Blake Walsh

25 Best Things to Do in Ithaca, NY

  • Published 2023/03/24

Amidst the concrete jungle of New York resides the peaceful town called Ithaca.

People from the neighboring states usually frequent this place to attain a few days of tranquility.

Ithaca is flooded with several museums and science centers that encourage and enlighten the mind of young people by giving them a new perspective on the earth.

All the important places and scenic trails are located near Cayuga Lake, which makes maneuvering the paths relatively easier.

Numerous waterfalls surround the area, adding to the serene charm of the place.

Moreover, Ithaca has some unique attractions that are not available anywhere in the world, such as the Wilder Human Brain Collection, where they showcase preserved brains and Gourdlandia, where gourds are used to make art.

Ithaca is the perfect place for a small getaway.

These are the best things to do in Ithaca, New York:

Visit the Stunning Taughannock Falls

Scenic view of Taughannock Falls

Paul Massie Photography /

Ithaca is adorned with numerous waterfalls throughout the entire town.

The continuous movement of water from the glacier led to the formation of gorges that can easily be spotted.

One such spectacular cascade is the Taughannock Falls, which is the highest waterfall in Ithaca, with a height of 215 feet.

People admiring the Taughannock Falls

Jim Vallee /

The waterfall stands 400 feet above the gorge and is considered to be three stories higher than the Niagara Falls.

Since it is part of a state park, hiking trips must be arranged.

There are campsites and cabins overlooking Cayuga Lake that promise a splendid evening and add to the beauty of the place.

Visit the Cornell University Campus

Exterior of a building at Cornell University

Mihail Degteariov /

Cornell University is known for its Ivy League tag and its diverse nature of education, but it is also a popular tourist attraction.

The university is located atop a hill and is surrounded by waterfalls and lush green trees that beautify the campus.

Students watching the sunset at Cornell University's libe slope

Jay Yuan /

Established by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White in the year 1865, it has 14 colleges and schools that rightfully maintain the university’s dignity.

The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art is a part of the campus and hosts more than 30,000 works of paintings, photographs, art and prints.

McGraw Tower attracts a lot of visitors as it plays the famous Cornell chimes that are not heard anywhere else on the globe.

Aerial view of Cornell University buildings

Lewis Liu /

Geek Out at the Museum of the Earth

A dinosaur sculpture on the grounds of Museum of the Earth

Paleontological Research Institution, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ithaca’s national history museum is also known as the Museum of the Earth.

It is part of the Paleontological Research Institution, which explores the condition of the natural world and vehemently encourages people to learn about how to conserve the environment.

The museum was built in the year 2003 to explain concepts of the earth in a more engaging manner and attract the interest of the masses.

Artifacts that are billions of years old are displayed in this 8,000-square-foot museum.

Apart from the ordinary, the museum provides interactive sessions, such as art exhibitions, virtual exhibitions, and many such events every month of every year.

Grab a Glass of Wine at Six Mile Creek Vineyard

Ithaca is the hub where the best wine is produced, and as a result, several vineyards are found in this small town.

Six Mile Creek Vineyard is the oldest and most renowned vineyard, which is found while traveling through the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.

The winery has slowly spread its roots and now produces 10,000 gallons of wine every year without fail.

Other grape-based spirits and copper-pot spirits are also available to cater to everyone’s needs.

The tasting room of the winery is breathtaking, as it is a 19th-century Dutch colonial barn that has been restored.

An exterior space that is also a part of the tasting has been tastefully decorated.

The place is open seven days a week and has the most picturesque backdrop.

Get a Taste of Life as a Local at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market

Exterior of the Ithaca Farmer's Market

Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Ithaca Farmers’ Market brings a healthy dose of entertainment into the life of visitors and locals alike.

The market opens every weekend and sells a wide array of products from homegrown vegetables, organic products, and fresh flowers.

People shopping inside the Ithaca Farmers' Market

JWCohen /

The area where the market is placed is quite picturesque due to the waterfront pavilion that is situated near Cayuga Lake.

There are various restaurants that serve a vast range of cuisines, which perks the people’s interest.

