Get to Know Western New York’s Best Kept Secret

Including, but not limited to, all the best wing joints in town.

Buffalo, New York has been experiencing a prolonged moment for the better part of the last decade—so much so that “Keep Buffalo A Secret” has become the city’s unofficial mantra, joining “Keep Austin Weird” as a bumper sticker-ready plea to embrace the city’s charms without ruining them for everyone else.

Yet even after a million thinkpieces, re-appraisals, and parachute-journalism guides, Buffalo locals—myself included—still stand ready to defend the city against outdated misconceptions. That’s getting a lot easier as the city continues to evolve from an ice-coated Rust Belt punching bag to a destination full of fantastic food and nightlife, exciting nature outings, and some of the liveliest locals you’ll meet in the Northeast.

To outsiders, the ever-surging interest in Buffalo might be a bit unexpected. But for locals, the accolades only serve as vindication of a lifelong love of their hometown. It’s a hub for adventurers and eccentrics, food lovers, beer enthusiasts, curious Canadians, and everybody in between. From breweries with built-in zip lines to classic outdoor excursions, there’s no shortage of fun in Buffalo. Here are the coolest things to do while you're in town.

aerial view of buffalo waterfront
Buffalo RiverWorks

Explore Buffalo’s incredible waterfront

The Buffalo River is the city’s lifeblood, and also serves as a link to its industrial past and its spunky present. Exploring it is as essential to understanding Buffalo as it is to enjoying it. Luckily, there’s plenty to do.

Home to markets, concert venues, restaurants, an ice rink, and heaps of year-round activities, the freshly revamped Canalside is the real heart of Buffalo’s revitalization. In the summer, you can take a water bike or kayak for a spin; in the winter, try a ride on an ice bike, one of the city’s best exports since Buffalo wings and Rick James. On the quieter side of the canal along the Outer Harbor, you’ll find more than 200 acres of greenery, winding bike paths, longboard, paddleboard, and kayak rentals, and more. From there, take a $1 ferry across the Buffalo River and a quick bike ride up to the Buffalo Lighthouse, where you can relax waterside and enjoy the quiet.

If you’re a history buff with a sense of adventure, take the Silo Vertical Tour to get up close and personal with one of the city’s most iconic industrial remnants. Ride the 109-year-old grain elevators up as many feet into the air, learn all about malt production and Silo City, and take in beautiful views of Buffalo, Lake Erie. The heights make for a pretty exciting (if dizzying) history tour, and Explore Buffalo does a killer job of keeping you intrigued. If you’d rather take to the water than to the sky, Elevator Alley Kayak will launch you on a kayak tour from a 110-year-old historic building in the Old First Ward out onto the city’s waterways.

After that, turn the excitement meter up at Buffalo Riverworks, a sprawling entertainment and adventure complex that’s a centerpiece of Buffalo's waterfront renaissance. Along with summer climbing and kayaking and wintertime skating and curling, the place offers a chance to scale the historic grain silos of Buffalo's industrial district, now painted to look like giant cans of Labatt Blue and nicknamed "The Six Pack." If you’re feeling bold, you can even zipline from them, soaring 110 feet over the sprawling beer garden and straight into the mouth of a giant shark mural.

plate of buffalo wings
Anchor Bar

Eat your weight in wings, but save room for some surprises

Buffalo is home to perhaps America’s greatest comfort-food culture, and the conversation starts and stops with wings (no need to call them Buffalo wings… just wings please). Locals fiercely debate the best spots to grab the saucy fried delicacies, then equally debate whether the drumstick or flat is the better bite before uniting to chastise outsiders for asking for ranch instead of blue cheese. But in a place where wings rule the bar culture—and the bar culture rules the city—everybody wins.

For first timers, it’s essential to visit Anchor Bar, which claims to have invented the bar snack back in 1964. Once you’ve paid your respects at the house that Teressa Bellissimo built, though, it’s time for a wing hop.

Stop by Gabriel’s Gate to get saucy in a rustic tavern in Allentown with killer wings and unbelievable French onion soup. Bar-Bill’s small, often-packed bar serves a delicious spicy bloody Mary to go with your order, which can be requested as all flats or all drums. La Nova, a takeout pizza joint with some of the best slices in town, also serves super crispy wings doused in tangy BBQ sauce. If you’re down to try something a little more out there, hit the Dalmatia Hotel for flavors like PB&J, curry, mango habanero, lavender allspice, mojito, and more. And at Wingnutz, sink your teeth into jumbo crispy wings, which rank among the best wings in the US.

chefs at roost plating dishes in the kitchen

Buffalo isn’t all wings and beef on weck, though. For a deeper understand of Buffalo’s immigrant roots and expanding palate, take a stroll through the West Side Bazaar, a sprawling indoor market featuring Vietnamese, Congolese, Burmese, Egyptian, and other global cuisines in addition to retail vendors from around the world. In 2022, Buffalo nearly lost this iconic dining destination to a fire, but like most things Buffalo it didn’t stay down for long: The market re-opened in October 2023 bigger and better than ever.

