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16 Unique Things to do in Rochester, NY on Your Next Visit

16 Unique Things to do in Rochester, NY on Your Next Visit

Are you looking for fun things to do in Rochester, NY? My family lived in Rochester for more than 15 years.

Located just a 3-hour drive from Toronto and 5-hour drive from New York City, it’s the perfect upstate New York road trip destination.

I recommend you stay at least two nights to see what the city has to offer.

Here are some of the best things to do in Rochester, New York!


1) Visit the George Eastman House 

Antique cameras on display

The Eastman House is the estate of George Eastman, founder of Kodak, and is a fan favorite year-round.

The gardens are stunning in the summer and in the winter, the gingerbread house display during the holidays will make you believe in Christmas magic.

This is a great place to learn about the history of photography. They always feature new exhibits and events, from workshops to lectures to movie screenings at their in-house venue, the Dryden Theatre.

If you’re visiting for the first time, make sure to take the tour of the mansion for context and little-known information about George Eastman’s life and mission.

General admission tickets are $20 for adults, discounted prices for children, seniors, and students. They have a cafe if you want to have lunch or grab a snack while there.

2) Experience the Strong Museum of Play

Woman with hands outstretched in front of giant candy canes

The Strong National Museum of Play is a must for all ages. They have interactive games, from pinball machines to Chutes & Ladders.

It’s expansive, with areas dedicated to stories and books for children, and bonuses like giant pumpkins, a make-your-own-spell section, and hidden passageways for sleuths in training.

You can attempt to pull Excalibur from the stone or see a collection of Barbies dating back through the decades.

They do a great job of documenting the history of toys for anyone with a sense of nostalgia. It is a place where learning and playing go hand-in-hand.

You could easily spend 3-4 hours here, especially with the outdoor expansion and Hasbro Game Park. 

Museum admission starts at $25/per person, $23 if you book online.


3) Play while you eat at Nerdvana

Family sitting at dining table with video game controllers

Nerdvana is the one place where you’re encouraged to play while you dine. There are video game consoles at every table, from Playstation to Xbox.

The Rochester location is one of two in the nation.

They even have video games at the bar, and classic board games for those who want to go analog.

My family and I tried several different video games before switching to Clue. The board game menu is distinct, with some games I’d never seen before, and has dozens of options.

There’s also a themed food menu, with categories like potions and cheats, and we all enjoyed our meal.

4) See the annual Lilac Festival

Girl standing next to blooming white lilac tree

The Rochester Lilac Festival takes place in Highland Park and is the largest of its kind in North America.

It usually takes place sometime in May, depending on when the blooms are expected that year, and boasts more than 1800 bushes and over 500 different varieties of lilac.

There are vendors, live music, food and flora entertaining a half a million visitors throughout the 10-day event.

There’s a lilac run, parade, craft beer expo and wine tasting.

You don’t need a ticket to attend generally, just for special ticketed events. The celebration grows bigger every year and is a fun way to ring in the summer.

5) Try a wine flight 

Wine flight with menu

Living Roots Wine & Co. is Rochester’s first urban winery.

They are run by a husband and wife couple and based both in the Finger Lakes and Adelaide, Australia, making for the perfect selection of red and white wines.

They have a wine of the month club for their many eager subscribers who are privy to special labels (yes, national shipping is available!).

They also offer wine flights so you can taste the best of their wines from either or both regions.

There is an extensive wine shop on site, with bottles, books, and accessories available if you need to shop for the wino in your life.

There’s a bar and high-top tables, both usually full so make reservations in advance. They also have a private tasting room available if you’re looking to host events here.

The space is beautiful, with rustic wood accents and the high, industrial ceilings that come with a warehouse space.

6) Stroll the Rochester Public Market

Bushels of apples on table for sale

The Rochester Public Market is a foodie’s delight!

This is a giant indoor and outdoor farmer’s market with the best of what local vendors and farmers have to offer.

They’re open year-round on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 6am to 1pm (3pm on Saturdays).

You can find fresh honey, maple syrup, every variety of apple imaginable — from produce to flowers to handmade gifts.

If you’re hungry, there are prepared foods and baked goods but Juan and Maria’s Empanadas are a crowd favorite.

They have options like chicken, veggie, pork and onion, and rice, bean and cheese empanadas. They also have sauces prepared in-house.

I had a delicious breakfast at Public Provisions. They have a storefront with fresh juices and hearty breakfast sandwiches. Note, they have different hours than the market and are open daily but closed on Mondays.

Bring a tote bag to fill with fresh goodies and produce. Most vendors accept credit cards but cash is always king.

7) Eat a garbage plate
Garbage plate on red try with receipt

You can’t go to Rochester without trying a garbage plate!

Don’t worry, it’s more appetizing than it sounds.

I went to Nick Tahou Hots, home of the original garbage plate. It’s basically a plate piled high with French fries or home fries, macaroni salad, beans, hot sauce, and the meat of your choice.

The traditional option is a burger patty but I went with white hots, a white hot dog that is also a Rochester classic.

It comes served with slices of bread to help you soak of all it up. This is definitely one of those dishes that satisfies a late-night craving.

While Nick Tahou’s is the original, many places around the city offer garbage plates and people have their preferences.

Other popular options include Dogtown and Steve T. Hots and Potatoes.

8) Visit the Memorial Art Gallery

Portrait of woman made with different mediums

The Memorial Art Gallery has an impressive collection of artwork, from classic masterpieces to local painters and sculptors.

