Nicknamed “The Empire State”, New York is situated in the Northeastern region of the United States. By far, the most famous features of the state are its largest city, New York City, the Upstate landscapes including Niagara Falls, and its history as one of the original Thirteen Colonies.
Everyone knows New York State for New York City with the two often distinguished by the “state” and “city” titles. Home to approximately 44% of the state’s 20.2 million residents as of 2020, New York City is one of the most prominent cultural and financial capitals in the world. It has also been previously named “the world’s busiest tourist attraction” with 65.2 million visitors traveling to the city in 2018.
Away from the dazzling lights, massive crowds, and noisy streets of Manhattan, Upstate New York also garners plenty of attention from tourists. Featuring landscapes of mountains and lakes, the state’s diverse topography comes to life. Natural attractions in New York State include Niagara Falls, two of the Great Lakes – Ontario and Erie, as well as the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains.
Whether you’re looking to join the crowds and explore New York City or head Upstate (pretty much everything north of the Big Apple) to mellower landscapes, New York is one of the top tourist destinations in both the United States and the world. Millions have fallen in love with its culture, character, history, and land. Get ready to be blown away by this iconic East Coast state.
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Visit New York’s Top Towns and Cities
History of “The Empire State”
Prior to the arrival of the first settlers, Native Americans lived in New York for thousands of years. Having arrived about 13,000 years ago after walking across the Bering Strait to North America, they were first contacted by European explorers in the 16th century.
In 1524, the Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to explore New York after entering the harbor and landing at the tip of Manhattan. In 1540, the French built a chateau on an island in Albany. Ultimately abandoned due to a flood the following year, the chateau would be rebuilt in 1614 by the Dutch.
The Dutch settlement was called Fort Nassau. Like the French, the Dutch were ultimately flooded out of their settlement in 1617. However, by establishing the nearby Fort Orange, the Dutch began their lucrative Dutch East India Company, which had trading posts in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and North America.
New York would ultimately become a state on July 9th, 1776. Expanding during the 19th and 20th centuries, the state’s major conflict included the American Civil War and expansion as many immigrants used the city’s Ellis Island as a legal port of entry into the US. During the 21st century, New York’s major historical event was the 9/11/2001 attacks, when terrorists flew hijacked planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Capital City of Albany
About 135 miles north of New York City is Albany, the state capital with a population of 99,224 as of 2020. Historically a part of the original Fort Nassau and Fort Orange colonies, the city has expanded to become a modern-day hub for many industries related to the government, education, healthcare, and technology.
The cityscape includes the Hudson River and late American modern architecture. Of the many neighborhoods in Albany, some of the most popular include the downtown area, Arbor Hill, Center Square, Pine Hills, and the South End. Center Square is particularly touristy because of its mix of residential and commercial space.
Throughout the neighborhoods are also more than 60 parks and recreation areas for public use. Some of the most popular include Washington Park, Lincoln Park, Empire State Plaza, Pine Bush, Buckingham Park, and the Corning Preserve. The city’s oldest park is Liberty Park, which is located in Downtown Albany.
Visitors who want to see more of the city and river should consider taking a cruise tour or learning about the local and regional history at the New York State Museum. Additional attractions include the State Capitol, Albany Institute of History & Art, USS Slater, Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, The Egg, and Fort Orange.
New York City, “The Big Apple”
Going by many names including “The Big Apple”, “The City That Never Sleeps” and simply “NYC”, New York City is an icon throughout the world. Located at the southern tip of the state, the city consists of five boroughs – Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.
Manhattan is the smallest of the five boroughs by landmass, but it’s the most densely populated with 1,694,251 residents as of 2020. Altogether, as of 2020, NYC had a population of 8,804,190 people, making it the largest city in the US by population.
Some of the most recognizable and visited attractions are the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Central Park, the One World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, Broadway theater productions, Fifth Avenue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Financial District. Most of these landmarks are located within Manhattan.
Outside of Manhattan, tourism is picking up in the neighboring boroughs. Brooklyn is particularly popular with Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge Park, and its Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood. In the Bronx, visitors love the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden.
Visitors are encouraged to take a guided tour with one of the many licensed tour companies. Walking and double-decker bus tours are fun ways to explore the city and its five boroughs. There are also special interest tours that focus on food, music, and sports.
Buffalo, New York’s Second-Largest City
Across the United States/Canada border, Buffalo is the second largest city in New York with a population of 278,349 as of 2020. The city sits on Lake Erie’s eastern end and is at the head of the Niagara River. Situated close to both Niagara Falls and Toronto, Canada, the city is a busy tourist destination and transportation hub.
Although not near as famous as New York City, Buffalo is still a worthwhile destination. Recently revitalization throughout the city has brought attention to the downtown area and waterfront. Canalside and Harborcenter have become fun places to visit because of their shops, restaurants, and activities.
