14 Best Things to Do in Syracuse, NY

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The fifth-largest city in the state of New York, the wonderfully well-preserved Syracuse lies nestled away in the scenic Finger Lakes region. As well as a delightful downtown full of historic buildings and tourist attractions for visitors to explore, there are also lively shopping, dining and cultural scenes.

Long an important crossroads, the upstate city flourished for centuries alongside the Erie Canal and railway network with these also impacting the development of the States itself. As such, a myriad of attractive old buildings, striking cultural landmarks and fabulous museums are dotted about with the country’s oldest state fair also taking place in the city.

Among the most fun things to do in Syracuse are visiting its highly-rated zoo and New York’s largest mall while sublime nature spots and untold entertainment are also options to enjoy.

14. Everson Museum of Art

Everson Museum of Art

The first museum dedicated solely to American artists and artworks, the outstanding Everson can be found just southeast of the center. Located in a distinctive building designed by I.M. Pei, it contains an incredible collection of paintings and photos, sculptures and ceramics.

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Founded in 1897, the highly regarded institute now houses more than 11,000 unique art pieces and thought-provoking installations. It displays not just important works by Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler but Maria Martinez and Gustav Stickley too with its large galleries covering several centuries in total.

Aside from perusing its prints and watching some of its fascinating video art, it is also well worth taking in the museum’s exquisite architecture. In addition, the Everson regularly puts on temporary exhibitions, talks and workshops.

13. Webster Pond

Webster Pond

A very peaceful place, Webster Pond lies on the southern outskirts of Syracuse with all kinds of fun outdoor activities and amenities on offer. Often described as a hidden gem, its calm waters are home to hundreds of ducks and geese with furtive deer sometimes spied amidst the trees surrounding it.

At the small sanctuary, you can really immerse yourself in nature and have a great time feeding the flocks of feathered waterfowl from its countless benches. While they almost threaten to overwhelm you at times with their sheer numbers, it does make for an amusing experience with both young and old alike enjoying the interaction.

Besides basking in its relaxing ambience and keeping an eye out for cute ducklings, you can wander along its Veterans Memorial trail, fish in the pond or enjoy a picnic alongside it.

12. NBT Bank Stadium

NBT Bank Stadium

If instead of peace and quiet it is an exhilarating event you are after, then the NBT Bank Stadium is certainly the place to head. At the intimate but atmospheric arena, you can watch the Syracuse Mets play an action-packed baseball game cheered on by their raucous fans.

Built in 1997, the brilliant ballpark is situated right next to Onondaga Lake with all the seats and suites offering perfect views over the pitch. A very family-friendly venue, it has numerous food stands dotted about while prices are very reasonable for both the upper and lower tiers.

Watching the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets really is an unforgettable experience with the International League season running from early April to late September.

11. Trip to Skaneateles

Skaneateles

As it lies just half an hour’s drive to the southwest of Syracuse, it is well worth taking a trip to the nearby Skaneateles when in town. One of the Finger Lakes’ most scenic settlements, it is nestled at the northern end of the long, narrow lake of the same name.

Aptly meaning ‘Long Beautiful Lake’ in Iroquois, the town and its tranquil waters have long been a favorite summer holiday haunt of the rich and famous. While striking stately mansions and historic houses line its shores, its tiny center is packed with unique boutiques, art galleries and restaurants.

At its pretty waterfront parks, you can amble out along the pier, boat about the lake and enjoy some wonderful watersports; all while drinking in divine views over its shimmering surface. The laidback little town also puts on excellent events like the Skaneateles music and Dickens Christmas festivals.

10. Landmark Theatre

Landmark Theatre

Certainly one of the city’s most attractive and impressive buildings, the terrific Landmark Theatre is set right in the heart of downtown. At the fantastic performing arts venue, you can catch scintillating Broadway shows with concerts, comedy nights and community events also regularly taking place.

Now recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the extravagant ‘Oriental-style’ movie palace was first opened in 1928. Its opulent interior still sports its original red and gold decor with resplendent murals and motifs decorating its enormous auditorium and grand entrance hall.

Thanks to all its ostentatious ornamentation and world-class performers, the theatre is a memorable place to watch a musical or movie. Over the years, everyone from Jerry Seinfeld and Steely Dan to Bob Dylan and the latest Broadway stars have graced its hallowed stage.

9. Green Lakes State Park

Green Lakes State Park

Home to lots of stunning landscapes, scenery and nature, Green Lakes State Park lies directly to the east of Syracuse. As well as offering up a myriad of epic outdoor activities, it features two gorgeous glacial lakes and a famous eighteen-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones.

Established back in 1928, it is centered around Green Lake and Round Lake, both of which are noted for their unusual blue-green color. The two lovely lakes make for some great photos and viewing – particularly due to the fact that their layers of water do not mix. Surrounding them are vast tracts of old growth forests and rolling hills with shady trails weaving their way here and there.

In addition to snapping some pictures and hiking, cycling and kayaking about the park, you can also camp, picnic and play a fun round of golf.

8. Explore Downtown Syracuse

Downtown Syracuse

The heart and soul of life in Syracuse, its lively downtown is packed with interesting things for you to see and do. Home to loads of beautiful old Neoclassical and Gothic buildings, the happening area has hundreds of appealing shops and restaurants, bars and cafes for you to try out.

