Geneva is located at the northern end of Seneca Lake, New York

The Most Unique New York Towns

While a trip to New York’s famous city brings the glamor of Times Square, the charms of Central Park, and the history of Lady Liberty, the state is also overflowing with lesser known gems we seldom see in movies: New York’s small towns. Home to some of the country’s most unique and larger-than-life accommodations, landscapes, and attractions, many of these towns offer one-of-a-kind experiences, from spending the night in a Hobbit Hole, to sleeping in a Victorian castle hotel on the lake. If you find excitement in venturing away from mainstream travel to treasures unbeknownst to others, consider any of these magical small towns for your next getaway.

New Paltz

Mohonk Mountain House across a lake with a dock and a small rock island in New Paltz, New York.
Mohonk Mountain House across a lake with a dock and a small rock island in New Paltz, New York. 

Around 80 miles north of the mighty Big Apple, lies a tiny village with huge allure; New Paltz–whose population is just over 7,700 as of 2023–is a gorgeous community settled on the Wallkill River, under the shoulder of Shawangunk Ridge (also known as the Shawangunk Mountains). Of course, this spectacular natural landscape is extraordinary in itself, but what truly sets New Paltz apart is its proximity to an equally spectacular accommodation: the iconic and stunning Mohonk Mountain House. 

Based on name alone, the Mohonk Mountain House may surprise you; while the image of a quaint mountain cottage might come to mind, this 1869 resort is closer to that of a magnificent Victorian era castle, surrounded by 40,000 acres of lush forest in the grand Hudson Valley. Inside, the hotel offers a brilliant blend of Victorian elegance and modern amenities, yet, impressively, this is just the beginning of what the National Historic Landmark has to offer. For a truly unique experience, kayak, paddleboard, and swim the pristine half-mile-long Lake Mohonk, a dazzling glacial lake right outside the hotel; find yourself encircled with dramatic views of the surrounding ridge and towering trees to savor the bliss of this romantic New York town.


View of downtown Geneva, New York from the corner of Seneca and main Streets, via debra millet /
View of downtown Geneva, New York from the corner of Seneca and main Streets, via debra millet /

For a more affordable (yet equally enchanting) accommodation option, the town of Geneva offers a darling alternative with the Belhurst Castle and Winery. Originally built as a personal residence in 1885-1889, like the Mohonk Mountain House, this dreamy hotel and winery sits along a gorgeous lake. What truly sets this lake apart, however, is its depth; reaching more than 600-feet, Seneca Lake–known for being the largest of the Finger Lakes by volume–famously makes for ideal grape-growing conditions.

Compare this to Lake Mohonk’s mere 61-foot depth, and Belhurst Estate Wines’ world-class products make a world of sense. To sample their award-winning ferments, stop in for a classic wine or craft beer tasting (open daily from 10 a.m.–8 p.m.), or stay overnight in one of the castle’s 11 uniquely styled guest rooms. During your stay, experience rejuvenation with a massage or facial at the Isabella Spa and Salon, and dine with a glass of wine (or two) at Edgar’s Restaurant in the Castle, both amenities located on the castle grounds.


Downtown Pawling in New York,
Downtown Pawling in New York, File:Downtown Pawling.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

If the whimsy of these fairytale accommodations interests you, consider the town of Pawling for an actual storybook stay. Home to a replica Hobbit House (made famous by the Lord of the Rings franchise), step into the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece to live out your Shire fantasy. Walk the adorable garden path, enter through the iconic red round door, and find yourself in a cozy, yet surprisingly spacious, home; this one-of-a-kind New York Airbnb sleeps up to 6 guests, with 2-bedroom and 2-bathrooms, and also includes a hot tub. 

While it may be tempting to stay tucked away in the tranquil seclusion of this mellow hobbit home, Pawling’s charms are well worth venturing outdoors. Extend your hobbit fantasy with an adventure through the National Appalachian Scenic Trail, the town’s 1,600 foot boardwalk leading through the colorful and captivating Great Swamp. For drinks, eats, and ambience any hobbit would savor, head to O’Connor’s Public House for imported beers, live music, and fantastic grub.

Sleepy Hollow

A couple crosses at the intersection in downtown Sleepy Hollow in New York state
A couple crosses at the intersection in downtown Sleepy Hollow in New York state

Sleepy Hollow, a town known as the setting of Washington Irving’s famous short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is another quirky town with literal storybook charm. The town’s folklore draws in large crowds during the autumn months (given the story’s gothic nature), with popular attractions like the real-life setting of Irving’s Headless Horseman Bridge, and a haunting Headless Horseman statue outside the Sleepy Hollow cemetery being crowd pleasers. Thanks to its setting along the Hudson River, Sleepy Hollow is equally spirited during the warmer months, luring outdoor enthusiasts from near and far. Rent a kayak or canoe from Hudson River Recreation, whose Sleepy Hollow Kayak Tour takes you past the historic 1883 Tarrytown Lighthouse. 

