The Best College Towns in New York

There’s more to New York than the Big Apple.

From NYC to the quieter towns upstate, New York offers a unique mix of top-quality academic resources and lively cultural experiences for students and locals alike. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best college towns in New York. Pack your bags and get ready for a tour of the Empire State’s finest educational institutions and the charming towns that surround them.

Ithaca

View of the Ithaca campus and the surrounding college town from the sky

First on our list of the best college towns in New York is the picturesque town of Ithaca, nestled in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. Home to Cornell University, an Ivy League institution and Ithaca College, a renowned liberal arts college, Ithaca offers students a perfect blend of rigorous education and stunning natural beauty. With its gorges, waterfalls and nearby Cayuga Lake, Ithaca is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, who can easily enjoy activities like hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing in their free time.

Ithaca also boasts a thriving arts scene, with events like the annual Ithaca Festival, a celebration of art, music and food that draws in thousands of visitors. Ithaca’s thriving downtown, known as The Commons, is packed with unique shops, restaurants and bars that cater to the diverse student population.

Syracuse

Gorgeous red brick building on the Syracuse campus in Syracuse, NY

Another gem among the New York college towns is Syracuse, a mid-sized city in central New York. Home to the prestigious Syracuse University, this town is known for its love of sports, particularly basketball and football, as well as its passion for the arts. The Syracuse University campus features striking architecture, with buildings like the Hall of Languages and the Crouse College of Visual and Performing Arts showcasing the city’s rich history.

Off of the campus, the city’s cultural scene is just as impactful, with the Everson Museum of Art and the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology catering to art and science enthusiasts. Students can also explore the eclectic Armory Square, a hub of shopping, dining and nightlife or take a stroll around the beautiful Onondaga Lake Park.

New York City

NYC in all its glory

No discussion of college towns in New York would be complete without mentioning New York City, the ultimate college town for urban academics. With more than 120 institutions of higher learning, including Columbia University, New York University and the Fashion Institute of Technology, the city offers unparalleled opportunities for students to explore a variety of disciplines at the highest level.

The city’s five boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island – each have their own unique vibe, ensuring that students never run out of things to do. From Broadway shows and world-class museums to sporting events and food from every corner of the globe, New York City truly has something for everyone. If you’re looking for a nontraditional, culture-filled college experience, NYC is the place to be.

Cortland

Street view of the SUNY Cortland campus

Moving on to the more intimate college towns in New York, Cortland, located in Central New York, is home to SUNY Cortland. Often referred to as ‘Crown City’ due to its location on a hilltop, Cortland offers a friendly, small-town atmosphere with a rich history and a focus on education.

The beautiful campus is surrounded by rolling hills and picturesque landscapes, providing students with a tranquil setting to focus on their studies. The town also hosts several events throughout the year, including the Cortland Pumpkinfest and the Cortaca Jug, an annual football game between SUNY Cortland and nearby Ithaca College that has become a beloved tradition in the area.

Stony Brook

A beach near the Stony Brook campus

Next up is Stony Brook, a charming college town located on the North Shore of Long Island. Home to Stony Brook University, a prestigious public research institution, the town offers a serene coastal setting, perfect for students seeking a balance between academic pursuits and outdoor adventures.

The nearby Stony Brook Village, a historic shopping center with colonial-style buildings, offers a quaint atmosphere for shopping and dining. Nature lovers can explore the 1,100-acre Avalon Park and Preserve, which features walking trails, meadows and woodlands.

In addition, the town boasts a thriving arts scene, with the Staller Center for the Arts on campus and the Long Island Museum nearby, showcasing local art, history and more.

Binghamton

Aerial view of Binghamton University on a cloudy day

Binghamton is situated in the Southern Tier region of the state. Known as the ‘Carousel Capital of the World’ for its six antique carousels, Binghamton is home to Binghamton University, a top-ranked public research university.

The city’s downtown area has seen significant revitalization in recent years, with trendy restaurants, bars and shops catering to the growing student population. One of the city’s most popular attractions is the Ross Park Zoo, where students can take a break from their studies to visit over 100 species of animals. The city also hosts the annual Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally, a popular event celebrating the local culinary specialty, the Spiedie sandwich, and featuring hot air balloon launches.

Geneseo

Downtown Geneseo near SUNY Geneseo

Located in the western part of the state, Geneseo is home to the SUNY Geneseo. This small town boasts a picturesque setting, complete with the stunning Genesee Valley and nearby Letchworth State Park, known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the East.’

The historic Main Street, with its well-preserved architecture, provides students with a convenient and quaint walkable downtown area filled with shops, restaurants and cafes. The town’s arts scene is anchored by the Geneseo Riviera, a historic theater that hosts concerts, films and other cultural events.

Buffalo

Street view of downtown Buffalo near the University at Buffalo campus on a sunny day

Last but most definitely not least, Buffalo deserves a mention among the best college towns in the state. With multiple colleges and universities, including the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College, this city has undergone a remarkable revitalization in recent years.

Students can explore the bustling Canalside district or indulge in the city’s famous culinary creations, including its iconic Buffalo wings. Art enthusiasts can visit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery or take in a performance at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, while sports fans can cheer on the Buffalo Bills or Buffalo Sabres at their respective stadiums.

Your new apartment is waiting in a New York college town

New York offers an incredible selection of college towns, each with its own unique character and charm. From the bustling metropolis of New York City to the calming beauty of Cortland, students have a wealth of options when it comes to finding the perfect college town to call home.

Now that you’ve seen the top collegiate destinations in New York, which college towns rank best nationally? Find out here.

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