Syracuse is located in central New York and is known as the “Salt City”. Named after the industry that sustained its livelihood for centuries, it is one of the largest cities in New York. Some may know the city for the accomplishments of the Syracuse University sports and athletics programs, but it is a city steeped in history.
Boasting a number of historic districts, Syracuse is a city that seamlessly merges its rich history with contemporary culture. It is a city definitely worth visiting so here is a list of the best activities in Syracuse that will help you navigate the city.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Syracuse (NY)
1. Rosamond Gifford Zoo
The Rosamond Gifford Zoo was reopened in 1986 and boasts 900 animals such as Asian Elephants and Amur Tigers. You are sure to have a blast exploring the aquarium where you will come across clownfish and jellyfish as well as the USS Antiques Cave where you will find iguanas and spotted turtles.
Those are just some of the features of the zoo and there is plenty more you can explore. There is also the Edventure Academy that regularly offers visitors some fascinating background into the animals at the zoo. If you are a photo enthusiast, make sure you take part in the Photo of the Month contest.
2. Green Lakes State Park
You will find Green Lakes State Park on the outskirts of Syracuse. Boasting two glacial lakes, a golf course, a bird conservation area, and camping areas, you are sure to find something for you at the park. There are also expansive trails and it is also a great place for hunting.
In the winter, the park boasts a 15-mile cross country trail for skiing aficionados. In short, the park offers an idyllic getaway from the hustle and bustle of Syracuse. You will most likely want to look into an overnight trip as the sheer number of activities available at the park means you can’t experience all of it in just a day.
3. Everson Museum of Art
The Everson Museum of Art is a staple of downtown Syracuse and offers one of the finest collections of American art. You will come across over 10,000 works of art in its Ceramics, Painting and Sculpture, Photography and Works on Paper, and Video collections.
It also offers some fascinating temporary exhibits such as Appositions and Scholastics that have graced the museum in the past. This is in addition to a vibrant events program that includes special events and films makes the museum a must-visit site. If you are not able to visit the museum, it offers some great virtual programming ranging from virtual exhibition tours to classes and studio tours.
4. Museum of Science & Technology
You will find few better places in Syracuse to offer as much excitement and fun to your kids as the Museum of Science and Technology. Take a step back and simply watch their imaginations run wild as they explore the Flight and Space, Dino Zone, Ham Radio, and Life Sciences exhibit, among others.
The museum also offers workshops such as fun with fossils, potions class, catapults, and DNA extractions. These 45-minute workshops will intrigue the mind of any child and unlock their inquisitiveness. As if this wasn’t enough, the Planetarium and IMAX are some of its most popular attractions.
5. Onondaga Lake
Located just outside Syracuse, Onondaga Lake offers a great getaway. The Onondaga Lake Park has a boat launch and the lake itself is a good place for some fishing. You can expect to come across some Carp, Bass, and Panfish in your haul. If you are not into fishing, you can try your hand in kayaking or indulge in hiking, cycling, or have a picnic at the parks surrounding the lake.
Some of the main events that take place at the lake include Syracuse Hydrofest and the Lights on the Lake that are must-see events if you are ever in Syracuse at the same time.
6. Clinton Square
Clinton Square has a century-long tradition of serving as a gathering place for visitors and locals alike. It may be best known for the skating rink that is put up between November and March but there are also plenty of other events you can partake in at the square.
Some of the events that are held in the square include Jazz in the Square, Polish Festival, Farmer’s Market, and Juneteenth. Therefore, the square is also bustling with life and offers some of the best dining options in the city. There are few better places to immerse yourself in Syracuse life than Clinton Square.
7. Wonderworks Destiny
Located in the Destiny USA mall, Wonderworks Destiny is a dream for any child. Your children will be immersed in the Wonderworks story, laser tag, the Wonder Zones, and other attractions and have the time of their lives. There are few better ways to spoil your child than to take them to Wonderworks.
The amusement park also puts on some amazing programs like STEM programs, virtual labs, and art contests that will take the experience to the next level. It is unlikely that your child will leave the park underwhelmed. When you consider all this, it’s easy to see why it’s a go-to birthday venue in Syracuse.
8. Erie Canal Museum
This museum of the world-renowned canal offers some fascinating background on the canal. The permanent exhibits will immerse you into all aspects of the canal from its financing to life in a canal town. You will also come across how the canal was constructed by Frank Buchanan Thomson, a full-size replica line boat.
