24 hours in Albany – fascinating walk through time

by Jul 8, 2019New York

Why Albany? Did you miss your plane? Were you there for work? Passengers from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania I chatted with during a four-hour Amtrak train ride to Plattsburg in the Adirondacks were universally surprised I had willingly decided to spend 24 hours in Albany for fun. Seems the state capital of New York has a reputation that’s rather undeserved from my point of view. There is absolutely a LOT of fun and interesting things to do and see in Albany. You just have to know where to look.

Visit the New York State Capitol

Taking over 32 years to construct and 5 architects to design, this majestic building has served as the seat of government for New York since the 1880s. Located on State Street and Washington Avenue, the New York State Capitol features a ground floor designed in Classical Romanesque style, the second and third floors in Renaissance Classical style, and the fourth top floors created in Victorian Romanesque style. It is a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It is worth signing up for guided tours that last between 45 and 60 minutes. Spend a few moments relaxing in Capitol Park too as you gaze at the architecture from the outside before heading across the street to Empire State Plaza.

New York State Capitol In Albany

Walk around the Empire State Plaza

Just across the street from the capitol building, you will find The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza as it is officially known. Build between 1965 and 1978, this plaza features a wonderful open area with a long reflecting pool, water fountains, shade trees, and sculptures. The buildings in the complex are mostly government buildings, but your eye will immediately be drawn to The Egg, so named for its unusual shape. From a distance, The Egg appears to be a piece of sculpture rather than a building that houses two theaters for the performing arts. 

Albany Empire Plaza

Standing at one end of the Empire Plaza looking back toward the Capitol building with the famous Egg to the right.

Spend some time in the New York State Museum

I was stunned to learn that this wonderful museum, one that explores New York State’s cultural and natural history and diversity, was free. It is operated by the New York State Education Department and is both a museum and research center committed to preserving New York State’s artistic, social, historical and environmental legacies. I especially enjoyed the “Native Peoples of New York” and the “Black Capital: Harlem in the 1920s” exhibits. But the exhibit that was most moving was the one dedicated to the 9/11 attacks. The personal stories of first responders are particularly poignant as is the display of a crushed, charred fire truck from a firehouse in Manhattan that lost four firefighters. If you are visiting with children — or for those who simply love carousels — head to the fourth floor where there is a carousel museum and a working carousel built by the Herschell-Spillman company in the early 1900s. I was there too late in the day to catch a ride myself, but I was told it runs every 15 minutes.

New York State Museum / Firetruck

Peek inside the Albany Institute of History & Art

The Albany Institute of History & Art was founded in 1791 which makes it one of the oldest museums in the United States. The museum is housed in three buildings and is devoted to the art, culture, and history of Albany and the Upper Hudson Valley area. A full visit will take about 1-2 hours, if you have time. If you have less time, at least take in the exterior. Of special note is the collection of Hudson River School paintings.

Albany Institute Of History And Art

Stroll through Washington Park

Famous for its annual Tulip Festival in the spring, this park spreads across 84 acres of well-maintained paths and open spaces. There are over 100 species of trees, I was told, and it is easy to see why the park is a favorite place to picnic, run, bike or simply sit to watch the birds.

Wander by the Palace Theatre

This historic theater is located on the corner of Clinton Avenue and North Pearl Street in the Clinton Avenue Historic District and is currently operated by the Palace Performing Arts Center. Built between 1930 and 1931, it was restored in 1960 and again between 2002 and 2003. If you can, take a look inside to check out the Austrian Baroque style interior, murals on the walls and the red marble staircases.

The Palace In Albany

The Palace Theater in lights.

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Cross over the pedestrian bridge to Jennings Landing

Hudson River Way Pedestrian Bridge connects downtown Albany with the Hudson River and the Mohawk Hudson Hike Bike Trail. Located at Broadway and Pine Street, the bridge is lined with artwork representing the area’s history. There is also a nice view of the Albany skyline from the bridge itself. Once you are in the park alongside the Hudson River, you have choices: Sit and watch the river slip by, walk or bike along the bike trail in either direction, or, head right (south) along the Hudson to make a visit to the USS Slater (Destroyer Escort Historical Museum). The destroyer is now a museum and has been moored on the Hudson River since 1997. Launched in 1944, the ship served in the U.S. Navy and then in the Greek Navy. There are one-hour guided tours of the ship.

You’ll need to eat during your 24 hours in Albany. I would recommend dinner at The Olde English Pub which is conveniently right next door to the Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center. Pop into the visitor’s center before you eat; it is built in an old pump station. The pub food is not fancy, but it is very good, and the beer and English cider is top notch. You’re going because of the atmosphere (sit outside if the weather is nice). The restored building has the feel of an historic pub in large part because it is inside the Quackenbush House, which was built in the 1730s.

