Home Travel Free and Low Cost Things to Do in Central New York

Free and Low Cost Things to Do in Central New York

by Ohio Digital News

Credit: @mackdylmedia on Instagram

From sprawling countrysides and charming small towns to baseball’s historic home and dazzling lakeside views, there’s so much to uncover in Central New York. Whether you’re a sports-enthusiast, history buff, or foodie, this region has something for every traveler and every budget. Mine for a good time at Herkimer Diamond Mines, discover the “Glimmerglass” of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking tales, raise a glass to an award-winning craft beverage scene, and more with these 15 budget-friendly activities in Central New York. 

1. Experience baseball and boxing History

An American flag waves in front of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in CooperstownCredit: @wandergenic on Instagram

Whether you’re looking to score a home run of fun or a knockout adventure, Central New York has got you covered! In Cooperstown, explore the historic home of America’s favorite pastime at the National Baseball Hall of Fame ($20-$30/person, veterans are free during November) and walk through three floors of baseball history. Cooperstown is basically a synonym for baseball, so be sure to stroll through town and visit the souvenir shops and boutiques along Main Street for even more baseball collectibles and memorabilia. Round third and add some boxing to your trip! Canastota is home to the International Boxing Hall of Fame ($10.50-$15.50/person) where you can view unique displays like the world famous Madison Square Garden ring where Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali fought the “Fight of the Century.” Boxing enthusiasts should stop by during Hall of Fame weekend June 6-9, 2024, when you can enjoy a number of free events throughout the weekend including the Parade of Champions.  

Recreation Park CarouselCredit: @mariagablephotography on Instagram

Take a spin back through time to the Carousel Capital of the World! Binghamton is home to six antique merry-go-rounds and the best part is you can ride them all for free from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Go carousel hopping and cross them all off your Binghamton bucket list. The Recreation Park Carousel (pictured) was the inspiration behind an episode of the “Twilight Zone” and C. Fred Johnson Park Carousel is the largest and most ornate of the collection. All carousels are open annually Memorial Day through Labor Day except the Ross Park Carousel, which will be closed for 2024. 

3. Make animal friends 

A giraffe licks a hand at Animal Adventure ParkCredit: @slevels07ec on Instagram

Handfeed giraffes, wave to California sea lions, meet baby goats, and more for less. In Harpursville, more than 300 animals including alligators, bison, wolves, and camels, call Animal Adventure Park home. Admission is $16.99-$19.99/person and the park hosts all kinds of hands-on encounters and exciting events like giraffe feedings ($5) and the Jungle Bells holiday lights display (included with admission). Take a picturesque stroll along the one mile loop at Ross Park Zoo in Binghamton. In-season admission (May-September) is $7-$9/person and unlocks a chance to meet leopards, red pandas, African penguins, red wolves, and more. Meet animals from all over the world at the Utica Zoo ($6-$9/person). Catch a California sea lion feeding, wave to the adorable red pandas, hear the roar of African lions, or take a hike on the nature trail. In Sharon Springs, indulge in farm-inspired beauty products at the Beekman 1802 flagship store and explore the brand on one of the farm tours ($30), where you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the farm and spend time with the goats.  

4. Travel back in time to a historic country village

A man and a woman dressed in period clothes pull a wagon along a path at The Farmers' Museum on a fall dayCredit: @thefarmersmuseum on Instagram

Take a stroll through one of the oldest living history museums in the United States, The Farmers’ Museum. This former working farm in Cooperstown brings the state’s rural past to life throughout the country village circa 1845. Take part in hands-on activities like blacksmithing or broom making, go on a horse-drawn wagon ride, take a spin on the Empire State Carousel, explore the farm exhibits, visit adorable animals, and more. Open April-October. Admission is $17.50/adults (13-64), $12.50/seniors (65+), $10/juniors (7-12), free/children under 6, active military, and retired career military personnel.

