New York’s first capital is home to some of the most interesting historical & art attractions in the State – from museums to murals, find out the top 5 things to do in Kingston, NY.
Things to do in Kingston, NY
Kingston is the perfect base for a weekend getaway from New York City. There are many interesting places to visit in the city itself and within a 30 minute drive. On a recent road trip in Upstate New York we explored the 10 best Kingston, NY attractions:
Trolley Museum – Jump aboard a restored street car & ride along the Kingston waterfront in style! Combine it with a visit to the Trolley Museum for just $7.00.
Senate House – Take a guided tour of the 1676-built Senate House where the elected representatives of New York met for the very 1st time.
O+ Murals – Pick up a O+ mural map from the Visitor Centre & go on a self-guided tour of the 20+ murals across Kingston.
Maritime Museum – View all sorts of model boats and learn about the industrial & maritime history of the Hudson River.
Rondout Lighthouse – Hop aboard the pontoon boat for the lovely ride out to the Rondout Lighthouse & imagine life as a lighthouse keeper as your tour the rooms.
Read on for more information about each attraction in Kingston. After that we’ve got a list of things to do near Kingston, NY as well as where to stay and eat. It was action-packed but we managed to do everything in a weekend trip from New York City.
Although the U.S. is a relatively safe country for travel, medical costs are high so if you’re an international visitor, we recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip. We’ve been using World Nomads through 80+ countries over the past 12 years and have been really happy with their coverage and services.
For more details check out our World Nomads review here.
#1. Trolley Museum of New York
Not sure what to do in Kingston, NY? The Trolley Museum of New York has been a local institution & travellers’ favourite since opening in 1983. The small museum has exhibits on the history of rail transportation, particularly in the Hudson Valley.
There are old photographs, videos & running train sets that the kids are bound to love. You can look through the large windows to the restoration shed below & also wander down to have a closer look at some of the trolleys being worked on by volunteers.
For us the highlight of the Trolley Museum of New York is taking a ride on of the restored street cars – it makes it #1 on our list of places to visit in Kingston.
The trolleys depart from the museum & also just up the road at the T.R. Gallo Memorial Park. It’s a slow & scenic 1.5 mile journey along the Hudson River to Kingston Point. Look out for the Rondout Lighthouse standing alone on the water.
It was rainy & misty when we visited though that just added to the atmosphere of days gone by… It would be great if there was commentary along the way however the conductor did give us a brief speech when we reached the end of the line.
We were given 5 minutes to disembark & walk around. We crossed the bridge into Kingston Point Park where there were lots of picnic tables – there are excellent restaurants in Kingston but this would also be a great spot for lunch. You could then take a leisurely stroll & return on a later trolley.
Back at the Trolley Museum, we explored the grounds further. We wandered through a couple of the trains on display, including PATH car 143 that was saved from the ruins of the World Trade Centre terror attack.
There’s also a police car & wreckage that are going to be part of a new 9/11 exhibition. Don’t miss a ride on the trolley – it was one of our favourite experiences on our Kingston weekend getaway from NYC.
Trolley Museum admission & trolley fare: $7.00
#2. Senate House
Kingston was the 1st capital of New York & played an important role in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).
1 year after Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the elected representatives of the state met for the first time in this limestone building in 1777.
Later in the year, the British attacked & set fire to Kingston, forcing the government & residents to flee – the Burning of Kingston is commemorated every year in the city with festivities & historical reenactments.
The 1676-built Senate House survived & it’s now open to the public. We took a guided tour of the 4-room building which was furnished as it would’ve been in the 18th & 19th centuries.
The kitchen & living room offered a glimpse of yesteryear & our costumed guide Erin added to the atmosphere. She was also really knowledgeable & passionate about the era.
We also visited the very room where the New York Senate first met. It’s always special being in the same spot where momentous occasions took place.
The Senate House State Historic Site also includes the Senate House Museum & The Loughran House. The Senate House Museum tells the story of Kingston alongside the largest collection of the renowned local painter John Vanderlyn. The Loughran House hosts exhibits & is a popular reception venue for weddings.
The Senate House State Historic Site is a wonderful place to visit in the heart of Kingston’s beautiful Stockade district.
Senate House Museum & Tour: $7.00
#3. 0+ Murals
Every October Kingston hosts the unique O+ Festival where artists are invited to create large-scale murals across Kingston in exchange for complimentary health care. How cool is that?!
Besides watching artists at work on their murals, the 3 day event also features all sorts of music, art & wellness festivities in different venues around the city. It’s an awesome time to visit Kingston but because the murals are permanent, you can view them year-round.
Armed with an O+ mural map from our accommodation at Best Western Plus Kingston, we did a self-guided walking tour in the Stockade District.
