Nestled in the Hudson Valley and less than three hours away from New York City, Albany has long been a popular destination for weekend getaway, especially if you have an interest in American history. It's the oldest continuously chartered city in the country, and Albany has been praised for its museums, architectural beauty and more. So if you're headed to upstate New York for a long weekend, you should check out some of the top things to do in Albany. In addition to touring the city's most popular historic sites, you can also sample beer at local breweries and head out on a tourboat on the Hudson River to see the city skyline from a new perspective. Here is a three-day guide to best things to do and see in Albany, NY.
Day 1: Arts & Culture
On your first day in Albany, New York, do yourself a favor and spend some time exploring the local arts and culture scene in the heart of Albany on Lark Street. Just up the hill from the New York State Capitol, and a short walk from Albany's famed Washington Park, this street is lined with galleries, wine shops and restaurants, and it's a great place to begin a long weekend in Albany.
Start your day with breakfast at Iron Gate Cafe on Washington Avenue right off Lark Street. The cafe attracts a bohemian crowd to its tranquil outdoor patio and garden and an interior decorated with Elvis memorabilia and vinyl records. Here, dishes are named after music idols. You can order Elvis' Memphis Scramble or the John Denver (grilled cornbread with bacon). (It also has a very vegan-friendly menu). After breakfast, spend your morning exploring some of the shops and galleries on Lark Street, including Elissa Halloran Designs, Brew Craft Beverage Shop, Alacrity Frame Romeo's Gifts, and Capital Wine & Spirits.
Then head over to the Albany Institute of History & Art - one of the oldest museums in the country (since 1791) with a stellar collection of Hudson River School paintings, early Dutch portraits and scripture paintings, and contemporary works. In fact, few organizations can boast a collection as striking as this-one that began when George Washington was president. The museum also has a new pop-up eatery, Crisan Cafe, which opened in March 2016 and is a great stop for lunch.
If morning was about the arts, your afternoon should be filled with culture. If you're a first-time visitor to Albany, it would be worthwhile to visit the Albany Heritage Area Visitor Center where you can what you need to take a self-guided walking tour around Albany's historic district. In the district, houses date back from the 1880s, and you'll learn about some of the key historical landmarks that helped shape New York's capital. Some of the notable historic homes in Albany include the Ten Broeck Mansion, Schuyler Mansion and Cherry Hill. Schuyler Mansion is offering Alexander Hamilton tours right now.
A trip to Albany wouldn't be complete without a tour of the New York State Capitol-a 19th-century Classical/Romanesque mansion considered one of the New York State's architectural marvels. Inside, you will see impressive rooms like War Room, with its mural covered ceiling that depicts famous warriors, intricate stone carvings of American heroes, detailed wood ceilings and royal red carpets. Highlights of any Capitol tour probably include the Senate and Assembly chambers, the Million Dollar Staircase, and the Hall of Governors.
And if you're looking for a late dinner, check out all the dining options in Albany here. Albany has a great dining scene; that's why they call it the Culinary Capital! The city boasts a wide selection of fine dining establishments, bistros, and pubs. And if it's international cuisine you're looking for, take some time to traverse Central Avenue. Home to 80 restaurants, from 19 different countries, Central Avenue is truly Albany's international village.
Day 2: Get Outside
Following a quick hotel breakfast, it's time to see why Albany is a popular weekend getaway destination for city dwellers: the outdoor space. Local and visitors alike like to visit the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, a gorgeous park resting on 3,200-acre of wilderness with expansive meadows and a discovery center. It's one of the only 20 inland pine forests left in the world, creating a special habitat for many plants and animals but also a haven for joggers, hikers, cyclists and nature enthusiasts. The discovery center has a trail map that can guide you the most scenic areas of the park, where you can see wildlife like woodcocks, rabbits, foxes and white-tailed deer.
If you want to visit more iconic Albany destinations, then your first stop should be to the New York State Museum at Empire State Plaza. Admission is free and guests can roam through several floors full of exciting exhibits of local minerals, taxidermy birds, dinosaur bones, Native American artifacts, and more. If you're traveling with kids, take them up to the fourth floor for a stunning indoor carousel to ride around on adorned horse statues. On the same floor, you will see impressive displays of vintage aircrafts and automobiles.
For an equally iconic but different view of Albany, check out what it looks like from the Hudson River on a Dutch Apple Cruises boat tour. The sightseeing tour docks once a day at 1 p.m. for an hour-and-a-half sail along the river. A skilled captain will narrate the trip, highlighting unknown facts and history of surrounding architecture of the city's skyline and river. The boat will sail as far as Van Weis Point before turning around to its docking location. Dutch Apple Cruises also offer special trips like sunset tours and brunch tours on popular holiday weekends.
Another popular thing to do in Albany is exploring the local craft brew scene. The Albany Craft Beverage Trail is a local association with a mission to promote local breweries and distilleries in the Albany area. A few of the most popular stops in the Albany area include Albany Distilling Company, Nine Pin Ciderworks, Druthers Brewing Company and CH Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station. These are all located along Broadway, and it's easy to meander through the different stops on a warm day. There's also Ten Broeck Mansion, home to one of Albany's founding families and secret storehouse of famous vintages. During Prohibition, the owners of Ten Broeck walled their pristine wine cellar up to protect their valuable collection of wine. Over time, new owners came on, and the location of the wine cellar was lost to memory. People forgot it was there. In 1977, the cellar was uncovered with 19th-century bottles of wine still intact. Today, the cellar still has a number of vintage European varieties on the cellar shelves, looking every bit as inviting as they did in 1870.
Day 3: A Final Farewell
On your last day in Albany before heading out of town, start at Grandma's Pies and Restaurant on Central Avenue and order a Granny's Special (two eggs with tons of sides), blueberry pancakes, or biscuits with sausages. You'll easily recognize the restaurant for its gingerbread-style architecture and the smell of freshly baked pies (you can purchase a few pies in flavors ranging from traditional Dutch apple to strawberry rhubarb as an Albany souvenir).
Then, to bid farewell to the city, drive west toward Voorheesville to check out John Boyd Thacher State Park. Home to some of the unique Helderberg Escarpment, the park is perhaps most famous for its sheer fossil-rich cliffs where you can trace half a billion years of geological history. The park also offers a panoramic view of the Hudson-Mohawk Valley, Adirondack Mountains, and Green Mountains. Go on a scenic hike on the Indian Ladder Trail that takes you to the top of the Escarpment, giving you a spectacular view from its limestone cliffs. The trail is opened from May to October, but if you're traveling outside these months, the park has other exciting trails worth checking out.
Before you leave the area, grab lunch or brunch at Jake Moon Restaurant and Café, conveniently located on Route 443, just a short jog from the highway. Jake Moon features a delicious and eclectic menu, with locally sourced ingredients prepared by award-winning Chef Dan Smith. You'll be all fueled up - and inspired - to plan your return trip to Albany.