Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Syracuse, NY

  • Published 2022/11/24

As one of the cities in New York state, you may think Syracuse would have busy streets and crowded places.

However, Syracuse is much more than what meets the eye.

As the seat of Onondaga County, this city is home to many destinations showcasing rich culture, local arts, deep history, and natural attractions.

Upon its incorporation in 1825, the city was bound for greatness.

It played significant roles in the railway network, chemical industries, engineering, and manufacturing companies.

It’s no surprise that Syracuse has become one of the top places in Onondaga County!

Named after a famous Greek city, this diverse destination has much to offer its visitors.

Here’s a list of free things to do in Syracuse, New York:

Find Peace at Webster Pond

Ducks on Webster Pond

Ritu Manoj Jethani /

Webster Pond is a small heaven amid the city’s busy life.

Along Valley Drive, volunteers work hard to maintain the pristine conditions of this natural attraction.

You’ll often find people feeding friendly animals with tasty corn or simple lettuce.

Because of this, many types of creatures treat Webster Pond as their habitat.

Fishing is also a popular activity, no matter the season.

The waters of Webster Pond

debra millet /

Volunteers traditionally host events, concerts, and community gatherings around Webster Pond during summer and fall.

You can also hike a small trail that spans about a mile.

Webster Pond may not be the most prominent destination, but everyone needs a little peace from time to time.

Join the Festivals at Clinton Square

A Christmas tree at Clinton Square

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In the past, Clinton Square had been the center of the town’s vibrant community.

People gathered around the square and established businesses when the Erie Canal began construction.

It’s toned down over the years, but don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s nothing to see within the square.

A simple walk around the place can give you a glimpse of the town’s long-standing history!

Walkway at Clinton Square

Mahmoud Suhail /

Clinton Square has a subtle charm, from classical buildings and towering structures to functional fountains and paved walkways.

The city has renovated the square, but they’ve tried to retain its original appeal.

Now, it’s also a popular spot for festivals celebrating Central New York’s bright culture!

Check out Clinton Square along Genesee Street.

Ice rink at Clinton Square

Gavin Schaefer, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Discover Culture at Syracuse University Art Museum

Syracuse University Art Museum takes on unique and diverse artworks to encourage exploration and experimentation in the arts.

You’ll find that their exhibits feature various styles and perspectives.

They prioritize unique and innovative talents.

Located at Shaffer Hall, visitors don’t need to be a student at the university!

They have curated exhibits for permanent artworks, but they’ll also introduce new art forms from time to time.

Their permanent collections consist of items that represent national and cultural heritage across the globe.

This includes paintings, print pictures, and traditional objects of varied cultures.

If you like art, Syracuse University Art Museum can be a worthy destination.

Go Biking at Onondaga Creekwalk

Pathway of Onondaga Creekwalk

Kai Brinker, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It took decades of planning for the city to install the Onondaga Creekwalk.

Begun in 1988, the pavement is made of bright red bricks, spanning about five miles around the trails of New York.

The cemented path can be ideal for bikers, pedestrians, and skaters to roam around Syracuse.

It also offers side-along views of the tranquil Onondaga Creek.

The journey will take you through Kirk Park, downtown square, and Onondaga Lake near the ends of the long creek.

Along the way, you can also glance at charming buildings and establishments.

Onondaga Creekwalk is perfect for those who want to tour the city and see the sights conveniently.

It’s a straightforward path, so getting lost will be difficult.

Try Recreational Activities at Thornden Park

Welcome sign of Thornden Park

DASonnenfeld, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thornden Park is a family-friendly destination with various facilities for people to enjoy.

The origins of this park date back to 1850, when it first served as a simple farm for Zebulon Ostrom.

The venue was renovated to include ballfields and a swimming pool when it was bought.

The city government aimed to improve the city’s quality of life through easy access to primary recreation.

Amphitheatre at Thornden Park

DASonnenfeld, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The place has expanded to include more than just a swimming pool and a few baseball fields.

It’s also got picnic tables, basketball courts, fitness trails, playgrounds, and many other amenities.

At Thornden Park Drive, you can expect many activities from just one destination.

Give Thornden Park a chance!

Smell the Flowers at E.M. Mills Rose Garden

Daytime view of E.M. Mills Rose Garden

debra millet /

E.M. Mills Rose Garden offers a pretty sight for those with tired eyes.

Thornden Park Drive is an oasis for lush, beautiful roses of varying shades and hues.

The Syracuse Rose Society is in charge of maintaining and cultivating the flowers on the premises.

Since their establishment in 1911, they’ve carefully nurtured flowers like the ones in E.M. Mills Rose Garden.

Flowers at E.M. Mills Rose Garden

DASonnenfeld, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The result is a stunning garden with bright, colorful roses in every direction.

It’s just right for those who want moments of peace and relaxation.

From tall arches of roses to bushes of flowers, there’s so much beauty to admire within these gardens.

Don’t skip out on these gorgeous views!

The grounds of E.M. Mills Rose Garden

debra millet /

Learn Local History at Onondaga Historical Museum

Located in downtown Syracuse, the Onondaga Historical Museum lets you learn about the country’s past.

You can learn about its connection to the underground railroad, its Jewish origins, and the lifestyle during the Victorian era.

It’s a learning experience that’s freely open to the public!

Browse intricate paintings, find original antiques, and read some of their infographic posters.

All these are made possible through the work of the Onondaga Historical Association.

They’re a private non-profit group that deals in services related to preserving local history.

If you want to see the fruit of their efforts, head to the Onondaga Historical Museum.

