How to spend an incredible weekend in Albany, New York.
Before traveling to Albany, I really knew very little about the city. Sure, I knew it was the capital of New York State, but that was about it. However, I love exploring new towns and cities. Since I’ve been pleasantly surprised and fallen in love with other cities in NY (oh hi, Buffalo!), I thought it was about time I made it out to Albany. I recently embarked on a road trip from Toronto to Portland, Maine to attend the Women in Travel Summit. As it happens, Albany was right on the way. Of course, I had a total blast discovering the history, culture, and natural spaces of the city. Who knew there were so many fun things to do in Albany NY?
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I’ve put together an Albany itinerary for you, designed so you can spend the perfect weekend there. While 2 days in Albany isn’t enough time, you’ll be able to check out many local attractions and get a good feel for it. There are tons of Albany attractions to check out, so I’ll write down my favorites (and give alternate suggestions where possible). I’m sure you’ll have such a fun weekend in Albany that you’ll want to return again in the future!
Day 1 in Albany: For the History Buffs
Albany is one of the oldest cities in America, established in 1614. In fact, it’s not only the capital of New York, but it’s also the oldest city in the state. The English took control of the city in 1664 and named it after the Duke of Albany. With such a rich history, there are many Albany attractions that provide enlightening learning experiences. Let’s start our day by learning more about Albany’s history. A few of these places make for great rainy day activities in Albany, too!
Breakfast at Stacks Espresso Bar
Before your busy weekend in Albany begins, you’ll want to fuel up with some coffee and a bite to eat. Stacks Espresso Bar describes themselves as a cafe and community space where they feature coffee from various roasters. In addition to coffee and espresso beverages, you’ll find a small menu that’s ideal for breakfast or a snack. In terms of vegan offerings, they have bagels with Earth Balance spread, as well as a few vegan treats.
The Discover Albany Visitors Center
First things first, head straight to the Discover Albany Visitors Center to learn more about Albany. There are permanent exhibits about Albany’s history with lots of fabulous details and insights. There’s also a gift shop, an artist exhibit space, and an information desk where you can ask questions about the city and your trip.
If you happen to be traveling to Albany on the third Saturday of the month, you can check out the Saturday Star Show at the Henry Hudson Planetarium right on site.
The Empire State Plaza
As Albany is the capital of the state of New York, you’ll find an impressive collection of buildings and monuments at The Empire State Plaza. Most notably, be sure to check out the magnificent New York State Capitol building. Home to the New York State Legislature, the structure was built in 1899 for $25 million dollars (equivalent to $753 million by our current standards), which made it the most expensive government building of its time. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places; in addition, it’s a National Historic Landmark.
I recommend walking a complete circle around the New York State Capitol to view it from every angle. You can also take a guided tour of the New York State Capitol building. On weekdays, you can walk in and join a tour without any reservations. On Saturdays, there are a limited amount of tours and you will need to make reservations in advance (you can make reservations online). It’s also possible to take a self-guided tour with an audio guide on weekdays. All tours are free.
There are several other amazing buildings at the Empire State Plaza. One of the most unique buildings that I’ve ever seen is The Egg. It’s a center for the performing arts, and you can even look into catching a show while you’re in town. The Egg looks more like an artistic sculpture than a building, and it appears as though a giant egg shaped structure is balancing on a small stem. However, the building actually transcends six stories down into the earth.
For one of the best views of the city, visit the Corning Tower Observation Deck. You’ll be able to see the Plaza, city views of Albany, the Hudson River, and the foothills of the Adirondacks and the Catskills off in the distance. Unfortunately, the observation deck is closed on weekends, so you’ll have to plan your trip on a weekday to check it out.
Facing opposite the New York State Capitol, the New York State Museum features all sorts of exhibitions that showcase brilliant and unique aspects of New York State. While I didn’t have time to visit, it’s one of the best Albany attractions and a worthy addition to your travel itinerary. Feel free to make time for it during your 2 days in Albany, especially if it ends up raining and you need to cancel one of the outdoor activities.
Albany Institute of History & Art
As it was raining for a short while during my visit, I decided to take a trip to the Albany Institute of History and Art. Guys, this museum is awesome! I expected that it would be a pleasant trip with some interesting exhibits, but it seriously exceeded my expectations. There were intriguing and inspiring displays that I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s definitely worth adding to your 2 days in Albany itinerary. I don’t normally visit a lot of museums on my travels, but this is certainly one of the most fun things to do in Albany NY. Here are a few of the exhibits on display when I was there. These are always changing and rotating, so it could be an entirely different experience when you visit. I’ll put the closing dates of each exhibition in the section to avoid disappointment.
