Aerial view of Ithaca, New York.

12 Must-Visit Small Towns In New York

Blessed naturally with the Finger Lakes Region and the Adirondacks, the New York State folk put up a scene of towns to make it worthy of nature's splendor! From many lakeside towns and former ports turned to seafood and waterfront recreation, you will also find some fascinating historical and cultural landmarks, among the most eclectic ones like Opus 40 in Saugerties! These idyllic towns adapt to your favorite pursuits and take it a notch, like Lake Placid, home to two Winter Olympic Games, and more towns for lakeside walks, quaint family restaurants, and pristine natural areas.

Seeking the perfect getaway? Why not visit the almost Gilmore Girls set of Saugerties or the too-good-to-be-true town of Greenport with Lavender by the Bay, forty vineyards and wineries, and an antique carousel? Did we mention it has beaches? Find more sandy stretches in Westfield and Montauk, and while it is the end of Long Island, it doesn't let it get to its head with friendly locals who love to beachcomb and surf in company as much as you and your family!


The Wells College campus in Aurora, New York.
The Wells College campus in Aurora, New York.

This picturesque town along Cayuga Lake is a must-visit for the quaint escape you've been dreaming of. Complete with beautiful old architecture, the Aurora Village-Wells College Historic District alone comprises 50 timeless samples. The idyllic inns and cozy B&Bs are steps from the outdoors at Long Point State Park and the fine wines along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. Truly a hidden gem in the state, all this and more is only an hour from Rochester and Syracuse, without crowds and just the youthful ring from the prestigious Wells College campus—a real treat to stroll!

You can let the nostalgia settle amid college buildings and let the charming center take the last of your worries as you unwind over entertainment and farm-fresh restaurants. The quaint countryside surrounding Cayuga Lake calls to breathe deep in the fresh air and the wineries along the shores, to each their own after a summerday of waterside recreation. You can come back during harvest time to amble through the vineyards and stock up on memories from the enviable escape at Aurora's Café and Gifts to delight friends at home!

Croton on Hudson

New Croton Dam near Croton on Hudson is a popular tourist spot.
New Croton Dam near Croton on Hudson is a popular tourist spot.

Home to one of the largest structures in the US, Croton on Hudson is a real stunner, showing the power of engineering and the beauty of nature in one little riverside village. Aside from the 97 gorgeous acres of Croton Gorge Park with a beach, nature trails, and a pavilion to take in the gorgeous scenery, it is the iconic bridge that brings in the herds to see its arch over a gigantic dam on the Hudson River. You can walk atop the historic stone New Croton Dam and have a picnic with water cascading over the sides into the Croton Gorge and sweeping views all around!

The 18th-century Van Cortlandt Manor, the former home of New York’s wealthy Van Cortlandt family, is a sight to behold from every side around its stone and brick ferry houses. The local crowd-pleaser Croton Tapsmith is a must-visit to enjoy cold brews or a family-style meal with locally sourced ingredients from nearby Hudson Valley producers, including a must-try Blue Pig for dessert or the best Oreo ice cream of your life! If last year's The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze featured over 7,000 hand-carved jack-o'-lanterns in the most fantastical shapes, we bet the 2024 season will top it!


The harbor at Greenport, New York.
The harbor at Greenport, New York.

Not far from NYC, the waterfront town circa 1682 on the northern tip of Long Island is a must-visit for a storybook-like feel! Whether you're dreaming up a romantic escape, a tale of adventures, or your favorite childhood folklore coming to life, Greenport can't be beat for the modern-day fairytale either, where all you desire is a simple escape from the everyday, work, and steel city sights. The Harborfront Inn has waterfront boarding houses of yore, modern amenities, a pool, and a private beach!

Home to unreplicable sunsets over the Sound and lavender fields through the North Fork area, the scenery feels too good to be true, but Lavender by the Bay, forty vineyards and wineries, and an antique carousel are just an experience to believe! Once a fishing hub, the port town's oystering and shrimping industry still takes the front stage with seafood from local restaurants. From family-friendly farmers’ markets to the East End Seaport Museum, art galleries, and antique shops, the ambient harborside with gently bobbing sailboats in the marina offers scenic cruises and plentiful sandy beaches.


Countryside scenes near Greenwich, New York.
Countryside scenes near Greenwich, New York. Image credit: UpstateNYer via Wikimedia Commons.

Just east of Saratoga Springs in Washington County, Greenwich sits spoiled in nature with rolling hills, rushing rivers, and powerful waterfalls. With a deep history dating back to the 1700s, beginning with the Horicon tribe settlement, the region played a historic role in the Revolutionary War, the French and Indian War, Women’s Suffrage, and the Underground Railroad before the town along the scenic banks of the Battenkill became an entity in 1803. You can check out the Washington County Fair Farm Museum for artifacts of life from the 1800s to the 1940s in the area. With numerous restaurants and attractive shops downtown, many leisure activities are just a hop away, and so is Vermont!

