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Albany is in the state of New York in the United States of America.
It is an often overlooked city, and rarely considered much of a tourist attraction. However it has quite a vibrant history that would give Chicago a run for its money! Though some find Albany fairly depressing, since many state workers leave in droves after 4:30pm, a more vibrant scene downtown is currently underway. Revitalization keeps more workers around after hours and crowded bars/restaurants are not as uncommon as you think.
Nevertheless, Albany can offer some unique historical perspectives, if a traveller is willing to look. As the start of the Erie canal, and as the location of the historically famous Fort Orange, Albany was important in early American history. During the Prohibition era, Albany was a center for the smuggling of alcohol from Canada. Pulitzer Prize winner William Kennedy (http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/wjkennedybio.html) wrote a series of novels about Albany that brings it to life, and will make the visit of any casual traveller far more engaging.
- Albany International Airport is hardly international, except for a few flights from Canada. Getting from the airport to the city is best done by pickup from a friend or by taxi.
- Bus - The greyhound station is located underneath I-787, near the waterfront. It is thoroughly seedy. Use a taxi or friend to get to your hotel.
- Car - I-90, the strip of highway the crosses the upper United States, cuts right through the side of Albany. There are many exits into Albany from I-90, although most should avoid the Arbor Hill exit. I-87, which connects New York City and Montreal, intersects with I-90 in Albany. South of Albany, I-87 is a toll road called the Thruway. North of Albany, it's a free highway known to locals as the Northway.
- Train - The Albany-Rensselaer station is Amtrak's 10th busiest. Unfortunately, it is not in Albany itself but directly across the river in the small city of Rensselaer. Amtrak is the best way of reaching Albany from New York City, though it is expensive compared to other modes. Cabs from the train station are expensive because one company has an exclusive contract. It is far better if you can arrange for someone to pick you up. Trains serving the stations include the Maple Leaf (New York-Albany-Toronto), the Adirondack (New York-Albany-Montreal), Empire Service (New York-Albany-Niagara Falls), the Ethan Allen Express (Rutland-Albany-New York), and the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-Buffalo-Albany-New York/Boston).
Getting around Albany and the capital region entirely depends on where you are staying and what you want to see. If you plan on spending most of your time within the city of Albany, renting a car is hardly a must. Most downtown sights are within walking distance of each other. Many sights outside of downtown and even outside of the city of Albany can be reached by Albany's public bus system, the CDTA. If you are travelling to Saratoga Springs or the Adirondacks, however, renting a car is an obvious must.
- The Empire State Plaza is something to behold. It lies between the New York State Capitol building and the New York State Museum. Architecturally intimidating, it can be quite beautiful. Free concerts are often held on the plaza during the summer, ranging from Blues Festivals to Rock concerts.
- State Street is the main street that runs to the Albany Waterfront. Although much of it is decayed and empty, it retains a regal air and is well worth a visit. Nearby lies Pearl Street, which has recently undergone a renewal, and which caters to the 20-something bar and club scene. During the summer, the Alive at 5 concert series is an open festival on Broadway near the base of State Street. It draws quite a large crowd, and is generally a fun time for all. Bring your own beer, but not in bottles!
~ Per the City of Albany, alcohol is no longer allowed at Alive at Five! (Actually, you can buy "ice-cold beer" there, but you can't bring your own.)
- Washington Park is a delightful, and for the most part safe, park located in the Center Square region of Albany. In the park's center is the Park Playhouse, which offers free, good musicals and plays throughout the summer. Spring offers "Tulip Fest" a nod to Albany's Dutch heritage that consumes Washington Park with (mostly) tulips as well as a craft fair.
- Lark Street is tagged as Albany's equivalent of NYC's East Village. Lark Street is the hub of Albany youth culture, and it can be a nice visit. Lark Street is between Washington Park and the Empire State Plaza, and the region between the plaza and park is attractive and reminiscent of Albany's better days. In the fall, Lark Street is the site of one of Albany's most treasured events called "larkfest." Lark Street is closed off between Washington and Madison creating a street fair that attracts a lot of attention.
- During the summer Albany is overrun with public festivals, ranging from the early summer 'Tulip Festival', to many free public concerts at the plaza and in the park, to the free plays at the Park Playhouse.
- The western fringe of the city is home to the 3,000+ acre Albany Pine Bush Preserve. It's a unique, inland pine barren maintained by controlled fires (which clear out invasive plant species and cause the native pine cones to release their seeds). Trails through the preserve are open to non-motorized uses year-round (except during burns, of course).
- The reflecting pool of the Empire State Plaza becomes a skating rink in the winter. It's like a little brother to the Rockefeller Center rink.
Crossgates Mall offers the usual assault of American consumer goods, should you have the desire to obliterate hours in a Gap or Abercrombie store.
