Upstate New York is a beautiful area to settle down with family and experience all the four seasons. But where are the best places to live in the Empire State?


If you’re searching for the best places to live in Upstate New York, you’ve come to the right place. New York is one of the best states to call home, and the numbers don’t lie: four of the region’s largest cities made last year’s Best Places to Live in America list by U.S. News & World.

With its charming towns, impressive schools and beauty of four distinct seasons, the state of New York has something for everyone. But with over 50 different counties, you may be wondering which to choose. The good news is, we’re here to help!

Here’s everything you need to know about the best places to live in Upstate New York.

Is New York a good state to live in?

Moving to Upstate New York - Winter hits hard in upstate New York

Many states can be described in one word. But not New York. New York is split into two distinct areas: New York City and Upstate New York. Do you prefer to live in a studio apartment in the middle of the city? Or would you rather be in the country overlooking mother nature’s backdrop? In the state of New York, you can do both. That versatility is what makes the state so great.

In Upstate New York, scenic parks double as residents’ backyards (while nearby cities are only a short drive away). The state also has endless events for families all year long, whether you’re a museum-goer, foodie or outdoor adventurer. While New York’s state taxes are among the highest in the nation, there are more-than-affordable towns to choose from. And, let’s face it: the perks of living in the state make up for them.

Reasons to move to Upstate New York:

  • Nature. Getting outside is good for the soul—and for mental health. Adirondack Park, located in Upstate New York, offers over 100 mountains, 2,000 miles of hiking trails and 3,000 lakes.
  • Health. When it comes to healthy eating, it’s never been easier for Upstate New York residents. This is partly due to the fact that the number of farmers’ markets have skyrocketed over the last decade, with NY having the most markets per state in the country.
  • Safety. Some of the safest cities in New York state can be found in the Upstate region—especially in comparison to the New York City area.
  • Seasonality. One word: foliage. Upstate New York’s foliage is to die for. In fact, all of its seasons are. While many states experience mild changes in weather patterns, New York residents are lucky enough to experience four distinct seasons.
  • Family. Whether you’re looking to raise a family or searching for the best schools for your kids, New York offers a variety of family-friendly communities throughout the Upstate region. You’ll discover the best places to live in Upstate New York for families in no time.

Covering almost 55,000 square miles, the state of New York ranks as the 27th largest state by size. It’s a common misconception to consider New York State and New York City one in the same. The truth is, they couldn’t be more different. Just ask any Upstate New York resident and see what they have to say about being grouped in with NYC.

Moving to Upstate New York - New York City is not upstate-New York

Upstate New York vs. New York City

When people refer to “New York City,” they mean Manhattan—the heart of the Big Apple. Manhattan is home to Central Park, Broadway, The Empire State Building and many more iconic locations. But “The City” extends far beyond Manhattan. NYC is made up of five boroughs, or counties: Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Together, they make up the largest (and most populous) city in the entire country. The area has a population of more than 8,500,000 distributed over 300 square miles.

Life in New York City is full of opportunities. While it comes with a price tag, it’s home to some of the world’s best companies, restaurants, theaters, parks and cultural activities. If there’s one thing you need to know, it’s that life moves quickly in the city that never sleeps. Residents become accustomed to around-the-clock people, traffic and noise in exchange for career experience and the opportunity to create a better life. Cons of living in the city include a competitive job market and high cost of living (monthly rent runs anywhere from $2,800 to $3,500).

Related: How to Find the Best Neighborhood in Queens to Fit Your Personality

Living in Upstate NY

Halfway across the state and several hours away, there’s a completely different world: Upstate New York. If you’re from out of state, “Upstate New York” most likely refers to any part of the region that isn’t the city. But local residents love to argue about where upstate begins and where downstate ends.

Technically, the Upstate NY region includes most of the state of New York, excluding the areas of New York City, the Lower Hudson Valley, and Long Island. The Upstate region can then be broken down further into Western New York and Central New York.

While Upstate is made up of midsize cities (Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, etc.) there’s no comparison in size or population to NYC. The residents also couldn’t be more different. Upstate New York is where city dwellers go to find a break from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives. The region’s lakes, mountains, trails and fall foliage make it easy to plan the perfect getaway. Residents can enjoy living in the suburbs, while still being in proximity to downtown areas and outdoor adventures.

Best Places to Live in Upstate New York

If you’re looking for some of the best places to live in New York State, we have plenty. From quaint towns in the country to up-and-coming metro areas, Upstate New York offers a variety of landscapes and environments to choose from. Are you looking to raise a family? Pursue a job opportunity? Plan for retirement? No matter what your reason may be for moving to Upstate New York, there are plenty of options for everyone.

Here are some of the best Upstate NY towns to live in—beginning with Western New York.

Buffalo, New York

Moving to Upstate New York - Buffalo is one of the best places to live

Interested in moving to Buffalo, NY? In short, you should be. Buffalo is, without doubt, one of the best cities to live in Upstate New York. It has seen a massive renaissance over the last few years and now offers residents endless things to do. Its waterfront revitalization has helped create new restaurants, bars, bike lanes, kayak tours, free outdoor yoga and more. Residents will also tell you how much they love their football, chicken wings, beef on weck and St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

Buffalo is also booming with education and technology. It’s one of the top places for entrepreneurs and startups.

