When the average traveler thinks of New York, they usually imagine the towering buildings and sparkling lights of Manhattan. While it and its neighboring boroughs certainly deserve a lot of the spotlight, so does the state’s second-largest city, in upstate New York.
Buffalo sits on the shores of Lake Erie in western New York. Canada sits just on the other side of the Peace Bridge, while the Buffalo River runs through the city’s center and forms the western end of the Erie Canal. New York City is about a six-hour drive away, while Toronto can be reached in about two hours.
Besides being home to several historic sites, art galleries, and great restaurants, the city also serves as a gateway to the American side of the famous Niagara Falls. The massive waterfalls sit less than 30 minutes from town, and the Buffalo Niagara International Airport serves travelers to both places.
More and more travelers are adding Buffalo to their New York itinerary. With plenty to do and see, accommodations ranging from budget to luxury, and easy connections to the rest of the country and Canada, this is a great place to base a trip to a beautiful part of New York.
Read on our list of the top things to do in Buffalo, including tourist attractions, ticket and visiting information, and tours and activities available. We’ve also included some of the top places to stay and eat.
What We Cover
- Things to Do in Buffalo, New York
- 1. Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
- 2. Hike or Bike the Erie Canalway Trail
- 3. Buffalo City Hall
- 4. Niagara Falls State Park
- 5. The Buffalo Zoo
- 6. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House
- 7. Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park
- 8. Delaware Park
- 9. Buffalo Museum of Science
- 10. Try the Original Buffalo Wings
- 11. Burchfield Penney Art Center
- 12. Shea’s Performing Arts Center
- 13. Buffalo Harbor State Park
- 14. Niagara Wine Trail
- 15. Pearl Street Grill & Brewery
- 16. The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site
- Tours in Buffalo
- Is the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, open?
- What are the best things to do with kids in Buffalo, New York?
- What is Buffalo, New York, known for?
- What are the best things to see in Buffalo, New York?
- Most significant landmark – Lake Erie
- Park to visit – Delaware Park
- Free activity – Buffalo Harbor State Park
- Activity for kids – The Buffalo Zoo
- Activity for adults – Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
- Place to eat – Pearl Street Grill & Brewery
- Nightlife – Sky Bar
- Place to stay – Buffalo Marriott at LECOM HARBORCENTER
Things to Do in Buffalo, New York
1. Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
Address: 2655 South Park Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14218
Buffalo is home to one of the most impressive botanical gardens in the northeast, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. This massive greenhouse can be found in South Park in the southern part of the city, about 10 minutes from downtown Buffalo by car.
The gardens were designed by one of America’s first landscaping architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, who became famous for his work and even designed New York City’s Central Park.
They center around a large conservatory, designed in part based on the Kew Gardens Palm House in England, which houses tropical species. Outside, formal gardens lead to informal parts of the greater park.
Visitors can enjoy a wide range of plant species on a self-guided walk through these Buffalo botanical gardens. An Asian rainforest, cacti and succulents house, aquatic garden, and Panama cloud forest are just a few of the sections to explore. Outside, seasonal exhibits are always free and available to the public as well.
The botanical gardens are open year-round, and advance reservations are recommended. Parking is free, and don’t forget to check their calendar to see if any special events or exhibits are taking place during your trip.
2. Hike or Bike the Erie Canalway Trail
One part of Buffalo’s historical significance is that it was the end point of the famous Erie Canal. The canal was completed in 1825 and was a marvel of engineering that connected the Great Lakes to the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean, accelerating the development of the Erie shores.
While it was a game-changer for a century, the Erie Canal isn’t as important today now that the Great Lakes connect to the ocean via the Saint Lawrence Waterway. It exists as a leisure route for boaters, as well as a scenic and historical path on land.
The Erie Canalway Trail runs alongside the waterway on both active and historical portions of it. The trail is mostly off-road but is not limited to experts. It’s become a New York State favorite for hiking and biking.
Most visitors won’t be traveling all 365 miles of it – but if that’s your plan, good for you! From Buffalo, the trail goes east all the way to Albany. It then continues south to New York City along the Hudson River.
