Skyline of Rochester, New York. Image credit Brett Welcher via Shutterstock

7 Best Places to Live in Upstate New York in 2024

There is no better time to move to the Empire State than in 2024, when New York State Parks will celebrate its centennial through engaging events, performances, and discounted admission. Make it upstate, often a cheaper option, which represents a fifth of New York with majestic forests, farmlands, mountains, lakes, and riverfronts. The Hudson Valley is a story of transformation and creativity, rightfully counted among the best areas to live in Upstate NY, with a sense of community that makes it all possible at its heart in Hudson, home to historic buildings and contemporary art spaces. Irondequoit is no longer a hidden gem, with affordable housing flying off the market.

The vibrant college town of Ithaca offers natural splendor and intellectual stimulation, while Rochester and Irondequoit are the closest to New York's Finger Lakes, which are ideal for leisure or your ultimate summer vacation. Nature lovers who are first-time home buyers should consider Syracuse, with mountain views downtown, cheap housing, and living expenses at a whopping 22.5% lower than the state's. With a legendary set of attractions, universities, and natural landscapes, Upstate New York is a hip place with great income, affordable housing, and a lower cost of living to start anew in 2024 and plan for the future.


Albany, New York, downtown skyline.
Albany, New York, downtown skyline.

Offering a surprisingly strong sense of community for a capital city, Albany's value for knowledge and innovation stems from its pillars, the top-tier local schools and universities. Lending a youthful and dynamic atmosphere with culture and attractions revolving around vibrant student life, there are many cafes, bookshops, and galleries throughout the city. Home to the University at Albany, part of SUNY, the city is a magnet for students, families, and young professionals, with a median rent of $1,488 and a median home of $280,374. With a median income of $76,486 and a cost of 19% lower than the state average, it is an exciting opportunity to live in a bustling city on a budget! Blending history with modernity into the natural landscape, Albany is one of the best city capitals in the US to call home.

From music festivals to the New York State Museum and plenty of great restaurants, Albany offers a culturally enriched life to attain your college degree, with work in public service, government employees, or in its thriving tech sector. Its impressive four-century-old architecture is a magnet for tourists as a backdrop to browse the downtown hub of activity with Empire State Plaza, government buildings, and lively arts. The city enjoys proximity to the Adirondack Mountains and the Hudson Valley, offering newcomers an opportunity to live an active, healthy lifestyle in the fresh air, go skiing, and explore the scenic summertime trails.


Aerial image captured in Buffalo New York
Overlooking Buffalo, New York.

There has never been a better time to choose Buffalo as your home in a dynamic urban landscape. With a bustling downtown area and a revitalized waterfront, it stages festivals, outdoor concerts, and a celebratory feel year-round. Having hit its population height in the 1950s, the city deflated to nearly half over the following decades, with only about 274,000 today, while its vibrant social and cultural life has only amplified since. Residents enjoy the uncrowded feel of a sizable city, lending a serene feel along the waterfront and just the right amount of hustle downtown to attain a perfect work-life balance. Food enthusiasts find Buffalo a paradise, including its iconic Buffalo wings among diverse gastronomic flavors, part of the city's rich cultural tapestry, and its touchstone.

This city is popular among young adults from diverse backgrounds, offering a median home price of $201,000 and only a 3.4% unemployment rate. Its median household income is $66,571, but the economy is on the rise. With medicine and manufacturing having recently added 53,000 and 54,000 jobs, respectively, and a decent 5% lower cost of living than the national average, there is great opportunity to plan for the future. Once a transport hub between the East and the Midwest, The City of Light blends historical architecture and modern developments, where the spirit of community shines bright. Home to avid NFL fans, it is fun and easy to fit in, make new friends at sports bars after work, and enjoy stadiums for leisure.


Warren Street from South Fourth Street in the historic district, Hudson, NY
Warren Street from South Fourth Street in the historic district, Hudson, New York. Image credit ​English Wikipedia user Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hudson, the heart of the Hudson Valley in Columbia County, and its county seat is an affluent town of just over 5,500. Boasting a median household income of $73,065, its median age is 40.1 years. Brimming with urban charm, the small, vibrant town attracts newcomers to live a life full of flavor, where history meets new age and nature meets art. Thriving on its rich artistic heritage through galleries (such as Carrie Haddad Gallery), studios, and performance venues, artists seeking inspiration outdoors reach out to natural wonders.

Hudson is like a well-oiled machine, with the glue that holds it all together—its flourishing community spirit. In between urban excitement, residents enjoy outdoor tranquility and activity through the serene natural beauty of the surrounding natural parks, like Promenade Hill Park and Greenport Conservation Area. Truly a gem with a story of transformation and creativity, it is rightfully counted among the best areas to live in Upstate NY, but at higher prices of 579,000 for a median home.


Irondequoit Bay Bridge span Irondequoit Bay in Irondequoit, Monroe County, New York State
Irondequoit Bay Bridge span Irondequoit Bay in Irondequoit, New York.

Irondequoit is a top-rated place to relocate based on home prices, commute times, and a rich cultural scene with just the right amount of bustle. It is easy to achieve the perfect work-life balance, while the expected appreciation of its home prices is a push to make the move for first-time home buyers in 2024. Rochester, named "the most neighborly" city in 2022, has nothing on its suburb, Irondequoit, which topped Realtor's list last year. There is high demand for its most affordable median listing price of $187,000 as of November 2023, which is almost half of the national average of $382,230. Houses in Irondequoit only spent 27 days on the market, compared to the national average of 61 days, before being snatched up.

