Things to do in Ithaca, NY

One of the great things about having a mom who is a University professor (aside from having a kick-ass, strong, smart female role model) is that she gets to travel for work a lot. Which means that I get to go with her or visit her around the world. In the last few years I’ve traveled with her (and sometimes my sister) to Newcastle, Krakow and Japan.

So, when she got a gig as a guest lecturer at Cornell University, I knew it would be a great excuse to visit the United States again. I’d only ever been to Washington D.C. and NYC to visit my sister when she was studying abroad there (we all have the travel bug). And Ithaca turned out to be lovely!

It’s a cute city with a really nice atmosphere. It’s the kind of hippie, free spirited, liberal college town I love. Small and friendly. The campus is beautiful, the houses colorful, the scenery stunning. Seriously, if you like nature, cute little cafes, street art and thrift stores: this is the place for you. I spent a little under two weeks exploring Ithaca and surroundings, these were my favorite things to do in Ithaca:

Hike through a gorge

Ithaca New York Cascadilla Gorge hike

The slogan of Ithaca is “Ithaca is Gorges”. It’s been the same since Howard Cogan came up with it 40 years ago. Because when you find a gem, you don’t need to change it. Not only is it a great pun, it’s true.

During the Ice Age, massive glaciers carved out gorges in the hills around Ithaca. The result is a spectacular landscape with a 150 waterfalls in a 10 mile radius of the town! Most of the gorges have trails running through or along them. The steepness of the gorges required quite a bit of climbing, but the scenery is so worth it. The trails are popular with tourists and local, for a stroll, run, bike ride or vigorous hike.

My favorite is one running straight through college town: the Cascadilla Gorge. It’s a beautiful stroll from the Botanical Gardens all the way into Ithaca Commons.

See the Taughannock waterfall

Thaughannock Falls State Park Ithaca New York waterfall

With 150 waterfalls so close to town, there are plenty to choose from. If you are limited on time and can only see one, make it Taughannock Falls in Taughannock State Park. It is without a doubt one of the most impressive waterfalls I have ever seen. The waterfall also has a very interesting back story, which you can read about during your hike. There are a few options, depending on the weather and how much time you have.

If you are limited on time or it’s very cold (like when I was there):

Drive to the top of the waterfall and walk the South Rim Trail until half-way, then backtrack and drive down to the viewing point on the North Rim. After admiring the waterfall from both sides above, drive down to the start and hike the Gorge Trail up to the waterfall to see it from ground level.

If you have a lot of time and energy:

Drive to the top of the waterfall and hike the South Rim Trail all the way down. Hike the Gorge Trail up to the waterfall and back and hike the North Rim Trail all the way back up to your car.

If the weather is amazing:

Drive to the lake and hike the Gorge Trail up to the waterfall. Hang out by the lake and go swimming. After you are done, drive to the viewing point on the North Rim and on to the top of the waterfall. From there, hike down the South Rim Trail until half-way.

Shop at the Farmers Market

Ithaca Farmers Market New York

Ithaca is a great destination for people who love organic, farm-to-table dining and vegan food. I try to eat vegan and sustainable as much as I can, so I loved all the vegan food options in Ithaca. Of course a city like that needs a good farmers market. The Ithaca Farmers Market has been a staple of the community since 1973. Opening times differ with the time of year. The Farmers Market is not just a great place to get good food (although it is!), it is also a fun day out. There is entertainment, local arts and craft, produce vendors and amazing street food.

Visit Cornell University

Cornell University Ithaca New York Ivy League

Cornell University is the heart of Ithaca. The school takes up a large physical space, but more so a cultural space. Due to the University, Ithaca is populated with young, bright, passionate people and it shows. There are a ton of cultural events, bars, restaurants and shops to cater to the students and staff.

The Campus itself is definitely worth a visit. It is huge and one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. The combination of old (or “fake” old) and newer buildings in different styles looks really interesting. There are a lot of different things to see and do on campus. Cornell University can help you plan the perfect visit with a guide or itinerary. Definitely check out Cornell Law School, Willard Straight Hall, McGraw Tower, the Dairy and the Botanical Gardens.

Go on a wine tour

You might not expect it from a “snow belt” town, but the Ithaca region has a lot of wineries! Although it gets very cold in winter, Ithaca has plenty of sunshine in summer and the hill slopes are the perfect home for vines. The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail encompasses 14 wineries where you can try the delicious Ithaca wines. You can drive yourself, or rent a driver or van to take you. That way you can drink as much as you like 😉

What do you think? Did I convince you to plan a visit to Ithaca? I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments!
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