7 Awesome Things to Do in Saratoga Springs, New York
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This charming town in the capital region of Albany, NY, has captured our family’s heart. It’s strange how certain towns can do that while others that are just as charming don’t. Our first experience with Saratoga was almost 8 years ago. We were planning a long fall weekend to the Berkshires, and I was looking for somewhere new to explore. We have been hooked on Saratoga Springs ever since.
Saratoga Springs History
Native Americans who lived near modern-day Saratoga Springs lived near natural mineral springs which they believed held mystical and medicinal properties. European settlers arrived in the late 1700s but Saratoga remained relatively small and obscure until the early 19th century. The advent of the railroad line to Saratoga brought flocks of visitors to the newly appreciated springs. Doctors began to prescribe visits to the springs to wealthy Manhattanites and Bostonians. Hotels cropped up all over, and the mineral springs made Saratoga the place to be in the summer months. The famed Saratoga Springs racetrack was built in 1863 and cemented Saratoga as a summer playground for the wealthy.
Today Saratoga retains much of its Victorian charm, and tourism continues to boom thanks to a very active tourism council. There is no end of things to do year round. When we first went to Saratoga we wandered into the visitor center across from Congress Spring. This small visitors center offered up an entire days’ worth of activities with its daily calendar. I recommend this as your fist stop as well.
Saratoga Springs Itinerary
Visit the Famous Springs
The springs are still sputtering in Saratoga. You can visit the vast majority of the active ones and have a drink from each of them. Most have some sort of spigot for drinking or filling water bottles, but some are still in their natural state. They all have quite different tastes to them. Some taste like cold tap water while others are metallic, some highly carbonated, and a few are downright vile.
Congress Springs is probably the most visited spring. It is situated in a pavilion downtown in Congress Park. This spring is my oldest son’s very favorite. Every time we visit he brings empty jugs to fill up and take home. Continue your spring tasting tour with Columbian Spring and Deer Park Spring. They are steps away, and you can taste what we mean about metallic tasting spring water.
Cross the street and you will find Hathorn Spring One. This spring is lovingly dubbed “fart juice spring” by my boys and they love to watch unassuming people try it. It is fairly carbonated and has a very strong sulfur flavor and smell.
My personal favorite spring water is Hayes Well Spring located in Saratoga State Park. It must be a popular one with the locals as there are always cars lined up near it filling up large water jugs. It tastes like good old-fashioned tap water, but I imagine all the minerals in it must be good for me. If you want to visit all the other springs you can find a map of them at the visitors center.
Saratoga State Park
Very tall pine trees line the entrance to the park, and bike and walking trails line both sides of the street. As you enter the park, there are lots of signs to direct you to different locations. The Gideon Putnam hotel, baths, geysers, and more.
We have made use of the park for fall bike rides, winter snowshoeing, mineral baths, and our favorite fall walk to the Geyser Island Spouter.
The spouter is one of the few springs left in its natural state. You can walk on a path near it and see the minerals that have hardened on the rock over the centuries.
Roosevelt Baths and Spa
This experience is a good one for adults and older kids only, but it is so much fun it might be worth finding a sitter. The Roosevelt Baths and Spa were built in 1935 as a way to preserve Saratoga Springs and keep visitors coming during the Great Depression. These baths are situated in Saratoga Stake Park and the architecture is the same as it was when it was built, so it feels like you are stepping back in time.
While there are many treatments offered at Roosevelt Bath and Spa, I really recommend the mineral bath.
When you enter you are directed to a changing room and given a robe. After you change you are directed to the lounge to await your turn in the bath. You can enjoy lounge chairs, fresh fruit, and tea while you wait. When it’s your turn, you are led down the hall to a private room with a bath. Water is already running and calm music is playing. You receive instructions on how to use the tap and are then left in blissful quiet for the next 40 minutes. The water comes out of the tap clear, but as the minerals hit the hot water the water turns reddish-brown. So the bathtub doesn’t look as inviting as you might like, but trust me, it is glorious.
The bathtub is much deeper than one would expect, and since you can’t see the bottom due to the color of the water take a careful step in. The water from the tap is naturally carbonated so you will feel little bubbles tickling your skin. The bath stays warmer than a normal tub due to all the minerals, and the minerals are said to help with things like digestion and swelling, among others. I’m not sold on that, but I am sold on how relaxing those baths are.
The Saratoga Race Track
The Saratoga Race track can only really be visited during race season which runs from the end of July through the beginning of September. You can watch the races from the club house or the Grandstand, but you will have to pay to get a seat. At the time of this writing it was between $20 and $30 but you can sit in a bench seat for just the price of admission to the track.
