10 Things to Do in Ithaca, New York, on the Weekend

Updated on June 27, 2019
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Scott S. Bateman is an author, publisher and professional journalist.

Weeping willows line the peaceful Stewart Park and Cayuga Lake in Ithaca.
Weeping willows line the peaceful Stewart Park and Cayuga Lake in Ithaca. | Source

The beautiful lakeside city of Ithaca, NY, has plenty of fun things to do for any weekend visitor. Like other college towns, Ithaca has many short-term visitors thanks to friends, parents and relatives of the 22,000 students enrolled at Cornell University and another 6,800 at Ithaca College.

They come to Ithaca to drop off or pick up students, attend their graduation or just spend a little time together. Sometimes Mom and Dad can’t stay away for too long. For whatever reason they come, Ithaca visitors will find at least 10 worthwhile things to do to fill the entire trip. Most, if not all, are doable in a single weekend, which we discovered on our visits there.

But Ithaca is more than a great place to visit for parents of college students. It has enough to offer that it may appeal to anyone visiting or vacationing in upper state New York.

The Top 10 Attractions in Ithaca

  1. Cayuga Lake/ Stewart Park
  2. Ithaca Farmers Market
  3. Ithaca Commons
  4. Robert H. Treman State Park
  5. Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
  6. Taughannock Falls State Park
  7. Sciencenter
  8. Buttermilk Falls State Park
  9. Cornell Botanic Gardens
  10. Ithaca Falls

Cayuga Lake dominates the views of Ithaca NY. It is a popular attraction for boaters during good weather.
Cayuga Lake dominates the views of Ithaca NY. It is a popular attraction for boaters during good weather. | Source

1. Cayuga Lake / Stewart Park

The 40-mile-long Cayuga Lake is first in part because it is nearly impossible to miss and because it adds so much beauty to the surrounding views of Ithaca. Many visitors reach Ithaca on State Route 13, which goes right through the heart of the city and past Cayuga Lake. Route 13 also has direct access to Stewart Park.

The well-kept grassy green park has a long line of massive trees, many of which are willows, that line the lake. Visitors sit on benches to watch sailboats or lie in the grass for a snooze. The also park has pavilions, a merry-go-round, playgrounds, tennis courts, duck pond, golf course and bird sanctuary.

It’s a great place to go for some quiet time. We found ourselves spending two hours either sitting on the swings and going for pleasant walks along the shoreline under the giant willow trees.

2. Ithaca Farmers Market

I have been to quite a few farmers markets including the famous Seattle Farmers Market. The Ithaca market at Steamboat Landing, 545 3rd Street, ranks among the best.

It is a major attraction on weekends with a massive variety of food stalls, live music and other attractions. All of it takes place at the edge of Cayuga Lake. Be sure to go early in the morning or later in the day to avoid massive crowds.

Large crowds pack the Ithaca Farmers Market on weekends for organic foods, meals and music.
Large crowds pack the Ithaca Farmers Market on weekends for organic foods, meals and music. | Source

3. Ithaca Commons

Weekend visitors may want to go to the Ithaca Farmers Market on a Saturday for lunch and then head to Ithaca Commons for lunch on Sunday -- as well as some shopping. Just hope the weather is good enough for outdoor dining on both days.

The commons is a four-block pedestrian mall in downtown Ithaca with more than 100 shops, restaurants and galleries. It also is home to the State Theatre of Ithaca and various events throughout the year.

Our daughter told us that Ithaca has more restaurants per square mile than New York City. We believed her based on the many side-by-side open air restaurants that lined the streets.

4. Ithaca Falls

Ithaca is known for waterfalls in the surrounding area. It’s even known for a waterfall within the city. Ithaca Falls is about 175 feet wide and has a drop of 150 feet. It is the most powerful falls in the area and still has the remains of a half dozen mills that operated on it in the 19th century.

The falls are easy to reach via a short trail. They are a nice spot to sit, think or read a book by the roaring water. To get there, take Aurora St. north to Lincoln Street, turn right and take an immediate left onto Lake Street.

Ithaca Falls is about 175 feet wide and has a drop of 150 feet.

The Ithaca Commons is a four-block pedestrian mall with more than 100 shops and restaurants. Outdoor dining is common.
The Ithaca Commons is a four-block pedestrian mall with more than 100 shops and restaurants. Outdoor dining is common. | Source

5. Robert H. Treman State Park

Treman state park, south of Buttermilk Falls off Route 13, is the second biggest natural attraction in the area after Cayuga Lake. The 1,100-acre park has a dozen waterfalls, camping, nine miles of hiking trails, and swimming beneath a waterfall. Lucifer Falls is 115 feet tall.