It’s affiliated with the University of Rochester and at any point in time the collection on display only represents about 10% of the works on hand.

They host special events like $5 Fridays and themed evenings families and solo travelers.

They also have an elaborate hall that’s previously served as the setting for a Harry Potter feast.

You’ll be impressed with the quality of the collection, with artwork from heavy hitters like Monet, Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keefe, Henri Matisse, and many more.

9) Hunt for street art 

Mural of woman with scarf on side of a building

Rochester is filled with street art.

Check out an organization called WALL/THERAPY for a map of the best murals in the city.

You can do a self-guided walking tour and discover more than 50 larger than life pieces in the downtown area alone.

This particular piece is called “Inherited Traditions – Inspired by the Quilts of Gee’s Bend” and is found at 36 King Street.

10) Tour the Susan B. Anthony House

Susan B. Anthony house exterior in Rochester, NY

Susan B. Anthony was a champion for women’s suffrage. You can see her home and many of her most famous belongings, like her alligator skinned purse, in her home in Rochester.

There are tours offered every hour, on the hour, and they last about 45 minutes.

There is a $15 fee for the tour and walk-ins are welcome.

There is also a gift shop and some informational displays set up in a separate room. The guides do a great job of telling her story and making you feel invested in the history.

There are so many things to do in Rochester, NY that you won’t be bored.

Whether you’re spending a weekend or a week here, it won’t be long before you’re planning your next trip.

11) Enjoy the Rochester Museum & Science Center

Telescope in planetarium

The Rochester Museum and Science Center is a great stop for children and adults alike.

The main building has many different sections, some covering scientific topics like use of light (with interactive experiences like lasers) and others covering history in the region, featuring photo opps like a canoe and Mastodon skeleton. 

There is a planetarium on site that has shows throughout the day, buy your tickets and make your way there early. They also host special events, like they had a Taylor Swift themed laser light show at night. 

12) Taste a Poutine Flight at Petit Poutinerie

Poutine flight of 3 options lined up on table

Poutine can be compared to loaded fries, but the difference is they always have cheese curds and gravy. 

Having originated in nearby Northeastern Canada, the poutine love has made its way to Rochester. You can now try a poutine flight at Petit Poutinerie.

On my visit, they had 9 different flavor combinations to choose from, including a limited time garbage plate option. 

They were decadent, filling, and served in an IG-friendly setting. 

I also can’t say enough about the dessert options here, from a Sammie sandwich to a gluten-free s’mores cookie, everything I had here was a win.

13) Visit Artisan Works

Collection of artwork in passageway, including visible mermaid

Artisan Works is part art gallery, part event space, 100% unique. 

The space is filled with one-of-a-kind pieces by different artists. It also has distinct rooms with features like bars, pool tables, pianos, kitchens, and more depending on what the event needs. 

There are rooms with different themes, like the 2-floored fireman’s room with a full-sized fire engine inside, firemen’s dressing lockers, a spiral staircase, and more. 

Visitors can stroll the premises during their opening hours. It is a must for art lovers, and if you happen to be throwing an upcoming event you might consider it. 

I imagine it would be great for fundraisers, wedding showers, corporate events, birthday parties, anniversaries, and more. 

14) Attend the Annual Fringe Festival

Performer balancing upside down on beam

The Rochester Fringe Festival takes place every September and puts creative arts, dance, and performance front and center.

Shows take place at different venues throughout the city, from schools to parks. Some shows are free, others require tickets and sell out.

I attended Circolombia: Corazon in the Spiegeltent, basically the big top headquarters of the show during my visit. It was sold out and was a mix of acrobatics, storytelling, and music.

The best part of the festival is being able to customize your itinerary with as many events as you’d like.

I enjoyed stargazing and attending the silent disco, among others.

15) Savor a Spirits Flight at Black Button Distilling

Bottles lined up with shot glasses in front

Black Button Distilling is a great place to come with friends for happy hour. They have an indoor/outdoor space and open distilling process.

There is a detailed cocktail menu and food options like a sweet & spicy bacon waffle (drool!).

If you want to try the different spirits they make, you can do so with a spirits flight. Mine had vodka, gin, and bourbon.

The flight comes wiht a description of the elements of each bottle.

I also tried the single barrel reserve, a higher end option that would make a great gift.

16) Take a boat tour on the Riverie

The Riverie is a new boat tour that operates seasonally, from June to October. They run down the Genesee River and Eerie Canal.

Tours typically last 90 minutes but there are some that are 2 1/2 hours, and others that are themed like a sunset cruise and birding cruise.

There is the ability to purchase drinks and snacks on board.

I loved that on the way in and out, we got picture perfect views of the Rochester skyline. I went in September and the weather was ideal for being out on the water.


There are so many things to do in Rochester, NY that you won’t be bored.

Whether you’re spending a weekend or a week here, it won’t be long before you’re planning your next trip.

Till next time, safe travels!


Sunday 5th of May 2019

My bestie lives in Rochester and would not stop talking about the garbage plates! After visiting her, I understood why! So amazing! Great list!!!


Saturday 23rd of March 2019

Rochester hadn’t been on my list but now it is.. I need that garbage plate for my inner fat girl.. I love food more than life itself

Zaneta Baran

Saturday 23rd of March 2019

I love point 11 and point 12 haha! I already became hungry :D I have never been in Rochester but adding it to my bucket list now!


Saturday 23rd of March 2019

Great list! I already know my husband would love the garbage plate, lol.