A few of Buffalo’s top attractions include the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, Pierce-Arrow Museum, Delaware Park and the Buffalo Zoo, City Hall, and the Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Just outside of Buffalo and spanning the US/Canada border is Niagara Falls, which is made up of three separate falls called American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls. Summer is the peak tourist season to visit Niagara Falls when it is estimated that every minute more than 5.9 million cubic feet of water flow over the crest.
On the American side of the falls, the Maid of the Mist boat cruise is the oldest and most popular way to view Niagara Falls. Visitors can also take walkways that run through Prospect Point Park. There is also an observation tower in the park situated just east of American Falls. Other ways to view the falls include helicopter rides and taking the Niagara Scenic Trolley.
A historical summer colony, The Hamptons sit on the east end of Long Island in New York. Technically a group of towns and villages, Southampton and East Hampton tend to draw the most tourists as they are the two main townships. The most affluent areas of the Hamptons are Sagaponack and Bridgehampton.
With homes and getaways for many celebrities, the Hamptons have become a luxurious destination. These communities and others on Long Island are some of the best beach towns in New York. Most places in the Hamptons are less than a 3-hour drive from New York City, which means that people don’t have to go too far to escape into blissful seaside landscapes.
Top attractions in the Hamptons are Coopers Beach, Montauk, the Long Island Aquarium, Ponquogue Beach, the Shinnecock Golf Club, and the East Hampton Main Beach. The rural setting of the Hamptons makes it the perfect place for couples and families to relax.
Another geographical wonder that is shared between the US and Canada is the Thousand Islands. There are 1,864 islands in the Thousand Islands and they sit within the Saint Lawrence River near the northeast corner of Lake Ontario. Island sizes range from more than 40 square miles to private residences and uninhabited outcroppings.
Most people are drawn to the Thousand Islands because of the stunning blue water, scenic beauty, historic attractions, architecture, and parks. In New York’s portion of the islands, the busiest attractions include the Zoo New York, Antique Boat Museum, Southwick Beach State Park, Singer Castle, Fort Ontario State Historic Site, and the Boldt Castle.
Visitors can enjoy a plethora of activities that range from cruises, sightseeing tours, craft tours, cycling, paddling, boating, diving, fishing, golfing, culture, and history.
Small Towns of Cooperstown, Ellicottville, and Ithica
New York, especially the Upstate area, has many small towns where tourists can get up close to the local crafts, history, culture, art, and architecture. For those who find small towns charming, you might want to consider visiting some of the state’s smaller communities.
Cooperstown is a small village with plenty of attractions. Known for its National Baseball Hall of Fame and Fenimore Art Museum, tourists come from all over to enjoy a quieter vacation. The Glimmerglass Festival is a popular summertime activity, as is the nearby Howe Caverns, which offer daily cave tours.
For hikers, skiers, and snowboarders, the little ski town of Ellicottville is situated just one hour south of Buffalo. Resting in Allegheny Mountain foothills, the town predominantly features 19th-century architecture. With idyllic storefronts and restaurants, the town is the gateway to the nearby Holiday Valley Resort, which has 60 slopes and trails to enjoy during the winter and summer months.
Ithaca is a college town that also features plenty of natural beauty. Just outside of town limits, visitors can explore nature parks, waterfalls, gorges, and Taughannock Falls. Attractions within the city include the botanical gardens, boat tours, wine tours, and the Discovery Trail.
New York Mountain Ranges
New York has three major mountain ranges – the Adirondack, Catskill, and part of the Appalachians. The Adirondack Mountains stretch out along the northeastern region of the state and cover about 5,000 square miles of land. There are hundreds of peaks to explore, as well as famous bodies of water like Lake George, Lake Placid, and Lake Tear of the Clouds.
Often just called the Catskills, these mountains are in southeastern New York. Being closer to New York City, these mountains have become a place where people can get away from the Big Apple to enjoy nature. Catskill Park, the Devil’s Path, Belleayre Mountain, Winnisook Lake, Woodstock, and Phoenicia are major attractions within the mountain range.
Finally, a small portion of the Appalachian Mountains and Trail run through New York. Although only about 90 miles of the trail are within state boundaries, many people still visit the New York section during their hike.
Being a melting pot of cultures, New York and particularly New York City are both famous for the local culinary scene. With food from all over the world displayed in carts, small eateries, luxury establishments, and Michelin-star restaurants, many people travel to New York just to taste the never-ending variety of dishes.
Specific foods that have become iconic in New York are bagels and lox, pastrami on rye, Manhattan clam chowder, cheesecake, and pizza. To taste some of the best culinary creations, visitors should check out any of the state’s 73 restaurants that have been awarded a Michelin star.
“I ❤ NY”
Whether you’re just heading to the Manhattan streets, relaxing along the seashore, or heading deep into the Upstate area, New York has tons of attractions to keep you entertained and occupied. Full of surprises and endless discoveries, your trip to the Empire State will be unforgettable. For the millions of tourists that visit each year, the state’s slogan, “I love New York” rings true.
While visiting the Empire State, be sure to relax at one of New York’s hot springs.
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