“Travel is the only context in which some people ever look around. If we spent half the energy looking at our own neighborhoods, we'd probably learn twice as much.”
― Lucy R. Lippard, On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art, and Place
It is said that people travel long distances to see the sights across the country and across the world, but often miss the best of their local area. Here, we’ve compiled some interesting and exciting things to do and see in our state's Capital City, Albany, only 27 miles south of Malta on Interstate 87.
Located in the Upper Hudson River Valley, and devoted to government and the business of New York State, visitors will find that the city has some welcoming public spaces, lots of history and an impressive list of festivals throughout the year.
Let’s start with the State Capitol building. After five architects and thirty years in construction, the substantial and decorative native stone building of the late 1900’s is testament to the state’s historical power. It sits like a Romanesque/Rennaissance Chateau holding court over an ultra-modern plaza. Its Great Western Staircase (also known as the Million Dollar Staircase) itself took 13 years, $1 million, and 600 craftsmen to complete the sculptures on its walls and columns. The 3,000 square-foot skylight above the staircase and the War Room with its handsome frescoes are also worth a look.
In the 1970’s the Empire State Plaza helped in the remake of the downtown area with its starkly modern buildings. Free tours of the Capitol Building and Plaza start at the Visitor Center on the Concourse Level of the Plaza. The elevated Plaza includes a number of government offices, the Cultural Education Center (housing the State Museum, the Library and Archives), and the Legislative Office Building. If the legislature is in session, you can visit their chambers as well as the governor’s ceremonial offices.
The Plaza includes the Corning Tower, the tallest building, outside of New York City, in the State. The Tower has an observation deck on the 42nd floor which is free and open to the public on weekdays. The Swan Street Building is more than a quarter of a mile long and had as its inspiration, the temple of Pharaoh Hatshepsut in Egypt. Albany's Center for the Performing Arts (also known as “The Egg”) is also on the Plaza. The Plaza features fountains, reflecting pools, and memorials. It is closed to the public during the winter. Details on hours and access can be found here. There is an underground Concourse connecting the buildings; the Concourse includes food courts, a YMCA, a post office, a CDTA bus station, the Visitor’s Center mentioned above, and small retailers. It is filled with art and sculpture, part of the State’s collection of modern abstract art. This display has been called the greatest collection of modern American art outside of a museum. Guided and audio tours are available for the art collection.
The New York State Museum is open every day but Monday and admission is free. Rotating exhibitions are offered all year on a wide range of subjects, from history to science and everything in between. The museum also houses a full-sized working carousel dating back to the early 1900's. Rides are free. Special events also take place at the Museum.
Festivals abound in the area. In the summer, the Albany Riverfront Park hosts free music concerts: the three-day Dutch heritage festival in May covers Washington Park in tulips. There is plenty of nightlife along Broadway, Pearl, and Lark Streets, and along Madison Avenue. A full events calendar can be found here.
Historic structures such as the Albany City Hall built in 1883 and the Schuyler Mansion, which dates back to the Revolutionary War, are among some of the beautiful architectural examples in the city. A number of historic churches and residences dot the city. The free Heritage Center at Quackenbush Square in downtown Albany (foot of Clinton Avenue hill) has exhibits that describe Albany's 400 year history and can suggest a walking tour of the area.
You don't have to travel far to enjoy some of the best New York has to offer. Plan a trip to Albany – it's worth the (short) trip!
If you have ideas about other special places to visit in Albany, please share them in the comments below!