Are Museums Your Vacation Jam? Let’s Check Some Out!
Do You Love Museum but Don’t Want to Head to the Smithsonian? Check Out These Surprising 30 Museums in Upstate New York!
I know that upstate New York is not the first place that comes to mind when you’re planning on hitting some museums but there is an abundance of hidden gems up here waiting for you. Now, obviously, there are some great museums in New York City. However, if you’re looking for a getaway along with some sprinkle of culture and history, then you’re up for some wonderful surprises in the country, cultural spaces, history, and meaningful heritage sites that Upstate New York has to offer.
Some of the museums on our list are tucked up and away in the mountains while others are in busy cities like Buffalo and Syracuse. If you’re looking for a mountain getaway with things to do then head to one of the more secluded towns. On the other hand, if you’re looking for good dinners and a night out then head for one of the Upstate New York cities.
So, whether you’re heading into the Adirondacks for a mountain vacation, to the Finger Lakes for a waterside getaway, or to a busy destination like Buffalo there’s an abundance of museums for you to enjoy!
Before we get into the museums do you need help finding your ideal vacation spot?
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With that said, let’s talk about our list of THE BEST museums to visit in Upstate New York.
1. The Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center
Learn about the true, deep history of New York State at The Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center whose main mission is to educate the general public about both the Haudenosaunee culture and Native American history.
Now, let’s briefly discuss the basics–Haudenosaunee means the people of the longhouse and it is comprised of six nations that have lived in the Adirondack mountains for thousands of years.
Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center presents information about Native cultures as well as provides a safe space where traditional values, philosophies, and sensitivities can be reaffirmed. Moreover, they pride themselves on maintaining oral traditions and making sure those traditions are passed on to young Native Peoples.
If you’re planning to visit, the center is open to the public from July to August and by appointment in September. You can explore over 3,000 artifacts, and storytelling, and browse the amazing gift shop made up of handmade crafts and gifts!
Furthermore, if the Adirondacks is your ideal vacation spot then make sure to check out this gem of a cultural center! If you’re there at the right time of year that is… check out this beautiful hike in the Adirondacks while you’re at it!
2. The John Brown Farm State Historic Site
Sticking to the Adirondack region? If you plan on spending some time in Lake Placid then make sure to head to The John Brown Farm State Historic Site.
Of course, the most popular town in the Adirondacks has a great museum! John Brown was an abolitionist. This historic site offers tours for fans of an in-depth history and exciting re-enactments of historical events.
In 1859, Brown and his followers assaulted a U.S. Arsenal with the intention of using the stolen arms to campaign for liberation for the enslaved people in the South. Brown was captured two days later and imprisoned in Virginia. He was hanged less than two months later before his body was sent back to his farm in New York to be buried.
Admission is free at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site. Moreover, there are several hiking trails, picnic areas, and even snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails! No matter what time of year you visit this beautiful land you’ll have plenty of stuff to do.
3. Fort Ticonderoga
Originally dubbed For Carillon, Fort Ticonderoga is a historic fort that was constructed by the French on Lake Champlain. It was built in the 1800s in the beautiful Adirondacks.
You can book a boat tour, catch lively re-enactments and participate in hands-on activities. Furthermore, they also offer various events and special programs. They’re open from May to October and they have a fantastic Corn Maze which is the best place to enjoy all of the surrounding foliage.
4. Adirondack Experience
The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake–also called the Adirondack Experience–is all about exploring and preserving the natural beauty of the Adirondacks.
Located right in the heart of the region, the museum is spread across more than 20 buildings on 120 acres. This beautiful space has an excessive amount of activities which makes it one of the best museums in Upstate New York. Here, you can enjoy the many rich exhibits, guided boat tours, the ADK fire tower, and hiking, and you might even be able to break up a log jam!
Up for a little picnic? You can bring your own food and arrange a spread with the fam! Just take note that the food must be left outside when you’re exploring the indoor exhibits. Come enjoy all that the Adirondack Experience has to offer!
