoe hike through the woods, or stroll along Main Street and hop into a pub or restaurant for a warm meal and drinks.
With its crisp mountain air and majestic snowy peaks, Lake Placid is a historical place you must visit. That said, the surrounding Adirondacks are worth a visit, too. While you’re here, check out one of the wineries, ADK Treetop Adventures rope course, or High Falls Gorge, a nature park with walking trails past waterfalls, rapids, and the AuSable River.
If you like hiking, some of the most popular routes are around Avalanche Lake (6.8 miles), Cascade Mountain (4.8 miles), and Mount Jo (1.8 miles).
- Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Crowne Plaza Lake Placid, a lake-view hotel with a restaurant, an indoor pool, a gym, tennis courts, and a putting green. It also has pet-friendly and family rooms.
5. Visit Watkins Glen State Park, one of the top things to do in New York
Watkins Glen State Park is another beautiful place in the Finger Lakes region, in the village of Watkins Glen. It’s a stunning state park, especially if you visit during the spring.
The park, which covers over 770 acres, is known for its narrow gorge, which reaches a depth of 400 feet. Cut by a stream, the gorge creates several waterfalls that make for an amazing backdrop while hiking. No doubt, the pretty waterfalls, rushing rapids, and stone steps traveling over and under the water make this one of the best parks in New York state.
There are a few trails here, although I recommend the Gorge Trail, which goes past the stream, gorge, and several waterfalls. It also connects to the Finger Lakes Trail, which I mentioned earlier. If you want to extend this adventure in New York state, Watkins Glen has tent and trailer campsites.
- Recommended accommodation: The Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel has beautiful rooms with private bathrooms and showers, seating areas, and lake views. You can also enjoy the resort’s on-site restaurant, bar, and gym.
6. Letchworth State Park, another thing to do in New York State
If you like Watkins Glen, then you should also visit Letchworth State Park. Waterfalls and gorges abound here, and the park has even been called the “Grand Canyon of the East.” The park is huge, spanning over 14,400 acres across two counties in western NY. At first sight, the sweeping views, sprawling forests, and wide gorges will take your breath away.
Like Watkins Glen, there are waterfalls here, and while there aren’t as many, they’re larger. The three main waterfalls are the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls, which originate from the Genesee River. You can find all three in the southern part of the park, in Portage Canyon. The Middle Falls are the tallest, at 107 feet.
You don’t want to miss the hiking trails and lookout points here, as they offer some of the best views in New York. There are over 60 miles of hiking routes, and among the viewpoints, I recommend the Inspiration Point Overlook, which is about a half-mile from the Visitor Center.
Besides hiking, you can go kayaking, whitewater rafting, biking, or, in the winter, tubing, and skiing. The park has several playgrounds, swimming pools, and campsites, although the historic Glen Iris Inn is a popular accommodation. Also, when the weather permits, hot air balloon rides are available in the park, making for quite a romantic thing to do in New York state.
- Recommended accommodation: The Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Mount Morris is a lovely mountain resort with free Wi-Fi and activities like hiking, nature trails, boating, and swimming. The hotel has an indoor pool, a gym, barbecue facilities, and a beautiful garden.
7. Go to Lake George, one of the best things to do in New York
Looking for things to do in northern New York state? Then go to Lake George, a huge lake surrounded by peaks and forests at the base of the Adirondack Mountains. Known as the Queen of American Lakes, the long and narrow Lake George spans over 32 miles and contains over 170 islands, including Sagamore, Turtle, and Vicar Islands.
An affluent summer colony, Lake George has long attracted famous visitors; the Rockefeller, Roosevelt, and Vanderbilt families have all vacationed here. It’s not hard to see why, since the area offers all kinds of activities, from hiking and paddling to birdwatching, biking, and mountain climbing.
That said, this is also one of the best places to visit in upstate NY in the winter when you can go ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing around the frozen lake. Moreover, the village of Lake George is home to family-friendly attractions like sports facilities, amusement parks, shops, and museums.
