New York’s Erie County is located on the shore of Lake Erie and just a short drive away from Niagara Falls. Its main town, Buffalo is an attractive tourist destination with countless activities to offer. Today, we’ll take a look at the top things to do in Erie County, NY.
Whether you visit Erie County as a couple or as a family traveler there’s a lot to see and do here. First of all, there’s Buffalo which is an interesting city to visit alone. Then you have major attractions nearby like Niagara Falls and even a Six Flags park.
So, we are going to say this in advance: this one’s going to be a long article. Of course, the ‘Table of Contents’ is at your disposal to quickly jump between sections that interest you the most. Let’s jump into our article about the best things to do in Erie County, NY.
1. Sightseeing in Buffalo, NY
Of course, where else would we start? Buffalo is one of the main attractions in Erie County after all. The town has deep historic routes and its downtown is filled with interesting buildings.
For example, you can see early skyscraper design signs on the Guaranty Building. The Buffalo City Hall is another picturesque building that will capture your attention. Then there’s The Electric Tower, another of Buffalo’s unique skyscrapers. Lastly, you can marvel at some religious architecture if you visit St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.
Not only is the downtown a nice area to explore but Buffalo also has an amazing waterfront. There are even guided tours to this area that let you explore the history of the waterfront.
2. The Museums of Erie County, NY
Those who want to fully understand and experience the local history should visit Erie County’s many museums. Most are in Buffalo but if you venture out to the surrounding small towns you’ll be greeted by knowledgable local museums as well.
Below are just a few of our favorite museums here. There are more great picks but we do recommend these four above out of the bunch.
Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum
The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company was the local carmaker of Buffalo. It is one of the earliest automakers in the US as they managed to produce a car in 1903. This first car was named the Arrow and it laid the groundwork for Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company.
They made over 30 different models over the years but sadly the company went defunct in 1938. It might seem like a short-lived venture but it’s a heritage worth preserving.
You can relive this part of Buffalo’s history at the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum. You can learn how a company that originally made household items decided to start producing cars and you can see a variety of cars on display.
It’s a must-visit for car enthusiasts but this museum offers plenty of fun for the regular visitor as well.
Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum
While technically not in Erie County it’s right outside the border. As such we can easily consider this museum a place to visit when you are traveling to Erie County.
The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is another museum that’s centered around vintage items. This time it’s carousels. You can visit this historic building to learn about the factory and even ride a vintage carousel.
Yes, you heard us right. Not only it’s an interesting museum but two of the vintage carousels are actually operational and guests can ride them. It’s a very nice family activity in Erie County.
Buffalo Museum of Science
Another interesting family museum is the Buffalo Museum of Science. This museum mainly focuses on the rich natural history of the region. They have over 700,000 species on display and numerous exhibits that let kids learn through entertainment.
It’s a must-see if you are staying in the city as they even have dinosaur bones on display. One of the most impressive exhibitions.
Buffalo AKG Art Museum
Many art museums around the world focus on the classics but the Buffalo AKG Art Museum is a contemporary art museum. If you are into modern art then you’ll enjoy a visit.
Apart from exhibits of modern art they also have a nice collection from famous contemporary artists like Picasso or Andy Warhol. This collection is just a small part of the display but definitely one of the most impressive.
We understand that modern art is not for everyone so while the Buffalo AKG Art Museum is a great place to visit we don’t recommend it if you are not into the style.
Those who love museums can continue to explore some great museums in the area. The four we highlighted are just a small sample from an amazing batch of places to visit in Erie County.
3. See the animals at The Buffalo Zoo
The Buffalo Zoo ranks high among family things to do in Erie County. It’s the nation’s 3rd oldest so apart from being a great place to visit, this is quite the historical place.
Although it’s not a large zoo the size can be deceiving. You’ll meet plenty of animals here and there’s even a petting zoo for the kids to enjoy.
Animals in the zoo include giraffes, polar bears, capybaras, rhinos, and many more. There’s also a great variety of reptiles and birds.