The market does not limit itself to flowers and vegetables, as it also involves live music and entertainment.

Learn Something New at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Welcome sign of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Steve Cukrov /

An integral part of Cornell University, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology studies wildlife and different species of birds.

The center’s main aim is to research different species of birds across the globe and their biodiversity, as it is part of the Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary.

Exterior of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Heather Shimmin /

Several famous books and magazines related to birds, such as Living Bird Magazine, are published in this lab.

The lab also manages websites that attained critics’ acclamation, like All About Birds, which received several awards.

Last but not least, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is home to the Macaulay Sound Library, the world’s largest archive of natural sounds.

Tour the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art

Exterior of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art

JHVEPhoto /

An integral part of the esteemed Cornell University, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art has a record-breaking art collection that exceeds the count of 40,000.

Placed near Cayuga Lake, the building is also well-known for its Pei design style and contains two distinct windows from the Darwin D. Martin House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Entrance to the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art

Cornellrockey04, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum contains the artworks of famous painters, such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Matisse, Édouard Manet, Albrecht Dürer, and some famous local artists.

The museum diligently organizes exhibitions and school tours to enlighten the minds of the young.

Get Lost in the World of Books at the A. D. White Library

The White Library of Cornell University

eflon, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The A. D. White Library at Cornell University is a sight to behold, as it ticks all the qualities that are required to attain the title of a fantasy library.

Architect and Cornell graduate William Henry Miller designed the library, among several other buildings on the campus.

The library originally housed only the books of Cornell University’s first president, Andrew Dickson White.

Hundreds of books in A. D. White Library

LBM1948, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

He donated a substantial number of books to the library, including books on revolution, witchcraft, and abolition.

The library has the largest collection of books on architecture in the entire country.

The library’s architecture reminds people of the glory days of the past, with its lofty bookcases, iron carved flourishes, and arched enclaves.

Wooden reading tables in A. D. White Library

LBM1948, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy Interactive Exhibits at Sciencenter

Ithaca brings a twist of its own with its hands-on museum, also known as Sciencenter.

The museum is meant to interest people of all ages.

Its hands-on science experiments perk the visitors’ interest, as they actively take part in them instead of passively watching from the audience.

Sciencenter’s interactive sessions help youngsters gain interest in science and education as a whole.

The museum is two stories high and contains more than 250 exhibitions, which include interactive science stations about water, pressure, motion, and air.

At regular intervals, the museum also arranges outdoor science activities, such as the Sagan Planet Walk, which is a walking tour of the solar system.

Watch a Performance at the Hangar Theatre

Situated quite near the scenic Cayuga Lake, the Hangar Theatre is the home of the Hanger Lab Company.

It is a regional theater that aims to move the heart of the audience with its vast array of theatrical performances that enrich and enlighten the minds of the audience.

The theater holds performances of a plethora of genres, catering to a wide range of preferences.

Apart from this, the company organizes several events, workshops, and classes that center around theatrical performances and conducts non-theatrical ones through all the seasons.

Witness the Fascinating Wilder Brain Collection

Wilder Brain collection in cornell university

Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It is not everywhere that you’ll find a museum that showcases the brain in its best-preserved form.

The Wilder Brain Collection is part of the esteemed Cornell University and started collecting brains at the end of the 19th century.

Doctor Burt Green Wilder, who started the collection, was a civil war surgeon and the first animal biologist at Cornell University.

The main aim was to detect the difference between the brain structures of intellectual people, ordinary people, men, women, and children.

The anatomy department possesses more than 12,000 brains, which include whole human brains, partial human brains, and animal brains.

Due to the preservation policy, at the present moment, 70 whole human brains are displayed to the visitors.

Among several eminent people, American author and political activist Helen Hamilton Gardener donated her brain in 1925 to prove that women’s brains are in no way inferior to men’s.

Even the Wilder Human Brain Collection’s founder, Burt Green Wilder, donated his brain upon his death.

Learn More about the Environment at the Cayuga Nature Center

Exterior of Cayuga Nature Center's lodge

Paleontological Research Institution, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cayuga Nature Center is located on the east side of Cayuga Lake.

