Aerial view of Kingston, New York.

8 Most Charming River Towns In New York to Visit In 2024

New York may be famous for its prized metropolis, but outside the Big Apple's bright city lights and flashy attractions, you can find some of the greatest landscapes and historic landmarks in the country. Journey beyond the city limits and discover the river communities lining New York's waterways; these charming river towns offer a perfect escape for relaxation or excitement, whether for a day trip or a weekend away. From scenic sunset boat cruises to grand river island castles, discover the natural and historical beauty that has drawn people to these towns for centuries. This 2024, skip the urban jungle crowds and embrace the wide open air of New York's great outdoors.


Robert Moses Hydroelectric Niagara Power Station in Lewiston, New York.
An aerial view of the Robert Moses Hydroelectric Niagara Power Station in Lewiston, New York.

Situated on the Niagara River, a mere 15-minute drive from Niagara FallsLewiston is one of the most underrated towns in New York for a water-based adventure. Whether you opt for a scenic drive to the falls or prefer a leisurely riverside hike along the Niagara Gorge Trail System, the views surpass even the most picturesque postcards found in Niagara's gift shops. But for a more exhilarating day on the water, you can embark on a Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour, departing right from town. Don the provided poncho and brace yourself for an adrenaline-pumping ride across the whitewater rapids. This thrilling Niagara River activity is often compared to a rollercoaster, making it a standout experience in Lewiston. 

Alternatively, for those seeking a more educational, land-based day in Lewiston, there are plenty of ways to enjoy tranquil river views while learning about Lewiston's significant past. The Freedom Crossing Monument, for example, offers the best of both. Located on the banks of the river, the memorial commemorates the bravery of slaves who made Lewiston their last stop to freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad. To delve deeper into their stories of courage and resilience, the Lewiston Museum is a highly recommended follow-up.


Visitors at the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, New York. Editorial credit: Alexanderstock23 /

For another river town with natural and historic charms, make your way to New York's Hudson Valley. Just east of the mighty Hudson River, Rhinebeck lures with views of the Catskill Mountains and charming tree-lined streets. Wander through the Rhinebeck Village Historic District to find a fascinating blend of architectural styles dating back to the 18th century. Beautifully preserved buildings like the Benner House have proudly stood since the 1730s, a testament to the town's rich history.

For a unique historic dining experience, try Terrapin in the heart of town. Once a church, the 1820's structure is now a chic dining room. Less than 5 minutes away, Ferncliff Forest is the perfect place for an after-dinner hike with family and leashed 4-legged friends. The highlight of this enchanting 200-acre preserve is the firetower, granting glorious views overlooking the valley and river. 


Houses in the Brick Row Historic District in Athens, NYHouses in the Brick Row Historic District in Athens, New York. Image credit: Peter Greenberg via Wikimedia Commons.

Quoted as a "Perfect Combination of Old and New" by The New York Times, Athens is another darling Hudson River town whose historic beauty and natural splendor steal the show. Despite being officially established in 1815, people have made Athens their home since the 1600s, meaning much of the town's structures span over three centuries. With more than 300 historically significant buildings in town–styles ranging from Greek Revival to Folk Victorian–Athens is an architect lover's dream.

Once you have strolled the town and waterfront at places like Riverfront Park, kayaking to the historic Hudson-Athens Lighthouse is a must once the weather warms this 2024. The towering 1870s structure is one of only seven remaining lighthouses on the Hudson, and it is still operational today. To view the historic beacon in all its glory, rent a kayak downtown at Screaming Eagle Outdoor Adventures before setting off. There are several river launch points in town, like the Athens Boat Launch on Route 385 or 19 South Water Street, or you can even book a tour with Rip Van Winkle Adventure Guides.


Main Street in Nyack, New York
Main Street in Nyack, New York. Image credit: Alexisrael via Wikimedia Commons.

Once a humble shipbuilding village, today, Nyack is a Hudson River community celebrated for its art scene. Just 20 miles from the Big Apple, city dwellers flock here for a quieter day or weekend away to savor culture at a slower pace. For a more cost-effective alternative to Broadway, the Elmwood Playhouse will present an exciting lineup of shows in spring 2024. From March 15th to April 13th, catch "Fun Home," a fantastic coming-of-age musical. Or, from May 17th to June 18th, you can prepare for a night of laughter with "The Play That Goes Wrong," a hilarious performance filled with everything from stumbling actors and misplaced props to "an unconscious leading lady." 

Further adding to the excitement of spring, downtown Nyack will come alive with the SpringFest Street Fair on April 14th. Locals and out-of-towners alike can enjoy food trucks, live bands, and over 200 vendors. If you cannot make it, the Nyack Farmers Market also hosts a ton of vendors year-round every Thursday, selling artisan goods and fresh local produce. So whether you drive in from the city or a neighboring town, Nyack is well worth the trip for anyone looking to unwind. 


