Trying to figure out where to stay in the Finger Lakes can be quite challenging if you’ve never been to the area before. There are a lot of cities and a lot of places to visit, but we can help narrow down your options and help you pick the perfect spot.
You Should Visit the Finger Lakes in 2023
The Finger Lakes area is named after the 11 finger-shaped lakes that are scattered just south of Lake Ontario’s south shores. An old Native American myth claims that the lakes were formed when the Great Spirit used its hand to create and shape the land here.
However, interestingly enough, the origin of the name doesn’t come from the Native American myth or the shape of the lakes. In fact, the origin of the name is still unknown.
While that one piece of history might be lost to time, this area has plenty of museums that have documented the most important goings-on in the area. In addition to that, there are also quite a few other attractions and great nature spots as well, and we’ll go over most of them in our article.
Determining where to stay in the Finger Lakes is all about how close you want to get to nature during your trip. Certain cities are a lot more rural than others, and they also have better hiking trails and fishing spots.
Other locations have a bit less natural beauty, but a lot more attractions in the urban areas. The best way to decide where you’re staying is to go over the attractions that we mention in this article and decide which one seems like it would be the most appealing to you.
The 5 Best Parts of the Finger Lakes
There are several cities and villages in the Finger Lakes region, but we’re confident that the ones that we picked are the ones that have the most to offer to tourists.
- Rochester: Probably the most popular tourist destination in the area with some great attractions
- Ithaca: Full of both natural beauty and great museums
- Cortland: Great all year round, but a particularly good spot to visit during the winter
- Watkins Glen: A village famous for the state park and the many breweries in the area
- Geneva: Despite its small size, this city has quite the nightlife
The Best Areas & Hotels in the Finger Lakes
There are quite a few cities and villages in the Finger Lakes, so it’s actually pretty easy to find a hotel room here. The problem is trying to find one that’s close to the attractions that you might be interested in.
It’s not really ideal if you get a room in Ithaca, but you need to drive to Rochester every day because you want to go to the Seabreeze amusement park.
In order to make sure that you’re as close to the attractions that you want to visit as possible, we’ve compiled a list of the best budget, mid-range, and luxury hotels in each area. Let’s dig in.
In terms of attractions in a given city, sometimes we’re grasping at straws to find something interesting. Well, we have the opposite problem with Rochester because there are simply too many places that you might like to visit. However, one of the most notable ones is the Strong National Museum of Play.
While most museums are focused on fossils or old artifacts, this particular museum is dedicated to interactive exhibits that revolve around comics, video games, and pretty much anything that would make it a children’s paradise. The Seabreeze Amusement Park is another very fun attraction in town that’s very popular with tourists.
Here, you’ll find plenty of adrenaline-filled rides that you can try out if you’re looking to scream your lungs out. You also have enough slides and water-based rides that you can spend the whole day just running from one to the other without getting tired of them.
If you’re in the mood for sightseeing, there are some fantastic walking tours around the city which will take you past all of the most notable locations in Rochester and teach you a bit more about its history. Alternatively, you can take a boat tour like the Sam Patch Tour Boat if you’re less interested in history and more interested in nature.
Rochester is a very popular destination all year round, so you’ll likely run into a lot of crowds wherever you go. This really isn’t much of a problem except for when it comes to hotel rooms. However, you should be just fine as long as you reserve something ahead of time.
Things to Do
- Visit the Susan B. Anthony Museum or the George Eastman Museum and learn a bit more about a few significant historical figures.
- Go to the Memorial Art Gallery or Centennial Sculpture Park if you’re in the mood to check out all of the paintings and sculptures that are housed there.
- Spend a day walking through the Seneca Park Zoo and check out all of the different animals that you can find there.
- Check out all of the bars that you can find in town and spend a night with your friends drinking and trying to find a live band that might be performing.
Where to Eat
- Jines Restaurant has some great grilled foods on the menu that you can try.
- Riccardo’s Bakery is where you go if you want to try some great pastries.
- Get Caked Bakery Inc has some fantastic cupcakes for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Rochester Budget Hotels
- Red Roof Inn Rochester comes with a 24-hour front desk, a vending machine in the lobby full of snacks, and cable TV as well as free wifi in every room.
- Quality Inn Rochester has a business center with scanning and fax facilities, a complimentary continental breakfast every morning, and a coffee maker in every room.