The historical area was the least likely place we would expect to find so much street art but the project really seemed to be embraced by local residents & businesses. We loved everything about the art & community empowerment of the 0+ murals.
O+ Kingston Festival ticket: from $50.00
#4. Hudson River Maritime Museum
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is located in the Rondout area of Kingston. It was the most important port between New York & Albany in the 19th century when coal was transported from Pennsylvania over the D&H Canal.
You can visit a few old the old locks at the D&H Canal Museum which is one of several attractions in Ulster County that are within a 30 minute drive from Kingston.
Prosperity in Rondout has ebbed & flowed over the years though the historic waterfront district is curently in a phase of revitalization – with the Hudson River Maritime Museum leading the way.
We were pleasantly surprised by the size & depth of the museum, especially as we’re no naval buffs. There were exhibits of boat models of all shapes & sizes including steamboats, iceboats & tugboats. We enjoyed learning about the industrial & maritime history along the Hudson River.
The “Lighthouses of the Hudson River” exhibit was particularly interesting as we are slowly checking them off our list. So far we’ve visited the Little Red Lighthouse, Hudson-Athens Lighthouse and coming up next is the Rondout Lighthouse….
Hudson River Martime Museum Entrance Fee: $7.00
#5. Rondout Lighthouse
The Rondout Lighthouse that stands today is actually the 3rd version to have been built on the site.
The first one was constructed in 1837 & made of wood. It was damaged in a storm & replaced with a sturdier stone structure in 1867. Sailors complained that the new lighthouse didn’t give off enough light to mark the entrance to Rondout Creek so a new brick lighthouse was built in 1913.
100 years on, it remains standing & it still functions as a navigational light on the Hudson River. Weekend tours to Rondout Lighthouse run all through the summer. Departing from the Hudson River Maritime Museum dock we loved the little pontoon boat ride out to the lighthouse.
There were old barges & tugboats along the narrow creek, birds tweeting in the trees & private sails enjoying the good life. It’s always so relaxing to be on the water!
At the Rondout Lighthouse we were met by a volunteer who showed us through the 3 floors of the tower. Our guide was informative & entertaining as he talked about the various lighthouse keepers over the years, including the stoic Catherine Murdock who served for 40 years.
She took over the lighthouse after her husband died by drowning. Her next two husbands also drowned… our guide had some suspicions about that!
The 3rd level was a modern-style attic space that we didn’t expect to find in a lighthouse. Squeezing up to the top, we reached the light beacon & observation deck where we enjoyed 360 degree views of the Hudson River.
While the interior of the Rondout Lighthouse was decorated with antique furnishings it felt a little rundown & in need of some TLC. If you don’t manage to join a tour, you can see the lighthouse on the fantastic Kingston trolley ride.
Rondout Lighthouse Tour: $20.00
Things to do near Kingston, NY
Now that you know what to do in Kingston, NY let’s look at the attractions within a 30 minute drive:
Mohonk Mountain House – Treat yourself to a day or weekend at this historic castle resort. From hiking & canoeing to spa treatments & fine dining, you can do it all in style!
Walkway Over the Hudson – Admire the views of the Hudson River & explore Poughkeepsie after crossing the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge.
Mohonk Preserve – Hike the easy trail or rock scramble over the Gunks to get to the summit of Bonticou Crag & Table Rock for stunning views of the Hudson Valley.
Woodstock Farm Sanctuary – Meet, feed & play with your favourite farm animals while learning more about animal rights & the vegan cause.
D&H Canal Museum – Find out how & why a canal was built between New York & Pennsylvania in the 9th century.
Keep reading for more information about each place. In this post we’ve also recommended where to stay and our favorite restaurants. Check out Lonely Planet for more inspiration of things to do in Kingston and New York State.
#1. Mohonk Mountain House
A day at the Mohonk Mountain House will have you feeling whisked away to the Swiss Alps – within a 2 hour drive of New York City. That makes it the perfect destination for a weekend road trip from New York!
The 148 year old Victorian castle is nestled in the Hudson Valley, surrounded by the Catskill mountains & its very own lake. It’s such a picturesque place with old-world style & sophistication… that’s why it’s top of the list of things to do in Ulster County!
We stayed at the Best Western Plus Kingston and visited the Mohonk Mountain House on a day pass. We started our visit with the daily House History Tour at 11:15 am. Our guide took us back in time to the days when the upper & middle class would go on vacation for months at a time.
Guests would check-in to the Mohonk Mountain House for the whole summer & have everything at their doorstep: food, leisure & recreation. There’s rowing on the lake, a pool & spa, golf, gardens, tennis, archery, hiking, rock climbing…
But you can also simply relax in the rocking chairs on the outdoor decks or sip cocktails in the lounge – Mohonk Mountain House is the kind of place where you can do as little or as much as you like. And that’s really what vacations should be all about.
