There are many differences between Syracuse and Rochester, with their geography only being one of them. While both are located in Upstate New York, they both differ in what they have to offer potential travelers, especially for those who have never visited this slightly untamed part of New York State. While cities such as Buffalo get all the attention thanks to Niagara Falls, both Rochester and Syracuse offer a quieter, slower pace of life that translates well to a vacation.


From history to outdoor activities, both cities excel in different areas that make them two of the best destinations upstate. When choosing between the two, here are some things to consider before making a decision.

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A City Full Of History And Creative Flair

When it comes to museums and city history, Rochester does have a leg up on Syracuse. With the city's proximity to the Finger Lakes, it's not surprising that there's a seemingly endless number of museums, historical stops, and art galleries to visit in this city.

It's not just any museums and galleries that visitors can look forward to, either; these are unique, one-of-a-kind displays that truly showcase how created the city, and its residents, are, as well as how much history occurred on the ground on is standing on. Some that are worth checking out:

  • Andrea Boccacino Liquid Art at the Lake Cove Art Gallery
  • Antique Wireless Museum
  • ARTISANworks
  • Colonial Belle
  • Ganondagan State Historic Site
  • Auburn's Historic & Cultural Sites Commission

The Waterfront Is First And Center

Rochester provides access not only to Lake Ontario, which is front and center for much of the city but also features the Genesee River, which runs straight through its center. Therefore, waterfront access is easy to find, as well as waterfront parks and restaurants, making for a picturesque vacation right off the bat.

This also means that hiking, fishing, boating, and swimming are not in short supply, so it's the perfect choice for outdoor enthusiasts. Rochester even offers outdoor activities during the winter, such as skiing and snowboarding, which gives it the leg up year-round, as well. Parks to explore:

  • Seneca Park
  • Genesee Valley Park
  • The Genesee Riverway Trail

The Food Scene

Rochester's food scene is also one that requires no embellishment because it's just that dang good. The city's location is not far from the Finger Lakes vineyards and there are plenty of wine trails that can take visitors through each.

In terms of breweries, Rochester once again excels, featuring Genesee Brewing Company, Custom Brewcrafter, and Rohrbach Brewing Company at the forefront of the brewing scene. Adult beverages aside, the city is home to a list of gastropubs and fine dining, as well as chic restaurants that feature modern dishes.

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A City That Appreciates Its Past

Some might say that visiting Syracuse is a bit like stepping back in time, which is all part of its charm. The city has embraced the Erie Canal in full, and visitors can find all the history they're looking for at the Erie Canal Museum, located directly in the center of the city.

The lifestyle in Syracuse is also far more laid-back, with no rush to be like any of the surrounding cities or have that classic city vibe. When it comes to Downtown Syracuse, it's easy enough to stroll around all day just exploring boutique shops and small, mom-and-pop dining establishments.

Waterfalls, Hiking, And More

While Rochester has plenty of green space, Syracuse also has plenty to offer in the way of communing with nature. For one, Pratt's Falls gives visitors an up-close look at a stunning waterfall, while Chittenango Falls State Park encourages hikers to explore waterfalls and more at their own leisure.

Winter is equally as wonderful in Syracuse, with multiple mountain summits being home to a string of recreational activities. So, in that sense, Syracuse has a bit of a leg up.

Intimate Dining

In terms of dining, Rochester definitely wins out just because of the sheer number of restaurants and the diversity among them. However, that doesn't mean that Syracuse is completely devoid of incredible options - quite the opposite.

The restaurants in this city have had a long history and the best ones are highly-regarded by the locals, making them a great option for visitors. For those looking for a down-home feel and an atmosphere that feels like a community, Syracuse offers it in spades. Chances are, the second or third time a visitor walks into a local coffee shop, the barista will know their name (and order) by heart!

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