Don’t Be a Tourist in Your Own State Capital: Things to Do in Albany, NY

Albany at night

Approaching the 404-year-old town you’ll see what you might have expected in New York’s capital: a skyline marked by government buildings. But don’t be fooled by a ministerial profile. Look closer, and you’ll discover that the city on the western banks of the Hudson River has a lot more than politics going for it. Albany is well worth a day trip or weekend getaway at any time of year.

What to see
Start with an official welcome at the Albany Heritage Area Visitor Center in the historic district. Its brick pedestrian walkway at Quackenbush Square leads you inside to explore the history of Albany. From exposed artifacts like an original water works pumping station to the visual documentary inside the Henry Hudson Planetarium, you’ll experience exhibits orientating you to the history of Albany. 1st Friday serves to celebrate the “unique vitality of the artists and venues” in the local community, featuring gallery openings, one-night shows, local shops, restaurants, and live entertainment. Another popular long-standing local happening is the Alive at Five festival at Albany Riverfront Park—the place to be on a Thursday evening. Performances might include Blues Traveler, the Neville Brothers, and the Original Wailers. Not only will you get a sample of the culture brewing in the city, but you’ll taste everything from traditional BBQ to home made lemonade by local vendors.

Where to find culture
The Albany Institute of History and Art’s more than 20,000 piece permanent collection predates the Louvre and provides a comprehensive yet tangible history of Albany and the river running beside it. Four centuries worth of artifacts document the relationship of art, history, and culture as it relates to the Hudson Valley. Inside you’ll find a chronological timeline of events occurring on the east and west sides of the river from the Albany’s founding in 1609 to the present. In addition to exploring big themes like transportation, natural history and the environment, the exhibits provide small vignettes on local typography, antique food varieties as well as historical references to Community Supported Agriculture, whose influence can be seen locally. If you’re one to pick your head up in NYC to admire the architecture, the Center Square District has a beautiful panorama of mansions, cottages, and restored historic homes dating back to the mid-1800s. Walk to nearby Lark Street, where a burgeoning ten-block Arts District is considered to be the “village” of the city.

What to do outdoors
Take a walk or bike through the 84-acre Washington Square Park filled with over 100 species of trees and many impressive sculptures. Mark your calendars for next spring when the park hosts its annual tulip festival that promises to pop with over 200,000 blossoms. For more of the area’s local flora and food fare visit Downtown Albany’s Farmers Market on Thursday or the Empire State Farmers Market on Friday. As you shop in the spirit of the town’s local CSA tradition, pick up some snacks to nibble on during some of Albany’s free concerts.

Where to eat
A city isn’t complete without a foodie hit list for a good cup of Joe, on-the-go eats and fine dining. Before you enter historic Downtown Albany you can grab coffee, tea and fresh baked pastries at Melville’s Mug, named after the Moby Dick author and famed 19th century resident, Herman Melville. As you enter onto the one stop strip on Pearl Street you’ll find venues suitable for a variety of appetites. You can get sizeable pizza slices at D’Carlitos Pizza Express, fully packed deli sandwiches over at Miranda’s Deli and tasty Mexican-styled tacos at Burrito Joe’s. Vegetarians will love Greenhouse Café for its more than 50 available toppings to accommodate its fresh-if pricey-salads. Nearby Clinton Avenue and Pearl Street have a few restaurants to please the fine dining palette. Pop over to Taste on Pearl Street for flawless service and a romantic meal with a view of the Hudson River and Albany skyline.

Where to drink
Bars are known to stay open until the wee hours of the morning here in Albany. After taking in a show at the Palace Theatre—that has headlined artists like John Legend, Maxwell, Jerry Seinfeld and Darius Rucker—start your pub crawl at McGeary’s across the street and adjacent to Herman Melville’s childhood home. As you make your way down Pearl Street there are a string of venues including after 5p.m. favorites The Victory Café, live music venue Bayou Café, and the mellow Envy Lounge. Enjoy a cold brewski at the Albany Pump Station in Quackenbush Square, where a bar, restaurant, tap room, and brewery all exist under one historic roof.

Where to sleep
If you’re surprised to find yourself wanting to extend your visit beyond a day trip, spend the night at Morgan State House in the artsy Lark Street District (consider the Upstate New York Getaway Package, which includes a bottle of champagne and dinner voucher). Hampton Inn Downtown or 74 State along the State Street mansions are two other great options.

With ample options round-the-clock in Albany, you’ll feel renewed in a city that isn’t too old to show its visitors how to live like they’re forever young. For more ideas on things to do with the family, read Little Kid, Mid-Sized City Part II: Kids Activities in Albany, NY

E-Pocket This List
Albany Institute of History and Art | 125 Washington Ave | 518.463.4478 | albanyinstitute.org
Palace Theatre | 19 Clinton Ave. | 518.465.3334 | palacealbany.com
Dale Mille | 30 S. Pearl St. | 518.694.3322 | dalemillerrestaurant.com
D’Carlitos Pizza Express | 215 Western Ave. | 518.463.0054
Miranda’s Deli | 54B Columbia Street | 518.542.5219
Burrito Joe’s | 63 Columbia St. | 845.265.4504
Greenhouse Café | 50 North Pearl St. | 518.514.2055 | eatgreenhouse.com
Hollywood Brown Derby Albany | 22 Clinton St. | 518.463.1945 | thehollywoodbrownderby.com
McGeary’s | 4 Clinton Sq. |518.463.1455 | mcgearyspub.com
The Victory Café | 10 Sheridan Ave. | 518.463.9113 | thevictorycafe.com
Bayou Café | 79 N. Pearl St.| 518.426.8550| bayoucafe.com
Envy Lounge | 55 North Pearl. | 518.694.3689 | envyalbany.com
74 State | 74 State St. | 518.434.7410 | state74.com
Morgan State House | 393 State | 518.427.6063 | statehouse.com
Hampton Inn Downtown | 25 Chapel St. | 518.432.7000 | hamptonsuitesalbany.com

How to get there: Take Amtrak from Penn Station to Rensselaer and arrive in 2.5 hours. From $41/one way. Hop a quick cab ride from the station into downtown. Or visit megabus.com. The buses depart from 34th St. and 11th Ave, across from the Javits Center. The bus can drop you at the Rensselaer Station or SUNY Albany. The buses have a 94% on time service and are equipped with free wifi, power outlets and seat belts.

Photo: Courtesy of Albany Tourism Board

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