Kingston, New York.
The historic Rondout in Kingston, New York. Editorial credit: Brian Logan Photography /

Following the Hudson northwards, you will find yourself in New York's first state capital. Like Nyack, Kingston is a charming river town ideal for disconnecting from the stresses of everyday life and reconnecting with simpler pleasures. Whether that means antiquing at Zaborski Emporium, sampling local wines and bites at Ship to Shore, or touring the 18th-century Senate House museum, Kingston is overflowing with easygoing attractions for daytrippers. Expand your history lesson at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, or embark on a museum-led trip to the historic Rondout Lighthouse on a solar-powered Solaris Boat Tour. Or, for those who would prefer a more intimate evening out on the water, a sunset tour with Hudson River Cruises is a ticket to relaxation and romance. 

New Paltz 

New Paltz, New York.
Scenic View of Mohonk Mountain House and Lake in New Paltz, New York.

Just over 30 minutes south of Kingston, the village of New Paltz boasts a different side of the grand Hudson. Located on the Wallkill River (a tributary of the Hudson), this unique Shawangunk Mountain town has a rich history and spirited outdoor culture. Stroll the Historic Huguenot Street to take in the gorgeous 17th-century structures (including 7 stone house museums) or spend the day delving deep into the Mohonk Preserve. With 70 miles of mountain trails to hike, bike, or snowshoe, the preserve is spectacular any season. 

If you have the pleasure of spending a weekend or longer in New Paltz, the Mohonk Mountain House is truly a bucket list-worthy stay. Overlooking Mohonk Lake, this Victorian castle has stood as a core symbol of the town since 1869. Explore 85 miles of hiking trails or enjoy the hotel's private beach; like the Mohonk Preserve, the surrounding nature can be enjoyed year-round. The hotel also has a ton of special events in store this 2024, like their annual Mystery Weekend in early March, Brewmasters Weekend in early April, and Festival of the Arts from July 7th to August 16th. 

Alexandria Bay

Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay, New York.
The Gananoque Boat Line near Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay, New York.

In researching charming New York river towns, you have probably come across the Thousand Islands. Dotted throughout the St. Lawrence River, over 1,800 picturesque islands bring the river to life, creating one of the most sought-after river experiences in the state. Villages like Alexandria Bay are beloved for that very reason, granting visitors access to the islands and their splendor. For a dazzling aerial perspective of the region, book a romantic hot-air balloon ride with Champagne Balloon Adventures. 

But if you would prefer to explore the islands out on the water, 1000 Islands Water Taxi Scenic Tours departs right from town. There are countless island attractions worth visiting, like Heart Island or Boldt Castle & Boldt Yacht House, which is set to reopen for the season in May 2024. Alexandria Bay also hosts a wide range of festivities throughout the year, like the mid-August Pirates Day festival, a fun-filled 11-day tradition celebrating real-life pirate Bill Johnston, who once hid in the Thousand Islands to evade capture after sinking a British ship in 1838.


Four painted Adirondack chairs lined up along the bank of the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, New York.
Four painted Adirondack chairs lined up along the bank of the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, New York.

Located just a short 15-minute drive from Alexandria Bay, the quirky town of Clayton in the Thousand Islands region is steeped in history. Established in 1822, the town was once a bustling shipbuilding town and port. Today, you can explore its rich past by taking a stroll through town on the Historic Walking Tour and delve deeper into Clayton's maritime heritage at the Antique Boat Museum or Thousand Islands Museum.

For those interested in the arts, the Thousand Islands Arts Center features several galleries and hosts over 100 workshops ranging from weaving to soap making. And if you are looking to explore the stunning beauty of the Thousand Islands, Clayton Island Tours provides breathtaking views, stopping at attractions like the Rock Island Lighthouse and previously mentioned Boldt Castle.

Final Thoughts

From the majestic Niagara Falls to the scenic Thousand Islands, these eight charming river towns offer some of the most exciting gateways to adventure in New York. In Lewiston, you can take on the thrilling rapids of the Niagara River, while in Alexandria Bay, a hot air balloon ride provides a breathtaking bird's-eye view of the St. Lawrence River. For those craving a more terrestrial thrill, Rhinebeck's forest hikes over the Hudson are legendary. These towns also boast a lively calendar of events and festivals, adding to their appeal. Whether you time your visit to coincide with Nyack's bustling events or New Paltz's vibrant festivals, you are in for a treat. But regardless of when you visit, these river towns promise to dazzle year-round.

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