John’s note: The Local’s Take is a series where I interview some of my favorite travel bloggers and turn the tables, asking them to share their hometowns with us. After all, what better way is there to learn about a destination than from a travel writer who calls it home? So join along and learn how to make the most of a visit to Albany, New York with Alex of Alex in Wanderland.
Name: Alexandra Baackes
Hometown: Albany, New York
About: Alexandra Baackes is a traveling writer, designer, and underwater videographer. She has worked in Thailand and the Cayman Islands and traveled to seventeen countries in between. Alex is in her second year of full-time travel and location-independent work.
Tell me about Albany, New York.
Albany’s real claim to fame is its State Capital status… which many people mistakenly attribute to New York City! It was a great place to grow up and its now an even better place to return to between my travels. It’s a mid-sized city with four distinct seasons, a busy event calendar and many colleges and universities.
What can visitors do to make the most out of a visit there?
Visitors to Albany should definitely take advantage of the seasonal activities on offer. New York is a four season state! In the winter, it’s a practical base for skiing and snowboarding trips, while in town you can go ice skating in the plaza or drive through the lights in the park. The fall might just by my favorite time in Albany thanks to apple picking, pumpkin carving, hay rides and beautiful changing leaves. Spring kicks off a series of amazing festivals and outdoor activity opportunities that run through the summer.
Also, to get a real sense of place, I would encourage all visitors (and residents!) to support local businesses, be it hotels, restaurants, or shops.
What are the can’t-miss sites in Albany?
Albany is more about doing than about seeing, but any first time visitor should head to the Empire State Plaza, the New York State Museum, and the Albany Art Institute.
The Empire State Plaza makes up the Albany skyline and consists of the 19th century state capital building, the state museum, several modern state government offices and a performing arts center called “The Egg.” While it’s construction and architectural style remain controversial, it’s definitely unique — some compare the architectural style to that of Brazilian capital Brasilia! History buffs will love the mastodon skeleton on display at the New York State Museum while art lovers will appreciate the Hudson River school paintings at the Art Institute.
Are there any unique festivals or celebrations?
This is a category where Albany really shines! In the spring, there is the infamous St. Patrick’s Day Parade followed by Tulip Fest, a weekend music and arts festival in Washington Park. In the summer we have Fourth of July fireworks at the plaza, the free weekly concert series Alive at Five, the Empire State Plaza Food Festival, and a whole host of nearby county fairs. Fall brings Lark Fest, a street festival down my favorite stroll in Albany, along with the self-explanatory Riverfront Jazz Festival and Albany Craft Beer Festival. This year I’m hoping to make it to the nearby Adirondack Hot Air Balloon Festival, the oldest and largest of its kind on the East coast!
What is the best restaurant or food experience in Albany?
One place I won’t let any guest of mine leave Albany without patronizing is Bomber’s Burrito Bar– one of our most unique and hip local establishments. Bomber’s serves up massive burritos, creative margaritas and a pinnacle of deliciousness known as Piggy Fries, all in a two-story atmospheric bar/restaurant.
That aside, Albany’s not really a culinary destination to me — but if you’re looking for a definitive guide to local dining in the Capital Region, Metroland’s Albany Restaurant Guide is a great place to start.
Describe a perfect ‘locals’ night out in Albany.
Any visitor to Albany should have a night that consists of dinner and drinks at Bombers followed by a movie at the Spectrum – Albany’s beloved indie movie theatre. There you can snack on homemade cake and popcorn with real butter while catching a movie that you might not expect to find outside a major metropolis.
But for a real night on the town, Albany has two main nightlife districts – Pearl Street and Lark Street. Pearl Street is all about stilettos and pop music, whereas Lark Street is more of a bar scene. There are some great alternatives scattered around as well, like the stylish new Wolff’s Biergarten or the live-music-boasting Rusty Anchor — located on a barge on the Hudson River.
Are there any good day trips from your town? If so, where/what are they?
Albany is positioned perfectly for day trips – there is so much to do within an hour of every direction. In the summer, the most popular getaway is to Saratoga, home of the open-air Saratoga Performing Arts Center, The Saratoga Racetrack, and a vibrant summer nightlife scene. Lake George is another popular warm weather destination for either relaxing on the water or getting goofy with the kids at Six Flags Great Escape.
There are also plenty of ways to stay active nearby – in the warmer months there are a plethora of hiking and biking opportunities at places like Bash Bish Waterfalls or Thatcher State Park, while in the winter great ski and snowboarding mountains like Gore are less than two hours away.
Where is the most iconic view of the city?
In the Empire State Plaza, there is an observation deck on the 42nd floor of the Corning Tower. Along with the panoramic vistas of downtown Albany there is also some historical and architectural context provided. Best of all? It’s free!
What is the best aspect of living in Albany?
People move to the Capital District for a lot of practical reasons – it’s a relatively safe place to grow up, there are great public and private schools, and the cost of living is moderate. And its a great base – there is so much to do and see within just an hour, but bump that to three hours and you can hit New York City, Montreal, or Boston!
It might not be the most glamorous place in the world but there is a lot going on – you’d have to try in order to be bored in Albany!
What is the worst aspect of living there?
The winters are brutal. Long months, short days, frigid temperatures and feet of snow – it’s why I aim to spend all my future winters abroad. Transportation is also pretty frustrating – public transit is lacking, cab companies are unpleasant, and flights out of Albany are very expensive.
And well, it’s not New York City – which is why I moved away! But that’s not for everyone.
Do you ever anticipate moving back?
While I’ll always miss the people and the comfortable familiarity, there’s a whole big world out there to explore and live in! For now, I’m content to make frequent visits back instead – in the summer, that is.
Thanks again to Alex for her participation in the The Local’s Take. If you’re a travel writer and are interested in participating in a future edition of The Local’s Take, get in touch!
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