Ithaca is the city of science, education, and waterfalls in the Finger Lakes region, in New York. The city is home of the Ivy League Cornell University, which has over 20.000 students on its campus. Ithaca is a college town near the 40 miles long Cayuga lake that’s surrounded by national parks, and stunning waterfalls.
The city of Ithaca has been chosen as one of the most innovative cities in the United States, raking in the top 15 to start and build a business in. While Ithaca is a small town with a population of around 30.000, thanks to continuous development, it has almost all the facilities that a big city has. This includes exceptional dining, great theatres, museums, and cultural events too.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Ithaca (NY)
1. Buttermilk Falls State Park
Buttermilk Falls State Park occupies 811 acres, being a state park located southwest of Ithaca. The park features more than 10 waterfalls, where Buttermilk Falls is the most remarkable. Buttermilk Falls park features 5 trails to explore a variety of beautiful landscapes.
Some of the scenic trails along the park are the Bear Trail which takes you from Buttermilk Creek to Lake Treman Falls, and one that goes around the lake (1.5 miles). There’s a natural pool at the base of Buttermilk Falls offering a beach, a great place to swim, cabins, pavilion, playground, and camping field that can be great for a family getaway between the waterfalls. The park also offers fishing and deer bow-hunting for those interested.
2. Robert H. Treman State Park
Robert H. Treman is another beautiful state park in Ithaca, with a territory of 1110-acres. At the base of the waterfalls called Lower Falls, you can find a natural pool for swimming, and every facility that’s needed for an enjoyable camping.
The trail in Robert H. Treman park is about 4.4 miles long, and it offers numerous waterfalls and scenic views, such as Enfield Glen, where you can see the rock formation of a deep, narrow gorge. The 35-meter-tall Lucifer Falls is the most significant in the park. You can reach it by a short hike from the western shore of the park, but you can also have a great view on it along the gorge trail. Due to safety reasons, most trails except the Lower Falls are closed for the winter, but they can be visited any time along the warmer months!
3. Ithaca Farmers Market
From April to December, Ithaca Farmers Market is operating in the park near the charming Cayuga Lake. In the winter, you’ll find the market at the Greenstar’s event space. You can find many local vendors covering agriculture, food, and artisan products, bio products, and even fine arts and crafts. Ithaca’s farmers market has plenty of venues that are open during the week, such as East Hill Plaza, and Dewitt Park, but the highlight is always the weekend market at the airy waterfront pavilion.
Once you’re visiting, you can try different cuisines from around the world, enjoy a great breakfast, buy products from local vendors, or just enjoy the live music near the water. In addition, you can join a boat tour on Cayuga Lake, that leaves from the deck near the market venue. These boat tours allow you to see the beautiful cliffs, cascades and architecture around Cayuga, that’s only visible from the lake.
4. Cornell University
The Cornell is a private and statutory Ivy League research university located in Ithaca. While you’re visiting Ithaca, the campus walk on Cornell University can’t be missed! As the first step, you should visit the Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center, where the staff will present you the university, and they will guide you through the campus.
While you’re visiting Cornell, you’ll be guided through the eateries, academic buildings, residence halls, the libraries, and research facilities. On the campus tour, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the beauty of nature by the lake, and waterfalls. In addition, you can visit the Collegetown, that’s in the heart of the city, surrounded by award-winning restaurants, and great shops!
5. Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art is part of the Cornell institution. The museum’s collection extends on 5 floors, and the permanent collection includes more than 35.000 pieces. On the 1st and 2nd floor you can discover remarkable pieces of European and American art, and Citrin Photography.
The European collection includes pieces from the Middle Age until the present, adding some inestimable pieces from Durer, Francisco Goya and Henri Matisse. Then, there are temporary exhibitions all around the year that’s best to check on the museum’s official website before visiting! On the top floor, you can visit the exhibition of Asian art, while on the side you’ll gain an amazing view over the Cayuga Lake and Ithaca.
