Buffalo goes by many monikers, but it should be known as the City of Walking Tours. There’s a walking tour to suit almost any interest: Beaux Arts Buffalo, Buffalo Mob Tour, Masters of American Architecture, Mansions, Silo City, Street Art, Art of the Subway, Riverfront Renaissance. These tours start at $10 per person.
If you don’t have your own wheels and are staying quite central (Downtown or in Elmwood Village), then sticking to one of the Downtown walking tours would be most convenient, particularly one that takes you around Buffalo’s awesome late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century architecture. But if you have a car, head to the Silo City walking tour. Buffalo was once a major stop on the north-east trade route, and the 100 year plus grain silos dotted along the edge of Lake Erie are a reminder of that. If you’re into industrial chic, you need to go on this tour.
After, make a quick stop at the enormous Art Deco City Hall Downtown (you can’t miss it; it’s the one that looks like it’s come straight out of Batman). Monday-Saturday at noon you can take a free guided tour around the masterpiece, or you can just look around on your own.
Aside from the murals in the lobby contrasting a bedraggled, monarchist-enslaved Canada just over the water to the triumphant, prosperous, fur-coat wearing America, the main attraction is the 28th floor observation deck. You’ll get panoramic views of Buffalo, Lake Erie, Canada, and even Niagara Falls in the distance (look for the spray, to the north-north-west).
Head north a couple of miles to Allentown. If you’re relying on public transport, take the NFTA bus number 20 from outside the City Hall, up Elmwood Avenue, and get off at Allen Street.
Allentown is a hip area with lots of bars, art galleries, antiques shops and places to eat. For lunch, you can’t go wrong at Allen Burger Venture. In fact, it might be hard to leave, as the list of beers on tap is as long as the Erie Canal. Most are local, meaning anything from New York State, the north-east, the Great Lakes and the Mid-West regions.
You could choose to hang around here for the rest of the day, working your way through that beer list, or you could browse the unpretentious antiques stores on Allen Street and check out the colorful street art. Or, you could hop back on the no. 20 bus up Elmwood.
If you chose not to spend all afternoon in the bar, take the bus all the way up to the white spire of Buff State, which looks like it belongs in Boston. Across the road is the beautiful Delaware Park, as well as the top-rate Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Delaware Park, like much of central Buffalo, was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the same guy who designed New York City’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. On a sunny day, relax in the shade with a book or walk around the little lake.
If you feel like something a bit more cultural, on the edge of the park is the excellent Albright-Knox Art Gallery. You’ll know which one it is by the faux Grecian goddesses adorning the pillars (yes, Buffalo is good at the ‘neo’—Neo-Classical, Neo-Romanesque, Neo-Gothic…) Most of this gallery’s collection was bought when Buffalo was still a mega-wealthy industrial hub, so all of the major artistic movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are represented in the Albright-Knox. First-time visitors are always surprised that rough-around-the-edges Buffalo is hiding such an impressive collection of priceless art.
Take the no. 20 bus back Downtown and head to Oshun Oyster Bar for dinner. It’s the classiest place Downtown, with décor that combines 1920s speakeasy with 1950s milk bar. In keeping with this down-to-earth city, the prices don’t always reflect its classiness. They serve seafood from all over the north-eastern US, and veggie options too. But don’t hang around for too many drinks, and you have a cool evening of entertainment awaiting.
From Oshun, take a quick taxi ride to the legendary Colored Musicians Club on Broadway, on Buffalo’s East Side. Buffalo’s Broadway is a far cry from New York City’s, as it represents much of the urban decay that ex-industrial Rust Belt cities like Buffalo are known for. But this wasn’t always the case. Broadway, especially the area around which the Colored Musicians Club still stands, was home to one of the most vibrant African American jazz scenes in the whole of the US in the 1920s and 1930s. The Colored Musicians Club is all that remains, but it lives on strong. Musicians of all races are welcome to play here.
Most nights of the week you can catch live, top-class jazz for free, or for a very small entrance fee. The club is upstairs, above the Colored Musicians Club Museum. The museum isn’t generally open in the evenings, although if club president George is around, he might let you take a quick tour.
Enjoy the jazz until late, along with some ultra-cheap beers and wine. It’s not fancy, but the Colored Musicians Club shows Buffalo at its friendliest, down-to-earth best.
Buffalo has a good bus network, and an okay metro. The NFTA bus number 20 will be the most useful for this itinerary, as it travels the length of Elmwood Avenue, from Downtown, through Allentown and up to Elmwood Village and Delaware Park.
The metro is short, and runs between Canalside and the University at Buffalo South Campus. The section that runs above ground, Downtown, is free to ride, so is useful for short trips between the Theatre District and Canalside.
If 24 hours isn’t enough…
- Visit the Darwin Martin House in the Parkside neighborhood, one of architectural icon Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces
- Go kayaking on the Buffalo River
- Catch a show at Shea’s Buffalo, in the Theatre District
- Eat your way along Elmwood Avenue, with a collection of Japanese, Mexican, Lebanese and other international restaurants
- Visit the West Side Bazaar on Grant Street, a food hall and market run by recent Buffalo immigrants from Asian and African countries
- Listen to live rock music in Allentown, at one of the grungy dive bars
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