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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

My Six Months in Albany, New York: The Capital’s Hidden Gems and Nearby Attractions

Albany, New York

The New York State Assembly Chamber in the Capitol Building in Albany, New York
The New York State Assembly Chamber in the Capitol Building in Albany, New York

During my college years, I spent a fascinating six months in Albany, New York. I was there working as an intern for my Assemblymember at the New York State Legislature. This unique experience not only gave me an inside look at the workings of state government but also allowed me to explore Albany as a resident, not just as a tourist.

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“Albany might not have the glitz of New York City, but it's a city with its own unique appeal, especially for those interested in history, politics, and culture.”

Albany, the capital city of New York State, often gets overshadowed by the more famous New York City. However, Albany has its own charm and a rich political history. Less than a three-hour drive from NYC, it's located on the banks of the Hudson River and is a hub of government activity, cultural events, and educational institutions.

My home while living in Albany, New York
My home while living in Albany, New York

I lived in a modest basement apartment I shared with another intern, just half a block away from the Legislative Office Building. This proximity was a huge advantage, considering the harsh winters Albany experiences. The city's architecture caters to this, with many government buildings, including the State Capitol and the Legislative Office Building, connected via underground passages. These connections are not just a convenience but a necessity when you find yourself digging your car out of the snow multiple times each winter.

Once you've settled in Albany, you'll find there's much to explore. Here's a rundown of some must-visit spots:

Albany Things to Do

1. The New York State Capitol

The Capitol building is not just a workplace for politicians; it's a piece of art. The architecture is stunning, and it's worth taking a tour to appreciate its history and beauty. The underground connection to other government buildings is a unique feature, illustrating how the city adapts to its cold climate.

The Legislative Office Building seen from my home
The Legislative Office Building seen from my home

2. The Legislative Office Building

For those interested in politics, a visit to where I spent most of my time, the Legislative Office Building, is a must. Here, you can observe the legislative process firsthand and even catch a glimpse of New York's lawmakers in action.

3. Albany Institute of History & Art

This museum is one of the oldest in the United States and is a treasure trove of art and historical artifacts relevant to Albany and the Upper Hudson Valley region.

4. Empire State Plaza

A marvel of modernist architecture, this plaza hosts various government buildings, including the iconic Egg, a performing arts center. The plaza is not just a government complex but a cultural center as well.

5. Washington Park

An ideal spot for relaxation and outdoor activities, Washington Park is especially lively during the Tulip Festival in spring.

6. Hudson River Sightseeing

Take a cruise or walk along the Hudson River to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area. The riverfront offers a different perspective of Albany's skyline.

After a snowstorm in Albany, New York
After a snowstorm in Albany, New York

7. Culinary Scene

Albany boasts a diverse culinary scene. From cozy cafes to upscale restaurants, there's a wide range of dining options to explore.

8. Seasonal Events

Throughout the year, Albany hosts various events and festivals. Whether it's a winter market, a summer concert, or a fall festival, there's always something happening.

9. USS Slater

This is a World War II destroyer escort that's been turned into a museum. It's a unique opportunity to learn about naval history. Take a guided tour that offer insights into the life of sailors during WWII.

10. Lark Street

Known as Albany's Greenwich Village, Lark Street is bustling with cafes, shops, and art galleries. The lively atmosphere is perfect for a leisurely stroll or enjoying a meal at one of the many restaurants.

11. Corning Tower Observation Deck

Located in the Empire State Plaza, this is the tallest building in Albany. The observation deck offers panoramic views of the city, the Hudson River, and even a glimpse of the Adirondacks on clear days.

12. Albany Pine Bush Preserve

This unique inland pine barrens ecosystem offers trails for hiking and wildlife viewing. It’s a chance to see rare species and learn about conservation efforts.

13. New York State Museum

This museum offers a comprehensive look into New York State's natural and cultural history. It's perfect for those interested in anthropology, biology, and geology. The museum has an extensive collection, including artifacts from Native American history and a 9/11 exhibit.

Albany's location also makes it a great base for exploring nearby areas. Here's a list of some popular attractions:

Attractions Near Albany

1. Saratoga Springs

About 30 miles north of Albany, Saratoga Springs is known for its historic Saratoga Race Course, spas, and lively downtown. I had a nice time visiting this area during the beautiful Fall season.

2. Catskill Mountains

Around 40 miles south of Albany, the Catskill Mountains is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, with opportunities for hiking, skiing, and exploring small mountain towns.

3. Lake George

Approximately 60 miles north of Albany, Lake George is a popular resort destination with beautiful lake views, boat tours, and family-friendly activities.

4. Cooperstown

Roughly 80 miles west of Albany, Cooperstown is the home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as the Farmers' Museum and Fenimore Art Museum.

5. Cultural Events and Festivals

Albany also hosts a variety of cultural events and festivals throughout the year, such as:

- Albany Tulip Festival: Celebrating the city's Dutch heritage with thousands of tulips in bloom.

- Capital Pride Parade and Festival: A celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.

- Freihofer's Jazz Festival: One of the longest-running jazz festivals in North America.

6. Food and Fun

Don't forget to explore Albany's diverse food scene, which includes:

- Farmers' Markets: Offering local produce and artisanal products.

- Brewery and Winery Tours: The region has a growing craft beverage scene.

Albany might not have the glitz of New York City, but it's a city with its own unique appeal, especially for those interested in history, politics, and culture. Living and working here, even for a short period, allows you to experience the city's rhythm and uncover its hidden gems. If you ever find yourself in Albany, make sure to explore these spots and enjoy what this historic city has to offer.

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