Many people think of Buffalo, New York as a rundown rust-belt city with a mediocre football team and too much snow. That is exactly what the locals nowadays want you to think. However, these perceptions keep many from discovering Buffalo’s true treasures, of which there are many. Below you’ll find 12 fun things to do in Buffalo, New York that will change your mind about this unique city on the Niagara Frontier.
You might be surprised by what you see in Buffalo. Recent investment in infrastructure, a rebounding cultural, culinary and art scene and plenty of ways to enjoy nature in the city have made Buffalo—and the Niagara Frontier—a new hotspot for weekend getaways and more than just a stopover on the way to Niagara Falls. In fact, this up-and-coming travel destination is shaping up to be one of the best in all of New York. Here are some fun things you’ll want to do during your visit to Buffalo, New York.
Guest Post by Tunco Maclovio
Things to do in Buffalo, NY
1. Meet its affable, courteous, and charitable people
Forget everything you’ve heard about New Yorkers being unkind and unfriendly. At least, when it comes to Buffalo.
The biggest mural in town now says, “Keep Buffalo a secret.” Why? Because all that is old is new again. Buffalo is experiencing an urban revival, and it’s exciting to watch. While COVID-19 has hindered tourism lately, in the long run, the city is getting the recognition it deserves from tabloids around the world who are discovering its affordable and simple pleasures.
Many locals now reckon: “Why let snobby people move here, raise home prices to swamp the city with new people who won’t say ‘hello’ on the street or even in the check-out line?”
Buffalonians are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet
Buffalo is like ‘Minnesota nice,’ but two notches higher in the affability department. But we are supposed to keep this a secret.
Border towns can be rowdy, but this is one takes that legacy in stride and revels in its tough-skinned attitude towards arctic weather contrasted by its heart-on-sleeve inclination to making new acquaintances. Few are those who have been to Buffalo and aren’t impressed with the hospitality, friendliness, and the in-your-face sincerity. It’s like LA, but on friendly steroids.
Unlike so many trendy cities where a paycheck barely covers food and rent, the lower cost of living here allows locals to enjoy more of their paychecks staying in their pockets.
As such, they spend on local bars, food, and attractions. And rightly so…as you will see. If you get a chance to have a socially-distant drink or conversation with a Buffalonian, you might be surprised at how small-talk is an art and meeting new people is a welcoming experience.
Here is a word to the wise. Just like you shouldn’t talk politics and religion to people you just meet anywhere, add the Buffalo Bills and Sabres to that list…unless you have something genuinely nice to say about those teams. Anyway, more about the fun stuff!
2. Bike riding is one of the best fun things to do in Buffalo, New York. In other words, get “on yer bike!”
Cycling is hot in Western New York. And with COVID-19 closing gyms and other places to exercise, cycling has exploded. New cycling lanes are opening all around Buffalo, which is great news for those who enjoy exploring cities by bike. Also, with the city being fairly flat, novice cyclists are less likely to wear themselves out in one day.
Between absorbing the breathtaking natural scenery of the Niagara Riverfront along La Salle Park, and the eclectic charm of Buffalo’s iconic neighborhoods and parks, you will find there is ample pavement to put underneath your wheels and plenty to see. Since much of it can be seen in a 10-mile bike ride, I recommend using the bike sharing system or bringing your own bike in the colder months. Yes, a lot of us ride in the winter!
3. Marvel at Buffalo’s historic homes
At the turn of the century, Buffalo was the home to more millionaires than any other city in the USA. It was a magnet for America’s best architects, and as such, many of these houses are now historical landmarks.
The best examples of these beautiful houses are in eclectic Allentown and the adjoining, trendy Elmwood Village. Small shops, artsy boutiques, and local diners along Elmwood Avenue stand watch over the ornate and stately homes just a few blocks away.
Both areas are home to students, artists, entrepreneurs, and the hip crowd, as well as working-class families. Where else can you rent a room with ten other colorful, artsy people in a 150-year old, three-story, wooden house with homemade art on the walls! Add two balconies and a dance floor for just $300 a month (with no deposit) and a low crime rate. But keep it a secret and don’t move here! Just visit and have a blast.
