Albany offers something for everyone. The lively capital city of New York State is full of surprises. For the sports enthusiast, there are hockey, football, and basketball at the Pepsi Arena. For those who prefer something quieter, there are many museums and historic buildings to tour. Visitors have several options. Guided tours by trolley, on foot, and even by horse drawn-carriage travel through Albany’s neighborhoods, providing information about attractions and historic sites.
Explorer Henry Hudson discovered Albany in 1609 while he was seeking a shorter route to the Far East. Soon after, in 1624, Dutch merchants settled there to bring furs from the north and ship them to Europe. Albany still serves under its original charter, which dates back to July 22, 1686. In 1797 it became the Capital of the State of New York.
Albany’s vast Empire State Plaza covers 98 acres. This state office complex took 13 years to build. The Plaza features striking architecture and the world’s largest collection of modern art not housed in a museum. At the end of the super sleek structure is the Capitol building, which was 30 years in the making. The State Capitol sits atop one of the seven hills that fashion the city’s landscape.
Begun in 1867, construction continued until 1897 when Governor Frank S. Black declared the building finished, ending one of the longest running public works projects up to that time.
Albany’s downtown is thriving, due in large part to the more than $30 million renovation that was undertaken to make the city more appealing. Power lines were replaced and buried underground beneath the 300-year-old streets; new trees were planted; period lampposts replaced with modern illumination; and vintage cobbled sidewalks were built.
A pedestrian bridge spanning the interstate and dubbed the Hudson River Way, allows visitors to enjoy the scenic Hudson River banks once more. Paintings on 30 lampposts along the bridge depict memorable aspects of Albany’s past. The paintings have passersby doing double takes. Trompe l’oeil, a 16th-century painting technique that means, tricks the eye, it does just that. The paintings appear to be the actual objects depicted, not just artistically rendered images.
Albany is the home of the New York State Museum, the largest state museum in the country.
With three and a half acres of exhibits and no admission charge, the museum is an inexpensive and fascinating way to spend an afternoon.
Albany offers days and nights filled with a wide variety of attractions for people of all ages to experience and enjoy.
Things to do
Empire State Plaza
Between Eagle and Swan Streets, at Madison and State
Mon-Fri 9am-3:45pm, Sat-Sun 10am-3:45pm
In 1959, Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza cost over a billion dollars to build amid much controversy about the cost and the removal of large numbers of low-income houses. 92 modern sculptures are dotted around its long Reflecting Pool and the Empire Center at the Egg, an arts center, and a visual prelude to the ornate Legislative and Justice Buildings. The Corning Tower is a 42-story skyscraper with a panoramic view.
Rockefeller resolved to build “the most spectacularly beautiful seat of government in the world” after a visit from Princess Beatrix of Holland through the rundown capital left him feeling ashamed of Albany’s slums.
Empire State Plaza
Call for exact dates and times of performances
The Egg is a world-class performing arts complex that presents music, theatre, dance, family programming and special events. Architecturally, The Egg is without precedent. From a distance it seems as much a sculpture as a building. Though it appears to sit on the main platform, the stem that holds The Egg actually goes down through six stories deep into the Earth.
The Egg keeps its shape by wearing a girdle – a heavily reinforced concrete beam that was poured along with the rest of the shell. This beam helps transmit The Egg’s weight onto the supporting pedestal and gives the structure an ageless durability that belies its nickname.
523 South Pearl Street at First Avenue
Tuesday-Saturday 10AM ñ 3pm, Sunday 1pm – 3pm
Philip and Mary Van Renssaeler built this 1787 home, which was the seat of several generations of their family; Miss Emily Rankin, the last surviving family member, died here in 1963. The kitchen is equipped with different eras of ovens and stoves; the colonial-era oven was kept for bread baking.
New York State Capitol Building
North end of Empire State Plaza
MonñFri 9am ñ 3:45pm; Sat-Sun 10am ñ 3:45pm; hourly tours
The state capital’s showpiece is a chateau that took over three architects, three decades, and 20 million dollars to finish. The Capitol is four hundred feet long and three hundred feet wide, and five stories tall with a full basement and attic. Frederick Law Olmstead, Thomas Fuller, and Henry Hudson Richardson all contributed to the building, which holds a Senate Chamber and Assembly Chamber for the state, culminating in the Million Dollar Staircase with its 300 hand carved faces, many of which are portrayals of the famous men of history, all by Italian craftsmen.
The Capitol houses the Executive Offices of the Governor or the State of New York, the New York State Assembly, and the New York State Senate. These three offices comprise the major decision making power of the state of New York.
The New York State Senate Chamber, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, is one of the most ornate of legislative chambers in the entire country. The walls are covered with 23 carat gold leaf and carved mahogany paneling covers the walls below the galleries.
New York State Executive Mansion
138 Eagle Street
Thursday afternoons only, call for appointment.
Every successive governor from Teddy Roosevelt to FDR and Al Smith has left their personal traces: a gym, a pool, a porch, even a zoo in the case of the pet-loving Smith. It was built as a private home in 1856 and was taken over by the state in 1877. The mansion is open to the public, but only by appointed tour.
New York State Museum
Empire State Plaza
Open daily 10am-5pm
Admission free, Carousel free, donations accepted.
Anchoring the southern end of Empire State Plaza is the state’s largest and oldest museum. With three and a half acres of exhibits, the free museum is an inexpensive and interesting way to spend an afternoon. Two recent additions are the widely publicized exhibit of items tied to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Memorabilia include a destroyed fire engine, 10-ton steel columns from the World Trade Center, pieces of the hijacked airplanes, a piece of the fence erected around Ground Zero, and expressions of sympathy and poetry.
The other addition to the museum is a full-size carousel, which was installed in the museumís new 25,000-square-foot Terrace Gallery. The carousel once was located in a New York State amusement park, and now is the centerpiece of a fourth-floor exhibit on popular entertainment. The carouselís 36 horses, two deer and two donkeys have already accommodated 300,000 riders. Discovery Place is a fun place designed for children. The museum also has a shop, a cafe, and a bookstore.
32 Catherine Street
Apr-Oct, Wed-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 1-5pm
The Schuyler Mansion is an historic site built on a hillside overlooking the Hudson Valley by Albany’s patriot leader, General Philip Schuyler, the military hero honored by Webster for being “second only to Washington.” Schuyler was stripped of his honors and demoted after he ordered the retreat from Fort Ticonderoga, although he was later reinstated. The Schuyler mansion was familiar to all the early revolutionary leaders from Colonel Aaron Burr to George Washington and Benedict Arnold, and after the Saratoga defeat of the British, Schuyler’s daughter married Alexander Hamilton here.
Albany Urban Cultural Park Visitor Center
25 Quackenbush Square at Clinton and Broadway
Admission charged for trolley bus tours and audio-cassette guided tours.
Guided tours: June-Sep Sat at 11:30am.
Trolley bus tours: July-Sep Thu-Fri at 2pm
Architectural tours are popular in Albany, and this is the place to pick up a copy of every brochure or handout or book on the subject. Eight self-guided tours can be found in their literature.
Albany Institute of History and Art
125 Washington Avenue
Two blocks north of Capitol
A display of the city’s earliest Dutch portraitists and the Hudson River painters now housed in a pretty Beaux Arts building, the 1791-founded Albany Institute is probably the oldest art collection in the country. Albany’s fine Dutch silver, ceramics, pewter and locally made chairs and tables are also on show here.