Upstate New York Getaways Small-Town Charm, Saratoga Springs & More

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For most travelers, New York means the City with its round-the-clock excitement and marquee attractions. However, there’s much more to New York, the State. Leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind, it doesn’t take long to enter a whole different world with these upstate New York getaways.

Upstate New York is dotted with picturesque towns with inimitable characteristics. On a certain spring weekend, our family drove through this scenic area and experienced stunning views and small-town charm.

Lush Upstate New York countryside

Upstate New York Getaway to Saratoga Springs

The town of Saratoga Springs is well connected by road from various points of Eastern US. Amtrak too provides a rail connection to this thriving summer resort town. We drove to this charming town from New York City, a drive of about 3 ½ hours.

Saratoga Springs sits in the Hudson Valley at the foot of the beautiful Adirondack Mountains. It’s named after the mineral springs that dot the area.

Nineteenth-century America believed in drinking and bathing in natural springs or “taking the waters”,  to better one’s health and treat various illnesses. The region here possessed the only naturally carbonated mineral springs east of the Rocky Mountains.

While at first glance you may wonder what this place can really offer for an Upstate New York getaway. Rest assured you will have plenty to do and see.

Restaurant windows lit with horse and jockey lights
Restaurant windows lit with horse and jockey lights. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

Horses and History

Saratoga Springs is famous for its equestrian culture. Saratoga Race Course opened its doors in 1863 when the country was enmeshed in the American Civil War.

The horse racing tracks attract close to half a million people during the height of the racing season. Horses are celebrated here and I noticed that restaurants and bars lit up their windows with horse-shaped lights.

A visit to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame will give you an in-depth look at the history surrounding the oldest thoroughbred racetrack in America. The galleries display horses and jockeys in paintings and sculptures. They also trace the history of the sport from colonial times to the present day displaying an array of trophies.

To enjoy verdant greenery, head over to Congress Park, circa 1911. Here you’ll find a Visitors Center situated in an old trolley station from 1915. The park itself is beautiful to walk in. You’ll see a wooden carousel from 1910, a reflecting pool and Italian Gardens, all restored to their former splendor.


The site originally contained two mineral springs. Frederick Law Olmstead, the iconic landscape architect of Central Park in New York City, contributed to the park design. Although it was expanded later, many of his contributions have been retained.

In addition, you will find war memorials and monuments, a reservoir, lovely ponds and restored and flowing mineral springs where you can sample the water.

For a look at the eye-catching architecture of stately mansions, drive to the Broadway Historic District. The area is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, specifically along North Broadway near Skidmore College.

A variety of styles are represented such as Queen Anne, Italianate, Gothic and Colonial Revival. While many of these palatial houses were razed over the years, others have been restored to their erstwhile glory.

Woodlawn Park, a majestic estate of 1,500 acres that belonged to Judge Henry Hilton became the campus of Skidmore College in the 1960s.

Experience true small-town charm with these beautiful Upstate New York Getaways to Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa & Poughkeepsie, NY. #newyorkstate #travelnewyork #upstatenewyork

The Museums at Saratoga Springs

If you have a few extra hours on hand, stopping by some of the smaller museums is a good way to spend some time. The National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame is the only museum in the country dedicated to celebrating the history of dance and dancers.

The galleries are chock-a-block with permanent and rotating exhibits devoted to posters, photographs, portraits, film, costumes and artifacts related to the dance world.

Another place of interest is the beautiful, sweeping campus of Skidmore College, home to the delightful Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery. A tiny museum that packs a punch with its frequently changing art exhibits ranging from quirky and eclectic to thoughtful.

If your interests skew towards ballet and you’re there in July, you will definitely enjoy a performance by the world-renowned New York City Ballet which makes Saratoga Springs its home in the summer.

Programs are held at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center located in the Saratoga Spa State Park. Here you can enjoy not just ballet, but other cultural and musical events surrounded by nature.

The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center is located in the town’s historic armory, dating back to 1889. You can walk through the exhaustive but compelling collection highlighting New York state’s military history from the Revolutionary War to current times.

Inside Congress Park is the Canfield Casino, which opened in 1870 as a gambling house and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it’s the home of the Saratoga Springs History Museum.

The museum showcases the history of the town from its inception to modern times through a vast collection of photographs and artifacts spread over its three floors.

Upstate New York Flower basket bedeck the Main Street in Ballston Spa
Flower basket bedeck the Main Street in Ballston Spa. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

Enjoy an Enchanting Ballston Spa Getaway

For a quiet interlude and small-town allure, we drove to the quaint historic village of Ballston Spa, about a twenty-minute drive from Saratoga Springs. Though well known as a mineral springs destination in the 1800s, today there are only two working springs. Still, it’s definitely worth putting on the list of Upstate New York getaways.

