When people think of New York, minds often jump straight to the spellbinding high rises of Manhattan. But that is just a mere corner of a state that runs all the way north to be on the cusp of both Toronto and Montreal.
When it comes to living and visiting New York, the variety of towns will leave a lot on your plate. Like much of the northeast, the state has a vast history, with many towns having kept their gorgeous 19th century architecture and not been a burden on the local nature.
Travelers will have New York City and Niagara Falls on their list. But they should join those on the move in exploring the many other quaint towns and cities to discover a new side to the Empire State.
Neatly tucked away in the Hudson Valley, Kingston has a population of around 35,000 people and a thriving arts community that has changed the course of the town. Kingston was New York’s original capital. Today it’s one of the country’s top art towns, which is complemented by a colorful downtown.
Kingston was a bustling river port in the 19th century. While its history and beauty remain intact, it provides locals and visitors with wonderful attractions and a lively calendar of events. You could cruise down the river, explore the Rondout National Historic District, the Trolley Museum and the Hudson River Maritime Museum, or visit the Performing Arts Center.
In the heart of the Hudson Valley, Poughkeepsie is a small city with large historical significance. Around two hours from New York City, Poughkeepsie has an effortless appeal, best explained by the leafy streets, beautiful homes and the surging Hudson River.
For city slickers, the Hudson Valley has been a popular choice for local travel and to move permanently. Poughkeepsie has been at the center of this movement, and provides all who come with a long list of fun things to do. The downtown area is laden with delightful restaurants and pubs, there are 17 public parks, a dozen museums (including the Roosevelt Presidential Library) and an abundance of local nature.
14. Garden City
Just east of Manhattan, Garden City is often overlooked by those looking to live in or visit New York City. You’ll find Garden City not far from Brooklyn on Long Island, which provides locals and travelers alike with a nice balance between the “big smoke” and suburban life.
Garden City’s name is well earned, thanks to its plethora of tree-lined streets that provide shade for the rows of beautiful Tudor and Colonial homes. Those in town can shop one of the largest regional malls, Roosevelt Field, tee off at the local country club and enjoy the nearby parks. All the while Manhattan and the wineries on Long Island await.
Forever associated with the famous festival (though it was actually held 65 miles away), Woodstock is a gorgeous small town with some big city influence. Life here is decidedly quiet, with many residents moving out from more populous areas to enjoy their retirement on the edge of the Catskills.
The quaint “downtown” has shops, cozy cafes and some delicious restaurants with the town surrounded by fields of farms and the nearby mountains. For young families, they have to navigate the “lack” of things to do in town by venturing further afield. But those who do will have adventures on the Aesopus River, hiking trails and nearby ski resorts.
Despite only having a population of around 2,000 people, Cooperstown is one of the most famous cities in New York. It was here, in 1939, that the nation’s pastime of baseball was invented. Today, travelers come from far and wide in numbers that eclipse the local population to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Those who visit will admire not just the complex and its history but the charming nature of the small community, its leafy streets and old architecture. It’s a sleepy, beautiful town and, owing to its reliance on tourism, the atmosphere ebbs and flows with the seasons. This leads to fun summers and quiet winters.
Near the Pennsylvania border in southern New York, Binghamton is one of the best places to live in the state. For travelers who don’t yet have it on their radar, then one of the many reasons to visit is to try the original spiedie sandwich at Spiedie and Rib Pit.
Residents on Binghamton get to enjoy one of the cheapest metro areas in the state, while students can make the most of the high expenditure in elementary and secondary schools.
All visitors and locals will admire some of the quirky aspects of life in Binghamton, which includes being the Carousel Capital of the World. Here, you’ll find six antique carousels that are as beautiful as you’d think.
On the edge of Lake Erie, Buffalo is the second biggest city in the state. It’s a city that offers great food (hello Buffalo wings), a busy live sports schedule and a revitalized waterfront that has become the center of local life.
For travelers, Buffalo doesn’t have to be a short stop on the way to Niagara Falls. Take your time exploring a lively downtown, home to delicious chicken wings, a burgeoning craft beer scene, art galleries and wonderful architecture. Later, join locals for the iconic tailgate at a Buffalo Bills game or watch the Sabres carve up the ice in the National Hockey League.
Residents can enjoy all this and access to nearby ski and hiking trails and a low cost of living compared to much of New York.
On the southern shore of Lake Ontario in northern New York, Rochester is a city that blends the old and the new. For years, residents lived in the surrounding suburbs, but life continues to move inward, providing a fresh burst of energy to a growing downtown.
The inner city has maintained much of its original infrastructure, with rows of 19th and early 20th century buildings. Today they house shops, restaurants and bars while old factory buildings have transformed into eclectic lofts.
The many festivals and parks, along with minor league baseball and amusement parks, help keep travelers and locals entertained. While the strength of local education and great quality of life are just two reasons to stick around.
