Discover New York State, from Albany to Niagara Falls

New York CityNew York CityIf you've visited New York City on vacation and think you've seen all New York has to offer, think again. NYC is fantastic, and there's truly nothing like it in the world. But a few hours slightly to the north and west of New York is the state's Capital, Albany.

Albany, NY is an exciting city with a vibrant arts and culture scene, outstanding shopping venues, a great nightlife fueled by its student population, and plenty of nearby outdoors attractions you can enjoy any season. Albany is also an excellent place to begin a tour of upstate that can end at spectacular Niagara Falls.

Downtown Albany's Attractions

Albany's downtown area is fairly condensed, and if you book a hotel anywhere in the city's center, you'll be within easy walking distance of many of its top attractions. Cabs and public transportation are also readily available, and if you're planning on renting a car to travel west to Niagara Falls, you may as well wait until the end of your stay in Albany.

I started my day tour of Albany's sites at the Empire State Plaza, located between the State Capitol Building and the New York State Museum. The Plaza features a beautiful reflecting pool, several interesting sculptures, and the architecturally unprecedented, The Egg. The Egg is a performing arts center shaped (you guessed it) like an egg. Although I didn't attend any shows here, the schedule indicates they host a variety of dance, film, music, comedy and theater shows here. Just seeing The Egg is entertainment - it's a gigantic sculpture in itself.

Albany, NYAlbany, NYBelow the Empire State Plaza is a subterranean retail arcade where you can view some very interesting works of modern art. You'll also want to check out the view from the 42nd floor of the Corning Tower's observation deck. You'll have an incredible view of the Hudson River below, the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, the Catskills and even Massachusetts' Berkshires if it's a clear day. The view from the Corning Tower gives you a sense of the size of the area surrounding the Capital, as well as New York's natural beauty.

After your view from the Corning Tower, you'll be right near the New York State Museum located at the south end of the Plaza. This is an excellent museum that details everything you could ever want to know about the state, including a terrific section on New York City. Ongoing exhibits on the wilderness of the Adirondacks, Native Peoples of New York State, and an exhibit on the World Trade Centers attack on 9-11 were some of the best exhibitions I toured.

At the end of an afternoon touring the Plaza and the New York State Museum, I headed to Lark Street for an evening out. Lark Street features some interesting shops, whether you're interested in art, jewelry, antiques, or new age items and paraphernalia. You can take your pick of cuisines on Lark Street, from Tex-Mex to Thai, Greek, Indian, Italian, Hunan or Japanese. I opted for Bomber's Burrito Bar, and the upstairs restaurant and bar served outstanding food and margaritas in a lively, upbeat atmosphere.

A day isn't really enough to visit all of Albany's attractions, but the drive to Niagara Falls is considerable and I was planning to make it in one day. Niagara Falls is located about 300 miles west of Albany. It's an easy drive along the New York State Thruway, and the views of the Mohawk River Valley are interesting for the first hour or so. After that, the landscape begins to seem a bit monotonous, probably due to the fact that the road is incredibly straight and much of the scenery looks the same.

You'll want to stop off for lunch or at least a few coffee breaks if you're planning to drive from Albany to Niagara Falls in one day. Better yet (in hindsight); plan to spend a night in Syracuse, or at the Turning Stone Casino located near Utica, NY.

Niagara Falls, New York

Niagara Falls, NYNiagara Falls, NYNiagara Falls is impossible to describe - it is something you must see to fathom. Wherever you choose to stay in the area, you'll hear the torrents of water rushing and be drawn to look for a view of what's arguably the most stunning natural attraction a city could have in its midst.

There are tons of great attractions you won't want to miss right at Niagara Falls, including the incredible Cave of the Winds tour, a Maid of the Mist boat ride, and dinner at the amazing Top of the Falls Restaurant. You'll want to explore the New York State side of Niagara Falls, but don't overlook a trip to the Canadian side during your visit, as well. Both sides of Niagara Falls offer unique perspectives, experiences, and views.

If possible, plan to spend a few days on your trip to Niagara Falls. There is a surprising variety of great attractions to see in the surrounding area in addition to the Falls. The Daredevils of Niagara Falls Museum and the Aquarium of Niagara are two excellent spots where you will want to spend a few hours.