This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you click an affiliate link and buy something, that website will give me a tiny bit of money to say thanks for sending you to them. There is NO extra cost to you. This applies to Amazon links, as well as others, and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
The college town of Ithaca in New York State has turned out to be an idyllic home for college students and hipsters alike. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Ithaca, NY then you’re in the right place.
On the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, it’s the largest town around the Finger Lakes region and is full of great hiking, great eats, coffee and beer and an art-house cinema, not to mention the world-renowned Cornell University. It’s a destination town that’s getting more popular and is perfectly situated between New York City and Niagara Falls making it the perfect stopover on a weekend break in New York State.
Best things to do in Ithaca, NY
Here are some of the best things to do in Ithaca, New York including Ithaca hotels, the best restaurants and more.
How to get to Ithaca, New York
Ithaca is pretty easy to get to especially if you’re coming from the northeast of the USA. With an airport and great road connections, getting to Ithaca, New York shouldn’t be too difficult.
Where is Ithaca?
Ithaca is in upper New York State by the Finger Lakes. It’s about 4 hour’s drive away from New York City, and 3 hour’s drive from Niagara Falls.
Flights to Ithaca, NY
Ithaca has an international airport serviced by American Airlines to and from Philidelphia and by Delta Airlines to and from Detroit. From Washington D.C you can fly to Ithaca on United Airlines. The airport, Ithaca Tompkins International Airport, is just 10 minute’s drive from downtown Ithaca.
Getting the bus to Ithaca
You can get Greyhound buses to Ithaca from many cities across America. Greyhound, OurBus and Shortline Bus / Coach USA operate buses into Ithaca from a variety of cities, including daily service to/from NYC. The bus NYC to Ithaca usually costs $50-60.
Getting around Ithaca
Lime Bikes used to be available to get around the city of Ithaca. While no longer available, you can use Ithaca Bike Rental which has a variety of bike styles to rent. Bike rentals can be found at Stewart Park on the end of Cayuga Lake.
Alternatively, there’s a great bus system in the town. The Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, locally referred to as TCAT, goes from Cornell campus to downtown Ithaca, and surrounding areas. You have to use exact change when buying a ticket.
Best hotels in Ithaca, NY
There are many options for accommodation in Ithaca. I’ve picked out some of the top-rated Ithaca hotels below.
- Ithaca Marriott Downtown on The Commons: This downtown hotel is clean, bright and modern with an on-site bar and restaurant.
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites: Great option for hotels in Ithaca, NY close to waterfalls and downtown. This budget-friendly chain hotel has everything you need for a comfortable stay.
- The Inn at Taughannock Falls: The Inn at Taughannock Falls is slightly out of the centre of Ithaca but you can enjoy this Ithaca waterfall and trails just a few steps away.
- Firelight Camps: Looking for glamping in Ithaca? Firelight Camps offers yurt style accommodation in Ithaca in a beautiful countryside setting.
Top things to do in Ithaca, NY
There are SO many fun things to do in Ithaca, here are some of my top recommendations to add to your what to do in Ithaca list!
1. Explore the Ithaca waterfalls!
As the saying goes, “Ithaca is GORGES!” Waterfalls are the perfect place to go to find some peace of mind and Ithaca has many, many waterfalls; over 150! These waterfalls flow across the town and have created gorges in Ithaca as they go.
Wherever you are in the town you’re unlikely to be far away from a waterfall. Some of the most famous waterfalls in Ithaca are found in the three state parks close to the city. there’s Taughannock waterfall (higher than Niagara!), Robert Treman, and Buttermilk Falls. There are beautiful hikes in each of these state parks too, perfect on a crisp fall day!
If you’ve not had your share of the falls in Ithaca, then make sure to check out the 150-ft Ithaca Falls near Cayuga Lake. Or, take a small hike in the town along the Cascadilla Gorge Trail that takes you up to Cornell in Ithaca. From here there are a series of stone trails and staircases and then the beautiful sight of 6 waterfalls among the tall gorge walls.
2. Hike and swim in Robert H Treman State Park
One of the three state parks mentioned above, Robert H Treman State Park is an excellent place for hiking and swimming. and this park is one of the best things to do near Ithaca, NY. There is a great 4.5-mile hike and plenty of swimming and diving opportunities along the way. Extend your visit at the park and visit the upper section where there’s an old mill and a short hike around Lucifer Falls.
3. Hike in Taughannock Falls State Park
For hiking near Ithaca, drive 20 minutes from downtown Ithaca to Trumansburg to explore Taughannock Falls State Park. If you’re short on time you can see the falls from an overlook, but if you do go hiking you’ll enjoy some more unique viewpoints and swimming holes.
4. Hike Buttermilk Falls
Buttermilk Falls (aside from having a cool name) is the closest falls to downtown Ithaca. For beaches in Ithaca, this is the place to go. They’re perfect if you’re visiting Ithaca in summer but during the warmer months, the falls aren’t as impressive to look at. The trail up the gorge to the top of the falls is steep but well maintained, take plenty of water with you to stay hydrated!
