Skaneateles, New York.

The Finger Lakes' Best Small Towns For A Weekend Escape

Do you want to slow down, leave your laptop at home, spend some time on a lake, and enjoy some welcome gush of fresh air? Consider a weekend escape to the Finger Lakes Region. Although not as hyped as Switzerland, the area around the long, slender lakes is home to awesome wineries, heart-warming landscapes, and charming towns. You can spend a memorable weekend floating on a glassy lake, strolling quaint downtown areas, and sampling a delicious variety of local offerings. The following are the Finger Lakes’s best small towns for a weekend escape.


 Shotwell Memorial Park IN Skaneateles, New York.
Shotwell Memorial Park IN Skaneateles, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

Skaneateles sits on the crystal-clear Skaneateles Lake, fondly called “the Jewel of the Finger Lakes.” Book a room at the Packwood House on the north shore of Skaneateles Lake — and at the center of the quaint historic village. Most of the guest suits here provide picturesque views of the lake and the downtown area — while the hotel itself is close to nearly everything. Alternatively, Sherwood Inn, where one can enjoy a delicious breakfast featuring fresh croissants, is a heartbeat away.

Tap your feet to free live music every Friday in July at Cliff Park, a fancy space smack in the middle of downtown Skaenetales. Outdoor enthusiasts will want to explore venues such as the Charlie Major Nature Trail, a break-no-sweat walking trail that hugs a lovely stream — and Anyela's Vineyards, known for beautiful peonies and delicious wine.


The State Theater in downtown Ithaca, New York
The State Theater in downtown Ithaca, New York. Editorial credit: Steve Cukrov /

Ithaca hosts Cornell University — and that alone — makes it an ideal venue for a weekend escape. According to Architectural Digest, Cornell’s campus is among the most beautiful university campuses in the United States. With its many attractions, the expansive campus can effortlessly steal a week. Heart-gripping gorges and scenic waterfalls wind through it and fill first-time visitors with awe and wonder. The Cornell Botanic Gardens is where a diverse collection of plants, gorgeous flowers, and manicured gardens wait to be discovered.

The 100-acre F. R. Newman Arboretum is a few steps away, where maples, massive oaks, and dogwoods — fill every space with a sense of nobility and grandeur. Startler Hotel, where a night will be short and sweet, is run by Cornell’s School of Hotel Management, the world’s No.1 hospitality program. If there is still time, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the largest natural sound archive on the planet.


The Chemung River running through Corning, New York
The Chemung River running through Corning, New York.

Although frequently mentioned in vacation circles, the Corning Museum of Glass cannot be hyped enough. A gallery that features 35 centuries of glass art and history, an entire floor dedicated to glass science, and the largest hot glass demonstration space on the planet — are attractions one may not find anywhere else in the country. Plus, a first-time visitor will have a rare chance to make her own glass. Then there is the Rockwell Museum, the only Smithsonian Affiliate in Upstate New York. Spend some time here, admiring excellent paintings from the Hudson River era and a delicious collection of Native American art.

Stroll through Corning’s Gaffer District and lose yourself in eye-catching streetscapes. Work your way to The Cellar, where chicken and waffles, washed down with a range of creative cocktails, will make one purr with joy. For a place to rest after a fun-filled day, Lodging at the Gaffer Inn’s location is hard to beat. Do not miss “Paddle the Palisades,” a one-of-a-kind adventure through a series of hulking cliffs spread along the picturesque Chemung River.


Downtown Geneva, New York
Downtown Geneva, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

One’s mind will be on the alpine lakes of Switzerland when visiting this underrated New York charmer, best known as the “Lake Trout Capital of the World." You will not be alone. When Captain Charles Williamson first settled here a year before George Washington’s election to the presidency in 1789, the area reminded him of Geneva, Switzerland — prompting him to name the town after one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

One will want to inhale lovely views around Seneca Lake on whose northern end the town reclines. Seneca Lake State Park is incredibly clean and peaceful and features paved pathways ideal for walking or biking. Stay at the Belhurst Castle and Winery, which is voted one of the most romantic places in the state. Alternatively, spend the night at the nearby Rose Hill Cottage, a short drive south of town. Avid golfers will want to spend an afternoon away at the Big Oak Golf Course, a scenic 18-hole course known for terrific views and well-groomed fairways. Rose Hill Mansion, a well-maintained representation of the area’s past — is not to be missed.

Watkins Glen

Aerial view of Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen, New York
Aerial view of Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen, New York.

If you have a good relationship with food — and are not willing to spoil it — your first port of call at Watkins Glen should be at the Graft Wine + Cider Bar, a quaint and intimate restaurant that serves fresh, made-to-order meals. Alternatively, Nickel's Pit BBQ is trendy and serves a locally sourced menu. “The Glen” reclines on the picturesque shores of Seneca Lake and features a world of attractions, including an old-timey movie theatre, a fantastic bowling alley (Harborside Lanes), and by far the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks.