Further challenge your preconceived notion of Buffalo’s food scene at the neon-drenched Misuta Chow's, which brings night market vibes while serving eclectic dum sum and Japanese street food, plus inventive cocktails best enjoyed while playing Skee-Ball, pinball machines, and classic arcade games. For a more upscale experience, Roost offers upscale pizzas and Italian dishes in an old riverfront warehouse with upscale comfort food like apple-fennel pizza, while Las Puertas serves up fantastic Mexican-French fusion in an intimate setting.

corner street view of big ditch brewing company
Big Ditch Brewing Company

Party in the other New York city that never sleeps

In Buffalo, last call often doesn’t come around until 4:30 am, when bars have a habit of turning into raucous predawn town halls—a sight well worth pulling an all-nighter for. Luckily, it’s easy to stave off the sandman with a few (or more) drinks.

For a taste of Buffalo's rowdy side, hit up the clubs along Chippewa Street (aka the “Chip Strip”), among them energetic, always-packed Soho; Sky Bar, a solid rooftop option; or Rec Room, which perhaps promises the zaniest time thanks to bizarre cocktails and audience-participation live shows. For a more mellow outing, head to Allen Street—one of America’s greatest drinking neighborhoods and home to rustic bars like Mulligan's Brick Bar and Allen Street Hardware. Craft beer aficionados are looking at more than 50 stellar regional options, with Community Beer Works, Big Ditch Brewing, and Thin Man Brewery topping the list. And you can always turn it up to 11 and take to the dance floor at downtown's Club Marcella, the city's best LGBTQ+ bar.

No matter what, you have to end the night alongside locals at The Old Pink. The Pink might remind you of a weird haunted house, except with stickier floors, bathroom graffiti, and a pretty excellent steak sandwich. It's spectacular, an American dive-bar icon that might make Buffalo worth a trip all on its own. Try to stick it out until you’ve heard, "Last call, 4 am." Then enjoy your bed. You’ve earned a long rest and your Buffalo stripes.

tourists observing niagara falls

Take a field trip to Niagara Falls

Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Niagara Falls is America’s oldest State Park, and it’s located just an hour from the heart of Buffalo, making a day trip all but necessary to any visitor.

Whether you’re on the kitschy American side or decide to cross the border into Canada, stopping to take in the titanic waterfall is something you should definitely make time for during your visit. If you’re here in summer, bring a change of clothes: The plastic ponchos they hand out for the Hurricane Deck work about as well as a flimsy bodega umbrella in a monsoon. If you visit in winter when the water partially freezes over, check out the newly winter-proofCave of the Winds experience for a special glimpse of the icy falls cascading down toward you as if frozen in time.

buffalo bills fans tailgate
Bryan M. Bennett/Stringer/Getty Images Sport

Tailgate at a Bills game

Ah, the Bills Mafia: a fanbase that loves tailgating so much, they once sold every single Houston-area Walmart out of folding tables because they were so excited to uphold the tradition of smashing through them during especially exciting games.

Rain or shine, Bills fans come out en masse on gameday. Whether you’re already a diehard fan or you don’t know the difference between a touchdown and a homerun, get your fill of game-day wings, hot dogs, burgers, Wegmans subs, and chips and bison dip—and prepare to soak in the mania. Being part of the gameday crowd is like a distillate of Buffalo's unique energy and makes for an unforgettable experience, even if you forget some of the details afterward. You know, like smashing that table.

woman posing with person in gorilla costume at dyngus day festival
Dyngus Day Buffalo

Experience the magic and weirdness of Dyngus Day

Some say Dyngus Day began in Poland in 966 CE—but given the presence of flamingos (definitely not a fixture in medieval Poland), no one is entirely sure how Buffalo’s annual celebration became what it is today.

Taking place every April as a post-Lenten ruckus, Dyngus Day is a Polish festival that serves as a pressure-release valve after 40 days of temperance. The main event is a raucous parade during which floats douse onlookers with water and people in the crowd smack each other with pussywillow branches, making for one of the most unusual experiences you'll ever have.

After the parade, everyone heads to the Central Terminal, an abandoned train station, for a beer-soaked, flamingo-decorated, pierogi-fueled party with a polka soundtrack. You’d be hard-pressed to experience anything like it anywhere else.

But then again, that can be said about most things in Buffalo, even if the secret is out.

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Jessica Kelly is a contributor for Thrillist.