Located in the north of New York state, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, Rochester is a wonderful place to visit whether for a weekend trip or longer since there are so many places to see here. With various events going on year-round, depending on the season there are always plenty of fun things to do in Rochester, NY. Whether you decide to visit Rochester in itself for a few days or use it as a stopover on route from New York City to Niagara Falls, your visit to Rochester will be well worthwhile.
Best Time to Visit Rochester
Rochester well and truly experiences four seasons each year. Summer months are hot and humid, and the Winter months are chilly with heavy snowfall. So to avoid the super cold months as well as the super warm months, it’s best to visit during the late spring or early fall.
Average temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit all the way from November to March, so unless you really enjoy jacket weather and possible snow, I’d aim for May through October, where temperatures average in the 60s and 70s on the shoulder months and the low 80s in the dead of summer.
Getting to and Around Rochester
If you’re already in New York, getting to Rochester is easy via plane, train, bus or car. The Greater Rochester International Airport is just 6 miles southwest of the city or travelers can easily reach the city center by train (Amtrak) or bus (Greyhound, Trailways and Megabus).
Once you’re in Rochester, you will want to rent a car to easily get around to all the tourist attractions. While there are many sights within the city that you can easily reach on foot, overall the attractions are spread out and you will benefit from the convenience of having your own transportation.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, you will need to rely on the bus, taxis or Uber and Lyft to get around.
Fun Things to do in Rochester NY
With over 100 different attractions, more than 12,000 acres of parklands and over 140 festivals each year, it’s impossible to list everything fun thing there is to do in Rochester, but here is a list of some of the very best things to do.
Visit High Falls
The very best place to start your tour around Rochester is at the High Falls. Located in the center of town, these falls have a massive 96-foot drop and have to be seen to be believed. It’s crazy to think these falls are right in the heart of downtown Rochester.
High Falls are best viewed from the Pont De Rennes pedestrian bridge or while relaxing with a drink or two at the Genesee Brew House.
If you’re interested nearby is the High Falls Center and Interpretative Museum where you can learn a little more about the local area. Entry to the museum is by a $2 donation and the museum is open daily.
Strong National Museum of Play
Whether you are visiting Rochester with kids or without, a must-do is to visit the Strong Museum of Play. This is the only museum of its kind in the world, with a specific focus on play. The museum houses a crazy number of exhibits including books, magazines, dolls, toys, old carousels, board games and much more. You’ll love seeing all the old toys you used to play with as a child, as well as the toys your parents and even grandparents played with when they were kids!
If you’re visiting with children, there is a stack for them to do here. Kids will love playing at the miniature grocery store, retro game arcade (I suspect even a few adults will love this one), dress-up opportunities, a giant Etch-a-Sketch and replica sets from Sesame Street.
The Strong National Museum of Play is open daily Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 10 am to 8 pm and on Sundays from noon to 5 pm. Entry is $16 per person and under 2’s are free.
Inside the museum is also the Butterfly Garden, which is an optional extra of $5 per person.
Cruise the Erie Canal
While you’re in town, I highly recommend you take a leisurely cruise down the Erie Canal aboard the Sam Patch. This is the only remaining boat cruise operator within the city and it’s an underrated fun thing to do in Rochester NY.
The cruise takes place on a replica packet boat right out of the 1800s. Back in the day, these old boats towed products and passengers around the man-made waterways opening the west to the commerce. Now the canals are simply used for recreation purposes such as leisurely cruises, kayaking and along the banks are lovely walking and biking trails.
These cruises depart at various times throughout the day, every day and take you through Rochester’s historic waterways. The most interesting part of the cruise is when you reach Lock 32. Here you will experience something so unique as you pass through a century-old lock.
While aboard the Sam Patch, you will hear wonderful commentary where you will get a short history lesson into the Erie Canal and discover just how important it was to development of the Rochester region.
There is a range of cruises available, with some including lunch or even wine tasting cruises. Click here for more information.
Susan B Anthony Museum and House
For the history buffs, you can’t pass up the opportunity to go visit Susan B Anthony House. Anthony was a famous women’s rights activist and in 1872, this was the very house she was arrested in for voting illegally. Anthony was also the president of the National Women Suffrage Association and her home was the headquarters.