If you enjoy touring historic homes, read this next: The Ultimate Guide to Newport Rhode Island
4. See historic Buffalo buildings
Starting at Buffalo’s iconic, art deco-inspired City Hall, you can’t miss the tall obelisk monument to President McKinley, who was assassinated in Buffalo in 1901. After he passed away, Teddy Roosevelt was rushed into town and sworn in. You can visit the National Park Service-owned house where it all went down on Delaware Avenue in Allentown.
Buffalo was master-planned to resemble Paris and Washington DC in a radial format, starting with the City Hall as ground zero. Looking east, you can admire the twin towers of the neoclassical Liberty Building (1925), with the two Lady Liberty’s watching over the city. Just north on the trolley line, the historic M&T Bank (1901) stands out with its 24kt gold-leafed dome.
More notable sights in Buffalo
Next, you’ll find Lafayette Square (1805) and the Civil War Monument. Take note of the historic Lafayette Hotel (1904), designed by one of America’s first women architects, Louise Blanchard Bethune. Not far east of there, you can see the main building of the Erie Community College (1901.) Once home to the Post Office, its ornate façade and soaring towers do justice to its neighboring structures.
In Buffalo, the list of unique historic buildings goes on and on. It’s unfortunate that many of them were burned down by the British during the War of 1812. However, many are still standing that will give you plenty to see and do during your visit to Buffalo.
5. Be a foodie…for a lot less ‘moola’ than other places in New York
Everyone knows the appetizers known as Buffalo wings. Just be warned: that is what they are called everywhere else. Here, just call them “wings.” Another tip: pizzas in Buffalo are also famous for their excess cheese, ‘cup and char’ pepperoni, and the medium-thickness, velvety dough and slightly-sweet sauce.
Before you say anywhere else is better, try a few slices around town. You can try a slice at Bocce Club on Chippewa, Mr. Pizza or Just Pizza. The Anchor Bar — where the wings were claimed to be invented in 1964 — is still serving them on a take-out basis on Main Street.
In Buffalo, restaurant franchises are few and far between
Why pay $5 for a name brand pizza slice when, for $3, you can have a luscious, fat slice oozing with molten mozzarella, piquant pepperoni with a touch of crisp, chewy dough and a tangy sauce? Or, how about a $1 slice at the 24-hour store on Elmwood that could charge 3x more elsewhere, especially at 3am. Unfortunately, due to COVID, all clubs and bars must close at 10pm (they used to be open until 4am). However, you can still buy beer at 7-11 until 4am (hence the 24-hour store pizza!)
Local pizza joints and Italian restaurants are where you’ll find the locals. And if you’re a vegetarian, don’t despair! You will love the many restaurants catering to the vegetarian and vegan crowds, which are also well-trafficked. Keep in mind: takeout orders support these local eateries, many of which are struggling to get by right now. So please eat local, it’s appreciated!
Recently, both national and global media outlets have been consistently recognizing Buffalo as a top food destination. From the iconic beef on weck sandwich, sponge candy, and the wings and pizza, these are just starting points for foodies looking for an inexpensive fix. Eating your way through Buffalo is definitely one of the best fun things to do in Buffalo, New York!
6. Get a locally-brewed beer or cider in Buffalo, New York
The designer beer trend is alive and well in Buffalo.
With the iconic IPA called “Hayburner” from the Big Ditch Brewery downtown leading the malt parade, it’s no wonder beer lovers gravitate to Buffalo. Resurgence, Beltline and Rusty Chain are a few local breweries that are also in the spotlight. While the double and triple IPAs are the most popular, imperial stouts, sours, ciders, and other locally-made variations are also winning converts.
When you’re near the Big Ditch Brewery downtown and/or on a budget, hit up Fattey Beer on Main Street. It’s a storefront with lots of different brands sold in one-can increments. Take one outside on a bench, socially-distance, and meet Buffalo’s cool local brew crowd. If you don’t make a friend here…it’s on you!