5. Learn something new at museums

Exterior of the Fenimore Art Museum and outdoor patio/gardensCredit: @fenimoreartmuseum on Instagram

From classic cars to Native American culture to amazing art displays, Central New York has a museum for everything! Let your mind wander through the three floors of the Roberson Museum & Science Center ($6-$8/person) in Binghamton, featuring a wide range of exhibits from art to history to science. Plus, you can catch a star-studded show at the Roberson Planetarium for just $4 extra. Explore the depths of Oneida tradition and culture through artifacts and artwork at the Shako:wi Cultural Center (free) in Oneida. Cruise through motor history in Norwich at the largest car museum in the Northeast, the Northeast Classic Car Museum ($8-$15/person), home to more than 200 cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Roam the grounds of the property once owned by James Fenimore Cooper and visit the Fenimore Art Museum ($12.50-$17.50/person, free/under 19) in Cooperstown, home to one of the country’s most comprehensive collections of American folk and fine art, and the Thaw Collection of American Indian Art. Better yet, you can visit two museums for one price with two-way tickets to the Fenimore and Farmers Museum ($10-$30/person). Let imaginations run wild at the Discovery Center of the Southern Tier ($10/person, free/under 1) in Binghamton, where children can learn while they play through 30 exhibits. In Howe Caves, the Iroquois Museum ($5-$8/person, free/under 5) houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of modern Iroquois art in a building designed to reflect the shape and spirit of a longhouse. Honor the abolitionists who worked to end slavery at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum ($5/adult, free/children, Blue Star Families, students) in Petersboro. A 13,500-piece permanent art collection awaits at the Munson (free) in Utica, showcasing a variety of engaging exhibits each year alongside special events and performing arts.   

6. Sip through Central New York

Person holding up beer in a cup that says "Brewery Ommegang"Credit: @ramblingricky on Instagram

From wine and spirits to cider and beer, raise a glass at one of Central New York’s world-class beverage destinations. Explore the region that was once the hops-growing capital of North America along the Cooperstown Beverage Trail featuring Fly Creek Cider Mill, Montezuma Winery, Cooperstown Brewery, and more. The Heart of New York Beverage Trail unites 11 craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries throughout the Utica area including Saranac Brewery and Villa Verona Vineyards. Sip award-winning brews among spectacular views at Cooperstown’s Brewery Ommegang or visit Critz Farms Brewing and Cider for farm-brewed beer and cider. Seven unique destinations make up the Schoharie County Beverage Trail. Green Wolf Brewing and Rockland Cider Works are must-stops. 

7. Stroll through gorgeous gardens

Green plants sprout in front of a stone wall with a white house and red shed in the background

Slow down and smell the flowers at gardens throughout the region. The best things in life are free and so is a relaxing stroll through blooming flowers, horticultural treasures, and beautiful architecture at the Cutler Botanic Gardens (open year-round) in Binghamton. Overlooking the beautiful Schoharie Valley, Landis Arboretum (free, pictured) in Esperance is the perfect place to unwind among nature year-round. Walk along fifteen miles of hiking trails, explore plants native to New York and from around the world, admire the beautiful perennial gardens, and more.

8. Discover dazzling water views

Wide shot of Otsego Lake in Glimmerglass State ParkCredit: @mackdylmedia on Instagram

From roaring waterfalls to sparkling lakes to canal cruises, there’s all kinds of waterside beauty to discover throughout the region. Nicknamed “Glimmerglass” by James Fenimore Cooper in his Leatherstocking tales, Glimmerglass State Park ($7/vehicle, collected weekends Memorial Day through Labor Day) is a true gem, home to beautiful Otsego Lake, miles of hiking trails, the oldest covered bridge in the country, and adventure aplenty. Chittenango Falls State Park ($5/vehicle) in Cazenovia sports a picturesque 167-foot waterfall, which is best viewed along the winding gorge trail or from the romantic footbridge. Those who share Schoharie’s appreciation for eagles should follow along the Schoharie County Eagle Trail toward Mine Kill State Park (free), where you can swim, hike on eight miles of trails, and more. For $7/vehicle, head over to Chenango Valley State Park and experience its two kettle lakes formed during the Ice Age. For the ultimate experience on the water, travel through a 100-year-old lock on the calm waters of the Erie Canal with a scenic Erie Canal Cruise ($15-$25/person).

9. Uncover fun times at caverns and mines 

Howe Caverns - Photo Courtesy of Howe CavernsPhoto courtesy of Howe Caverns

If you’re digging a good time, you’ve come to the right place. Sift for your own diamonds (quartz crystals) that are close to 500 million years old at Herkimer Diamond Mines. Admission ranges from $14-$18/person during the week (+$2 Fridays-Sundays) and includes a full day of prospecting for loot, gem collection bags, and a rock hammer rental. 156-feet below the Earth’s surface is a labyrinth of twisty, turny rock corridors called Howe Caverns (pictured). Take a 90-minute tour ($19.50-$29.50/person) along the underground river where you’ll pass by amazing rock formations illuminated by colorful lights and learn the history of Lester Howe.  