Susan B Anthony’s home is now a fantastic museum with various artifacts for you to learn about the movement on display. The museum highlights her influences, the many reforms she worked for (suffrage, abolition, temperance, education, and a purse of her own among them), her friendship with Frederick Douglass, and her trial for voting.
Susan B. Anthony Museum and House is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm and entry is $15 per adult, $10 per senior citizen and $5 per student. Allow an hour or so to visit the museum as it is one of the more popular places to go in Rochester NY.
George Eastman Museum
The George Eastman House is the former home of the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company and houses the International Museum of Photography and Film.
After the death of Mr Eastman in 1932, his family turned is very elaborate home into a fascinating museum for you to learn about all things about photography. While learning about the developments in cameras and the processing of film is interesting, just wandering the corridors of his mansion and seeing all the attractions is fascinating. His home is a real insight into what life was like for the Rochester elite in the twentieth century.
The International Museum of Photography and Film is known to be the oldest museum that is dedicated to all things photography and one of the world’s largest archives of movies and films telling the story and the fascinating tale of George Eastman.
The George Eastman Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday. General admission is $15 for adults (17+) and $5 for children (5-17). Children 5 and under are free. Film Screenings cost an additional $10 with children under 17 being free.
Lake Ontario and Ontario Beach Park
Located at the northernmost reaches of the city, Lake Ontario and the Ontario Beach Park makes the list of free and fun things to do in Rochester if the weather is good and warm. Here you will find a huge 39-acre beautiful park and gardens as well as a lovely sandy beach.
The parklands have BBQs and picnic benches, a playground, a boardwalk, a food stand, toilets and the Dentzel Menagerie Carousel, which is just $1 to ride. Lake Ontario is also a great place for fishing where you can catch salmon, steelhead, brown trout and lake trout. Here you can charter a boat for fishing or go sightseeing.
The is also a nearby marina which has many waterfront restaurants to grab a spot of lunch while checking out the boats in the marina.
Pedal Tour Around Rochester
For a bit of fun and a unique way to explore downtown Rochester, join one of the Rochester Pedal Tours.
Basically you jump onboard this trolley like contraption, which is powered by pedals – that is you have to pedal to make the thing move! It might sound like a lot of hard work, but it absolutely heaps of fun.
Up to 15 people can join any given tour, and there are a range of different tours to choose from, including checking out all attractions on East Avenue in town. There are dinner tours, bar crawls and city tours. Along the way, you make various stops to check out different sites around the city, and your guide gives you some great commentary too on the unique things to do in Rochester NY.
A bonus is, it’s BYO music and drinks, so you can Bluetooth your iPhone and have all our favorite tunes blaring while having a few drinks along the way. Along the way there are made plenty of stops for photo opportunities as well as to rest your legs. For anyone who can’t pedal, there are around 5 seats where no pedalling is required. Personally, this is my number one choice of the fun things to do in Rochester NY because I love combining beer with exercise for my guilty conscience!
The price of the tour starts at $278 for the entire bike. If you only have a small group, there are a few tour times where you can be placed with other smaller groups. These tours are $28 per person. Click here to learn more.
Seneca Park Zoo
The Seneca Park Zoo is situated over more than 20 acres of land and is home to over 90 species of animal species from all over the world. Animals you will find at Seneca include African Elephants, White Rhinos, Sea Lions, Giraffes and more.
Seneca Park Zoo is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm and entry is $12 per adult and $9 per child. Children under 2 are free. A visit to the Seneca Park Zoo is a must for all animal lovers.
The Genesee Country Village and Museum is a 19th-century living history museum situated on more than 600 acres located just a short drive from Rochester. Here you can tour the 68 buildings and interact with costumed interpretive actors as they tend to real gardens and livestock, bake fresh breads and pies, basically a great way to learn about everything you would expect locals to do in a village from the 19th century.
Whether you visit with children or without, no doubt you will find this living museum super interesting and one of the fun things to do in Rochester. The level of detail to make the village as authentic as possible is impressive.