This zoo is usually not crowded so you’ll find plenty of parking and short wait times. It’s definitely a great place to visit for an afternoon filled with fun for the family.
4. Embark on a Scenic Vintage Train Journey
The Buffalo Cattaraugus & Jamestown Scenic Railway provides another great family attraction in Erie County. They maintain a number of vintage trains that take you through the scenic Erie County countryside in an exciting road trip.
Usually, it’s not just a simple journey. There are different themes for different rides. One of the family favorites is the Great Train Robbery Rides which is themed around train robberies of old times.
Those who want to do some thinking along with the scenic ride can sign up for a Murder Mystery ride where you’ll get to experience a classic murder mystery novel from the front row seats.
They even have a Wine Tasting option which is 21+ only. This is a great option for couples, especially if you like trains.
5. Visit the Niagara Falls
When visiting Erie County you simply can’t ignore how close Niagara Falls is. It’s just outside of the county’s borders and it’s one of the most famous attractions in the US.
It is well-known all around the world. Even travelers who have no intention to visit the US know about the famous Niagara Falls.
So, if you are in Erie County and you have not yet seen Niagara Falls then what are you waiting for? It’s an adventure in itself. One of the best ways to experience the power of the falls is to take a boat tour.
It is a tour that will have you get wet but you’ll be as close as possible and you’ll feel the incredible force of nature. A true natural sight to behold and one not to skip.
6. Niagara Amusement Park and Splash World
The Niagara Amusement Park and Splash World had quite a history. IT was unfortunately shut down a while ago and left to be abandoned. Recently a new company acquired the park and they started fixing it up.
Today it is open but you too need an open mind when visiting. It’s a good place for the whole family with nice attractions but as it is today, the renovation is still going on.
It’s hard to undo years of neglect and vandalism so you can expect rides out of order, limited food options, and a ‘work-in-progress’ atmosphere.
Regardless, it’s a small park that doesn’t see an awful lot of visitors these days which means the queues are short and there are no crowds.
It’s a good place for the family and it’s a nice opportunity to support the business as right now every dollar helps in restoring the park.
7. Nature in Erie County, NY
We’ve touched on the most important nature attraction near Erie County but you don’t necessarily need to leave the county in order to enjoy nature. In fact, there are plenty of places where you can go for a short hike or stroll.
Eternal Flame Falls
One of the main nature sights in Erie County is Eternal Flame Falls. It’s a very nice hiking area with secluded waterfalls. If you enjoy hiking in nature then this is a must-see for you.
It’s a moderate hike. There’s parking at the entrance and if you follow the flame signs you’ll find both the waterfalls and the eternal flame. Yes, you’ll actually see burning flames in this park.
It’s a completely natural phenomenon. The gas that’s built up underground over millions of years is leaking to the outside where it’s burning off.
Okay, don’t expect high columns of flame. But you’ll catch glimpses of small burning fires behind and around the waterfalls.
Overall the trail is great for hiking and the area is very scenic. You’ll need some hiking boots though because the terrain is very uneven and when it rains it’s also very slippery.
Welcome to Central Park Nr.2. We might be kidding but there’s some reality to this. Cazenovia Park is a big park in Buffalo complete with a river, sports facilities, ice rink, and pool.
The interesting fact about this park is that it was indeed designed by the very same architect that designed New York’s Central Park.
This is a great place to stroll around and take in some nature without driving too far from town. The kids will love exploring the different parts of the park as well.
Finally, there’s Zoar Valley for those travelers who love hiking. It’s a scenic gorge that’s perfect for hiking, bird watching, and even rafting.
The trails here are usually more demanding than other places in Erie County so we recommend this one to experienced travelers only.
Despite the harder trails, you’ll be rewarded with scenic vistas and unspoiled nature. It’s truly a place where you can connect with the plants and animals around you.