7. Visit a market like in the old cities of Europe
Europe isn’t the only place where you will find amazing local markets.
The Broadway Market (1888) has been around on the East Side for well over 100 years. While it has seen better days, the notion of individual vendors selling homemade items (some booths have been there for generations) harkens back to Europe, where personal service and a smile are a given.
This is the heart of the Polish-American and African-American community. So, take-away soul food, pierogies, and fragrant baked goods should be on your food-radar. Also, here’s a place you can have a butcher or fish vendor sell you prime cuts tailored to your liking. Don’t expect to get away without hearing a funny tale or ideal recipe for your purchase. This is Buffalo…and everyone loves a good story.
8. Stroll the Canalside (when the weather permits)
From downtown, walk, trolley or cycle south to the terminus of the metro. Fun fact: the metro is free downtown, and you can even bring your bike! Here, you’ll find Canalside, Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park, and Erie Canal Harbor. The latter was the terminus of the Erie Canal (1825.) Once a zone notorious for hard-scrabble longshoremen hankering for booze and houses of ill repute, the Canalside has recently been transformed into a popular, lakefront boardwalk attraction.
Complete with boat excursions, a Children’s Museum, and a WWII-era battleship and Korean War-era fighter plane, the Canalside truly has it all. Here, you can also get your portrait drawn, play ping-pong, have a drink or rent a bike. Some of us even hang out here when the canal and lake are frozen. Go figure!
Whether you’re looking for unique attractions or gorgeous scenery, strolling the Canalside is one of the best fun things to do in Buffalo, New York.
9. Lake Erie sunsets are the best
From Erie Canal Harbor you can look out over the Niagara River, Lake Erie, and across the border to Fort Erie, in Ontario, Canada. This is my favorite spot for a picnic or sunset-viewing party. The Buffalo Lighthouse (1847) stands watch at the entrance to the Harbor. Sunsets here give California and Hawai’i a run for their money. Well, see for yourself!
10. Let the fall colors astound you
If you are lucky enough to get a fall sunset where the oranges and yellows of the crepuscule mingle with the fiery oranges and yellows of the leaves, you are in for a surreal visual treat. It’s an effect that must be seen to be appreciated.
Visit here during the fall foliage season, and you’ll immediately see why this is one of the top things to do in Buffalo.
11. Stroll or cycle Delaware Park
This forested retreat is the right lung of the Niagara Frontier. Designed by famed landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted in the mid-1800s, Delaware Park is a mecca for city-weary folk wanting to commune with nature. The Buffalo History Museum, Japanese Park, and the world-famous Albright Knox Art Museum are great candidates for stops on a leisurely stroll or bike ride.
Read next: 13 cool facts about Niagara Falls!
The turning of the leaves in fall transforms Hoyt Lake into a mirrored border between water and forest. In the winter, the white expanse goes easy on eyes that can fully appreciate a wide-open snowy panorama.
If you drive or cycle from City Hall to Delaware Park, along Delaware Avenue, you will be awestruck at what were once palatial private residences. Today, they have been converted into charming office spaces. The regal residences around the Park showcase the architecture for which Buffalo is known. This includes the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece and the Martin House, which is open for self-guided tours.
12. Enjoy the uniqueness of the area…and keep it a secret!
Come, enjoy the Frontier and all it has to offer. Just remember. “Keep Buffalo a secret!”
Read next: The 14 Coolest Airbnbs in New York
Other fun things to do in Buffalo, NY?
Are there any other cool experiences in Buffalo that you feel should be added to this list? Let us know in the comments below.
Whether you’re looking for city charm or a local authentic experience, you’ll find that the best things to do in Buffalo are unlike any other city in New York. It’s definitely one of the coolest places to visit on the East Coast, especially if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten path.
Visit Buffalo NY and you’ll be in for a treat. Buffalo awaits you!
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