Long known for elite basketball and snowy winters, Syracuse is a city on the rebound. If you’re moving to Syracuse, NY, this guide has everything you need to know about life as a local.


If you’re moving to Syracuse but know little about it, you may at least know that the Weather Channel sure does love Syracuse. With its reports each year of the city’s record-setting snowfall, it’s helped shape the area’s image as one with long, white winters.  

But Syracuse is more than a punchline of a weather-related joke. Its residents proudly “bleed orange” — a nod to the university’s premier athletic record­ — thanks to the city’s convenience, affordable cost of living and wide range of regional activities.

If you’re considering moving to Syracuse, NY, we’ve created this guide to help you understand what to expect.  

What is Syracuse Known for Besides Snow?

Whether dining at the legendary Dinosaur Bar-B-Que or browsing Wegmans — a regional grocery chain with a cult-like following — you’ll eventually encounter salt potatoes.

These crunchy, creamy and definitely salty spuds are a go-to side dish famous to the region. But they’re also a modern tribute to the city’s history, first created by immigrant workers boiling their lunch in salt factory brine.

Syracuse’s Salty Roots

In the seventeenth century, Syracuse’s first settlers arrived on the shores of Onondaga Lake. As a naturally occurring salt lake, the undrinkable water supply was believed to be an omen of evil spirits among the indigenous Iroquois Confederacy. But entrepreneurs soon harnessed its economic potential.

Salt production climbed quickly. With the Erie Canal’s construction, the industry would ultimately serve all of the United States. This rapid industrial development encouraged a steep population incline. Immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland and Germany formed small cultural pockets, beginning to shape the diverse demographics still characteristic of Syracuse today.

The Growth of a Rust Belt City

Syracuse, NY, Ariel View of City
Photo via Joe Marino

As the national demand for salt declined, manufacturing emerged as the dominant local industry. But with companies beginning to move operations overseas in the 1970s, Syracuse’s economy once again began to flag. Jobs grew scarce and poverty escalated — a cycle that the city continues to fight.

Over the next few decades, investment poured into the surrounding suburbs that make up the greater Onondaga County. This carved out a deep divide between two, distinct worlds.

Today, the county has a seventy-five percent higher median income than the city itself and, since 2015, Syracuse has triple the national poverty rate at thirty-one percent. Syracuse’s crime rate is also one and a half times greater than the national average — while throughout the rest of Onondaga County, crime remains low.

Syracuse’s 21st Century Renaissance

Cinton Square
Photo via Joe Shlabotnik

Recent efforts to redevelop the city’s urban core are working to turn this decline around. Everything from infrastructure rehauls to condo construction is revamping downtown Syracuse’s image as a burnt-out Rust Belt town.

Poverty rates are dropping, job growth is on the upswing, and Syracuse’s decades-long population loss is beginning to reverse.

“More residents are living in downtown Syracuse than ever before,” said Jeff Roney, a licensed associate broker with Keller Williams Realty. “People can walk to hear live music, eat at restaurants, shop… It’s a great place to live if you want an urban lifestyle.”

But its small size also makes Syracuse highly accessible. Locals have a vast choice of living environments, all with short commutes to the city center.

“We like to say you can get just about anywhere in Syracuse in twenty minutes or less,” Roney said.

What to Expect When Moving to Syracuse, NY

Syracuse has long since evolved from its blue-collar roots. Propped up by its stellar universities, steadily expanding job market and prime proximity to Upstate New York’s world-class natural scenery, it’s not just the physical heart of the state. The mid-size city with a small-town vibe has a distinct soul of its own.

But Syracuse’s identity is one packed with contradictions, with caveats to almost any benefit and disadvantage alike. In fact, it was named both the twenty-eighth best and the thirty-first worst place to live in the U.S in 2019.

If you’re thinking about living in Syracuse, NY, it’s all about finding your place within this balance to fully embrace what the city has to offer.

Syracuse Weather

Snowcovered trees on country road

The Syracuse Council officially outlawed snowfall in 1992.

This resolution stated, “On behalf of the snow-weary citizens of the city of Syracuse, any further snowfall is expressly outlawed.”

While the mandate was all in good humor, it illustrates an important consideration for those moving to Central New York: expect long, snowy winters.

