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Spotlight: Syracuse, NY

Once a frontier town on the Erie Canal, this city is now a center for creativity and learning.

A lively college scene with championship athletics has brought Syracuse national recognition, but it's the city's burgeoning downtown and rich cultural roots that keep people coming back for more. Its art and music scenes fill the streets with the buzz of a city, while its location provides an easy retreat into the natural beauty of New York's landscape where rolling vineyards and crystal lakes await. Sprinkle that with astounding architecture and historic storytelling, and you've found a place to delight any traveler.

Three Things You Can't Miss Family Fun | Spend the Day | Spend the Weekend | Spend the Week | Hotels & Stays | Where to Eat | Getting There
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Three Things You Can't Miss

A platter of meat at Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse, NY
Credit: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Originally a motorcyclists' joint, now an award-winning restaurant, this Syracuse staple opened its doors downtown in 1988 to serve up some of the best brisket, ribs, and barbecue you'll ever eat. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has since launched seven more locations, been featured on shows on Food Network and Travel Channel, and was once named the country's #1 BBQ by Good Morning America. Indulge in their pulled pork, hearty mac & cheese, or anything else on their mouth-watering menu.

Outdoor dining and walking at Armory Square in Syracuse, New York
Credit: Visit Syracuse

Armory Square

This is the neighborhood to eat, drink, and play. Once the city’s industrial district, Armory Square—or simply “the Armory”—experienced a revitalization in the 1980s and has become the place to be for daytime fun and nightlife. Popular spots include Funk n' WafflesAl’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge and the MOST, an interactive science museum located in the former Syracuse Armory building.

Kid and grandparents on boat at Erie Canal Museum, Syracuse

Erie Canal Museum

Located in the 1850 Weighlock Building where canal boats once stopped as they traveled through Syracuse, this museum brings the adventurous story of the Erie Canal to life. Walk through the weigh chamber, which features a full-replica line boat, visit the Victorian-era Canalside garden, and enjoy other creative exhibits. In the children's area, kids can read, play with 1800s-inspired toys, and try on period costumes.

family fun

The Ferris wheel lights up the night at the New York State Fair
Credit: The Great New York State Fair

The Great New York State Fair

The Great New York State Fair has been a renowned showcase for the best in agriculture, entertainment, education, and technology since it started in 1841. Musical performances abound (in 2022, acts include Chevelle, Ice-T, Foreigner, Boyz II Men, Nelly, Gin Blossoms, Dropkick Murphys, and more), the midway rides attract thousands of fairgoers, and the food concoctions are noteworthy. It's the perfect event for the whole family. Get the latest information here.

Kids watch a science experiment at the MOST in Syracuse, NY
Credit: The MOST

Museum of Science and Technology (MOST)

Home to hands-on exhibits, Syracuse's Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology is the MOST fun place for science and learning at any age. Get a bird's-eye view of a major metropolitan area enjoying the helicopter theater, and check out the controls of an F-16 fighter jet by sitting in the cockpit mockup.

A family walks at Destiny USA in Syracuse, NY

Destiny USA

One of the largest malls in the United States, this place isn’t just a shopping center—it’s an entertainment, game, and food destination for all ages. Filled with interactive, indoor play parks to run, bounce, and slide in, as well as hands-on adventure centers like WonderWorks, 5 Wits, and the Amazing Mirror Maze, it’s a hub of kid-friendly fun. For special discounts, check out their special Shop & Play pass or Shop & Dine pass.

spend the day

Destiny USA WonderWorks Rope Course - Photo Courtesy of Destiny USA

Destiny USA, one of the largest malls in the country, is a fun-for-all-ages entertainment complex that will far exceed expectations for a shopping center. Tackle hands-on exhibits like the Canyon Climb Adventure ropes course (pictured), ride go-karts, explore mirror mazes, and of course, enjoy plenty of outlet shopping.

After, bike the East Shore and West Shore Trails from Onondaga Lake Park for scenic views of the city skyline. Hop off the trails to enjoy the playgrounds, picnic areas, and lakefront views. Bring your own or rent bicycles and skates from McKie Sports "Cuse Cycle" Rental Shop, located next to the Griffin Visitor Center at the south end of the park.

In the evening, head to Syracuse’s cultural hub, Armory Square. The red brick paths and cobblestone streets will guide you to galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and music venues that reside in the historic buildings and converted warehouses of the area’s industrial past. 

spend the weekend

Clinton Square Syracuse


Clinton Square (pictured), a neighborhood filled with 19th-century architecture and buzzing with outdoor events and festivals, is a living example of the city’s storied past. The fountain, used as an ice rink in winter, was once part of the Erie Canal, which flowed through the heart of Clinton Square until 1925. The square is as beautiful as it is historic.

The square’s vivid past comes alive at the Erie Canal Museum, where interactive exhibits offer an up-close look at life on the legendary Erie Canal and adventures of the 19th century. Walk through the museum's full-size replica line boat, explore the Weigh Chamber where real canal boats once weighed in, or soak in the art exhibits—this museum is a journey through time.

After, hop over to the original Dinosaur Bar-B-Que to taste the pulled pork and brisket that made the barbecue joint famous.

Green Lakes Park


Start off the day with quirky waffle dishes at Funk 'n Waffles like the "Jive Turkey," a waffle made of stuffing with traditional Thanksgiving fixings like turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and gravy on top.

Experience the “Caribbean blue” waters of Green Lakes State Park (pictured) in Fayetteville. Geologic bedrock at the lake’s bottom, combined with dissolved minerals and natural sulfur, create an astounding color in two glacial lakes. See it up close by renting kayaks and canoes at the park boathouse or explore hiking trails that weave through acres of upland forest.

