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Best Things To Do in Buffalo

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The best thing to do in Buffalo is explore. The city's bursting with cultural activities year-round, especially weekend art festivals and street fairs in Allentown and Elmwood. Most of the best-known Buffalo attractions are clustered in those two neighborhoods and in the historic downtown district, although there's plenty to see all over the city. Don't overlook nearby Niagara Falls—even though it's not in Buffalo proper, no visit is complete without a trip to this watery wonder. 

Spirit of Buffalo

Neighborhood: Downtown Buffalo

Sail back in time on this classic, 73-foot topsail schooner. You can sign up to help hoist the red sails and haul the jib, or be a lazy sailor and just let the crew do all the work. Run by a local family, the Spirit of Buffalo takes you up and down the Erie Canal the old-fashioned way—with wind power. If the idea of sitting on a creaking boat under the blazing sun doesn't seem like your idea of the perfect Buffalo vacation, consider their sunset sails (Wednesday night is wine cruise night). The Spirit docks at Pearl Street near Marine Drive at the Erie Wharf and is open May through Oct. 1.


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Buffalo Museum of Science

Neighborhood: Downtown Buffalo

Who likes robot dinosaurs? Everybody, judging by the lines at the Buffalo Museum of Science. The museum's got robots and reptiles galore, plus three mummified Egyptians. It also runs the Tifft Nature Preserve that you are encouraged to explore; it's 5 miles of walking along Lake Erie boardwalks and marshes among mostly protected species. If you prefer to stick to the air-conditioned indoors, head for the Western New York Woodlands exhibit. Inside this hall, you'll find dioramas ushering you through the great forests of western New York, including a look at some sequoia trees that first sprouted in the early days of the Roman Empire.


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Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Neighborhood: Elmwood Village

Forget the Louvre, forget the Met—the Albright-Knox Gallery is what a world-class museum should look like. Built in 1905 by local Buffalo architect Edward B. Green (there have been a few additions since then), the Albright has a knockout collection of 20th-century European and American masters. Its permanent exhibit is big enough to please everyone—works from Picasso to Pollock to Rodchenko—but not so huge that it overwhelms. If you've always wanted to see a Van Gogh without crowds jostling you (or a Renoir, or a Matisse), here's where you come. On weekends in summer there's jazz on the wide front steps.

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Nash House Museum

Neighborhood: Downtown Buffalo

It doesn't look like much from the outside—a humble, Queen Anne row house built in the late-1800s. But the things that happened on the inside—well, that's why this small abode was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.  It was here that Rev. J. Edward Nash Sr., a prominent African American preacher in Buffalo until his death in 1957, greeted black luminaries like Booker T. Washington and Adam Clayton Powell Sr., a powerful preacher from Harlem. Inside the tiny house, which is now a museum, everything is almost exactly as Nash's widow left it when she died in 1987. His letters and writings are perfectly preserved, and provide a unique look at the challenges confronted by African Americans living in post-Depression era Buffalo.

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Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center

Neighborhood: Downtown Buffalo

If you've never fully understood the appeal of the "plastic arts," try shelving your skepticism for a minute while you check out Hallwalls. Let's start with its pedigree: It launched in the 1970s (of course) when freewheeling art students Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, among others, decided to make an exhibition space out of a former icehouse. It's only gotten even more cutting-edge since—it regularly holds a Buffalo "Infringement" festival dedicated to animation. Swing by for the latest in multimedia, film and visual art exhibitions. You might get lucky and also catch a summer barbecue—the center doubles as a community hangout.

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CEPA Gallery

Neighborhood: Downtown Buffalo

Photography takes center stage at CEPA, another non-profit gallery formed in the 1970s that's still going strong. CEPA's a bit schizophrenic, with one foot firmly in the Manhattan art world and the other rooted solidly in Buffalo (its on-site store sells one-of-a-kind prints of Basquiat taken by a CEPA artist at the Mudd Club in the '80s, next to stark, black-and-white shots of Buffalo's decaying grain factories). But its photography exhibits are thought-provoking and steeped in modern politics: a recent exhibit was titled “Art of War,” featuring works that came from conflict zones. Another project, “Visions of Greater Buffalo,” features simple pictures of the city taken by famous Buffalo residents with single-use color cameras.

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Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site

Neighborhood: Downtown Buffalo

By the time you leave this house, you'll know everything there is to know about why and how Theodore Roosevelt got sworn in as president in Buffalo, N.Y. It's not the most useful bit of trivia, but history buffs will enjoy the effort that has gone into re-creating what was once a gripping tale of political succession. We won't spoil the story, but we can say it involves an assassin's bullet, a week of grinding uncertainty, and then the hurried swearing-in of Roosevelt, the man who would become the first “modern” president.

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Buffalo Zoo

Neighborhood: Downtown Buffalo

This is definitely where the wild things are. The Buffalo Zoo in 2002 started a major overhaul to make its exhibits more realistic for animals and visitors alike and the results are startlingly lifelike. Completion of Phase One involved the opening of the South American Rainforest. Future habitats will include an African Watering Hole and Arctic Edge. If you've got sharp eyes you'll spot crocs, tigers, lions and gorillas. In other places you'll find water creatures, like otters, sea lions, hippos and more. There's also a special exhibit showcasing the plight of the earth's vanishing animals.

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Burchfield-Penney Art Center

Neighborhood: Elmwood Village

Dedicated mostly to the bold, fantastical watercolors of its namesake, painter Charles Burchfield—a well-known 20th-century artist whose work celebrated nature—this massive art center is also always on the hunt for "the next," whatever that is. The center splits its 84,000 square feet between Burchfield's whimsical, evocative paintings and new works from other New York artists, be they sculptors, painters or artisans. It doubles as a literary and film center too, with readings from local poets and writers and screenings of locally-produced cinema.

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Buffalo Arts Studio

Neighborhood: Downtown Buffalo

What better way to recycle an abandoned windshield-wiper factory than to turn it into artist studios? At least, that's what the city of Buffalo decided, and its creative experiment has turned out well. Now a non-profit that provides affordable studio space to over 30 artists annually, the Buffalo Arts Studio gives free tours to the public (suggested $2 donation), and serves as local meeting place. Some of the artists you'll meet are classically trained, like statue-maker William Koch, and others are self-taught. Mediums range from photography to painting to visual arts, with plenty of pottery, ceramics and sculptors. All of them display their work in the first-floor gallery, and thanks to their open studios, you get an up-close look at the perpetually mud- or paint-spattered artists’ lives.

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Darwin D. Martin House Complex Spirit of Buffalo

Darwin D. Martin House Complex

Neighborhood: Elmwood Village

Don't let the term “prairie house” fool you—this is one elegant, magical structure. Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous piece of Buffalo architecture is actually several buildings strung out like a necklace along a landscaped backdrop. The architect was 36 when he got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to build not just one home, but a whole complex, and integrate it as he wished into the surrounding nature. The various low-level, one-story structures are connected by a long, gleaming conservatory filled with shrubs and flowers. Tours start at the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion (where there’s also summer jazz).

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Buffalo Harbor Kayak

Neighborhood: Downtown Buffalo

Get out and live a little—rent a kayak or a canoe and go for a leisurely paddle on the Erie Canal. If you don't mind a bit of a workout, take one of the tours offered on weekends; you'll end up paddling about a mile and a half into the Buffalo River, but it's worth the effort. Tour guides also fill you in on the water route's famous history. You can also go it alone and paddle about the industrial corridor (now clear of massive tugboats, thank goodness).  If you get a whiff of whole-wheat goodness, you're paddling past the General Mills factory (those are Cheerios you smell baking).

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