When you think of New York, you probably think of New York City. But New York state is huge, and there are plenty of exciting places to be found upstate. One of those places would definitely be Syracuse, NY.
Syracuse is famous for Syracuse University, the New York State Fair, and being the snowiest city in the country. The city’s diversity and vibrant food scene make it one of the most interesting places in the state. While the university area is the most well known, there are also tons of other gems to uncover.
Let’s take a look at 15 things Syracuse is known for.
1. Syracuse University
We’ll start with an obvious one. Syracuse is famous for its private research university that’s recognizable by its signature orange and blue color scheme. With almost 15,000 undergrads, this sizable school makes up a large part of the local community.
The university’s Newhouse School of Public Communications and Whitman School of Management are two of the school’s most respected programs. Besides its academics, Syracuse is also known for its basketball team and head coach Jim Boeheim.
2. The Carrier Dome
While the Carrier Dome is technically part of the university, it deserves its own spot on this list. Known locally as simply “The Dome,” this famous arena is the home of Syracuse University sports, notably basketball, lacrosse, and football. Students and locals alike flock to The Dome to enjoy the games.
Besides sporting events, The Dome also hosts concerts and events like the monster truck rally Monster Jam. Artists like Billy Joel, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and Bon Jovi have all played shows there. The arena can hold over 50,000 people, so it’s a natural fit for impressive blockbuster events.
3. The number 44
Besides impressive musicians, The Dome has also seen its fair share of amazing athletes come through its doors. Three of those amazing athletes, the most accomplished football players in Syracuse history, all shared the same number. Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little all wore the legendary number 44.
The number 44 is now famous across the city of Syracuse. You’ll see it on signs, jerseys, bumper stickers, and more. 44 originated with Syracuse University players, but its significance spreads way beyond just the campus.
4. Marshall Street
A local university hotspot for bars and restaurants is undoubtedly Marshall Street. It’s a favorite hangout spot for students, locals, and visitors. While many of the businesses have changed over the years, the overall laid-back vibe has remained the same.
You can start with a morning coffee at Starbucks, then grab a slice of pizza from Varsity for lunch, and head to Faegan’s for dinner and happy hour. No matter what you’re craving, there’s a place for you on Marshall Street.
5. The Great New York State Fair
Besides the university, Syracuse is famous for hosting the New York State Fair. This yearly event features tons of food vendors, performers, and artisans. If you’re in the area at the end of August and beginning of September, don’t miss this celebration.
The best way to do the fair is to hit the food section first, get your fill of fried foods and delicious desserts, then walk off your food baby and see all the exhibits. There are tons of prize-winning livestock, as well as the famous Dairy Barn. Don’t miss the unique butter sculpture or the refreshing milk bar.
6. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
Even when the fair’s not in town, there are still plenty of amazing places to find great food in Syracuse. One of the most famous would have to be Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. This spot downtown has been serving up delicious barbecue since 1988.
Like any good barbecue place, Dinosaur offers a wide range of meats. Choose from pork, chicken, beef, or fish and pair it with your favorite sides. If you’re going with a friend, don’t skip the Sweetheart Deal. You get a full rack of juicy ribs and 4 sides for under $50.
7. Salt potatoes
If meat isn’t really your thing, then maybe I can interest you in one of Syracuse’s other delicious delicacies: salt potatoes. When Irish immigrants came to Syracuse, they discovered the salt springs around Onondaga Lake. They boiled their potatoes in the salty water and the salt potato was born.
You’ll find different variations on menus across the city. Some have a mountain of toppings like bacon, pulled, pork, sour cream, gravy, and even kimchi. But if you want to stick to the classic recipe, all you need are some new potatoes, salt, and butter. It’s that simple.
8. Salt City
The salt potatoes are just the beginning. Because of its salt springs and major salt industry, Syracuse itself is known as The Salt City. For much of the 19th century, the city was one of the top salt producers in the country.