6. Ithaca Falls
The Ithaca Falls is located within the city of Ithaca, being the last of the falls of the hanging valley at Cayuga Lake. Ithaca Falls is about 105 feet high, and it’s one of the most stunning falls in the area that can be admired from the trails along the creeks.
Ithaca’s symbol is best to visit in the fall, when the cascade slows down, as it’s a spectacular place to take colorful pictures for those interested in photography. You can reach the falls by heading on Grave trail from the parking lots. The splash pool is a great spot for all who like fly fishing, but keep in mind that swimming is not allowed in here!
7. Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a unit of the Cornell University that’s studying birds and wildlife. The lab is located in Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary, which occupies about 226-acres. When you visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there are 4 miles of trails around the property to walk and explore some of the 230 bird species recorded in the sanctuary.
You can also request a field guide and get a binocular, as well as you can join guided bird walks, visit the egg cairn sculpture, or you can also plan a self-guided tour via an app designed for this.
8. Stewart Park
The municipal park operated by the city of Ithaca was once the scene of Wharton Brothers silent movie. Today, the park is open for the big public offering playing fields and playgrounds to the little ones, picnic areas, carousels, a duck pond, a spray pool, and athletic fields.
Stewart Park is a great pick for families visiting Ithaca, looking to spend some time in nature, but still in the city. The park features a bird sanctuary you can visit, and a really rich range of three types that can be observed. Historic buildings can also be found and visited in the park, like the Cacadilla Boathouse, the Large Picnic Pavilion, and the Fuertes Overlook.
Sciencenter is an amazing hands-on science museum located in the city of Ithaca. One of the most popular exhibitions for youth is the Sun, Earth, Universe exhibition, where you can build and test a spacecraft, try tools like infrared light, and go on space mission.
For the youngest generations, there is a Couriosity Corner available, that includes water tables, activity table, and an outside playground as well. Among the many exhibits Sciencenter offers, you can visit the Pet Vet, learn about live animals, such as Forbes Sea Stars, Flat clawed Hermit Crabs, or Channeled Whelks. You can also visit the Ocean exhibition, learn about sustainability, weather, and join a Sagan Planet walk.
10. Museum of the Earth
Being part of the Paleontological Research Institution, the Museum of the Earth was opened in 2003, and it’s functioning as a natural history museum. The museum helps visitors to explore our earth from 4.5 billion years ago until the present, providing a variety of exhibitions, natural history displays, and interacting science features.
When visiting the museum, you can see in the permanent exhibit pieces like North Atlantic Right Whale, a Stegosaurus, a Quatzacoatlus, a giant heteromorph ammonite, and the Hyde Park mastodon, which is an almost-complete skeleton of an American mammoth. You can also visit the Coral reef exhibition, and have a quick view into the Glacier Exhibit of the museum too.
11. Cayuga Nature Center
Cayuga Nature Center is considered one of the hidden gems in Ithaca. This is an educational institution that’s addressing natural and environmental issues of the Cayuga Lake basin through their exhibits. The center is located on the west shore of the lake, providing both indoor and outdoor activities to help explore the natural history of the basin.
The outdoor activities include miles of trails to explore the forest, and a six-story treehouse, from which you can have a bird’s-eye view of the forest canopy. Discover then the Cayuga Lake Past & Present exhibit, that is 650-gallon aquaria inhabited by fishes from past and present Cayuga Lake, and also the Layers of Life exhibit, to learn about history of life on Earth.
12. Sage Chapel
Saga Chapel is part of Cornell University’s campus, and it’s located on Ho Plaza, next to the university’s John M. Olin Library. The Gothic-style chapel is non-denominational, which means it’s not bounded to one specific religion. Saga Chapel’s foundation dates back to the end of the 19th century, and it’s the final resting place of some Cornell luminaries, such as the founders of the university, Ezra Cornell, and Andrew Dickson White. When entering the chapel, you will meet the beautiful apse, with outstanding painted ceiling, and stone decorative work that are really unique.