Rochester Mid-Range Hotels
- Country Inn & Suites by Radisson offers free parking, free wifi, a flat-screen TV in every room, and even a library with plenty of books to choose from if you’re looking for something to read.
- Holiday Inn Express Rochester provides all of the guests with a free continental breakfast every morning, as well as a flat-screen cable TV and an AC unit in every room.
Rochester Luxury Hotels
- Hyatt Regency Rochester has a fitness center with a lot of workout gear, an in-house restaurant with a pretty large menu, and even a Starbucks on the property where you can get a coffee in the morning.
- The Del Monte Lodge Renaissance Rochester Hotel & Spa comes with both laundry and dry cleaning facilities, a full-service spa with plenty of beauty treatments to choose from, and an award-winning in-house restaurant.
The town of Ithaca is known for both its beautiful scenery and its great museums. This makes the city a perfect destination for both nature lovers and history buffs. Additionally, there are also a lot of attractions that don’t fall into either category but are still incredibly popular with tourists.
One such attraction is the Sciencenter. This location has plenty of interactive exhibits that are primarily meant for kids but are fun enough that everyone can enjoy them, regardless if they’re with children or not.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a similar attraction that can teach you a lot about different bird species and their migration patterns. If you’re more interested in artwork, then you might want to check out the Johnson Museum of Art, which is where you’ll find quite a large collection of abstract paintings, as well as more classical ones.
The Museum of the Earth is another great spot that has plenty of interesting nature exhibits. Quite a few captivating fossils and artifacts can take you back in time all the way to the Paleozoic era.
However, if your tastes run more towards natural beauty, then you can visit the Cornell Botanic Gardens, where you’ll find hundreds of different species of plants and trees. You can also take a walk to the Ithaca Falls, hike the Cascadilla Gorge Trail, or maybe even rent out a boat and do a bit of fishing on Cayuga Lake.
The waterfalls and the museums are Ithaca’s most notable attractions, and while there are plenty of restaurants and bars, the nightlife isn’t as vibrant as you might expect from a town that’s relatively close to New York.
Things to Do
- Spending a day fishing in Lake Cayuga is a great way to just unwind and enjoy the peace and quiet in the sunshine.
- Ithaca Falls, Cascadilla Gorge Trail, and Taughannock Falls State Park are all great places where you can hike and enjoy the scenery.
- The Johnson Museum of Art is the place for you if you’re into paintings and want to check out what Ithaka has to offer in that regard.
- The Sciencecenter and the Museum of the Earth both have engaging exhibits that you can check out.
Where to Eat
- Maru Ramen offers a great selection of authentic Asian foods that you can try out.
- Red’s Place is a pub with a classic feel to it and a lot of beer to choose from.
- Coltivare is a chic restaurant with a great selection of wine.
Ithaca Budget Hotels
- Super 8 by Wyndham Ithaca has an AC unit and a flat-screen TV in every room, as well as free wifi and parking for all of the guests.
- Rodeway Inn and Suites Ithaca provides all of the guests with a free continental breakfast every morning, as well as rooms that come with free wifi and even a microwave.
Ithaca Mid-Range Hotels
- Courtyard by Marriott has an in-house cafe where you can enjoy your complimentary breakfast in the morning, an indoor swimming pool, and a pretty decent fitness center.
- Hampton Inn Ithaca has rooms that come with a microwave, a refrigerator, a coffee maker, and a free buffet breakfast every morning.
Ithaca Luxury Hotels
- The Statler Hotel has three on-site restaurants with different menus to accompany everyone’s preferences, free wifi throughout the property, and rooms that come with a 43-inch LCD TV and a coffee maker.
- Inn at Taughannock Falls has an on-site bar where you can enjoy a drink with your friends, free wifi and a cable TV in every room, and a complimentary continental breakfast is served every morning.
The CNY Living History Center is one of the more interesting attractions in Cortland. The center is actually divided into three sections, but you can think of this as the vehicle museum to make things a bit more simple.
The Homeville section has military vehicles, the Brockway section has all sorts of service trucks, and the Tractors of Yesteryear exhibit is focused on agricultural vehicles. The 1890 House Museum is a Victorian-era home that offers guided tours.