5. Akwesasne Cultural Center
Don’t forget to check out the Akwesasne Cultural Center which houses a library and museum about the Mohawk Nation community of Akwesasne.
This beautiful center in Hogansburg, NY has been open since 1971 and was the first Native American Library east of the Mississippi River. They have 2,000 photographs, 700 ethnographic objects, and over 300 beautiful handmade baskets. Black ash splint and sweetgrass basketry are a large part of the Akwesasne Mohawk identity.
Moreover, the library has over 28,000 books and many are available online as part of the “Clinton, Essex, Franklin County Library System”.
This Native Collection is one of the largest in Northern New York with over 2,400 volumes.
6. Saranac Laboratory Museum
The Saranac Laboratory Museum in Saranac Lake is the perfect place for history buffs. The building was built in 1894 as a research hub for the tuberculosis epidemic. Historic discoveries were made in this very building.
Permanent exhibits include the history of the scientific research and patient care performed on-site in the main laboratory. Furthermore, they have rotating exhibits showcasing local history topics.
The Finger Lakes
7. Harriet Tubman National Historical Park
Speaking of fighting for the rights of enslaved peoples don’t forget to check out The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. From freeing enslaved people, including herself, along the Underground Railroad to abolitionist and social activist work Harriet Tubman made extraordinary contributions to American life during her lifetime.
If you’re heading to the Finger Lakes region for your vacation then make sure to stop by the quaint town of Auburn. The park features three historic sites: The Harriet Tubman Residence, The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, and the Thompson A.M.E. Zion Church.
They offer outdoor tours on Tuesdays and Saturdays, good weather permitting. They’re first come first serve but it doesn’t hurt to book your spot ahead of time!
8. Corning Museum of Glass
Have you ever watched a glass blowing? It’s truly memorizing and so cool! If you head to the Corning Museum of Glass you can witness the production site for Thomas Edison’s first hand-blown glass light bulbs.
There are stunning exhibitions, glassmaking demonstrations, and hands-on activities! You can even make your own glass! Definitely book your spot ahead of time. It takes about 3 to 4 hours to explore and enjoy this beautiful museum in one of the most adorable towns in Upstate New York.
9. The Rockwell Museum
Heading back up to the Finger Lakes region make sure you head to The Rockwell Museum! It’s a Smithsonian Affiliate museum made up of American art.
The museum is located in Corning Old City Hall and is a fantastic spot for locals and visitors of all ages. It’s really a community more than a museum.
The galleries are filled with exhibitions that cover the experiences, ideas, and natural beauty of America. You can even get a combo ticket for the Corning Museum of Glass!
Hudson River Valley
10. Storm King Art Center
Orange County New York is home to, the stunning, Storm King Mountain and aptly named Storm King Art Center. It’s the perfect place for outdoor art lovers.
Storm King Art Center has the largest collection of outdoor sculptures in the country. They are spread out over 500 acres of Hudson Valley. The local landscapes stunning mountains, meadows, and forests heavily influenced the founders of the art center.
Make sure to check out their website for admissions information as timed entry tickets are required.
11. Dia: Beacon
The Hudson River is a beautiful area–including its art exhibitions! Dia: Beacon offers beautiful views indoors and out of doors. The Dia Art Foundation’s collection has been called Dia: Beacon home since the 1960s.
It’s one of 11 Dia Museums that reside across the state. There are public tours every Saturday and Sunday. The museum is open from Friday to Monday and it’s only a short drive away from several other art galleries in the area!
12. Museum of Firefighting
Upstate New York offers the world’s largest firefighting museum which pays tribute to the firefighting heroes in the area. The Museum of Firefighting shows guests the critical history of firefighting in America.
They showcase techniques, vehicles, and equipment has evolved over time and they include 18th-century horse-drawn firefighter carriages, a 1970s diesel power truck equipped with 1,000-gallon tanks, and hands-on exhibits for all ages!
