Main Street in Cooperstown, New York state. Editorial credit: Ritu Manoj Jethani /

11 Most Quaint Small Towns in Upstate New York

Interested in exploring a part of New York State where skyscrapers don’t fill the landscape and life is a bit slower, yet where visitors can enjoy a myriad of experiences? Just head north of Manhattan toward the Canadian border, and you will encounter various quaint towns dotting the landscape, each with its own unique style and culture. Whether you are a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, a wine aficionado, or a sports fan, these small towns have something for everyone. Let’s delve in, starting with…


View of the corner of Main Street and South Street in Beacon, New York.
View of the corner of Main Street and South Street in Beacon, New York.

Located along the Hudson River and just a two-hour train ride north of Manhattan, Beacon has been named one of the coolest towns – and for good reason. Contemporary art lovers can indulge their passion at Dia Beacon, a museum housed in a repurposed former Nabisco box-printing factory. Looking for outdoor adventure? Head to Mount Beacon, where two summits, each nearly 1,600 feet above sea level, offer hikers multiple trails to explore. For a more relaxing outdoor experience, take a stroll along the Long Dock Park on the Hudson, which once served as a terminal for ferrying cars across the river. Today, visitors can admire sculptures by artist George Trakas, have a picnic, cast a line, or just enjoy the fresh air and views. Planning to visit Beacon on a Sunday? Be sure to explore one of the best farmers' and flea markets in the Northeast. After a full day of sightseeing, relax in the cozy accommodations at Bespoke Beacon House, just a block off Main Street – one of the prettiest main streets – where strolling and shopping take center stage.


Main Street in Cooperstown, New York state, via Ritu Manoj Jethani /
Main Street in Cooperstown, New York state, via Ritu Manoj Jethani /

Are you a fan of America’s favorite pastime, baseball? Then, add Cooperstown to your bucket list. Legend has it that Abner Doubleday invented baseball here in 1839. Indulge your passion at the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum. Then root for the home team at an old-time game at Doubleday Field. Not a baseball fan? Museum lovers can enjoy fine, folk, and Native American art at the Fenimore Art Museum. Outdoorsy types will appreciate Cooperstown's location on the southern tip of Lake Otsego, where boating and fishing are popular activities. Depending on the season, don your hiking boots or snowshoes and explore Glimmerglass State Park. Interested in a cold brew? Red Shed Brewery and Brewery Ommegang serve up craft beers, and fresh cider flows at Fly Creek Cider Mill. Be sure to book a room at the Otesaga Resort Hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Downtown Geneva, New York.
Downtown Geneva, New York.

Known as the “Lake Trout Capital of the World," Geneva is situated in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes region on the northern shore of Seneca Lake. Every Memorial Day weekend, fishing and boating enthusiasts flock to the town for the National Lake Trout Derby. Prefer other outdoor activities? Geneva has you covered. The Kashong Conservation Area offers 83 acres of nature trails perfect for hiking, cross-country skiing, and more. Golfers and cyclists also enjoy the area. The 18th-century Belhurst Castle, which also offers lodging, is an ideal stop for wine-tasting or a massage at Isabella Spa. Geneva is a paradise for foodies. Its locally grown and produced foods have fostered an eclectic, home-grown culinary scene. Farm-to-table restaurants, wineries, craft breweries, and farmers' markets will delight any food or wine enthusiast. Just head to Linden Street in downtown Geneva for a variety of culinary options.


The beautiful town of Hunter in fall in New York
The beautiful town of Hunter in fall in New York

Calling all outdoor enthusiasts! Hunter, just a 40-minute drive from the heart of the Catskill Mountains, is the perfect destination for you. Hunter Mountain, the second-highest peak in the Catskills, is world-renowned for its skiing and snow tubing and offers activities year-round. Don your hiking boots and hit the Huckleberry Trail, or try some fishing, as Hunter is the birthplace of fly fishing in the United States. Looking for an adrenaline rush? Hunter boasts the highest, fastest, and longest zip line in North America. For something more leisurely, hop on the six-passenger Scenic Skyride chairlift, which takes you to the 3,200-foot summit in about 11 minutes for breathtaking views. After a full day of activity, relax at The Mountain Club Spa, which uses only naturally and locally sourced products. Then, catch a movie at the Mountain Cinema for an old-school movie experience, enjoy a brew at Hunter Mountain Brewery, and refuel with authentic German fare at Jagerberg Beer Hall & Alpine Tavern.

Lake Placid

Main street in Lake Placid, New York
Main street in Lake Placid, New York, via Karlsson Photo /

Interested in Olympic history and outdoor fun? Head to Lake Placid in the Adirondack Mountains. Famous for hosting the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, visitors today can explore many of the former facilities, including the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, situated in the building where the American hockey team won the 1980 gold. Lake Placid is more than a winter destination, offering year-round activities like hiking, fishing, and boating at Mirror Lake. For a challenge, scale Wallface, the largest and tallest cliff in New York State, and enjoy the stunning views, especially in the fall. Rest at one of the area’s fabulous accommodations, including Whiteface Lodge and Lake Placid Lodge. Satisfy your hunger with award-winning wings at Smoke Signals, or try Venison Vindaloo Stew at Salt of the Earth Bistro.


Lewiston, New York as seen from the dock on the Niagara River.
Lewiston, New York as seen from the dock on the Niagara River. Image credit Atomazul via Shutterstock.

