Ithaca, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, may be best known as a laid-back college town, but given its stunning setting on the south shore of 64-kilometer (40-mile) long Cayuga Lake, and sandwiched between two incredible gorges, it perhaps deserves to be even better known for its natural beauty. Ithaca is a cosmopolitan town with many of the amenities of a bigger city, such as good restaurants, bars, and theaters, but few of the hassles, all of which contributed to its once being ranked as the number one “emerging city” in the U.S., by Cities Ranked & Rated. You never know what you’ll discover with all the things to do in Ithaca. It could be something fleeting, like a rainbow in the midst of one of the many Ithaca waterfalls, or something powerful, like insight from an acclaimed speaker on campus at Cornell University.
Read on to learn about the best things to do in Ithaca!
1. Explore Ithaca's funky downtown
Located in the heart of downtown Ithaca, the newly renovated Ithaca Commons offers visitors and locals dozens of dining, shopping and entertainment options, the downtown visitors’ center is a great place to visit. The Commons is also a great place for people to watch and enjoy street musicians entertain the crowds. Summer is the perfect time of year to explore downtown Ithaca, particularly in the Fall Creek neighborhood near the Ithaca Commons. Here you will find spectacular front yard gardens, some ornate and some with simple wildflowers that will make you smile.
Downtown visitors' center
Address: 171 The Ithaca Commons (center of Ithaca)
Phone Number: (607) 273-7482
2. Ithaca Farmers Market
Spend a lazy morning strolling through the stalls of Ithaca’s lakeside open-air farmers market. Locally grown, organic produce and fresh flowers may be its specialty, but vendors at this funky pavilion also offer local wines and crafts. Hosted in a large, airy, waterfront pavilion, the Ithaca Farmers Market has something for everyone. With cuisine ranging from Sri Lankan to Korean to the standard breakfast burrito, you can snack as you peruse the local vendors and merchants, pick up a fresh bouquet of flowers, or just sit by the water and listen to the live musicians.
Ithaca Farmers Market
Address: Steamboat Landing 3rd St off Rte 13, 14850 Ithaca, NY
Phone Number: (607) 273-7109
3. Cornell University
The top attraction in town is probably Cornell University, a handsome Ivy League school on 300 hectares (745 acres), which sits high on a hill in so-called “Collegetown,” from which it surveys the rest of Ithaca and the splendid stripe of Cayuga Lake that stretches northward. On campus, the top public draw is the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. The museum counts more than 30,000 pieces in its collection, with particular strengths in Asian art, as well as prints and photographs.
The museum hosts interesting traveling exhibitions, but even visitors without strong interests in art shouldn’t miss the unsurpassed fifth-floor views of Cayuga Lake and the gentle hillsides surrounding Ithaca. The most visible building on campus, McGraw Tower, is known for the Cornell Chimes, an old school tradition played daily by students and alumni. East of Beebe Lake is the university’s museum of living plants, Cornell Plantations, a real find and well worth a visit for garden lovers or anyone seeking a bit of solace. The public is welcome to visit the botanical garden, wildflower garden, and Newman Arboretum, which specializes in New York State trees and shrubs, as well as any of the 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of natural areas in and around the campus.
Phone Number: 607-254-4636
Website: Cornell University
4. Cornell Lab of Ornithology
If the natural world were a national park, the Lab of Ornithology would be its visitor center. Take an inside look at the global environment by following the life and travels of birds. Don’t miss the Macaulay Sound Library, the world’s largest natural sound archive.
Come learn all about birds at the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity at the Lab of Ornithology. Surrounded by an 88-hectare (220-acre) wildlife sanctuary with 6.5 kilometers (four miles) of walking trails, the Lab is a perfect place to immerse yourself in the world of birds.Take in the breathtaking skill of Jane Kim as you admire her “From So Simple a Beginning” mural, depicting the evolutionary history of birds. In your spare time, shop at our Wild Birds Unlimited Store or check out some bird books in the Adelson Library. Shown at the top of each hour, make sure to catch our “Inside the Lab” movie screening.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Address: 159 Sapsucker Woods Rd, 14850-1923 Ithaca, NY
Phone Number 800-843-2473
Website: Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Over 150 waterfalls within 26 square kilometers (10 square miles). Don’t believe it? Come see it for yourself.
As the saying goes, “Ithaca is gorges!” It’s because of 150 waterfalls that flow across the town, funneling water through gorges carved out thousands of year ago. By glaciers, they tell us. That means you can go up to Cornell University, down to Ithaca Commons, or head to one of the state parks, and you will undoubtedly stumble upon one of Ithaca’s waterfalls.
Address: 399 Lake St, 14850 Ithaca, NY
Phone Number: 607-272-1313
Ithaca Waterfalls Sightseeing Full-Day Bus Tour from NYC
Duration: 1 day
6. Finger Lake
Discover a wonderland of deep gorges, cascading waterfalls, sparkling lakes, and acres of forests, farms, and vineyards. Venture about to find beauty everywhere and quaint towns hidden like gems across the region. Feel the passion of the locals in every sight, sip, and flavor you encounter, as you make your way through a region rich in agricultural variety and artistic expression.