This is a very simple but still enlightening exhibit that takes you through three floors and 14 rooms of opulence. The enchanting decor of a mansion like this back in the day is truly a sight to behold. Cortland has fun attractions all year round, but it really shines if you visit during the winter.
In the colder months of the year, you can go down the slopes on Greek Peak Mountain and maybe even visit the Greek Peak Mountain Resort if you want to get yourself nice hot cocoa or some snow sports lessons.
If you’re visiting during the summer months but still want to try a bit of winter fun, then you can go to the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex and try your hand at ice skating. If that’s not your style, then there are plenty of courts that you can rent where you can play a few games with your friends.
Cortland isn’t all that popular during the summer, so you won’t need to worry much about crowds. However, planning a visit during the winter is a different story entirely, so book ahead of time.
Things to Do
- Visit the CNY Living History Center and check out aloof the different vehicles that have been used by the military, the city, and the local farmers.
- The 1890 House Museum takes you through an old mansion and tells you a bit more about its construction and history.
- Go to the Dowd Fine Arts Center and check out the many paintings that are housed here.
- Get your skis or your snowboard and go down the famous Greek Peak Mountain slopes.
Where to Eat
- Pita Gourmet is where you go if you’re in the mood for some Lebanese cuisine.
- Hyde’s Diner is a simple restaurant where you can get a nice breakfast in the morning.
- BRIX – brick oven pub offers pizza, wings, and beer, so everything that you need for a great night out.
Cortland Budget Hotels
- Imperial Motel Cortland comes with a microwave, a refrigerator, and a satellite TV in every room, as well as a front desk that’s always open.
- Quality Inn University Area offers free wifi and parking to all of the guests, a free continental breakfast, and free coffee served in the lobby, while all of the rooms come with a coffee maker.
Cortland Mid-Range Hotels
- Clarion Inn & Suites offers rooms that come with an AC unit, a coffee maker, and an ironing board, and free wifi is available throughout the property.
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott has a fitness center that’s always open, a cable TV, a coffee maker in every room, and an indoor swimming pool.
Cortland Luxury Hotels
- Best Western Plus Finger Lakes Inn comes with rooms that have a refrigerator, a microwave, and a flat-screen cable TV, as well as laundry facilities that are available at the front desk.
- Hope Lake Lodge & Indoor Waterpark comes with a full-service spa and a lot of slides and fun activities that guests can try out, while the rooms themselves come with a flat-screen TV, a DVD player, and free wifi.
4. Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen is a pretty small village, so you’d assume that there isn’t much to see here, but appearances can be deceiving. The Watkins Glen State Park offers great scenery, fantastic hiking trails, and plenty of fresh air for any outdoorsmen.
You can take a walk and follow the trails that’ll lead you to the Rainbow Falls, which is aptly named because on sunny days, the 60-foot drop makes a very vivid rainbow.
Hector Falls is another great spot to check out where you’ll see the 16–foot cascading waterfall. Seneca Lake is another pretty famous tourist spot in the area since it’s both a great fishing spot and a place where you can hop on a scenic cruise.
Kayaking is also a great way to kill two birds with one stone since you’ll get a bit of exercise while also enjoying the fresh air and the beautiful landscape out on the lake. Watkins Glen is also home to the Finger Lakes Wine Festival.
This event is held in July, and all of the local distilleries come together and show off some of their best bottles. You’ll be able to enjoy a drink, and afterward, you can buy yourself any of the vintages that might have left an impression on you.
Watkins Glen is a pretty small village with not a lot to do. If you’re looking to hit up some bars or restaurants with your friends, then any of the other locations in our article would be a much better fit for you.
Things to Do
- Visit the farm sanctuary that’s in the area and try feeding some of the animals that call this place their home.
- The Finger Lakes Wine Festival is a lot of fun, so we recommend checking it out if you’re in the area in July.
- Going out on the lake to do a bit of kayaking or a bit of fishing is a very relaxing way to spend the day.
- Both the Rainbow Falls and the Hector Falls are worth seeing, so we’d recommend getting a good pair of sneakers and going up there.
Where to Eat
- Seneca Harbor Wine Center offers quite a few vintages that you can try.
- Glen Dairy Bar is the best place to go if you want to try a few different flavors of ice cream.
- Curly’s Family Restaurant is where you go in the morning if you’re craving some bacon and eggs.