From hiking and birdwatching at Carters Pond Wildlife Management Area and Mildred Denton Wildlife Sanctuary, there is great fishing and canoeing on the Battenkill River, as well as the all-season Thunder Mountain Recreation Area. In winter, the open spaces are iced and groomed for skating, sledding, and snowmobiling. With accolades like “the most extraordinary, beautiful, and architecturally intact village in all of upstate New York,” Greenwich is a must-visit for rich Victorian and Greek revival architecture deep in village greens and gardens. The nineteenth-century storefronts along the Main offer distinctive dining and shopping, while the Washington County Fair in August features more locally sourced, farm-fresh products than most others in the state.


Ithaca cityscape in fall.
Ithaca cityscape in fall.

You can't visit New York without experiencing its college culture in the mountains amid the beautiful Finger Lakes region. Ithaca appeals to historians and families alike seeking timeless charms to relieve youth in a small-town atmosphere during the spectacular fall foliage or summer with low crowds and water access for hundreds of miles. You will find New York's finest cascades here, like Ithaca Falls' impressive 45-meter plunge into Cayuga Lake right in the heart of town and Buttermilk Falls, the tallest in the Finger Lakes area.

Replete with modern attractions like music events, charming cafes, bookstores, and unique shops that keep the studious occupied, you can relax, dine, and browse for gifts. The waterfront along Cayuga Lake is blissfully serene in the summer for strolls, recreation, and wet pursuits, while the fresh air pursuits are just steps away to stretch your muscles over hiking, rimming gorges, and rock climbing. With its own airport for quick access from any part of the state and Amtrak trains from NYC, the nearest city is Albany, three hours away, so you know you've hit a jackpot in getting away from it all!

Lake Placid

Mirror Lake in the charming town of Lake Placid.
Mirror Lake in the charming town of Lake Placid.

A lakeside town tucked away in the Adirondacks? How about a two-time host of the Winter Olympics, in 1932 and 1980? Lake Placid calls one and all to come experience the spectacular peaks with a crystal-blue lake and stupendous landscape in a real mecca for year-round outdoor recreation! While hiking and mountain biking in the summer, there is always a lake nearby for a dip and other waterways for splendid swimming and kayaking.

From ice skating and tobogganing along the iced-over waters, Lake Placid takes it up a notch in winter with elite-level skiing and snowboarding. The charming downtown in an area of unparalleled natural beauty offers a change of pace and scenery in any season, from the steel city sights and feel into small-town charms with some incredible local landmarks. You can visit the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum and Historical Society Depot Museum after skiing at the nearby mountain or before heading for some boating and fishing along Mirror Lake!


The lighthouse at Montauk, New York.
The lighthouse at Montauk, New York.

Let's get reacquainted with Montauk, an allegedly posh destination in the Hamptons of the state. Most-welcoming to newcomers, as long as you are a fisherman, a beachcomber, a kayaker, a surfer, or a family on a getaway from the city, the town vies for your attention with its unique and natural sights that will fill up your camera or Instagram page! You can enjoy memorable morning strolls along the beach with seals during winter at the waterfront Montauk Point State Park. Hither Hills State Park offers ocean swimming, campsites, and lakeside recreation along its 40-acre freshwater pond!

Referred to as "the end," Montauk is the easternmost part of the island and the state—a boastworthy characteristic no one can take away, but its beacon, the 200-year-old lighthouse, could not be a more friendly sight along Long Island. Second House, from the 1700s, begs a snapshot to honor its cottage history as a host for East Hampton shepherds, while the summer turns Montauk into a real cultural hub with a music scene to enjoy in between pub and cafe crawls. From rides along the scenic bike path to the Montauk Point Lighthouse, the casual and cozy town offers the glitz you desire at Gurney's Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, a relaxing beach club and ocean-themed spa.


The picturesque town of Narrowsburg in the Catskill Mountains.
The picturesque town of Narrowsburg in the Catskill Mountains.

Just 2.5 hours away, this charming hamlet is a double-threat, perfect daytrip from the Big Apple into the Catskill Mountains and the Pocono Mountains. Nestled between the ranges on the Delaware River, Narrowsburg is the pioneer hotpot for the region with its new shops, restaurants, and entertainment options that have gained recognition as one of the coolest getaways from NYC. With under 300 residents and its cutest 528-foot Main Street, the tiny town packs big guns with popular places like Tusten Cup to waste an afternoon in the local atmosphere, the most browsable One Grand bookshop, and the general store, Narrowsburg Proper.

The ride in and out is part of the magic here, taking you through the scenery of natural sights and artistic insights. Featuring tons of peace signage and dove murals on barns along the way, point out that Bethel Woods, home to the original 1969 Woodstock Festival, is just a quick detour. On the way back, Route 97 through Barryville follows the Delaware River via Hawk's Nest Drive—one of New York's most scenic! Onto Port Jervis, with its shopping and tasting aplenty, you can take Route 23 through New Jersey and via back roads through High Point State Park for one last hoorah in nature before returning home!


