Discover the charm and history of New York’s capital city
By B.C. Rausch
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
Duration: 2 hours, 13 minutes
Train from EWR to Albany: 3 hours, 45 minutes ($55-$160)
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) to Albany International Airport (ALB)
Duration: Varies by airline
Airlines: United, American, Delta, Southwest
Spring is blooming in Albany, New York, where the annual Albany Tulip Festival is one of the year’s most popular events, drawing thousands to downtown Washington Park to celebrate the city’s Dutch heritage. This annual Mother’s Day weekend event is highlighted by the bright colors of 100,000 tulips, coupled with musical performances, street scrubbing in traditional Dutch costumes and a wide variety of family-centric activities.
The 150-year-old Washington Park is a year-round hub of activity, featuring live theater performances at the open-air Park Playhouse in summer and ice skating on its five-acre lake in winter. Seasonal farmers markets take place near the 19th-century King Memorial Fountain, with shops, bars and restaurants dotting nearby streets, along with historic buildings.
The city of Albany has invested mightily in its venues and neighborhoods to keep things hopping after dark. Look for some exciting restaurants, clubs and bars in three areas: a two-block section of Park Street downtown; along Lark Street, where smaller bars fit the neighborhood’s artistic and eclectic style; and along Western and Madison avenues in midtown near the College of Saint Rose and SUNY Albany’s downtown campus that draw a younger clientele.
Sitting on the west bank of the Hudson River about 135 miles north of New York City and 220 miles south of Montreal, Albany has long been a hub of transportation and commerce. From early settlers heading west to the original terminus of the Erie Canal, Albany has been at the center of American history and is rich in 19th-century architecture, with 57 spots on the National Register of History Places and five National Historic Landmarks. Its central location in New York State also helped make it a center for culture and education and, as the capital of the Empire State, a political hub.
All these different influences come together at the Ten Broeck Mansion, built in 1797 Federal style, for the city’s mayor. Today it’s the headquarters of the Albany County Historical Association and a good place to start your visit. The mansion is in a neighborhood known as Arbor Hill, which has witnessed the ebb and flow of history since the late 1700s. Nearby attractions include the Palace Theatre and St. Joseph’s Church.
The Albany Institute of History and Art, founded in 1791, is among the oldest museums in the country. Located on Washington Avenue near the Center Square neighborhood and the State Capitol, it is “dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting and promoting interest in the history, art, culture of Albany and the Upper Hudson Valley region.” Among the museum’s notable permanent exhibits are an extensive collection of paintings by the influential Hudson River School and an exhibit on Ancient Egypt.
Its history and location also made Albany a cultural center. Today it’s a regular stop for nationally touring artists and acts: The Palace Theatre and The Egg attract musical and theater performances, as does the city’s largest venue, The TU Center. Another hot spot for entertainment is Riverfront Park.
Big names play the annual Summer Alive at Five concert series at the Jennings Landing Amphitheatre, which also hosts the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival, Water Music New York concert and other shows and performances.
Something else about Albany’s location: It sits at the top of New York’s Hudson Valley, which was one of the country’s earliest agricultural centers—it used to be known as “America’s breadbasket”—and is now a center for farm-to-table dining as well as countless breweries, wineries, distilleries and other regional fare.
So where to enjoy all this bounty?
C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station is an award-winning brewery located in a historic building on Quackenbush Square.
Another brewery, Druthers Albany, is housed in a 17,000-square-foot warehouse that was built in 1901. Druthers produces enough beer right there for its restaurant and off-premises sales program.
For a more refined atmosphere, The War Room Tavern (known for cocktails and sushi) near the beautiful capitol building is a local favorite as is Wellington’s, the bar and restaurant at the Renaissance Hotel, with its great views of the capitol.
A poll of locals came up with four long-time favorite restaurants that just scratch the surface of local dining options.
677 Prime is an upscale steakhouse with mahogany accents, colorful art and a 400-plus bottle wine list.
Black & Blue, Steak & Crab, notable for its inspired cuisine, also features inventive design and gracious hospitality.
Caffe Italia has been a mainstay for three decades, thanks to its large selection of Italian specialty entrees and Old-World classics based on recipes from Siderno, Calabria, and Salerno, Naples.
Another Italian favorite in the Capitol District is Café Capriccio, which sources local organic products and pairs with house-made pasta, house-cured meats and cheeses. The culinary inspiration is derived from the owners’ countless trips to Italy.
If you’re worried about getting it all in, take heart: Last call in Albany is at 4 a.m. So, pace yourself. LL