Syracuse’s location near the Great Lakes and Adirondack Mountains creates an ideal microclimate for lake effect snow. Averaging more than 10 feet annually, it’s a regular contender for the nation’s Golden Snowball award, ranking high on “snowiest city” lists year after year.

“Driving in Syracuse in the winter can be very stressful,” said Peter Paris, an English teacher at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, a top-ranking private school in the state. “Be prepared to get new tires and know what kind of car you should have.” He also emphasizes that a heavy-duty snow brush and an electric car starter go a long way in surviving Syracuse’s notorious winters.

But while winters are long — the “snow season” can last from around Halloween to past Easter — they’re generally mild by comparison. Temperatures rarely drop below 15°F, usually hovering just below freezing. However, the odd windy day can tank the “feels like” temperature down well below normal.

Fortunately, there is more to Syracuse weather than its winters. Springs are crisp and energizing, ushering in summertime’s long days and cool, firefly-studded nights. Autumn is when the region truly comes alive, however, from its show-stopping foliage to Central New York’s irresistible apple harvest.

A Broadening Job Market

Ahead of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Syracuse unemployment rate was between three and four percent, in line with the national average for 2019.

“There are abundant opportunities in engineering, all areas of medicine and education,” Roney said. “It’s also a great place to start a business and build it.”

Sofia Marquez is one of those entrepreneurs. As the co-owner of Burn on Demand, a digital platform for Burn Kickboxing, she notes how the region’s low cost of living makes it an attractive place to build a career.

“The housing market in bigger cities makes it next to impossible for a young adult to afford rent — without two or more roommates — and still have some sort of disposable income,” she said. “The job market in Syracuse is tough like anywhere else, but not as competitive.”

Along with the city’s hospitals and universities, Amazon is becoming a major employer with its new distribution centers.

“Syracuse has also been the center for some wonderful start-up companies, especially in the computer and tech worlds,” according to Dee Burlingame Reidel of Berkshire Hathaway CNY Realty.

A Reasonable Cost of Life — With a Catch

Syracuse boasts a cost of living well below the national average — largely thanks to bargain housing prices. The median home cost in the area is $94,400 compared to the $231,200 average for the United States.

“Our affordability index in Onondaga County is very high — meaning that potential buyers don’t spend as much of their disposable income on housing as they might in other areas,” Roney explained.

Taxes are another story. Property taxes are especially high, while the local sales tax and income tax rates also exceed national averages.  

However, the value for money homeownership provides tends to balance out these costs. Reidel said insurance rates are also fair because there are no hurricanes, flooding fears or other significant environmental threats.

So, what is the cost of living in Syracuse, NY?

A College Town Vibe

Syracuse’s host of colleges and universities don’t just help prop up its job market. The city attracts transplants from all over the country as a leader in higher education.

Syracuse University (SU) supports the largest student body. It offers high-ranking undergraduate programs and elite graduate schools including its College of Law, President Joe Biden’s alma mater.

But more colloquially, SU is synonymous with its great athletic programs. Each winter, the city “bleeds orange” as its hometown basketball team — which launched the careers of players like Carmelo Anthony — chases NCAA glory from University Hill’s signature, 50,000-capacity Carrier Dome.

Syracuse also has a selection of state, private and specialty schools, including:

  • LeMoyne College
  • Onondaga Community College
  • The State University of New York (SUNY) School of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF)
  • SUNY Upstate Medical Center
  • Cornell, Colgate, Hamilton and Ithaca all within driving distance

The area’s academic excellence extends downstream as well.

“New York is home to some of the best public and private schools in the country as well as the most qualified teachers,” Paris said.

Districts like Skaneateles, Fayetteville-Manlius, Jamesville-DeWitt and Cazenovia consistently gain attention for students’ academic performance. But other local schools lead the pack in their respective specialties, like music, art and sports. For example, West Genesee High School has a nationally-celebrated marching band.  

Navigating the Syracuse Area

The area’s history has developed a local melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. In fact, Syracuse, NY demographics make it one of the country’s top product testing markets. Anything from ice cream flavors to baby carrots is rolled out locally before hitting national shelves.