Weekend visitors will find a tour here may take a half day or longer. The waterfall swim is a popular place to visit for moderately fit people who don't mind some hiking to get there.

6. Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art

If rain or snow is a problem with outdoor activities, visitors will find things to do indoors starting with the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, 114 Central Avenue. This free museum welcomes 80,000 visitors every year and offers 35,000 works of art in its permanent collections.

The distinctive museum building, designed by the famous architect I.M. Pei, is easy to spot in the Arts Quad of Cornell University campus.

Taughannock Falls.
Taughannock Falls. | Source

7. Sciencenter

It’s no surprise that a prominent college town should have a family science center. The Ithaca Sciencenter, 601 1st Street, is a 32,000-square-foot hands-on science museum with 100,000 visitors annually, according to the non-profit facility.

Sciencenter has more than 250 exhibits, a mini golf course, gift shop, educational programs, and seasonal outdoor science playground. It is open Tuesdays through Sundays.

8. Taughannock Falls State Park

Serious waterfall lovers with time on their hands should consider visiting Taughannock Falls. It plunges 215 feet down rocky cliffs from a 400-foot-tall gorge. Views are available from trails from the rim above the gorge and from below at the gorge trail.

The park also has a marina, beach, cabins and campsites as well as hiking and cross country skiing. It is 20 minutes northwest of Ithaca on the west side of Cayuga Lake.

Buttermilk Falls is small but tranquil and easy to reach from downtown Ithaca.
Buttermilk Falls is small but tranquil and easy to reach from downtown Ithaca. | Source

9. Buttermilk Falls State Park

A quick and easy attraction is Buttermilk Falls State Park, 112 E. Buttermilk Falls Road.

The park is only two miles southwest of Ithaca off Route 13. Visitors have to walk only a few hundred feet from the back parking lot to see the falls, which tumble over dozens of flat layers of granite. The park also has walking trails, a gorge, picnic areas and a small lake.

Try tip toeing over the rocks to the other side from the parking lot for a seat and some quiet reflection.

10. Cornell Botanic Gardens

Anyone tight on time will find the Cornell Botanic Gardens a quick, easy and enjoyable thing to do in good weather. The free gardens are scattered in several locations. The main one is 35 acres and 12 specialty gardens at the Nevin Welcome Center, 124 Comstock Knoll Drive.

Bright flowers filled the cozy landscape. Our entire group found many great views for photography.

Cornell Botanic Gardens
Cornell Botanic Gardens | Source

© 2019 Scott S Bateman

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    • promisem profile imageAUTHOR

      Scott S Bateman 

      5 weeks ago

      Hello, Besarien. Thanks so much for the nice comment. You definitely have strong connections with Cornell, and I'm sure you're quite proud of your pre-med son.

      And thanks for the photo comment. I'm just glad you don't see the hundreds of other photos I have taken that are so bad they will never appear on HP. :)

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 

      5 weeks ago from South Florida

      Hi Scott! This is a beautiful, well-written, and thoughtful article, useful to anyone traveling in the area. My husband studied engineering at Cornell and my son is there now about to start his junior year of pre-med. I have seen most of these attractions, but never the Sciencenter which has always been closed for either a Monday or something maintenance related. As, always, your photos are brilliant.

    • promisem profile imageAUTHOR

      Scott S Bateman 

      7 weeks ago

      Jo, we have put three kids through college and visited many others. Ithaca stands out among them all. And yes, I also love parks everywhere. They are a lot more fun than TV these days. :)

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      7 weeks ago from Tennessee

      Ithaca seems like a lovely place to have a child in college with an abundance of attractions. I love those state parks all over our country.

    • promisem profile imageAUTHOR

      Scott S Bateman 

      8 weeks ago

      Peggy, it actually is a nice place to visit for much more than a weekend, especially for anyone who likes outdoor activities. And you're right, you don't have to visit your children in college to have a reason to go. I'm glad you stopped by!

      Liz, thanks for your comment. We found a great range of attractions and things to do in a single weekend for such a small city.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      The parks, botanic garden, museum and more certainly make visiting Ithaca, N.Y. a place of interest even if not having the reason for visiting college or university students located there. It looks like a lovely destination. Thanks for showcasing it.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      8 weeks ago from UK

      You have sold Ithaca as a weekend destination, with such a good range of places to visit.

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