Albany often goes overlooked, despite its New York State Capitol and rich cultural attractions. The city’s must-see list includes the Albany Museum of Art and numerous architectural landmarks, including a gorgeous Capitol Building.
Albany is a place with interesting Things to Do in Albany, New York, art and government that everyone should visit. Albany offers unpretentious vibes and a lively atmosphere. With a variety of restaurants and cafes, Albany has an impressive diverse food scene as well.
As a bonus while visiting, Saratoga Springs is just a short drive away. You can also visit Stockbridge to see one of the top destinations in Massachusetts. It’s easy to create day trips, as well as shorter weekend trips-Stockbridge is only about an hour and a half away by car.
Plan your sightseeing in this cosmopolitan capital with our list of the top things to do in Albany, New York State Capitol.
1. Take a Tour of the New York State Capitol
Be sure to make time to visit the New York State Capitol because it stands out from every other state capitol in the country due to its unique architecture.
The hulking Gray and stone New York State Capitol was built over many years. It cost more than the U.S. Capitol, more than 25 million dollars, to build the building. Architects wanted it to be a statehouse for all to use, both for their services for the wealthy and commoners; that’s why so much money and effort were devoted to New York State Capitol.
The Neo-Gothic facade of the New York State Capitol is constructed from granite masonry, a style not typical of most state capitols. The exterior does not hint at the exotic magnificence of the interior.
Stepping past the entrance lobby, visitors are shocked by the surprising architecture of New York State Capitol. The building blends Moorish Gothic and Romanesque Revival styles, recalling the architecture of Venice or the Andalusian region of Spain. Design motifs include rounded arches, elaborately hand-carved capitals, and ornate geometric patterns. The exquisite craftsmanship and grand spaces give it a sumptuous yet inviting feeling.
Guided tours (available Monday through Friday at 10am and 12noon) allows tourists free entry into the building. This includes a one-hour tour led by a knowledgeable docent, and access to roam the public areas of the building after the guided tour concludes.
Visitors will see the Assembly Staircase, a marvellous Moorish Gothic confection crafted from sandstone and granite, as well as the opulent Great Western Staircase, known as the “Million Dollar Staircase,” which features portraits of prominent New Yorkers carved into the stonework (look for Abraham Lincoln, Frederic Douglass, Walt Whitman, and Susan B. Anthony).
The tour also takes visitors to the chambers where government officials work. The lavish Senate Chamber features Siena marble columns, mahogany wood desks, Spanish leather-upholstered chairs, stained-glass windows depicting the State seal, and gold-leaf wallpaper. Because of its superb acoustics, senators call out “yay” or “nay” votes in greatly enhanced speech.
Testing the new system – what’s it like?
Other highlights of the New York State Capitol’s interior include the Hall of Governors, a portrait gallery that displays the likenesses of New York’s governors along with a timeline that shows key historical events of each governor’s term; the Hall of New York, a gallery of paintings that depict the cities and landscapes of New York State including works by Hudson River School artists; and the Flag Room, which contains battle flags dating back to the War of 1812.
After seeing the New York State Capitol on a tour, visitors should take some time to relax near the Capitol building in West Capitol Park. People enjoy picnics and relaxation in this shaded park next to food trucks.
Across the street from the New York State Capitol Building is the Empire State Plaza. It’s like a long, boring esplanade with an ornamental pool and picnic tables. From the Capitol building, it take about 10 minutes to walk across to the New York State Museum.
Address: Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York
2. Admire Hudson River School Landscape Paintings
Visit the Albany Institute of History and Art to view paintings by an American landscape artists from the 19th century, also known as the Hudson River School.
In the 1850s, artists started painting scenes of the Hudson River Valley and Thomas Cole, a photographer before his time, inspired many others.
He’s recognized for his influence on the style of paintings by the Hudson River School. The pictures depict tranquil images that reveal an appreciation for nature, attention to detail, and sense of realism. Many paintings show idyllic farmland scenes such as grazing animals. Kids will have fun counting the number of cows in the paintings.
There are 90 works of Hudson River School paintings in the Albany Institute of History and Arts, on display in the Hearst Gallery exhibition space on the third floor. The collection is one of the museum’s most-loved ongoing exhibitions.