The Main Street in Phoneia, New York.
The Main Street in Phoneia, New York.

Sleepy and beautiful—a sleeping beauty, anyone—Phoneia is close to NYC via the Trailways Bus if you don't feel like driving! This must-visit town is just the right amount of weird when it awakens musically inclined and artsy to keep you prowling through sights in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. Coming alive in the summer with tourists, its handful of hotels and cute rentals by friendly locals are half responsible for making your acquaintance with Phoenicia that awesome. Even the name suggests rustic charms that you will find in the plentiful ways of antiquing, like kitschy markets and country stores on its main streets, to load up on home decor and gifts for friends.

From Shandaken Artist Studio Tour in June to the town's largest event of the year, The Festival of the Voice in August, summertime is also perfect to explore the mountainous scenery over all-level adventures! Whether you would like to challenge a peak or take an easy stroll along the foothills, the Esopus Creek offers awesome tubing or a dip in the creek after. In fact, you are in the "tubing capital of the world," and Esopus Creek is not a lazy river! You will find everything your heart desires out of a small town getaway along the sweet Main Street, with restaurants, galleries, some shops, and even a solid dive bar.


A scene from Pleasantville, New York.
A scene from Pleasantville, New York. Image credit: Doug Kerr via

Discovering Pleasantville is as easy as one, two, three, and a quick hop from Manhattan. And what a delightful treat it is—replete with so many must-experiences! The historic village in the Westchester town of Mount Pleasant, with colonial-style buildings and houses from the 1880s, is full of culture and friendly residents of various heritages. The diversity is most evident near Pleasantville Center, with its pristine downtown and the oversized gazebo—a centerpiece amid some cutesy, small town charms. The Pleasantville Diner, the Village Bookstore, and more sights feel like the real-world modernized version of Gilmore Girls come to life!

Talk about a real getaway from the everyday, including the mind-blowing Jacob Burns Film Center, a five-screen theater with art-house plays from around the world. Jason Reitman, Jon Stewart, Ryan Gosling, Anjelica Huston, and Meryl Streep are some of the big-name guests and regulars in the world of cinema who came to speak here and check out the astounding theater themselves. Under 10 minutes away, the Blue Hill Stone Barns offers not just the top culinary experience of the Hudson Valley but its own highly innovative farm to eat, play, and learn!


Aerial view of Saugerties, New York.
Aerial view of Saugerties, New York.

With its sweet-sounding name, this eclectic town is all kinds of fabulous on the Hudson River. Partially within Catskill Park, Saugerties is primed for outdoor enthusiasts, with a ton of walks, hikes, and camping opportunities right at the doorstep. The village houses spectacular 19th-century architecture that you can admire from the outside and peek in to find a selection of antique stores and local family-owned shops! From beloved vintage stores to lots of quality restaurants, The Red Onion is vegetarian-friendly and a winner of the Wine Spectator Award.

Home to "one of the largest and most beguiling works of art on the entire continent," according to Architectural Digest, the Opus 40, a massive environment sculpture, is a must-see on a scenically charged stroll through the sculpture park. For more astounding buildings, there's the Clermont State colonial mansion, and if you love nature and architecture, don't miss the sight of the Cantine Dam Falls. Marine nature fans can stroll to the lighthouse, which doubles up as the sweetest little bed and breakfast for the most memorable stay, while the annual garlic festival is great fun for the whole family!


Barcelona Lighthouse in Barcelona Harbor on Lake Erie in the Town of Westfield, New York.
Barcelona Lighthouse in Barcelona Harbor on Lake Erie in Westfield, New York.

The town in Chautauqua County, the largest grape-growing county outside of California, is a thriving rural community thanks to the area's history and natural resources that attract flocks of tourists. With Lake Erie banks at the head and a new-age feel through the heart, Westfield is a wonderful place to visit in any season. The Seaway Trail hosts First Friday street fairs and Saturday farmers' markets and is home to the nearby Barcelona Lighthouse, beach, and harbor.

From McClurg Museum to numerous shops and restaurants, Westfield is the epicenter for viticulture in the Concord Grapes department! Welcome to the "Grape Juice Capital of the World," a moniker the town carries proudly since Dr. Welch built the world's first large grape juice plant here in 1897. The surrounding approximately 20,000 devoted acres to vineyards challenge you to see how many you can fit in late summer on a stroll and taste during the harvest time in September!

Immersed in natural beauty and timeless charms, these towns are a must-visit in any season on a getaway from the Big Apple, the state capital, Albany, and out of state on your travels through New York! From the Catskills to the Hamptons, these small towns offer the peaceful side of New York, complete with wine country, skiing, and epic waterside recreation. Greenwich is a sanctuary for wildlife amid rolling hills, rushing rivers, and powerful waterfalls. With all the contrasting lights and sounds of the Big Apple, once you get over the hardest part of choosing where you want to sit, sip, and relax, you can enjoy and unwind!

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