If you’re interested in the history of salt in Syracuse, the Salt Museum has a wealth of incredible knowledge. The museum is housed in an original production barn and details the history of this precious mineral spanning all the way back to the Ice Age.
9. Onondaga Lake
The salt springs aren’t the only famous body of water in the Syracuse area. Syracuse is also known for Onondaga Lake. Unfortunately, this lake is mostly famous for being one of the most polluted lakes in the country. As the city developed, much of the industrial waste ended up in the lake.
Luckily, there have been recent efforts to clean up the lake and restore it to its former glory. Fish such as brown trout and lake sturgeon have begun to return. There have even been bald eagle sightings nearby, a good sign that the quality of the lake and the fishing has improved.
10. Onondaga Nation
Before the city of Syracuse even existed, the people of the Onondaga Nation were the stewards of the land. The Onondaga people are part of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy in northeast North America, and they’ve lived on this land since the 12th century.
Because of colonialism, many of the natives were displaced during the American Revolutionary War. Most of the Onondaga people now live on the Onondaga Reservation just south of Syracuse.
They have recently tried to reclaim some of their ancestral land, though have not been successful. Despite this, it’s important to acknowledge the part they played in shaping the Syracuse area.
11. Little Italy
Syracuse is known for having a rich cultural history, which includes a notable Italian immigrant population. These immigrants arrived in the 1880s and settled down in the Northside of Syracuse. Today, that area is still known as Little Italy.
Walk down North Salina and you’ll find plenty of delicious restaurants, cafes, and bakeries. The Columbus Baking Co is one of the mainstays that has been around for over a century. If you’re looking for the best Italian bread in Syracuse, you’ll definitely want to head there.
12. Upside down traffic light
If you’re driving through the Tipperary Hill area of Syracuse, you might notice a strange traffic light. This one is flipped, with the green on top and red on the bottom. The story behind this strange stoplight goes back to Syracuse’s deep Irish roots.
In addition to a strong Italian population, the city also welcomed many Irish immigrants in the late 1800s. When a stoplight was installed in the 1920s, the local population didn’t like seeing the British “red” over the Irish “green.” They repeatedly destroyed the traffic light until local officials agreed to hang it upside down.
It’s a quirky piece of Syracuse history that still lives on today.
If you’ve ever been to Syracuse, then you’re probably shocked to see this one so far down the list. Syracuse is famous for being the snowiest city in the United States. This claim can vary based on how you’re measuring the snowfall and what years you’re looking at, but Syracuse is always consistently in the top 10.
Syracuse winters can be brutal, but locals have learned to make the best of it. They host an annual Winterfest that includes cocktail and cooking competitions, as well as a human dog sled race. This race consists of teams of 5 (4 runners and 1 rider) dragging a sled of their own design around a 100-foot course.
People from Syracuse sure know how to make the best of a boat load of snow.
14. Armory Square
Editorial credit: Kenneth Sponsler / Shutterstock.com
Snow or not, Syracuse is always a good time. One of the main places to find great food and fun bars is Armory Square. This neighborhood was a busy commercial and cultural center in the city’s heyday, but it fell into some disrepair after World War II. Luckily, recent revitalization efforts have brought it back to its prime.
Armory Square is the home of famous local restaurants like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Funk ‘n Waffles, and Pastabilities. If it’s graduation or parents’ weekend at the nearby university, good luck finding a reservation. Armory is the spot to go if you’re visiting the city of Syracuse.
15. Destiny USA
Once you’re done in Armory Square, there’s one more place you have to hit. Every town has a mall, but the one in Syracuse is something special. Destiny USA is the largest mall in the state and it features six stories of shopping, dining, and entertainment.
You can shop ‘til you drop, or enjoy one of the many exciting activities. Play games at Dave & Buster’s, test your fear of heights at the ropes course, show off your wit at an escape room, or interact with wild animals at a nature center. The possibilities are truly endless.
Although Syracuse is known for having some pretty terrible weather, there are plenty of places that make it worth visiting. From the university to the restaurants to the cultural enclaves and more, there’s plenty to explore.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Syracuse?