These landscapes include a view of the Hudson River by Robert Havell, Jr.; A view of the Catskill Mountain House by Sarah Cole; An Old Man’s Reminiscences by Asher B. Durand; a Mediterranean Coast Scene with Tower by Thomas Cole; and Morning, Looking East Over the Hudson Valley from the Catskill Mountains by Frederic Edwin Church.
With the Hudson River School paintings and an impressive collection of pieces dating back to the 17th century, the Albany Institute of History & Art boasts one of the most comprehensive historical artifacts displays in the old Capital District.
The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10am until 5pm. They have a research library that is open by appointment only, and they serve lunch and snacks in the café.
Address: 125 Washington Street, Albany
3. Discover New York State’s History and Environment
Designed for young students, as well as lifelong learners, the New York State Museum offers a wide variety of educational disciplines. The collections have a focus on New York’s history and natural environment.
In 1836, the New York State Museum was founded and is among the oldest museums in the state. The museum also boasts impressive collections with 16 million specimens in its natural science collection and a million objects in its history and anthropology collections.
Visitors will be amazed by the diverse exhibits within the art, anthropology, archaeology, science, and history collections.
Highlights include the “Birds of New York” ornithology exhibit; the New York Metropolis exhibit; and the Historical Archaeology exhibits about the 17th-century Dutch fur (beaver-pelt) trade and about the New Netherland colony of Fort Orange (present-day Albany). Several archaeology exhibits compare artifacts with those depicted in Dutch paintings of contemporary eras.
The museum is open every Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30am until 5pm, free of charge. The gift shop, café, and outdoor terrace are all available on site.
Address: 222 Madison Street, Albany, New York
4. Stroll through Washington Park
Enjoy a sunny day at one of Albany’s sprawling parks. Washington Park provides ample, fresh open space. Take a stroll or sit under one of the great trees and enjoy being outdoors in the beautiful trees.
Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Washington Park in 1870-80 as a pastoral landscape with no man-made structures. One of Olmsted’s design principles is to recreate the natural landscape by limiting the human role to gravel paths and plantings.
The park features beautiful English-style gardens with spacious lawns, as well as a five acre lake with a lake house with flush toilets, a children’s playground, benches nearby for people to sit on, and walking paths shaded by leafy oak trees.
Locals enjoy the park as a place for relaxation and recreation all year round, playing games like beach volleyball, throwing frisbees, playing tennis or basketball. In the winter months you can also go cross-country skiing here.
The Tulip Festival in Washington Park is a cultural celebration of Dutch heritage and features more than 100,000 colorful tulips. With the help of a traditional Dutch “Street Sweeping” ceremony, visitors flocked to one particular area of the park to see the delicate flower creation.
The holiday season begins in Washington Park, where there are over a hundred festive light displays and illuminated scenes.
For a taste of older New York City with a touch of fall, explore residential Park Avenue as well as the popular area surrounding Central Park.
Address: Washington Park, State and Willet Streets, Albany, New York
5. Go on a Hudson River Cruise
Smoothly flowing water can be seen as the Hudson River, but this waterway has seen dramatic events over the past 400 years.
In 1609, the English explorer Henry Hudson went on a voyage sponsored by the Dutch East India Company with the goal of discovering a trade route to China. Instead, Hudson found the river that now bears his name. He sailed up the river to what is now called Albany, establishing a settlement for the Dutch East India Company.
The Dutch called the area Beverwyck (Beaver Town) because of its convenience in the fur trade. When the New Netherland colony was taken over by the English in 1664 as the New York colony, and then later Albany, the city was renamed after James, Duke of York and Albany, who became King of England (James II).
1825 is an important point in history because it is when the Erie Canal was completed. This link of transportation between the Hudson River and Lake Erie allowed Albany, New York to be a commercial hub and helped the city flourish.
Instead of a typical sightseeing cruise, the Dutch Apple Cruises offer insight into the history and scenic beauty of the Hudson River. The Netherlands-inspired vessel was made from Adirondack White Cedar and crafted with a teak deck to emulate the design of 19th century Hudson River ferries. Departure is from Quay Street in Albany, New York.