Don’t forget to look for Molly the Museum dog! She roams around the museum to keep an eye on things!
13. Rochester Museum & Science Center
Want to hit one of the most popular museums in Upstate New York? Head to the Rochester Museum & Science Center. This beautiful space is passionate about sharing its passion for science and technology.
Make sure to check out the Museum & Science Center, the Strasenburgh Planetarium, and the Cumming Nature Center. The Planetarium is just next door and the Nature Center offers 900 acres of a stunning nature preserve.
14. National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House
This Rochester historic building was home to none other than Susan B. Anthony for 40 years. The National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House celebrate Susan’s legacy for equal rights for women.
This house was her home until her death and was the former headquarters for the National American Woman Suffrage Association back when she was president. Make sure to reserve your spot for the tour!
Tucked away in Rochester, NY is ARTISANworks. This unique space is located within a 40,000-square-foot renovated factory and it features over 500,000 pieces of art.
There’s also a large number of automobiles, antiques, and a showcase for local artists. This fantastic space is open 7-days a week, and they can be booked for private and special events as well as free tours on Saturdays and Sundays.
You can also purchase art during your visit! They sell pieces, lease them, and even have a lease-to-own program if you don’t have art money right there in your pocket.
16. George Eastman Museum
This historic mansion is filled with original furnishings and artifacts, has exceptionally renovated gardens that have been restored to their former glory, and has one of the world’s oldest film archives and a photography museum.
The George Eastman Museum, or George Eastman House, has two gardens open to visitors for free, but four altogether. If you aren’t a member it’s best to purchase tickets in advance to enjoy all of the histories the museum has to offer.
17. The Strong National Museum of Play
Most museums are great for the whole family, but if you have young ones then make sure to head to The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.
This highly interactive museum makes exploring the history of science and play fun! You can step right into permanent exhibits like the iconic Sesame Street, the National Toy Hall of Fame, and the World Video Game Hall of Fame.
Another museum favorite is the Skyline Climb where you can scale above the museum on beams, balance bars, and rope courses!
18. Buffalo Albright-Knox Art Gallery
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKG) in Buffalo, New York is a fantastic art museum that houses some pieces by Van Gogh and Claude Monet.
If classics like that aren’t your speed then check out some more 20th-century pieces from Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, and Picasso. It truly is a hidden gem here in Buffalo. Plus, once you’ve worn yourself out looking at world-renowned art you can stop by their great museum restaurant.
19. Buffalo Museum of Science
If Buffalo didn’t have enough to offer you besides the falls, the race between Tesla and Edison to win the bid to build the Niagra Falls power plant (Tesla won), and the previously mentioned Albright-Knox Art Gallery make sure to check out the Buffalo Museum of Science!
This museum is tucked away in downtown Buffalo and is the perfect place for locals and tourists alike. There is an abundance of special exhibits including Biodiversity, Bug Works, Buffalo in Space, Rethink Extinct, the Planetarium, and more to enjoy!
20. The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum
If you thought Buffalo had run out of great museums think again! The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum is a great place for car lovers!
Learn about the history of the automotive industry and peruse a fantastic collection of vintage and antique cars. The facility itself is bright, open and fully accessible. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon and is right near Niagara Falls and the historic City Hall.
21. Erie Canal Museum
The Erie Canal Museum was founded in 1962 in the only remaining weighlock building in the country!
Weighlock buildings served the same function as weigh stations on the side of the highway, but for boats. The Syracuse Weighlock Building was built way back in 1850!
The museum is open daily and there is only a $10 suggested donation for admission. You can explore a variety of Canal materials, artifacts, and materials that showcase how the Erie Canal played a vital role in the growth of Upstate New York.
Make sure to visit the Link Gallery and the Weighlock Gallery.
22. Everson Museum of Art
The Everson Museum of Art is filled with a variety of famous American artwork. It’s a great place to look at anything from paintings to drawings to sculptures. You can also enjoy permanent collections of video art and ceramics.
