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Engross yourself in New York’s Capital-Saratoga region, where the capital city’s rich history blends with picturesque landscapes and a vibrant art and music scene. Discover the allure of Saratoga Springs, known for its iconic mineral springs, booming nightlife, and historic racetrack. Explore the hospitable hilltowns and charming cities along the way, as the area promises an affordable retreat with endless possibilities.
1. Visit a Park
Credit: Rachel Dymond
Free your mind and get into nature at Albany’s 84-acre all-season-oasis, Washington Park (free). Perched atop the Helderberg Escarpment is a National Natural Landmark, and one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the world, Thacher State Park ($6 entrance fee, collected May-October). In Schenectady, from June until October you can stroll among over 4,000 vibrant roses that adorn the Central Park Rose Garden (free). Saratoga showcases numerous historic, cultural, and natural landmarks across the 2,200-acre Saratoga Spa State Park ($10 entrance fee, collected May-October). Also in Saratoga you can frolic through Yaddo Gardens (free), open mid-June through mid-October, a four-acre rose and rock garden with Italian marble statues and a terra cotta columned pergola. In the center of the city’s lively downtown you can find peace and tranquility in Congress Park (free).
2. Groove to Live Music and Theater
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Outdoor live music and theater is abundant in the warmer months, and better yet, totally free! Along the Hudson River waterfront, Alive at Five brings a diverse lineup of big names, up-and-coming acts, and the region’s most talented artists to downtown Albany all summer long. Nearby, in Washington Park, Park Playhouse provides premier musical theater under the stars. This summer’s shows are Finding Nemo Jr. and Legally Blonde. In Cohoes’ Canal Square you can rock out and enjoy food and beverages at Rock The Block concerts. At the Mohawk Harbor Amphitheater in Schenectady jam out at the Harbor Jam concert series. “To be, or not to be” is the question in historic Congress Park as you enjoy the Saratoga Shakespeare Company.
3. Hone in on History
Immerse yourself in the cultural and natural history of New York State at the New York State Museum, where admission is free and you can explore exhibits about Harlem in the ‘20s, Native Peoples of NY, and a 9/11 memorial, to name a few. The Irish American Heritage Museum is also free to visit and houses artifacts, recounts first-person stories, and explores the history of a variety of Irish immigrants and individuals with Irish heritage. For $10 or less you can walk the decks of the USS Slater (open April 3 -December 1), a floating museum located on the Albany waterfront where you will experience the daily lives of the sailors who once lived and served aboard the destroyer escort during World War II. Visit New York’s oldest museum, the Albany Institute of History and Art, where admission is also $10 or less. Freely roam the grounds of the Saratoga Battlefield where the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga marked the turning point of the Revolutionary War.
4. Go Skating or Blading
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No matter the season, you can lace up and skate. The outdoor ice rink at Empire “Skate” Plaza is a winter wonderland from December-March. It’s free to skate if you bring your own, $5 for rentals, and free rentals on Saturdays! Go big or go home at Guptill’s Arena, the “World's Largest Indoor Roller Skating Rink” as recognized by Guinness Book of World Records. The arena regularly hosts themed skate nights and has a popular ice cream shop next door. Admission is $20 and skate rentals are $5. When the weather holds up for outdoor blading, the Empire State Trail offers ideal paved conditions to glide against the backdrop of the Hudson River and the Albany skyline.
5. Take a Hike
Opt outside and hike in some of the region’s most dynamic natural landscapes. The Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher Park ($6/entry fee from May-October) takes you underneath a waterfall. Peebles Island State Park (free) is at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers and offers spectacular river and rapids views along miles of paths through the wooded landscape. Get your fix of flowing falls at Barberville Falls, Cohoes Falls, Rensselaerville Falls, Christman Bird Sanctuary, and Plotter Kill Falls all for free. Visit one of the few inland pine-barren ecosystems left in the world at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve (free), also a great spot for birdwatching.
6. Go Fish
There’s plenty of fish in the sea at VIA Aquarium in Schenectady! Explore more than 25,000 square feet of oceanic treasure as you embark on an exciting self-guided tour visiting more than 2,000 creatures of the sea. Admission is $21/adults and $15/kids. If you’d prefer to reel ‘em in yourself, Six Mile Waterworks is stocked with trout and supports a variety of panfish. Abundant bluegill, pumpkinseed, black crappie, and rock bass populations provide great fishing here, as well. Check out some more of the area’s best fishing spots, and enjoy six Free Fishing Days each year, or you can purchase a fishing license.
7. Appreciate the Arts
Channel your creative side in Troy at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, a hub for the community highlighting well-curated exhibitions, free and open to the public. Throughout five decades, Albany Center Gallery has showcased thousands of the area’s finest contemporary artists who have held exhibits here using: painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, printing, fiber arts, video, mixed media, installation, and books. Take a free guided walking or bike tour (offered seasonally) to check out 22 unique murals that decorate the outdoor walls, pillars, and bridges of Albany, thanks to the artists of Capital Walls.
