15 Best Small Towns to Visit in New York State

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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The state of New York tends to be eclipsed by the city of New York. But small towns here have lots to offer – including gorgeous mountains, wonderful wineries, rustic charm, outdoor adventure, and interesting history. The scenery and culture alone are worth exploring.

Here are our picks for some of the best of small town New York:

1. Cold Spring

Cold Spring - New YorkSource: flickr
Cold Spring – New York

With a population around 2,000, and a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, Cold Spring is a popular spot for a weekend city escape. Many of the buildings in the downtown area are from the 19th century and locals pride themselves that most of the shops are independently owned.

If you like rambling around with no particular place to go, Cold Spring offers charm, quiet, and comfort. If you want a little outdoor adventure, the Hudson River passes by and boating and kayaking are offered. You can also try golfing, biking, or hiking here. Be sure to visit the historic West Point Foundry, and Moo Moo’s Creamery.

2. Aurora

Waterfront Italianate Inn in AuroraSource: findeverythinghistoric
Waterfront Italianate Inn in Aurora

When we say small, we mean Aurora. Also known as Aurora-On-Cayuga, the population is less than 1,000 residents. Most known for Wells College, originally for women only, the combined village and college historic district is made up of about 50 homes and buildings.

Beginning in 2001, Pleasant Rowland, a Wells College alum and founder of the American Girl historic dolls and books series, began an effort to revitalize the town. Today, it’s an ideal spot to feel as if you’re deep in the country and far away from the cares of the world.

3. Ithaca

Winter Trees Near Cayuga LakeSource: flickr
Winter Trees Near Cayuga Lake

The cultural attractions in Ithaca are some of the best in New York. Unique and fabulous restaurants, incredible art galleries, and amazing live music events are just the start.

It’s also well known for its breath-taking natural beauty. Visitors love to let themselves get lost in the gorges surrounding the shores of Cayuga Lake. Check out the 28,000 acres of state forest, and discover over 150 waterfalls that make this area so beautiful. Ithaca is home to Cornell University, and as a university town, it has a lively and energetic atmosphere.

4. Raquette Lake

Raquette LakeSource: wikipedia
Raquette Lake

For those looking for a camping holiday, Raquette Lake is the place. The town, located on the west side of the lake, is right in the middle of stunning wilderness.

The pace in town is slow and with 99 miles of shoreline, you’ll love exploring the largest natural lake in the Adirondack Mountains. The state of New York declared the area ‘Forever Wild’ and the wonderful scenery and fun outdoor adventure make Raquette Lake a great vacation spot. Trying hiking, camping, fishing, boating, and more.

Be sure to visit Pine Knot, Uncas, and Sagamore to experience the luxurious and rustic estates in town.

5. Cooperstown

Cooperstown, NYSource: rsarm
Cooperstown, NY

Most American’s can tell you that the Baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, New York. But it’s so much more than that. With no chain stores, plenty of outdoor recreation, and incredible culture, this small town delivers big.

Most visitors stop at the hall of fame first, and then make their way to The Fenimore Art Museum, which showcases 20th century American art as well as American Indian pieces. There’s also The Famer’s Museum where you can step back in time and experience life on the Lippitt Farmstead. People of all ages love the historic village.

Brewery Ommegana is a favourite spot for unique craft brews, and The Glimmerglass Festival, held each summer, showcases opera on the lake.

6. Lake Placid

Lake Placid, NYSource: flickr
Lake Placid, NY

Founded in 1900, Lake Placid lies in the Adirondack Mountains and was listed as one of the ‘Six Forgotten Vacation Spots of North America’ by U.S. News & World Report. Most famous as the host of the Winter Olympics in both 1932 and 1980, and holds a special place in America’s heart and the site of the ‘Miracle on Ice,’ when US men’s hockey won gold against the USSR.  You can see New York’s highest peak, Mt.

Marcy, and enjoy skiing on other great slopes like the Olympic Mountain, Whiteface, and more. Visitors love hiking, cross-country skiing, ice-climbing, canoeing, swimming, and snowmobiling. The many resorts in town feature fantastic dining and every season brings a fantastic festival to town.

7. Chittenango

ChittenangoSource: flickr

If you love the Wizard of Oz, you’ll love Chittenango. It’s the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, the books author, and locals are very proud of their native son.

Chittenango is a village within the town of Sullivan, and its population is less than 6,000.  Each summer there’s a three-day festival called Oz-Stravaganza to celebrate the author and the book. There’s a parade and many community groups perform.

