15 Things to Do as a Family in Syracuse

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Last month, we spent a few days in Syracuse. This was our first trip to Upstate New York, and honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea what was there, besides Syracuse University, of course. What I learned is that Syracuse is an amazingly family-friendly city with so much to do, including incredible parks, fabulous museums for kids and tasty food. Take a look at 15 must-do’s if you’re thinking about a trip to Syracuse with the kids.

1. Take an Erie Canal Cruise. Head to Dutchman’s Landing for a two-or three-hour cruise on a double-decked boat along the Erie Canal. You’ll learn about the history of the Erie Canal, go through one of the locks and take in local wildlife, like blue herons and bald eagles.

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2. Swim in a Green Lake. Yes, a green lake. It’s gorgeous, too. Get to Green Lakes State Park in nearby Fayetteville and take a swim in the lake (there’s a nice man-made beach). Bring a picnic lunch since between the lake and the adjacent playground, you can easily spend an afternoon at this park.

3. Tromp Around the Zoo. At the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, you’ll be able to get up-close with more than 700 animals. Enjoy various animal encounters, zoo keeper talks and educational programs. Also, look around for conservation in action, like the green roof on the Pachyderm Pavilion.

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4. See the 24-Second Shot Clock. Drive to the Armory Square section of town to see the tribute to the 24-second shot clock, which was used for the first time at an NBA scrimmage in Syracuse. You’ll find a Starbucks and park benches next to the clock, so take a seat and watch the clock count down.

5. Watch Dogs Jump, Scoot and Play. Whether you have a dog or not, take time out to visit the Good Dog Park at Onondaga Lake Park in nearby Liverpool. It’s fun to watch dogs running through tunnels and crossing bridges. You’ll even see a red fire hydrant or two at the Good Dog Park.


6. Eat Amazing BBQ. Upstate New York may not be known for BBQ, but seriously, eat lunch or dinner at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which was voted best BBQ in the U.S. by at least one poll. Get there early if you don’t want to wait too long (like, before 5 pm).

7. Climb Into a Canal Boat. Make a quick stop at the Erie Canal Museum for a short guided tour (weekdays) to learn about the role of the Erie Canal in the economy of our country. Enjoy a short video on the canal’s history and even climb aboard a real canal boat that sailed the Erie Canal.

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8. Touch the Plasma Globe. Kids will love MOST (Museum of Science & Technology) and it’s a must to spend a few minutes touching the plasma globe. Then, have fun with a range of other hands-on activities at MOST, like the climbing wall and air traffic control simulators.

9. See a Unique Traffic Light. Head to the corner of Tompkins Street and Milton Avenue in the Tipperary Hill neighborhood to see the only green over red traffic light in the country. The reason for the upside-down traffic light dates back to 1925 as an expression of Irish heritage.

syracuse sign

10. Walk Around Syracuse University. Syracuse University has a beautiful campus, so take some time to walk around (preferably on weekdays or when classes are in session, so you can walk inside the buildings). Stop by Manny’s on Marshall Street to pick up some Orangemen gear before you leave.

11. Play a Life-Size Version of Connect Four. Head to WonderWorks for loads of hands-on activities, like giant versions of Connect Four and Lite Brite. We also had a great time blowing giant bubbles in the Bubble Lab. My piano-playing daughters loved playing the Giant Piano with their feet.


12. Take a Nature Hike. There are so many beautiful paths and trails to explore in the Syracuse area. At Beaver Lake Nature Center, you’ll find nine miles of trails and over 400 annual nature programs. Or, try Pratt’s Falls Park for scenic trails that lead to a 137’ tall waterfall.

13. Eat the Best Hot Dog Ever. Many consider hot dogs from Heid’s of Liverpool to be the best hot dogs ever tasted, so you may want to try one out for yourself. Apparently, Adam Richman of Man v. Food was even impressed by the tasty dogs.

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14. Play Frisbee Golf. If you go to Green Lakes State Park, don’t forget to bring along a Frisbee or two. We had a lot of fun tossing around the Frisbee on the 18-hole Frisbee golf course at the park. The park also has lovely bike trails if you can get your bikes to the park, too.

15. Cross Lily Pads and a Tremor Bridge. Kids will love the Canyon Climb Adventure Ropes Challenge Course at WonderWorks. Suspended up in the air, navigate various obstacles, like swinging steps and lily pads. There’s even a ropes course for little ones, Sky Tykes Ropes Course.

Disclaimer: I was hosted by the Syracuse Convention & Visitor Bureau and spent three nights at the DoubleTree Hotel Syracuse. However, all opinions expressed here are my own.