Raise a glass with the folks who create the region’s world-class wines, award-winning brews, and acclaimed ciders and spirits. Savor the flavors of exceptional ingredients cultivated by farmers and artisans who love this land.The Finger Lakes are not just for the 21+ crowd; there are activities here for all ages. Museums are spread across the region, including the Glenn H. Curtiss Aviation Museum. From hiking and biking to boating and fishing, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Address: 14850 Ithaca, NY
Website: Finger Lake
7. Ithaca's Sciencenter
The Sciencenter proves to be a popular spot for toddlers, children and even parents, too. The nonprofit, hands-on museum invites guests to check out over 250 exhibits, educational programs, gift shop, and seasonal outdoor science playground and mini-golf course. The museum offers memberships, which may be the best bet if you are local or plan to go there even once a month. For an entertaining, low-cost and educational activity in Ithaca, look no further.
Address: 601 1st St, 14850-3507 Ithaca, NY
Phone Number: 607-272-0600
8. Ithaca Festival
It's hard to believe the weekend is over, but we had an amazing time! Thanks to all of our staff, volunteers, vendors,...Posted by Ithaca Festival on Monday, 6 June 2016
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Ithaca the first weekend after Memorial Day, you’ll stumble upon an event that reveals the community-based soul of this college town, during the lively and friendly annual Ithaca Festival, which has been put on in charming low-key fashion since the late 1970s. The opening parade on Friday is a wacky classic, including adults parading as dancing tofu, kids dressed up like compost piles, and the hilarious Volvo Ballet, complete with tutus wrapped around boxy station wagons.
Phone Number. 607-273-3646
Website: Ithaca Festival
9. State and Hangar Theaters
Ithaca has quite a lot of theater and music programs, especially in summer. The Kitchen Theatre, in the historic Greek Revival Clinton House, is a top spot for year-round classic and contemporary theater. In summer, the Hanger Theatre, just north of downtown, offers professional, children’s, and experimental theater in a renovated municipal airport hangar near Lake Cayuga.
The State Theater, a historic theater, hosts a wide array of programs from rock to plays like The Vagina Monologues. Summer outdoor concert series are held at The Commons, Taughannock Falls State Park, and the Cornell University quad. The annual 4-day Ithaca Festival features several stages and performances by musicians, painters, dance groups, and more.
Ithaca’s historic State Theater had its opening night on December 6, 1928. The building dates to 1915 and was originally an automobile garage and showroom. Today the 1600-seat State Theater offers a calendar of events featuring performances by nationally recognized performers, outstanding regional groups, dance companies and theater troupes. With the nonprofit theater’s dedication to historic preservation, the building continues to be renovated while hosting dozens of events each year.
Address: 107 W State St, 14850-5427 Ithaca, NY
Phone Number: 607-277-8283
Website: State Theater
Address: 801 Taughnnock Bivd, 14850-9501 Ithaca, NY
Phone Number: 607-273-2787
Website: Hangar Theater
10. Ithaca may be "gorges," but it's also alive with the glory of food
Known for their natural food cuisine, Moosewood Restaurant has operated successfully for 40 years. Meals are prepared with fresh vegetables, herbs, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, high-quality oils, spices, seasonings and fine imported and domestic cheese. Serving up American fare with a modern flair, the Ithaca Ale House’s signature dish has to be creative and decadent burgers. Go big or go home with their “Fat Kid,” a burger sandwiched by grilled cheeses for buns. If you are a fan of fresh healthy Mexican food, then Viva Taqueria is your place in Ithaca.
Address: 215 N Cayuga St, Ste 70, 14850-4329 Ithaca, NY
Phone Number: 607-273-9610
Address: 400 N Meadow St, 14850-3227 Ithaca, NY
Phone Number: 607-273-7110
Website: Ithaca Bakery
11. Shopping at Ithaca Commons
From clothing boutiques with a local flair to foodie shops full of handmade delights, shopping in Ithaca is as varied as it gets. Stroll through art galleries and quirky shops while taking in the historical downtown Ithaca Commons architecture, or make your way just a few blocks down to Ithaca’s up-and-coming shopping district, where you can find everything from jewelry and custom-built bikes to holistic herbs and interior design goods for every taste, budget and style. Visit one of the several Ithaca malls in convenient locations or second-hand stores that can be found throughout town. Shopping in Ithaca is as diverse as the people who live here.
Address: 171 E M.L.K Jr. St, Ithaca, NY
Phone Number: 607-277-8679
Website: Ithaca Commons
Ithaca is unique
What makes Ithaca unique? Is it the towering waterfalls, lush ice-age gorges, endless panoramic views? Is it the hiking, the biking, the boating? Is it the beauty of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes?
Ithaca is Ithaca. There’s a vibe here unlike anywhere else in America. And experiencing it is the only way to discover it.
Pin it for later
If you enjoyed this article, share it with your friends on Facebook and save it to Pinterest for future reference!
Frequently asked questions about best things to do in Ithaca, New York
1. What are the top attractions to visit in Ithaca?
Known as a college town, Ithaca offers numerous things to do, but if you’re looking for their top attractions here, you can visit Cornell University, Finger Lake, and Ithaca Waterfalls.
2. What are the best outdoor activities in Ithaca?
One of the best outdoor activities you can try here is visiting its many waterfalls, exploring Finger Lake, and strolling around Ithaca’s downtown.
3. What are the most popular things to do in Ithaca with kids?
Ithaca is not only a college town but also home to many natural wonders and museums, which your kids will surely enjoy. Make sure you bring them to Ithaca’s Sciencenter and let them see the many exhibits and educational activities. They also have here a seasonal outdoor playground for kids as well as a mini-golf course.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.