25 Best Things to Do in Syracuse (New York)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Even though it’s not New York City, upstate Syracuse still holds tons of appeal for those wanting to get away from the actual urban hubbub, and enjoy a little of the super-charming side of another part of the state.

Syracuse offers something for every season — the winters are as you would expect in this part of the country, the summers are filled with vibrant foliage and waterfalls and the fall is breathtakingly beautiful. So, no matter when you visit, you’ll be sure to be delighted as ever. Check out some of the greatest things to do while you’re in Syracuse, from the totally unique to the tourist traps to the memory-makers and beyond.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Syracuse:

1. Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Rosamond Gifford ZooSource: Kristen Burns / flickr
Rosamond Gifford Zoo

One of the top Syracuse attractions, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park is also ranked in the top 10 percent of zoos as a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

It was founded in 1914 and has a history almost as interesting as its present.

It was started as a small four acres of educational facility, and is now more than 43 acres, with hundreds and hundreds of animals.

The zoo is open all year, even in the chilly Syracuse winters, because more than half of the exhibits are indoors, and those exhibits that are outdoors, are specially chosen to fit with animals who can weather the…well, weather.

2. The Carrier Dome

The Carrier DomeSource: debra millet / Shutterstock.com
The Carrier Dome

Located on the campus of Syracuse University, the Carrier Dome is home to almost 50,000 seats and is the only domed stadium in this part of the country, as well as the largest structure of its kind on a campus.

It opened in 1980, and since, has been a premier destination for events in the area.

You can not only see Syracuse University sports, such as football, basketball and lacrosse, but you can also see tons of concerts and non-college sporting events, such as Olympic champion ice skating shows.

Top stars have performed here, and continue to do so.

3. Destiny USA

Destiny USASource: syracuse
Destiny USA

This humongous mall is the largest shopping center in the state and offers not only tons of your favorite stores, but also more than a dozen sit-down restaurants, lots of nightlife and entertainment and even discounted outlet stores.

They take luxury to a new level, though, with special services, like valet parking.

They also hold events, like antique shows, and free children’s activities.

4. Niagara Mohawk Building

Niagara Mohawk BuildingSource: Kenneth Sponsler / Shutterstock.com
Niagara Mohawk Building

This Art Deco architectural landmark originally served as the headquarters for the Niagara Hudson Electric Company.

It was built to be “a cathedral of light,” and as such, it has tons of architectural touches to make sure that it glitters, gleams and shines in every possible way.

Now, it can even be illuminated in whatever color you wish.

Currently, it’s owned by the National Grid Company, though it’s also a protected historic landmark.

5. Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology

Milton J. Rubenstein Museum Of Science And TechnologySource: Richard Frazier / Shutterstock.com
Milton J. Rubenstein Museum Of Science And Technology

This hands-on science and technology museum is created for not just children, but learners of all ages.

It’s set apart by its magnificent planetarium, as well as its status as the only domed IMAX theater in the state of New York.

This is the first hands-on science museum in upstate New York, opened in 1981 mostly in thanks to the efforts of both the local chapters of the Junior League and National Council of Jewish Women and the Technology Club of Syracuse.

It received its current name in 1992, when it also opened up the only public planetarium in the region.

Just as recently as two years ago, it added six permanent exhibits and expanded to a total of 35,000 square feet of space.

6. Everson Museum of Art

Everson Museum Of ArtSource: debra millet / Shutterstock.com
Everson Museum Of Art

The Everson Museum of Art has distinguished itself in many ways.

It was the first museum to be dedicated to American art, to have its own permanent collection of ceramics, to start collecting art in a video medium and the first to create a docent program.

It also hired the architect I.M. Pei, when still unknown, to design its sculpturally inspired building.

Now, this museum has more than 11,000 pieces of art, from paintings, to sculpture to video, along with one of the largest collections of ceramics in the country.

7. Erie Canal Museum

Erie Canal MuseumSource: wikipedia
Erie Canal Museum

Located in the country’s only remaining weighlock building, the Erie Canal Museum exhibits, of course, artifacts dealing with the Erie Canal, and celebrates the structure’s heavy impact on the region.

The museum aims to increase the world’s overall understanding of the canal’s impact, by providing interesting and entertaining education on the topic.

Admission is purely by donation, and a $5 donation is suggested, though not required.

8. The Salt Museum

The Salt MuseumSource:  debra millet / Shutterstock.com
The Salt Museum

At one time in history, the city of Syracuse supplied the entire country with salt.

The museum is located near Onondaga Lake, and has lots of exhibits, artifacts and actual pieces that would have been used to turn salt water into just salt, on a boiling block, using kettles, wooden barrels and other assorted tools.

Plus, the museum itself is actually created from timbers that were taken from salt warehouses.

It’s a totally unique and unexpected experience.

9. Upside-Down Traffic Signal

Upside-Down Traffic SignalSource: mpg4444 / flickr
Upside-Down Traffic Signal

It may not sound like much, but this upside-down traffic signal was once seen as an important part of the city’s culture.