Lake George

Spectacular Lake George in New York.
Spectacular Lake George in New York.

For an outdoorsy getaway, take the ultimate camping trip at one of the Lake George island campsites. The Adirondack mountain town of Lake George (and its surrounding area) offer a gateway to the 44 gorgeous state-owned island clusters spread throughout the 32-mile-long Lake George, priced at only $28USD per night or $196USD for the entire week. Choose between the luxury of a secluded 1-site island, or the busier multi-site islands, each with their own unique tree coverage and lake view. Popular options include Bass Island, a private retreat on the western side of Lake George, or one of the 12 campsites at Log Bay Island, whose sleeping quarters, charcoal burners, and picnic tables offer a cozier alternative to the more primitive tent sites. Tie your boat at your island’s dock, or ride the lake’s waves in style with a water taxi company like Adventure Boat Tours & Watersports, located in the town of Lake George.


 Photo of westbound U.S. Route 20 in the town of LaFayette, New York. The intersection ahead, US 11, marks the end of the state Route 20 Scenic Byway. Photo taken looking west at The Lane., By Mr. Matté (if there is an issue with this image, contact me using this image's Commons talk page, my Commons user talk page, or my English Wikipedia user talk page; I'll know about it a lot faster) - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Photo of westbound U.S. Route 20 in the town of LaFayette, New York. The intersection ahead, US 11, marks the end of the state Route 20 Scenic Byway. Photo taken looking west at The Lane., By Mr. Matté  - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, File:US 20 wb in Lafayette, NY (2), July 2023.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Nature also beckons visitors to the quaint New York town of Lafayette, whose hilly landscapes, delicate streams, and surrounding valleys offer endless opportunities for scenic hikes. Only 15 minutes from town, visit Pratt’s Falls Parks for just $2-USD entrance (per vehicle), and hike paths like the Pratt’s Falls Overlook Trail, a relatively easy 1-mile hike with unbeatable views of the 137-foot waterfall. One of Lafayette’s most unique (and highly sought-after) attractions, however, is The Chez’ Three Rest, a towering treehouse 35-feet high in the forest’s mighty maples. Walk the romantic 60-foot cable bridge, high above the forest floor, and welcome yourself into the rustic and cozy 2-story cabin. Down below, a deck and fire pit invite evenings and nights of smores and campfire tales.


Early afternoon autumn aerial photo view of Ithaca New York
Early afternoon autumn aerial photo view of Ithaca New York

Around an hour southwest of Lafayette, Ithaca invites you to explore its unique cascades, with over 100 majestic waterfalls measuring at a combined 7,342-feet. With so much to see and explore, your biggest concern will be deciding where to start; try popular waterfall hikes like the Gorge Trail, an easy 1-mile path leading to the base of Taughannock Falls in Taughannock Falls State Park, or more moderate trails along the south and north rim. For a more challenging waterfall hike, try out paths leading to the devilishly named Lucifer Falls, in Robert H. Treman State Park. Even the short 0.5-mile hike via the Gorge Trail (from the park’s entrance) is considered a more strenuous venture, but the jaw-dropping 115-foot high waterfall makes it beyond worthwhile. 

Watkins Glen

Seneca Lake at Watkins Glen, New York.
Seneca Lake at Watkins Glen, New York.

With 19 waterfalls in total, the town of Watkins Glen may not match Ithaca’s number of cascades, but what it lacks in numbers, it makes up for with its otherworldly beauty. All contained within Watkins Glen State Park, visitors describe the park’s waterfalls as awe-inspiring and unlike anything they have seen before. Even the smaller waterfalls, like Pluto Falls, feel ethereal and mystical due to the surrounding landscape; enter the dim and narrow Spiral Gorge and pass the sculpted pools and springs leading to witness its shower. The park’s Central Cascade, on the other hand, plunges over 60-feet; to get there, hike the 1.5-mile Gorge Trail through a spiraling cliffside tunnel, and continue through the rugged stone paths to other views like the sublime Rainbow Falls and the Triple Cascade.

From its historic castles to its shimmering waterfalls, New York’s small towns offer some of the state–and country’s–most unique and stunning attractions. What makes these towns particularly special, is there is truly something for anyone’s price range. Whether staying in the elegant Mohonk Mountain House for a weekend of luxury, or taking in the sights of Pratt’s Falls Parks for just a $2-USD entrance fee, these New York small towns are proof that magic and wonder exists beyond its famous city.

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