Long a popular resort destination, Saratoga Springs is perhaps best summed up by the city’s official slogan: ‘Health, History and Horses’. While its healing waters and exhilarating horse races certainly attract lots of people, Spa City has much, much more for visitors to see and do.
A lovely laidback place, it is set directly north of Albany in the east of New York State, not far from Saratoga Lake. While plenty of gorgeous green gardens, parks and springs are dotted here and there, the lively Broadway is lined by eclectic art galleries, swanky shops and attractive historic buildings.
A number of marvelous museums are also located in town while both the rugged Adirondacks and scenic Lake George lie only a short drive away. By far the most popular things to do in Saratoga Springs though are either soaking in its springs or watching an action-packed race at the world-class Saratoga Race Course.
14. National Museum of Dance
Packed with colorful costumes, posters and photos, the National Museum of Dance is just as fun as it is fascinating to wander around. Located in the former Washington Bath House, its light and airy galleries and their extensive exhibits can be found at the northern end of Saratoga Spa State Park.
Established in 1986, the well-done displays cover everything from classical ballet and jazz to critics, composers and choreographers. Famous dances performed in films or at traditional festivals are also represented with cool artifacts and installations on show wherever you look.
Aside from watching some short film clips and marveling at the artists’ movements, guests can also amble around the Hall of Fame. This presents the biographies and portraits of renowned individuals such as Fred Astaire, Lucia Chase and Anna Pavlova along with countless others.
13. Saratoga Lake
As it offers exciting outdoor activities and watersports, Saratoga Lake is a hugely popular place to visit, particularly during the warm summer months. Each year, eager hordes of swimmers, kayakers and boaters descend upon the beautiful body of water, which lies just southeast of the city.
Stretching about 4.5 miles in length, its mirror-like waters reach roughly 1.5 miles in width at their widest point. As much of its scenic shore is sadly privately owned, most people content themselves with jet skiing, wakeboarding and tubing atop its shimmering surface. Some fantastic fishing and sailing can also be had with numerous marinas and boat rental points being dotted about.
At Waterfront Park, you can lounge on its grass, hike about its shady paths and enjoy a picnic while basking in phenomenal views of the lake before you.
12. Saratoga Farmers’ Market
On the northeastern outskirts of town, you can find the bustling Saratoga Farmers’ Market. Home to scores of stands and stalls, its friendly vendors sell everything from the best fresh fruit and veg to homemade arts and crafts and artisanal food products.
What started out in 1978 with just a handful of local farmers has since morphed into more than fifty merchants with live music also regularly taking place. Strolling past its laden stands really is a treat as the smell of freshly baked goods wafts through the air and the welcoming food sellers encourage you to sample their wares.
Thanks to the appealing ambience and excellent array of food, drink and handicrafts, the open-air market is a firm favorite with both locals and tourists alike. It is held outside of Wilton Mall each Wednesday and Saturday in summer and just on Saturdays during winter,
11. Saratoga Springs Visitor Center
Before haring off around town, it is well worth first stopping at the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center. As well as providing information on all the tantalizing tourist attractions, eateries and entertainment options, it exhibits some exquisite architecture with lush grounds lying all around it.
Known historically as ‘The Drinkhall’, the 1915 Beaux Arts building it occupies once used to be the town’s trolley station. While its stuccoed central block sports three striking bays, a decorative frieze and various motifs, the two large wings to either side are much simpler in style.
Inside, its high barrel vault ceiling overlooks displays packed with pamphlets on what to see and do in the city and what events are taking place. If you’re looking for some insider advice and tips, don’t hesitate to ask the friendly staff members who are only too happy to help out and point you in the right direction.
10. New York State Military Museum
One such sight they might recommend is the sublime New York State Military Museum which lies just a couple of blocks away. Instantly recognizable, its colossal castle-like building contains an impressive collection of uniforms and weapons, artifacts and artworks.
First opened to the public in 2002, the magnificent museum occupies a remarkable red brick armory that dates to 1889. While its tall towers and camouflaged tank at its entrance instantly capture your attention, all the engaging exhibits inside are just as interesting to peruse. These cover not just the Civil War and Indian Wars but those of Iraq and Afghanistan too.
Throughout its galleries you can see medals and maps, flags and vehicles with historical photos and short film clips shining a light on important events and famous figures.
9. The Saratoga Winery
Drive just ten minutes directly west of town and you’ll come across the intimate and atmospheric Saratoga Winery. At its romantic, rustic site, visitors can sample some of the best grapes and tastiest wines from around the Finger Lakes region.
Since opening its doors in 2009, proud owners Rich and Tara Nimmo have drawn widespread acclaim for the cosy ambience and unique wine experience they have created. Besides pulling up a chair at its Adirondack style tasting bar and trying some delicious wines, you can also sip delicious local beers and cocktails on its outdoor patio.
There are also some outstanding dishes to enjoy at the winery which has live music each Friday and Saturday night with fun, smiles and good times guaranteed.
8. Trip to Lake George
As it is situated just half an hour’s drive north of Saratoga Springs, it is well worth taking a trip to the large Lake George when in town. Tucked away amidst the Adirondacks, it boasts lovely landscapes, scenery and nature with all kinds of awesome outdoor activities on offer.
A top year-round tourist destination, its reflective waters are popular with New Yorkers and out-of-staters alike due to all its brilliant boating, kayaking and watersports. Hiking, cycling and horseback riding can also be enjoyed along its scenic tree-lined shoreline with marinas and campsites scattered here and there.
