The capital of New York State is a world away from the Big Apple, and it is sometimes overlooked by tourists, but bypassing Albany is becoming less and less popular all the time.
An up-and-coming tourist center, the city offers fine dining, cultural attractions, and is right on the doorstep of the Adirondack Mountains. If you want to hike in the summer or ski in the winter, Albany can serve as the perfect base.
The town itself always rewards those who visit, with the stunning New York State Capitol building, the elegant storefronts of Main Street (which is busily reinventing itself), a lively arts scene associated with the State University of New York, and historical sights like Herman Melville's home.
Albany has been the capital of the Empire State since 1797, and has seen plenty of history made in the intervening 220 years. Start with the Capitol itself, then head over Empire State Plaza to the New York State Museum, or tour architectural highlights like the Romanesque City Hall, St Peter's Episcopal Church, or the Legislative Office Building.
If you have your own car (and Albany is a great place to rent a vehicle), the gorgeous Adirondacks and Catskill Mountains are less than two hours away. You can stay in a luxury urban hotel and still hit the slopes, or see sights of outstanding natural beauty like Ausable Chasm.
As a state capital, you would expect Albany to have plenty of museums and other cultural attractions, and the city delivers. The New York State Museum has great historical exhibits, but smaller museums are worth a look, including the Watervliet Arsenal Museum, and the Albany Institute of History and Art.
New York State is one of the centers of the American craft brewing scene, and Albany has its own contenders, including Druthers and C.H. Evans Brewing Company. Foodies will also love the local restaurant community, particularly superb Asian options like Koto, while places like the New World Bistro Bar are as accomplished as any in New York City.
Geographically, Albany is dominated by the Hudson River and it's a great place to start river cruises. Companies like Dutch Apple Cruises will be happy to take you down the river and explain the history of the area while providing excellent food and beer to make the experience even more enjoyable.
Albany is definitely at its best during the summer months, from around June through to late August, when you can make the most of the warm weather to cruise the river and see the sights. Then again, the fall sees the local countryside erupt into color, while winter is a great time for skiers to head to the nearby slopes.
Albany International Airport (ALB) has connections to all over mainland USA (and Canada). The cheapest way to get into town is via CDTA buses 610 or 737, which cost just $1.50. A taxi will cost you around $25, while car rental services like Avis and Enterprise are also present at the arrivals terminal.
Albany's Amtrak station can be found at 525 East St and is situated just across the River Hudson in nearby Rensselaer. However, getting into town is fairly easy thanks to CDTA bus 214, which stops just outside the station. You can use Amtrak to reach the city from Chicago, Toronto, New York City, and destinations to the south, so it's a handy option.
For those coming from Chicago or other northern areas, I-90 is the road to take, while I-87 runs north from New York and south from Montreal, and I-88 runs from upstate New York and Pennsylvania. If you are coming from the airport, just take Albany Shaker Road directly into the city.
Bus companies serving Albany include Megabus, Greyhound, and local CDTA services. Intercity buses stop at the main bus station on Hamilton Street, next to the Hudson River.
Albany has some stunning historic hotels, and many of them are surprisingly affordable at most times of year. Some of the finest options include the Morgan State House, which is next to Washington Park and Pearl Street's Crowne Plaza, but there are also hotels closer to the airport like the Desmond and the Hilton that may be more convenient. Check out options in Troy as well, like the Hilton Garden Inn.
Downtown Albany - New York State's capitol, Empire State Plaza, the New York State Museum, and the stores on Lark Street are some of the highlights in this historic neighborhood. If you want to focus on museums and architecture during your stay, Downtown is the place to be.
Troy - located a few miles north of Albany, Troy is a smaller city with a rich trove of historical sights. Famous as the home of writer Kurt Vonnegut and the birthplace of the poem "the Night Before Christmas", Troy has great attractions like a child-friendly Science Museum, the Waterfront Farmers Market, and the Burden Iron Works.
Pine Hills - just northwest of the city center, Pine Hills is a green, prosperous part of town. It features Washington Park, the city's largest green space, the Albany Institute of History and Art, and great restaurants like Paesan's and the Ginger Man.
CDTA's public transportation network is limited to buses, but they are a useful way to get around. Single fares are $1.50 ($4 for a day pass), and be aware that the weekend services can be extremely limited.
Taxis are a good way to get around Albany, which operates a zonal fare system (not a uniform table of rates). Because of this, it makes sense to double check any fares before you leave, and beware of crossing the city line, as this may incur higher final fares.
Albany is a fantastic place to rent a car. Not only can you get around town easily, but it opens up the whole Hudson Valley and the Adirondacks and Catskills for exploration. Car rental outlets in town include Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise, and typical rates are around $15-20 per day for smaller models.
Albany isn't one of America's greatest shopping destinations, but it is improving all the time. For starters, there are a couple of excellent malls - Crossgates and the Colonie Center - where you'll find major brands. But Downtown Albany has plenty of stores to explore as well. Lark Street is a particularly good street to visit, with jewelers like Elissa Halloran and the Upstate Artists Guild selling works by local artists.
Downtown Albany doesn't have a huge range of supermarkets, but the metropolitan area has plenty of options, including budgets stores like Market 32 and Hannaford Supermarkets, along with upscale stores like Whole Foods. Expect to pay just over $3 for a gallon of milk or about $2.80 for 12 eggs.
Albany caters for a demanding dining crowd, with state politicians and their staff always looking for food that competes with the Big Apple, so there are plenty of places to eat well. Koto cooks excellent teppanyaki meat, the Blu Stone Bistro serves sophisticated European fare, Gandhi does a great-value Indian lunch buffet, while Paesan's is an excellent family-run pizza parlor. Costs vary by the type of establishment, but expect a good meal to come to around $20-25.