Cannon at Saratoga National Battlefield with Neilson Farm in the background.

7 Most Memorable Small Towns in New York

New York, known by many as “The Empire State,” is a wonderful reprieve of beauty and vibrance. Home to some of the most charming destinations in the country, people from all over adore this iconic state. Whether it is hiking up the Catskill Mountains or enjoying Times Square in New York City, the possibilities are endless. However, hidden behind the crowded cities are various small towns with unique ways to enjoy the state. This ranges from healing springs at Saratoga Springs to haunted tours in the town of Sleepy Hollow. Add on tons of outdoor activities and friendly locals; these towns offer a memorable experience in New York.


Waterfall cascades through Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, New York.
Waterfall cascades through Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, New York.

Ithaca stands out as a bustling destination, perfect for all kinds of travelers. Home to 32,000 residents, as well as the Ivy League Cornell University, there are always people out and about on the streets. Thus, from the moment one arrives, smiling faces and lively shops await, with tons of fun opportunities. For example, enjoy one of the regular live music shows or have a fun conversation over chilled beer at the Boatyard Grill.

While the town center is full of life, Cornell University is another hotspot for tourists. Roam the 750-acre ground which boasts historic buildings such as the Bailey Hall, Wing Hall, and Andrew Dickson White House. The best part is that the prestigious institute is located atop a hill, offering panoramic views of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake.

If the view from Cornell seems enticing, visitors can head down for a firsthand experience with nature. Choose between one of the many parks near town, such as Robert Treman State Park and Buttermilk Falls State Park. Robert Treman Park is a few minutes away, transporting adventurers from paved streets to verdant trails. Hiking, camping, and swimming are a few ways to experience the mystical environment of this park. Similarly, Buttermilk Falls State Park encompasses 800 acres of Mother Nature’s sights, from jagged waterfalls to thick foliage.


The buildings at the Wells College campus in Aurora, New York
The buildings at the Wells College campus in Aurora, New York. Image credit PQK via Shutterstock.

From the lively streets of Ithaca, Aurora offers a completely different experience, astray from hustle and bustle. Also located along Cayuga Lake, this town has less than 1,000 residents, making it one of New York’s smallest towns. People love the relaxing vibe and spend the day through laid-back pursuits such as drinking, eating, and sightseeing. Join the fun at Long Point Winery, where one can appreciate scenic views of the Finger Lakes with aromatic wines for company. Or, take a stroll through the Aurora Village-Wells College Historic District, where there are over 50 rustic buildings. For example, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church is a great place to experience an authentic day with the local community.

Outside the town’s boundaries, Long Point State Park beckons travelers thirsty for adventure. While not as large as some other parks, it is a slice of waterside enjoyment. Taking advantage of Cayuga Lake’s coast and thick forests, the park seems straight out of a fantasy novel. Choose between an array of activities such as hiking, fishing, and camping along the waters. Visitors can also use the boat launches for a fun day of boating in the glistening waters of the lake.


The Saugerties Lighthouse in Saugerties, New York.
The Saugerties Lighthouse in Saugerties, New York. Image credit James Kirkikis via Shutterstock.

Saugerties invites tourists with its scenic views and small-town vibes along the Hudson River. Delve straight into the majestic surroundings at Catskill Park. It's a massive 700,000-acre abode of nature that encompasses part of the town. Here, nature lovers rejoice at the array of pursuits, such as hiking, biking, hunting, and wildlife watching. Hikers can make use of the 300 miles of trails that cut through thick greenery, magnificent mountains, and beautiful water bodies. That said, keep an eye on the treeline as animals like black bears are known to frequent the forests. In addition to the park, areas like the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and Opus 40 Park boast unique ways to enjoy nature. From feeding farm animals to enjoying Opus 40’s sculptures, there is something for everyone in Saugerties.

After a day outdoors, head back into the town center, where there is an air of vibrance following curious visitors. For cultural enthusiasts, the Woodstock Museum and Saugerties Lighthouse are ideal attractions. While the museum is a bundle of quirky exhibits, the lighthouse tells a 200-year-old tale of local history. Another great way to enjoy the local culture is through one of the many festivals and concerts that take place year-round. The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival is a fan favorite, with live music, garlic dishes, and fresh herbs for a memorable time in New York.

Saratoga Springs

Downtown Saratoga Springs.
Downtown Saratoga Springs. Image credit Brian Logan Photography via Shutterstock.

