For all about Albany that appears average, there are reasons why people love to live here. In some ways, moving to Albany, N.Y., can seem like landing in a comfortable, perhaps unexceptional middle ground in between the more exciting destinations in the 250-mile circle surrounding it. This metro area of 1.2 million people has no single city with a population of over 100,000 in it. The Capital Region, as it is commonly known, is neither large nor small.
Geographically, Albany is in the middle of the Northeast. It’s a few hours from several major cities, the Atlantic coastline and the Great Lakes. Even the mountains that loom on all sides (some of which you can see from your window) are still miles away. Their beauty is an arm’s length from this cluster of cities and towns scattered around two river valleys. And Albany has long been considered by marketers to be near the middle of America in population characteristics. That’s why it was known for many years as a top product test market. In fact, the company Acxiom ranked it No. 1 in 2004.
Albany is a storied region where Native Americans and early Dutch, English and French settlers mingled. Read on to learn all you need to know before moving to Albany.
Why We’re Here: History and Geography
The city of Albany, like the region surrounding it, is rich in history. Not only is it the longest continuously chartered city in the United States, but it also was host of the 1754 Albany Congress. That’s the one at which Benjamin Franklin presented the first formal proposal to unite the colonies.
Albany was a crucial focal point in both the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. In the latter, the British planned to send armies from three directions to capture Albany. But only General Burgoyne got close and was defeated at Saratoga. Burgoyne became a prisoner in the home of General Philip Schuyler in Albany.
Albany is arguably one of the most historically significant cities in the country. Much of that history is visible today in carefully preserved period architecture, as well as art and artifacts in local museums and historic houses, forts and battlefields. That’s just one of the perks of moving here.
Albany sits on the west bank of the Hudson River, near the confluence with the Mohawk River. (The joining of the rivers made it a convenient pre-Revolutionary fur-trading outpost.) The completion of the Erie and Champlain canals in the early 19th century opened commercial freight lanes from New York City to the St. Lawrence Seaway to the north and the Great Lakes to the west, forging a gateway to westward expansion.
An important geographical note: While Albany is the most-often identified city representing the region, when you move to Albany, you are moving to the Capital Region and its many inextricably linked cities and towns. These include Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs.
The Stability of State Government: Job Market and Cost of Living
The Employment Market
When you hear about Albany in the news, it usually has something to do with its nationally influential state government. So it is no surprise to anyone moving to Albany that the government is the region’s largest employer by far.
According to the New York State Department of Labor, from February 2020 to February 2021, the number of nonfarm jobs in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy market decreased by 6.9%. Likewise, the number of private-sector jobs decreased by 7.3%. The pandemic has rattled the economy almost anywhere you look. Historically, however, Albany employment has tended to remain stable during downturns. This is in thanks to the large number of jobs in government, education and health care. There is also a growing tech sector here.
According to James Schlett, director of research and communications at the Center for Economic Growth in Albany, the Capital Region has seen “30-plus consecutive years with an unemployment rate at or below the national average.”
The Capital Region unemployment rate as of February 2021 was 6.4%, compared to 6.6% nationwide.
The CEG tracks migration to and from nearby metro areas like New York City, Boston, and Syracuse. While the net gain or loss from Boston and Syracuse has been slim, the New York-Newark-Jersey City MSA has been a major exception. Between 2014 and 2018, “the Albany metro’s net gain from the New York MSA was 4,623” of 15,401 total migrants.
If the pandemic-accelerated trend of people leaving large urban centers continues, it is likely that the Capital Region will continue to attract New York City residents who would still be a mere two-and-a-half-hour Amtrak ride from Manhattan.
Cost of Living
According to the cost-of-living index compiled by the Arlington, V.A.-based Council for Community and Economic Research, the Capital Region’s cost of living is a modest 8.5% higher than the national average. That falls just above the median cost of living in New York state. Manhattan, which leads the nation, has a cost of living 137% higher than that of the Capital Region.
Where to Live, Learn and Play in the Albany Area
If you’re moving to Albany, you’ll be happy to know that real estate prices here are modest compared to the U.S. as a whole and the overall Northeast region. While the U.S. median home sale price is $347,000, Albany County checks in at a comfortable $220,000. Home values are higher, naturally, in the more affluent suburbs and Saratoga County, where the median sale price is $305,000. Of the other nearby counties, Schenectady is the cheapest at $185,000.
At the moment, the trend is upward. “Albany is a very hot market right now,” says Arpi Balgin, a licensed, Capital Region-based real estate salesperson.
