24 hours in Albany – fascinating walk through time
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.