Buffalo Travel Guide

Overview

Buffalo, New York, may first conjure up thoughts of snow and more snow—the city is famous for its white winters. It also originated the spicy chicken wings that have become one of the country's favorite finger foods. Niagara Falls is only a short drive away and a world-famous travel destination, which, unfortunately, tends to overshadow Buffalo's other sights.

Less well known is that Buffalo has an impressive collection of architectural gems and parks, a thriving cultural scene and nightlife, and a rich maritime history and well-used waterfront.

Buffalo is known as the "City of Good Neighbors." The motto reflects the overall attitude of the residents, who are likely to go out of their way to make a good impression on a visitor.

Geography

Buffalo lies at the western edge of upstate New York, on Lake Erie at the start of the Niagara River. The river, which separates the U.S. from Canada, flows over Niagara Falls before emptying into Lake Ontario.

Main Street runs north-south beginning downtown, where the street is closed to traffic for several blocks. At the heart of downtown is Niagara Square, dominated by the art-deco City Hall and the McKinley Monument. Delaware and Elmwood avenues, which are lined with some of the city's best architecture, restaurants and shops, run parallel to each other, to the west of Main Street. Allentown, north of downtown, is Buffalo's (much smaller) version of New York City's Greenwich Village. It's centered on Allen Street, which runs west from Main Street. North Buffalo, a vibrant neighborhood of homes, shops and restaurants, is anchored by Hertel Avenue, which also runs west from Main Street. Larkin Square, west of downtown, is an entertainment district filled with restaurants, bars, breweries and shopping. Delaware Park, located in this section of the city, is the most popular of several city parks.

History

Buffalo is not named for the American bison. Most historians believe it came from a corruption of beau fleuve, which is French for "beautiful river," because of the city's location at the start of the Niagara River. The six groups of the Iroquois League—the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora—created a thriving community in the area in the late 15th century. French explorer Daniel Joncaire arrived in 1758 and worked with the Iroquois to establish a fur trade. During the Revolutionary War, however, the Native American peoples in the region, who had sided with the British, were all but destroyed by American forces.

The city was laid out by Joseph Ellicott in 1803 and was nearly burned to the ground by the British in the War of 1812. Buffalo began its most prosperous times after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The city's position at the western end of the canal turned Buffalo into the "Gateway to the West," a point of departure for immigrants on their way to the American heartland.

Buffalo was also one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad, which helped runaway slaves reach areas of freedom.

Buffalo's economy boomed in the mid- to late 1800s as the city served as a port and processing center for grain, livestock and raw materials from the Midwest. By 1900, it was the eighth-largest city in the U.S., a commercial and transportation hub, and a fortune-maker for the millionaires whose lavish mansions still line Delaware Avenue. That prosperity left the city an impressive architectural legacy.

But the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 allowed ships to bypass the city's port. The subsequent loss of heavy industries such as steelmaking and auto manufacturing led to a decline in Buffalo's fortunes. Residents moved elsewhere to find work, and the city's population dropped from about 580,000 in 1950 to 260,000 in 2010—though it's estimated that the population has remained steady since then. The banking and health-care industries are strong anchor the economy, while investments into technology are helping to revitalize the city.

The Seneca Nation opened a casino in Niagara Falls, another 65 mi/105 km to the south in Salamanca and another in the heart of downtown Buffalo.

The city is beginning to develop a tourism industry, based on its architecture and its Erie Canal heritage, and millions of dollars were spent on the reconstruction of the historic Commercial Slip at the canal's end. Called Canalside, the project has become a focal point for social and recreational activity. The city waterfront area includes the Outer Harbor and the Niagara River, Buffalo River and Scajaquada Creek.

Sightseeing

Buffalo boomed between 1825 and 1950, and that prosperity left a rich architectural record. With a few notable exceptions (among them the demolition of Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin Building), city officials and residents have worked hard to preserve the legacy. From Victorian neighborhoods to Delaware Avenue mansions to impressive works by Wright, Louis Sullivan and H.H. Richardson, Buffalo's buildings are among its greatest charms. You'll find structures of architectural interest downtown, in Allentown, along Delaware Avenue, and in the Lincoln Parkway and Chapin Parkway areas.

Parks are an important part of the city's heritage. In Buffalo, Frederick Law Olmsted designed the first park system in the U.S., including Delaware Park, the centerpiece of the system and home of the city's zoo. Located in another park designed by Olmsted is the impressive Victorian glass conservatory at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

On winter days that are too cold or blustery for outdoor activities, Buffalo offers plenty of indoor entertainment. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has a wonderful collection of modern art. The nearby Burchfield-Penney Art Center features watercolors by Charles E. Burchfield, as well as handcrafted objects made by artisans at the Roycroft Arts and Crafts community in nearby East Aurora and the work of other local artists. In addition, Buffalo has several unusual museums and factories devoted to such items as kazoos, carousels, manuscripts, player piano rolls and bicycles.

Plan a day trip to nearby Niagara Falls, which offers several attractions and tours, in addition to the sheer natural wonder of the place.

Nightlife

With the emergence of the club scene around Chippewa Street (from Main to Elmwood), Buffalo's downtown nightlife scene has heated up. The seedy bars that once inhabited the area have been replaced by dance clubs and taverns that draw the under-30 set, even on most weeknights. There’s a lively assortment of nightclubs and bars where you can boogie until dawn.

The Chippewa Street district is adjacent to the city's Theater District. Lively nightclubs also can be found in Allentown and along Elmwood Avenue north of Allen Street. Most clubs start hopping after 11 pm, and many remain open until 4 am.

Dining

They're called Buffalo wings everywhere else, but in Buffalo, they're simply wings. It's hard to find a sandwich shop, pizza joint or tavern that doesn't serve acceptable chicken wings. Orders come in several sizes, from single (usually 10 wings) to a bucket (typically 50 wings), and in three degrees of spiciness (mild, medium and hot). They're served with a setup: blue-cheese sauce for dipping and celery for munching. For authenticity, make a trip to the Anchor Bar, the restaurant credited with first serving wings.

Buffalo's lesser-known (but equally tasty) food specialty is a sandwich called beef on weck. Weck is short for kummelweck, a hard roll dusted with caraway seeds and coarse salt. Warm roast beef is heaped on the roll, which is often dipped in au jus and accompanied by horseradish.

If you're invited to an informal gathering in Buffalo, chances are you'll be served the sandwich, usually by someone hand-carving the beef. It's also served at taverns and casual eateries.

A favorite local beverage is loganberry, an uncarbonated, sweet-tart blend of blackberry and red raspberry juices. It's served in many restaurants and can be bought at convenience stores. Sponge candy—spun caramelized sugar dipped in a creamy chocolate—is another local staple.

General dining times are 7-10 am for breakfast, 11 am-2 pm for lunch and 5-11 pm for dinner.

Here is a sampling of restaurants in town. Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$25; $$$ = US$26-$40; $$$$ = more than US$40.

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