Saranac Lake, New York

The 9 Most Charming Small Towns in New York

While many tourists head to the Big Apple and locals get away into satellite towns, many small towns are left untouched by the crowds to relax in peaceful tranquility. These small towns come with great natural outings and vistas, including many water-bound locations, and are considered the most charming in the state of New York.


Zabriskie Hall at Wells College campus in Aurora, New York
Zabriskie Hall at Wells College campus in Aurora, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

The town set just an hour from Rochester and Syracuse is known for its charmingly-quaint center and many ways to enjoy the stunning outdoors. There’s the Long Point State Park for all kinds of active pursuits, as well as the renowned Cayuga Lake Wine Trail to sample fine wines in a scenic setting. The many charming countryside restaurants make it easy to dine in the fresh air every evening with a different view.

The town made for strolls is home to the prestigious, formerly women’s-only Wells College, along with an idyllic downtown dotted with beautiful historic buildings in between many cozy inns and BnBs. The Aurora Village–Wells College Historic District alone features over 50 magnificent old buildings. The setting along Cayuga Lake’s banks gifts the small town of Aurora with breathtaking views in every direction. Many immediately fall in love with the picturesque water-bound charm and return again for a relaxing getaway in a lovely small-town atmosphere.

Cold Spring

Horizontal view of the historic Episcopal Church of St. Mary-in-the-Highlands in Cold Spring, New York
Horizontal view of the historic Episcopal Church of St. Mary-in-the-Highlands in Cold Spring, New York. Editorial credit: Brian Logan Photography /

Cold Spring is a quaint town founded in 1846, just an hour away from the Big Apple via car or train. It is a popular weekend getaway into the scenic outdoors, with the Hudson Highlands and river offering bountiful pursuits in nature. Many come for the aesthetically-pleasing historic heart with hundreds of nineteenth-century buildings, mansions, monuments, and churches. Cold Spring is the most historic village in Upstate New York, with over 200 well-preserved landmarks.

The picture-perfect streets are sprinkled with museums, countless cozy cafes, various boutiques, and great restaurants. The must-visits include the Lady of Loretto and Saint Mary's churches in the Highlands, along with Magazzino Italian Art with free entry. The lovely town is surrounded by valleys and forests, along with the refreshing Hudson River for swimming, fishing, and kayaking. The Breakneck Ridge is an outdoor enthusiast's galore with plenty of scenic spaces for hikes and camping in the fresh air.


Homes along the shore of Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, New York
Homes along the shore of Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, New York. Editorial credit: Steve Cukrov /

The charming town on the southern end of Otsego Lake is home to the renowned National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The handsome downtown area comes with beautiful architecture and plenty of natural space around to enjoy the great outdoors with many activities and sightseeing. The active can explore the pristine nature and lake by hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, and boating.

The town was founded in 1786 and named after the father of James Fennimore Cooper, who is the author of The Last of the Mohicans. The hundreds of well-preserved residences, businesses, and monuments downtown have withstood the test of time. Cooperstown is well-known for its inspiring aura and has long attracted artists, writers, and other creative minds. There’s the exceptional Farmers' Museum and many art galleries to peruse, while the Glimmerglass Opera Festival hosts highly-demanded performances every year during the summer season.


Market Street in the Gaffer District has well preserved 19th century buildings with interesting stores.
Market Street in the Gaffer District has well preserved 19th century buildings with interesting stores. Editorial credit: Spiroview Inc /

The charming small town in New York nicknamed the “Crystal City” is most known for the famous Corning Museum of Glass. Corning boasts the setting of many innovative inventions, such as the light bulb, gorilla glass, and Corning Inc., renowned for Corning Ware and protective phone-screen coverings. The Rockwell Museum is an official Smithsonian affiliate with displays of American art.

The vibrant Market Street brims of restaurants, boutiques, cafes, and unique stores, like the famous feminist Card Carrying Shop bookstore. The town features an ideal location only 30 minutes away from Keuka Lake and Seneca Lake, with bountiful water pursuits. There are also wine trails and other recreational opportunities in the area every season.

Lake Placid

Water boarder enjoys summer day on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York
Water boarder enjoys summer day on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York. Editorial credit: Leonard Zhukovsky /

Lake Placid, along with its namesake water body, is nestled picturesquely in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains. The unparalleled natural beauty calls for exploring the surrounding forests, mountains, and lakes, such as the crystal-clear Mirror Lake. The lovely views all around truly transport one into a natural paradise with a small-town atmosphere. The townscape features a charming center with incredible local landmarks such as the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum and the Historical Society Depot Museum.