“Ten years ago, Canalside, another Buffalo neighborhood, was a parking lot,” notes USA Today. “Today, it’s a thriving waterfront/naval park for tourists during the day and revelers at night for outdoor music shows. Blue-collar Buffalo is undergoing a high-tech renaissance. From major expansion projects by Solar City and IBM to a myriad of start-ups, such as virtual dressing room triMirror and social-media app KeepUp, this Western New York city of 261,000 is slowly transforming into an attractive destination for tech entrepreneurs.”

But the best part? Its people. Buffalo is known as the City of Good Neighbors and for excellent reason. Whether they’re cheering with you at a Bills game or helping shovel your car out of the driveway Buffalo residents are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Everything is conveniently within a 20-minute drive—despite the fact that Buffalo is the second-largest metro in the state of New York. Whether you prefer to reside in the suburban outskirts or close to downtown, Buffalo has you covered.

  • Region: Western New York
  • County: Erie
  • Population: 261,000
  • Average home price: $140,000
  • Average rent: $1,088
  • Reasons to move there: Downtown revitalization, sense of community, wonderful people.

Rochester, New York

Moving to Upstate New York - Rochester is one of the best places to live

About an hour east of Buffalo, you’ll find the city of Rochester, NY. While it’s the third-most populous city in New York, Rochesterians get to enjoy being part of a tight-knit community.

If you’re planning on moving to Rochester, NY, you will enjoy a great cost of living and ample job opportunities at some of the area’s largest employers, including the University of Rochester, Strong Memorial Hospital, the Rochester General Health System and Wegmans Food Markets, Inc.

Rochester also boasts some of the most affordable homes in the United States. Whether you’re searching for a house in Downtown Rochester or in the suburbs, you’ll find fairly priced homes from town to town. Getting around Rochester is a breeze, since the area is centrally located. You can travel from place to place in about 15-20 minutes via Interstate 390, 490 and 590.

  • Region: Western New York
  • County: Monroe
  • Population: 210,000
  • Average home price: $125,000
  • Average rent: $920
  • Reasons to move there: Affordability, location, economy.

Syracuse, New York

Moving to Upstate New York - Syracuse is one of the best places to live

Located in Central New York—about an hour East of Rochester—is the city of Syracuse. Just last year, U.S. News and World named Syracuse the No. 1 place to live in New York State.

First things first, you’ll never run out of things to do in Syracuse. Unlike Rochester and Buffalo, Syracuse’s downtown district is small and walkable. You won’t want to miss Armory Square, a strip packed with restaurants, bars, shops and more. Syracuse is also home to Destiny USA, the sixth-largest shopping mall in the United States, which offers six stories of shopping and entertainment near Onondaga Lake.

If you’re planning on moving to Syracuse, NY, one of the biggest perks you’ll enjoy is its convenience. Not only are surrounding suburbs a short 15-minute drive from the city, but Syracuse is also centrally located in the region. It’s only four hours from New York City and a short drive to Saratoga Springs. Compared to similar metro areas, Syracuse also comes at a more affordable price.

Syracuse is famous for its heavy snowfall—with over 120 inches per year. But Central New Yorkers get used to the winter weather, and still get to enjoy pleasant summers and gorgeous fall seasons. Syracuse is the educational and economic hub of Central New York, with prestigious Syracuse University and a variety of career opportunities throughout the area. Some of the largest employers include: Lockheed Martin, Syracuse University, St. Joseph’s Hospital Center and Upstate University Health System.

  • Region: Central New York
  • County: Onondaga
  • Population: 146,000
  • Average home price: $115,000
  • Average rent: $900
  • Reasons to move there: Affordability, size, endless things to do.

Albany, New York

Moving to Upstate New York - Albany is one of the best places to live

Moving even further East, we head into Albany, NY: the Capital District. Located two and a half hours north of New York City, Albany is situated directly between the Adirondack Mountains and the Hudson Valley. Locals refer to it as the Tri-City Area, a region including both Troy and Schenectady.

If you’re a history buff, you’ll love Albany’s old-world appeal. The downtown area is home to more than 400 years of impressive architecture as well as City Hall and the Empire State Plaza. Made up of 98 acres of buildings (including the Capitol and State Museum), the Empire State Plaza serves as the hub of all things government related for New York State. It also offers tours, farmer’s markets, fitness classes and free events for its residents.

The Capital Region also offers world-class education for its residents. The University at Albany, part of State University of New York’s (SUNY) system, has more than 1,000 study abroad programs, 200 clubs, 18 NCAA Division I teams and nationally renowned programs in criminal justice, social work and public affairs.Even younger students can enjoy great education options, too. Tech Valley High School launched in 2007, in part with a $400,000 grant from Bill Gates’ New Technology Foundation. The school offers a project-based academic program with special emphasis on technology.

  • Region: Capital District
  • County: Albany
  • Population: 98,000
  • Average home price: $196,000
  • Average rent: $1,100
  • Reasons to move there: Cultural scene, rich history, high-tech education.