Bejeweled and Bedazzled: Jewelry and Personal Adornment
Update: This exhibition is now over.
On display from the collections of the Albany Institute and private collections, you’ll see more than 100 works of jewelry spanning four centuries. It’s truly fascinating to see jewelry throughout the ages, whether it’s purely decorative or has some distinct purpose. Some luxurious pieces highlight a person’s affluence, while others serve in memory of a loved one. There are even works made out of human hair (it sounds gross, I know, but it’s actually quite fascinating).
Shape and Shadow: The Sculpture of Larry Kagan
Update: This exhibition is now over.
I wasn’t expecting this unique exhibition, but I was really wowed by the sculptures and design of artist Larry Kagan. Using acrylic, scraps of discarded steel, or other found items, he manages to play with light and shadows to create mesmerizing art. His acrylic sculptures from the 1970s reflect and refract light using interesting means. In the 80s and 90s, he uses found pieces of steel and uses their patterns and textures to create new works of art. And then most recently (and what I found to be more fascinating) are his shadow pieces that use bent steel rods to sculpt light. It results in innovative shadow art on the walls, taking shape as various items and images of people.
Heavy Metal: Cast Iron Stoves of the Capital Region
Update: This exhibition is now over.
I never would have thought of cast iron stoves as art until I saw them in person. However, these furnaces were not only functional, but they were beautifully designed. Many of them are influenced by Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Rococo motifs and intricate floral designs. Even though these were a staple in American homes in the 19th century, they were also designed to make the home more stylish. These stoves were produced in Albany and the nearby city of Troy, New York. They were among the largest producers of cast iron stoves in the entire world.
I love anything relating to ancient Egyptian artifacts. To my delight, there are a couple of rooms at the museum that are all about Egypt. This exhibit makes the museum a worthy addition to any Albany itinerary, and all of the other rotating exhibitions are icing on the cake. There’s a 3000 year old mummy, a priest named Ankhefenmut. You can view this mummy, his coffin base, his coffin lid, and his robe. There’s also a partially unwrapped mummy that’s captivating (and a tiny bit horrifying), and there are even animal mummies (the cat mummies are quite cute!).
Rain or no rain, I urge you to add the Albany Institute of History and Art to your weekend in Albany plans. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Albany NY, whether you’re traveling on a solo trip, with your partner, or with your family and friends.
Lunch at Raw Juice Bar
I’m sure you’re pretty hungry by now, so it’s time for lunch. Head over to the Raw Juice Bar (454 Madison Ave) for a healthy and tasty meal. While their juices and smoothies look delicious, I opted for an acai bowl as my meal. There are delicious toppings, like banana, cacao nibs, coconut chips, walnuts, and peanut butter. Mine was bursting with flavor and was more filling than it looked. You can customize your bowl as you like it, too. Raw Juice Bar also sells kombucha and bars, in case you need to stock up on any snacks.
Bike Ride at Historic Washington Park
After you’ve refueled, it’s time for a bike ride around the city. I suggest taking your set of wheels around historic Washington Park. It’s easy to rent a bicycle in Albany. There are CDPHP Cycle stations with bikes all over the city. Download the CDPHP Cycle app to your phone. You’ll be able to load it up with money and see where there are bikes available in advance. It’s quite ingenious: the app will show exactly how many bicycles are left at each station. That way, you won’t visit a particular bike rack to find that they’re all in use. You can rent by the hour, the month, or even the season. With the wind in your hair going sightseeing by bicycle, it’s one of the most fun things to do in Albany NY.
Washington Park is a beautiful place to visit, and you should definitely make at least one visit over your 2 days in Albany. Calvert Vaux and Frederick Olmstead designed this 81-acre park in the 1870s-80s. Of course, they are famous for New York City’s Central Park. You’ll see statues, fountains, basketball courts, a skateboard park, picnic areas, playgrounds, and historic homes. During the summer months, there are free plays at the Park Playhouse at the Washington Park Lakehouse almost every night. When I visited in the spring, the tulips were just about to bloom. It’s such a peaceful and gorgeous area of the city.
Half Moon Market
When I traveled to Albany, it was a happy coincidence that I was there during the Half Moon Market. It’s a bi-annual handmade marketplace at the Washington Park Lakehouse. There are 40+ vendors selling handmade goods, bath and body products, clothing, pottery, yummy treats, and so much more. I happily browsed the beautiful wares, created by talented artisans and small business owners. Be sure to pop by if it’s happening while you’re in town.