The main objective of this educational institution is to inform the masses about the environment and ways of conserving it.

The institution covers an area of 120 acres and is well-known for its humongous tree house known as Tree Tops, which is six stories high and is known for giving the visitors a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area.

The center also conducts lectures and events that give a detailed description of the region’s fauna and flora, climate change, ecosystem, and history.

Have a Moment of Peace at Namgyal Monastery

Namgyal Monastery is part of the 14th Dalai Lama branch.

It sits on an area of 28 acres and is surrounded by woodlands that add to its tranquil nature.

The monastery perfectly embodies the cultural significance of Buddhism and is a library and museum that houses Buddhist scriptures, teachings, writings, and all the volumes of sutras.

The monastery also promotes Buddhist studies and offers classes.

Meditation sessions and other retreat plans are also available to visitors.

The ambiance of the place calms the mind of visitors and promotes personal growth.

Head to the Sagan Planet Walk and Tour the Solar System

The Sagan Planet Walk is named after Cornell University professor Carl Sagan.

The solar system is a 1.5 billion scale model that stretches over several miles.

The walk starts from the Ithaca Commons and ends at Sciencenter, where Pluto is situated.

Each planet station gives explicit details about the planet, NASA images, and interesting facts.

At every station, there is a model structure that compares the planet to the sun to make the walk more interesting.

The Sagan Planet Walk was built in the year 1995, but since then, it has gone through certain changes.

At the moment, the asteroid belt and the model of the nearest star have been included.

Join a Workshop at Gourdlandia

Gourdlandia is a must-visit, as in this place resides the “Gourd Lady,” also known as Graham Ottoson.

With the help of gourds, she executes her art by making gourd lamps, gourd masks, gourd bugles, and gourd marionettes.

Visitors have the opportunity to visit the center and learn about the art and the cultivation process of the gourd.

Ottoson also provides lectures and conducts workshops for people who are interested in learning about the art.

She teaches everything from scratch, that is, from gourd washing to the fine art of gourd carving.

She also provides the necessary tools for carving and gourd jigsaw.

Let Your Kids Connect with Nature at Ithaca Children’s Garden

Ithaca Children’s Garden is a continually growing garden with more than three acres of playing grounds for children.

Designed to empower children’s imagination through playful exploration, this award-winning space is enjoyed by all and gives kids the chance to connect with nature.

The garden features three acres of beautifully landscaped grounds, bursting with seasonal plantings and activities to engage children in nature.

Ithaca Children’s Garden is a great place for kids to explore and have fun.

There are plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained, including building forts, tending to the garden, and exploring the many trails.

The giant turtle is a favorite among visitors, and the frog pond is a great place to learn about tadpoles.

Adults will also find plenty to enjoy in the garden.

Take Off on a Spontaneous Hiking Adventure along the Cascadilla Gorge Trail

Waterfall along Cascadilla Gorge Trail

Gabe Shakour /

Connective corridors are spaces that connect two distinct areas of a community, be it neighborhoods or even cities themselves.

In Ithaca, for example, the Cascadilla Gorge Trail serves as such a space, connecting the downtown to the Cornell campus.

It is a short trail, but the Cascadilla Creek makes for a gorgeous setting.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so popular—eight waterfalls ranging from eight to 80 feet line this three-quarters-of-a mile path.

This trail follows the same 400-foot climb as the creek, climbing up the gorge and then taking a quick descent into Treman Triangle Park.

The Cascadilla Gorge Trail is open to visitors all year round, although the trails may be closed during icy conditions.

The gorge can be treacherous, so visitors should stay on the designated trail and respect trail closures.

Visit Stewart Park

The sky and trees reflecting on Stewart Park's water

Jon Bilous /

Stewart Park is a popular park in Ithaca for a reason: it offers an extensive recreational center, ample space for sports and play, and stunning views of Cayuga Lake.

The park has had a rich history—it used to be the estate of James Renwick, who owned lots of land surrounding Cayuga Lake.

Landscape of Stewart Park

Bruce Goerlitz Photo /

It also became the home of a zoo, a bird sanctuary, and an amusement park.