The resort town of Lake Placid has long been a popular place to visit for plenty of year-round pursuits in the great outdoors, including boating, fishing, and skiing. Those seeking a relaxing getaway in the fresh air will find stunning landscapes for some R&R in nature. Lake Placid is among the few locales that hosted the Winter Olympics more than once, in 1932 and 1980. During summer, the active can hike and mountain bike, as well as swim in the lakes and waterways that also freeze for ice-skating and tobogganing during winter.

Saranac Lake

Colorful aerial view of Saranac Lake, New York during fall
Colorful aerial view of Saranac Lake, New York during fall. 

Saranac Lake is a picture-perfect town tucked scenically in the stunning Adirondack Mountains. The small community, founded in 1819, became a tourist destination for fresh and refreshing mountain air and an excellent choice of outdoor pursuits. It is a popular getaway among the active and sight-seekers with forests and waterways, such as the reflective waters of the famously-scenic Lake Flower. There’s plenty of recreational space along the fantastic waterside and a great choice of watersports.

The idyllic mountain village comes with atmospheric streets that exude the prominent culture of the Adirondacks. Many visit specifically for the Winter Carnival to celebrate the holiday season in a way like nowhere else in the nation. There are snow races and concerts amongst stands with maple treats, local brews, and a grand Ice Palace built yearly by the community. The ‘cure cottages’ from the past offer great stays, with easy access to various must-visits. There are also the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage, Saranac Laboratory Museum, ample art galleries, and other historic sights.


Shops and restaurants on Skaneateles Lake in upstate New York
Shops and restaurants on Skaneateles Lake in upstate New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

Skaneateles is a year-round resort town with a delightful historic district and scenic views of Skaneateles Lake. Summertime boating on the lake in the sunshine turns to venturous hikes in the lush fall foliage. The historic Charles Dickens Christmas Festival takes place in winter, while the spring’s blooming flowers turn the already scenic townscape into something out of a fairy-tale.

The town is known as the “peak Rockwellian slow-town America” for the foliage-adorned lakeside, front porches with rocking chairs, and small businesses lining the attractive main thoroughfare. The laidback getaway comprises antiquing and visiting local vineyards for scenic strolls and fine wine samplings. There’s also the Charlie Major Nature Trail abandoned rail bed with Last Shot small-batch distillery right off the path.

Sleepy Hollow

The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, New York
The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, New York. Editorial credit: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES /

Sleepy Hollow is set only an hour's drive north of New York City, as one of the most haunted places in the world. It is famous for inspiring the classic author Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." While many come for the historic sites from the short story, film, and TV adaptations, others enjoy fishing and kayaking along the Hudson River. The enchanting Upstate New York town is set picture-perfectly in the Hudson Valley with plenty of hiking, biking, and horseback riding at the Rockefeller State Park Preserve.

Many know the town for the spooky tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, which makes it popular to visit on Hallow's eve. The Old Dutch Reformed Church and the atmospheric cemetery graveyard come with the Headless Horseman Bridge landmark. There's also the 18th-century historic mill at Phillipsburg Manor, along with grand mansions such as the Rockefeller estate and Washington Irving's estate.


Woodstock, New York
Woodstock, New York. Editorial credit: solepsizm /

Woodstock was founded in the 18th century amidst nature-filled landscapes. It comes with a deep heart of traditions in arts and music. The town is home to countless artists and musicians who settled for the natural beauty and the growing artistic culture. The famed Woodstock Festival at a private farm just a quick drive from town celebrates the counter-culture of the 1960s. The streets are a prominent bohemian art scene with many galleries and boutiques to peruse.

Tinker Street features independent shops, restaurants, and popular stores that sell Woodstock festival memorabilia. The cultured will love catching a show at the Woodstock Playhouse and checking out the renowned Woodstock Film Festival. The mountain setting offers easy access to the wonderful highlands with plenty of scenic ventures, hikes to the Overlook Mountain, as well as the Buddhist Monastery, Karma Triana Dharmachakra.

Many of these towns are close to New York City for a charming getaway or a road trip to hit a few. The prominent character of each town, together with atmospheric streets, guarantees sweet impressions and unique memories.

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