This museum is one of the first museums to dedicate its space to American art and has a newly commissioned architectural lighting design work by Derek Porter.
This museum is in an I.M. Pei-designed building in downtown Syracuse. If you want to make a day of it you’ll be right in the center of one of the most popular cities in Upstate New York. Head to a nice lunch or hit up any other attractions that Syracuse has to offer. Make a day of it!
23. Museum of Earth
Ithaca, New York is the home to the Museum of Earth which will transport you right back into the Ice Age. This museum of natural history is part of the Paleontological Research Institution which exhibits some of earth’s most amazing creatures and creations.
You can see the 44-foot right whale skeleton and the Hyde Park Mastodon–which is one of the most complete skeletons of its time!
You can also enjoy gorge walks, fossil collecting tours, and Art Mondays.
24. National Baseball Hall of Fame
Cooperstown, NY is a hidden gem, and one of the hidden gems is the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, The National Baseball Hall of Fame.
This unique museum in New York State is a baseball lover’s dream. You can peruse artifacts, plaques of the greats, memorabilia and so much more. There are 3 floors and even a 20-minute movie theatre. It’s a great spot for patrons of all ages!
Make sure to enjoy everything that Cooperstown, NY has to offer – which is plenty for a small town!
25. American Italian Museum & Cultural Center
The former church that holds the American Italian Museum & Cultural Center showcases a stunning celebration of the Italian-American immigrant experience.
This stunning museum in Albany, NY is committed to preserving and recording the contributions of the Italian Immigrant story. Their rich culture and heritage have helped shape New York City and the Upstate New York region into what it is today.
The center is open Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday when the weather is good. Make sure to call ahead before you visit!
26. The Iroquois Museum
This educational institution is here to promote Iroquois artists and culture. The Iroquois Museum is located on Mohawk land and they pride themselves in using art to foster learning, understanding, and respect for the unique history and traditions of the Iroquois people.
The building is inspired by the longhouse design, which is what the Haudenosaunee people are named for. It’s one of the best museums and experiences in upstate New York.
27. Old Stone Fort Museum
This historically rich museum in Schoharie Valley near Albany, NY is housed inside of a 1772 Dutch Reformed Church. The Church was fortified during the Revolutionary War before it was attacked by British forces in 1780.
You can enjoy an array of exhibits at the Old Stone Fort Museum ranging from the world’s earliest fossil trees, a fire engine built before the birth of George Washington, and Schoharie’s first car which was a 1903 Rambler!
You can also explore the other buildings on the lot which include an early 1700’s home, a 1780’s Dutch barn, an 1830’s law office, and an 1890’s one-room schoolhouse.
28. Knickerbocker Historical Society
The 18th Century Knickerbocker Mansion 35 minutes north of Albany, NY is a great place to learn about the historical, cultural, and literary impact of the Knickerbocker family.
The mansion was built in 1780 by Johannes Knickerbacker III and is operated by the Knickerbocker Historical Society. This family was full of notable members who were pioneers, military officers, politicians, public servants, and authors.
The mansion has seasonal tours, educational programs, and other special events throughout the year.
29. USS Slater DE766
If you’re sick of being a landlubber head to the USS Slater, a floating museum in Albany! There were 563 destroyer escorts built during WWII, but the USS Slater is the only one to be left in the US.
After you’re on board you can explore the ship deck-by-deck, and tour the objects used by the men who live and fought on board the ship.
30. Irish American Heritage Museum
Right in downtown Albany is the Irish American Heritage Museum where you can learn about the contributions of the Irish people and their culture in America.
You can enjoy exhibits, lectures, special events, book signings, film screenings, and more. Make sure to check out the Irish Immigration in America exhibit and the Irish-American Catholics exhibit.
This lovely museum is open year-round!
Time to Pick Your Destination
You’ve made it through our, surprisingly extensive, list of museums in Upstate New York. Now, it’s time to figure out what kind of vacation and museum experience you want to have. Make your choice and get a move on! Your vacation awaits.
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