I recommend before you go that you visit www.saratoga.com for lots of good information about your visit. It is crowded and confusing the first time you go, but if you read up on what to expect you will do just fine.
The first thing you will notice as your enter the track area is that there are lots of women in very large hats. The hat tradition of old is still in effect, and it is disconcerting to see ladies in extravagant hats wearing flip flops and tank tops. But it does lend a festive atmosphere. (Keep in mind that there are dress codes for certain seating areas.) You will find that info here: Racetrack dress code
As you move toward the tracks and find your seating, you can watch various races, place a bet, eat from various vendors, bring a picnic and make a day of it, and visit the playground with your little ones.
This is one of those things that is a truly different experience and one not to be missed if you can manage it.
The Battle of Saratoga is thought to be the turning point of the Revolutionary War. If you have kids like mine who love to visit a battlefield, this is a great one. It is a much smaller National Park than most battlefield of the Civil War like Gettysburg or Manassas but it offers enough for even the casual enthusiast to be impressed.
In addition to a movie about the Saratoga campaign there is a small visitors center. If you are lucky enough to visit when the National Park has family activities, you are in for a treat. We were able to help costumed rangers build a fire like they would have at the time, and the kids helped take down tents quickly. No matter the time of year, the drive around the 3,00o acre battlefield is beautiful at any time of year.
Plan on 2 hours.
An independent bookstore is a rare enough thing in this day and age to write about it. But this store does their kids section so well. The entire top floor is filled with delights in every nook and cranny. Your kids will enjoy the trains, the swing and story hour. The books are well displayed with catchy descriptions, and you could find yourself spending hours here.
Where to Eat in Saratoga Springs
This is a restaurant that takes classic comfort food and puts a spin on it. We have eaten here on most visits to Saratoga, and have never been anything but impressed. We really like their pulled pork mac and cheese and their comfort burger. Seating is plentiful and the kids love their tater tots.
You come here for the french fries (or pomme frites) and stay for the crepes. This place is sure to please even your pickiest eaters. The fries come piping hot with your choice of dipping sauces, and they are the fluffiest, yet crunchiest fries you will ever eat. This place does get crowded and we often view it as a good place for an afternoon snack instead of lunch or dinner.
The International Flavorfeast
Although this is merely a festival and not an actual restaurant, it bears mentioning. This yearly festival is comprised of 25-30 downtown restaurants. These restaurants offer a “tasting” for $1. The tasting may be something like a taco, bread pudding, pulled pork, beef stew, or peanut soup. The tastings vary in size but on average 5- 6 tastings makes a pretty great meal. We have been doing this since we wandered upon it 5 years ago in its inaugural year. We haven’t missed one since! The kids love it because we give them $5-10 and they can pick whatever they want to eat. Sometimes it’s nothing but sugar! Truly, the food is first rate, and there are no disappointing bites. We look forward to it every year!
It is generally the first weekend in October. It is a great festival to do on the same weekend as the Berkshire Garden Festival.
Where to Stay in Saratoga Springs?
The Gideon Putnam Hotel
This is our favorite place to stay in Saratoga Springs. It is in Saratoga State Park so it is surrounded by hiking trails, gorgeous forests, some of the untouched springs and the Roosevelt Baths.
It is one of the oldest hotels in Saratoga and although it has had extensive renovations it still has the feel of grand hotel from the turn of the century. Enjoy the fabulous Sunday brunch if you can!
For booking information click here.
Residence Inn Saratoga Springs
If you are looking for a more modern hotel with a pool for the kids I also recommend the Residence Inn.
This newer hotel has everything you would expect from a Residence Inn, including free breakfast. The bedrooms are larger than the Gideon Putnam and this hotel is closer to downtown in case you are visiting without a car. We have stayed here twice and were very happy with it.
For booking information click here.
How long should I visit Saratoga Springs?
It is possible to see the majority of sites in Saratoga Springs in one day, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I would plan on a weekend to allow you to get the most out of this vibrant town. You will have more time to walk down the 19th century Main Street, more time to enjoy the delicious food, and you can even venture to the Saratoga Battlefield.
Things to do in Saratoga Springs in Winter
There is plenty to do in Saratoga Springs in the winter as well as the other times of year. Upstate New York is famously cold and snowy in the winter, but Saratoga Springs keeps things fun year round. In early February, Saratoga hosts an annual Chowderfest. Restaurants around town wow visitors with delicious chowder to keep you warm.
You can also go snowshoeing in Saratoga State Park. Bring your own or rent some from the Gideon Putnam and set off and a magical winter wonderland adventure!
Enjoy the Roosevelt Baths and get warm and cozy at the spa, visit the Museum of Dance, and eat a delicious meal or two.
Plus hotels are very inexpensive from January through April so you can have a winter vacation and save some money too.
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