8. Thrilling Rides at Six Flags Darien Lake
If you love amusement parks then you’ll be happy to learn that the Six Flags Darien Lake is right next to Erie County. It’s just a short drive from Buffalo as well.
We always love to see Six Flags parks where we travel. The name usually means you’ll have a fun time with a great variety of attractions.
Six Flags Darien Lake is great fun for the whole family but it’s even good to visit as a couple if you are both thrillseekers.
9. Enjoy the Beach
Are you visiting Erie County during the summer months? Then you might be able to catch some great weather that’s perfect for enjoying Lake Erie.
You’ll find a number of beaches dotted along the shore. Most of them are perfect for sunbathing and getting into the water but all of them are great for taking in the scenery and having a short stroll.
There’s Gallagher Beach which is in Buffalo. It might not be the most spectacular beach but it does an okay job.
However, our favorite in Erie County is Evangola State Park. Not only it is a beautiful state park it has an expansive beach with scenic views. Whether you want to swim or just enjoy the views of Lake Erie this is a nice place to be.
10. Go on a Lake Erie Adventure
Even if you don’t fancy swimming in the lake there is an opportunity for adventure. You’ll find multiple tour operators in and around Buffalo who’ll take you out to the lake for a fun time.
Of course, there are the obvious Niagara Falls cruises but if you look further than that you’ll find some pretty interesting options.
We especially loved the Curise Dinner on Lake Erie. The atmosphere is very romantic and the views from the water are great.
Then there’s Buffalo Tiki Tours which is very unique. Imagine a Tiki-Bar but it’s a boat. It’s quirky but it’s a great activity if you are traveling as a group of friends.
For the ultimate experience, you can also explore the lake on the Spirit of Buffalo. It’s a beautiful vintage ship with a knowledgeable crew who’ll make your trip a memorable experience.
11. Attend a local festival
Just like any place in the nation, Erie County has a set of interesting festivals that you can attend throughout the year. We’ve selected some of our favorites that you should check if you are visiting at the same time they are happening.
Erie County Fair & Exposition
The Erie County Fair is a pretty long one that lasts almost the whole month of August. It’s full of free shows and musical events happening each day and night.
You can see things like the Worl’s Largest Demolition Derby or artists like Flo Rida. Of course, it’s not just about the shows and performers.
The Fair is filled to the brim with attractions to enjoy as a family. There are a great variety of rides for kids and adults as well. Then you got your shops and food stalls you would expect from a good county fair.
Overall, this is a very nice place to visit and one of the top family things to do in Erie County if you visit in August.
Check https://www.ecfair.org/ for full info on the fair.
Eden Corn Fest
The Eden Corn Festival is a small agricultural fair in the town of Eden. It’s a four-day event and it’s one of the largest agricultural and local festivals in the area. Visitors from all over NY state come here to enjoy the fair and the spectacle.
Allentown Art Festival
Finally, we have the Allentown Art Festival in Buffalo. Whether you are an artist or someone who loves local art and craftsmanship you must visit this fair.
First of all, it’s in Allentown, which is one of the coolest areas in Buffalo. Then you get the vibrant and colorful atmosphere that is guaranteed when local artists assemble. It’s a good place to meet and support local artists.
12. Try Local Wines and Beers
As our last thing to do in Erie County, NY we will recommend you some great local businesses. Visiting and spending money at these places is a great way to give back to the community whenever you travel. Below we’ll list three nice places to visit, but don’t forget to explore on your own. There are many more in and around Erie County that are worth your time and money.
Pellicano Vineyard Hamburg Winery
The Pellicano Vineyard Hamburg Winery is a treat for wine lovers. This vineyard has a nice patio area where you can try the wines they make and enjoy good scenery.
Those who want to try multiple combinations have options for a selection of wine flights. They also have food and it is a family-run business.
Queen City Meadery
It is so rare that we come across a meadery that we must include it on our list. Luckily this one’s not only a meadery but an excellent one.