Aside from taking sightseeing cruises around the 170 or so islands, you can check out the umpteen shops and restaurants that are found in the town of the same name. Lake George also has numerous hotels and golf courses to try out alongside a family-friendly amusement park.
7. Yaddo Gardens
A picturesque place to amble around, the gorgeous Yaddo Gardens lie alongside the renowned Saratoga Race Course. Part of an enormous estate that is a private retreat for resident artists and writers, its fabulous fountains and flowerbeds are a delight to explore.
Founded in 1926 by the wealthy financier Spencer Trask and his writer wife Katrina, the serene and secluded Yaddo has since gone on to host hundreds of aspiring American artists. Without having to worry about the distractions of daily life, many have achieved considerable success in varied fields such as music and literature, landscape sculptures and photography.
Home to stupendous statues, water features and fragrant rose beds, its lovingly landscaped gardens certainly helped inspire some of their works. Modeled after classical gardens in Europe, they cover a huge area with sundials, perennials and rock gardens also decorating the upper and lower terraces.
6. Saratoga Automobile Museum
A must for motor enthusiasts, the Saratoga Automobile Museum contains countless vintage vehicles and cool racing cars. Nestled in Saratoga Spa State Park, its innumerable artifacts and exhibits are located in a beautiful Neoclassical Bottling Plant that was built in 1935.
As the state of New York was once home to more than a hundred car manufacturers, it makes sense for Saratoga to have its own automobile museum. Its informative displays offer a fascinating look at the Empire State’s auto industry and its rich racing heritage. Other exhibits focus either on female automobile pioneers or artworks involving cars and racers.
The undoubted highlight though is of course taking a closer look at all the amazing old corvettes and jaguars, bugattis and porsches with over thirty classic cars being displayed at any one time.
5. National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
Just up the road from the city’s revered race course, is a fine museum that honors the achievements of American Thoroughbred racehorses, jockeys and trainers. At the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, you can learn about the history and development of the sport over the centuries.
Established in 1951, the massive complex lies along Union Avenue with the dozens of brightly painted statues of jockeys outside making it instantly unmissable. Inside, the extensive exhibits and galleries look at the foundation of American racing during the colonial days, its expansion after the Civil War and its current state in contemporary times.
Asides from perusing all the artifacts and artworks, medals and trophies, you can also stroll about its Hall of Fame. This introduces you to famous thoroughbreds such as Seabiscuit and Secretariat, and feted jockeys and trainers like Eddie Arcaro and Fred Burlew.
4. Explore Broadway
The heart and soul of life in town, busy Broadway is lined by all kinds of shops and restaurants, cafes and bars that cater to every taste and need. Stretching over a mile in length, it is also bordered by lots of lovely old buildings that exhibit a wide array of architectural styles.
Running right through the center of the city, it extends from Congress Park in the south to the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center in the north. Next to chic boutiques and trendy antique stores you can find charming local restaurants, eclectic art galleries and some top-class tourist attractions. Some happening nightlife spots and cozy hotels are also laid out along its route.
With so many enticing eateries and establishments to choose from, it is no wonder Broadway is the main place to shop, dine and go out in Saratoga Springs.
3. Congress Park
Despite its proximity, Congress Park’s lush green spaces and landscaped gardens feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. As well as enjoying all its stunning scenery, you can also stop by several of the springs that gave the city its name and the historic Canfield Casino too.
Originally the site of a large resort hotel, bottling plant and casino, the site was transformed into a city park back in 1913. While the former two were both demolished, the latter still stands with its grand 1870s building instead housing the Saratoga Springs History Museum.
Beside seeing Congress Spring and the gorgeous Greek Revival-style pavilion that protects it, there are also fabulous fountains, ponds and an adorable 120-year-old carved carousel to check out.
2. Saratoga Spa State Park
As it is named after and known for its springs, no visit can be complete without exploring Saratoga Spa State Park. Set just south of the center and Congress Park, it offers a myriad of fun outdoor activities with museums, art exhibits and landmarks also being dotted about its confines.
For centuries if not millennia, people have come to drink from its springs and soak in their soothing waters. Once a relaxing retreat for the rich and famous, the ‘Queen of Spas’ now has plenty of pools for you to splash about in. While the bath houses’ classical architecture makes for quite the sight, its pretty paths and picnic areas are just as delightful to amble around.
On top of hiking and biking about, you can also play on its tennis courts or try out its immaculately maintained golf courses. What’s more, it contains not just both the automobile and dance museums but the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and opera too.
1. Saratoga Race Course
The highlight of any holiday, however, is attending a thrilling and unforgettable race at the Saratoga Race Course. One of the most revered race tracks in the country, it has impressively been hosting high-stakes thoroughbred horse races since 1863.
Lying on the southeastern outskirts of Spa City, the dirt and turf tracks are overlooked by large historic grandstands. The innumerable seats and suites boast perfect views of the horses and jockeys racing on the track. The hallowed venue’s restaurants and bars also have windows facing the racecourse so you don’t have to miss the action when you grab a bite to eat or drink.
Often listed among the world’s greatest sporting grounds, it hosts exciting races from July through to September with the summer season seeing events take place six days a week. Besides taking in the electrifying atmosphere, you can place bets on the race, tour around the paddocks and visit the nearby Hall of Fame.