Today, about 145,000 residents live within Syracuse’s twenty-five square mile area. But thanks to the city’s accessibility, all 670,000 people that make up Onondaga County call Syracuse home.

Where are the Best Places to Live in Syracuse?

“Recently, young professionals have been drawn to the downtown area where many charming buildings have been converted to state-of-the-art apartments or condos with amenities,” Reidel said.

This includes Syracuse neighborhoods like:

  • Armory Square, the city’s premier restaurant and specialty retail district.
  • Downtown East, home to the city’s largest green space.
  • Clinton Square in the heart of downtown Syracuse alongside the Erie Canal.
  • Tipperary Hill, known for its green-on-top traffic light and wealth of Irish pubs.
  • Franklin Square, Eastwood and Wescott that offer the most attractive rates for renters.

Families tend toward the Syracuse suburbs. The choice of where to live is usually based on how well a school district aligns with a family’s priorities — from the student body size to the strongest specialty and athletic programs available.

Retirees spread throughout the county as well. “The entire area has great easy living,” Reidel said. “Actual condos are more available in the downtown area, while townhomes are in the suburbs, with more elegant options in places like Skaneateles, Cazenovia and the East.”  

Regardless of where you move to in Syracuse, you will need to know that your property is safe. Life Storage offers the best self-storage units in Syracuse so that you know your belongings will be secure. When you reserve your space ahead of your move, we’ll help celebrate your housewarming with one month of free storage and a truck rental on us.

Getting Around Syracuse

While locals love their twenty-minute access to anywhere in Syracuse, this benefit also comes with an important string attached. Full-time residents generally depend on car travel.

Some areas are more pedestrian-friendly, such as Syracuse neighborhoods near the local colleges and universities. In a pinch, Uber and Lyft also service the region.

The only public transportation option available is the bus service run by the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority (CENTRO.) A new hub was recently opened downtown, but riders often have to combine modes of transportation to arrive at their intended destination due to infrequent stops and service hours.

Two major highways transect the city, with I-81 running North to South and I-690 offering access to Syracuse suburbs in the East and West. Traffic congestion is relatively low, and the highway department makes quick work of keeping roads clear from snowdrift during the winter months. But the right vehicle helps ensure any trip goes safely and smoothly.

“Having a four-wheel-drive car is a great idea, especially for exploring the great State of New York and for managing our snowy winters,” Roney said.

Exploring Beyond City Limits

Mountain View from Airplane Window
Photo via Onasill ~ Bill

Syracuse is an ideal launching pad for those who love weekend getaways. Just hop in the car and you can get to:

  • New York City in four hours.
  • Buffalo and Niagara Falls in two and a half hours.
  • The quaint Adirondack town of Old Forge in one hour and forty-five minutes.
  • Lake Placid’s Olympic-level skiing in just under four hours.
  • Saratoga Springs’ racetrack and performing arts center in just over two hours.
  • The Finger Lakes wine country — and Ithaca’s famous gorges — in an hour.

Nearby cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Toronto are also just a four to five hours’ drive away.

“One of the best things about Syracuse is that you’re less than a few hours from everywhere you’d want to be,” Paris said. “Beaches, big cities, wineries, lakes, you name it!”

There’s also the city’s regional transportation center that offers Greyhound and Amtrak service throughout the Northeast. Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport has some direct, cheap flights to cities along the Eastern seaboard — but with many routes connecting through New York City, costs add up for cross-country or international travel.

What to Do in Downtown Syracuse?

With demographics split between college students, young professionals, families and retirees, Syracuse delivers a range of things to do to suit almost any interest.

The Best of Syracuse Food

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
Photo via Joe Shlabotnik

Salt potatoes are just the beginning of Syracuse’s culinary identity. There’s the addictingly spicy hot tomato oil created by Pastabilities, a favorite downtown Italian restaurant. Or Hofmann hot dogs, the staple summer barbecue feature that originates from an 1860s German sausage recipe.

There’s also:

  • Chicken Riggies, a tangy dish popular throughout Central New York.
  • Cornell chicken, the “perfect” barbecue chicken developed by a poultry science professor at Cornell University — and available only at the New York State Fair.
  • Mercer Dairy’s wine ice cream, a toast to both the area’s fresh dairy products and award-winning wineries.