So, no matter what time of year you come to Lake George, you won’t be disappointed!
- Recommended accommodation: You can’t go wrong with a room at the Courtyard by Marriott Lake George, which offers on-site amenities like a restaurant, bar, lounge, and indoor pool. The mountainside resort is also close to shopping, hiking, and skiing.
8. Taughannock Falls State Park, a fun thing to do in New York State
Another New York tourist attraction you should visit is Taughannock Falls State Park. If you’re in Ithaca, the park is about a 20-minute drive away, so you can’t miss it.
The 750-acre park’s namesake waterfall, Taughannock Falls, is the tallest free-falling waterfall in the northeastern U.S. Its 215-foot drop is over 30 feet higher than Niagara Falls, making it one of the most spectacular things to see in New York. Besides the Taughannock Falls, the park also features the smaller Upper and Lower Falls.
The best way to witness this amazing natural wonder is by taking one of the hiking routes. The Gorge Trail is less than a mile long, takes you past the Lower Falls, and ends at the base of Taughannock Falls. The North Rim Trail is about twice as long and offers views of the Upper Falls and Taughannock Falls.
In addition to exploring the hiking and nature trails here, you can also go camping or swimming along the shores of Cayuga Lake. Sledding, cross-country skiing, and ice skating are popular wintertime activities here. As I mentioned, the state park is close to Ithaca, so you can take advantage of the attractions there, too.
- Recommended accommodation: Stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Ithaca, which I mentioned earlier. It’s just a 15-minute drive from Taughannock Falls State Park.
9. Thousand Islands, another place to add to your New York bucket list
The Thousand Islands (yes, like the salad dressing), is one of the most interesting places to visit in upstate NY. This archipelago contains over a thousand islands: 1,864 to be exact. The islands range in size and sit in the St. Lawrence River, which straddles the border between New York and Ontario, Canada.
Collectively, the Thousand Islands were declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2002, although there are designated Canadian and U.S. islands. For example, Wolfe Island, the largest of the islands, is in Ontario, while Just Room Enough Island in the U.S. is the world’s smallest inhabited island, at 3,300ft².
Other significant islands include Ironsides Island, home to one of the largest colonies of great blue herons in New York, and Carleton Island, home to old Fort Haldimand, which was built by the British in 1779 during the American Revolutionary War.
If it’s your first time here, it’s best to choose a specific community within the Thousand Islands, such as Alexandria Bay, NY. A popular New York tourist attraction, it includes Heart Island, where you can see the famous 120-room Boldt Castle.
It’s also worth visiting nearby Wellesley Island, which has a state park and lots of outdoor activities like camping, hiking, nature walks, and swimming. If you plan on crossing the border, the easiest way to do so is by taking the Thousand Islands International Bridge.
- Recommended accommodation: The Riveredge Resort Hotel in beautiful Alexandria Bay, NY, is the perfect place to relax after a full day. It’s less than a 10-minute walk from Boldt Castle, plus it has spa bathtubs and a gym with a hot tub.
10. Saratoga Springs, a beautiful attraction in upstate New York
Saratoga Springs is a famous place in New York that’s known for its mineral springs, which are said to have healing properties that boost digestive health and improve skin. This has made Saratoga Springs a popular resort town, although you’ll find lots more to do here.
Besides the Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center, you must visit Saratoga Spa State Park. This is where many of the town’s namesake mineral springs are located, as well as a hotel and pool complex. There are also several great hikes, including the Gideon Putnam Trail, Five Mile Trail, and Geyser Loop. The latter takes you to Geyser Creek, where you can see the Geyser Island Spouter. While it’s technically not a geyser, it’s still an impressive spring that shoots water up to 15 feet in the air.
