Albany, New York, located just two hours north of famed New York City, was established by the Dutch in the early 1660s. I recently did some research for family centered activities in the area, as my family drives past Albany a few times a year on our way to visit close friends in Utica, New York. On a recent trip, we stopped to explore the New York State Capitol building, at the top of the State Street hill. The “current” Albany State Capitol took over 20 years to build, post Civil War. The building has gone through many phases of of restoration, as recently as the early 2000s.
Tours of the Capitol are offered four times a day during the week and twice on Saturday. Tours are free, but reservations are highly recommended (go here), as they are usually limited to 25 people and quickly fill up. Tours are very different during the week, when everything is in session and the entire building is bustling with elected officials. If you prefer a calmer experience, the weekend tour is a safer bet, but you’ll miss the chance to possible see elected governmental officials.
Check in is at the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Visitor Center and Gift Shop, located on the main concourse. There is a massive parking garage underground, and there is a flat $5 fee for parking on the weekend. After you park, take the elevator to the concourse and a quick walk to the Visitor Center and Gift Shop, which sells New York made merchandise, as well as drinks and snacks. Each person has to go through security and metal detectors before the tour starts.
If you want to grab a bite to eat inside the Concourse, there are a couple of quick service options: McDonald’s, Logan’s (deli sandwiches), and Prime at the Plaza (grill and pizza, with the largest amount of seating options and restrooms). You cannot bring food or drink on the tour.
Traveling with Kids:
- Strollers are not allowed on the tour; you’ll take an elevator to the fourth floor and then walk down the various floors. There is a brief part when you’ll sit in the Senate gallery for a few minutes, but otherwise you’re on your feet for the 60 minute tour. There are parts when you walk down very wide staircases that do not have railing for balance.
- Go to the bathroom before you start; bathroom are located across from the Visitor’s Center in the Prime at the Plaza cafe.
- Our children (closer to the 10 yr old age) enjoyed the tour and were engaged. There were well behaved younger children on the tour as well, but they were often held by their parents. Our tour guide was really friendly with a toddler who insisted on holding his hand for most of the tour.
I Spy: Make sure your children look out for the following items while on the tour:
1. Check out the size of two “Whisperings Rooms” and the massive 23 carat gold on the walls of the Senate Chamber. Hint: The Whispering Rooms are actual fire places where senators go to whisper in private so no one else can hear them in the echoing chamber.
2. Walk down three different staircase, including the “Million Dollar Staircase”. Hint: It’s so expensive because of the expensive Scottish red sandstone used to build it.
3. Pick a favorite bust out of some of the 200 faces (check out Abraham Lincoln and Christopher Columbus) carved into the sandstone at the top of the pillars.
4. Find the Lincoln Clock inside the Assembly Chamber and be sure to check out the paper mache ceiling.
5. Choose your favorite landscape painting in the Hall of New York, which has a rotating collection of close to 100 painting depicting various landscapes in the state.
6. Inspect the ceiling of the War Room which is covered in murals depicting scenes from history.
7. Discover which four governors of New York became President of the United States in the Hall of Governors, which displays portraits, biographical information, and important keepsakes of each governor. There’s also a massive timeline of important dates in New York history.
If you cannot get enough of New York history, check out the Corning Tower Observation Deck, the Egg Performing Arts Center, and nearby New York Governor’s Mansion. We plan on visiting these spots later this year- check back for our experience.