5. Kayak on Lake Cayuga
Close to downtown Ithaca is Lake Cayuga; the longest Finger Lake in upstate New York. You can enjoy some kayaking, canoeing or paddleboarding on the lake when the water is calm by renting kayaks from Puddledockers in Ithaca. It costs between $30-35 to rent a board or kayak for an hour and the company also offer sunset tours for $45.
6. Walk around Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League University set amongst a beautiful campus. This college of Ithaca, is a mix of fraternity houses, older and more modern buildings, the large campus on the hill, in “Collegetown”, overlooking Lake Cayuga is one of the top things to see in Ithaca.
Besides wandering the campus, you can visit the Herbert F.Johnson Museum of Art which houses over 30,000 pieces one of the top Ithaca attractions.
But, even if art isn’t your thing, make sure you head up to the 5th floor to enjoy views of Cayuga Lake and the hillside views that surround Ithaca. You can also visit the botanical garden, wildflower garden and the Newman Arboretum which features New York State trees and shrubs.
7. Go wine tasting in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes area has seen a huge growth in the number of vineyards over the past couple of decades. Make your own tour of the wineries in the area but be sure to check out “Ports of New York“. This place specialises in Ports (of, course!), but also has a couple of wines to try all while enjoying beautiful lake views.
Experience! The Finger Lakes offers tours of the area so that you can everyone in your group can enjoy the tastings!
8. Shop at Ithaca farmer’s market
Ithaca’s open-air farmer’s market is the perfect place to spend a lazy weekend morning. The market is full of locally grown, organic produce and fresh flowers as well as some local wines and crafts. You’ll find the Ithaca farmers market down by the waterfront from April to December every Saturday and Sunday.
Go hungry as you won’t want to miss out on the variety of cuisine available!
9. Stroll the Commons
The Commons is a shop-lined pedestrian zone of Ithaca that makes up the heart of downtown. It hs outdoor seating, public art and some beautiful old buildings mixed in with the new. It’s a great place for shopping, or for visiting one of the regular concerts and food festivals. Some of the best shops include F.Oliver’s for oils and vinegar and gifts from 15 steps. If you’re looking for Ithaca bookstores, be sure to check out Autumn Leaves which sells used books (I love browsing second-hand book stores!).
10. Shop at GreenStar Coop
As we passed through Ithaca on our way to New York City, we stopped in at a branch of GreenStar Coop to buy dinner and ended up with the most delicious vegan brownies for dessert. They even won my boyfriend over, being some of the best brownies we’ve ever had! There are several stores across Ithaca and the have a real community feel and the shelves were packed full of delicious looking produce and goods. I’d highly recommend doing your shopping here if you’re staying in Ithaca for a while!
Where to eat in Ithaca
You’re bound to need food at some point in Ithaca and luckily the town is full of delicious restaurants. Apparently there are even more restaurants in Ithaca per capita than there are in New York City! Here are some of the best restaurants in Ithaca, NY.
One of the most famous and perhaps the best restaurant in Ithaca is Moosewood. Known for its natural, vegetarian food the Moosewood Restaurant has been open since 1973 and has 14 cookbooks! Be sure to check them out as they’re one of the best places to eat in Ithaca.
Ithaca Ale House
The Ithaca Ale House knows how to do burgers properly and they’ve become the restaurant’s signature dish. The “Fat Kid” burger replaces the typical bun with grilled cheese!
Looking for Mexican food in Ithaca? Try Viva Taqueria for fresh healthy Mexican food done well.
Simeon’s Restaurant has oyster happy houses and serves specialities like rabbit and sea bass. It’s a great spot for dining in Ithaca if you’re having a get together for a special occasion!
The Coal Yard Cafe
The Coal Yard Cafe is something of a hidden gem with and feels a little like your Grandparent’s living room (in the best way!). This spot for brunch in Ithaca serves omelettes, scrambles and sandwiches and it all sounds delicious!
Monks on the Common
Whatever time of day it is, you’re sure to find something delicious at Monks on the Common. Belgium Waffles, pancakes, breakfast flatbreads or hot wings, the soul food menu has me salivating!
Grab a drink from Collegetown Bagels
One of the best bars in Ithaca, this one on the edge of Cornell University, is somewhat of an institution. Collegetown Bagels serves bagels and local beers and it’s a great spot to hang out with college students while enjoying a tasty drink and bite to eat.
Liquid State Brewing Company
It’s not all about wineries in Ithaca, there are also some great breweries in Ithaca, NY. One of these is Liquid State Brewing Company with a great selection of beers, a food truck and a friendly atmosphere.
Ice Cream Sundaes
Ithaca is the birthplace of the ice cream sundae (supposedly), so you simply can’t visit Ithaca without having one (or three!). Here are three of the best dessert bars in Ithaca:
Insomnia Cookies, Ithaca, NY
And how could I miss Insomnia cookies off the list? This cookie bakery serves fresh, hot cookies and delivers them right up until 3 am in the morning every day! With all the classic flavours and some more ‘out-there’ ones, plus cookie ice cream sandwiches, you’ll know where to go when you need a sweet treat!