If the idea of biking and history sounds fun to you, but the trail sounds a bit extreme, there’s a great activity available in downtown Buffalo. Take this historical bike tour to pedal through town and hear its greatest stories from a guide.
3. Buffalo City Hall
Address: 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, NY 14202
Why is Buffalo City Hall something special to see? Actually, this historic building in downtown Buffalo is beautiful to see and has some of the best views in town from the top.
The building is nearly 100 years old and is one of the tallest structures in western New York. There are beautiful murals and pieces of art in the interior, but the best part will require you to take the elevator to the 25th floor.
From there, it’s a quick walk up three more levels via the stairs. The 28th floor has a 365-degree observation deck, surrounded by plexiglass, for viewing the city. You can see the rest of the city, the waterfront, and, on a clear day, the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and its skyline – and it’s free!
Since this is Buffalo City Hall, keep in mind that the building can only be accessed on weekdays. Furthermore, there is a free tour of the building every weekday at 12pm, including a stop on the observation deck.
See Related: Things to Do in Niagara Falls
4. Niagara Falls State Park
Address: 332 Prospect Street, Niagara Falls, NY 14303
Speaking of Niagara Falls, any trip to Buffalo should include a stop here. It’s less than 30 minutes outside the city and an icon of North America that makes for wonderful photographs.
If you aren’t familiar with the geography, the Niagara River separates the US and Canada just north of Buffalo. Niagara Falls State Park encompasses part of the American bank as well as Goat Island in the middle of the river. It’s on either side of the island that these massive falls are rushing over the edge.
On the bank is where you’ll find the visitor center, some viewpoints, and the embarkation point for the famous Maid of the Mist boat ride. Crossing the pedestrian bridge over the American Rapids will bring you to Goat Island, where plenty of trails and scenic points are waiting to be explored.
The island’s northern points provide views of American Falls, while the south is where you can see Horseshoe Falls. There’s plenty to do in and around the park, so plan to spend a day here if possible – and don’t forget to consider crossing the bridge to the Canadian side!
Niagara Falls can be a destination itself, and many travelers prefer to stay a night or two here. The Sheraton Niagara Falls has one of the best locations for access to the sights, and all the comfort and cleanliness you’d expect from the brand. If you don’t want to rent a car, direct transfers from the Buffalo Niagara Airport are available.
See Related: Best Carry-On Essentials for Travel
5. The Buffalo Zoo
Address: 300 Parkside Ave, Buffalo, NY 14214
There are few family favorites that beat a day at the zoo. The Buffalo Zoo is the third oldest zoo of its kind in America, tracing its earliest animal residents back to 1875.
Its 23 acres are in Delaware Park in northern Buffalo, very close to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, which we’ll discuss next. The zoo began with a donation of two deer from the aforementioned Frederick Law Olmsted to the city and grew rapidly with more donations.
Today, the zoo is a vast wildlife educational center that exists not to exhibit animals for human enjoyment but to help visitors understand and appreciate the natural world.
Visit Rainforest Falls for a miniature indoor trip to the Amazon, complete with a two-story waterfall. If that’s too warm for you, stop by the Arctic Edge to see polar bears.
There are plenty more species and habitats at the Buffalo Zoo, including tigers, lions, bison, amphibians, and reptiles. The Delta Sonic Heritage Farm is a recreation of an 1800s farm on the wetlands of Erie, with an educational exhibit on the importance of water to wildlife and farm animals.
As the area surrounding the Buffalo Zoo is home to several other attractions, it can be a great place to stay. In this residential neighborhood, a vacation rental like this two-bedroom apartment can be a great choice to get a ton of extra space and self-catering amenities.
6. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House
Address: 125 Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, NY 14214
One of the most famous works of the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright is just a block away from Delaware Park. The Martin House was built between 1903 and 1905, and today is a National Historic Landmark.
It was built for Darwin Martin, a prominent Buffalo businessman who was in search of an architect to build his company’s new headquarters, as well as his own family home. He engaged Wright, one of the most well-known at the time in his home state of Wisconsin and the midwest, to take on the project.