Despite covering a huge part of the city center, it is easily navigable and walkable with many of its eateries and establishments being set around Armory Square. Plenty of bars and nightclubs are also found here with the charming Clinton Square and Hanover Square both attracting lots of people.

Top tourist attractions like the Everson Museum of Art, Landmark Theater and Erie Canal Museum are also located in the district.

7. Central New York Regional Market

Central New York Regional Market

Head to the north side of Syracuse and you can hardly fail to find the colorful and chaotic Central New York Regional Market. Tucked away alongside Destiny USA in the city’s Lakefront district, its large complex impressively has over 300 vendors for you to slowly stroll past.

Since the first small market was held in 1938, it has grown considerably with stands buckling under the weight of fresh fruit and veg now lying beside those selling handmade crafts, wines and cheese. While exploring its endless rows of artisanal food products, you can also stop off for a coffee, snack or meal at any one of its local cafes and kiosks.

Its marvelous farmers market and flea market are held year-round with the former taking place on Saturday mornings and the latter at the same time on Sundays.

6. Museum of Science and Technology

Museum of Science and Technology

Full of educational and entertaining exhibits, the Museum of Science and Technology ((MOST) can be found just to the south of Armory Square. With all kinds of hands-on activities, experiments and an IMAX theatre on offer, it makes for a great day out for all of the family.

The first interactive science museum to open in upstate New York, its ginormous galleries occupy a distinctive castle-like building that once acted as the city’s armory. Since 1981, its engaging exhibits have wowed visitors with some sections focusing on geology and paleontology and others on outer space, flight and the future of technology.

On top of watching some cool documentaries and films in its IMAX and seeing a piece of the Berlin Wall outside, you can also gaze up at the stars and sky in its state-of-the-art planetarium.

5. Destiny USA

Destiny USA

If after all the sightseeing, shows and outdoor activities you want some retail therapy, then Destiny USA is definitely the best place to go. The largest mall in the entire state, its colossal complex lies along the lakefront, not far from both the CNY Regional Market and NBT Bank Stadium.

One of the most visited shopping centers in the country, its seven vast floors host a staggering array of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. These include everything from Macy’s and Armani to Old Navy, TJ Maxx and Urban Outfitters.

In total, it has over 250 places where you can shop, dine and play with its establishments catering to every budget and interest. In addition to live music venues and a comedy club, it has a fun go-kart track and challenging ropes course to try. After all this, its gorgeous glass atrium still remains one of its standout sights.

4. Clinton Square

Clinton Square

The original center of the city, Clinton Square is surrounded by loads of stunning nineteenth century buildings with a massive fountain lying in its middle. Now a public park, it is a popular sightseeing stop with countless festivals and community events also being held here.

Throughout its long history, the delightful square has acted as a hugely important crossroads with its development being directly tied to that of Syracuse itself. Once the Erie Canal opened up in 1825, it turned into a heaving marketplace with thousands of sellers and shoppers flocking here each day.

Nowadays the square is somewhat quieter unless the Jazz Fest, Oktoberfest or Christmas festivities are going on. Any other time, you can amble around enjoying all the fine architecture and amazing monuments like those to the Soldiers and Sailors or daring Jerry Rescue.

3. Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Rosamond Gifford Zoo

An absolute must for animal lovers, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo has long been one of the city’s main tourist attractions. Remarkably enough, it now contains more than 900 animals, reptiles and birds of over 275 species.

Sprawling across a large part of Burnet Park, its spacious enclosures and exhibits first opened to the public in 1914. Since then, the zoo has expanded enormously with giant elephants and fierce tigers on show next to tiny frogs, cute penguins and slow-moving sloths.

After wandering about either Primate Park or its Elephant Preserve, guests can always check out the insects, amphibians and ocean-dwelling creatures in its U.S.S. Antiquities cave. Scattered about are plenty of playgrounds and picnic areas with the zoo also known for its outstanding medical, research and conservation programs.

2. Erie Canal Museum

Erie Canal Museum

As the Erie Canal played such an integral role in the development of the city, state and Great Lakes region, its magnificent museum is not to be missed when in town. Aside from seeing its interesting artifacts and exhibits, visitors can board a canal boat and tour around a replica of a canal-era town.

Its considerable collection of old tools and equipment, paintings and photos are housed in the 1850 Weighlock Building, not far from the city center. The last remaining structure of its kind in the US, it actually used to weigh boats traveling along the canal to see how much they should pay as a toll.

Besides seeing how the ingenious system worked, you can learn about the construction of the canal which stretches 363 miles in length from Albany to Buffalo. Other interactive exhibits look at life in canal towns at the time and the waterway’s impact on the growth and development of the country.

1. The Great New York State Fair

Great New York State Fair

One of the most rewarding times of year to visit Syracuse, however, is in August when the fun and festive Great New York State Fair takes place. Over thirteen days, countless exciting exhibits and incredible concerts are held as both individuals and companies showcase the best of the state’s agriculture, entertainment and technology.

Not just the oldest state fair in the country but one of its largest too, it impressively attracts millions of visitors each year. Now held at the enormous Empire Expo Center alongside Onondaga Lake, its shows, displays and competitions have delighted New Yorkers and out-of-staters alike since 1841.

Both inside and around its a hundred or so buildings you can walk about art exhibits and agriculture stands, live music shows and fairground rides. Innumerable food vendors and drinks providers can also be found near large herds of dairy cattle and the massive thematic sand sculpture that is slowly constructed during the fair.