13. Downtown Ithaca
Downtown Ithaca is the host of many impressive events, and festivals, such as the Summer Concert Series, Apple Harvest Festival, or the Farmers Market on Dewitt Hall. While you’re strolling around downtown, make sure to visit the recently restored State Theater, or go for a movie at Cinemapolis.
You can join organized activities, like the Ithaca Culinary Walking Tour, or the Carl Sagan Planet Walk. There are also plenty of restaurants to choose from, starting with the Mexican style Viva Taqueria, Asia Cuisine for Japanese dishes, and Sahara restaurant for Mediterranean cuisine.
14. Cornell Botanic Gardens
Cornell Botanic Gardens is located adjacent to the Cornell University campus. The gardens offer scenic hikes, garden strolls, and seasonal events for year-around visitors. When you visit the Cornell Botanic Gardens, make sure to start your visit at the Nevin Welcome Center which is beautifully surrounded by herbs, flowers, groundcovers, tropical plants, rhododendrons, and grasses.
The entrance in the gardens is free, and you can explore one of the most beautiful college arboretums, the F.R. Newman Arboretum, where you can learn about native, and imported species from around the world. Within the garden, you can explore the Groundcover collection, the Robinson Herb Garden that’s featuring over 500 varieties of herbs, and the Hillside Garden between many others!
15. Cascadilla Gorge Trail
By heading on a hike on Cascadilla Gorge Trail from downtown, you can hike up to Cornell’s campus while exploring beautiful waterfalls along the way. You can do this the other way around, heading from Cornell’s campus to downtown, if you’re looking for an easier walk.
The beauty of the trail is that it’s alongside the creek, which basically removes you from the city life, having the chance to really enjoy the scenic views along the waterfalls. Gorge Trail is accessible all over the year, featuring beautiful stone steps, and bridges to cross the creek. If you’re visiting Ithaca in the spring, don’t miss out the annual duck race, when thousands of yellow rubber ducks are released down the falls.
16. Allan H Treman State Marine Park
Allan H. Treman is a 91-acre state park and marina located in the city of Ithaca. It’s an easy walking distance away from downtown, if you’re following the Cayuga Waterfront Trail. Allan H. Treman is one of the largest inland marinas in the state of New York. If you want to trailer a boat, the park has an 8-lane boat launch ramp to use.
If you’re fan of bird watching, the Hog Hole wetland and the Cayuga Lake shoreline are the two best picks to see waterfowl and wetland species. The state park of Allan H. Treman is a great choice if you’re looking for some quiet time, enjoying the nature by the lake, and you’ll get picnic tables too for it!
17. Triphammer Falls
Triphammer Falls is located on the campus of Cornell University, basically in the middle of the city of Ithaca. The waterfall consists of two drops, where the lower one can be viewed from the East Avenue Bridge or Triphammer Foot Bridge. Triphammer Falls offers a scenic view, while at it’s base you can see and old, non-functioning power station as well. You can also hike to the falls overlook, using the trailhead on the north rim behind Risley Hall. The Trimphammer Falls is one of the beautiful urban waterfalls, that was adored even by the founder of Cornell University.
18. Ithaca Children’s Garden
Ithaca Children’s Garden is an award-winning public garden, that’s featuring garden-based environmental learning and discovery for the little ones. In the Children’s Garden, young ones can explore wetlands and bioswale, bees, and hens, or the bird habitat garden. They can also explore the kitchen garden that’s cultivated and cared by young campers and visitors.
Between the various activities, the garden features a Troll House, a wildflower meadow, and the kids’ kitchen, where the little ones can create some delicious memories. If you’re visiting the garden with your family, don’t miss out Gaia the Turtle either, that’s being the icon of this palce!
19. Ports of New York Winery
Port of New York is the winery where you have to stop by if you love French wines. The owners of the winery comes from a long line of French winemakers, who owned wineries in Bordeaux and Normandy in France. The artisanal urban winery, Ports of New York is located on the south shore of the Cayuga Lake, in the city of Ithaca.