Olde English Inn Albany

The Olde English Pub — a perfect place to dine during your 24 hours in Albany tour.

For breakfast or lunch, you must try the Iron Gate Cafe. Established in 2004, Iron Gate Cafe is family-owned and operated and on located on the edge of historical Center Square. I enjoyed bacon, fried egg, arugula, tomato, avocado and pesto mayo on a ciabatta roll that was oh so yummy. If the weather is nice, enjoy the cafe’s picturesque garden patio. The cafe is housed in part of the historic Holroyd Mansion.

Iron Gate Cafe Albany

Can I just say YUMMY!

You’ll need a place to sleep for the night on your 24 hours in Albany visit. Use our Booking.com map below to help you find a perfectly located hotel at the best price (It won’t cost you any more, and we earn a little bit to help keep the lights on.) If you can find a hotel located within the Albany downtown area, such as at the Hampton Inn & Suites, Hilton Albany, Renaissance Albany Hotel, or Fairfield Inn & Suites, you will be able to walk to all of the sights mentioned in this story.


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 24 Hours In Albany

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Heads up! This information on 24 hours in Albany was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). It is your sole responsibility to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, and any other important details before your adventure.
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18 Comments

  1. I would always go to Albany for Hockey Games (when it was the Devils’ farm team) Many times I had the Capitol as my room view.

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  2. I went to RPI for five years. Albany is pretty cool. If you go back, Bombers Burrito Bar is the BOMB, and Jack’s Oyster House is over 100 years old and is great for a nice night out.

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  3. I would surely love to spend a weekend in this pretty town. I agree with you that this charming place does not deserve such reaction when you say someone that you are going to spend some time there. Thanks for your tips of where to eat and how to book. I loved the buildings, the burger, and the idea of getting a place through Booking.com. It is an useful app, after all.

    Reply
  4. I never knew about Albany is such a beautiful place as it has so many wonderful architectures. I went to east coast road trip and passed nearby through this place. New York State Capitol looks impressive and magnificent.

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  5. Well, I have never even considered visiting Albany, NY but after reading your post it is definitely on my radar. Funny how some cities and towns just have an unjustified reputation as “worth missing.” I guess you blew that out of the water! I think the exhibits at the museum sound fantastic in particular 9/11 and the carousel. Love meandering on pedestrian bridges and seeing great architecture.

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    • It is funny, isn’t it, how some places go under the radar, even though they are fantastic. I never dreamed how cool Albany was until I visited.

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  6. Albany definitely looks worth spending 24 hours in! It is strange that people asked you otherwise. For me less crowds = double fun and you have nailed it by visiting lovely architecture , visiting museums and eating delicious food.

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    • Delicious food, friendly people, fantastic architecture. Love it.

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  7. I would love to go spend 24 hours in this charming town. The old English pub will certainly be on my agenda. The carousel museum sounds interesting.

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    • The New York history museum with the carousel is totally amazing and wonderful … and free.

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  8. I’m surprised that the NY State Museum is free too. I feel like anything in NY costs money, so I was pleasantly surprised. The exhibits you saw sound like the ones I would like to see as well…especially the one dedicated to the 9/11 attacks. I’ve actually never thought about visiting Albany as I don’t know anyone that has been to the area, but you have convinced me that it’s worth a visit. Funny how the people you talked to thought you were there for a reason other than just wanting to explore the area 🙂

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    • It is funny how so many folks have heard of Albany, but never dreamed it was worth visiting. It is such an amazing city. Loved it and will absolutely go back.

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  9. This is exactly the type of location I like to go see. A city everyone has heard of yet isn’t on everyone’s radar to actually visit. I didn’t know much about Albany before reading your post except that it is the capital of NY. The architecture is gorgeous and the capitol building is so unique! You had me at tulip festival and the Hudson River Way Pedestrian Bridge-I love bridges. Seems like a very walkable city and I love that you provide the best places to eat and stay to be able to walk all of it!

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    • The old town is very walkable and it is so very cool! The architecture surpised me. And yes, the tulip festival is famous.

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  10. These ‘pass on by’ towns and cities are the best. Every city has something unique to offer and I love how you found so much in Albany to share with the world. The English Pub sounds like my cup of tea. The Palace would be fascinating to have a wander around, I love old buildings. If only the walls could talk.

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    • Indeed, given the political history of this city, if only the walls could talk! The English Pub was a place I felt very comfy just sitting in with a pint in hand watching the world go by.

      Reply
  11. My daughter and I are headed to NYC in October. Hopefully we can get to Albany next summer. I have a long list of things to do and see there on my bucket list!

    Reply
    • You need to get to Albany, and then head upstate into the Adirondacks. Great adventures to be had.

      Reply

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