Other activities in the Hudson River include biking or hiking on the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail. Tourists could try the portion of this waterfront path that stretches for 10 miles from Albany to Cohoes. Visitors can rent bikes from CDPHP Cycle!
6. See the Historic Homes of Prominent 18th-Century Citizens
The famous Revolutionary War general Philip J. Schuyler and his wife Catharine Van Rensselaer lived in the Schuyler Mansion in Albany from 1763 to 1804. The original 80-acre hilltop estate included a working farm, orchard, and formal garden. The Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site (32 Catherine Street) is open to the public for two guided tours per week: one on Wednesdays between 11am and 5pm, and one on Sundays between 11am and 3pm. Tours are available by advance reservation only.
After a decade-long refurbishment project, the 18th-century Historic Cherry Hill house was reopened as a museum displaying original memorabilia from 1787 to 1963. You can take guided tours of the house during June through November on Fridays from 1pm to 4pm and Saturdays 10am to 4pm. Reservations are required.
In a historic neighborhood of Albany, Tenbroeck Mansion is a handsome Georgian style house built in 1797 to 1798 for General Abraham Ten Broeck. The estate features resplendent formal gardens with colorful flower beds. Other information about tours can be found on the website for the guided tours which are available from mid-May until mid-October on Fridays and Saturdays. The lovely gardens of Tenbroeck Mansion are open free to the public beginning at the end of March through late November (from dawn until dusk).
You should take a short drive (3 miles from Albany) to visit Rennselaer and see the Crailo State Historic Site. This 18th-century manor house is home to a museum of the Colonial Dutch, located on the Hudson River Valley. The Crailo State Historic Site is open to the public mid-May through October, Wednesday through Sunday. Tours are offered on the hour from 11am until 4pm. Reservations are not required.
In the town of Cohoes, a historic mansion called the Van Schaick Mansion was built in 1735. The mansion played a role in both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Most notably, the mansion was used as a military headquarters during the American Revolution by George Washington and is where the Battle of Saratoga was planned. Because it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, visitors to this place have to take a guided tour that starts at 1pm on Sundays.
7. Visit the New York State Education Building
Explore awe-inspiring architecture of New York State Education Building and other landmarks in the state. This building was constructed between 1908 and 1912 and has grand proportions and neoclassical elements that recall the monuments of Washington D.C.
The most interesting part of this building is the front façade, which is the world’s longest colonnade. The 36 columns are crafted from Vermont marble and stand about 90 feet tall.
The New York State Education Building is opening its doors to the public for 45-minute guided tours, on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30pm. and 2:30pm. You must make a reservation in advance to get a spot on the tour.
Knowledgeable staff provide guided tours of the New York State Museum with the highlight being a tour of Chancellors Hall, where the limestone-clad Regents Chamber meeting room is highlighted. Other highlights include the features of Rotunda, which are made up of 36 murals that speak to education.
Address: 89 Washington Avenue, Albany, New York
8. Attend a Performance at The Egg
While many people might debate whether the building is beautiful or ugly, it cannot be ignored. -An ultra-modern landmark that makes an impression and can’t be ignored: whatever the story.
“The Egg” is Albany’s Center for the Performing Arts, a venue that hosts music concerts, comedy shows, dance performances, and talks. It’s been there since 1966 and was built between 1966-1978.
Two theaters exist in the Egg Center for the Arts: the Swyer Theatre, with a capacity of 450 people, and the Hart Theatre, which seats 982 people. New York State owns the center. It is managed by the Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Performing Arts Center Corporation.
The Empire State Plaza is an area of urban activity at the center of Albany. It is connected to enormous numbers of shops, restaurants, and cafés.
Address: Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York
9. Marvel over the Views from Corning Tower
A top attraction in the Empire State Plaza is the Corning Tower Observation Deck, on the 42nd floor of Corning Tower. The enclosed observation deck features floor-to-ceiling windows, which allow visitors to admire the sweeping vistas.
Panoramas of the Hudson River, Hudson River Valley, Catskill Mountains, Berkshire Mountains, and the foothills of the Adirondacks.
The autumn leaves look particularly spectacular on the top of the tower. This is because the tower provides views from afar, so it’s an ideal place to view fall foliage.
The Corning Tower Observation Deck is open Monday through Friday from 10am until 4pm.
Address: Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York