Once you’re visiting you can taste locally made Quotidian and Meleau wines, as well as you can join a winery tour on site. While you’re at Port of New York, you will also learn about the history of the Bouché family before, during and after WW II. A gripping history paired with a great glass of wine can be a perfect afternoon activity while visiting the city!
20. Cornell University – McGraw Tower
One of the highlights of Cornell University, the McGraw Tower, and the Cornell Chimes are offering an incredible experience on the campus. There are 21 bells in the tower, that’s playing three song every day.
The uniqueness of this is, that the bells are played by alumni chimes masters and students. There’s a direct link between the clappers and the bells, and thanks to this, you can hear more than 3000 different songs played in the tower, anything from Chopin to Beatles! When you’re visiting, you can have a close look on how these songs are performed, and you can also visit the museum functioning in the tower. As you’ll be reaching the top, you can gain beautiful panoramic views over the campus, the city of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake.
21. Mulholland Wildflower Preserve
Mulholland Wildflower Preserve is one of the most preferred, scenic places to go for a waterfall splash pool swim in the area of Ithaca. However, the preserve is more significant for the beautiful line of waterfalls, and scenic hikes along the Six Miles Creek Gorge. You can also find steep cliffside trails on both sides of the creek. The preserve is the home of a rare bird species called Louisiana Waterthrush, which bird lovers can spot between the spring and autumn in the preserve.
22. Six Mile Creek Vineyard
Six Mile Creek Vineyard was founded in the 1980s, being one of the oldest members of Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. The vineyard is producing a long range of wines, liquors and spirits from different types of grapes. Its tasting room is set in a restored Dutch Colonial Barn from the 19th century, and they have a deck overlooking the vineyard itself.
There are indoor and outdoor seating spaces not just for wine tasting, but if you’d like enjoy a glass, or a bottle of wine in Six Miles Creek Vineyard. You’ll have the possibility to choose from wines, as Chardonnays, to local Ithaca wines, Riesling, Pinot Noir, or Pasa Tiemo, as well as spirits like Grappa, Limoncello, or Amaretto, while enjoying the peaceful view over Six Miles Creek Valley.
23. Bet the Farm Winery
Bet the Farm Winery, functioning at the Big Blue Barn is about 10 minutes’ drive north from Ithaca. The vineyard is about 4-acres, and you can stop by for a wine tasting at any time. However, due to the limited space, big groups are asked to book appointments online in advance!
The winery features a range of fruity wines, from Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, all the way to Traminette and Cabernet Franc. Bet the Farm Winery is known as home – away from home, as when you step inside the tasting room, it feels like stepping inside your kitchen, where you’ll find great tastes, enticing aromas, and engaging conversations.
24. Edwards Lake Cliff Preserve
Edwards Lake Cliff Preserve is an 84-acre preserve that’s part of Cornell Botanic Gardens. The Lake View trail will lead you to an expansive view of the lake atop cliffs of Tully Limestone. If you’re following the Pocket Fall Trail, you can then explore a 35-foot waterfall, from the forest rim of Shurger Glen. Continuing the hike, the main Loop Trail will lead you to a younger forest, shrub thickets and meadows. The trail is in total is about 1.4 miles long walk surrounded by beautiful views in the nature, and rare plants.
25. Beebe Lake
Beebe Lake is a reservoir also located on the campus of Cornell University. The natural area around the lake is an active floodplain of Fall Creek. Beebe Lake is surrounded by a high diversity of trees, naturalized and native species of diverse plants, wildflowers, and rare species.
There are easy trails for hiking, and watching the wildlife around the lake, and as in the botanical gardens, the entrance is free to the lake too. One of the highlights of Beebe Lake is the historic stone Sackett’s Bridge, which will lead you in front of the waterfall in Hemlock Gorge for a scenic overlook.