Located in Schenectady Country, the city of Schenectady has experienced something of a resurgence in recent years, with its downtown district at the heart of this transformation. After years of neglect, the area is now a vibrant hub of activity and home to a vast range of brand new hotels, a cinema, restaurants, high technology companies, and loft housing. Meanwhile the new Mohawk Harbor project is expected to further build on this positive momentum in years to come.
When it comes to things to see and do in Schenectady, most visitors inevitably gravitate towards the historic downtown neighbourhood, where most of the main attractions can be found. But venture out and you’ll soon discover its appeal extends further than this concentrated district. We’ve taken a broad look at the city and its surroundings and come up with 12 of the best things to do here.
1. Catch a performance at Proctors Theatre
Built in 1926, this beautifully restored historic theatre has gained the affectionate nickname of “the community’s living room”. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is the premier performing arts facility in New York State’s Capital Region, presenting the very best in entertainment. While the Mainstage is widely known for presenting the top-tier national Broadway touring productions, Proctors also has a state-of-the-art black box theatre, the GE Theatre, the Addy, and the Underground. These four performance spaces offer popular performers, world-class singers, side-splitting comedians, electrifying dance programs, movies, world renowned classical productions (including opera and symphony orchestras), film festivals and family and children’s programming.
2. Sample some treats at Civitello’s Italian Pastry Shoppe
Civitello ‘s is a bakery with a back-story that dates all the way to 1911, when its original founder arrived in America from Alvignano, Italy. And thanks to this playing out of the American Dream, Schenectady locals and visitors alike have been enjoying mouth-watering treats for more than a century. Almost all of the products sold are based on homemade family recipes, including the cookies, pastries, rum cakes, spumoni, and pizza. But it is also a meeting place for young and old, rich or poor, all of whom are drawn here by the charming and friendly atmosphere and reliably excellent food.
3. Browse around at Open Door independent bookstore
Situated in the heart of Schenectady’s downtown district, this locally-owned independent bookstore has attracted book lovers for more than four decades. The variety of books here is hugely impressive, including an emphasis on children’s literature. There’s also an expansive gift gallery, featuring a wide range of toys, jewellery, stationery, personal accessories and home goods. Perfect for picking up a souvenir or a memento from you trip, Open Door is an ideal option for whiling away a rainy afternoon in Schenectady.
4. Learn something new at the Museum of Innovation and Science
If you’re visiting Schenectady and are in possession of an enquiring mind, a trip to this fascinating museum is essential. One of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, it celebrates the region’s rich technological heritage and places a strong emphasis on educating children in the fields of science and innovation. But fear not, there’s plenty for the grown-ups here, too. Among the highlights are a planetarium, exciting demos and exhibits, and hands-on activities for adults and children alike.
5. Practice your poker face at Rivers Casino
For a fun-filled night out in Schenectady, the $330 million Rivers Casino is hard to beat. Part of the Rivers Casino & Resort, it is situated along the Mohawk River, offering an eye-catching backdrop for gambling, eating, drinking and generally indulging yourself. Whatever your penchant, there’ll be something here for you, including 1,150 slot machines and 67 tables for games ranging from Blackjack to Craps. To kick back and dream about how to spend your winnings, there’s also an on-site spa.
6. Explore the Stockade Historic District
Said to be the oldest residential neighbourhood anywhere in America, Schenectady’s Stockade Historic District is a positive delight to amble around at your leisure. Home to a huge number of historic period homes, some over 200 years old, it can be toured either independently or as part of an organised group. Along the way you can stop in the streets of the original Stockade, lined with shops that each tell a unique story about the architecture and people who helped shape the area’s intriguing history.
7. Get your toes tapping at Van Dyck Restaurant & Lounge
Located in the Stockade district in a historic former brick mansion,, the Van Dyck Lounge is one of the most popular jazz clubs anywhere in the region. Now more than 65 years old, the club has played host to many of the great jazz artists of the ages including Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. The venue also has one of the best bar menus in town, featuring a huge choice of food and drink. Be sure to sample the Fightin’ Irwin Fish and Chips, which uses a local IPA as batter.
8. Find your zen at Jackson’s Garden
This vast area of serene gardens and woodlands on the campus of Union College is a corner of absolute tranquility. Dotted with a wide variety of exotic and rare plants, trees and shrubs, the pristinely cultivated green space is a popular spot for walkers keen to find their inner zen, or to simply enjoy one of the city’s prettiest areas. Look out for the ginkgo tree brought from Japan and, perhaps less idyllic, remains of trenches dug during the Civil War.
9. Say hello to Lawrence the Indian
Nestled along the scenic Mohawk River, which forms a boundary with the Stockade district and is a popular walking trail, is the distinctive figure of Lawrence the Indian. This statue, erected in 1887 to honour an early savior of the city, is at the centre of the neighborhood and is the focal point for many of the local celebrations and events. Not least on Valentine’s Day, when Lawrence received more attention than he may have bargained for as secret admirers surround the venerable statue with bright pink flamingos.
10. Admire America’s largest electric corporate sign
American multinational General Electric once employed tens of thousands in Schenectady at a giant, sprawling corporate campus. Although employment there is nothing like what it used to be, there are indications that GE is making a revival. And through it all, since 1926, the unmistakable GE sign has stood tall on the cityscape. The largest electric corporate sign anywhere in America, it consists of 1,400 individual lights and each letter is more than 10-feet tall.
11. Go back to school at the Nott Memorial Hall
One of the jewels in Schenectady’s crown, this historic monument sits at the centre of one of New York’s oldest educational institutions, stretching back to 1795. Spread across 120 lush acres, a walk around the campus will quickly bring the astonishing Nott Memorial into view. This remarkable 16-sided structure standing 110-feet wide is open to the public, giving everyone the chance to explore its venerable confines.
12. Get the adrenaline pumping at Mountain Ridge Adventure
If you’re looking to shed any excess energy after a hard day’s sightseeing, then Mountain Ridge Adventure is the perfect place to head. Hugely popular with families, this expansive adventure park features a wildly diverse range of adrenaline-pumping activities and challenges that require visitors to put their physical skills to the test. Prepare for plenty of climbing, jumping, running, balancing…and screaming.
By Paul Joseph