10 events to visit in upstate New York this December


From Buffalo in the west to Albany in the east, towns and cities across Upstate New York are brimming with great events to visit this December.

(Photo: Tomas Flint)

The geographical region north of metropolitan New York City is considered by most a fairly sleepy and remote rural hinterland. But come wintertime, Upstate New York bursts into life with a calendar full of events – many with a festive flavour. If you’re visiting the area over the coming weeks and would like to catch an event during your stay, we’ve picked out 10 of the best to look out for.

Roc Holiday Village 

Perched on the banks of Lake Ontario, Rochester is an idyllic destination at all times of year, but never more so than during winter. For most of December in the build-up to Christmas, the vast green expanse of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in the city’s downtown district plays host to a magical family-friendly festival that draws visitors from far and wide. Now in its 4th year, among the events and activities are a shopping village, visits with Santa, free ice skating, an indoor bar & restaurant, cosy winter igloos, live music, food trucks and more.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, Rochester / 2-23 December 2022

Albany Wine and Chocolate Festival

(Photo: Albany Wine and Chocolate Festival)

Wine enthusiasts from across the region will gather for a full day of wine-themed revellery at the indoor MVP Arena in Albany, including unlimited sampling of dozens of fabulous wines of all styles and tastes. A wide number of wineries, as well as distilleries and cideries, will be in attendance showcasing their produce, with visitors having the chance to buy bottles at discounted prices. A  fabulous selection of tasty nibbles and treats, chocolates, cheeses, and sweets will help line the stomach and there’ll also be mini boutiques selling purses, jewellery, clothing, and more.

MVP Arena, Albany / 3 December 2022

Schenectady Festival of Trees

For almost three weeks each December, two Schenectady galleries are bedecked with shimmering fir trees to celebrate the festive season. Open to the public each day, the Schenectady County Historical Society and YWCA NorthEastern NY are transformed for the occasion, with all proceeds going to the two organisations. All of the trees on display are donated by a mix of local businesses and residents, with decorations ranging from the classic to the kooky.

Schenectady County Historical Society, Schenectady / 3-23 December 2022

LARAC Winter Arts Festival

(Photo: LARAC Winter Arts Festival)

The LARAC’s Winter Arts Festival (formerly the Fall Arts Festival) returns to The Queensbury Hotel in downtown Glens Fall this December. The one-day juried arts show will feature a total of 35 local and regional artisans and their unique, handmade products spanning pottery, fibre arts, jewellery, culinary and wooden items, photography, and much more. There’ll also be live music to keep visitors entertained.

The Queensbury Hotel, Glens Falls / 4 December 2022

Great Train Extravaganza

(Photo: Great Train Extravaganza)

Eastern New York’s largest model railroad and toy train hobby show, this annual event on the first Sunday of December sees dozens of vendors offering new and used trains for sale, plus parts, clothing, memorabilia, photographs, and accessories. Exhibitors also display all kinds of pieces of railroad history and artefacts, with several operating model railroads of various scales. There’s even a Roaming Railroad that will take visitors on a ride around the Empire State Plaza Concourse, while other highlights include the Taste NY Holiday Market, Holiday Tree Lighting, and a fireworks display just after sunset.

New York State Convention Center, Empire State Plaza, Albany / 4 December 2022

Vestal Holiday Artisan Fair

Vestal High School in the town of Vestal will once again play host to its holiday artisan fair this December, providing the perfect opportunity to pick up some gifts ahead of Christmas. Over 80 talented creators and makers from within the community will be there to bring you a unique selection of holiday gifts, goods and experiences. Snacks will be available courtesy of the Vestal High School Band and holiday music will be belted out by student musicians.

Vestal High School, Vestal / 4 December 2022

Saratoga SantaCON 

(Photo: Saratoga SantaCON)

On the Saturday before Christmas, hundreds of red-suited revellers will once again take to the bars and restaurants of downtown Saratoga for the region’s largest pub crawl. Now in its 11th year, the event is more than just an excuse for  grown adults to dress up like Father Christmas for the purpose of consuming alcohol – it also has a charitable focus, with proceeds raised going to the Franklin Community Center, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to serving those in need in Saratoga County and beyond. To participate, tickets can be purchased online.

Saratoga Springs / 17 December 2022

Ice and Lights Festival 

(Photo: Ice and Lights Festival)

Two weekends of ice, lights, family fun and holiday celebrations await visitors to the newly rebranded Ice and Lights Festival in the city of Ithaca. Previously known as the Winter Lights Festival, the event will once again invite revellers to shop, dine, and enjoy the festive holiday lights and ice sculptures. The entertainment will also include hotly-contested speed ice carving and Chowder Cook-Off competitions, plus a glow bar, ice thrones, fire dancers, a silent disco, and the eagerly awaited Santa’s Arrival.

Ithaca Commons, Ithaca / 2-10 December 2022

Skaneateles Dickens Christmas Fair

(Photo: Skaneateles Dickens Christmas Fair)

Every weekend leading up to the final stretch before Christmas, Charles Dickens and his cast of more than 50 characters interact with residents and visitors in the streets, stores and restaurants of the charming lakeside town of Skaneateles. Evocative performances and recitals by authentically attired actors transport visitors  back to the mid-19th century, when Dickens penned many of his most legendary works, including A Christmas Carol. There’s also a snowman-building contest, a Christmas carol sing-a-long, trunk shows, and horse-drawn wagon and carriage rides around town.

Skaneateles / Every Saturday & Sunday through 18 December 2022

Plowshares Craftsfair and Peace Festival

One of the region’s premiere multicultural crafts fairs, this event features over 120 local craftspeople and community organisations who come together for a weekend of commerce and communing. Taking place at Nottingham High School in the city of Syracuse, it is organised and hosted by a team of activists, conscientious consumers and fair traders with the shared aim of building a world of justice, peace, compassion, and environmental sustainability. As well as the diverse wares on display, there’ll also be a silent auction, live music and entertainment, food, and more.

Nottingham High School, Syracuse / 3-4 December 2022

By Paul Joseph