A liveable and lovely town that buts up to the banks of Lake Erie, Buffalo looks directly across the waters to Canada.
One of the northernmost cities in New York State, it’s famed for its long history of Polish and German immigration; two cultural strands that still pop up with the lively festivals of Dyngus Day and fantastic Oktoberfest-style beer blowouts each year.
But Buffalo is about much more than just Slavic blood sausage and Bavarian pils. The town has a unique naval past, and fortresses telling tales of both civil and revolutionary wars dot the riverbanks of the Niagara nearby.
Then there’s the awesome falls of Niagara themselves – a bucket list topper if there ever was one!
Back in the city and one of the oldest zoos in the country beckons with wild creatures, curious architecture courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright stands on the street corners, and art galleries offer some thought-provoking pieces of modernism!
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Buffalo:
1. See the modern masterworks at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Widely hailed as one of the best contemporary art galleries in the United States, the Albright-Knox center started life as the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy in 1862.
That makes it one of the oldest exhibition spaces of its kind in the country, and a veritable staple on the line-up of things to do in Upstate New York.
The collections focus on showcasing major masterworks of various artists from the 20th and 21st century.
There’s the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Gaugin, Picasso and Henri Matisse to see, ranging from canvasses of iconic impressionism to mind-boggling works of cubism and absurdism.
There are also regular touring exhibitions and events, not to mention daily public tours of the entire institution.
2. See American architecture at its finest at the Darwin D Martin House
Planned and built in the first decade of the 20th century by the revered Frank Lloyd Wright of Guggenheim fame, the Darwin D Martin House represents an image of how urban living was viewed by one of the world’s most revolutionary and forward-thinking architects.
A fine example of the so-called Prairie House, it’s got all of Wright’s trademark features, from the cantilevered roof to the central focus on the internal hearth.
As one of the most-visited attractions in all of Buffalo, visitors here enjoy daily tours of the complex, through the main Martin House and Barton House, and past the countless examples of iconic art glass produced by the architect himself.
3. Get a glimpse of the wild at the Buffalo Zoological Gardens
One of the oldest zoological attractions in the country, the Buffalo Zoo on Parkside Avenue was first opened in 1975.
Since then it’s grown and grown to incorporate a wild and wonderful array of fauna from right across the planet.
Major changes came in 2002, when a complete overhaul of the park brought the likes of the Arctic Edge, Highlands Zone and African attractions to the fore.
That means visitors can see everything from lions to grey wolfs, tamarins to Japanese macaques, chest-thumping lowland gorillas and even the uber-rare polar bear.
The Siberian tiger exhibit is particularly popular, while snow leopards, poisonous snakes and lizards are never too far away!
4. Taste your way through the Niagara Wine Trail
Encompassing three counties and countless vineyards, the Niagara Wine Trail makes its home between the rising hills of northern New York State and the waters of Lake Ontario.
The unique location offers a microclimate that’s perfect for raising interesting grapes, while the terrior of the soil adds a certain European-quality to the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling reds and whites in the barrel.
Some popular stop-offs include the Midnight Run Winery and the charming Vizcarra Vineyard, while top tipples include the region’s famous ice wine, brewed using grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine!
5. Check off the bucket-list with a trip to Niagara Falls
No visit to this far corner of Upstate New York could possibly be complete without at least a quick jaunt to the region’s most iconic sight: the crashing Niagara Falls.
These colossal cataracts that flow across the border between the US and Canada are amongst the largest in the world.
They are crowned at the middle by the mighty Horseshoe Falls, where visitors can wander the lookout points and even take a voyage on the iconic Maiden of the Mist boat that sails the waters of the Niagara River to the very base of the cliffs.
And if you’ve got enough time, you can add a hop across to Canada’s so-called Honeymoon Capital, where luxury hotels and soaring lookout towers offer sweeping views of Ontario and America alike!
6. Tour the Forest Lawn Cemetery
A proud place on the National Register of Historic Places is entirely deserved for this totemic cemetery, found nestled between Delaware Park and the city streets just north of Buffalo’s downtown.
Dead presidents and legendary doo-wop singers are among the recognisable names adorning the graves, many of which are chronicled at the on-site resource center come museum, the Margaret L. Wendt Archive.
Other attractions include the stepped Blue Sky Mausoleum, designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright, and countless other sepulchres built for some of America’s most notable businesspeople.
7. See colonial history at Old Fort Niagara
Poking its way out over the waters of Lake Ontario just some 40 minutes’ drive north of Buffalo, Old Fort Niagara sits proud and strong on its own grass-clad bluff.
Steeped in history, it’s story goes back all the way to the 1670s, when the forces of New France raised its bulwarks to protect the southern boundaries of Paris’ new overseas power.
Later, the fort fell into British hands and was a point of conflict against the French and Indian people of the north during the Seven Years’ War.
Then it was a power base in the American Revolution, famed for its loyalty to the crown, and today it hosts everything from re-enactments to guided tours of its barracks, armouries and cannon-dotted battlements.