Dinner at Berben & Wolff’s
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet (or you’re looking for delicious plant-based eats), head directly to Berben & Wolff’s. You might even want to visit more than once. It’s that good! It’s a vegan deli with a focus on quality food, originality, and ethical consumption. You’ll find so many of your favorite meaty eats, re-imagined entirely plant-based. On the menu, there are tasty dishes like a Popcorn Mushroom Po’ Boy, a Seitan Philly, and BBQ Pulled Jackfruit.
I ordered the Buffalo Wing Burger: buffalo breaded fried chicken style seitan, shredded carrot, celery, and ranch on a sesame seed bun. It came with a side of chips and a pickle. Oh em gee. It was so, so delicious. One of the best burgers of my life? Yep!
They also have delicious sweet treats to try after your meal, as well as salads for takeaway. You can even buy some of their vegan deli meat so you can prepare some of your favorite dishes at home. I was also delighted to realize that the seitan wings that I’d later order at The Hollow Bar & Kitchen are prepared by Berben & Wolff’s, so it’s wonderful to see their plant-based foods being used around town, too.
Capital Repertory Theater
After dinner, it’s time to check out a performance at the Capital Repertory Theater (known locally as theREP). It’s the only professional theater in the Capital Region. While I was in town, I watched a live theater performance of Shakespeare in Love, adapted for the stage from the screenplay. It was a riveting rendition of this romantic comedy that I’d known from the movies. Stay tuned for more upcoming performances in 2019, such as The Fully Monty and It’s a Wonderful Life. Seeing a live professional performance is one of the most unique and fun things to do in Albany NY.
Where to Stay in Albany NY
Now, it’s time to rest your head after an exciting and fulfilling day of exploring Albany. I stayed at the charming Washington Park Inn, a Victorian mansion built in 1884. The inn is a stunning home where I am certain you’ll have a cozy, comfortable, and delightful overnight stay. After spending two nights at the Washington Park Inn, I wasn’t ready to leave!
I adored my spacious room, which included many of the original structural details like the fireplace. The bed was very comfortable and the room was very quiet for a restful night’s sleep. The room and bathroom are quite roomy, and you can enjoy many modern amenities like complimentary Wi-Fi and hundreds of channels on TV.
Feel free to help yourself to the complimentary coffee and tea in the shared kitchen space. There are also lots of other beverages and breakfast food items to enjoy. I really enjoyed the common areas throughout the home, like the dining tables and couches. There’s even a small office upstairs should you need to use a computer. The owners at the Washington Park Inn have truly thought of everything to ensure that you have a memorable stay.
The location of the Washington Park Inn cannot be beat. You’re right across the road from Washington Park and a short walk from Lark Street and many Albany attractions. When I wasn’t leaving town completely, I left my car at home and walked everywhere from the accommodation. There’s lots of free parking spaces for your vehicle in the parking lot and driveway beside the home.
When you travel to Albany, be sure to book your stay at Washington Park Inn. You can also read more reviews from fellow travelers here. Book early when you can. This place books up fast because it’s just so lovely!
Day 2 in Albany: For the Nature Lovers
On your second day in Albany, I recommend taking an excursion outside of the city for the late morning or early afternoon. There’s a nearby state park with hiking trails, beautiful scenery, and waterfalls. You’ll spend the rest of your time in Albany wandering around the historic streets and staying active with a class. And of course, you’ll be eating and drinking the culinary delights of the city!
Brunch at Iron Gate Cafe
Head straight to Iron Gate Cafe for a delicious start to the day (ooh, that rhymed!). They have a whole vegan section on their menu, perfect for a filling breakfast or lunch. There’s the Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Sandwich, a Tofu Scramble, a Buffalo Seitan Wrap, a Black Bean Burger, the TLT (Tempeh Lettuce Tomato), or what I ordered, the Vegan French Toast.
I was never a fan of French toast when I used to eat dairy and eggs, but I thought I’d give their vegan French toast a try. Oh my goodness, this dish turned me into a French toast lover! Made with almond milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg, this was absolutely delish, especially when topped with strawberries and crunchy granola. The maple syrup on top pleased this Canadian girl, too!
John Boyd Thacher State Park
Just 30 minutes outside of Albany, the John Boyd Thacher State Park will provide your daily dose of the great outdoors. High atop the Helderberg Escarpment, you can hike over 25 miles of trails and enjoy panoramic views of the county. Hiking at Thacher State Park is one of the most fun things to do in Albany NY.
Stop by the Visitors Center to take a peek at their geological and historical exhibits about the Helderberg Escarpment. Then, grab a map and hit the trails. It’s always a good idea to chat with a staff member at the center to learn about what trails might be closed or less ideal for hiking, depending on the time of year. As I traveled to Albany in early spring, one of the trails was closed and one was very muddy. I’m glad that I gained that insight before heading out on my hike.
