15 Best Small Towns in New York

12:53 pm  |  18.08.2020

New York state is best known for its shining star – New York City. It’s big, it’s bright, and it’s packed with amazing things to see and do. What Manhattan lacks, though, is the innate charm found in the Empire State’s real gems – adorable small towns.

From pristine lake villages to cute hamlets set within magnificent mountain ranges, New York’s quaint towns offer visitors a place to unwind, recharge, and become one with the region’s natural beauty.

They boast incredible restaurants, eclectic shops, and locals so friendly you’ll swear you’ve been friends forever. Even better, they offer incredible access to outdoor adventure, including some of New York’s best ski resorts.

What are you waiting for? Plan your Empire State travels today with help from our list of the best small towns in New York.

1. Saratoga Springs

Saratoga National Battlefield with Neilson Farm in the background

Talk about a picturesque place to visit. Saratoga Springs is one of the loveliest small towns in upstate New York.

Walking through this quaint town is akin to traipsing through a postcard. Lovely porch swings adorn the verandas of grandiose Victorian homes. Tall, lush trees line the streets, and brightly colored blossoms burst from perfectly pruned gardens. This lovely place is a treat for each of your senses.

Looking for serenity now? You’ll find it by the banks of the bubbling spring for which the town is named. Pack a picnic for a lovely afternoon out or stop by one of the charming local cafés or restaurants for a bite to eat.

Then, visit one of the area’s many museums. From the Saratoga Automobile Museum to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame to the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, you’re bound to find one that interests you.

Looking to up the romance? Stay at the Union Gables Inn, where each room comes complete with a fireplace.

2. Skaneateles

Skaneateles Lake

Skaneateles village lies on the shores of the beautiful Finger Lake of the same name. A mere 30 minutes from Syracuse, this lake is the source of the big city’s drinking water. Pronounced as either “skinny-atlas” or “skanny-atlas,” it’s hard to find fault with this pristine town.

Sweet rocking chairs adorn the front porches of historic Victorian and Greek Revival homes, upping the charm factor. East Genesee Street is a perfect place to visit for some retail therapy. Unique local shops dot this area, as do funky galleries and tasty eateries.

Skaneateles Lake is the town’s most popular attraction. It provides a mesmerizing view throughout the year and is an unbeatable venue for water sports during the warmer months.

Mirbeau Inn & Spa Skaneateles is extremely luxurious while still retaining an essence of old-world charm.

3. GreenportAerial view of Greenport, NY

You’ll smell the sea before you catch sight of it in this sweet fishing village. Located on Long Island’s North Fork, Greenport knows how to treat its visitors. Fresh, local food is featured at many of its charming restaurants, and the locals are helpful and kind.

Sailboats bob serenely upon the horizon, evoking a sense of calm. Small farm stands dot the countryside, selling healthy snacks to enjoy while driving along the long, winding, and picturesque roads.

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In stark contrast to its more glamorous and elitist neighbor (we’re talking about you, Hamptons), Greenport presents a more laid-back and natural country vibe. You’ll find clean, sandy beaches, eclectic galleries, vintage shops, and lovely houses lined up in perfect rows.

4. Ithaca

View over Cornell University and Ithaca

Home to Cornell University, Ithaca is so much more than a pretty college town. That said, you won’t want to miss touring around the Ivy League campus. Historical buildings lend a magical aura to the area.

In the main section of town, you’ll find Ithaca Commons, home to a wide array of shops, eateries, and other forms of entertainment. And there’s no shortage of museums to tickle your academic fancy.

The area’s immense natural beauty is a real tourist draw. Outdoor adventurists come here to enjoy hikes through the magnificent gorges lining the village. These are spotted with crashing waterfalls so beautiful your camera will beg you to take photos.

Hills and verdant forests surround the town, which lies on the banks of the largest Finger Lake, Cayuga Lake.

5. Woodstock

Tie-dye vendor in Woodstock, NY

Despite not being the true home of the famous music festival circa 1969 (it was held over 60 miles away, in Bethel), Woodstock has become a haven for music lovers. This cute town boasts just over 6,000 people and lies within the beautiful Catskill Park in Ulster County.

You’ll find tie-dye and music galore on Tinker Street, which is lined with unique shops selling everything from vintage postcards to hippie-wear to jewelry. It’s easy to forget you’re living in the 2020s while walking down this nostalgic strip.

This is also where you’ll find some of the town’s best restaurants featuring the freshest local food. Vegans are well catered to here.

Have a bit of extra time? Learn how to meditate during a tour at the nearby Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.

6. Lake George

Aerial view of Lake George

Nestled at the feet of the towering Adirondack mountains, Lake George is a breathtaking village worthy of at least a weekend visit.

Lake George makes the most of its vast and beautiful surroundings. The town itself is peppered with adorable shops, and restaurants to please any palate, while the sparkling lake for which the town was named is a hot spot for water sports during the summer. You’ll be able to boat, swim, go whitewater rafting, or SUP, among other fun activities. Hiking and horseback riding are practiced year-round.

Insider’s tip: The number of visitors dies down after Labor Day, so this is the best time to visit if you’re hoping to avoid the crowds.

7. Cold Spring

Cold Spring, NY and the Hudson River

A mere hour on the train from New York’s Grand Central Station will get you to Cold Spring, a popular destination for city folk looking to relax. Finding serenity is easy to do in this cute historic town, which is best known for its charming 19th-century buildings perched beside the Hudson River.

In the summer, visitors spend weekends on the water, kayaking, swimming, fishing, and SUPing to work up an appetite. Then they head to the town’s quaint center, which boasts restaurants with personality and the friendliest staff in the region. Those who like to shop will love getting to know the owners of the small boutique stores.