There are also some incredible temporary exhibits some of which include Syracuse and the Erie Canal: 200 years and Erie Canal at Buffalo. Moreover, the museum offers some incredible programming with various workshops. When you consider all this, no wonder the museum welcomes 23,000 visitors annually.
9. Salt Museum
Located along the Onondaga Lake, the Salt Museum offers a glimpse into the industry that sustained Syracuse for centuries. You will come across the original boiling block where salt was extracted from saltwater.
Moreover, you will also witness kettles, wooden barrels, and other equipment that were used in salt production that came to a halt a century ago. The rustic ambiance will transport you back in time and you will have a first-hand look into the past. The museum will give you an idea as to why Syracuse is referred to as the “Salt City”.
10. Armory Square
Armory Square is a unique neighborhood that combines Syracuse’s rich history with chic condos and storefronts. Initially settled in 1804, the proximity of the district to the railroad and the Erie canal led to its development as an industrial district.
A significant amount of the original buildings can still be found in the district and it was designated as a National Historic District in 1986. Some of the most fascinating historical buildings in the neighborhood include the Armory, Railway Station, the Jefferson Hotel, and the Lynch building. There are few better places to delve into the history of Syracuse’s development as a city than at Armory Square.
11. Point Place Casino & Sports Book
If you want to take care of that gambling itch in the back of your hand, heading to the Point Place Casino would be your best bet. Whether you are looking for a table game, the slots, or want to try your hand at sports betting, you will find something that will fulfill your gambling desires.
There are also some incredible dining options such as the Fireside Lounge and the Burgers of Madison County where you can devour amazing food. If the tables are not on your side, the Paddle Bar offers some great live entertainment where you will forget all your misery.
12. Lights on the Lake
One of the biggest holiday traditions in the State of New York, Lights on the Lake is a two-mile-long show along Onondaga Lake put up during Christmas and the holidays. As you marvel at the lit-up props while you drive through the show, your festive cheer is sure to come out.
Although the walk was not held last year due to Covid, walking through the show might just be a more immersive experience than the drive-through option. You will also get a warm fuzzy feeling inside as a significant portion of the proceeds for the show is donated for good causes.
13. Lakeland Winery
The Lakeland Winery is one of the finest wineries in the region. It is well worth taking the visit to this winery on the banks of Onondaga Lake as it will offer some incredibly unique experiences. Yes, you can have a wine tasting as with any other winery but that is just a start.
At Lakeland, you will be able to fully immerse yourself in the wine experience with a winemaking and bottling experience. There are few more gratifying experiences in the world than taking a sip from a bottle of wine that you bottled, corked and labeled.
14. Long Branch Park
Also located on the banks of Onondaga Lake, Long Branch Park is known for its fine chestnut trees. A park steeped in history, it was initially opened in 1925 as an amusement park. It is now an incredible spot for a picnic. Reserve one of the many shelters in the park and have one of the most relaxing picnics in your life.
You will not be surprised to hear that those very shelters are often used for weddings and events. In the winter, you can sled down the 100-foot hill and have the time of your life. All in all, Long Branch Park is simply an incredible place to unwind.
15. CNY Regional Market
Established in 1938, the CNY Regional Market is the quintessential farmer’s market and is one of the oldest in the area. Having gone through extensive renovations in the ’90s the market now combines its storied history with modern facilities and amenities.
There are few better ways to support local farmers while purchasing some of the freshest produce available. With over 300 vendors, you are sure to find whatever you are looking for in the market. Moreover, the market also runs a flea market once a week where you will come across some of the most unique antiques and handcrafted items in the state.
16. Columbus Circle
Columbus Circle is an area enshrined in Syracuse history ever since it was established as a traffic circle. In the middle of the 20th century, the circle was paved over and closed to through traffic. Some of Syracuse’s most historic sites can be found in the area and there few better ways to immerse yourself in the city’s history than to walk through the area.
Some of the must-see spots include St. Paul’s Cathedral, Columbus Center, and the War Memorial Arena but that is just scratching the surface. You can do far worse than enjoying a day sightseeing and enjoy lunch at one of the abundant dining options.
17. E.M. Mills Rose Garden
Run by the oldest rose society in existence in the US, E.M. Mills Rose Garden is located at the edge of Thornden Park. A stone’s throw away from Syracuse University, visiting the garden when the flowers are in full bloom will give you an unforgettable experience.
