15 Best Things to Do in Rochester (NY)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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The city of Rochester in New York has a long and illustrious history, although many visitors here will not be aware of the fact that this part of the United States was actually the biggest manufacturer of flour in the country.

The city grew as a result of this industry, but nowadays it is better known for its exciting atmosphere that sees a huge number of exhibitions, performances, and festivals held here throughout the year.

If you want to get outside, then you will find over 12,000 acres of parklands here, as well as fun attractions like amusement and water parks.

Rochester is located close to an array of impressive natural phenomena like Lake Ontario and the Genesee River that flows through the city, and even in the winter months there are trails that offer cross-country skiing.

Whether you are travelling alone, in a couple, or with a family, Rochester has attractions for all ages and tastes, and you will find zoos, museums, breweries, and art galleries all over this dynamic city.

From its humble roots as a place that supplied the rest of the country with flour, Rochester is now a powerhouse traveler destination that you don’t want to miss.

Lets explore the best things to do in Rochester:

1. Highland Park

Highland ParkSource: flickr
Highland Park

Highland Park is famous in the Rochester area for it arboretum and its gorgeous landscaping which stretches for 150 acres of rolling hills and scenic gullies.

The flora in the park is impressive, and you will find signature lilacs here as well as Japanese Maples, and a huge variety of other species that are both indigenous and exotic.

There are flower festivals held here annually, and in addition to all the pretty foliage, you will also find a wealth of culturally and historically significant monuments like the Vietnam Memorial, the John Dunbar Memorial Pavilion, and Warner Castle, to name but a few.

2. Memorial Art Gallery

Memorial Art GallerySource: flickr
Memorial Art Gallery

The Memorial Art Gallery dates back to 1913 when it first opened and you will find an impressive 12,000 items here that include anything from contemporary art objects to foreign pieces from all over the world.

The art gallery sits on 14 acres of land and was created to offer the local community the chance to enjoy art from the region as well as further afield.

To this day the gallery is dedicated to showcasing some of the best art in the country, and you will find rotating exhibitions and galleries here as well as other diverse events like musical concerts.

3. RMSC Strasenburgh Planetarium

RMSC Strasenburgh PlanetariumSource: flickr
RMSC Strasenburgh Planetarium

For anyone who wants to know more about the night sky, the RMSC Strasenburgh Planetarium is the place to come, particularly thanks to their amazing shows that take you on a tour of the solar system.

The star shows here are legendary in the area and use a projector to show you exactly where the stars and planets are located.

There are also vibrant showcases such as the laser performances where you can watch lasers dancing along to music, and there are also interactive exhibits that let you explore space on your own.

Telescopes set up at the planetarium are open for public use, and there are also educational films screened here regularly.

4. Seneca Park Zoo

Seneca Park ZooSource: flickr
Seneca Park Zoo

If you want to see some exotic animals while you are in Rochester, then Seneca Park Zoo is the place to come.

Here you will find African elephants and rhinos, snowy polar bears, and majestic orangutans from Borneo, as well as over 90 other species from all over the world.

The zoo encompasses over 15 acres of land and is something of a historical treasure in the area, having first opened its doors in 1893.  The zoo nowadays is also considered something of a trailblazer in its field, as it works tirelessly to provide the animals here with larger and more natural enclosure that simulate their habitat in the wild.

5. Artisan Works

Artisan WorksSource: flickr
Artisan Works

Art lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to visit Artisan Works if they are in Rochester, as this art space is dedicated to showcasing the talent of local artists on a not-for-profit basis.

What makes Artisan Works different from other art galleries is the way in which artists in residence work there on a daily basis, and so when you visit you can literally see the art being created before your eyes, and get up close to the artistic process.

You can take a guided tour of Artisan Works, where a friendly docent will fill you in on the mission statement and history of this amazing art project, and there are also workshops that the public can join if you want to have a go at making your own masterpiece.

There are also self-guided tours if you prefer to go it alone.

6. Cobbs Hill Park

Cobbs Hill ParkSource: rochesterstockphotos
Cobbs Hill Park

This 109 acre park in Rochester is known for its beautiful scenery and its serene hiking trails, so if you like walking then this is a great choice to take in some of the New York greenery.

As you explore the trails, you will have the chance to enjoy the lilacs that bloom here as well as the oak trees that date back over 100 years.

As well as walking paths, you will also find a reservoir here that is perfect for fishing, and should you come during the winter months then you can even go cross-country skiing in the park.

7. The Strong- National Museum of Play

The Strong- National Museum of PlaySource: wikiwand
The Strong- National Museum of Play

If you are travelling with younger visitors then don’t miss the chance to check out The Strong, a 150,000 square foot museum that showcases the best of children’s toys and board games.

If you do make it here, expect to find galleries dedicated to all your childhood favorites like Monopoly, the Wizard of Oz, and Sesame Street.

In addition to the galleries there are other special features here such as a carousel that is over a hundred years old, and the only indoor butterfly garden in the region, so you definitely won’t be bored during a visit and even adults can enjoy the fun.