It all stems from the large Irish population, which helped to create the Erie Canal.

When Syracuse installed a traffic light in the Irish portion of the city in 1925, it was felt that the red light being at the top, stood for British preference by the greater population, putting green at the bottom, standing for Ireland.

So, the Irish folks in the region would repeatedly break the red light, causing the city to have to replace it again and again.

Eventually, it was decided the red and green lights would be switched, putting the green light at the top of the traffic signal.

This was fine, until the State of New York overruled the decision.

However, the residents said they would continue and continue to break the light until the green was on top of the red, and so it stands to this day.

10. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Dinosaur Bar-B-QueSource: Peter Dutton / flickr
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

You don’t think of coming to Syracuse to get your barbecue, necessarily, but here it is, one of the most acclaimed barbecue joints in the country.

It’s been featured on Good Morning America, the Food Network, the Travel Channel and more.

They started in 1983 with a mobile concessions stand, and eventually worked their way up to a restaurant and bar, and then opened more and more of those restaurants and bars all around the state.

They even wrote an award-winning cookbook.

Grab a plate of pork ribs, a pork plate, a brisket plate or a half bird, and then complete your meal with two sides, ranging from beans and rice to collard greens.

11. Landmark Theatre

Landmark TheatreSource: John Hoey / flickr
Landmark Theatre

A theatre that’s listed on the National Register of Historical Places, this theatre is not only a great place to catch a show, it’s also culturally significant.

It was built in 1926, and was meant to hold 3,000 guests, and cost about $1.4 million to build.

It opened to the public in 1928 and was called “the last word in theatrical ornateness and luxuriousness.” The admission was 25 cents and reviewers were not wrong to call the space ornate and luxurious.

It was covered in marble, filled with tapestries and featured a chandelier designed by Tiffany (of Tiffany & Co.). There was even a fishpond with a Japanese paged fountain.

For that first year, the theatre only showed silent films, breaking into “talkies” in 1929. It continued to show films until 1967, when the eventual decline resulted in a need to demolish the site.

However, the theatre was saved time and time again, until it was finally listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1976. Volunteers banded together to bring the theatre back to its former glory, and that’s just what you’ll see when you visit today.

12. Clinton Square

Clinton SquareSource: Shutterstock
Clinton Square

This beautiful Syracuse downtown park and square is a place for locals and visitors alike to converge.

More than 100 years old, tons of people arrive there each year for the variety of events going on, from the skating in the winter, to the various summer festivals.

Even if there’s nothing happening during your visit, you’ll still do well to stop by, as you’ll get a glimpse of some of the beautiful surrounding architecture.

13. Beaver Lake Nature Center

Beaver Lake Nature CenterSource: Shutterstock
Beaver Lake Nature Center

Just a 15-minute drive outside of downtown Syracuse, Beaver Lake Nature Center has something going on nearly every day of the week, plus more than nine miles of trails.

This is a nature lover’s paradise, with plenty to see, including more than 200 bird species and more than 800 plant varieties.

There’s also a 200-acre glacial lake, that’s a stopping point for thousands of Canadian geese during the migration season.

Plus, in the summer, you can always rent a canoe and explore the area by water!

14. The Westcott Theater

The Westcott TheaterSource: thewestcotttheater
The Westcott Theater

A newer theater than the other on this list, The Westcott was established in 2008. However, the actual building was originally a 1919 cinema.

Now, it’s one of the most celebrated music venues in the region, hosting a huge variety of musicians.

You can find all kinds of genres, here, from Bassnectar to Grace Potter to the Avett Brothers.

They have something going on nearly every night of the week, so be sure to check out what’s playing when you’re in town.

While most of the weekday acts are relatively unknown, you’ll find a good selection of big names scattered throughout as well.

15. Syracuse Stage

Syracuse StageSource: syracusestage
Syracuse Stage

The place for the theatre, the Syracuse Stage has produced a myriad of shows over its lifetime, which began in 1974. In addition to all the favorites, they’ve also premiered quite a few shows unveiled for the first time on to only the East Coast, but also in the world.

In addition to serving more than 65,000 patrons each season, they also serve more than 30,000 students each year, from two dozen countries.

The 2017/2018 season includes some titles you’ll recognize, like The Three Musketeers, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Wizard of Oz, A Raisin in the Sun, Peter Pan and more.

16. Stella’s Diner

Stella’s DinerSource: syracusediners
Stella’s Diner

If you’re looking to experience a classic American diner while you’re in town, don’t look any further than Stella’s.

This stop on your itinerary will leave both your belly and your wallet full.

The menu is simply gargantuan, and you’ll have a hard time choosing.

Do you want an omelet, breakfast platter, hot cakes, a sandwich, burger, a salad, ice cream sundae…? And that’s just the tip of the ice berg.