Read in Silence at the White Branch Library

Exterior of the White Branch Library

DASonnenfeld, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The White Branch Library presents a tranquil, cozy place for those who read books.

It was named after Dr. Charles White, the principal of Franklin School for many years.

Since 1925, White Branch Library has provided a quiet location, especially when necessary.

Intricate murals incorporate fairy tale themes like Cinderella, Pied Piper of Hamelin, and Jack and the Beanstalk.

Whether it’s books, media resources, or documents, their collection has reached more than 23,000 worth of reading and listening materials.

Along Butternut Street, this library opens its door to visitors.

Relax at Burnet Park

Scenic view of Burnet Park

debra millet /

Burnet Park takes pride in being the largest park in the whole city.

You’ll see sweeping views of green rolling hills, lush trees, and a powerhouse of free amenities.

With picnic tables, athletic fields, and long trails, Burnet Park offers leisure and recreation opportunities.

Whether you’re an adult or a child, there’s something for you at Burnet Park.

Baseball field at Burnet Park

Wirestock Creators /

There’s also a swimming pool, golf course, and zoo, but those facilities require a small admission fee.

Still, you don’t need those places to enjoy the calming ambiance of Burnet Park.

The place has gorgeous nature views, plenty of space, and a tranquil atmosphere.

Try visiting this venue at Burnet Park Drive!

Support African Artists in the Community Folk Art Center

With its unique theme, the Community Folk Art Center separates itself from other nearby galleries.

This colorful, creative hub focuses on the showcase of artists from the African Diaspora.

They aim to foster cultural appreciation through the community’s visual and expressive arts exhibitions.

The Community Folk Art Center features various mediums, whether through film, art shows, or workshops.

This impressive art center offers a fresh artistic experience in a small, intimate space.

It’s not every day that you can find a free gallery that’s dedicated to social issues of the region.

You can find the venue east of Genesee Street!

See the Local Lifestyle at Armory Square

Buildings at Armory Square

debra millet /

Armory Square is the place to connect with the chic local lifestyle.

On the west side of Downtown Syracuse, this place is a center for shopping, entertainment, and nightlife.

Still, you don’t need to go into any of those for enjoyment!

A simple walk around Armory Square displays many beautiful architectures in a calm, charming ambiance.

Shops at Armory Square

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This wasn’t always the case.

After World War II, this square became less populated, and businesses had to be shut down for bankruptcy.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that plans to revitalize Armory Square were successfully made.

Now, you can stop by Armory Square to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

Guitar shop at Armory Square

debra millet /

Admire the Niagara Mohawk Building

Exterior of the Niagara Mohawk Building

Kenneth Sponsler /

The Niagara Mohawk Building is a prime example of classic Art Deco architecture.

Its futuristic design, high-quality materials, and outdoor lighting are praised.

All those components make the building look as if there’s electricity running through the establishment from afar.

While it was constructed in 1932, it continues to be a classic example of excellent design and architecture.

Top part of the Niagara Mohawk Building

Kenneth Sponsler /

In 2010, they added the building to the National Register of Historic Places.

For the most part, the Niagara Mohawk Building symbolizes the innovative capabilities of electricity and how it changed the world.

You’ll find this artificial masterpiece on the west side of Clinton Square.

Sculpture on the Niagara Mohawk Building

Peter Dutton from Forest Hills, Queens, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Discover Art for Change in ArtRage Gallery

In 2008, ArtRage Gallery was built along the lengths of Hawley Avenue.

If you’re one of those people who believe that art should be made with purpose, this gallery will be perfect.

The primary mission of this gallery was to exhibit creative pieces that stood for social change in New York.

They highlighted themes like social justice and environmental change to reach the local community.

Besides viewing splendid artwork, you’ll also learn a bit more about life in the city!

From homemade artworks and modern cinemas to an on-site gift shop, there’s plenty to explore inside ArtRage Gallery.

Stop by the gallery if you’re ever in Syracuse!

Other Things to Do Nearby

Travel Back in Time at the Salt Museum

Exterior of the Salt Museum

debra millet /

Since Syracuse is famously known as the “Salt City,” you can’t skip out on the Salt Museum!

In the past, the city was credited for supplying almost the entire nation with salt from its natural resources.

The Salt Museum gives you more profound insight into the industry’s process, supply, and eventual downfall.

This museum also features original equipment like antique kettles and wooden barrels from the 1920s.

This venue brings on bouts of nostalgia at Lake Drive with its old-fashioned decor and rustic ambiance.

For a unique experience, you can look into this free destination.

You can find the Salt Museum in Liverpool, New York, about ten minutes from Syracuse.

Go Fishing at Onondaga Lake

The waters of Onondaga Lake

debra millet /

Near the edge of Syracuse City, you’ll find Onondaga Lake, nine minutes from the city.

This serene lake is the ideal destination for travelers who want to connect with the natural environment.

With a length of about five miles, the lake was once a center for water recreation like swimming, boating, and fishing.

Sadly, the high rate of industrial waste polluted the lake, pushing the city to close it in the 1970s.

In 1986, they reopened the lake, reporting over 65 species of fish living there.

While Onondaga Lake has still not returned to its pristine condition, volunteers work hard to maintain and improve the quality of its waters.

Outdoor enthusiasts can visit the lake and see what it has in store!

Final Thoughts

While Syracuse is most known for its contribution to the salt industry, there’s so much more to the city.

It’s got a broad assortment of natural attractions, historic sites, and cultural destinations, among many others.

The best part is you don’t even have to spend money!

If you want to travel but hate wasting money, check out the free things to do in Syracuse, New York.

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