Main Street, located in Lake Placid, New York. Image credit Karlsson Photo via Shutterstock

8 Cutest Small Towns In Upstate New York To Visit In 2024

New York City may be one of the world's most well-known cities—but, north of the bustling metropolis lies a breathtakingly beautiful region just waiting to be explored: Upstate New York. With its stunning natural landscapes, cozy small towns, and endless outdoor opportunities, it might as well be a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps. But don't let that fool you. Upstate is filled with diverse small-town communities that have a personality all their own. From Adirondack Mountain towns to Hudson River villages; lakeside gems to rural hamlets, Upstate New York has some of the cutest small towns to visit in 2024.

Alexandria Bay

The view of waterfront homes in Alexandria Bay surrounded by striking fall foliage along St Lawrence River
The view of waterfront homes in Alexandria Bay surrounded by striking fall foliage along St Lawrence River, via Khairil Azhar Junos /

Alexandria Bay is a picture-perfect village in the heart of New York’s 1000 Islands region. Surrounded by the beautiful St. Lawrence River, 1000 Islands is known for its outdoor recreation and picturesque coastlines, and Alexandria Bay is at the center of it all. With twenty-eight state parks in the region, there’s always something to see and do. Destinations like Wellesley Island State Park and Robert Moses State Park are must-visits for Alexandria Bay visitors, while nearby destinations like Westcott Beach State Park and Sackets Harbor Battlefield Historic Site offer idyllic day trips for history buffs and nature enthusiasts alike.

Alexandria Bay’s Heart Island is another breathtakingly beautiful spot in the 1000 Islands. A popular tourist destination, the island is home to the imposing Boldt Castle and offers shuttle service to the nearby Boldt Yacht House. Sightseeing trips to Millionaire’s Row and Rock Island Lighthouse are also incredibly scenic Alexandria Bay activities. Clayton is another pretty waterfront village worth visiting while vacationing in Alexandria Bay, and its Antique Boat Museum is an immersive way to enjoy the 1000 Islands experience.


Downtown Catskill, New York.
Downtown Catskill, New York.

Situated along the banks of the Hudson River, Catskill is a Greene County gem just waiting to be explored. The small village’s proximity to the Great Northern Catskills and the Hudson River makes it an ideal spot for outdoor recreation, from hiking at RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary to soaking up the scenery at Dutchman's Landing. The Hudson River Skywalk is another famous scenic spot. Connecting the Thomas Cole National Historic Site to the Olana State Historic Site, the skywalk also has spectacular panoramic views of the river and surrounding area.

Often referred to as “The Birthplace of American Art,” Catskill is also known as the home of the famous painter and founder of the Hudson River School of Art, Thomas Cole. Today, travelers can celebrate the region’s artistic legacy with a visit to the Thomas Cole House. Additionally, the nearby hamlet of Palenville has its own artistic past, complete with bucolic settings that have inspired many landscape painters. Catskill also has a historic downtown area that’s worth exploring, with places like Maggie’s Bookshop and Left Bank Ciders showcasing the tiny village’s eclectic vibes.

Saratoga Springs

The exterior of a brick building in the historical center in Saratoga Springs, NY.
The exterior of a brick building in the historical center in Saratoga Springs, NY. Editorial credit: Enrico Della Pietra /

Situated between Albany and the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, Saratoga Springs has the perfect blend of small-city vibes and upstate NY charm. Famous for its horse racing, Historic Saratoga Race Course has been delighting visitors for over 150 years. However, there’s more to the Saratoga County town than just racing: a Saratoga Lake locale means plenty of watersports, boat tours, and waterfront cruises, while nearby destinations like Vischer Ferry Nature & Historic Preserve and Moreau Lake State Park offer outdoor activities like hiking, biking, boating, and fishing. Saratoga Spa State Park is another popular destination. A National Historic Landmark, the cultural hub is known for its classic architecture and scenic natural beauty. It features on-site attractions such as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Spa Little Theater, the Lincoln Bath Building, and more.

Additionally, Saratoga Springs’s central location makes it easy to explore nearby Saratoga County attractions. In nearby Stillwater visit Saratoga National Historical Park, a Revolutionary War-era battlefield with tours and historic paths just twenty minutes away. Also nearby are even more historic attractions including General Philip Schuyler's 1777 estate, the Saratoga Surrender Site, and the Saratoga Monument, complete with spectacular Hudson Valley views. for even more local fun, check out the Saratoga Corinth & Hudson Railway with its scenic train tours that explore the beauty of the Adirondacks.


Soap Box Derby in Tannersville, New York
Soap Box Derby in Tannersville, NY, via KMarsh /

Tannersville is a cozy community in the town of Hunter, New York. Known as “the painted village in the sky,” the Greene County gem is worth a visit for its epic outdoor recreation and quaint colorful downtown area. The gateway to Greene County offers many ways to explore the great outdoors, from the beautiful wilderness areas of Catskills Park with its hiking, biking, watersports, fishing, and camping opportunities, to Mountain Top Arboretum 2,400 feet above the NYC Watershed, with its hiking trails and amazing Catskills scenery. More outdoor activities include biking the Tannersville-Hathaway Trail System, walking the Escarpment Trail to Kaaterskill Falls, and scoping out the spectacular views of North-South Lake.

There are also plenty of attractions throughout Tannersville’s downtown and the surrounding area. Nearby breweries Hunter Mountain Brewery and Rip Van Winkle Brewery are great destinations for local beer lovers, while adventure-seekers will love a Kaatskill Flyer Scenic Skyride at nearby Hunter Mountain. Those looking to spend the weekend will also love the area’s luxe accommodations, with places like Hotel Lillien and Hotel Mountain Brook offering boutique Catskills experiences.