8. Niagara Falls
Living next to one of the most remarkable natural landmarks on earth is just one of the many reasons to reside in Niagara Falls. For travelers, the 150,000 gallons of water that topples off the cliff every second is more than enough reason to visit. The surrounding tourist attractions and family friendly fun are the icing on the cake.
But beyond the falls is a town travelers are unlikely to see, but for locals there’s plenty to enjoy. Niagara Falls has all the big city amenities you need while the diverse surrounding neighborhoods provide for a great lifestyle for single folk, couples and families.
Those in town also enjoy easy access to nearby Buffalo, while Toronto is just over an hour away.
The state capital of New York ticks all the boxes. It may not have the fame of Manhattan, but what it does offer is a well-balance way of life along with beautiful scenery and rich history that will take the interest of many visitors.
Locals in Albany get to make the most of the handful of leafy parks, boat rides down the Hudson River and the many surrounding craft breweries. When they aren’t having fun around town, they form a part of a strong and growing local economy.
Those who visit the beautiful capital will want to explore the historic downtown, home to the New York State Museum and Empire State Plaza. You’ll also find yourself on the precipice of the Adirondack Mountains.
There aren’t many big towns in New York that get as much snow as Syracuse. It’s no surprise the Upstate city is the punchline of many a weather joke. In Syracuse, over 120 inches of snow falls annually, but for locals it’s an easy trade off as they enjoy a strong communal culture and some fantastic outdoor opportunities.
After the skis are put away, you’ll be able to go boating and kayaking on the nearby lakes and waterways. There are great hiking trails through the surrounding woods, an adventure that works at any time of year. Those that move to Syracuse quickly weave into the local fabric, which includes bleeding orange and supporting the sports teams of Syracuse University.
5. Lake Placid
One of the best places to stay to avoid the big city rush is Lake Placid. Here, the mountains roll across the scenery like waves and the glassy lake shimmers under the summer sun. Lake Placid is well, placid. It’s a tranquil experience that is a great opportunity for travelers to take a deep breath and for residents to enjoy a relaxed, outdoor lifestyle.
In the warmer months, you can wander the streets that are lined with charming boutiques and thrift stores. Sit out on the patios and sample seasonal produce before wandering along the edge of the aptly named Mirror Lake.
However, it was skiing the put Lake Placid on the map. After all, it has hosted two Winter Olympics. When the snow falls, trade the hiking shoes for skis and head to Whiteface Mountain.
On the banks of the vast Long Island Sound, Montauk is an idyllic place to be, especially in the warmer months. With a half-dozen state parks, miles of beachfront and some of the best golf courses in the region, when the sun is out, you’ll quickly find yourself outside.
Montauk has an old-time character, boasting historic lighthouses, epic scenery and 19th century homes. The lighthouse itself is the oldest working lighthouse in the country, the cliffs drop without fear into the Atlantic and the town has maintained its rustic fishing roots.
For visitors it’s all this and more that attracts them to the “East End”. There are great breweries here, excellent dining and the summer atmosphere brings events, outdoor concerts and fun nightlife.
3. Saratoga Springs
Known as Spa City, Saratoga Springs straddles the line between tourist destination and a get place for families to live. It’s home to the oldest racetrack in the country, a historic performing arts center and a natural beauty that will be a boon for lovers of the outdoors.
For travelers and locals alike, one of the draws of Saratoga Springs is the springs themselves. Age old legend tells tales of the spring’s healing qualities which lead to a 19th century tourism boom. Today, you can get in on the attraction at one of the several local spas, including the Saratoga Springs Spa State Park.
A progressive town on the southern banks of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca is popular among students and creatives. Boasting Cornell and Ithaca College, there is a strong layer of higher education, culture and youthfulness in town. While the rich art scene brings together the wider community.
It’s a charming town but far from sleepy. As adorable and colorful as Ithaca is, there’s much to do here. Beyond the galleries and chic cafes, there is fantastic hiking to embark on in the city’s surrounds, including the 100+ gorges and waterfalls within minutes of downtown.
There is a wine trail and local festivals that will fill up your calendar. The nearby lakes are great for paddleboarding while on rainy days the local museums will keep you entertained.
1. New York City
The Big Apple needs no introduction. It’s one of the most famous cities in the world, home to the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and the New York Yankees. New York City has transcended all else to be at the forefront of pop culture and for travelers, it’s often at the top of the list of places to visit in the United States.
There are many parts of New York City. There are five boroughs, which include Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Each offers their own take on the NYC experience. For travelers Manhattan and “DUMBO” are the most common spots to explore, from amazing food to historic, towering skyscrapers.
But for those who choose to reside in the beyond bustling city, it’s easier to get your foot in the door in places like Brooklyn, Queens and even Staten Island compared to the expensive Manhattan.