See This, Skip That: Albany

PHOTO: The Empire States capital can be a treasure trove for curious travelers.Jiayin Ma/Getty Images
The Empire State's capital can be a treasure trove for curious travelers.

Today’s Albany is abuzz in business and politics. But the Empire State’s capital can be a treasure trove for curious travelers, too. A city hundreds of years in the making, this is where history and innovation collide, and where culture, food and entertainment thrive. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Albany, New York.

Skip the Museum, Visit the Capitol The plethora of museums in and around Albany is fascinating. But there’s no denying that the New York State Capitol is an architectural marvel in its own right. Dating back to the late 1800s and set atop the city’s State Street hill, this was the handiwork of no less than five architects and 25 years of master masonry. Renovations are underway now, but check out the portraits and the museum-quality exhibits depicting New York State history set up throughout the building, and the newly reopened Hall of Governors. When you’re here, extend your cultural excursion by visiting the NYS Museum and the Empire State Plaza Art Collection, both within walking distance.

Skip the Theater, Do the Egg The Egg is also walking distance to the Capitol, and this is another artistic accomplishment, celebrating 35 years in 2014. Curved and sleek, with virtually no straight lines, the Egg is visually distinctive to be sure. And inside, catch big names in comedy, dance, music, theater and film.

Get High, Check Out the View Also nearby is the Corning Tower, a 42-story building that reigns as the tallest in the state (outside of New York City, of course). Take the elevator all the way to the top, where the Observation Deck gives you clear views of the city, as well as the Port of Albany, the Adirondack foothills and even portions of the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It’s open to the public Monday through Friday.

Get Low, Check Out the Caverns This unique adventure will take you about 45 minutes west of Albany, but all the below-the-surface oohs and aahs make it well worth it. Howe Caverns is the largest cave open to the public in the Northeast. Tours begin by taking you down in an elevator, and you can even take a boat ride on the underground Lake of Venus. As about their lantern tours, pan for gems and, during summer, test your agility on the zip line or rock wall. Howe Caverns is open year-round and hours change seasonally, although the temperature never moves much past 52 degrees.

Catch a Festival, Visit the Park My sister-in-law, Paula Ising, lives in Greenville, a tiny town. Heading into Albany means a 40-minute drive north, but she makes it throughout the year, and often on Mother’s Day, with her 9-year-old son. “It’s all about the Tulip Festival throughout Washington Park – the tulips are amazing!” she tells me. “The festival represents a goodbye to winter, hello spring.” This 84-acre plein air haven, in fact, hosts concerts special events and exhibits throughout the year, so check the calendar when you visit. The Christmas lights become an attraction all their own during the holidays. This is also where you find respite – joggers, bikers, picnickers and bird watchers converge here – as well as a stocked pond, tennis courts and more than 100 species of trees.

Skip the Gym, Hit the Preserve Need another excuse to stay active on vacation? The Albany Pine Bush Preserve just celebrated 25 years – it’s a 3200-acre slice of green heaven with some 18 miles of multi-use trails. Go mountain biking in spring, hiking in summer, horseback riding in the fall and cross-country skiing when the snow comes. Take the kids to the onsite Discovery Center, where hands-on exhibits teach them about the conservation efforts here.

Skip the Slopes, Hit the Rink The outdoors isn’t the only place to enjoy sub-zero fun during winter. The Empire State Plaza Ice Rink rolls out the ice mid-December through mi-March. You can’t miss it – it’s right next to the Capitol Building. Bring your own skates – skating is free! – or rent a pair for $4.

Skip the City, Go Aboard Bring history to life for the afternoon by heading aboard the USS Slater. This is the only World War II destroyer escort left – the U.S. built more than 500 of these in the 1940s to fight Nazi U-boats. It’s a National Historic Landmark now and, after a 15-year project, has been wonderfully restored. Tours are available April through November.

Skip the Restaurant, Jump On Board Dutch Apple Cruises, based in Albany, gets high marks for its city tours by boat. But they offer dinner cruises, too, lasting three hours and featuring everything from a varied buffet to DJ-spun tunes. Sail and dine year-round, thanks to the 65-foot Dutch Apple II’s fiberglass-sheathed, heated decks. This tour company also offer city tours by trolley, as well as ghost and distillery tours.

Skip the Road, Race the Track For unique fun behind the wheel, check out Fastrax. There’s a quarter-mile F-1 style racetrack here, perfect for the Italian-made electric race karts that you can take to speeds of up to 50 miles an hour. The pinpoint steering and the handling are precise. And the owners tout electric go-karts as an eco-friendly alternative to their gasoline counterparts, and they have more torque. Find Fastrax at Crossgates Commons.

Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features a bevy of Albany hotel specials, as well as local deals at