Lake Placid

Main Street, in Lake Placid, New York
Main Street, in Lake Placid, New York. Image credit Karlsson Photo via Shutterstock

Lake Placid is one of the coziest spots in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. A famed hub for year-round outdoor recreation, Lake Placid has hosted two Olympic Winter Games, as well as several prestigious international sports competitions. However, you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy the outdoor splendor of the picture-perfect mountain destination. Lake Placid’s crystal clear Mirror Lake is perfect for swimming, hiking, and watersports in summer; ice skating, tobogganing, and cross-country skiing in winter—not to mention some of the area’s best views of the famed High Peaks. Hikers of all skill levels will also love the area’s eclectic treks, from shorter, easier hikes like Cobble Hill, Rocky Falls, and John Brown Farm State Historic Site to longer excursions like the Adirondack Rail Trail and scenic Balanced Rocks. For more ways to explore the area, hit the road with a scenic drive—both the Ausable River Riverside Drive Loop and the Adirondack Loj Road are beautiful spots perfect for an Adirondack photo-op.

After a long day exploring, visit Lake Placid’s charming downtown area and tour the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games venues. Steeped in history, the area also honors its Olympic heritage with the Lake Placid Olympic Museum and art and sculpture displays at various locations including the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.


Skaneateles Lake in Skaneateles, New York.
Skaneateles Lake in Skaneateles, New York.

A charming village in New York’s Finger Lakes Region, Skaneateles is all scenic lakeside charm and bustling, small-town hospitality. Lake Skaneateles, the town’s namesake and Iroquois for “long lake,” is the village’s center for recreation. Here, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy swimming, boating, cruises, and biking around the beautiful lake. The downtown area also offers its share of activities, including the Skaneateles Pier and Clift Park in the center of town—all with breathtaking Lake Skaneateles views. Hikers will also find Skaneateles and the surrounding area a haven for scenic treks, with locations like The Bahar Preserve, Hinchcliff Family Preserve, Bear Swamp State Forest, and Staghorn Cliffs offering plenty of hiking opportunities. The area also has two waterfalls, Carpenter Falls—a 90-foot tall cascade, and the smaller Guppy Falls, part of The Skaneateles Conservation Area.

Skaneateles’s historic downtown area is also extremely walkable. Attractions such as the Skaneateles Historical Society and Skaneateles Brewery are cornerstones of the cozy lake town’s diverse lineup of shops and restaurants, while community events like the Skaneateles Festival and the Skaneateles Antique & Classic Boat Show are a hit with residents and visitors alike.


 Main Street in Cooperstown, New York
Main Street in Cooperstown, New York. Editorial credit: Steve Cukrov /

With a nickname like “America’s Hometown,” it is no surprise that Cooperstown is the definition of historic, small-town charm. Home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum—a destination for both history buffs and fans of America’s pastime—the Otsego County gem has been a notable upstate destination for nearly a century.

Cooperstown is also defined by its rich heritage and culture. Home to author James Fenimore Cooper, who set novels like The Last of the Mohicans in and around the picturesque village, Cooperstown has since evolved into a historic hub. Many of its buildings (such as the Otsego Hotel) are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, while museums like the Fenimore House Museum and The Farmers’ Museum offer insights into area history, exploring everything from folk art to rural life in Cooperstown’s early days.

Outdoor enthusiasts will also love Cooperstown’s picture-perfect natural landscapes. Whether enjoying the views of Glimmerglass State Park or swimming, boating, and picnicking at Fairy Spring Park, there’s something for every nature lover. Council Rock Park and Lakefront Park are great spots for Otsego Lake views and outdoor recreation, while The Brookwood Point estate offers picnicking, fishing, paddling, boating, wetland trail, and a 100-year-old Italianate Renaissance garden that’s open to the public.


Cranberry Lake, Black Duck Hole
Cranberry Lake, Black Duck Hole in Clifton, New York

Clifton is a quaint village located in New York’s breathtakingly beautiful Adirondack region. The Lawrence County gem includes Cranberry Lake, Newton Falls, and a small part of Star Lake and offers stunning scenery and natural backdrops as well as endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Cranberry Lake—the third-largest lake in the Adirondacks—is known for its dramatic mountain backdrops and an array of activities including watersports (boating, fishing, rafting, etc.), hiking, four-wheeling, and camping. The area is a bastion for hiking, with a 50-mile loop of diverse trails including popular treks like the Cat Mountain Trail, Peavine Swamp Ski Trail, and trails in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area and Cranberry Lake Wild Forest adding to the variety of what is known as the Cranberry Lake 50.

Star Lake (a small Clifton hamlet in the town of Fine), is also known for its spectacular fishing, Fine is also known for its rich history. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, attractions like the Wanakena Footbridge and The Griffin Memorial Forest are an ode to the cozy hamlet’s history and scenic natural beauty. Additionally, Clifton’s proximity to popular destinations like Lake Placid and Saranac Lake makes it a wonderful base camp to explore the surrounding area and its many attractions.

From the home of America's pastime (Cooperstown) to the site of two Olympic Winter Games (Lake Placid), Upstate New York's charming small towns have something for every traveler. Outdoor opportunities abound throughout the region's spectacular landscapes, with everything from dramatic mountain ranges to crystal clear lakes and rivers serving as a scenic backdrop for adventure. However, while upstate is famed for its natural beauty, the region's charming small towns also celebrate a distinctive history and heritage with their museums, festivals, and artistic communities. A rich tapestry of nature, culture, and hospitality, these unforgettable upstate towns are must-visit destinations for any vacationer.

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