Syracuse University at dawn. Photo via Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in Syracuse

BY Amy Marturana Winderl | February 28, 2022

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Syracuse? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Syracuse, New York?”

It’s safe to say that Syracuse’s reputation precedes it. So, let’s just get this out of the way: Yes, it snows a lot here. Syracuse’s position relative to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie make for the perfect storm of what’s known as lake effect snow — a weather pattern that happens when cold air from the north ​​moves over the relatively warm lakes, causing moisture to quickly rise and condense into snow. That snow then dumps directly onto Syracuse, making it the snowiest city in the U.S., with over 120 inches per year.

Those of us who call Syracuse home know that there is much more to the area than snowy winters. In fact, this central New York city is full of great food, rich history and really fun college sports games. It’s also a hop, skip and a jump away from some of the most beautiful lakes in the entire country. And yes, the summers are warm and absolutely gorgeous here. Read on to find the best things to do in and around Syracuse, N.Y.

Get outside

Just outside of Syracuse, you’ll find rolling farmlands and some of the most pristine lakes in the northeast. While you’re in town, get outside and spend the day enjoying the beautiful nature the area has to offer.

Green Lakes State Park
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Green Lakes State Park, New York. Photo via Shutterstock.

Green Lakes State Park

7900 Green Lakes Road, Fayetteville, NY, USA

Green Lake and Round Lake, the two lakes in the park, are the kind of turquoise blue you’d expect to see in Washington state or Canada. Similarly, they were also formed by glaciers. But the lakes in Green Lakes State Park are unique: They’re known as meromictic lakes, a rare phenomenon where the different layers of water do not mix. From May to early June, calcium carbonate in the water forms white “reefs” that you can see through the crystal-clear waters. The park is beautiful year-round and offers swimming, around 13 miles of hiking and biking trails, an 18-hole golf course and about 10 miles of groomed snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails in the winter.

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Skaneateles and Skaneateles Lake, New York. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Skaneateles and Skaneateles Lake, New York. Pier and luxury boats docked in the Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. Photo via Shutterstock.

Skaneateles and Skaneateles Lake

U.S. Route 20, Skaneateles, NY, USA

Situated at the top of the purest of the Finger Lakes, Skaneateles Lake, Skaneateles is a small lakeside town with boutiques, gift shops and some great restaurants. Spend the afternoon shopping, eating, walking around and just admiring the pristine lake. 

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Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards
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Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards

Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards

2708 Lords Hill Road, LaFayette, NY, USA

Voted #1 apple orchard in the U.S. in 2020 by USA Today, Beak and Skiff is a pick-your-own orchard, cidery and distillery. You can hop on the back of a tractor and head to the fields for some good old-fashioned apple picking, and then post up at one of the picnic tables overlooking the green hills of central New York while sipping a hard cider or cocktail made from the farm’s 1911 Established brand of whiskey, vodka or gin. We highly recommend the cold-brew vodka cocktail for an afternoon pick-me-up.

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Camillus Erie Canal Park
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Camillus Erie Canal Park

Camillus Erie Canal Park

Erie Canal Park, Devoe Road, Camillus, NY, USA

Take a walk or bike ride along the historic Erie Canal, or hop on a historic cruise that takes you about two miles with an optional short walk to the historic Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct. Or, opt for a dessert cruise, which happens on Wednesday evenings in the summer and includes drinks and entertainment as you laze down the canal. You can book your own canal cruise for a group. Make sure to check out the Sims’ Museum, a replica of an original canal-side store from the 1800s.

 

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Where to eat

Syracuse might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about a great food scene, but it’s got some pretty iconic dishes and restaurants. If you love comfort food, you’re going to want to eat your way through the city.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
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Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

246 W Willow St, Syracuse, NY, USA

No visit to Syracuse is complete without a meal at the legendary barbecue spot. It’s so good that it’s expanded to other parts of New York state, but locals swear the O.G. spot still serves the best meat. We know what you’re thinking: Why would I get BBQ in central New York? To which we say: Order the Tres Niños, a sampling of brisket, ribs and pulled pork, and you’ll change your tune. 

