The Perfect Three-day Weekend in the Finger Lakes

Travel + Leisure is exploring America one three-day weekend at a time. Here's what to do on a short trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York.

Three Day Weekend in Finger Lakes, NY
Photo: Matthew Kazmierski/Getty Images

Truth be told, sampling upstate New York’s Finger Lakes Wine Country in a single weekend is an ambitious undertaking. The region comprises all the rolling vineyards and verdant valleys that cradle three glacier-made lakes, spanning a total of four state counties. And the wine is only the beginning—you’ll also find countless restaurants, cheese and chocolate trails, an unbelievable number of museums, and all types of outdoor sports. But we've narrowed down the best of the attractions for you. Follow our three-day itinerary for a vacation in the Finger Lakes that combines boutique wine with farm-fresh food, impressive culture with active fun, and warm hospitality with views for days.

Day One

Kick things off in Corning, roughly two hours from the Rochester or Syracuse airports, or four to six hours from most major Northeast cities. Start early and you’ll arrive in time for lunch at Old World Cafe & Ice Cream, a local institution on Market Street, downtown’s main drag.

Get cultural at the Corning Museum of Glass, where you'll learn about a whopping 3,500 years of glass history. Be sure to visit the 26,000-square-foot Contemporary Art + Design Wing, a stunning space unveiled in 2015, and try your own hand at making a glass flower or ornament (harder than it sounds). Also notable is the Rockwell Museum, known for its premier collection of Western paintings and American works, that recently received Smithsonian distinction.

About 45 minutes north, Glenora Wine Cellars does double duty by Seneca Lake. Start with your first wine tasting of the weekend, then enjoy a locally sourced meal at the onsite restaurant.

Glenora also has an estate inn that hits the spot for rustic charm and vineyard views. Or rest your head at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, which has a New England feel and tons of nautical flavor. If glamping is more your style, Seneca Sol operates furnished safari tents in a private forest.

Day Two

Seneca Lake—home to the greatest concentration of Finger Lakes vineyards—is your base for some soft adventure before an afternoon devoted to wine. In the morning, caffeinate with organic, single-origin coffee at Seneca Sunrise Coffee Roaster, then thread through the 19 waterfalls of Watkins Glen State Park.

Then it’s finally time to get down to vino business. On the east side of the lake, highlights include Lamoreaux Landing, which just went 100-percent solar; waterfront Wagner Vineyards, also garnering attention for its brews; and Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, known for a rowdy, country vibe. On the west side, Hermann J. Wiemer is the gold standard for the Finger Lakes’ prized dry Rieslings, while Barnstormer Winery is already producing some of the region’s top reds as a relative newcomer.

End the night with dinner in Watkins Glen. The Harbor Hotel’s Blue Pointe Grille is a destination in its own right for upscale American fare and an extensive selection of local wines. For a more casual option, we love that GRAFT wine + cider bar charges tasting room prices for drinks—no restaurant upcharge added.

Day Three

If you have a long drive home, you won’t have to stray too far to visit Elmira. A half-hour south, the erudite city was the summer home of Mark Twain. Visit his favorite writing nook, then sign up for a glider ride before taking off.

Those going west toward Syracuse can sample the offerings of Cayuga Lake, the most remote lake of them all. Take your pick between hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding at the 16,212-acre Finger Lakes National Forest, or go wine tasting and sailing on a five-hour Water-to-Wine tour.

If you’re flying out of Rochester, head east to Hammondsport. Take a morning hot air balloon ride (book with Liberty Balloon Co.) to enjoy the breeze and see the area's great foliage. Don’t miss a visit to Dr. Frank Wine Cellars, home to some of the region’s best Old World-style wines—and where the Finger Lakes’ first vinifera vines successfully took root.

For more long-weekend itineraries in America's best vacation destinations, click here.

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