17. Onondaga Lake Park

Onondaga Lake ParkSource: wanderu
Onondaga Lake Park

Called the Central Park of Central New York, Onondaga Lake Park is more than seven miles of greenway, with four trails.

There are tons of waterfront spaces, dog parks, skate parks, a ton of playground area and that’s also where you’ll find the Salt Museum.

The Griffin Visitor Center is where you’ll want to stop off to play a little volleyball, bocce or shuffleboard.

You can also rent equipment for biking.

There’s a fishing pier, ballfields…it all goes on and on! Plus, you can go twanderuo a ton of different festivals the park hosts regularly.

18. Onondaga Historical Association Museum

Onondaga Historical Association MuseumSource: Carol / flickr
Onondaga Historical Association Museum

This museum details Onondaga County’s history, and is located right in downtown Syracuse.

Open until 4 p.m. every day of the week, there are three permanent exhibits, including those on the underground railroad, the county itself and Chinese immigration.

There’s also a rotating list of temporary exhibits, and those currently available are on regional fashion and the Syracuse Jazz Fest.

19. Daniel Parrish Witter Agricultural Museum

Daniel Parrish Witter Agricultural MuseumSource: nysagsociety
Daniel Parrish Witter Agricultural Museum

This museum is located on the New York State Fair grounds, and is dedicated to the heritage of the state’s agricultural development.

It was built in 1928, and has undergone a series of changes over the years.

Daniel Parrish Witter was a farmer and politician, who was very closely affiliated with several dairymen’s and farmers’ association.

20. Syracuse Hall of Fame

Syracuse Hall Of FameSource: syracuse
Syracuse Hall Of Fame

Founded in 1986, the Great Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame celebrates all those from the area who have garnered recognition for their athletic prowess.

The museum honors the more than 200 members of the Hall of Fame, with tons of memorabilia that’s been donated by the honorees’ family members.

Currently, the museum is located in a temporary space at the Driver’s Village Expressions Mall, with additional displays located around town.

However, finding a new, committed space is part of the Hall of Fame’s goals.

21. Harriet May Mills House

Harriet May Mills HouseSource: Argusbeady / panoramio
Harriet May Mills House

Harriet May Mills was an influential feminist, and now her home is nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

During her lifetime, Mills helped to build a large suffrage organization, one of the largest in the United States, and she extended her reach nationally.

She traveled all over the country to fight for women’s rights.

She worked in the political scene for the majority of her life, working alongside the Roosevelts and even attending the President’s inauguration.

She founded the Onondaga County Women’s Democratic Club and was also the first female State Hospital Commissioner.

22. Community Folk Art Center

Community Folk Art CenterSource: Samuel D Gruber / mycentralnewyork.blogspot
Community Folk Art Center

Based on Syracuse University’s campus, the Community Folk Art Center was founded in 1972. It was created originally to provide a showcase for African Diasporan artists, and it continues to follow this purpose.

Check their calendar before your visit to see what they have going on.

You can expect exhibition openings, live music, poetry readings and more.

23. ArtRage Gallery

ArtRage GallerySource: tripadvisor
ArtRage Gallery

If your taste in art is a little bit eclectic, you may prefer a stop at ArtRage Gallery.

This little spot has a season that begins in September, with a brief intermission in the summer.

Upcoming shows include exhibits on the suffragist movement, ageism and activism, human and animal relations and memory tied to landscape.

Each exhibit has a great, overarching social meaning beyond just “good art.”

24. Echo Art

Echo ArtSource: echomakes
Echo Art

This locally-focused company creates various art pieces and sticks them around town.

For example, they’ve put together some unusual bus stops, beautiful murals and public sculptures.

Check out their website to find the exact locations of the pieces you most want to see.

25. NOexcuses Tours

NOexcuses ToursSource: yelp
NOexcuses Tours

This Syracuse tour company provides distinctive tours of Syracuse, all the while promising something completely different than what you’d find elsewhere.

Some of the tours you may be interested in include those on Armory Square, Hawley Green and Tipp Hill.

Each tour starts at $40. They’re also in the process of creating what they call YOLO tours, which are totally unique to the actual person going on the tour.

25 Best Things to Do in Syracuse (New York):

  • Rosamond Gifford Zoo
  • The Carrier Dome
  • Destiny USA
  • Niagara Mohawk Building
  • Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology
  • Everson Museum of Art
  • Erie Canal Museum
  • The Salt Museum
  • Upside-Down Traffic Signal
  • Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
  • Landmark Theatre
  • Clinton Square
  • Beaver Lake Nature Center
  • The Westcott Theater
  • Syracuse Stage
  • Stella’s Diner
  • Onondaga Lake Park
  • Onondaga Historical Association Museum
  • Daniel Parrish Witter Agricultural Museum
  • Syracuse Hall of Fame
  • Harriet May Mills House
  • Community Folk Art Center
  • ArtRage Gallery
  • Echo Art
  • NOexcuses Tours