15 Best Things to Do in Elmira, NY

Elmira, NY
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Residents of New York State’s Southern Tier region know Elmira as its “Queen City,” and for a good reason.

It’s a city rich in history, culture, and nature, ticking all the boxes of a top-notch US tourist destination.

Likewise, it’s also overflowing with the small-town charm travelers just can’t get enough of.

For example, a tour of downtown Elmira shows you various unique and interesting shops and boutiques and excellent places to eat.

If you want to see nature, New York’s Finger Lakes are just a stone’s throw away, and you can enjoy the region’s world-famous wine.

The impressive Chemung River also passes through Elmira, which gives travelers plenty of water recreation.

On the other hand, landlubbers can simply stroll around the city’s local parks, including the Tanglewood Nature Center.

According to Best Things New York, it’s also the top nature center in New York State.

Do you want to know more about Elmira, NY?

Here’s a list of the best things to do in town:

Learn to Fly at the National Soaring Museum

National Soaring Museum
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The full history of aviation is on display at Elmira’s National Soaring Museum, which contains replicas of expertly constructed sailplanes and gliders.

During your visit, you’ll marvel at the meteoric progress of motorless planes since they began on Harris Field in the 1930s.

Likewise, you can enter the air-conditioned Schweizer Gallery to watch the gliders take off and land.

What else can you do at the museum?

You can hop in a flight simulator to feel how it’s like to soar among the clouds.

Go Fishing at Eldridge Lake

For a taste of the outdoors, why not go fishing at Elmira’s Eldridge Lake?

This roughly 11-acre lake sits in Eldridge Park, a former amusement park. You can visit the lake for picnicking, biking, and fishing today.

In the past, people thought the lake was bottomless, but it simply led to Seneca Lake via underground tunnels.

Bring your rods and enjoy the lake’s warm water fishing opportunities.

You can catch largemouth bass and panfish there.

However, many fish species live in the lake, such as northern pike, rainbow trout, and yellow perch.

Check Out Masterpieces at the Arnot Art Museum

View of Arnot Art Museum
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If you want proof of Elmira’s well-regarded historical and cultural heritage, visit the Arnot Art Museum at 235 Lake Street.

It contains various art masterpieces from the 17th to 19th century, but it’s also inside a historical building.

The museum sits inside the original grand 1833 showcase, complete with the addition of a late 20th-century gallery.

When you arrive, you’ll find a permanent collection of 17th to 19th-century masterpieces of European painting.

You’ll also see displays of 19th-century American art and an expanding collection of contemporary masterworks.

The museum also holds temporary exhibitions now and then to showcase art gathered from worldwide.

Enjoy Good Old Family Fun at the Harris Hill Amusement Park

For over 65 years, the Harris Hill Amusement Park has given numerous families a chance to have fun together and strengthen their bonds.

If you’ve planned a family day at Elmira, you won’t go wrong visiting this park.

The park offers various activities you can do with siblings or kids.

For example, you can practice your golf swings at the driving range or take to the skies at the sailplane rides.

On the other hand, you can bring your kids to the batting cages, ride on go-karts, or play miniature golf with them.

You can let your toddlers ride the kiddie rides, too.

Learn the History of Industry at the Elmira Coca-Cola Bottling Company Works

Front View of Elmira Coca-Cola Bottling Company Works
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The Coca-Cola Bottling Company Works, an Art Moderne building that opened in 1939 to bottle the world-famous soft drink, awaits you at 415 West Second Street in Elmira.

The architect Lucius Read White, Jr. designed the building, which operated for several decades.

In 1997, the National Register of Historic Places put the bottling plant in its record.

Today, the building has stopped producing bottles.

Instead, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 139 has turned it into their headquarters.

Reflect on Life at the Mount Saviour Monastery

Just nine minutes away from Elmira stands another significant historical landmark, the Mount Saviour Monastery, located in Pine City.

Mount Saviour comprises a farm and monastery campus where Benedictine monks live, and the Benedictine Foundation of New York State owns.

Since 1865, the farm has operated non-stop, consisting of 10 contributing buildings and three contributing sites.

In 1950, the Benedictines established the monastery, completing the historic district.

The monastery is open to visitors.

You can reserve accommodations or simply join the monks during the Holy Mass.

Likewise, you can grab souvenirs from the gift shop.

Learn More about the Famous Author at Mark Twain’s Study

Are you a fan of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

How about A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court?

If you ever end up in Elmira, you should go to Elmira College to visit Mark Twain’s study.

After all, Mark Twain cooked up and completed those two masterpieces of American literature in this small wooden octagon.

Even though Twain settled in Connecticut, he wrote his classic works in Elmira, particularly this small hut inside a sprawling farm.

Today, the hut stands inside the Elmira college campus, giving daily inspiration to generations of young writers.

His sister-in-law had the hut built for Twain, and he made the most of it.

He wrote nearly all of his classic stories here, such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Connecticut Yankee.

Throughout the writing process, Twain appreciated the silence of the hut, while his sister-in-law appreciated not smelling his pipe smoke inside her house.

Remember American History at the John W. Jones Museum

Front View of John W. Jones Museum
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When you visit Elmira, drop by the John W. Jones Museum to honor the memory of the African-Americans who fought for freedom from slavery.

This museum was once the house of John W. Jones, a slave who escaped and made a home in Elmira.

While he stayed in Elmira, he also became a Station Master of the Underground Railroad, where he helped about 800 fugitive slaves escape to Canada.