Frank Lloyd Wright was known for his open designs that incorporated the surroundings of a building and didn’t simply take on an average shape. The Martin House is one of the homes he built in his famous Prairie School style and is considered one of his most impressive works besides Fallingwater.
You can visit the Martin House on one of their two tour options. The Martin House Tour visits the main house, pergola, conservatory, and carriage house. The Martin House Plus Tour visits all of those, plus the Barton House and Gardener’s Cottage.
A mobile audio tour is available for purchase if you just want to see the grounds from the outside.
See Related: National Parks in The USA to Visit
Address: One Naval Park Cove, Buffalo, NY 14202
Even if Buffalo technically sits on a shoreline, you might not have expected to find Navy ships and submarines here. The Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park is one of the few places inland where you can see these steel beasts.
The park features aircraft, tanks, and vessels in and along Veterans Park on the Buffalo River. It started with a request in 1976 to the Navy for a decommissioned ship to display, and the city was given the destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Little Rock. Over the years, the collection has grown to include a wide range of military equipment.
There are also gardens, museum buildings, and even a maritime simulator. But, the main tourist attractions here are the real Navy ships and submarines that you can explore. Both guided and audio tours are available on the vessels.
One of the most popular Buffalo tours, the Double Decker Bus Tour, begins at the Naval and Military Park and includes tickets. Furthermore, this beautiful area along the river is a great place to stay in Buffalo – the Buffalo Marriott at LECOM HARBORCENTER is an excellent choice in a great location.
8. Delaware Park
Address: 84 Parkside Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14214
Delaware Park is not just the location of The Buffalo Zoo but one of the city’s best green spaces for walking, exercising, playing sports, and picnicking. It’s also a historic site featured on the National Register of Historic Places.
The park features Hoyt Lake, several baseball and soccer fields, tennis courts, a golf course, and other leisure activities. A historic replica of Michelangelo’s David statue is housed in the park, and a Shakespeare festival takes place there every summer.
The southern part of the park, bordering Elmwood Village, is the final resting place of some high-profile figures from Buffalo’s history. The 19th-century graveyard is where musician Rick James and 13th US President Millard Filmore are interred, among others.
See Related: Friend Vacation Ideas
9. Buffalo Museum of Science
Address: 1020 Humboldt Parkway, Buffalo, NY 14211
I always enjoy learning about the natural world of regions that I visit. For fascinating exhibits on the anthropology, botany, paleontology, zoology, and other sciences of the Greater Niagara Region, visit the Buffalo Museum of Science.
The museum has been in operation for well over 100 years and possesses more than 700,000 specimens. Former diorama exhibits have been transformed into several immersive and highly interactive studio exhibits, evolving with the times just as nature has.
The museum has a planetarium, an insect center, an exhibit on Buffalo’s connections to all things outer space, and much more science. Special exhibits rotate throughout the year, including stories on bees and rhinos.
The Buffalo Museum of Science is open daily except for major holidays from 10am to 4pm. Students, seniors, and military members get a discount on admission, so don’t forget any applicable ID.
10. Try the Original Buffalo Wings
Address: 1047 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14209
One of the tastiest pieces of the city’s history comes from the dish that took its name – Buffalo wings. These spicy chicken pieces did indeed originate in Buffalo, at a place called Anchor Bar.
The bar was opened in 1935 by Frank and Teressa Bellissimo. Years later, when Frank brought some friends in, he asked Teressa to make food. She didn’t have much in the kitchen but could deep fry some chicken wings and season them with butter, cayenne pepper, and some other spices, and serve them with blue cheese.
Little did they know, this make-shift meal was the birth of a national treasure. In Buffalo, they are called “wings,” and the authentic version is not battered. Carrots and celery have become the traditional side dish to go along with them.
Many visitors love to visit the Anchor Bar to get wings from the source but don’t forget to check out some of the other great eateries in the city serving wings and more. One tour, called The Wing Ride, will give you the full history of this iconic dish, as well as a full plate of them.
This walking food tour will branch outside of the wing scene and serve you more of what Buffalo has to offer.