Home to only 50,780, the town has a median household income of $68,969, with one of the lowest poverty rates of 9.36%, in some of the upstate's best natural surroundings. Perhaps the most underrated city in the state, New York's Finger Lakes region bears witness to how great Irondequoit is for both tourists and would-be locals. Irondequoit, home to avid outdoorsmen where it is easy to make friends, with a median age of 44.3, is gaining momentum for livability and accessibility. So if you are looking to lead a healthy lifestyle, this city thrives with outdoor tourism and attractive town greens all around, which is a high factor for potential family residents.


Students at Libe Slope watch the sunset on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca.
Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Image credit Jay Yuan via Shutterstock

Nestled along the southern banks of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca, home to just over 33,000, appears among the top small cities to live in the upstate, and New York in general, year after year. With a strong sense of community, Ithaca's pillars are nature and the Ivy League education institution. Offering the prestigious Cornell University and Ithaca College, students and young professionals flock here for high academic influence. Infusing the town with a youthful, innovative spirit, Ithaca’s entertainment is centered around nature and the cultural scene, which thrives with art galleries, theaters, and music venues rather than nightlife, which also lends a safe feel for families. The rich soil of the Finger Lakes Region provides for its culinary landscape, and the town gives back with a focus on sustainability.

As diverse as its population, Ithaca offers local and international flavors from fresh, locally sourced ingredients, as well as a myriad of coffee shops that reflect the studious culture, wineries, and breweries. The picturesque college town within a collage of natural landscapes brings the phrase “Ithaca is gorges” to life along the trails for all levels, stunning gorges, and waterfalls. With a median household income of $73,603 and an unemployment rate of 2.8%, its median home price of around $400,000 is just against the natural splendor. At a 1% higher cost of living than the national average, its food and groceries cost 12% less than the state average to feed the hungry young minds, with a median age of an incredible 22.8 years!


Welcome to Rochester sign in downtown.
Welcome to Rochester, New York, sign in downtown. Image credit Brett Welcher via Shutterstock

Pulsating with cultural diversity and natural richness, Rochester is a younger city with a median age of 32.9 years, offering a median household income of $65,812. This city hub of 205,642 attracts newcomers into a vibrant community that feels like a big celebration, from the renowned Rochester International Jazz Festival to the bloomy sensuality of the Rochester Lilac Festival, reflected in the moniker, The Flower City. Blending the best things in life, the urban comforts, and the beauty of the Finger Lakes region, its unique charm and character, includes a diverse culinary scene of farm to table, new age, and international flavors.

The city is a mosaic of urban energy and natural tranquility, which mirrors its diverse population, with work-life balance and leisure opportunities for every taste. In the embrace of Western New York, you can enjoy an ample job market, with a median home price south of $200,000, as well as a 24% lower cost of living than the state average. Its top-notch educational opportunities include highly rated public schools and the University of Rochester. The friendly community boasts a splendid waterfront for mingling and romantic strolls alongside Lake Ontario, with sunset cruises and lakeside dining.


Syracuse Savings Bank Building (left) and Gridley Building (right) at Clinton Square in downtown Syracuse, New York
Syracuse Savings Bank Building (left) and Gridley Building (right) at Clinton Square in downtown Syracuse, New York.

Syracuse, diverse and dynamic, thrives on engagement and connection. Affordability, easy navigation in and around, and a rich cultural scene make it one of the most livable places in upstate New York, home to streets that narrate a story of historical charm and modernity. With something for everyone to feel at home, the tranquil suburbs attract families and retirees, while individuals, students, and young professionals like to stick around the downtown hub. Offering a harmonious buzz of urban comforts, it is an enviable place to live against the mountainous backdrop, changing dress through every picturesque season. Syracuse is very nature-involved, with outdoor adventures and the region’s lakes within a quick drive.

Defining a charming city, its vibrant heart beats with a small, strollable downtown where locals work, mingle, and enjoy leisurely strolls poking around eateries, shops, and cultural hotspots. Home to under 132,000 people, with a median income of $65,112 and a median age of 31.9 years, the youthful city attracts young families and working professionals. Its affordable housing, south of $200,000, and unemployment rate of 3.2% are significantly less than the national average, and its cost of living expenses are a whopping 22.5% lower. With the backbone of the economy in the education and healthcare sectors, livability is a major upside, and while its snowy winters get 120 inches of annual powder, the visible mountains make it one of the most desirable places to live in the state.

These seven best places in upstate New York excel in livability and work-life balance, with just the right amount of bustle for their respectable city size. In between urban excitement, residents enjoy outdoor tranquility and activity through the serene natural beauty of the surrounding natural parks and trails. Albany values knowledge and innovation, while Buffalo boasts a vibrant waterfront, and Ithaca is home to the Ivy League Cornell University.

Consider Ithaca, perhaps the best city in upstate New York, if you can afford it, for a youthful feel with waterfalls and gorges at your fingertips from the modern attractions and a safe, intellectual atmosphere for young families. Rochester's housing affordability is unheard-of, while Albany, with a median income of $76,486 and a cost of 19% lower than the state average, is an exciting capital city to live in on a budget!

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