8. Enjoy the energy and action of Canalside Buffalo
The Canalside Buffalo district is situated just on the edge of Lake Erie in the very heart of the city. It’s risen and risen in recent years to become one of the urban hubs for entertainments, shows, arts and socialising.
People flock here during the summer to kick-back on the al fresco sun chairs, to play in the sand pits, rent kayaks, learn how to sail, or simply to stroll the boardwalks.
By winter, the canals that weave around the district are frozen into ice rinks for skaters, while hockey (one of the region’s most competitive sports) can get downright rowdy in the HarborCenter that stands nearby.
9. Wander the pretty streets of Elmwood Village
Arguably the single prettiest neighborhood in all of Buffalo, little Elmwood Village is a crisscrossing grid of streets and sidewalks that hosts oodles of charming Queen Anne-style cottages and homes.
These endearing little rows of houses come painted in colourful hues and dressed in age-stained timber cladding, offering the look and feel of a real American slice of suburbia.
The area also has a laid-back, welcoming vibe that oozes from each of its independent coffee shops and boutique stores, bubbles up in local chatter amidst the veg-stacked stalls of its weekend farmer’s markets, and manifests in local picnickers on the street-side lawns during summer.
In short, this one’s a wholesome, happy place to while away a day in Buffalo!
10. Wonder at the awesome Buffalo City Hall
Standing tall and strong in the heart of Buffalo central, this soaring example of imposing American Art Deco architecture rarely fails to draw a gasp.
Visitors should have the camera at the ready to capture its striking series of towers, which loom high enough to be some of the tallest in all of Western New York.
Decorated in linear and geometric reliefs typical of the 1920s (the decade when the skyscraper was built), the structure is a medley of sunbursts and stark metallic filigrees, all topped with a soaring observation deck at more than 120 meters up.
Visitors who take the elevator to the pinnacle here can expect rolling panoramas of Lake Erie and the Queen City to boot!
11. Walk the old streets of the Allentown Historic District
The first ever complete neighborhood to be listed on the National Register in Buffalo, Allentown oozes heritage and culture.
Named for the local political luminary of the early 1800s, Lewis F Allen, the area is a patchwork of red-brick builds and painted timber homes, all punctuated by boho music joints and dive bars scrawled over with the occasional bout of graffiti.
Ad hoc music shows bubble up on the street corners here during the summer, while entertainers line the sidewalks and quirky art galleries and craft stores beckon from behind.
Arlington Park and the Kleinhans Music Hall can also be found in its midst, as can the elegant façade and peristyle of Butler Mansion – all worthy sights.
12. Enjoy a Buffalo brew at the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery
For almost two decades, the earl Street Grill & Brewery has been serving up some of the top craft ales in Buffalo.
Started in 1997 in collaboration with brewers out of beer-mad Denver, CO, the establishment has since expanded to open a whopping nine individual bars over four floors, all in an historic building on Pearl Street dating from the late 1800s.
The line-up of beers includes the likes of the Lake Effect APA, with its curious fusion of English and American hops, and the Trainwreck Amber Ale, a signature pint with a plump spiciness on the nose.
There’s oodles of food to eat too, with stuffed hot peppers and nachos, cheese-doused fries, soups, salads and stacked steak sandwiches all in the offing.
13. Sample the delights of the Italian Boot at Mulberry Italian Ristorante
Continually highly-rated as one of the top eateries in all of Buffalo, Mulberry is set just back from the meanders of Smoke Creek, on the southern reaches of the city.
The folk in the kitchen are famed for their rustic and authentic take on Latin classics, with the likes of ricotta-packed eggplant panino and tomato-topped rigatoni always proving popular with the loyal local following.
The interior, meanwhile, is relaxed and romantic in equal measure, with wide open windows and ambient lighting, perfect for everything from family meals to business meet ups. (If you’re feeling hungry, then the stacked lasagne is perhaps the top choice!).
14. See the birds of the Times Beach Preserve
Proclaimed by local activists as one of the most important wild bird pollinator sites in the entire Great Lakes region, the Times Beach Preserve sits on the edge of historic downtown Buffalo, where the meanders of the mighty Niagara River give way to the waters of Lake Erie.
Awash with countless interesting species of fliers right throughout the year, the spot hosts everything from red-throated loons to palm warblers, snowy to great horned owls, meadowlarks to western sandpipers.
Come in the winter to see the ice-caked banks covered in snow, or drop into the nature trails during the warmer months for some of the best bird spotting in New York State!
15. See New York’s long history at the Buffalo History Museum
Standing tall and proud with its Greek peristyles on the edge of the waters of Delaware Park, the Buffalo History Museum is the place to go for an introduction to the long past of the Queen City and New York State.
The permanent collection has some truly interesting artifacts, like a reconstructed office of the late Tim Russert, a native of Buffalo and a popular NBC newsreader.
There’s also a fine quilt collection, which comes complete with an old Victorian suite in mint condition. Regular touring workshops for children are hosted on the site and the surrounding grounds offer a relaxing Japanese Zen vibe to boot!