10. Join the festivities

A colorful projection lights up a building at the LUMA Projection Arts Festival

The only thing better than a festival is a free festival! Each year, downtown Binghamton’s buildings transform into creative masterpieces with colorful projections at LUMA (September 6-7, 2024, free), drawing more than 30,000 people. Whether you prefer classic rock, blues, or country, everyone can rock out to good music throughout the summer at Music on Mainstreet (free) in Canajoharie. Performances take place Tuesdays in August from 7pm-10pm. Get crafty at the Colorscape Chenango Arts Festival (free) in Norwich from September 7-8, 2024. Join thousands of visitors for craft sales, literary art, music, and creative culinary arts. Gaze up in wonder as hot air balloons take flight alongside live music and delicious spiedies at Binghamton’s famous Spiedie Fest (August 2-4, 2024, $20/person). Seeing over 100,000 people each year, this high-flying festival is also home to one of the largest hot air balloon launches in the country! 

11. Visit historic sites

Exterior of Hyde HallCredit: @thejasongreene on Instagram

From the historic home of novelist James Fenimore Cooper to Revolutionary War battles, discover the sites that shaped Central New York. Learn about the Battle of Oriskany, considered to be a major turning point during the Revolutionary War, and discover how the Oneida people became known as America’s first allies at the Oriskany Battlefield Historic Site (free) and Fort Stanwix National Monument (free). Set among stunning views of Glimmerglass State Park ($7/vehicle) is the 50-room country home of James Fenimore Cooper. Take a 50-minute tour ($12-$15/person) of Hyde Hall (open for the season May 25) and admire many of the original furnishings and rooms.  

12. Indulge in iconic regional eats

Tomato pie in a pizza boxCredit: @tapasfor2 on Instagram

For the tastiest way to explore Central New York, be sure to stop at these regional favorites. Tino’s in Oneonta is the home of the cold cheese pizza, a sizzling slice topped with shredded mozzarella cheese. You can’t visit Binghamton without grabbing a spiedie (slowly-marinated, skewered meat atop an Italian bun), and the Spiedie and Rib Pit is the place to get the delicious sandwich. Plus, there’s a whole festival dedicated to it! Sticks of silvery sugar coating filled with rich chocolate and hazelnuts, aka turkey joints, is the candy to try in Rome, invented by Nora’s Candy Shop. In Utica, you’ll find a variety of delicious culinary creations. The tomato pie, a thick dough pie with sweet tomato sauce and a dusting of cheese, is a must-try from O’Scugnizzo Pizzeria, one of the oldest pizza shops in the state. Chunky rigatoni, chicken, and creamy marinara sauce combine to make Bella Regina’s chicken riggies. Georgio’s serves up tasty Utica greens and beans, featuring escarole, hot peppers, and garlic.

A crescent-shaped outdoor sculpture in a green fieldCredit: @sandrafoyt on Instagram 

Discover the relationship between art and nature across more than 104 acres of conserved land at Stone Quarry Hill Art Park (free). Meander through four miles of trails overlooking the breathtaking rural landscape of Cazenovia and Madison County while admiring art by emerging and established artists. The large-scale sculptures scattered throughout the grounds can be explored in your own time or, for an even deeper dive into the exhibitions and countryside, take a guided tour ($5 suggested donation). In the winter, the trails are open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. 

14. Ride the rails

A green and black train with a yellow stripeCredit: @visitoneidacounty on Instagram

Take a ride through history! Originally built in 1869, the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad showcases beautiful sights along the Susquehanna River Valley. Watch the colors of the countryside come to life on a Fall Foliage Excursion ($20-$25/person) or make your way up the valley on a Scenic Excursion ($20-$25/person). The Adirondack Railroad also offers amazing opportunities to catch views departing from Union Station. Welcome Easter aboard the Easter Bunny Express ($15-$20/person), enjoy hot cocoa and s’mores on the Cabin Fever Limited ($25-$35/person), and other special experiences.

15. Root for the home team 

Interior of the Aud arena where two teams get ready to face off during an ice hockey matchCredit: @timothyhalligan on Instagram

Score big on fun times! Cheer on the home team at Mirabito Stadium for a Binghamton Rumble Ponies baseball game, where tickets start at $9. Hit the ice with the Utica Comets ($34/ticket) at the area’s historic hockey hub, the Aud (pictured). For even more hockey, head to the Visions Federal Credit Union (tickets start at $19) and cheer on the Binghamton Black Bears. You can also catch a wide range of Division I sports at Binghamton University, for little to no cost.  

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