If you come at the right time, you can sit on Main Street and watch the Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris — arriving to grace the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Festival, a September tradition designed to recreate the ambiance of the 1948-52 Watkins Glen street races. Spend the night at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, conveniently located in the heart of almost every action.


Ellicottville Town Hall
Ellicottville Town Hall, New York. Image credit: Pubdog, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ellicottville attracts hordes of avid skiers every year because it provides access to HoliMont Ski Resort, the largest private ski resort in North America. Alternatively, Holiday Valley features lovely cross-country trails and a beautiful summer adventure park. With the Allegheny Mountains in the backdrop, this peaceful charmer is a perfect venue for a nature-themed weekend retreat. The nearby Griffis Sculpture Park, which spans more than 400 acres of rolling hills, is among the first and largest sculpture parks in America.

If you believe an awesome atmosphere has a way of making meals a tad more delicious, Dina's is worth checking out. If not, consider washing down a delicious meal with a fuzzy drink at Gin Mill. This done, the Wingate by Wyndham, smack in the middle of town — will make you feel well-rested and refreshed.


Old railroad office, Lake Keuka, Hammondsport, New York
Old railroad office along Lake Keuka in Hammondsport, New York.

Hammondsport was incorporated in 1871 and is today the center of the New York wine industry, especially champagne. It is the place to be if you want to sip a weekend away and gladden your heart with a broad range of enticing flavors. Before holding a glass, however, learn about wine production at the Greyton H. Taylor Wine Museum while exploring a comprehensive selection of vintage winemaking equipment. Spend a lazy afternoon at the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, one of the most popular wineries in the Finger Lakes Region. This winery’s founder — a WWII refugee born in Ukraine — ignited the “Vinifera Revolution,” a movement that forever changed the course of wine in this part of the country.

Other not-to-be-missed attractions include the Glenn H Curtiss Museum, which celebrates the life and work of pioneer motorcyclist and self-taught engineer Glenn Curtiss, arguably the most influential man in the evolution of aviation. Grab a meal (and a tasty cone) at Crooked Lake Ice Cream Company before spending the night at the Keuka Lakeside Inn, where hotel windows open out to shimmering views of Keuka Lake.

Seneca Falls

Trinity Episcopal Church in Seneca Falls, New York.
Trinity Episcopal Church in Seneca Falls, New York.

Many moons ago, in a social climate of inequality that privileged the propertied male, about 300 women and men gathered at Seneca Falls to debate what was called The Declaration of Sentiments. It would set off a chain of reactions that would forever change the country’s cultural and political landscape. Today, many regard The Declaration of Sentiments as the foundational document for women's rights in the United States. To relive the spirit of the struggle, spend some time at the Women's Rights National Historic Park, a popular site with first-time visitors. One will get the chance to tour Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home, the celebrated author of the Declaration of Sentiments.

On a different note, the Mennonite-run Sauders Store features a yummy selection of meats, particularly in the deli section, and is a nice spot for feeling the pulse of Seneca Falls. Then again, It's a Wonderful Life Museum highlights what could be the most famous Christmas movies in the world and must not be missed. When daylight begins to fade, check in at Barrister's Bed & Breakfast, a short distance from the Women's Rights National Historic Park.


Main Street in downtown Canandaigua, New York
Main Street in downtown Canandaigua, New York. Editorial credit: Ritu Manoj Jethani /

Rounding off this list is Canandaigua, fondly called “the Chosen Spot.” There is the beautiful Canandaigua Lake, a swoony spot that brims with heart-warming views on every side. This town’s downtown area is among the most pedestrian-friendly in the Finger Lakes region — and a mid-morning stroll through the town will bear this out. Other attractions include the 22-mile Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail, where world-class wines and lovely views will make a weekend quite memorable.

Relish the Sylvan splendor of Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park, one of just two public gardens in all of the New York State Parks System. Stand at the steps of the Ontario County Courthouse, where Susan B. Anthony was tried for voting in the 1872 presidential elections. When the sun is about to bow out, check in at Sutherland House Victorian Bed & Breakfast, previously ranked among the Top 10 Most Romantic Inns in the nation.

The Takeaway

Although a weekend does not do it justice, two or three days spent in the Finger Lakes region will leave one with beautiful memories enough to last a lifetime. From rolling vineyards to verdant valleys — and countless farm-to-table restaurants in between — this underrated region of New York provides a world of pleasure spots. But do not approach it haphazardly. Narrow down on select spots such as Seneca Falls, Geneva, and Ithaca. These are some of the Finger Lakes’s best small towns for a weekend escape.

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