- New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, and Syracuse are the top five most populated cities in New York state.
- New York City is also the biggest city in the US by population, and a worldwide culture and media capital.
- Buffalo was the home of America's first electric street lights in 1902, as well as the world's first skyscrapers, but has since lost its international prestige.
New York state is full of history, diversity, and exciting places and people. About 19.45 million people call it home in 2020, making it the fourth most populous state in the country, behind California, Florida, and Texas.
In many ways, New York state is the land of opposites. It has a variety of the world’s most famous urban settings, packed with pedestrians in some places, and empty rolling hillsides with countrysides as far as the eye can see in other parts. In fact, some people are so connected to nature in New York state, they have developed new kinds of food. Scientists from Cornell University in Ithaca successfully bred the SnapDragon and RubyFrost apples in 2013. New York City is about a four-hour drive from Ithaca, but it’s easy to see how this famous hotspot is often called the “Big Apple.”
Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, and Syracuse are the state’s other biggest cities, rounding out the top five. Should you add them to your list of must-see places? Here is a look at the five biggest cities in New York State.
New York City
New York City is indisputably one of the most exciting cities in the world. If you count the entire metropolitan area including the five boroughs, it ranks as one of the largest cities by population in the world. From Broadway to Greenwich Village, Manhattan to Wall Street, Times Square to billionaires, crooks, presidents, superstars and beyond, New York has a new story on every corner.
New York is the city with the biggest population in the US, and the world’s largest metropolitan space area covering 4,585 square miles. A lot of people are packed into a relatively small space in this city making it the most densely populated in the US.
Located on the Atlantic Ocean on America’s northeast coast, New York City is a famous tourist hub and has been described as a cultural and media world capital.
Buffalo is located just south of the Canada-US border, running between the Canadian province of Ontario and New York State in the US. As such, it is a popular shopping and gambling destination for Canadians. Although Buffalo is located in New York State, which is in the American northeast, some consider its culture to be more similar to that of the American midwest.
In its heyday, Buffalo was a thriving city. In 1902, its streets were lined with America’s first electric street lights. These lit up one of the world’s first skyscrapers (Guaranty Building, 1894), as well as Ellicott Square, the world’s largest office building at the time.
Today, Buffalo is fighting economic stagnation and a shrinking population. Manufacturing, once the city’s lifeline, has been replaced by a growing service sector. As such, the city has yet to regain the status it once held in the US.
The third most populated city in New York State, Rochester was named a 2020 All-America City by the National Civic League via a three-day virtual competition held online. It is located on the edge of Lake Ontario, on the state's northern border. Known for its cultural institutions such as the Eastman School of Music, it was also the birthplace of Xerox, and the supermarket chain Wegmans. Like Buffalo, Rochester was originally a manufacturing hub, but its economy has since diversified.
The name of this city might bring to mind the famous play by Neil Simon, Lost in Yonkers, but its people are certainly more kind than some of the work’s characters.
Yonkers is located in Westchester County and has a population of about almost 200,000. Sitting on the east banks of the Hudson River, it presents visitors and locals alike with Untermyer Park and Gardens, the Hudson River Museum, and a planetarium among other attractions.
Syracuse is known for its cold, snowy winters, and also for giving the world the actors Tom Cruise and Richard Gere. The city has a population of about 141,000 people, which has been decreasing slightly since the 1990s. Known as Central New York’s economic and educational core, the economic growth of Syracuse is behind that of the US overall, but its GDP did grow in 2019, despite its decreasing populace. Syracuse has been called “salt city” after the salt springs in the area that were the backbone of a prosperous salt industry on the southern end of Onandaga Lake in the 19th century.
The area’s roots lie in manufacturing, and its name comes from Syracuse in Sicily, and the ancient Greek city by the same name.
New York’s biggest cities each have a unique flavor and history. While those outside of New York City generally have their roots in manufacturing at some point, they are distinct. Present economic growth in the state’s urban centers lags behind the country, but it was growing rather than stalling, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The largest driver of the state’s economy is the financial sector, followed by transportation, and professional and business services.
The Biggest Cities In New York State