Winter's wonderful in this eclectic region! From Albany's cobblestone streets to Saratoga's Victorian charm, cities glow with celebrations of art, history, music and fine food. Picturesque villages are surrounded by glistening forests and snow-covered hills. Many lakes, including the Great Sacandaga, offer skating, ice-fishing contests, winter fireworks displays, and other special events throughout the season.
Three ski mountains-Maple Ridge, Royal Mountain and Willard Mountain- boast a variety of trails and terrain parks, from novice to challenging. Cross-country skiers find unique paths, from unspoiled wilderness to a national historical park. Après ski, you can stay at a cozy B&B, historic country inn, or a grand hotel with a soothing spa.
Begin with a tour of the magnificent New York State Capitol, adjacent to the Empire State Plaza. The Plaza houses a world-class modern art collection, 42nd-floor observation deck, the Egg Performing Arts Center, and the NY State Museum, where kids (and you!) can ride a full-size indoor carousel.
This season's entertainment at The Egg runs from The Temptations in December, to Zappa Plays Zappa in February, and the sweet Carolina Chocolate Drops in April.
Shows at the majestic Palace Theatre range from holiday favorites to Disney Live! in March. The resident Albany Symphony is one of the nation's great orchestras.
Nearby, tours and tasting at the Albany Distilling Company reveal the process of creating their 19th- and early 20th-century style rums and whiskeys.
On Sage College's campus, the Opalka Gallery presents works by prominent professional artists, artist talks and performances.
Just west of Albany, the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center was voted #1 of 20 top places to take kids in the Capital District. Hands-on exhibits include a live honeybee observation hive, bird viewing area, fossils and furs. Follow woodland trails for winter hiking, skiing, wildlife watching and ice-fishing at Thompson's Lake.
Head northeast across the Hudson River to this historic city known for its Victorian architecture, antique shops and Tiffany windows. The 1875 Troy Music Hall attracts world-class musicians, from Rosanne Cash, in December, to Hilary Hahn in April.
The menu at Brown's Brewing Company's River Street Taproom compliments the ales and lagers brewed on site. The new Malt Room, a speakeasy-style bar in the basement, serves Brown's beer, scotches, bourbons and a tapas menu of local bread and cheeses and cold plates.
Just east, miles of groomed trails await you at Pineridge Cross Country Ski Area. This wonderland of snow-laden evergreens also has unique skating trails and lighted trails for night-skiing and moonlight snowshoeing.
Nearby Mattison Hollow, an historic country inn surrounded by thousands of acres of woodlands, is secluded, yet close to cultural and recreational activities.
Due north, this quaint village sparkles amid rural winter landscapes and covered bridges. Explore Main Street's shops, galleries, restaurants and Hubbard Hall, a restored 1878 opera house. Acclaimed theater includes the Mo and Shirley Show, in January, and Shakespeare's King Lear in February.
Just outside the village, nuns at New Skete Monasteries sell their famous cheesecakes!
Nearby at Willard Mountain, trails range from the Bunny Hop to the challenging Cutoff. The Terrain Park has bumps, jumps, rails and funboxes to hone your freestyle skills. Willard's snowtubing park has its own cozy lodge.
Travel north to the Slate Valley Museum, celebrating the history of quarrying with a mix of paintings, sculpture, photographs and special events. Learn about the immigrants who came to work in the slate quarries through folk art, artifacts and tales that weave together religion, tradition, language and politics.
Nearby you can stay at the 1906 Sheldon Mansion, constructed of rare red slate by a wealthy slate baron. Restored to its original grandeur, the mansion and 10-acre estate offer luxuries of a bygone era, like breakfast in the solarium with sweeping mountain views. It's a short walk to shops, restaurants and museums in the historic village.
Head southwest to the 29-mile-long Great Sacandaga Lake. Along with family-friendly ice-fishing contests and winter fireworks shows, there are Snowmobile Fun Runs every Saturday from January to March. The website has details on "Great" events all season.
Head east to watch live harness racing from the indoor lounge at Saratoga Casino & Raceway. There's also gaming machines, restaurants, and a nightclub hosting great local party bands and top celebrities.
Cultural treasures in Saratoga Spa State Park include unique museums celebrating automobiles, dance and horseracing.
The winter line-up at the Spa Little Theater runs from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in December, to Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution in February, and Boeing Boeing in April.
A drive along the stately Avenue of the Pines gives you a glimpse of the tranquil elegance that awaits you at the Gideon Putnam Resort & Spa. Across the lawn, the Roosevelt Baths & Spa offers bubbling mineral baths.
During the holiday season, families cozy-up in festively-decorated vintage cars, aboard the Saratoga & North Creek Railway's Polar Express-which rolls out of Saratoga station bound for the "North Pole!"
Complete the itinerary's loop by heading south to Schenectady. Take in a performance at Proctor's Theater, a majestic Vaudeville-era palace that dazzles with its grandness as well as its full schedule. Show include traveling Broadway hits, musicals, pop and classical music, dance and movies.
Just outside the city, Maple Ski Ridge has terrain ideal for family fun and beginners of all ages. Along with great skiing and riding, Maple offers a ski school, rentals and lively events. No snow in your back yard? No worries. Snowmaking is big here.
For more ideas and information, see the Capital-Saratoga Regional Tourism website.