Choosing a Community
The multiple small cities and suburbs that make up Albany might make a relatively easy commute to a new job. However, because the Capital Region is decentralized, choosing where to live can be tricky. In fact, notes Balgin, some people elect to rent for a year while they size up the landscape. When newcomers are ready to buy, several factors stand out in the decision-making process.
Many older workers and empty-nesters seek to enter the growing market of 55-and-up “maintenance-free” communities. They are often enticed by onsite or nearby amenities. These include pools, gyms, tennis courts, golf courses and shopping centers.
Lifestyles and School Districts
For singles and young couples moving to Albany, the choices have more to do with lifestyle—and schools. “If they’re planning on having kids, they ask for the top 10 school districts,” says Balgin. And published rankings are available, with several affluent suburban school districts at the top. Among the most sought-after are Bethlehem, Niskayuna and Loudonville/Shaker. There are others, notably the large (population 37,000) suburb of Clifton Park, home to the region’s largest school district, Shenedehowa.
And this is where research (including personal visits) can make a difference. Bethlehem, for example, includes the town of Delmar. Delmar has a walkable town center with cafes and pizza joints, a bookstore, a food market, a post office, an excellent public library. It also has easy access to a popular recreational rail trail. The village of Ballston Spa also boasts an attractive, walkable downtown shopping and café district. Ballston Spa is ranked as one of the state’s best places to retire.
On the other hand, Clifton Park—despite its highly rated schools and successful sports programs—is a haphazardly designed community. It is criticized by some as the region’s worst example of postwar suburban sprawl. (Urbanist James Howard Kunstler once labeled it an “automobile slum.”)
Clifton Park has no downtown, let alone a walkable one. It has very few sidewalks, is crisscrossed by multi-lane highways and features a landscape dominated by vast shopping malls, professional offices and housing subdivisions. This works for some people, but if you enjoy sidewalk life, it’s probably not for you.
In addition to several charter schools, the Capital Region is home to a handful of private secondary schools:
- The Albany Academies (day only, single-sex at lower levels and coed at upper levels)
- Emma Willard School | All-Girls Private Boarding High School, Troy, NY
- Christian Brothers Academy (day only, Catholic, grades 5–12, boys only)
- The Doane Stuart School (day only, interfaith, K–12, coed)
The Capital Region also is home to many major colleges and universities, including:
- The University at Albany
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Union College
- Skidmore College
- Siena College
- Russell Sage College
- The College of Saint Rose
Walkable Downtowns and Neighborhoods
Many incoming home buyers, says Balgin, are looking for walkable neighborhoods with easy access to cafes and restaurants—and are more than willing to pass on suburban schools. While some parents avoid urban school districts, others find they fit their needs quite well—and also offer their children much richer diversity, with the opportunity to meet and socialize with people of many races and from many other countries of the world. People who want to live in the city of Albany, Balgin says, have no problem sending their kids to Albany schools.
Here are the best walkable downtowns and neighborhoods around Albany
The Center Square/Lark Street Neighborhood, Albany
Probably the most celebrated walkable neighborhood in the region, bordered to the west by the lovely, multi-use Washington Park (designed in part by Frederick Olmsted), the Lark Street neighborhood is a vibrant district of brick townhouses, cafes, bars, restaurants (including many international options and specialty vegan, juice bars, etc.), independent shops, historic churches and more. The restaurant and retail landscape is ever-changing, but the neighborhood remains a major draw for visitors and new residents alike–and is the site of one of Albany’s largest festivals (almost) every September.
Downtown Business District, Albany
Down the hill from Lark Street, past the grand Capitol building, is Albany’s downtown business district, where developers recently have joined a trend of revitalizing downtowns by turning vacant buildings into apartments and condos, especially for young professionals. The surge of residential activity here has paralleled the development of a restaurant and bar strip on Broadway, extending northward from downtown.
Upper Madison Avenue, Albany
Where Madison Avenue meets Western Avenue at “the Point” is a smaller but very walkable district serving the affluent Pine Hills neighborhood to the west, the more modestly priced neighborhoods to the east and outsiders alike with restaurants, bars, a supermarket and a public library branch.
Downtown Saratoga Springs
Saratoga has the region’s largest and most upscale walkable downtown; it also is one of the region’s most expensive places to live. But for newcomers looking for a regular sidewalk fix of restaurants and shops, Saratoga is as good as it gets.
The Stockade, Schenectady
The Electric City (built around a once-booming General Electric plant) has some lovely neighborhoods, none more so than the historic Stockade district. Schenectady also hosts the region’s newest and largest casino, though the restaurant and overall street scenes have not quite caught up with Albany, Saratoga or Troy.
