Photo by Daniel Borzynski/Alamy
Buffalo has flown under the radar for far too long. With unparalleled architecture, world-class museums and art galleries, inventive restaurants and cocktail bars, traditional pubs on nearly every street corner, and art and food festivals celebrating diverse local communities, the City of Good Neigh…bors is more than worth a visit. While most may associate Buffalo with chilly winters and delicious pub food—which wouldn’t necessarily be wrong—there’s so much more going on here.
What to know before you go to Buffalo
Buffalo is one of those lucky places that experiences each season to the extreme. Winter brings blankets of thick white snow, while spring offers a break from freezing temperatures and the chance to get outside and explore Buffalo’s Frederick Law Olmsted–designed parks. In the summer, you can look forward to lush greenery and 80-degree days, perfect for strolling the Queen City’s historic neighborhoods during a local festival. Come fall, the city’s domineering oak and maple trees light up the streets with vibrant colors that make for great photo opportunities.
Should you feel inclined to avoid Buffalo during the winter months, know that locals embrace the colder temperatures with outdoor activities like snowboarding, skiing, and sledding. Each year, Labatt Blue even hosts a four-day pond hockey tournament at RiverWorks. Winter is also a great time to check out Buffalo’s food scene, as you have a better chance of snagging a table without a reservation.
Buffalo Niagara International Airport is about 10 miles from downtown. While there are a host of private taxi services available curbside, your best bet is to take an Uber or Lyft for about $20. The city also has a metro rail that runs the length of Main Street, starting at the University of Buffalo South Campus and continuing through the Theatre District and Downtown to Canalside.
Neighborhoods like Allentown, Elmwood Village, and Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo are quite walkable, but because of the city’s sprawl, you’ll want a car to travel between areas. For those seeking a more scenic experience, there’s Reddy Bikeshare, which starts at $3 for a two-day pass. Riders can pick up a bike at any of the 40 docking stations around town and are charged $0.10 for each mile, in addition to the fee for the pass.
While Buffalo may be best known for its namesake wings, it also boasts a burgeoning cocktail and food scene, with chefs and mixologists constantly pushing the limits of creativity. If you’re more in the mood for comfort food, you’ll find plenty of those places, too, along with loads of restaurants specializing in global cuisine thanks to the city’s strong immigrant community. The West Side Bazaar, an incubator space that supports refugees and low-income entrepreneurs, hosts a number of great ethnic restaurants, serving everything from Malaysian and Burmese to Ethiopian and Puerto Rican fare.
If you’re going to Buffalo in search of culture, you’ll need to carve out a significant amount of time for exploring. Art enthusiasts should head to the Burchfield Penney Art Center and Albright-Knox Art Gallery to see works by some of the world’s most celebrated artists, like Gauguin, Matisse, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. Music lovers can visit the Colored Musicians Club, where greats like Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie once played, while architecture fans will want to check out the seven Frank Lloyd Wright buildings throughout town, including the Martin House, Graycliff, and Rowing Boathouse. Year-round, the city also hosts dozens of food, art, and cultural festivals, celebrating everything from chicken wings and local artisans to the Polish Lenten holiday of Dyngus Day.
Buffalo’s must-see attractions really depend on when you visit. During the summer, you should plan your trip around one of the many outdoor festivals or events, like the Allentown Art Festival, the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts, or Garden Walk—and save time for rock-climbing in grain elevators at RiverWorks. When winter arrives, visitors will want to partake in outdoor activities like sledding and skiing, or check out the local brewery scene. No matter the season, the Martin House and Albright-Knox Art Gallery are not to be missed. Make sure to also walk a few of the neighborhoods to scope out Buffalo’s world-class architecture, and try to visit as many of the local restaurants and bars as possible.
Due to Buffalo’s close proximity to Niagara Falls (about 25 minutes by car) and Canada (less than a 10-minute drive), it’s a good idea to bring along your passport when visiting, in case you decide to do a day trip to the falls or the Niagara Wine Region.
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Born and raised in Buffalo and currently residing in Jersey City, Sean Flynn is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer. His work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Departures, and the New York Times, among others. When he’s not writing about culture, travel, and food, he’s busy trying out recipes at home with his wife, Melissa, and wrangling his toddler daughter and newborn twin girls. Follow his travels on Instagram @TravelingNewYorker.