Our Mohonk Mountain House day pass didn’t give us access to all the amenities but we were able to explore 85 miles of hiking trails, which was one of our main reasons for our road trip from New York.
We tackled The Labyrinth trail to the Sky Tower – it was an adventure & a half! We climbed ladders & scrambled over different rock formations before squeezing through a narrow crack between the rock fissures to reach the summit. I guess that’s why it’s called The Lemon Squeeze! The views at the top were unreal with an endless stretch of green trees in front of mountain silhouettes.
Pulling ourselves away from our cameras, we continued up to the Sky Tower aka Albert K. Smiley Memorial. He was the man who founded Mohonk Mountain house & 6 generations on, it continues to be a family business. We climbed to the top of the tower where we had an even greater overview of the property – 40,000 acres really is expansive!
The Labyrinth Trail is not for the faint hearted but those less fit or adventurous can still reach the Sky Tower via a less strenuous route. We definitely recommend it for picture-perfect views of the castle in front of the lake surrounded by mountains. It’s one of the best things to do in Ulster County and you’ll get those Swiss Alps feels we were talking about!
One final highlight of the Mohonk Mountain House we want to mention is the delicious lunch buffet. It’s held in the Main Dining Room with high ceilings and beautiful wooden fixtures & carvings.
Like many of the top restaurants in Kingston, the food here is high-quality, locally-sourced Hudson Valley cuisine.
Some of our favourites were:
- Roasted Monkfish with Avocado Cream & Grape Fruit Relish
- Local Apple Cider Braised Pork
- Grilled Chicken Breast with Citrus Jus
- Wild Rice Pilaf with Local Apples & Pecans
There’s also a carving station & Asian noodle bar, along with other Asian dishes. Vegetarians are also catered for with several entrée options & an extensive salad bar. And of course there’s dessert – some 8 different, beautifully presented bite-sized cakes & sweets. So now you know why there are 85 miles of trails to explore 🙂
With the history, activities, nature & food a day or overnight visit to Mohonk Mountain House is an experience to remember.
Mohonk Mountain House Lunch Package: from $72.00
#2. Walkway Over the Hudson
Take a walk on the wild side on the Walkway Over the Hudson, the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. It spans 1.28 miles long with gorgeous views of Poughkeepsie town & the lush green mountains along the Hudson River.
The Walkway Over the Hudson was originally the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, built in 1889. It ran until 1974 when a fire destroyed the tracks & the service was discontinued.
It reopened as a pedestrian walkway in 2009 as part of the new Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. Besides crossing the bridge & enjoying the views, visitors can continue on & explore the surrounding parks & historic districts.
Just as there are many things to do in Kingston, NY Downtown Poughkeepsie also seemed to have quite a few interesting shops, restaurants & cafes to enjoy. We wish we had more time to check it out.
Don’t miss this outstanding attraction on any road trip from New York – it combines the best in man-made engineering, natural views & value for money!
Walkway Over the Hudson admission: Free
#3. Mohonk Preserve
Mohonk Preserve has some of the best hiking in all of New York State. We took on the Spring Farm trailhead along one of the 19th century carriage roads. The beginning was a flat & easy walk through the forest before a gradual climb to the top of Bonticou Crag & Table Rock.
The views of the Hudson Valley were spectacular! Some of the leaves had started to change so we can imagine how stunning the mountains are in the fall.
Looking down on the cliffs, we could see people scrambling over the rocks on the alternate route to the summit. It looked fun but on the other hand we were pretty happy to have already made it, bones intact! The huge rocks at the top are mostly flat but there are a few that jut out, making for awesome photos if you dare to get close to the edge.
It only took us 1.5 hours to get up & down but we were with a local who knew the trail like the back of her hand. It’s well-marked but there are a few confusing spots so allow extra time for wrong turns & perhaps a picnic at the top.
From Mohonk Preserve, you can also hike into the grounds of Mohonk Mountain House & Minnewaska State Park Preserve for no extra fee.
The views at the top of Bonticou Crag are similar to those from The Lemon Squeeze at Mohonk Mountain House so if you’re already planning to do that one, you may want to choose a different hike at Mohonk Preserve.
Rock climbing on the Gunks cliffs is also very popular along with horseback riding along the forested trails.
Mohonk Preserve Day Fee: $15.00
#4. Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
Meet, feed & pet your favourite animals at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary!
The not-for-profit organisation rescues & rehabilitates rescued farmed animals from all across the US. Most were exploited & abused before escaping & making their way to the sanctuary.