See Related: Best Boston Tours | Food, Walking, and Sightseeing
11. Burchfield Penney Art Center
Address: 1300 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14222
If you enjoy admiring the art in a new city, the Burchfield Penney Art Center is the place to go in Buffalo. The museum is on the SUNY Buffalo State College campus, just next to Delaware Park.
The museum opened in 1966 as a tribute to famous local painter Charles E. Burchfield, who was the first artist to be given a solo exposition at New York’s Modern Museum of Art.
However, while the museum bears his name and features a huge amount of his work, it isn’t just for him – it showcases the work of some of the Buffalo area’s best artists. Its modern and contemporary art collection originates from the late 1800s to today.
Burchfield was famous for his watercolor paintings of nature and scenes in towns, many of which are displayed here, along with his journals and sketches. Plenty of other Buffalo and upstate artists are featured alongside.
The Burchfield Penney Art Center is open Wednesday through Sunday and offers a free guided tour with the purchase of an admission ticket on certain days.
Be sure to check their website for the most updated information on that, as well as their Second Fridays series – when the museum opens for extended hours on the second Friday of the month, offers live music and cocktails, and free admission!
12. Shea’s Performing Arts Center
Address: 650 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14202
You may be a bit far from the stages of Broadway when in Buffalo, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have access to great entertainment. A top choice for seeing shows in the city is Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, part of Shea’s Performing Arts Center’s campus of three theaters in downtown Buffalo.
Buffalo has quite the theater scene, with several lining Main Street and the blocks around it. Shea’s started as a movie theater in 1926 and has grown its collection to three theaters.
Nearby is also the Irish Classical Theatre Company, the Alleyway Theatre, and the Town Ballroom, but you may find that Shea’s Performing Arts Center has the most to offer.
Some of the best Broadway and touring shows pass through Buffalo on their stage, including Aladdin, The Nutcracker, and Elf – The Musical. There’s always something fun going on at Shea’s, so be sure to check their calendar during your stay.
The theater is surrounded by some of Buffalo’s best food and nightlife if you want to continue the night after the show. Sky Bar is one of the town’s hottest nightclubs and is right around the corner. If you want a place to crash right there, the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Buffalo Downtown is steps away from both.
13. Buffalo Harbor State Park
Address: 1111 Fuhrmann Boulevard, Buffalo, NY 14203
One of New York’s newest state parks is located on the shores of Buffalo, and it’s the city’s first. Especially if your visit is in the warmer seasons, a stop at Buffalo Harbor State Park is a great way to enjoy the beautiful lake that Buffalo sits on.
The park is located just south of the Buffalo River and is a great place to enjoy Lake Erie. It’s home to a massive marina, a fishing pier and fish cleaning station, walking trails, a playground, and one of the local beaches.
While swimming is not permitted at this beach, the sandy shore is a nice place for some sunbathing or a picnic. Kayak rentals are available at the marina if you are definitely looking to get out on the water. Pets are welcome here as long as they are kept on a leash.
See Related: National Parks in the USA to Visit
14. Niagara Wine Trail
Did you know New York State is home to a thriving wine industry? The Niagara Wine Trail is the name given to the region around Niagara, Monroe, and Orleans counties just north of Buffalo, home to quite a few wineries that produce some of the finest in the northeast.
Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc are just a few of the varieties produced in this part of the state. The northern latitude, long growing season, and long days during the growing season produce a bit of a microclimate similar to Alsace in France, which produces excellent grapes for winemaking.
There is a fantastic map of the Trail to see where more than a dozen wineries welcome visitors for tours and tasting. Several have dining facilities as well, and some welcome pets. Some closest to Buffalo are the Long Cliff Winery and the Bella Rose Vineyard & Winery.
A drive along the wine trail is a great addition to a day at Niagara Falls due to its proximity. Check their calendar for any special events or themes that might be taking place during your trip, such as galas with wine-pairing dinners or October “Taste and Treat” vineyard-hopping passes.
15. Pearl Street Grill & Brewery
Address: 76 Pearl Street, Buffalo, NY 14202
Buffalo is definitely famous for its wings, as we’ve discussed, and the Niagara region produces some excellent wines. But don’t forget to try the Buffalo beer and the other amazing foods found here – particularly at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery.