I ventured down the Paint Mine trail, which connected to several other loop trails on the way. I enjoyed scenery of the river and two waterfalls on the way. Funny story: it actually started to snow while I was hiking! I was there at the end of April and I thought that the icy weather was gone (I mean, the tulips and flowers were starting to bloom!). As Thacher State Park is high up on the escarpment, it might be a little windier and cooler than down below. Needless to say, I forged ahead with my hike as the snow only lasted for a few moments. It was rather funny to have bits of ice and snow landing in my hair and staying on the ground for a few minutes.
Before you leave the park, drive over to the scenic overlook to catch glimpses of tree tops and mountain ranges off in the distance, like the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains. It’s super pretty up there, and definitely a key place to include on your 2 days in Albany itinerary.
Coffee Break at 3Fish Coffee
In need of some caffeine? Make a pit stop at 3Fish Coffee for some of the best coffee in town. The coffee shop is located inside a renovated former garage of next door neighbors, the Downtube, a local bicycle shop (that’s also owned and operated by the cafe owners’ parents!). They brew coffee from Irving Coffee Roasters in Millerton, who have been roasting for 20+ years and source directly from local farmers. If you’re hungry, there are some treats and desserts available, too. I spotted one square of chocolate cake there that’s vegan. Make yourself at home at this cozy little cafe or take your beverage away with you.
Lark Street and Center Square
One of my favorite and most fun things to do in Albany NY is simply walk around and explore the city. I recommend taking the time to wander around Lark Street, as well as Center Square / Hudson-Park Historic District. Walk around the city blocks between the Empire State Plaza and Washington Park. You’ll feel like you’re walking around a quiet area of New York City or Boston with some of the most brilliant architecture in the city. But, you’re not in NYC or Boston; you’re in beautiful Albany. In comparison to the bigger cities, Albany is so underrated for its charming homes and neighborhoods. I’m so pleased to shine some light on this wonderful city.
Many of the homes were built between 1850 and 1900. They’re eclectic and colorful, ranging from elegant cottages to brownstone mansions. I adored walking around and admiring the homes and architecture, as well as watching the people of this neighborhood go about their days. Even though I’m completely an outsider, I got the impression that this was a vibrant community of homeowners and renters alike, making up a vibrant community of residents and business owners.
At the center of it all, the Lark Street Village is home to so many small businesses, cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s easy to spend a good part of your day walking up and down the streets, popping into nearby coffee shops and stores when the mood strikes you. It’s an incredibly photogenic area, so don’t forget to pack your camera. Lark Street and Center Square is definitely a space you don’t want to miss when spending 2 days in Albany (or longer!).
Lark Street Yoga
After a long day of wandering and exploring, it’s time to unwind at Lark Street Yoga. It’s a yoga and wellness center providing a peaceful space for students of all levels to practice yoga. I popped in for their Happy Hour Core Flow yoga class, which was unlike any yoga class I’ve ever tried. It combined elements of pilates and yoga for a workout based on core strength exercises, along with vinyasa style sequences. It was a great way to stretch and get rid of any stress that I had. Furthermore, it was set to upbeat music, which really inspired my movements.
There was a strong sense of community in this yoga class, as I got the impression that many people attended on a regular basis. Even though I was only visiting, I was warmly welcomed into the class like everyone else. I’d love to return to try some more yoga classes there in the future as it’s one of the most awesome and fun things to do in Albany NY.
Dinner at The Hollow Bar & Kitchen
Last but not least, head out for dinner at The Hollow Bar & Kitchen in downtown Albany. The Hollow Bar and Kitchen has amazing food, an energetic atmosphere, and live music. The restaurant serves an absolute ton of vegan and vegetarian items, including meals featuring farm fresh ingredients.
While it was really difficult to choose, I went with the Seitan Hot Wings to start (the seitan is sourced from Berben & Wolff’s vegan deli), which were pretty hot and spicy in the best way possible. It came with a side of veggies and vegan ranch dressing. For my main course, I tried the Tempeh Reuben sandwich, which consisted of vegan Russian dressing, ale-braised tempeh, sauerkraut, and vegan cheese on marbled rye. All of the flavors paired perfectly with one another for a super yummy and memorable meal.
And there you have it! I hope that you’ll take my advice and head directly to Albany, New York, for some exciting days ahead. It’s the perfect destination to spend a few days or a weekend. You can use Albany as a base for exploring other regions in the Hudson Valley, too. Please feel free to ask any questions that you might have in the comments below. Otherwise, please enjoy all of these fun things to do in Albany NY. I thoroughly loved my time in Albany, and I can’t wait to return again in the future (maybe next time with Justin in tow!).
Thank you so much to Discover Albany for hosting my stay.