Ithaca, New York

Moving to Upstate New York - Ithaca is one of the best places to live

Ithaca is perhaps the most beautiful place in all of Upstate New York. Known for its state parks and more than 150 breathtaking waterfalls, Ithaca is a picturesque college town located at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. Along with gorges, waterfalls and miles of lakefront, the surrounding county offers more than 25,000 acres of public land for hiking, biking and outdoor recreation.

The housing market is competitive in Ithaca and rental supply is limited—mainly because the housing market isn’t growing as fast as the job market. With a strong educational foundation, Ithaca has a constant stream of renters due to nearby Ithaca College and Cornell University. Ranked #14 in the U.S., Cornell offers more than 1,000 student organizations, 35 NCAA Division I teams and more than 60 sorority and fraternity chapters.

Aside from Buttermilk Falls State Park, Robert Treman State Park and Watkins Glen State Park, you’ll also find over 30 wineries and microbreweries in the area.

  • Region: Finger Lakes
  • County: Tompkins
  • Population: 30,000
  • Average home price: $242,000
  • Average rent: $1,200
  • Reasons to move there: Strong education, natural beauty, modern development.

Saratoga Springs, New York

Moving to Upstate New York - Saratoga Springs is one of the best places to live

Located only a couple hours from New York City is Saratoga Springs, NY, also known as “Spa City.” If you’re a fan of winter, you’ll definitely consider Saratoga Springs one of the best places to live in Upstate New York. It recently made the Top 10 Winter Cities list and has tons of outdoor activities for snow enthusiasts.

While Saratoga Springs might not be one of the cheapest places to live in New York, it does offer affordable housing in spite of  its high quality of life. In fact, it was recently named the best small city to live in New York. Saratoga Springs has a low crime rate, walkable downtown area, great school system and tons to do.

Once a year, Saratoga Spa State Park turns into a snowglobe and winter sports destination. The Saratoga Race Course is a popular summer venue among both locals and visitors. Congress Park, a 17-acre attraction, is the perfect place to relax. Saratoga Springs also hosts some of the best dining and shopping in Upstate NY. Imagine the environment of a relaxing vacation, year round. That’s what you can expect living in Saratoga Springs, NY.

  • Region: Upstate
  • County: Saratoga
  • Population: 28,000
  • Average home price: $450,000
  • Average rent: $1,500
  • Reasons to move there: Outdoor paradise, low crime, economic prosperity.

Hudson, New York

Moving south, we come to the Hudson Valley, one of the richest agricultural areas of New York—it’s even been called the “Napa Valley of the East.” For an eclectic urban experience surrounded by large swaths of stunning open land, look no further than Hudson, New York.

Hudson has a long history as a port city, where goods and services flowed up and down the Hudson River to other parts of the state. The downtown retains this historic look, with many of its original Federalist-style buildings repurposed into shops, galleries, restaurants, and artists’ studios. Hudson’s easy access to New York City—two and a half hours by car, or a little over two hours by train—has made it one of the most desirable cities for those looking to move out of the city but still enjoy an urban atmosphere. It’s also a short drive to several other growing Upstate New York cities and towns, including Poughkeepsie, Beacon, Kingston, Newburgh and Rhinebeck.

Despite its small size, Hudson is one of the best up-and-coming areas for business, with affordable rents and a strong talent pool to draw from. The city is also buzzing with arts and culture of all types—performing arts, visual arts, handmade goods, literature, food and more. From Olana State Historic Site to Basilica Hudson and the Hudson River Exchange, you’ll never tire of the dozens of unique things to do and see in Hudson, and the fascinating people who make the city tick.

  • Region: Hudson Valley
  • County: Columbia
  • Population: 6,000
  • Average home price: $183,400
  • Average rent: $1,500
  • Reasons to move there: eclectic arts and culture, urban feel, proximity to natural parks and trails, ease of access to New York City.

Are you ready to move to Upstate NY?

From charming small towns to prospering cities and everything in between, any part of Upstate New York makes a wonderful place to call home. Whether you’re drawn to its beautiful waterfalls, winter wonderlands or family friendly communities, you will love everything the state of New York has to offer.

Now that you know some of the best places to live in Upstate New York, it’s time to make your move. We’re here to help make that process as seamless as possible. If you’re moving to Buffalo, moving to Rochester or moving to Syracuse, we offer self-storage units to make your life easier:

Are you planning on moving to Upstate NY? Are you a current resident with some tips and insiders? We’d love to hear about your experience. Let us know on Twitter, @LifeStorage!

Update: This post was originally published on August 3, 2018, and was revised on August 25, 2019, with new information from New York expert, Robin Catalano.

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5 reasons to move to Upstate New York, plus where to live

About the Author

Robin Catalano

Robin Catalano is a freelance writer and editor who has published over 100 articles and 1,000 blog posts. She has lived in Upstate NY, near Albany, for more than 15 years, and frequently works with clients and colleagues in the capital city as well as in Hudson and Troy. Robin is also a two-time speaker and mentor at the Women in Travel Summit. View more of her work on her website and blog.

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