Pearl Street Grill & Brewery is a historic eatery located in the city center that has been a Buffalo staple for decades. The building is a four-level brick warehouse with wooden booths, billiards tables, and plenty of sports on TV, serving some of the best sandwiches, pizzas, wings, and more in town.
They produce a number of house brews that experiment with flavors and techniques from all around New York and the northeast. On tap, you can find year-round specialties and seasonal favorites, such as Blue-eyed Blueberry Blonde, Splashing Pumpkins Ale, and Loganberry Hard Seltzer, among many others.
While the food is pretty good, these brews and the atmosphere bring most people in. Pearl Street Grill & Brewery is open every day until 10pm. It’s a very large space but does get busy on nights of big games or other events.
You can also order takeout, including canned beers, from the comfort of your home or hotel.
See Related: Best Breweries in Austin, Texas
16. The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site
Address: 641 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14202
Whether you’re a history buff or not, a very interesting piece of Buffalo’s past is the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site. The 26th president was not sworn into office in the nation’s capital but instead, right in Buffalo.
This was because President William McKinley was assassinated in the city while visiting the Pan-American Exposition. After being shot, his prognosis was initially positive, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt rushed to Buffalo.
However, the president’s condition worsened, and he did not survive, so the decision was made to have Roosevelt sworn in as quickly as possible. This occurred at the Wilcox House, the only surviving structure from the 1800s-era Buffalo Barracks, as an outpost from when tensions with Canada were high.
The ceremony took place so quickly and unexpectedly that no photos were taken. However, we can still see today’s exact space where this important moment in American history happened.
A reservation is highly recommended to visit the inauguration site, as walk-up tickets are limited and in high demand. Book an admission ticket and guided tour to get the full experience of this important place in Buffalo and the beginning of the story of one of America’s most famous presidents.
To stay nearby, the Residence Inn by Marriott Buffalo Downtown is just across the street.
Tours in Buffalo
Learn about Buffalo's diverse history while getting some exercise and having fun on this bicycle tour. Explore the revamped Canalside district, visit the heart of African American Buffalo, learn about the construction of the Erie Canal, understand Buffalo's role in the Civil Rights Movement, and more. You'll cover a lot of ground in a couple of action-packed hours. Read more about History Ride: The Best of Buffalo by Bike - https://www.viator.com/tours/Buffalo/Buffalo-B-Sides-Ride-Bike-Tour/d23066-113275P2?localeSwitch=1?mcid=56757
Food Tours are a fun and unique way to explore the history, culture, architecture, and cuisine of Buffalo. The guided tour will feature stops at 5-7 local establishments that offer a variety of food selections that you can nosh on as your lunch (dessert included!). The Buffalo Food Tours guides are expert foodies who provide historical & cultural insight into the neighborhoods we visit.
Buffalo is a city steeped in heritage. From the architectural marvels at the Erie Canal to the modern waterfront, Buffalo has always been a place where old meets new. The Buffalo family walking tours are crafted to show you the best of this amazing city from the perspective of professional guides with deep local roots who truly love what they do.
Is the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, open?
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery closed to undergo reconstruction in June 2022. It has been rebranded as the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, reopening in mid-2023.
What are the best things to do with kids in Buffalo, New York?
There are plenty of places to visit in Buffalo for children of all ages. Niagara Falls and Lake Erie are fun sights for kids, while The Buffalo Zoo has plenty of cool wildlife. Don’t forget to let the whole family try true, authentic Buffalo wings!
What is Buffalo, New York, known for?
Buffalo is New York’s gateway to Niagara Falls and Lake Erie, at the Erie Canal’s western end. It’s also where Buffalo Wings were invented, home to many historic buildings and sites, and is the state’s second-largest city after the Big Apple.
What are the best things to see in Buffalo, New York?
The top Buffalo tourist attractions are the famous Erie County Botanical Gardens, the Martin House by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Buffalo Naval and Military Park. But don’t hesitate to go just a bit outside the city to see wonders like Niagara Falls or the vineyards of the Niagara Wine Trail.