Watkins Glen Budget Hotels
- Budget Inn Watkins Glen comes with a refrigerator and a cable TV in every room, as well as a free continental breakfast every morning.
- Seneca Clipper Inn offers free wifi throughout the property, a cable TV in every room, and a complimentary continental breakfast every morning.
Watkins Glen Mid-Range Hotels
- Watkins Motel has a flat-screen cable TV in every room, a free parking spot for all of the guests, and free wifi throughout the motel.
- Villager Motel & Glen Manor Estate has a small indoor pool with an outside sundeck, a free continental breakfast, and an AC unit in every room.
Watkins Glen Luxury Hotels
- Lakeside Resort comes with rooms that have a refrigerator, a microwave, a flat-screen cable TV, and a coffee maker, as well as free wifi throughout the property.
- Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel has a full-service spa with plenty of different beauty treatments to choose from, an indoor swimming pool, and rooms that come with an AC unit and a flat-screen satellite TV.
Similarly to Watkins Glen, Geneva is also known for its proximity to the national park and for the many wine distilleries and craft beer breweries. However, we’d say that Geneva actually has a few more attractions in the city itself.
Among these attractions is the Rose Hill Mansion, which was the home of the Swan Family in the 1850s. They were well-known merchants back in the day, and their mansion serves as a window into the past. You’ll get to see everything from the family photographs to the scientific innovations that Robers Swan used in order to make his farm more productive.
If you’re in the mood for a show while you’re out on the town, there’s no better place to go than the Smith Opera House. On the other hand, if you’re just looking to have some fun, then Geneva has quite a few bars that you can visit and enjoy a drink with your friends while rocking out to some music.
Speaking of drinking, the distilleries and breweries in the city are a great destination for a day trip. You’ll learn a bit about each alcohol preparation process while you also enjoy a glass of wine or a mug of beer at the end of the tour.
If you’re interested in the attractions that we just went over, then we’d suggest visiting Geneva since you’re more than likely going to enjoy your stay there. However, if you’re looking to spend some time in nature, then one of the previous places would be a better base.
Things to Do
- Go on a pub crawl and spend a night jumping from bar to bar and trying out all of the different local craft beers.
- The Smith Opera House has something organized for almost every night of the week, so check the program and see if anything catches your eye.
- Visit the Rose Hill Mansion and take the tour if you want to learn a little bit about the architecture and the history of the building.
Where to Eat
- Parker’s Grille & Tap House is where you go if you’re in the mood for some ribs and a beer.
- The Deluxe Grill has a lot of choices when it comes to BBQ.
- The Rusty Pig has some great craft beer that you can try.
Geneva Budget Hotels
- Americas Best Value Inn Geneva comes with a cable TV and an AC unit in every room, a front desk that’s always open, and free wifi throughout the property.
- Days Inn by Wyndham offers a wake-up service and daily housekeeping services, as well as a vending machine full of snacks in the lobby.
Geneva Mid-Range Hotels
- 41 Lakefront Hotel provides all of the guests with a flat-screen cable TV in every room, an on-site restaurant and bar, and an indoor swimming pool.
- Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham has rooms that come with free wifi, an AC unit, a cable TV, a coffee maker, and a small refrigerator.
Geneva Luxury Hotels
- Geneva On The Lake Boutique Resort Hotel comes with an outdoor swimming pool, an on-site restaurant, a fully-equipped fitness center, and the front desk offers bike hire services.
- Vinifera Inn is actually three separate hotels, and guests can choose in which one they’d prefer to stay, but regardless of which one you choose, they all come with free wifi, a complimentary continental breakfast every morning, and two in-house restaurants.
So, Where Should You Stay in the Finger Lakes?
If you’re looking for some fun and maybe a few bars where you can relax and enjoy a nice drink, then Geneva is probably your best bet. If you’re looking to spend your vacation in nature and would like to do a bit of hiking and sightseeing, then Ithaca is the place for you.
The many museums are also a great addition if you ever get tired of the hiking trails. And finally, anyone that’s visiting during the winter months and that wants to do a bit of skiing or snowboarding can’t go wrong with Cortland.
In any case, whichever area you choose to stay in the Finger Lakes will have something exciting for you. The hardest part will be narrowing it down. Happy travels!