Fun and Unique Things to Do in Rochester, NY

A colorful sunset over High Falls and the Rochester NY skyline.

Are there lots of things to do in Rochester, NY? You bet, and spending time along the gorgeous Lake Ontario is one of them. Along with having fun outdoors, people in this beautiful lakefront city in upstate New York love celebrating the arts. Tag along as we walk you through this fantastic city in the upper reaches of the Empire State.

Where Is Rochester, NY

Founded in 1788, Rochester is in Upstate New York on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Its population of around 211,000 makes it New York’s fourth-largest city. Buffalo is 73 miles to the west, and Syracuse is 87 miles to the east. While Interstate 90 makes for an easy connection between those three cities, New York City is 250 miles away.

What Is Rochester, NY, Known For

Rochester is home to a surprising number of companies responsible for products we rely on every day. Eastman Kodak is one of them, and so is Bausch & Lomb. Xerox, Western Union, Ragu, and French’s were either born in Rochester or have headquarters here. In the early 19th Century, Rochester had dozens of grist mills and was the nation’s top flour producer. It was known as “the Flour City” for a time. 

There’s some confusion about this because of Rochester’s many nursery-related businesses. The city has long been important to the floral industry as a source of seeds and blooms. So you’ll also see lots of references to “the Flower City.” Is it flour or flower? Because of this shared heritage, both are accurate.

Rochester, NY, has also made its mark in the arts and music. The city also contains the prestigious Eastman School of Music and hosts the Rochester International Jazz Festival. Other events that draw crowds to the city include the Lilac Festival and the Rochester Fringe Festival.

Things to Do in Rochester, NY

The city’s interesting history will play a big role in our activities, but so will its scenic outdoor areas. First, we’ll stop at an important landmark in the world of photography, so bring your camera.

George Eastman Museum

For decades before digital photography came along, Kodak was the top name in the industry. George Eastman started the company in 1892, manufacturing film for making prints and movies. His Rochester, NY, mansion has been a museum since 1949, and it’s the world’s oldest one devoted to photography and film. You may enjoy a tour of the estate and gardens alone, but it’s much more than that. 

The Eastman Museum has millions of items in its holdings and constantly changing exhibits on photography and cinema. It also has the largest collection of cameras, lenses, and other historic photography equipment.

 A 500-seat theater shows 300 different films a year, many of them rare. You won’t get a chance to see them anywhere else. A visit to this one-of-kind museum gives you a sharper focus on the visual wonders that Eastman helped make possible.

The George Eastman museum in Rochester celebrates the inventor of Kodak Film.
George Eastman and Thomas Edison use a camera with Kodak film

Highland Park

At Highland Park, you’ll see “the Flower City” on full display. This 150-acre arboretum hosts the Lilac Festival each May. Depending on the time of year, you can enjoy acres of lilacs and varieties of magnolias, maples, azaleas, and rhododendrons. Additionally, a bed of 10,000 pansies is artfully arranged into a different pattern every year. 

Famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the park, and it has some incredible features besides the flowers. These include the picturesque and photogenic Sunken Garden, Lilac Arches, and a castle-style residence built in 1854.

Susan B. Anthony Museum & House

Susan B. Anthony, a true revolutionary, directly paved the way for women’s rights that younger generations may take for granted. She was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, headquartered at her home at 17 Madison Street, Rochester, NY.

 Police arrested her at this inspiring place in 1872 for daring to fight for women’s right to vote. She died here 34 years later. You can now see her face engraved on the dollar coin.

High Falls

In addition to Lake Ontario, the Genesee River flows northward through Rochester and has many cascading waterfalls. You can visit the magnificent High Falls, which is the reason the city is here. 

Nathaniel Rochester chose this site for a village because he saw the 96-foot tumbling waters as hydroelectric power for industries. You can get a terrific view of them from the city’s Pont de Rennes bridge. Keep your camera ready for this Kodak moment.

High Falls in Rochester, NY flow along the city skyline.

The Strong Museum of Play

Hands-on exhibits take on a new meaning at this fun-loving museum. The Strong Museum of Play devotes itself to serious study of toys and their use. It’s one of the very few museums that encourage you to play with some of the items from the collection. 

The National Toy Hall of Fame also resides within these walls. So far, they have inducted 74 toys, including the Slinky, checkers, and Play-Doh. Video games earn their rightful place in a separate hall of fame. The Strong Museum also has the International Center for the History of Electronic Games.

Heroes Brewing Company

If you’re like us, then you love finding delicious beers at local breweries wherever you travel. On our most recent trip to Rochester, NY, one brewery found us instead. The founders of Heroes Brewing Company were camping in an RV site across from ours, and they were impressed with Jason’s ability to maneuver the fifth wheel into a very tight and tree-riddled campsite. So, as a trophy commending our success, they gifted us some of their tasty brews! Check them out to enjoy delicious beers while also knowing that you’re supporting the local charities with every drink.

A group of friends enjoy a cheers and some beers.

Where to Camp

When you end your day in Rochester, NY, you’ll need a place to call it a night. You won’t have to roll very far. We recommend a county park right on the lake, just 25-minutes from downtown.

Webster Park

You can easily make reservations online for one of the 45 spaces at Webster Park. It has partial hookups, a dump station, bathrooms, and showers. Sloping hills dotted with mature evergreen trees surround the mostly-level grass sites. 

The quiet and peaceful park can accommodate rigs up to 40 feet. Extras include hiking trails, a fishing pier, and a court for tennis or pickleball. However, cell service falls on the weak side.

A wooded campsite with lots of green foliage in Webster Park, Rochester NY.

Time to Visit Rochester, NY

Rochester, NY, continues to move forward while celebrating its past. You’ll find lots of things to do and see here in this historic city. You’ll need to move at a reasonably swift pace to cover them all. What are your favorite things to do here?

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