The city on the east bank of the Hudson has been a hipster draw for years and is often called the Brooklyn of the Capital Region. Besides a lively mix of walkable shops and restaurants downtown, Troy also boasts one of the region’s most popular farmers’ markets on Saturdays and some gorgeous 19th-century architecture that is so well-preserved that Martin Scorsese used it to stand in for 1870s Manhattan in The Age of Innocence. The downtown and Washington Square neighborhoods attract a cross-section of artists, musicians and professionals—and also students, as RPI and Russell Sage College are right next door.
Food and Drink: The Capital Region Has You Covered
The Albany area has long been a foodie haven. The region boasts plentiful nearby farms, a healthy schedule of farmers markets, the nationally recognized Honest Weight Food Co-op, unique ethnic markets scattered throughout the neighborhoods and a steady stream of talented chefs. With all that, the region has never suffered for lack of quality and variety at all price points. And the farm-to-table ethos took root here almost before most people had heard the phrase.
Noteworthy Restaurant Districts
- Downtown Albany, where the oldest restaurant is the venerable Jack’s Oyster House (American), which has been here for more than 100 years—in the same family. Other much-loved downtown mainstays include Cafe Capriccio (northern Italian), Yono’s/dp’s (Indonesian/American), 677 Prime (high-end steakhouse), McGeary’s (Irish/American pub), Druthers Brewing Company (brewpub) and C.H. Evans Brewing Co. (brewpub).
- The Center Square and Delaware Avenue corridor may have the region’s most eclectic mix of restaurants, including New World Bistro Bar (globally inspired American), Shogun (Japanese), Rain (Chinese), Savoy Taproom (American), El Loco Mexican Café (Mexican), El Mariachi (Mexican), Sukhothai (Thai), Poke (Hawaiian), Jewel of India (Indian), Iron Gate Café (American), and Rosanna’s (Italian).
- Uptown Albany favorites include Grappa 72 (Italian), Caffe Italia (Italian), the Cuckoo’s Nest (American), Crave (American/burgers), Restaurant Navona (Italian/American), Taiwan Noodle (Taiwanese), Kismet (Mediterranean), Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant (Vietnamese) and Shining Rainbow Restaurant (Chinese).
- Beyond Albany – There are too many to name, but we’ll add a few more of our favorites: Athos (Guilderland; Mediterranean/Greek), Mezza Notte (Guilderland; Italian), Lo Porto (Troy; Italian), Chez Mike, (East Greenbush; Mediterranean-influenced American), Appian Way (Schenectady; Italian), Ala Shanghai (Latham; Chinese), 15 Church (Saratoga Springs; contemporary American), Hamlet & Ghost (Saratoga Springs; new American) and Chianti Ristorante (Saratoga Springs, Italian).
- Seasonal drive-in favorites include Jumpin’ Jack’s (Scotia) and Jack’s Drive-In (Wynantskill). The region is also noted for its mini-dogs at Famous Lunch (Troy) and Gus’s (Watervliet).
Wine, Beer, Cocktails, and More
According to the Center for Economic Growth, there are 74 breweries/distilleries and 37 wineries, cideries and meaderies in the Capital Region. You can find many of their products in local stores and restaurants and in their own tasting rooms, such as Nine Pin Cider Works, which exclusively uses New York state apples and fruit. There are many brewpubs and wine bars around, and craft cocktails have become quite a thing in certain restaurants.
Sports in the Capital Region
Minor-league professional sports come and go in the region. We’ve had ice hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, arena football and more. The pandemic has taken its toll on current seasons. But the biggest “major league sport” here is the annual thoroughbred racing meet in July and August at Saratoga Race Course. Horse racing may not be for everyone, but the Saratoga meet draws racing enthusiasts, bettors and socialites from far and wide, turning the city of Saratoga Springs into a party every summer.
The most beloved sports teams in the Capital Region are from the local colleges. The RPI and Union men’s hockey teams are immensely popular and have each won NCAA Division I championships.
The Siena and UAlbany men’s basketball teams are similarly popular and some years make it to the NCAA tournament, though they have never been strong enough to go the distance. One team that came within striking distance of a Division I national title is UAlbany men’s lacrosse, which was ranked No. 1 for much of the 2017 season before losing in the NCAA semifinals. And back in 2011, the College of Saint Rose women’s soccer team also brought home a national championship.
How to Get Involved in Sports Here
Participatory sports are very popular in the Capital Region, from the thriving youth sports programs to the many opportunities for outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, bicycling, boating, golf, tennis and swimming.
