Spark up Romance in the Electric City: Schenectady NY

WHY GO: Schenectady NY, nicknamed “The Electric City,” remains a General Electric Company Town. Founded by Thomas Edison in 1892, GE still dominates this upstate NY city.

But Schenectady is also home to Union College, and is an Amtrak stop, with a historic live Theater in an appealing downtown. And therein lies its charm. So, visit your Union College kids and plan an extra day to see the sights. Read on for ideas.

Bike rental in Schenectady NY

Things to do in Schenectady NY

VISIT: VIA Aquarium (in Rotterdam Mall)

Though at first glance, you may dismiss this aquarium as rinky-dink and overhyped, don’t be fooled by its stripped down mall setting. This one-floor, 25,000 square foot sea-creature museum is both educational and interactive, with stingray feedings, reptile shows, “pregnant” male seahorses, touch-tanks, and the most crystal-clear walk-through shark-tunnels I’ve ever seen.

VIA Aquarium tunnel

As the Capital Region’s only full scale aquarium, VIA Aquarium maintains a virtual UN of fish. Individual tanks showcase sea life from Columbia, Mozambique, Thailand, Caribbean, California, Hawaii, and good ole Hudson River.

You haven’t lived till you’ve seen hundreds of Koi fish racing through a room-sized “lazy river” to be fed. Their mouths are like vacuums and collectively a bit gross and scary, but opt to feed them anyway – an experience for sure. You’ll also be instructed in the proper way to “pet” swimming stingrays (flat palm a few inches under water and wait for them to come to you).

Plan an hour or more – you’ll want to stay to do everything. Adults $18, kids $16, Mon-Fri 10-7, Sat 10-8, Sun 11-6.

White door at Schenectady County Historical Society

VISIT: Schenectady Historical Society Museum and Library – located in the Stockade section of the city

Naturally, there’s plenty of information about the origins of what began as a beaver and raccoon fur trading post. But in the late 1800’s, Thomas Edison moved from the New York City area to Schenectady (due to a workers strike), establishing Edison General Electric and transforming the town into a “maelstrom of manufacturing.” Immigrants and engineers flocked here, creating a population boom.

Exhibit at the Schenectady County Historical Society

The two-story museum is small, but packed with engaging artifacts. Pick up a magnifying glass to study old Schenectady maps a bit closer. And then climb upstairs to see the “Senility Cradle” – a rocking crib modified in 1832 for an elderly family member with dementia.

The Historical Society also runs Ghost Tours in October and Kayaking History Tours on the Mohawk River select summer evenings. Walk into the adjoining Library and to the picture windows in the back for a beautiful view of the Mohawk River and gardens. Open Mon-Fri 9-5, Sat 10-2, $8 adults, kids free.

GO: Proctors Theater

Built in 1925 as a grand vaudeville hall, and after restoration in 1979 and a $40 million expansion in 2004, Proctors Theater is one stunning venue for Broadway Musicals, Music, Movies, Comedy and other special events. Even if you don’t intend to see a show here, stop in to ogle the interior.

Rose Garden portrait in Schenectady NY

PHOTO OP: Central Park Rose Garden

Pause to smell the roses in season in this pretty park in a residential part of town.

Couple walks holding hands in downtown Schenectady NY

Where to Eat in Schenectady NY

EAT: Johnny’s Schenectady

Right across the street from the Proctor Theater, this place is packed right before a show. With its Mama Leone red-sauce family-style vibe, Johnny’s is a perennial favorite for locals and Union College parents.

Johnnys Restaurant interior

Straw-wrapped Chianti carafes hang from the ceiling, tables sport real-flame votive candles, and most entrees are under $20. Just-pulled-from-the-ground fresh and flavorful salads and traditional fare like the decent Eggplant Parm ($18.95) and house-made pastas keeps ‘em coming in.

Desserts at the Coco Bar in Schenectady NY

Johnny’s shares a door with The Coco Bar (Hand Dipped Chocolates and Soft Serve Ice Cream) – heavenly confections made by Johnny’s daughter. Walk in and the wafting coco-luscious scent might have you dreaming of Chocolate-coated Gummy Bears, and other unique candies for days.

DRINK: The Schenectady Ale Trail

Pick up a pass ($40) and get a flight or pint at each stop on the Schenectady Ale Trail (6 in all) plus a free T-shirt (while supplies last) to celebrate your accomplishment.

U.S. Water Ski Show Team performing on the Mohawk River

EAT: Jumpin’ Jacks

Get dinner and a show. On Summer Tuesdays at 7pm, grab a milkshake and a Jackburger–a double-beef patty hamburger with coleslaw fixings–and head to the river bank to watch the U.S. Water Ski Show Team perform. On Wednesdays and weekends, check the calendar for scheduled concerts.

Parker Inn and Proctors Theater in Schenectady NY

Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out these great weekend getaway ideas in New York’s Capital District:

For even more travel inspiration, look for our New York Getaway Guides.

Schenectady NY Pinterest pin


  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen and Sandra Foyt

    Travel experts Malerie Yolen-Cohen and Sandra Foyt share all-in-one destination guides for the best romantic getaways. Although they generally publish independent articles, this is their collection of collaborative posts. Malerie’s focus and specialty is the Northeastern USA, and she is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. Originally from the Caribbean, but based in New York's Capital Region for over twenty years, Sandra specializes in warm-climate destinations.