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Pastabilities
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Pastabilities

Pastabilities

311 S Franklin St, Syracuse, NY, USA

Spicy hot tomato oil — also known as spicy hot or hot tom — is another Syracuse staple. Is it a pasta sauce or a dipping oil? Yes. You can even order pasta dishes with sauce hybrids of spicy hot and other Italian classics like vodka or alfredo. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and there’s often a two-plus-hour wait for dinner on weekends. We recommend putting your name in and grabbing a few drinks at a bar nearby until you get the text that your table is ready. Hot tip: You can also buy spicy hot by the jar at Wegmans or other local grocery stores.

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Heid’s of Liverpool
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Heid’s of Liverpool

Heid’s of Liverpool

305 Oswego St, Liverpool, NY, USA

You know a hot dog stand is good when it’s been in business for over 100 years. Heid’s serves up Hoffman’s hot dogs, made locally since 1869. Try the traditional German-style frankfurter made with beef, pork and veal, or the “snappy,” a white hot dog that’s made of pork and veal and either skinless or covered in natural casing. 

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Mother’s Cupboard
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Mother’s Cupboard

Mother’s Cupboard

3709 James St, Syracuse, NY, USA

The hole-in-the-wall diner got some national attention years back on “Man vs. Food,” when Adam Richman tackled the six-pound frittata challenge. You can’t go wrong with the famous dish (there’s a half-size version, too) or the joint’s other speciality: foot-wide pancakes.

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Brooklyn Pickle
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Brooklyn Pickle

Brooklyn Pickle

1600 W Genesee St, Syracuse, NY, USA

Hands down, the best place to get a sandwich in Syracuse is Brooklyn Pickle. The signature sandwich, the Brooklyn Pickle, comes with corned beef, pastrami, Russian dressing and Swiss on dark rye bread — and the full size is enough food for two people. Each sandwich comes with pickle chips, of course, but we also recommend buying an extra one (or gallon) of the housemade kosher dills or half sours, depending on your preference.

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There’s plenty for your sweet tooth, too

Harrison Bakery in Syracuse, New York.
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Harrison Bakery in Syracuse, New York

Harrison Bakery

1306 W Genesee St, Syracuse, NY, USA

You might refer to them as “black and white” cookies, but make sure to call them half moons when you’re in central New York. Originating in nearby Utica, N.Y., the half moon has become a mainstay at any Syracuse bakery worth its salt. Harrison Bakery is often cited as the best place to get half moons in Syracuse.

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Chocolate Pizza Company
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Chocolate Pizza Company

Chocolate Pizza Company

3774 Lee-Mulroy Road, Marcellus, NY, USA

This small-town-turned-big-time sweets shop makes chocolate shaped like pizza — and it’s just as delicious as it sounds. With dark and milk chocolate options, and tons of different topping combinations, you’re bound to find a variety that seems tailor made for your sugar cravings. Love salty and sweet together? The peanut butter wings (potato chips covered in peanut butter and chocolate) are going to rock your world. (They also deliver nationwide, if you don’t have time to hit up the ‘burbs on your visit.)

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Glazed & Confused
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Glazed & Confused

Glazed & Confused

211 N Clinton St, Syracuse, NY, USA

Ready to taste the freshest donuts you’ve ever had? Check out this small-batch donut shop, where all the donuts are made from scratch in batches of just 30. You can find classic cake donuts with glaze and sprinkles alongside creative concoctions like the Dizzy Pig (maple glaze, bourbon sugar and candied bacon) and Cereal Killer (honey glaze and cereal topping).

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Sweet on Chocolate
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Sweet on Chocolate

Sweet on Chocolate

208 Walton St, Syracuse, NY, USA

You’ll find every type of chocolate treat at this shop in Armory Square, a food and restaurant hub in downtown Syracuse. That includes every type of truffle, turtle, cluster and bark, plus chocolate-covered classics like Oreos, graham crackers and marshmallows — all handmade.