8. Charlotte – Genesee Lighthouse

Charlotte - Genesee LighthouseSource: flickr
Charlotte – Genesee Lighthouse

The Charlotte – Genesee Lighthouse is famous for still being in working order, and sits in Lake Ontario where it continues to keep vessels safe from harm.

The lighthouse was first built in 1822 and then lovingly restored to its former glory in 2014, and towers 40 feet into the sky.

One of the great delights of this lighthouse is that it is open to the public, and if you are feeling active you can join a tour and climb the 42 steps to a run ladder at the top.

From there, you will need to take a further 11 steps to reach the summit of the lighthouse, where you will be rewarded with stunning views over Lake Ontario.

During the tour you will also get to hear about the history of the lighthouse, and there is a museum located in the lighthouse keeper’s residence which sits at the base of the actual tower.

9. Rochester Museum & Science Center

Rochester Museum & Science CenterSource: flickr
Rochester Museum & Science Center

The Rochester Museum & Science Center is dedicated to educating visitors about the joys of science through interactive exhibits that allow you to get up close to all the action.

Some of the signature sections of this museum include a climbing wall and a space simulator, and you can create your own robot here as well as learn to use a catapult, and play with lasers.

There are over 200 hands-on games to enjoy here, and you will also get the chance to walk around rotating galleries, each one dedicated to a different scientific theme.

There are also interactive shows scheduled here and you can see 3D films such as Science on a Sphere which will take you flying through the galaxy.

10. Frontier Field

Frontier FieldSource: flickr
Frontier Field

For those who want to take in a game when they are in town, Frontier Field in the downtown area of Rochester is the place to do it.

The stadium was opened in 1996 and has a capacity of over 10,000 spectators who want to watch professional baseball games.

The field is the training ground for a variety of teams such as the Rochester Raging Rhinos, the Rochester Rattlers, and the Rochester Red Wings.

As well as being a great place to come if you want to watch a sporting event like baseball, soccer, or even lacrosse, and musical concerts are also held here throughout the year.

11. Ontario Beach Park

Ontario Beach ParkSource: flickr
Ontario Beach Park

If you want the perfect mixture of park and beach, then come to Ontario Beach Park where you will find 39 acres of pristine sands that are perfect for exploring in either the summer or winter months.

There are a huge range of activities here including swimming and sunbathing when the weather is warm, or you can try your hand at fishing and boating.

There are also a range of sporting venues here like volleyball courts, basketball courts, and even softball fields, and you can find picnic areas and relaxing rambling trails dotted all over Ontario Bach Park as well.

12. Seabreeze Amusement Park

Seabreeze Amusement ParkSource: tripadvisor
Seabreeze Amusement Park

Seabreeze Amusement Park is one of the oldest amusement parks in the New York area, having first opened all the way back in 1879. There are over 70 different attractions here that provide fun for the entire family and you can choose from more mellow period rides to newer installations such as the Screamin’ Eagle or water based log flumes.

There is a water park located within Seabreeze Amusement Park that has a wave pool and a children’s play zone, and you will also get views over Lake Ontario from here.

13. George Eastman Museum

George Eastman MuseumSource: flickr
George Eastman Museum

The George Eastman Museum is itself located in something of a historical gem, as it is housed in a mansion that was built in the Colonial Revival style and was owned by local photographer George Eastman.

The mansion dates from 1905 and the museum inside is the oldest museum of photography not only in the United States but also across the globe, which is reason enough to visit.

The museums tells the story of photography in the United States and you will find a huge range of period memorabilia here such as antique cameras, photographs, and film.

14. Rochester City Public Market

Rochester City Public MarketSource: tripadvisor
Rochester City Public Market

The Rochester City Public Market has vendors from all over the region that sell a huge range of local produce, so for an authentic taste of Rochester, this is the place to come.

There are food stalls all over the market where you can find local ingredients like fruit and vegetables, or you will find flowers and products like honey or cheeses.

You can also buy readymade items here like delicious local baked goods and even artisan coffee.

15. Genesee Riverway Trail

Genesee Riverway TrailSource: flickr
Genesee Riverway Trail

The Genesee Riverway Trail is one of the best-loved attractions in Rochester and you can expect to find a 24 mile trail here that can be used for a variety of different activities as you explore the local area.

The trail is popular as a place to walk, bike, or jog, and as it runs along the majestic Genesee River, it is a great place to come if you want to take some photographs of the gorgeous landscapes in Rochester.

As you walk along the trail, you will come to a variety of amazing landmarks like waterfalls and parks, and if you manage to complete all 24 miles, you will pass through 12 historical districts of this city.

15 Best Things to Do in Rochester (NY):

  • Highland Park
  • Memorial Art Gallery
  • RMSC Strasenburgh Planetarium
  • Seneca Park Zoo
  • Artisan Works
  • Cobbs Hill Park
  • The Strong- National Museum of Play
  • Charlotte - Genesee Lighthouse
  • Rochester Museum & Science Center
  • Frontier Field
  • Ontario Beach Park
  • Seabreeze Amusement Park
  • George Eastman Museum
  • Rochester City Public Market
  • Genesee Riverway Trail