The local restaurant scene is strong and surprisingly diverse for a city of its size. Locals swear by eateries like:

But you can’t talk about Syracuse food without giving a generous nod to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Ranked as “America’s favorite barbecue” by Good Morning America, it first opened in 1988 as a honky-tonk biker joint. The restaurant still maintains its laid-back blues vibe to this day — as well as its award-winning menu of ribs, chicken and Southern-inspired side dishes.

Sports in Syracuse

Photo via Brandon Weight

Athletic fans are in good company in Syracuse. As the home of the 24-second shot clock, basketball is deeply ingrained in the town’s psyche. Each winter, fans brave the cold to support the home team at SU’s Carrier Dome, and NCAA March Madness may as well be a local holiday.

Syracuse is also the birthplace of lacrosse, or Dehoñtjihgwa’és as it’s known by the region’s indigenous Iroquois creators. There’s a strong high school football culture as well, with local teams regularly advancing into the state spotlight.

On the professional level, the city is home to:

Staying active yourself is no challenge, either. The city offers plenty of recreational sports and activity leagues year-round, from softball and kickball to bowling, darts and ax throwing. But in the winter, everyone heads to the slopes.

Several local resorts accommodate beginner and advanced skiers alike, including ToggenburgLabrador and Song MountainFour Seasons Golf and Ski Center also offers snow tubing in the winter and batting cages in the summer. To the north, Beaver Lake Nature Center is the go-to spot for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Music, Arts, and Events in Syracuse

Syracuse’s location makes it a regular tour stop for many national and up-and-coming artists. Major venues include its OnCenter War Memorial and Convention Center, Lakeview Amphitheater and Grandstand at the New York State Fairgrounds.

There’s also:

There’s no shortage of events in Syracuse, either. The area’s cultural history and love for all-things-food keeps locals engaged year-round. Mark your calendar for:

  • The Taste of Syracuse, a summer food festival with more than eighty vendors that attracts a quarter of a million hungry visitors.
  • Cultural festivals like Greek Fest and Polish Fest.
  • Blues Fest, Jazz Fest and other music festivals.
  • Oz Fest, a tribute to The Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, one of the more famous people from Syracuse, NY.

But the Great New York State Fair is Syracuse’s crown jewel. As the oldest and largest fair in the country, it attracts more than a million attendees during its eighteen-day showcase of the area’s agriculture, entertainment and technology.

The Outdoors

Frozen Waterfall in Winter
Photo via John Brighenti

While surrounded by some of the country’s best scenery and natural wonders, there are dozens of parks and miles of hiking trails within easy reach of downtown Syracuse.

Make sure to check out:

  • Green Lakes State Park, a set of mineral lakes that lend the waters a remarkable turquoise hue.
  • Jamesville Beach Park with its sandy shores and swimming areas.
  • Clark’s Reservation, a county park with great views and fishing available.
  • Onondaga Lake Park right near the city center, offering tons of activities like lakeside rollerblading and yoga classes.
  • The Onondaga Creekwalk that winds through downtown.
  • Chittenango Falls State Park’s gorges and 167-foot waterfall.

Throughout the area, trails are meticulously maintained over snowy months for locals to make the most out of the area’s 163 sunny days a year.

Moving to Syracuse?

Yes, Syracuse is snowy. But with deep cultural roots, tons of accessibility and a lively, tight-knit community, this mid-size city with a small-town feel offers locals far more than weather reports suggest.

Whether you’re moving cross-country or escaping the grind of larger Northeast cities, a move to Syracuse requires a bit of a learning curve. However, you can expect a warm, hearty welcome — especially if you get up to speed on the Syracuse basketball season — and plenty to keep you busy throughout those long winter months.

Make your move even smoother by having the peace of mind that comes with safe, secure storage. Life Storage offers self-storage units in Syracuse as well as moving trucks to make sure you get your life in the Salt City off to a great start.  

About the Author

Leslie Finlay

Leslie Finlay is a writer from Syracuse, New York, where she’s called home on-and-off for about 20 years. She earned her Master’s Degree from Indiana University and as a scuba diving instructor, has a deep love for marine conservation. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Fodor’s Travel, MSN and The Culture Trip among other publications.

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