Interested in experiencing the beauty and power of Niagara Falls without crossing into Canada? Visit Lewiston. Take a stroll down Center Street to the Niagara River, where Niagara Falls first formed some 12,000 years ago, and wave to our neighbors in Canada. Given its proximity to Niagara Falls, watersports are a popular activity here. For an adrenaline-pumping experience, embark on one of Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours' 45-minute rides into the heart of the Niagara Gorge and through the Devil’s Hole rapids. History buffs will find Lewiston fascinating, as it was the final stop on the Underground Railroad and the site of the first major battle of the War of 1812. For relaxation, take a stroll through Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park, just a short walk from the village, and then enjoy a cup of coffee from Orange Cat Coffee Company.

Lily Dale

The dominant architectural style in Lily Dale dates from the 1800s
The dominant architectural style in Lily Dale dates from the 1800s, By Plazak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, File:Street-Scene-Lily-Dale-NY.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Are you looking for a spiritual or ghostly experience? Then head to the small town of Lily Dale, known as New York’s Séance Capital. Founded in 1879, it has been a center for Spiritualism, a religion that views death as a transition from a physical to a nonphysical entity. Today, visitors are mainly drawn to the possibility of connecting with spirits, possibly witnessing ghosts, and exploring healing potential. Inspiration Stump is a recommended first stop for visitors, believed to enhance receptivity to spiritual energies. If you're looking to heal an aching back or another ailment, The Healing Temple offers “laying on of hands” for both humans and pets. Be sure to book a session with one of the 50 trained and registered mediums. For a less spooky activity, take a walk along the Fairy Trail through the forest, where spirits are said to roam, and peek inside a fairy house! End your day with an evening ghost tour. Whether you leave as a believer or not is entirely up to you.


East Market Street in Rhinebeck, New York
East Market Street in Rhinebeck, New York, via Ritu Manoj Jethani /

Looking for the ideal small town with a touch of luxury? Rhinebeck ticks that box. Stroll down Market Street to explore some of the finest galleries, museums, specialty stores, performing arts, independent film, and historic homes and architecture. If you're a movie fan with a sweet tooth, don’t miss Samuel’s Sweet Shop, a classic candy store co-owned by actors Paul Rudd and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. For healthier options, check out Rhinebeck’s acclaimed local farmers’ market. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy hiking at Drayton Grant Park at Burger Hill and its panoramic views extending from the Berkshires to the Catskills. Interested in history and architecture? Visit the Wilderstein Historic Site, home of Margaret Suckley, a cousin and confidante of Franklin Roosevelt, and a prime example of Hudson Valley Victorian architecture. Catch a film at Upstate Films movie theater, and then rest up at The Beekman Arms and Delamater Inn, the oldest continuously operating inn.

Saratoga Springs

Downtown Saratoga Springs in New York
Downtown Saratoga Springs in New York, via Brian Logan /

For over 200 years, Saratoga Springs has been a renowned resort destination due to its mineral springs and their purported healing powers. Visitors can still sample the waters from 21 public springs in the area, including those at Saratoga Spa State Park. From mid-July to early September, horse racing becomes the town's main attraction, with thoroughbreds competing at the Saratoga Race Course. If you're curious about equine history, visit the National Museum of Racing to learn about three centuries of horse racing. Prefer cars over horses? Explore the Saratoga Automobile Museum, housed in a restored plant that once bottled water from Saratoga’s mineral springs. The Yaddo Gardens, open in spring and summer and inspired by Renaissance gardens in France and Italy, offer a tranquil retreat. Top off your day with a tasting at the Saratoga Winery and a show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a celebrated music and dance venue.


Aerial view of the Esopus Creek Bridge in Saugerties, New York.
Aerial view of the Esopus Creek Bridge in Saugerties, New York.

What do a 170-year-old lighthouse, a garlic festival, and an American Stonehenge have in common? They can all be found in Saugerties, a small town nestled between the foothills of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River. Home to one of the finest recreation facilities, Cantine Field, visitors can partake in a myriad of activities. Lace-up your skates and take to the ice rink year-round, watch a hometown baseball game, or attend the annual Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in September, the largest food festival in the United States. Take a walk along the shores of the Hudson River to the remote Saugerties Lighthouse, which nowadays operates as a bed and breakfast. Do not miss Opus 40, known as the Stonehenge of North America, inspired by ancient Mayan and Aztec architecture. Are you an outdoor enthusiast? Kayak and paddleboard on Esopus Creek or walk the 155-acre Esopus Bend Nature Preserve. Are there any animal lovers out there? A visit to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and HITS-on-the-Hudson, a world-class equestrian facility, to see the horses and riders competing at an Olympic level, is a must. Make sure to stop in for some food at The Red Onion, the recipient of the Wine Spectator Award. 

Watkins Glen

Beautiful waterfront homes in Watkins Glen, New York.
Beautiful waterfront homes in Watkins Glen, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

Looking for some of the best hiking trails and a world-class wine trail? No need to choose one over the other. Watkins Glen offers the best of both worlds. Considered one of New York State's flagship parks, Watkins Glen State Park lies in the center of town and is the home of the famous 2.5-mile Gorge Trail, lined with at least 19 waterfalls. Want to bring Fido along on the adventure? Take one of the rim trails that allow dogs. Hit the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, known for its diverse array of world-class wines, from Cabernet to sweet ice wines. With over 30 wineries to choose from, everyone will find their perfect libation. Take a short, five-minute drive to the Brick Tavern Museum in Montour Falls to learn all about local, regional, and state history. Adrenaline seekers and racing enthusiasts will get their fill by heading just four miles south of downtown to The Glen International, where they can experience NASCAR racing. Sign up for the Drive the Glen program and experience driving the circuit in your own car! After a full day of activity, enjoy your upscale accommodations at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel and feast at one of the many culinary options that line this town's main street. 

New York State offers more than just a big city experience. A host of quaint towns that lie between the Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes beckon visitors with their rich history, spectacular scenery, a host of outdoor activities, eclectic food and wine scenes, and more. So, start making a plan. What are you waiting for?

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