In the early 1900s, the park even served as the setting for several Hollywood films.

Today, Stewart Park has expanded to include several facilities: a municipal golf course, a spray pool, children’s playgrounds, athletic fields, a large duck pond, and areas for picnics.

Stewart Park's footbridge

Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Study the Trees and Plant Species at Sweedler and Thayer Preserves

At 155 acres, Sweedler and Thayer Preserves fuse two natural areas in a sanctuary of native trees and vegetation.

The land these preserves stand on was once farmlands abandoned after the Revolutionary War.

Now, the areas have become a public preserve home to rare cucumber magnolia and wild germanium.

The Thayer Preserve has a gorge that highlights several small waterfalls and low cliffs.

The preserves also offer trails that extend to about 2 miles.

Spend time basking in nature and geologic formations you won’t get to see elsewhere at these unique attractions.

Sweedler and Thayer Preserves are on opposite sides along Townline Road.

Cool Down by Lucifer Falls at Robert H. Treman State Park

People swimming at Robert H. Treman State Park

Benjamin Clapp /

Robert H. Treman State Park is a scenic sanctuary famous for its wild charms and open spaces.

It’s also a common camping site for tent, RV, and cabin campers.

It features picnic pavilions and walking trails that extend to about nine miles.

But perhaps, what makes this park a stand-out one from the rest is its rugged gorge—the Enfield Glen.

Trail steps at Robert H. Treman State Park

Stef Ko /

This gorge leads to 12 stunning waterfalls, one of which is the 115-foot Lucifer Falls.

While you can choose to admire the falls along on the trails, you may also swim at its accompanying stream-fed pool.

Robert H. Treman State Park is on Enfield Falls Road.

Aerial view of Robert H. Treman State Park's waterfall

Manjur216 /

Go on a Romantic Date at Mundy Wildflower Garden

Looking for an ideal spot to take your special person out for a date?

Mundy Wildflower Garden is a good choice.

A part of Cornell Botanic Gardens, this centerpiece garden features wetland meadows and floodplain forests.

And, as the name suggests, its variety of wildflower species is astounding!

Walk through spring flowers, like trilliums, marigolds, and trout lilies.

Its winding trails are worth visiting, too.

The 15-acre Mundy Wildflower Garden is on Caldwell Road.

Spend Time in the Woodlands at Buttermilk Falls State Park

Scenic view of Buttermilk Falls State Park

Kathy D. Reasor /

Buttermilk Falls State Park got its name from the waterfall of the same name that emulates a foaming gesture.

Spanning 811 acres, this state park has an upper and lower section, both equally magnificent in their own right.

Part of the upper park’s amenities includes a small lake, a gorge with a striking rim, and hiking trails.

On the other side are a playground and picnic areas.

The waters of Buttermilk Falls State Park

JWCohen /

Buttermilk Falls State Park’s waterfall stands at 165 feet.

Hike further up and you might just meet eroded ravines that offer vistas of the water below and plant-covered geologic structures.

The view from within this spot is truly a sight to behold, so be sure to check it out.

Head over to East Buttermilk Falls Road near Elmira Road.

Trail at Buttermilk Falls State Park

Debora Truax /

Find a Spot to Sunbathe at Potter’s Falls on Six Mile Creek

If you’re visiting Ithaca during the summer, you’ll find delight in knowing that it has a few spots for your sunbathing needs.

Potter’s Falls on Six Mile Creek is one of these famous spots.

At 25 feet, this cascading waterfall takes pride in its rugged rock formations and wildflower diversity.

In fact, the area is a labeled wildflower preserve since 1970.

While getting your much-needed tan, marvel at the variation of wildflowers you can see blooming at every corner.

Potter’s Falls on Six Mile Creek is open all throughout the year on Giles Street.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re visiting Ithaca for the first time or returning, you can discover a wealth of activities here.

With beautiful parks, hiking trails, and scenic walking paths throughout the city, there’s always something for tourists to enjoy.

Explore this list of places to visit and things to do in Ithaca to start your trip planning today!

© All rights reserved.