In the evening, head to Eastwood Brewery, a microbrewery that turns out a variety of craft beers in a cozy, inviting atmosphere. Sample reasonably-priced flights, half-pours, or pints, or take a growler to go.

spend the week

Carrier Dome at Syracuse - Photo Courtesy of the Carrier Dome
Credit: The Carrier Dome


Catch a game at the Carrier Dome (pictured) and you’ll find a sea of orange, roaring spectators who exude the energy and passion usually reserved for the major leagues. Syracuse Orange, the name of the university’s athletic teams, have won several NCAA championship titles and attract a fun-filled fan base like no other. Simply said, these games need to be experienced to be understood. Find tickets here and witness a legendary basketball, football, lacrosse, or other Division I game. 

Grab the Best Burger in New York State in 2019, as voted by the New York Beef Council, at Ale 'n' Angus Pub, just five blocks from Syracuse University. The family-friendly pub also offers wraps, salads, sandwiches, seafood, and pasta.

RED PANDA CUBS_Rosamond Gifford Zoo
Credit: Rosamond Gifford Zoo


Among the top zoos in the nation, Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park (pictured) provides an up-close look at the planet’s animals through education and care. Home to more than 700 animals representing 216 species, you'll discover astounding Asian Elephants, African Lions, and more. The zoo had a bit of a baby boom in 2022 with the births of new lambs, penguin chicks, and African Cape porcupines. Fergus, a Scottish highland cattle calf, also joined the zoo. For more animal fun, check out the zoo's education programs, demonstrations, and kids camps that offer a deeper understanding of wildlife and conservation.

Walk around the historic Armory Square neighborhood for shopping and dining options in beautiful buildings from the 1800s.

Skä·noñh – Great Law of Peace Center
Credit: Visit Syracuse


Explore the rugged cliffs and rocky outcrops at Clark Reservation State Park. Hiking trails wind through its lush woodland which includes a glacial lake, the site of a large waterfall at the end of the last Ice Age. Believe it or not, the relief of the ancient fossil waterfall in this deep lake is bigger than that of Niagara Falls! There are plenty of easy and intermediate level trails for a leisurely walk through the woods. 

Later, visit the Skä·noñh – Great Law of Peace Center (pictured), a Native American museum that explores the culture of the Haudenosaunee. Known as People of the Long House, this unique group lived in this area, had special ties to Onondaga Lake, and is known for creating the game of lacrosse. Explore the center’s art and exhibits. The museum's name is an Onondaga greeting which means “peace and wellness.”

Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse


Visit the Everson Museum of Art (pictured), established in 1897 by the same art historian who founded The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Everson displays a diverse collection of contemporary and modern art from American paintings and photography to videos and graphics. Beyond the permanent and rotating exhibits, the museum also hosts film screenings and interactive events like outdoor yoga and painting classes. Check their special events page for the latest information.

Strong Heart's Cafe is a must-visit for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone who appreciates good, healthy food. With over 32 rotating flavors of milkshakes, wraps, and sandwiches (including "chicken" salad and tofurkey), this 100% plant-based restaurant gets bonus points for composting and for purchasing locally grown produce direct from farmers.

Als Wine and Whiskey Lounge_credit Daylight Blue Media
Credit: Daylight Blue Media


Take the kids to Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) where future scientists can get their hands dirty playing (and learning!) with interactive exhibits.

From the era of “movie palaces,” the Landmark Theatre is an opulent theatrical venue of the 1920s, where the grand interior only adds to the splendor of its performances. The theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts a variety of performances including Broadway shows like Anastasia and more musical productions.

Adults can top off the night with a drink and live music at Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge (pictured).

Mid-Lakes Navigation boat
Credit: Mid-Lakes Navigation


Skaneateles Lake, the pristine Finger Lake, is the place to find charming downtown boutiques, rolling vineyards, and scenic boating. Hit the water with Mid-Lakes Navigation (pictured) which offers daily sightseeing tours of the lake as well as food cruises and special events. To chart your own course, pick up rental kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and more water toys at the Skaneateles Marina.

You haven’t visited the Finger Lakes until you’ve taken a wine tour in the region, and Anyela’s Vineyards is a perfect place to start. Located hillside above the lake, this family-owned establishment started its story in Eastern Europe before planting its roots on the shores of Skaneateles. Simply walk into the tasting room and spend your day sampling a wide variety of wines or touring the orchards.

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard


You may know Beak & Skiff (pictured) for their famous 1911 Hard Cider, but those who visit know there are many reasons it has been voted the best apple orchard in the country in a national survey. The farm has grown New York apples for more than 100 years. Visitors enjoy apple-picking and sampling treats at the Apple Hill Country Store such as warm apple pie, cider donuts, local cheddar cheese, and homemade fudge. And with the 1911 Tasting Room on-site, it’s a perfect place to try a glass of hard cider, wine, or spirits. The kids will enjoy the outdoor play area.

Finish off your weekend with more local eating at Apizza Regionale, with pizza pies made from fresh ingredients from all over New York State including flour from Ithaca, eggs from the Finger Lakes, and produce from Central NY.


Hotels and Stay

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getting there

By Train

Amtrak to Syracuse Station at 1 Walsh Circle. Taxi service is available from the station to downtown attractions.

By Bus

Take Trailways or Greyhound to Syracuse Bus Station located at 1 Walsh Circle.

By Car

• From NYC: 4 hours
• From Buffalo: 2.5 hours
• From Boston: 5 hours
• From Albany: 2.25 hours
• From Montreal: 4.5 hours

Bonus Tip

Check out Visit Syracuse for more information.