See Metroland's (great local paper) guide to the best of Albany at http://www.metroland.net/guides/2005_best_of/best_of_contents.htm It's a great resource on the best food, services, sights, etc. of Albany (according to Metroland Readers).
- Bomber's Burrito Bar is one of Albany's gems. Downstairs, fantastic 'bomblike' burritos are made! One will cost about 5 bucks, and it will satiate you for hours. The Red-Stripe Pork is positively divine. Also check out vegetarian and vegan fare consisting of their veggie burrito and veggie "chicken" nugget burrito, skeptics will be pleased. In addition, the upstairs has a comfortable and friendly bar, with a wide-ranging, sophisticated selection of beers, which are available for 2 bucks a pint during happy hour, which stretches from 11am - 8pm Every Day.
- Jack's Oyster Bar is an Albany classic, and its walls are adorned with misty photos of Albany's interesting past. The quality and prestige of Jack's has gone down in recent years, but it still will empty any man's wallet pretty quick.
- For organic vegan fare, Shades of Green on Lark Street offers unique homemade meals at very fair prices. Eat in or take out, although to be fair the dining area is quite small. (Note: This closed in the summer of 2005. There is sometimes talk the owner will eventually open a new location).
- Vegan pizza (and good vegan pizza at that) can be found at Little Anthony's on Central Avenue.
- Justin's is a very popular spot that offers live Jazz Wednesday though Sunday; however is on the expensive side.
- For health food shopping the Honest Weight Food Co-Op on Central Ave (between Partridge and North Main) boasts a variety of health-minded dishes and baked goods made daily. Grab a "meal deal" for under 5 bucks. Check out the amazing cheese selection and you are likely to be offered a taste.
- Albany Pump Station is a relatively new restaurant near downtown. It serves American style fare burgers, fish and some upscale dishes as well. The highlight is their beer, which they make upwards of 10 different styles and types. The Hefewisen is outstanding. The building itself is the old Albany Pump Station, which used to pump the water from the Hudson river up to the reservoir, so the building has a ton of atmosphere and history. It's definitely worth the trip to just have a couple of beers.
- Debbie's Kichen on Madison at Lark is superb for healthful, super tasty and interesting sandwiches and wraps. Beautiful desserts to tempt you if you have room after their generous salads and sandwiches. Highly recommended, an outstanding value.
See Bomber's Burrito Bar
A decent downtown scene has developed over the past few years.
Some places of interest:
Mad River - Vibrant, young after work crowd
Skyline Restaurant & Lounge - Newest downtown nightspot replaced the Big House
Jillians - Chain restaurantbarniteclubgames etc.
Bayou Cafe - New Orleans style fare and bands. Another good afterwork crowd.
Pearl - young hip hop kind of crowd, good martini's but EXPENSIVE.
Lionheart - good weekends
Red Square is a new live music venue that has a great atmosphere.
Oh Bar is a popular gay/lesbian bar. Check out Karaoke night on Thursdays.
for the College Crowd:
Long Branch, Washington Tavern, Chubby's, Michael's, and Boogie's are big college hangouts.
- The Desmond is one of the best places to stay in the Albany area (though it is a bit further away than one might like, near Albany International Airport.) The Desmond's charm is in it's embracement of the historical group of Shaker's who once were a big part of the Capital Region. The Desomd often hosts weddings and has two quality restaurants on site, Simpson's and Scrimshaw.
- The Crowne Plaza is the major hotel in downtown Albany. It has close proximity to the State Capitol, Pepsi Arena, and a burgeoning downtown area on Pearl Street (Pearl, Jillian's, Big House, Skyline, and the Bayou Cafe are all located on or just off of Pearl Street).
Albany has large areas of urban poor and a persistent drug and crime problem. It is not recommended to walk around in areas north of Central Avenue at any time. To stay safe, keep the walking to the Center Square area (around Washington Park and the Plaza), and do everything else via car.
- The Albany metro area, the Capital District, has many more attractions than Albany proper. The city of Troy offers well-preserved 19th century architecture (making it a popular location for period films) and fine antique shopping downtown. The Cohoes Falls are the second-largest in the state (a distant second, but an impressive sight nonetheless). The Battle of Saratoga was fought just north of Albany, and the city of Saratoga Springs is major tourist destination during its summer horse racing season.
- Visitors stuck in the Albany area should consider day trips to destinations in the Berkshires of western Mass., including Tanglewood, Mass MoCA, and the Clark Art Institute. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is also fairly close, as are the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains.
- Several state parks are within easy driving distance, among them Thatcher State Park. A scenic 25-minute drive south on route 85, it tops an escarpment and has great views of the city and several beautiful hiking trails, including a lower trail which winds and turns near the bottom of the escarpment and actually goes behind two waterfalls. Spring is the best time to view these falls due to the thaw and increased water volume. Steep inclines and rocky paths on the lower trail could challenge less robust hikers.