Public investments such as the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail and the Albany County Rail Trail have added to the outdoor infrastructure, encouraging more healthy activity and making it safer at the same time.
Things to See, Places to Go
The Capital Region boasts a vibrant arts community with many performing arts venues, theaters, museums, galleries, writers’ programs and talks and club-sized live music and poetry spaces. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center, as well as Tanglewood in nearby Lenox, Mass., offers summer seasons of top-flight classical, pop and special events in beautiful outdoor settings.
The area has a rich concentration of museums, including the Albany Institute of History and Art and the New York State Museum, which offer visitors a feast of local, regional and natural history. And there are many notable art museums within a short drive, including the world-class Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, M.A. and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams.
As much as we think Albany is a great place to be, its unique geography also makes it a great place to get away for a weekend (or longer). New York and Boston are less than three hours away, Montreal and Philadelphia four. Even Toronto can be reached by car in six and a half hours.
There are several interesting, eclectic towns and small cities to explore that are easily reached for a day trip, including Woodstock and New Paltz (New York) and Great Barrington and Northampton (Massachusetts).
If you love the outdoors, you can set off in almost any direction to enjoy the many natural wonders of the Northeast. To name a few: skiing or hiking in the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains of Vermont; swimming or boating in the Finger Lakes and the lakes of the Adirondacks (including Lake George, a summer favorite of locals); and getting your ocean beach fix in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where many beach destinations range from about two and a half to four hours away.
For the Kids
Besides all of the sports and outdoor activities, the Capital Region has numerous destinations designed for kids, including discovery-themed children’s museums in Schenectady and Troy; outdoor parks and nature centers including Thacher Park, Landis Arboretum and Five Rivers Environmental Education Center; and play parks including Huck Finn’s Playland and the Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom.
Moving Tips for New Albany Residents
New York’s Capital Region offers a pleasant pace of life: not too fast, not too slow, with plenty to do and see as your schedule allows. But moving here (as anywhere) can be hectic. Some advance preparation can make the transition easier. Here are some tips to consider.
1. Store your stuff.
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2. Familiarize yourself with the major highways.
Because the region is so decentralized, its geography can take a while to learn; start by learning the two main interstates, I-90 (east-west) and I-87 (north-south). The auxiliary interstates I-787 and I-890 feed into various parts of downtown Albany, Troy and Schenectady. The long major highways that connected the cities before the interstate system was built (5, 7, 9, and 20) are still here and still useful. Parts of all of these highways can become very congested during rush hour, especially near where I-90 and I-87 intersect.
3. Determine your mode of transportation ahead of time.
There are no commuter subways or trolleys, but there is a fairly extensive bus system. Also, the region has made laudable progress in adding bike lanes and maintaining its off-road bicycling infrastructure. The Albany Bus Terminal (Greyhound/Trailways) in downtown links longer-distance passengers to large and medium-sized cities and college towns in the region. Across the river in Rensselaer (and a five-minute car, cab, or Uber ride from downtown Albany) is the modern rail station, where you can board for the two-and-a-half-hour trip to New York City, as well as points west, north and east.
After you’ve moved to Albany, you’ll find transportation out of the area effortless. The Albany International Airport almost couldn’t be more perfectly located. It sits smack in the middle of the most populated cities of the region and can be reached from most parts of Albany, Schenectady, Troy and even Saratoga in 25 minutes or less. It is a regional hub for several major airlines.
4. Pack for all seasons.
Albany weather is typical for the inland Northeast: cold (and sometimes snowy) in midwinter, with average lows around 15°F; and hot in summer, with average highs near 80°. While April can be frustrating, mid to late spring is usually pleasant. Autumn (and those brilliant colors) can be gorgeous. Longtime residents will tell you that the local weather has become less predictable in recent years and often more extreme. In any case, pack clothing for four seasons of weather.
Is Moving to Albany Right for You?
Don’t let the “Smallbany” nickname fool you. The Capital Region has lots to recommend it as a place to live: amazing history, convenient geography, a steady job market, modest real estate prices and overall cost of living, good schools, a diverse array of towns and neighborhoods, exciting cuisine and culture and a gateway to visit the great cities and outdoor wonders of the Northeast.
Whether you’re relocating across the country or across the state, moving can be stressful. Let us help lighten the load. Life Storage offers various self-storage units in Albany and the Capital Region to help with your relocation.
- New York State Department of Labor
- Center for Economic Growth (Albany)
- Council for Community and Economic Research (Arlington, Va.)
- New York State Association of Realtors
- Arpi Balgin, licensed real estate professional (Albany)
- James Howard Kunstler, author