Syracuse: What to do, where to go

Syracuse is probably best known for its impressive winters, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this great mid-sized city has to offer year-round visitors. Once a center for the commercial salt industry and a stopping point on the Erie Canal, today’s “Salt City” draws sports fans, history buffs, foodies and shoppers to unique and fun-filled sites found at the geographic center of New York state.

Syracuse University

You’ll know you’ve arrived in Syracuse when you catch a glimpse of one of the city’s most unique landmarks, the Carrier Dome. Set on the Syracuse University campus, “The Dome” is home to the much beloved Syracuse Orange Division I football, basketball, and lacrosse teams. Even if you’re not a sports fan, University Hill is worth a visit with its beautiful on-campus architecture, as well as off-campus boutiques like fashion-forward J. Michael Shoes and some of the best pizza around at the aptly named Varsity Pizza.

Head Downtown

Head just a few miles into the center of downtown Syracuse, and you’re sure to find some fun where packet boats once made their way along the Erie Canal. Today, Clinton Square is home to a picturesque ice skating rink in the wintertime that turns on its fountains in the warm weather to draw visitors to its family-friendly ethnic festivals, craft fairs, and other events. While no boats have floated through the center of town since the early 1900s, the nearby Erie Canal Museum is housed in the only existing weighlock building in the United States and provides visitors a glimpse back in time with educational exhibits and hands-on activities for visitors of all ages to enjoy.

A few blocks south is the Oncenter Complex, a multi-venue entertainment facility home to conventions, trade shows, concerts and the Syracuse Crunch hockey team. After an event at the Nicholas J. Pirro Convention Center, the War Memorial, or the John H. Mulroy Civic Center, it’s not uncommon to end up at the nearby Armory Square. Built around an armory once used to quarter the cavalry and infantry, this former industrial area is now home to luxury condos, offices, upscale boutiques and restaurants. By day, you can shop at one-of-a-kind boutiques like the fashionable Jet Black or the artsy Eureka Crafts, and then grab a tasty lunch at the Empire Brewing Company or PJ’s Pub and Grill. By night, Armory Square is a hot spot where you can toss back a pint at Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub and Restaurant or enjoy a relaxing dinner at Pastabilities.

If you’re with the kids (or you’re just a big kid yourself), head over to the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology, where the whole family can guide a plane down the runway, venture through a cave, or see science and nature come to life at the M.O.S.T.’s Bristol IMAX Omnitheater.

No visit would be complete without a stop at one of the city’s most famous restaurants, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a Syracuse original. But be warned—bring your appetite! This rowdy, honky-tonk and hard-to-beat restaurant serves up ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and drunken shrimp that might just be the best food in town.

A Taste of Italy

A few minutes north of downtown, you’ll find Syracuse’s own version of Little Italy, complete with mouth-watering pastries at Biscotti Café & Gelateria and authentic Italian cuisine at restaurants like Asti Caffé or Francesca’s Cucina. Pop into area landmark Columbus Baking Company and see why locals have been stopping there for more than 100 years. Just the smell of delicious Italian bread fresh from the oven will make it worth the trip.

After you’ve satisfied your appetite, stop into the Museum of International Masks and Puppets at the Open Hand Theater. Housed in a miniature “castle” built in 1890, the museum is home to a unique blend of art and culture—and puppets the likes of which you’ve never imagined.

Fun for Everyone

If shopping is more your style, stop at the Carousel Center, one of the largest shopping mall complexes in the Northeast. With national retailers, movie theaters and restaurants, it’s a place where the whole family can find just what they need. And the kids can ride on a historic, hand-carved carousel in the mall’s food court—an old-fashioned favorite that can’t be missed. The location is in the process of a major expansion—to be called Destiny USA—that will make it the sixth largest mall in America with luxury and outlet tenants, eateries and entertainment.

Just across the street from the mall is another Syracuse favorite, the Central New York Regional Market, which hosts a huge farmer’s market every Saturday year-round with hundreds of area farmers and vendors bringing in fresh-picked produce, baked goods, plants and flowers. On Sunday, the place transforms into a giant flea market, too—a great place for bargain hunters. Just behind the Regional Market is Alliance Bank Stadium, home to the Syracuse Chiefs, a triple-A affiliate of baseball’s Washington Nationals. The stadium offers an authentic big-league ballpark experience at reasonable prices, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch some great fireworks after the game.

A few miles southwest but still within the city limits is the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park, a Central New York gem complete with a newly opened Asian elephant exhibit that allows visitors to observe pachyderms in a 4-acre grazing yard. Take the trail around the zoo, and you’ll see penguins dive, Amur tigers roar and flamingos pose. There’s so much to see, yet you can cover the entire zoo in just a couple of hours.

Whether you prefer a taste of history or the taste of fine foods, there’s plenty to do on your next visit to Syracuse. Sure, the winters can get a bit chilly, but it promises a warm reception any time of the year.

You can get more information at Visit Syracuse.