The Genesee Country Village & Museum is open all year round; however exact hours change throughout the year so it’s best to check before arriving. Entry is $18 for adults, $10 for children with 3 and younger being free.
Casa Larga Winery
For wine lovers, a visit to Casa Larga Winery for a wine tour is an absolute must! Even if you are visiting Rochester with kids, the winery is family-friendly and has plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy.
Throughout the year, they hold several events that are well worth attending. For example their Purple Grape festival is an annual celebration of harvest and you’ll love joining in with the old world tradition of stomping grapes. The festival is full of awesome activities including wagon rides around the vineyard, live music, market stalls, kids’ activities and more. Of course there is plenty of wine tastings to be had too.
The Summer Patio Parties are also a great weekly event and no doubt one of the fun things to do in Rochester and the surrounding areas. These Patio parties have good music, good food from local food trucks and of course, delicious wine to add to beautiful summer evenings. The parties run from 5:30-8:30 PM and are a great place to spend a leisurely evening outside. Tickets are $10 per adult, which includes a glass of wine and kids are free.
11. Memorial Art Gallery (MAG)
The Memorial Art Gallery is the civic art museum of Rochester city. Founded in 1913, it is part of the University of Rochester and occupies the southern half of the University’s former Prince Street campus.
There are tons of activities they do for all ages on a weekly basis there. I suggest you check out their calender to be able to choose among the various fun things they have to do there.
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 11 am–5 pm;Thursday, 11 am–9 pm;CLOSED Monday, Tuesday, and major holidays
12. Finger Lakes Wineries
Very close by to Rochester is the Finger Lakes region, which has beautiful country. Finger Lakes Wine Country is home to more than 100 wineries, breweries and distilleries centered around Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes and there are wine tours a plenty taking off from town as well. I didn’t take a tour, but I heard good things about the Crush Beer and Wine Tour. I think this is one of the things to do near Rochester NY that is a highlight for everyone.
Given the climate, this area is mostly known for white wines and there are plenty of winery tours to choose from, but just to name for possible day trips: Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Ravines Wine Cellars, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, and Sheldrake Point Winery are all worth visiting.
13. Rochester Public Market
The City of Rochester Public Market has been around since 1905 and offers an huge assortment of fresh seasonal produce from local farmers as well as from around the country and world. They also have dry goods and general merchandise, clothing and jewelry, and more. In the surrounding Market Business District you have a wide choice of cafes, coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, and food stands, which for me makes it one of the fun things to do in Rochester.
The Market’s outdoor and indoor vendor sheds are open year-round and are located at 280 North Union St. in Center City. Hours are: Tuesdays and Thursdays 6 am to 1 pm, and Saturdays from 5 am to 3 pm. On Saturdays during the warmer months, shoppers can find over 300 vending stalls full of all kinds of goods and goodies!
14. Mount Hope Cemetery
Located in Highland Park, Mount Hope Cemetery was founded in 1838. Its claim to fame is that it was the first municipal cemetery in the United States. Situated on 196 acres of land adjacent to the University of Rochester on Mount Hope Avenue, it is one of the best free things to do in Rochester NY.
15. Rochester Museum & Science Center
The Rochester Museum & Science Center is dedicated to community education in science, technology and local history. Like the other museums in this town, there are a wide variety of activities available for all ages, so check the calendar online. The museum also operates the Strasenburgh Planetarium, located next to the museum, and the Cumming Nature Center, a 900-acre nature preserve near Naples, New York.
Bonus Thing to do in Rochester NY: Watch a Sports Game
For those sports lovers, why not go along and support one of the many Rochester sporting teams? The sports on offer are certainly some of the fun things to do in Rochester when in season. Go along and cheer the Rochester Red Wings (baseball) at Frontier Field, the Rochester Rhinos (Soccer), the Rochester Americans (Ice Hockey) or the Rochester RazorSharks (basketball) to name a few.
Games are of course seasonal, so do some research online before you decide which team to go and barrack for.
Melissa is the creator behind Thrifty Family Travels, which aims to provide families practical travel information on a range of destinations across the globe. The focus is on affordable family travel, not necessarily cheap family travel, but rather show families how to spend their travel dollars without every compromising on experience.