The Solo Traveler’s Guide to Upstate New York

Get away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple with a peaceful solo getaway to Upstate New York
Get away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple with a peaceful solo getaway to Upstate New York | © Jonathan Kozowyk / Getty Images
Photo of Nick Dauk
Senior Travel Writer11 April 2022
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Upstate New York is the “branch” from which the Big Apple hangs: a bountiful world all its own. Concrete jungles – Buffalo, Albany – are only minutes away from the serenity of the Adirondack Mountains, Finger Lakes, and Great Lakes. The pace is slower yet the scene is no less exciting. The roots of American history, endless mountain backdrops, and delicious regional foods will put you in a more rural Empire State of Mind.

What’s the vibe?

Soak up the serenity of the Catskills with a waterfall hike | © Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Upstate New York is a relaxing destination if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, yet don’t want to be stranded without museums, ample dining options, and instant access to diverse day trips. It’s a canvas of farmlands, revered universities, and charming towns, between forests, mountains, and lakes. Scholars, retirees, professionals, and young families alike spend their leisure time sipping local craft brews and enjoying the sunshine before retreating indoors during the snowy winter season. Solo travelers will be completely at home, immersed in the peace and quiet. Expect to find similar company in the lobby bar of your boutique hotel.

An Upstate New York solo trip overview

It covers everything north of the New York City metropolitan area, so you’ll naturally need to plan your time accordingly. A long weekend is ideal for nature lovers who covet R&R; a week’s visit or longer will give you enough time to explore the landmark sites, and then some.

The region is infamous for its cold and snowy winters, with Syracuse and other cities subject to an average of 103in (261cm) of snow per year – the annual US average is 28in (71cm). All other seasons will welcome you with warmer weather perfect for sightseeing, hiking, and strolling the city streets.

Niagara Falls is a bucket-list destination in New York | © Vlad Ghiea / Alamy Stock Photo

Topping the hit-list for Upstate New York is Niagara Falls, three stunning cascades that flow along the US/Canada border. The state capital of Albany is a fine destination for a city break with the New York State Museum, the Irish American Heritage Museum, and the centuries-old Albany Institute of History & Art easily filling your schedule. Of course, locals will insist that you spend a few days in the Catskill Mountains where hiking trails, ski resorts, and music festivals draw pilgrims from near and far whatever the season.

Where to stay in Upstate New York as a solo traveler

Solo travelers will find plenty to explore in Albany | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

There’s no wrong place to stay, but certain spots are ideal for particular interests. For sports fans, Buffalo is the place to be. The Sabres take the ice from fall through spring, while the Bills duke it out on the gridiron no matter how frigid the winds off of Lake Erie are. For day trippers, Syracuse is a perfect base camp, splitting the distance between Buffalo in the west and Albany to the east. Staying in Syracuse puts you within minutes of the shores of Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes.

Immerse yourself in the diverse architecture of Rochester | © Philip Scalia / Alamy Stock Photo

Like architecture? You’ll love staying in one or more of Rochester’s neighborhoods, and exploring everything from Gothic Revival and Federal to Queen Anne, Craftsman, and Colonial Revival properties. By contrast, anyone who chooses an overnight in Saratoga Springs won’t spare a thought to the walled spaces – they’ll doubtless be soaking in the mineral baths of Saratoga Spa State Park.

Embrace your creative side with an Inner Artist workshop – part of TRIPS by Culture Trip’s Hudson Valley retreat.

What to do in Upstate New York

Visit once and you’ll yearn to head back year after year – but should your return take longer than desired, you won’t want to leave before ticking these activities from your itinerary.

Hit a line-drive to Cooperstown

Don’t miss the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown | © Bruce Leighty / Alamy Stock Photo

Pack the Cracker Jack for a trip to Cooperstown where the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has slid into home. Fans of America’s principal pastime will want to steal a base across the street at the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum as well.

Get a glimpse into the past at Fort Ticonderoga

Step back in time with a visit to Fort Ticonderoga | © Enrico Della Pietra / Alamy Stock Photo

This 18th-century fort saw action during two wars – when you spot the live musket-firing demonstrations, you’ll swear it was still the mid-1700s. Unique exhibits detail more than the weaponry and strategy, focusing on everything from wartime medical practices to the art of the era and the construction of the fort. Climb the nearby Mt Defiance for a picnic and you’ll dine with views of Vermont across the water.

Hang out along the Hudson at Hook Mountain State Park

Escape the city with a hike in Hook Mountain State Park

This riverside park is hardly an hour from Manhattan, yet its underdeveloped landscape feels miles away from the urban scrum. Hook Mountain State Park is blessed with nearly 700 acres (283ha) of land for hiking, picnicking and biking. It’s part of the continuous Palisades Interstate Park system so you’re free to venture as far as you can go.

Have a go at stand-up paddleboard yoga on the Hudson River with TRIPS by Culture Trip’s small-group retreat.

Eat and drink in Upstate New York

Tuck into delicious local specialties around the Hudson Valley | © Matthew Spaulding / Stocksy

You’ll sniff out international fare as you nose your way closer to the cities, yet it’s regional cuisine that dominates most menus in Upstate New York. Miles of farmland around the Hudson Valley mean fresh plates of produce, meat, and cheeses for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The official regional food trail is the 225mi (362km) Upstate Eats Trail, which will take your taste buds on a journey via dishes such as Syracuse salt potatoes, beef on weck (a carraway-seed-speckled roll), and Binghamton chicken spiedies (skewer-cooked cubes served on a long roll). There are more than 100 wineries just around the Finger Lakes alone, so do come thirsty.

Getting around Upstate New York as a solo traveler

The Finger Lakes region is home to beautiful scenery | © Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

Upstate New York is no uptown Manhattan; you’re going to need a car if you want to get around – or plan on spending a whole lot on bus fares. With few convenient options for going beyond city limits, it’s more cost-effective and convenient to rent your own wheels. The drive anywhere is far from taxing, and the scenery is so stunning that you’ll be grateful for the impromptu stops with their gorgeous photo ops.

Stay safe, stay happy

Navigating Upstate New York isn’t difficult, even for those who aren’t born road trippers. However, it’s advised that you use caution when driving in the winter months. Substantial snowfall, black ice, and slick patches of asphalt present dangers to drivers of all abilities. Stay parked during heavy snowfall and try to avoid driving long distances at night.

Cultural need-to-knows

Upstate New York is LGBTQ-friendly to its core, so no worries there. The demographics don’t match the cultural diversity that you’ll find in NYC, but Upstate New York is just as welcoming a place for people of all backgrounds. Solo travelers – don’t hesitate to pal-up with the locals, wherever you are.

Want to explore Upstate New York with a bunch of like-minded travelers? Sign up for TRIPS by Culture Trip’s four-day soul-restoring retreat in the Hudson Valley – you’ll enjoy highlights including stand-up paddleboarding on the Hudson River, hikes to waterfalls, and meditation with a yoga expert.

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