If you don’t want to bathe in a natural spring, you can visit one of the many luxury spas in town. Downtown Saratoga Springs is full of salons, spas, shops, and museums, and it’s a popular destination for the performing arts.
Nearby, you’ll find wineries and golf courses to round out your upstate NY vacation. In addition, Lake George, another New York tourist attraction I mentioned, is just 30 minutes from Saratoga Springs.
- Recommended accommodation: Stay at The Saratoga Hilton, a modern hotel with lush gardens, a gym, an indoor pool, and a restaurant. It’s also very close to downtown.
11. The Hamptons, a luxurious thing to do in NY
A visit to the Hamptons, one of the main attractions in Long Island, is a must-do in New York during summer. This luxurious summer colony attracts New Yorkers and residents from nearby Connecticut and Rhode Island. The historic seaside communities of the Hamptons offer lavish amenities and beautiful beaches, so it’s no wonder coming here is a top thing to do outside NYC.
The oldest and largest village in the Hamptons is Southampton. Along with its pretty beaches, Southampton is home to the historic Tudor House and Garden, Medieval Merchant’s House, and the SS Shieldhall, one of the largest surviving steamships.
Sag Harbor is another notable area in the Hamptons, straddling the border of Southampton and East Hampton. If you want a mix of nature and culture, East Hampton is a solid choice. Known as an artists’ colony, this village has welcomed dozens of famous artists, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol. In addition, East Hampton has several state parks, including Montauk Point State Park and Lighthouse.
As I mentioned, the Hamptons are close to NYC (about two hours), so if you’ll be in the city, consider this Hamptons day trip. It goes to several beautiful areas in Southampton and Sag Harbor, so it’s a good way to see multiple points of interest in New York in one trip.
- Recommended accommodation: The Southampton Inn is one of the best places to stay in the Hamptons, thanks to its clean and modern rooms and comfortable amenities. Indulge in a meal in the courtyard or dining room, enjoy free transportation to Cooper’s Beach, or take a swim in the on-site pool.
12. Robert H. Treman State Park, a place with more activities in New York
Boasting 12 waterfalls and nine miles of hiking trails, Robert H. Treman State Park is another historical place in New York I recommend visiting. This beautiful place is close to Watkins Glen and Taughannock Falls state parks, so if you needed another reason to visit the Finger Lakes region, here it is.
Robert H. Treman State Park’s waterfalls were formed during the last Ice Age, and this geological event also created the valleys and gorges found throughout the park, most notably, Enfield Glen. This narrow gorge is a focal point for the park’s hiking routes, which also go past a historic gristmill, Enfield Creek, and lovely waterfalls.
Two of the most famous waterfalls in the park are the 115-foot, multi-level Lucifer Falls, and the Lower Falls, whose base serves as a refreshing swimming hole. The two-mile Gorge Trail leads from the park’s east entrance to the Lower Falls. You can continue on the Gorge Trail and link to the Rim Trail, creating a loop of about five miles that gives you two different views of Lucifer Falls. I recommend both hiking routes, and by far, they’re two of the best outdoor activities in New York state.
Along with the hiking trails, the park has picnic areas and campsites where you can linger and admire the striking scenery of natural stone and cascading water.
- Recommended accommodation: Again, I recommend the Hilton Garden Inn Ithaca. Its central location makes it a great deal, plus the hotel has facilities where you can relax, exercise, dine, and enjoy a restful night’s sleep.
13. Catskill Mountains, the best place to visit in New York for scenic views
The Catskill Mountains is one of the best areas to visit in New York any time of year, which is why it’s considered one of the top day trips from NYC. Nestled in the Appalachian mountain range, it’s an amazing place to go if you’re craving some time in nature.
As you can imagine, the Catskills are one of the best places to visit in upstate NY in the winter. Check out one of the ski resorts, such as Hunter Mountain, and enjoy activities like Nordic skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. For something calmer, drive along the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway and enjoy 52 miles of scenery.
