While the lights of New York City may shine brighter than the City of Light, that doesn’t mean that you should forego a trip to Buffalo in favor of its “Big City” counterpart. Buffalo has the culture, food, history, architecture, and arts to make it a destination worth planning a trip around, all at a fraction of the price and without the endless lines.
New York City may be at the top of your bucket list but consider extending your stay to check out the City of Good Neighbors. You might find that you prefer the small town feel of a big city, rather than the bustling streets of Manhattan. Buffalo is a city to be reckoned with and is eager to shed the reputation of a snow-bound wasteland.
Known primarily for its contribution to finger-licking bar food, struggling sports teams , and epic winter storms, Buffalo is just waiting to be discovered. Just below the surface of its flat-line reputation, the Nickel City is holding some surprising secrets--many of which are commonly known amongst locals.
There's endless history to be learned here, arts to be celebrated and architecture to be admired. It's no longer a city in transition, but a city ready to debut its new persona, that of a city that's been down and out for too long and has the energy to blow your mind.
While New York bursts at the seams with endless options, Buffalo has the right amount of talent and interest to make a vacation worth your while. With that being said, New York City is definitely a city worth visiting, but if you’re looking for a culturally immersive vacation don’t discount Buffalo. Many of the aspects that make New York the international destination it’s become, Buffalo shares much of the same.
You might be reading this and thinking that I’ve lost my mind, thinking that Buffalo could rival a city like New York, but at the turn of the century Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the country and housed the most millionaires per capita compared to any other place in the country, making it a culturally rich destination.
Many of the world’s greatest architects got their start in Buffalo, helping contribute to the impressive collection of buildings spread throughout the city. Buffalo has dozens of examples of internationally celebrated architect’s work, many of which don’t get the recognition they deserve. Frank Lloyd Wright, Minoru Yamasaki, Louise Bethune, Louis Sullivan, H.H. Richardson and Frederick Law Olmsted are just a handful of the talented and celebrated architects who have contributed to the city’s skyline, making it one of the most architecturally significant cities in the world.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin house just underwent a multimillion-dollar restoration over the course of fifteen-plus years and is one of the largest attractions in the city. M & T Plaza in downtown Buffalo may seem familiar because it was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the world-renowned architect who designed New York's twin towers. Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building was one of the first skyscrapers in the world. Louise Bethune, the first professional female architect, built the Lafayette Hotel which was once considered one of the best fifteen hotels in the world when it was completed in 1911. Last but not least, Frederick Law Olmsted's work shaped the city, literally. The man who designed the world-famous Central Park in New York City focused on greenery over city streets with his Buffalo design as he dreamed of a city formed around a park system rather than dropping a park in the center of the city.
Buffalo is a city with plenty of character, heart, and culture and there are so many ways to experience this. Through the museums, restaurants, galleries, festivals and simply by walking the streets, you pick up on the laid-back atmosphere that makes Buffalo one of the greatest places (in my humble opinion) in the world. You'll be hard-pressed not to run into a Buffalonian, far or near, who won't talk your ear off about all of the great things in this town.
The blend of cultures and ethnicities make each neighborhood a truly unique pocket of culture, from food to festivals and events, these areas of Buffalo make the city one of the most diverse places you can visit. Stepping into the historic Polish East side, strolling the city's Little Italy on Hertel Avenue, or visiting any number of traditional Irish pubs make you feel like you're in a cultural hub for a truly immersive experience. All of these unique destinations make a city that has a unique persona that is worth the visit.
The art scene in Buffalo is one of the most dynamic around as the city has proven to be a hotbed for creative types. The low cost of living and the robust community make it the ideal location for photographers, painters, sculptors, musicians, and actors.
The edge of Main Street downtown is lined with both small and nationally celebrated theaters like Shea's and the Irish Classical Theater. These theaters put on a range of productions all year round that cater to all types of theater-goers.
Elmwood and Allentown have long been the bloodline of the artistic communities in Buffalo. Galleries line the streets and in the summertime, the neighborhoods each host their own festivals to showcase the talents of Buffalonians.
The city is known for its namesake wings but the food options go far beyond butter and hot sauce-covered chicken. With such a rich history filled with immigrants from all over the world, the food scene is like nothing you’d expect. The first wave of immigrants--Irish, Polish and Italian--filled Buffalo with delicious eats that shaped the character of the city. The next and latest wave of Burmese, Vietnamese, Sudanese and Somalis brought South Asian and African fair that was totally new to those who live here and visit. The East and West sides of the Buffalo are filled with dynamic restaurants with delicious foods from all corners of the globe and shouldn't be missed.
With a history dating back over 200 years to when the city was first settled in 1789 you better believe that there are plenty of stories to be told. Wars were fought here, Presidents died and were inaugurated here, a fire decimated the city in 1812, slaves reached their freedom here, world fairs like the Pan American Exposition of 1901 were celebrated here, famous musicians, actors, artists, architects got their start here, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. The city has an incredibly detailed history that is all around. Take the time to walk through the many art galleries, museums, and historical sites to learn about the vibrant past of this blue-collar town.
Let’s be honest, the shopping in New York is truly one of a kind with thousands upon thousands of luxury retailers spread throughout the boroughs. You could spend your entire life shopping in New York and never hit the same place twice, but it would set you back quite a bit. If you’re looking to get hand-made clothes or furniture, luxury products or artfully made crafts all on a budget, Buffalo is your place. Spread through the streets of the Elmwood Village, Grant Street, Hertel Avenue and Allentown, you’ll find quaint shops and retailers that sell quality products for a fraction (of a fraction, of a fraction, of a fraction…) of what you’ll find almost anywhere in New York.
Places like The West Side Bazaar in the Westside or any number of small shops lining Elmwood Avenue, Allen Street or Hertel offer amazing finds and great deals that you just couldn't find anywhere in New York for the same price. Not only that, but the craftsmen and women in Buffalo take incredible pride in their work and shoppers can generally stroll from shop to shop meeting incredibly talented artists.
Aside from the Olmsted park system which defines the layout of the city, there are plenty of beautiful and peaceful spots to soak up the scenery. Many of the parks throughout Buffalo are small pocket parks that allow for a peaceful respite from the chaos all around. The outer and inner harbor offer miles of paths along the Buffalo River and Lake Erie, and Tifft Nature preserve can make you feel like you're hundreds of miles away from the closest civilization. The semi-recently renovated Canalside was replicated to look like a cleaner version of its former self. Over 100 years ago this neighborhood was the central vein for the city's shipping and trading but was also an incredibly dangerous and unsanitary place. Almost the entire neighborhood was demolished for affordable housing in the 1950s with the remaining land left vacant and unkept. The city has invested millions of dollars in recent years to make it one of the most beautiful and visited places in the city; perfect for a quiet walk or numerous activities like kayaking, biking or paddle boating.