8. Get Out on the Water
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Jump in and paddle your way around some of the area’s most refreshing and tranquil waters. Saratoga Lake offers 12 miles of shoreline and a public beach that costs $5 or less to enjoy. Float atop the lake on a paddleboard or kayak rental from Kayak Shak, where $25 will get you three hours of cruising time. At both Grafton Lake and Moreau Lake State Parks there are large, sandy beach areas to lay out and go for a swim, as well as boat launches where you can rent canoes, kayaks, and rowboats. Admission to the state parks is between $6-$8 and boat rental prices are typically $10/hour.
9. Peruse a Farmers Market
If you’re looking for the best and biggest farmers market, look no further than Troy. Operating year-round with over 100 vendors selling fresh local produce, meats, seafood, prepared foods, handmade crafts, and featuring free entertainment, there is truly something for everyone. Albany holds a picturesque summer market in Washington Park, while Saratoga hosts its own summer and fall market at High Rock Park. In the suburbs, Delmar is well-known for its bustling market of up to 70 vendors in the heart of a charming town.
10. Fall into Family Fun
Spend a day at Indian Ladder Farms enjoying nature, a petting zoo, seasonal activities, farm-to-table food, and pick-your-own experiences. Admission to Ellms Family Farm is $23.99/kids and $19.99/adults and is the place to be for fall fun, featuring a trolley ride, pumpkin patch, jumping pillow, and more!
11. Enjoy Live Entertainment
Revel in Broadway quality theater for off-Broadway prices at Proctors in Schenectady, where shows like Hamilton, Les Miserables, and Chicago grace the stage, with tickets starting as low as $25. Capital Rep is Albany’s first professional theater, established in 1981, and creates meaningful art with an authentic connection to the community it serves; show tickets generally hover around $20. Empire Live offers above and underground intimate performing spaces that allow the audience to get up close to the performers, and tickets tend to be under $25. Lark Street Tavern is a popular joint in Albany that hosts weekly open mic comedy, open mic music, live jazz, trivia, bingo, and karaoke. There is no cost to attend any of these events! In Troy, check out No Fun for plenty of free and low-cost experimental music events.
12. Raise Your Glass
Whether your drink of choice is cider, beer, wine, liquor, or a mocktail, you’ll find every unique beverage option in the area. At Nine Pin Ciderworks in Albany you can take a bite of the big apple from any of the nine rotating premium, small batch ciders. Albany Distilling Co. got its roots making whiskey and bourbon, and has since added rum, vodka, and canned cocktails to its repertoire. Saratoga Winery serves more than a dozen handcrafted wines made on premises along with rotating beers on tap and cocktail flights. Druthers Brewing Co. has four locations across the region, satisfying beer-lovers with its variety of award-winning brews. For a marvelous mocktail check out Hamlet & Ghost, The Shaker & Vine, or The Nest.
13. Experience an Event
Credit: Saratoga Chamber of Commerce
Exciting events fill the Capital-Saratoga calendar year-round including: Tulip Festival, Alive at Five, 4th of July, PearlPalooza, Holiday Tree Lighting, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Capital Pride and Black & Latino Gay Pride, Jazz Festival, all taking place in Albany and all totally free to attend! In the fall, Saratoga Giant Pumpkin Fest provides a real gourd time, while Santacon and Chowderfest are major events held every winter in Saratoga, both at minimal cost. Spectate or sprint at Albany’s Santa Speedo Sprint, the nation’s second largest event of its kind! More festive fun can be found at the Schenectady Holiday Parade, the largest nighttime holiday parade in the Northeast.
14. Catch a Flick at the Drive-In
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Spend a warm summer evening or chilly fall night under the stars, with the stars! The big screen at the Jericho Drive-in features two films for just $11. This old-school destination also has a full-service ice cream parlor and food truck. The landmark flashing marquee welcomes you into the Malta Drive-in where you can enjoy two feature films seasonally, just $11/adults and $6/kids.
15. Raise the Stakes
The region boasts some impressive sports and gaming for wallet-conscious fun. Test your luck at the penny slots at Rivers Casino or Saratoga Casino. Giddy up at the world-famous Saratoga Race Course, where admission is as little as $7 and you can snag a picnic table or bring your own chairs. And on June 8, 2024 the track will host the Belmont Stakes for the first time in history! Minor league sports bring major league fun to town with the Tri-City ValleyCats baseball and Albany Firewolves lacrosse teams.
16. Play the Day Away
Channel your inner-child at Huck Finn’s Playland (open May-October), a mini-amusement park with vintage family rides, where a single ride ticket is $3. At Fun Plex (open April-October) you can swing by for mini-golf, go-karts, a rock wall, bungee trampoline, and more; all activities are individually priced, each under $9.