Watkins Glen, New York. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com.

6 Of The Most Charming Small Towns To Visit In The Finger Lakes

One of the most popular travel destinations in northeastern USA, the lovely Finger Lakes region is also home to some of the most attractive small towns in New York State. Consisting of 11 narrow yet long strips of water just south of Lake Ontario, this unique landscape was shaped by vast glaciers that carved out the rock here. Then, as they retreated, they left behind the spectacular “valleys of water” we know today as the Finger Lakes. The best of the communities that have sprung up here now serve as excellent bases from which to venture out and explore the region. From Watkins Glen with its picturesque state park to Corning, the country’s glassmaking capital, these six charming small towns in the Finger Lakes are just waiting to be explored.


The skyline of Geneva, New York
The skyline of Geneva, New York. Image credit: RochesterNY via Wikimedia Commons.

Our first stop is Geneva, a picturesque community located on the northern shores of Seneca Lake, roughly halfway between Rochester and Syracuse. A highlight of a visit is exploring Geneva’s South Main Street Historic District, a beautiful area of 140 historically significant buildings. Historic highlights include Pultney Park and the original quadrangle of the Hobart College campus, as well as the elegant Rose Hill Mansion. Built in 1839 in Greek Revival fashion, this former working estate is open for guided tours that provide a glimpse into 19th-century life.

Interested in the performing arts? The historic Smith Opera House has been around since 1894 and continues to serve as a cultural hub for music, dance, and theater performances. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the Kashong Conservation Area with its 84 acres of protected land, perfect for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Geneva also draws anglers. Dubbed the “Lake Trout Capital of the World,” it has been home to the National Lake Trout Derby since 1964.


Lynnie Lou’s Ice Cream and Custard store in Naples, New York
Lynnie Lou’s Ice Cream and Custard store in Naples, New York. Image credit: RedBridge - stock.adobe.com.

With a name like Naples, you know this picturesque town will be nice. Surrounded by lush landscapes and situated near lakes Honeoye and Canandaigua, Naples is famous among outdoor lovers for its proximity to numerous natural wonders. One of the best is the Conklin Gully 12 Falls Trail, a popular yet challenging 2.6-mile hike that follows a riverbed and features a series of beautiful waterfalls. Grimes Glen Park is another great spot for fans of scenic hikes and waterfalls.

Naples also boasts a vibrant arts scene, with the Bristol Valley Theater being a perfect place to visit for a culture fix. A great time to visit is in September during the annual Naples Grape Festival, an event that’s been drawing crowds since 1961 to sample local vintages, foods, and artisan products.

Watkins Glen

Lake Seneca in Watkins Glen, New York
Lake Seneca in Watkins Glen, New York.

Watkins Glen’s location at the southern tip of Seneca Lake makes it an equally ideal destination for a day trip or a fun weekend getaway. The star of the show here is Watkins Glen State Park, a spectacular area of outstanding natural beauty set along a gorge carved by Ice Age glaciers. The park features 19 waterfalls along its trails, with the gorge path allowing you to walk under, over, and along the falls; it’s an especially lovely experience when the fall colors have arrived.

Other fun things to do in this part of the world include catching a NASCAR race at the Watkins Glen International track or participating in the Finger Lakes Food and Wine Festival, held at the racetrack each July. Visitors can continue their wine experience along the Seneca Wine Trail with scenic views and tastings at some of the area's most celebrated vineyards.


Aerial view of Hammondsport, New York
Aerial view of Hammondsport, New York. Image credit: Ak1047 via Wikimedia Commons.

Located at the southern end of Keuka Lake, Hammondsport is popular for its charming village-like ambiance. Established in the 1790s, it quickly earned a reputation for its stunning lakeside setting as well as for its winemaking tradition, with the village serving as a gateway to the Keuka Lake Wine Trail. Popular local wineries to visit here include Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Heron Hill Winery, and Bully Hill Vineyards, each of which offers sampling and tours.

Another reason to include Hammondsport on a Finger Lakes travel itinerary is the fact it’s home to the excellent Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. Celebrating the life and innovations of the pioneering aviator and inventor after whom it’s named, the museum showcases early aircraft, motorcycles, and exhibits on the development of naval aviation. Be sure to allow time to explore the village itself with its picturesque village square, boutique shops, and classy eateries.


Wildflowers in bloom at Corning, New York
Wildflowers in bloom at Corning, New York. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com.

Its location at the crossroads of the I-99 and I-86 highways near the Pennsylvania border makes Corning an excellent (and accessible) getaway destination. Known worldwide for its glassmaking heritage, the centerpiece of this attractive town’s allure is the Corning Museum of Glass, a fascinating attraction dedicated to the art, history, and science of glass. In addition to its glassmaking demonstrations, interactive exhibits, and a vast collection of more than 45,000 glass objects spanning 35 centuries, the museum also offers guests the unique hands-on experience of creating their own glass artwork.

Another key attraction is the Gaffer District, Corning's downtown area. Named after the old English term for a professional glassblower, the district is a picturesque, walkable area brimming with boutique shops, art galleries, restaurants, and historic architecture. The Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes is another must-visit. It offers a glimpse into the 19th century with its collection of preserved buildings, including a 1796 log cabin, the Benjamin Patterson Inn, and a one-room schoolhouse.


 The college town of Aurora, New York, in fall
The college town of Aurora, New York, in fall.

Our last stop is Aurora, a quaint village on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake that’s recognized for its well-preserved 19th-century architecture and its tranquil, picturesque surroundings. At the heart of Aurora's appeal is the historic Wells College campus, founded in 1868 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its beautiful grounds and buildings. The nearby Aurora Arts and Design Center showcases the work of local artists and artisans, offering a glimpse into the vibrant creative community that thrives here, while the MacKenzie-Childs headquarters is known for its whimsical and colorful ceramics and home furnishings (tours and shopping available).

For those looking to explore the great outdoors, Aurora's location on Cayuga Lake provides ample opportunities for water-based activities, including kayaking, boating, and fishing. The village's lakefront is also ideal for a stroll and boasts lovely views of the water and surrounding countryside. Fancy making a weekend out of your visit? The luxurious Inns of Aurora, a collection of historic homes transformed into a premier lodging experience, is an ideal choice for a memorable Finger Lakes retreat.

The Final Word

Its enchanting blend of natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture makes the Finger Lakes of New York State a must-visit for any traveler visiting the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. From the awe-inspiring gorges of Watkins Glen to the charming lakeside setting of Aurora, as well as the historical significance of Corning and Geneva, with stops at some wineries in Hammondsport and Naples along the way, these six most charming small towns to visit in the Finger Lakes provide a fascinating look into one of the country’s most scenic regions.

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