Celebrate black history through the historical documents displayed at the museum.

These documents show Jones’ voice and shed light on the enslaved African-Americans’ efforts to flee from bondage.

Honor a Titan of American Letters by Visiting Mark Twain’s Grave Site

View of Mark Twain’s Grave Site
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After visiting Mark Twain’s study, head to the Woodlawn Cemetery to find the celebrated author’s gravesite.

You’ll find his burial ground there and the graves of his mother, wife, and children.

The grave marker bears the author’s real name, Samuel L. Clemens, and you’ll see it right away because a memorial obelisk stands over the grave.

You’ll also notice that the obelisk bears the author’s likeness on a closer look.

A few individual headstones line the path toward the obelisk.

Learn Local History at the Chemung Valley History Museum

In the middle of downtown Elmira, at 415 East Water Street, the Chemung Valley History Museum stands.

The Chemung Valley Historical Society calls this building home and welcomes tourists from all over to learn the area’s history through exhibits and events.

The museum contains various historical artifacts dating back to the earliest Native American settlements in the area.

You could even check out a Mark Twain exhibit, introducing you to the people and places the famous author visited during his time in town.

Other exhibits reveal the life and society of Elmira during the tumultuous years of the 1910s and beyond.

Revisit US History at the Newtown Battlefield State Park

View of Newtown Battlefield State Park
Jayu from Harrisburg, PA, U.S.A., CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In August 1779, the Battle of Newtown took place in Elmira, where the Sullivan Expedition fought the Iroquois who had sided with the British during the American Revolutionary War.

The fierce battle led to the decisive defeat of the Iroquois.

General John Sullivan led his forces in its only major battle.

View of Newtown Battlefield State Park
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Today, the battlefield has become thickly wooded and obscured, so the city built a narrow white granite column to mark the spot.

They called it the Newtown Battlefield Monument, and they erected it at the top of the hill where the battle happened.

In 1965, the government declared the monument a National Historic Landmark.

Explore Nature at the Tanglewood Nature Center

Bring your family for a fun day outdoors at the Tanglewood Nature Center.

With over ten miles of hiking trails and over forty animals to see, this nature preserve will leave you wanting more after the first visit.

They also hold educational programs to teach your kids why preserving nature is important.

What animals can you see there?

You’ll see various animals like birds of prey, such as owls, vultures, falcons, and hawks.

Likewise, you’ll see several native and non-native animals, which the center uses to teach visitors about how animals survive on the planet.

Admire the Style of the Chemung Canal Bank Building

Front View of Chemung Canal Bank Building
Doug Kerr from Upstate New York, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chemung Canal Bank Building, the oldest commercial building in Elmira, still stands at 415 East Water Street.

It opened in 1833 as the office of the Chemung Canal Trust Company.

The bank operated from the building for 76 years until it gave way to law offices.

For 56 more years, various law offices worked from the building.

In 1978, the National Register of Historic Places listed the Canal Bank Building in its roster.

Today, the Chemung County Historical Society owns the building.

The group turned the first floor into a general history museum, the region’s largest.

For the second floor, the society turned it into the Booth library, a public research facility, and archive.

Finally, the third floor became a collections storage facility.

You’ll enjoy looking at the building’s blend of Greek revival and Traditional Federal designs in terms of architecture.

It was the first structure made of brick with stepped gables, while the other buildings were still wooden.

Expand Your Knowledge at the Quarry Farm

View of Quarry Farm
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Learn more about the legendary author Mark Twain at his Elmira residence, called Quarry Farm.

The Langdon family owned the property, intending to become their summer house.

After the patriarch, Jervis Langdon, died in 1870, his eldest daughter and her husband, Susan and Theodore Crane, settled there.

They turned the property into a dairy farm.

Samuel Clemens had married Jervis’ youngest daughter, Olivia Langdon, so they were free to visit Quarry Farm.

Between 1871 and 1895, Sam and his family lived there, where Olivia also gave birth to their three daughters.

Quarry Farm is important to Mark Twain’s career because he wrote all of his major works in a small hut on the grounds.

Today, the public can view the main residence and travel the grounds during Spring and Fall.

Writers and Twain researchers can also apply for a residency at Quarry Farm, where they’ll live for two to four weeks as Quarry Farm Fellows.

Learn More History at the Zimmerman House

Drive nine minutes out of Elmira to reach the village of Horseheads, a small village that’s nonetheless steeped in history.

The Horseheads Historical Society manages the place’s historical sites, one of which is the noted Zimmerman house.

The famous cartoonist Eugene Zimmerman lived in this house, where he drew cartoons for the satirical magazines “Puck” and “Judge.”

He became one of the world’s most renowned cartoonists during his career, gaining notoriety from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

After he died in 1935, his daughter Laura took his place in the house.

She maintained the house until she willed it to the Horseheads Historical Society upon her death.

After she died in 1980, the Society and students from Cornell University cataloged and preserved the artifacts inside the home.

They returned the house to its appearance in the late 1800s and early 1900s, both inside and out.

It’s almost as if Eugene Zimmerman and his family still lived there.

Today, you can schedule a tour inside the house.

Final Thoughts

The city of Elmira and other nearby towns should satisfy your curiosity about matters ranging from the life of an old cartoonist, Mark Twain, and even aviation history.

Even if you only have a passing interest in these topics, you owe it to yourself to visit Elmira to add to your knowledge.

So, what are you waiting for?

Book your Elmira trip today!

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