The Catskills offer plenty of things to do in New York in the summer, too. Catskill Park is a popular spot for camping, mountain biking, and watersports like tubing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. If you like to hike, you’re in luck, because there are dozens of routes throughout the area. Some of the top hikes include Giant Ledge, Devil’s Path, and the Catskills Scenic Trail. The Hunter Mountain Fire Tower Loop is a challenging yet rewarding hike, and you can climb the fire tower for even better views.
There is a lot more to see and do here, from cultural activities to extreme sports. You can also visit the surrounding towns of Phoenicia, Saugerties, and Woodstock, or explore the nearby waterfalls, one of which I’ll talk about next.
- Recommended accommodation: Check into the Catskill Mountain Lodge, a charming accommodation with spacious rooms, private bathrooms, two seasonal pools, and outdoor firepits. Enjoy the hotel’s rustic décor and take advantage of ski passes to the nearby ski resorts.
14. Visit Kaaterskill Falls, another breathtaking thing to do in NY
Kaaterskill Falls is one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the Catskill Mountains, so be sure to check it out if you’re in the area. This two-tiered waterfall has a combined total drop of 260 feet, and it’s one of the tallest and oldest falls in the eastern U.S. Its beauty has long inspired nature lovers and artists, and the waterfall was a common subject for painters of the Hudson River School.
Today, you can see the falls from above or below, although the upper trail is much easier. This accessible trail is wide and flat, and there is a wooden viewing platform where you can take in the immense beauty of the cascades. Here, you can get a closer look at the first drop, which is the higher of the two and leads to a large pool.
While you’re exploring the area, look out from the top of the falls to see Hunter Mountain in the distance. If you have time, it’s worth visiting the town of Hunter, NY, which is considered one of the nicest weekend getaways from NYC.
Even from the pictures, you can tell that Kaaterskill Falls is one of the most beautiful places to visit, and hiking to the falls is an excellent outdoor activity in New York state. While you’re here, you can also see Bastion Falls, a 70-foot waterfall at the Kaaterskill Falls Trailhead.
Finally, while this place is highly-rated, the route to the lower falls can be very dangerous, so always stay on the marked path.
- Recommended accommodation: The Catskill Mountain Lodge is also close to Kaaterskill Falls, so after a full day of hiking in nature, you can come back to this charming, rustic lodge.
15. Fire Island National Seashore, another fun place in New York to visit with kids
Finally, the Fire Island National Seashore is a great New York attraction for families, and a unique place to experience the surf, sand, and sun. Spanning 30 miles from Long Island to the Great South Bay, this shoreline is home to over a dozen private communities.
To get to Fire Island, take the ferry or drive down the Robert Moses State Parkway. The latter option will drop you right off at one of the best beaches near NYC, Robert Moses State Park. Here, you can visit the Fire Island Lighthouse and walk the Sailor’s Haven boardwalk trail. This 1.5-mile path leads you through the Sunken Forest, an ecological treasure with some of the most unique flora and fauna in the region. It’s a popular birdwatching spot, so keep an eye out for egrets, herons, raptors, red-winged blackbirds, sanderlings, and warblers.
Towards the eastern end of the seashore, you’ll come to Watch Hill and its rustic campground, as well as the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. Another hidden gem, this sprawling natural area is a beautiful place to see waterfowl and white-tailed deer.
Of course, the entire shoreline offers plenty of recreational opportunities, such as boating, hiking, sailing, and swimming. So, if you’re looking for things to do in New York in the summer, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the beach!
- Recommended accommodation: Stay at Robbins Rest Retreat, an oceanfront vacation home with six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a balcony, patio, and fully-equipped kitchen.
That ends this guide to the best places to visit in New York State! Lastly, here is a downloadable map to help you quickly locate all the places on your New York bucket list.
Of course, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment if you have any questions or other NY attractions you’d like to share. I look forward to answering you back. Until then, have an awesome trip!