As the name suggests, Saratoga Springs is famed for its mineral springs, which are believed to have healing powers. Used for centuries by the Mohawk indigenous people, these springs attracted people from all over, bringing the town fame. Visitors today can bask in the springs at the 1835 Saratoga Spa State Park. With multiple mineral springs, bath houses, and spa houses, it is a world of relaxation that will ease the mind and body. Moreover, the park is home to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, so people can enjoy a live play or musical after a dip in the springs.

Speaking of arts, Saratoga Springs is a bundle of culture, palpable through various alleys. For example, the Saratoga Race Course showcases horse racing heritage and has been hosting high-stakes races since 1863. One can spend the day touring the grounds, watching a race, or enjoying a meal at the venue’s restaurant. Horse racing fans can also stop by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame which is a testament to the immense history behind the sport. On the other hand, Saratoga Springs’s Broadway is a different take on culture, with stunning art and architecture. A short stroll here features charming cafes, colorful galleries, and bustling clubs for a memorable experience.


Main Street near the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, via Michelangelo DeSantis /
Main Street near the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Image credit Michelangelo DeSantis via Shutterstock.

This town in Otsego County is a cultural wellspring, especially for baseball fans. This is because it is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, one of the sport’s greatest buildings. Here, one can spend hours roaming the exhibits, learning about their favorite players, and grabbing souvenirs from the gift shop. Moreover, the nearby Baseball Wax Museum is another great spot, displaying life-sized models of famous players like Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Apart from Baseball, Cooperstown’s Main Street is lined with interesting sites, from quaint cafes to intriguing museums. Those interested in local culture have an array of options to choose from, such as the Farmers’ Museum, Glimmerglass Opera, and Fenimore Art Museum. Whether it is admiring artwork by local artists or enjoying an opera show in the evening, the vibrance is palpable throughout town.

That said, if you get tired of the bustling streets, the nearby Otsego Lake is the perfect place to cool off. Coveting the northern end of town, this idyllic lake transports one into Mother Nature’s embrace, full of peaceful views. Visitors can opt for a relaxing evening of fishing or boating in the waters to take in the encompassing scenery. Or, dive into the waters to spend the day swimming in this lovely New York town.

Sleepy Hollow

Shoreline in the village of Sleepy Hollow in New York state.
Shoreline in the village of Sleepy Hollow in New York state. Image credit Andrew F. Kazmierski via Shutterstock.

After Cooperstown, Sleepy Hollow showcases a more haunted approach to New York’s heritage. Instead of baseball and museums, this town is steeped in haunted stories, such as the 1820 “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” This short story by Washington Irving told the tale of The Headless Horsemen, a paranormal specter that roamed the region. To this end, adventurous travelers can brave the horror with one of the town’s ghost tours. These cover ominous destinations such as the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and Headless Horseman Bridge. From visiting the resting place of author Washington Irving to witnessing haunted apparitions near the bridge, these tours are only for the brave of heart. If you want to experience the vibe without the horror, visit Sleepy Hollow during the Great Jack O’lantern Blaze. Featuring thousands of hand-carved pumpkins and spooky Halloween activities, the whole town comes together for this lively event.

While most people are here for the haunted side of town, there is more to Sleepy Hollow than just horror. Rustic attractions like the Kykuit Estate and Philipsburg Manor are distant from the headless legend but are still worth a visit. The Kykuit Estate, for example, was once the home of John D. Rockefeller, and now boasts guided tours displaying intricate interiors, artwork, and architecture. Similarly, the Philipsburg Manor dates back to the 1700s, when it was a popular grist mill overlooking the Pocantico River.


A vertical wide angle view of Olana State Historic Site.
A vertical wide angle view of Olana State Historic Site. Image credit Brian Logan Photography via Shutterstock.

Greenport is more than just a town; it's a reprieve of maritime charm resting along Gardiners Bay. Once a major port with strong fishing and whaling ties, the essence of this fishing town remains true. Aquaphiles rejoice at locations like Safe Harbor Stirling and Sandy Beach, where watersports are abundant. From boating into the Atlantic Ocean to sunbathing along the coast, tourists can enjoy some fun under the New York sun.

The town’s history is also visible throughout, bolstered by iconic establishments all around. Kids can have a blast at the 1920 Antique Carousel, a historic ride with hand-carved horses and wooden chariots. Meanwhile, adults can explore the town’s maritime stories at the East End Seaport Maritime Museum. With everything from a 750-gallon saltwater aquarium to a gift shop with souvenirs, it is a memorable destination.

New York features some of the best natural and cultural attractions that visitors remember. Each of these small towns has something interesting to share that caters to unique visitors. For example, outdoors people love Saugerties’s Catskill Park, while history enthusiasts enjoy some time in Cooperstown. Moreover, without the urban crowds, these destinations offer a relaxing getaway in The Empire State.

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