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How to spend a Saturday

The Great New York State Fair
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The Great New York State Fair

The Great New York State Fair

581 State Fair Blvd, Syracuse, NY, USA

Every August, the New York State Fair comes to the fairgrounds in Syracuse. It’s the oldest state fair in the country, and features everything a good fair should: deep-fried foods, agricultural exhibits, wine slushies and the most epic butter sculptures you’ll ever see (you’re in dairy farm country, after all). Concerts throughout the two-ish weeks draw some pretty big names — past concerts include Bruno Mars, Lady A, Migos, Florida Georgia Line and Steve Miller Band. 

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Regional Market
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Regional Market

Regional Market

2100 Park St, Syracuse, NY, USA

A mega farmers market, the Regional Market is a hub for farmers from the central New York region to sell fresh product, meat, seafood and more. You can also find crafty goods like alpaca-fur hats and socks, home decor and treats for your furry friend. The market is open on Saturdays year-round, and on Thursdays from May to October. On Sundays, there’s a flea market.

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Syracuse University Carrier Dome. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Syracuse University Carrier Dome. Photo via Shutterstock.

Syracuse University Dome

900 Irving Ave, Syracuse, NY, USA

If you’re braving the winter weather, you’d be remiss to not catch a basketball game at the Dome (formally known as the Carrier Dome). Some fun facts: It’s the only covered sports stadium in New York state, and one of the only college arenas that serves booze (though more are jumping on that bandwagon, because cha-ching). In the spring, check out a lacrosse game — tickets are inexpensive, and the team’s pretty damn good. After the game, stop by Faegan’s Pub for a beer and bite to eat, a Syracuse University institution for over 40 years.

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Landmark Theatre
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Landmark Theatre

Landmark Theatre

362 S Salina St, Syracuse, NY, USA

First built in the 1920s, the Landmark Theatre went through its ups and downs, ultimately shutting down completely and, after threats of demolition, being restored by the community and added to the National Register of Historical Places. The theater is now fully functioning. Catch an off-Broadway show — like “Hamilton” or “Cats” — live concert or stand-up show when you’re in town.

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Salt Museum
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Salt Museum

Salt Museum

106 Lake Drive, Liverpool, NY, USA

Back in the 19th century, Syracuse was considered the salt capital of the country, earning it the nickname of the Salt City. It’s a dead industry now, but the history is enshrined in the Salt Museum, where you can check out the facilities and equipment that took saltwater from natural salt springs and turned it into the precious commodity that the entire country relied on. After the museum, explore Onondaga Lake Park, and grab lunch at Heid’s down the street.

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Where to Stay in Syracuse

Sure, Syracuse has plenty of hotel chain options. But we recommend staying somewhere a little more unique with some history behind it. Here are three great options.

Jefferson Clinton Suites
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Jefferson Clinton Suites

Jefferson Clinton Suites

416 S Clinton St, Syracuse, NY, USA

At 11 stories high, the Jefferson Clinton (on the corner of Jefferson and Clinton streets) was the tallest building in downtown Syracuse when it was built in 1927. It’s not anymore, but it’s still a great place to stay when you come to town. Located in the Armory Square neighborhood, you’ll be right in the middle of the best restaurants and shopping in the city. And even though it’s gotten some major upgrades and renovations, the rates are still pretty affordable.

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Hotel Skyler Syracuse
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Hotel Skyler Syracuse

Hotel Skyler Syracuse

601 S Crouse Ave, Syracuse, NY, USA

Built in a former temple, the Hotel Skyler is one of the most unique hotels you’ll find in town. And it’s located just a short walk from Syracuse University — making it a convenient place to stay if you’re hitting up a game at the Dome or anything else on campus. 

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Marriott Syracuse Downtown
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Marriott Syracuse Downtown

Marriott Syracuse Downtown

100 E Onondaga St, Syracuse, NY, USA

Originally called the Hotel Syracuse, this downtown hotel was renovated in 2016 to be more modern and to restore old artwork from the original build — including a 40-foot by 6-foot mural showing key events of the first 100 years of the city’s history. The guest rooms are now modern, but the architecture, lobby and ballrooms showcase much of the history and design elements from the original 1920s construction.

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