8. New Paltz

New PaltzSource: flickr
New Paltz

New Paltz is a college town, and because of that, there’s always plenty to do. Between the student population, an amazingly moderate year round climate, it’s close proximity to both New York City and Albany, and the historic district, New Paltz has become an energetic cultural centre of the state.

In the 17th century, 12 Huguenots settled on 40,000 acres near Wallkill River. They and their descendants built what is now the Huguenot Street Historic District – which is listed on the National Historic Registry. It’s no surprise why the original settlers stopped here – some of the most amazing views of the Hudson are found in New Paltz.

Enjoy fine dining, boutique shops, fabulous wine, and a vibrant local scene.

9. Greenport

GreenportSource: jitneyjaunts

Named by Forbes as one of the prettiest towns in the US (2011), and once a fishing village, Greenport is now better known for vineyards. The population here is right around 2,000 and the combination of wine and fresh catch make Greenport a hot spot of fine dining.

Mentioned as one of the Top 10 Wine Destinations in the USA, the town can’t forget it’s fishing roots. Once a major whaling port in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was also an oystering centre for many decades. History has it that Walt Whitman taught a semester of high school English here!

10. Saratoga Springs

Saratoga SpringsSource: flickr
Saratoga Springs

Just north of Albany is Saratoga Springs, ranked by New Yorkers as one of the best places to live in the state. Founded in the 17th century by English colonists, the area played a crucial role in the American Revolution.

The town is now known for horse racing and culture. It’s the home for both the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York City Ballet summer residencies. Over the course of its 200-year history, many visitors have come to dip in the famous mineral springs that gave the town its name.

11. Pawling

PawlingSource: whereswalden

You’ll find Pawling in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. If you want to spend some time exploring nature, this is your place. With access to the Appalachian Trail and the Pawling Preserve, many weekend trail warriors end up here.

Locals pride themselves on their volunteerism, and there’s an atmosphere of abundance and generosity here. Pawling is charming and outdoorsy and a real oasis from city life.

12. Geneva

Geneva, NYSource: flickr
Geneva, NY

The largest of the Finger Lakes is Seneca, and the most popular town on Seneca Lake is Geneva. Part of the growing New York wine country scene, Geneva is the heart of this thriving region.

The town fashions itself as ‘uniquely urban,’ by which they mean that it definitely feels like a small town, the kind of place where everyone says hello, but there is so much diversity that you’ll feel like you’re in the city.

There are plenty of options when it comes to food, art, film, shopping, and learning, to keep you coming back again and again.

13. Skaneateles

Skaneateles MansionSource: flickr
Skaneateles Mansion

If you’re an avid B&B-er, you might want to consider a visit to Skaneateles (pronounced ‘skinny-atlas’).  With a historic downtown, charming inns, and wonderful restaurants, this small town is a popular stop for tourists.

The historic district dates back to the 18th century and makes up the modern commercial centre of town. It sits right on the lake and has three lakeside parks for hiking and picnics. In the summer you can join the towns 7,000 residents in attending the Skaneateles music festival and the Antique and Classic Boat Show.

Each winter the town does a Dickens Christmas, which actors performing in the streets in period dress.

14. Westfield

Westfield, NYSource: flickr
Westfield, NY

On the shores of Lake Erie, you’ll find the town of Westfield. Another wine country favourite, it’s also a major producer of Concord Grape Juice. This is a great summer stop as you can enjoy fishing, sailing, and golfing, along with music festivals, galleries, and theatre.

The number of wineries offering tastings will leave you dizzy just thinking about them!  Visit nearby Barcelona Harbor for rolling green hills and a beach that’s perfect for swimming!

15. Sleepy Hollow

Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy HollowSource: flickr
Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow

This town holds a special place in American folklore. Sleepy Hollow was made legendary by Washington Irving’s tale of the same name. Thanks to the popularity of the story, the town has maintained much of its history and small town charm.

Although some like to visit because of its reputation as the most haunted place in the world! While there, be sure to visit the Old Dutch Church, Philipsburg Manor House, and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – where Elizabeth Arden, Brooke Astor, and Andrew Carnegie are buried.

15 Best Small Towns to Visit in New York State:

  • Cold Spring
  • Aurora
  • Ithaca
  • Raquette Lake
  • Cooperstown
  • Lake Placid
  • Chittenango
  • New Paltz
  • Greenport
  • Saratoga Springs
  • Pawling
  • Geneva
  • Skaneateles
  • Westfield
  • Sleepy Hollow