Woodstock Farm Santuary currently houses over 340 animals. Don’t expect to see any crazy wild animals – it’s not a zoo after all. Think more along the lines of chickens, ducks, goats, rabbits & sheep…
Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is open to the public on weekends from April to October. Time your visit on a road trip from New York with a guided tour as you’re not allowed to enter the animal pens otherwise.
We started the tour at the Visitor Centre where our guide gave us an introduction to the goals & values of the farm, which is to advocate for animal rights & promote veganism.
Then we met the turkeys & got to play with them inside their pens. They like to be pet under their wings but some of them also don’t stay still! Next it was time to feed the cows which was a whole lot of fun – we had them eating alfalfa cubes from the palms of our hands!
Cows have no front teeth so they don’t bite but they sure have a lot of slobber! This experience was one of our favourite things to do in Ulster County. After wiping our hands on the grass, we moved on to the pig pastures. There were only a few trotting around but they seemed happy to see us & were treated to many belly rubs!
The tour was 75 minutes long but we had to leave early so we missed out on meeting the goats & sheep. In between the play & feeding times, there was also down time where the guide spoke a lot about the trials & tribulations of farmed animals.
Some of the talks were a little heavy & preachy however it was definitely food for thought to learn more about the vegan cause.
Woodstock Farm Sanctuary admission: $10.00
#5. D&H Canal Museum
The Delaware & Hudson Canal – aka D&H Canal – was opened in 1828 in order to transport coal from Pennsylvania to New York City.
It measured 108 miles in length from Honesdale, PA to Kingston, NY with a total of 108 locks. The canal ceased operations in 1902 so most of the locks have long been drained & filled.
However several of them remain on the D&H Canal property & can be seen on the 1.5 mile 5 Locks Walk. We didn’t do the trail on our road trip from New York though we did pay a visit to the D&H Canal Museum.
Here we learned more about the canal’s history through the documents, photographs, dioramas, tools & artifacts on display. There was also a full-size recreation of a canal boat cabin & a working model of a lock that filled & drained water.
The D&H Canal is not a must-do but it’s worth a quick stop if you’re in the Kingston area, history buff or not.
D&H Canal Museum Entrance Fee: $5.00
Where to Stay in Kingston, NY
Best Western Plus Kingston
We stayed at Best Western Plus Kingston & we highly recommend it, especially for groups & families. This long-running chain has certainly come a long way…
Our room was modern & spacious with 2 queen beds, cable tv, fridge, microwave, coffee machine & a spotless ensuite bathroom. Buffet breakfast is served every morning in the onsite restaurant.
Other hotel facilities include:
- Indoor heated swimming pool
- Fitness Centre
- Business Centre
- Games Room
With all the amenities & recent renovation, we rate Best Western Plus as a 4 star hotel & excellent value for money.
Kingston, NY Restaurants
Keegan Ales – Order the flight & taste 6 of the best craft beers in New York! Wash it down with great food before taking a tour of the onsite brewery.
Elephant – Enjoy beautifully presented European-style tapas with a glass or 2 of wine in a casual, elegant environment.
Santa Fe – Head out to Woodstock for some awesome contemporary Mexican food & the largest selection of tequila in the Hudson Valley.
Savona’s – Make a date for the best lunch deal in town with 3 courses, garlic bread, soft drink & coffee/tea for just $12.95.
DMZ Kingston – Taste the world on a plate & sip on signature cocktails at this local’s favourite.
Mohonk Mountain House – Dine on an upscale lunch buffet of locally-sourced Hudson Valley cuisine with a dessert bar to die for.
Stockade Tavern – Did somebody say speakeasy? Step back into the Prohibition era with handcrafted cocktails for a night to remember.
For more information on each restaurant/bar check out our next post…
Best Restaurants in Kingston, NY
From tapas to buffets & cocktails to craft beer, there’s something for all tastebuds on our list of top restaurants Kingston, NY & around. Get ready to feed your hunger & quench your thirst… let’s go!Read more
Festivals in Kingston & Ulster County
January – Hudson Valley Rail Trail WinterFest
May – Woodstock-New Paltz Art & Crafts Fair
June – Maritime Cup Regatta
July – Hurley Stone House Day
August – Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice
September – Hooley on the Hudson Irish Festival
September to November – Headless Horseman Haunted Houses
October – Burning of Kingston
November – Wreath Fineries at the Wineries
December – The Wawarsing Wassail
* For more information on what’s happening & when check out the Ulster County Calendar.
Where to Next?
Things to do in the Catskills
From nature & hiking to art & history, find out the top 6 things to do in the Catskills and how to do it all in our full weekend itinerary from NYCRead more
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