Old Iron Spring is considered the first mineral spring of the country and was tapped in 1771. It is now part of the Old Iron Spring Pavilion and Park. There’s a trail where you can sample the mineral water flowing from the 647 feet deep artesian spring located in an eight-sided pavilion from 1874.

On the other hand, the luxuriant Medbery Inn and Spa has the historical San Souci hot spring. You can indulge in a hotel spa package that includes mineral baths and various spa experiences.

We were only in Ballston Spa for a couple of hours and so we went to the tiny downtown area. Downtown is full of charming, old architecture dating back more than a hundred years along with street lamps decked with flowering pots proclaiming the town’s incorporation in 1807.

Each side of the street was full of eclectic shops and little eateries.

Baseball & Bottles

We had to visit the birthplace of Abner Doubleday, the supposed inventor of baseball and Ballston Spa’s most famous resident.

Doubleday was an Army Officer who fought in many Civil War battles including at Gettysburg. He was thought to have invented baseball in Cooperstown in 1839. As a result, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was set there. Although, it was later proved that Doubleday never was in Cooperstown in 1839.

In spite of this untrue fact, Abner Doubleday’s boyhood home remains a tourist draw. The small, duplex house with yellow siding was originally the laundry house for the famed 19th century San Souci hotel. Though the hotel was demolished, the house became the family home of the Doubledays.

The National Bottle Museum is one of a kind. Free to enter, it features modern and antique bottles and artifacts. The unique museum draws on the history of the town being a pioneer in bottle manufacturing.

Bottle making and glass blowing was the first major industry here. This was due to the sought-after spring waters being bottled and sold in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Brookside Museum and Saratoga County History Center is also an appealing place to stop by. It’s a museum housed in a resort hotel from the late 18th century. The exhibits tell the story of Saratoga County through photographs, objects and documents.

Upstate New York Impressive sculptures at Storm King Art Center
Impressive sculptures at Storm King Art Center. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

The Unique Storm King Art Center

While driving to Saratoga Springs, a perfect pit stop would be the Storm King Art Center, located in the town of Cornwall. The center is an outdoor sculpture garden spread over 500 acres of unparalleled landscapes.

We walked on paths crossing through woodlands and meadows, lawns and hayfields. All around us were breathtaking vistas of mountains and hills.

The sculptures were placed strategically among the majestic natural habitat. There were large, impressive pieces visible from faraway distances in brightly painted steel juxtaposed spectacularly with the lush, green vegetation.

Additionally, there were smaller statues and modernist sculptures hidden in plain sight among the groves making for nice surprises.

Vassar College Poughkeepsie
Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

 Explore Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley

The pretty college town of Poughkeepsie, known as “The Queen City of the Hudson ” is located in the Hudson Valley beside the Hudson River. It’s a nice halfway stopover on your way to or from Saratoga Springs on your Upstate New York getaway.

Poughkeepsie was established by the Dutch in the 17th century. Today, it’s well known as the home of Vassar College, a top-ranked liberal arts institution founded in 1861.

We went to take in a view of the campus. It’s beautifully packed with renowned architecture set amid abundant trees, greens, two lakes, a Shakespeare Garden and an ecological preserve and farm.

The Main building, influenced by the Palace of Tuileries in France, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is truly a sight to behold. Designed and built in 1861 by James Renwick Jr in the Second Empire style, it is one of the most important examples of this type of architecture in the US. 

Additionally, The Locust Grove Estate is also another attraction in Poughkeepsie. Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, had his home built in 1850 in the Italianate style by architect Alexander Jackson Davies.

You can take a guided tour of the mansion to see the vast collection of furnishings and decorations. But be aware that what you see did not actually belong to Morse.

After his death in 1872, Morse’s family found it difficult to maintain the estate and rented it to William and Martha Young. With the hope of buying the place, they started furnishing and expanding the house and its grounds beginning in 1895.

Today, you can take in the striking scenery while walking through its well-kept gardens and hiking trails winding through meadows and groves.

If You Go:

  • National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame: 191 Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  • Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery: 815 North Broadway, #1632, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  • Saratoga Performing Arts Center: 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  • The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center: 61 Lake Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  • Congress Park: 268 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  • Old Iron Spring: 198 Front Street, Ballston Spa, NY 12020
  • Medbery Inn and Spa: 48 Front Street, Ballston Spa, NY 12020
  • National Bottle Museum: 76 Milton Avenue, Ballston Spa, NY 12020
  • Brookside Museum and Saratoga County History Center: 6 Charlton Street, Ballston Spa, NY 12020
  • Storm King Art Center: 1 Museum Road, New Windsor, NY 12553

Author Bio: Susmita Sengupta, an architect by background from New York City, loves to travel with her family. Her articles are published in many online travel magazines.