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8. Lake Placid

Adirondack chairs at Mirror Lake, Lake Placid

Surrounded by the majestic Adirondack mountains and set upon the sparklingly clear lake of the same name, Lake Placid has an overwhelming beauty that is hard to beat. Mother Nature’s presence is strong here. No wonder it was picked to host the winter Olympics – twice (in 1932 and 1980)!

Those who visit this cute resort town tend to lean towards adventure. No matter the season, Lake Placid offers plenty of things to do outside.

Whether you enjoy mountain biking, swimming, fishing, sailing, bobsledding, skating (on downtown’s Mirror Lake), or downhill skiing, there’s rarely a chance to get bored.

Not a fan of activities? No worries. Spend your day lazing by the lake’s shore or shop and dine to your heart’s content in the charming downtown.

9. Ellicottville

Spruce Lake in Ellicottville

The smaller the town, the easier it is to get around. Ditch your car and explore Ellicottville’s charming village by foot. In addition to strolling to numerous quirky shops and restaurants, you’ll be able to walk to two ski hills and the super rejuvenating Ellicottville Oasis Spa.

In the winter, visitors flock here to zip down the runs at the private HoliMont Ski Resort and Holiday Valley, where you’ll also find horse-drawn sleigh rides to up the romance factor.

During warmer months, hiking and golf are uber popular, as is visiting nearby Griffis Sculpture Park, where visitors can roam around (and sometimes climb) nearly 250 massive and extremely impressive steel sculptures.

10. Cooperstown

Colonial-style home in Cooperstown

Spending a day in Cooperstown or better yet, a weekend, is like hitting a grand slam. Not only will you find calm-inducing lake and countryside views, but you’ll be rewarded with a charm not found in many other places. Add to that the adorable shops, restaurants, and museums, and you’ve really scored a run.

This tiny town is most famous for being home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s also where you’ll find Ostego Lake, a tranquil place to while away a warm day on the water, fishing, swimming, or boating around the pristine area.

Once home to (and named after) The Last of the Mohicans author, James Fennimore Cooper, this sweet town is a magnet for writers and other artsy folk.

11. Aurora

Old barn in Aurora, NY

Talk about a tiny town – Aurora is home to less than one thousand people. Situated in the slightly larger town of Ledyard in Western New York, this cute spot will warm your heart and entice your camera to start clicking. A visit here is akin to entering the pages of a fairy tale.

Quietly nuzzled next to Cayuga Lake, Aurora was given a face lift by Pleasant Rowland (a.k.a. the creator of the famed American Girl doll). This small town, which was once known for being home to Wells College is now a destination for those in search of old-town charm and 19th-century shops, restaurants, and inns bursting with character.

12. New Paltz

Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz

Most famous as the home of the fantastic Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz is a popular vacation spot for New Yorkers looking to ease their worries. Only 83 miles north of Manhattan, this is one of the most beautiful small towns near New York City.

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Huguenot Street Historic District is a wonderful place to garner a glimpse back in time. This 10-acre National Landmark Historic District features seven stone houses circa the early 18th century.

The town’s Wallkill Valley Rail Trail is a perfect place to while away a morning or afternoon, hiking, horseback riding, or biking through over 21 miles of caves and woodland.

Many choose to use this sweet college town as a base to explore the nearby Shawangunk Ridge, impressive bedrock mountains that beg the young and adventurous to hike or climb its craggy peaks.

13. Lewiston

Queenston-Lewiston Bridge across the Niagara River Gorge

The closest small town to Niagara Falls, Lewiston is so charming, you’ll be glad you stayed. A historic town, Lewiston is a haven for the arts.

It’s home to the 150-acre Artpark, which boasts the most impressive amphitheater in the region (and is ranked as one of the top 100 in the world). This remarkable venue hosts over 150 events throughout the summer.

Music buffs won’t want to miss the Northwest Jazz Festival at the end of August. It’s Western New York’s largest outdoor jazz festival and features a ton of amazing performers.

Those hoping to catch a glimpse of the falls won’t be disappointed. They’re so close you won’t even need your car. Discover Niagara offers a free shuttle between Niagara Falls and Lewiston, making it easy to explore the falls on foot.

14. Saranac Lake

Fall colors on Saranac Lake

Who wouldn’t want to visit an adorable village nestled by the banks of a vast lake and surrounded by the towering Adirondack mountains? In addition to a delightful Main Street, the village boasts easy access to water sports like canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.

This enchanting town really comes to life during its best season – winter. That’s when guests can hit the nearby slopes, snowshoe along the trails, and lace up their ice-skates.

In February, tourists flock to Saranac Lake for the town’s fabulous Winter Carnival. They come to explore a one-of-a-kind ice palace, compete in ice-skating races, watch fireworks, attend concerts, and munch on tasty treats.

15. Westfield

Barcelona Lighthouse, Westfield

Perched on the shore of Lake Erie, Westfield lies in Chautauqua County. This cute town is revered for its beauty but best known for its most valuable export – the Concord grape.

Dubbed the “grape juice capital of the world,” Westport was home to Dr. Charles Welch, the man responsible for popularizing pasteurized grape juice and building the world’s first large grape juice plant in Westfield in 1897. The Lake Erie Grape Discovery Center will teach you everything you never knew you needed to know about this sugary fruit.

History abounds in the Portage Trail and Main Street districts, which are lined with historic homes teeming with charm.

The Barcelona Lighthouse stands stoically in Portland Harbor. It was the country’s first natural gas lighthouse (circa 1829), and though you won’t be able to climb to the top, it’s still worthy of a photo op.

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