Once again we recommend ordering a flight of mead to try out different types and flavors. A truly local business with a nice atmosphere.
BriarBrothers Brewing Company
Beer lovers rejoice, we won’t leave you without a brewery recommendation. The BriarBrothers Brewing Company is a total hidden gem in Buffalo.
They are located in a historic building. There’s both an outside and inside sitting area with a food truck outdoors where you can grab a bite along with your beer.
We’ve found the beers to be excellent and their pricing is more than traveler friendly. Once again this is a local establishment where you can safely spend money as it is going to the right place.
Getting to Erie County, NY
Getting to Erie County, NY should pose no real problems. If you are within NY then you can easily drive here as Buffalo is a major city in the US with major highways leading to it.
Of course, New York State is huge. An actual drive from New York City is already 6+ hours so that’s not something a lot of people would consider.
Rather you can fly to Erie County. Buffalo has a big airport with connections to most major US cities. You can then rent a car directly at the airport for easy mobility.
Staying & Eating in Erie County
Finally, we won’t leave you without some extra tips. We wanted to share some nice places to eat and stay in Erie County. This is just extra content we felt would be useful for a number of travelers. Of course, these are personal preferences and there are many other great places in Erie County.
Restaurants in Erie County
- Allen Burger Venture
- If you too love a good craft burger then the Allen Burger Venture will be a restaurant right up your alley. They have amazing burgers and a nice selection of beers to go along with them.
- Roost is a nice local open-kitchen restaurant. It’s kind of a hidden gem as it is tucked away from the city center. Regardless, it’s already a local’s favorite and travelers will be treated to a bustling atmosphere and excellent food
- The Poppyseed Restaurant
- The Poppyseed Restaurant is a great choice if you are looking for something American. The setting is akin to an American Diner with an expansive menu and excellent tastes. It’s a long-standing local restaurant that continues to deliver quality and a friendly atmosphere.
- Lucia’s On The Lake
- Finally, we have Lucia’s On The Lake. It’s an upscale Italian restaurant right on the waterfront. The setting, the food, and the atmosphere all create a luxurious environment. It’s the perfect place for a couple’s night out.
Hotels in Erie County
Our last tips will include hotel recommendations for your Erie County exploration. We’ve tried to select places for every type of traveler.
InnBuffalo off Elmwood
The InnBuffalo off Elmwood is a cute inn dating back all the way to 1898. It is located in an old Victorian building that has been restored to mint condition.
This Inn offers a very romantic atmosphere in a relaxing part of town. We are absolutely in love with the actual building and the interior design of the rooms. When we are thinking about a couple’s weekend getaway we always imagine a hotel like this to accompany us for the journey.
South Bridge Bed and Breakfast
If you are looking for a B&B that’s not in Buffalo then you’ll love South Bridge Bed and Breakfast. You’ll find it on Grand Island on the banks of Niagara River.
The whole building feels like a nice holiday home. It has a welcoming atmosphere. Most of the rooms have excellent views of the river and the surrounding scenery.
We really loved the breakfast here. They even have a dock so if you plan to visit by boat then this might be the place to go.
The Westin Buffalo
Lastly, we have The Westin Buffalo. It’s the only non-local place as it’s managed by Marriott. We recommend this for travelers who are looking for that 4-star experience.
If you are someone who loves to have a great variety of amenities available at your hotel then you’ll be very satisfied with The Westin Buffalo.
There are countless common areas, an excellent restaurant on site, a very good breakfast, and a gym where you can stay fit even during your holiday.
Adding to this, the rooms feel upscale. They have great views over Buffalo and they are very comfortable. The bathrooms are also spacious and well-designed.
Overall, you get what you would expect from a nice chain hotel.
Things to Do in Erie County, NY – FAQ
Yes! Erie County is a great place in New York to visit. Buffalo is blooming with culture and history and there are beautiful nature sites nearby: like Niagara Falls.
Yes, Erie County is close to Niagara Falls.