The garden is a popular haunt for artists and photographers seeking to represent the beauty of the 3000 rose bushes in the park. If you are ever in doubt of the majesty of the garden, a plaque placed in the garden in recognition of its contribution to the Syracuse Parks system for the 90th anniversary of the garden will put all your questions to rest.
18. Stickley Museum
Built-in 1908 by Gustav Stickley, the museum initially operated as a farm and school until 1915. It fell into private hands in 1915 but was bought by local authorities in 1989 and was turned into a museum. Now, the museum welcomes thousands of visitors a year to marvel at the collection of its 6,000 objects.
Some of these objects include a dining chair, sugar bowl, and table from the early 20th century. The museum holds regular exhibitions some of which have included the American Arts and Crafts Chair, and Craftsman Farms. Your visit to Stickley Museum will immerse you in American farm life in the early 20th century.
19. ArtRage Gallery
Established in 1998, ArtRage is a unique art gallery that promotes social awareness and social justice. It does not have a permanent exhibition or collection but puts on around five exhibitions a year as well as a number of events. Some of its past exhibitions include A Shadow Cast: Interstate 81 and Invisible People: Portraits of the Homeless.
As you can see, the gallery looks to break boundaries and bring issues that are avoided in wider society to the forefront. You can always check their website for current exhibitions but it will be even better if you go in blind and just check out the exhibition they have on – it won’t disappoint.
20. Four Seasons Golf & Ski Center
The Four Seasons Gold & Ski Center provides some of the most incredible activities in the area. In the summer you can tee off and work on your golf game at adventure golf or the driving ranges. If you are more into baseball and soccer, you can try you will have a blast at the soccer and batting range.
In the winter, you will be able to ski, snowboard or tube down the slopes. If you are a beginner, don’t worry because the center offers lessons, and you will be flying down the slopes before too long. So, whether you are into winter or summer sports, you will find something to do at Four Seasons.
21. Onondaga Historical Association
The Onondaga Historical Association runs a number of museums and exhibitions in Syracuse and Onondaga County. Some of the most fascinating of those include the War Memorial, the Regional Aviation History Museum, and the Roots of Camp Tousey: YMCA and Camping.
However, the staple of the association is the Onondaga Historical Museum that boasts four permanent exhibits: Onondaga County, Freedom Bound, Syracuse China, and From Laying the Foundation to Forging Ahead. There are also some great temporary exhibitions that you will find at the various museums run by the association. You may want to visit the website of the association to see what temporary exhibitions they are offering.
22. Community Folk Art Center
The Community Folk Art Center of Syracuse University was created to showcase high-quality art from African Diaspora artists. It has established itself as a stable of the community and puts on some captivating performances. It also offers some fascinating classes such as the African Drum, Dance Evolution of Beyonce, and hosts other events.
If you are into ceramics, you will find few better places to take your first steps or hone in your craft than at the Community Folk Art Center. Another signature program of the center is the Rhythm and Wine performances that showcase some of the finest up and coming performers in the region.
23. Hanover Square
This square that is actually a triangle dates back to when Syracuse was still a village. It is now a vibrant community that boasts some amazing dining options such as the Fish Friar and Eden. You can take a sip of coffee at the Recess Coffee and take in the place where it all began.
Some of the buildings that make the district such a historically significant one include the State Tower Building, Franklin Buildings, and the Onondaga County Savings Bank. Taking a leisurely stroll through the district will take you back in time and you may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the beginnings of Syracuse.
24. Split Rock Quarry Stone Crusher
You will still come across a stone crusher at this quarry but it has a very bleak history not connected with its mining days. The quarry was converted into a munitions factory that supplied a quarter of the TNT used by America during WW1. Despite the presence of 300 firefighters, a small fire on July 2nd, 1918 culminated in a massive explosion and the quarry has been abandoned ever since.
The stone crusher and a tunnel are the only structures that survived the explosion so it is easy to see why it attracts so many visitors. You may also want to bike along the expansive trails around the quarry and witness the results of the explosion.
One of the many great dining options in Armory Square, Pastabilities is an Italian inspired restaurant that offers you some amazing dishes. If you pop in for a quick bite to eat during lunch, you will have options such as a chicken parmesan sub and Alfredo pasta. If you are looking to settle in for a dinner, you also have plenty of options such as chicken parmesan and short ribs.
If you are on the adventurous side, try ordering something with their signature Hot Tom Sauce. Most importantly, a trip to Pastabilities will not break your wallet.