Skip to main content

Western New York Explorer's Guide

The only comprehensive travel guide to the region

About Us
Contact Us
Site Map
Member Login
About Author
Media Interviews
WNY Resources
WNY Attractions and More
Explore WNY blog
Upcoming events
Celebrate Black History
Naples, NY
Mayville Ice Festival
Mid winter getaways
Art and History Museums
Visit Aviation Museums
Hiking Trails
Welland Canal
Athenaeum hotel
Bemus Point
Cobblestone Trail
Niagara Pkwy part 1
Niagara Pkwy part 2
Rock Park
Clifton Springs
WNY Amish
Nature in Winter
Wine & Chocolate
Winter Wonderland
Outdoors in winter
Inside in winter
Old Fort Niagara
Power Vista
WNY Waterfalls
Dads and Cars
Native American
Lake Ontario Shore
Lockport Cave
Amish traditions
Day Trips Rock
Country Barn Quilt
Halloween in WNY
Fest of Lights
Chautauqua Holiday
NYC by Train
Chautauqua Wine Trail
Mayville Ice Castle
Outdoor winter fun
Chautauqua Institution
Farm Markets
Recharge at Chautauqua
Niagara Wine Trail
Local boat rides
Local beaches
Chautauqua County
Lewiston Jazz Fest
Buffalo Waterfront
Pumpkin Fun
Chau Wine Trail LEL
Fall Road Trips
Off season getaways
Free attractions
Winter Fun
Spring Break
Winery Train
St Lawrence Seaway
Seaway Trail Journey
Welland Canal LEL
Fall Festivals
Scenic Fall Drives
Holiday Hollow
Shopping in NYC
Holiday Shopping Corning
Buffalo has Wright
Buffalo Religious Art
Ten must see getaways
Chautauqua and Erie
Welland Murals
The Tonawandas
Ten Hidden Places
Wing Festival
Presque Isle
Lewisburg PA
Victorian Christmas
Chocolate Trail
Fun with Grandkids
George Eastman House
National Historic Landmar
Thing for Wings
Olcott Beach
Little League Museum
Rock City
Glass Blowing
Queenston ON
Lawn Fetes
Chautauqua Co Bicentennia
Shaw Festival
Chautauqua County 2
Olcott Carousel
10 Hidden Gems
Olcott Beach 2
Hot Dog Spots
Enjoy Presque Isle
One Tank Trips
Belhurst Castle
Shop in Lewiston
Cuba Cheese Museum
Pumpkinville 2
Snowshoe 2
Spooky Treats
Walkable Shopping
Norman Rockwell Museum
Fatima Shrine Lights
Christmas Lights
Albright Knox
Darwin Martin
Maple Weekend
Divine Mercy Shrine
Erie Canal
Cape Cod
Cobblestone Trail 2
8 Great Fall Road Trips
Little Known Places
Buy Local
Made in America Store
Great Lakes Seaway Trail
Lovely Gardens
WNY Festivals
Erie PA Waterfront
Grape Discovery Center
Salt Sanctuary
Holiday Hollow 2
Historic Hull House
Buffalo Religious Arts Ce
Mall Madness
One day holiday getaways
New York City by train
Cabin Fever
Niagara on the Lake
Elmira 150th Anniversary
Carousels of WNY
Ontario Beach Park
Lockport Locks
USA Bird Supply Blog Arch
Backroads and Byways of U
Buffalo News Gusto

February 6, 2009

Free Yourself (free attractions)
By Christine A. Smyczynski

The holidays are over, it’s a long way to spring, and cabin fever is about to set in. With all those holiday bills coming due and the rising cost of just about everything, the travel and entertainment budget is often the first to go.


However, there are a number of fun places to visit in western New York that won’t cost you a dime. Here’s a run down of some of them.

Lots to do in Lewiston
The village of Lewiston, about 7 miles north of Niagara Falls, has a couple of these destinations.

Power Vista-Niagara Power Project Visitors Center (716-286-6661; 5777 Lewiston Road, Lewiston. Open daily 9-5.
This facility, which opened up back in 1961, has been a popular destination for families; I can even remember coming here when I was a kid. However, if you visited this place prior to 2001, you really have to return, as you will be pleasantly surprised with the number of new hands-on exhibits, where you can learn about electricity and hydropower in western New York and even get some helpful tips on energy efficiency.


My two youngest children had a blast the last time we visited. They especially liked the “hair raising” experience they had when the staff demonstrated the Van der Graff generator. You can even send an electronic postcard, using blue screen technology, to the folks back home.


Castellani Art Museum (716-286-8200; Niagara University Campus, Lewiston. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11-5, Sunday 1-5.
Just across the street from the Power Vista, on the campus of Niagara University, the Castellani Art Museum, which was founded in 1990 by the late Mr. and Mrs. Armand Castellani, is one of our region’s hidden gems. This museum, which has over 3,700 works of art, focuses mainly on art from the 1970’s to the present.




Exhibits include drawings, paintings, photos, sculpture and more, including works by Picasso and Dali, a number of pieces depicting Niagara Falls from the Charles Rand Penney collection, and Freedom Crossing, a permanent exhibit on the Underground Railroad.


Upcoming exhibits include “Max Streicher: Metamorphosis.” The centerpiece of this exhibit is a giant inflatable dung beetle measuring 20 x 30 x 21 feet, which is based on the novella Metamorphosis, where a man is transformed into an insect. “Homage to Picasso” a print collection by well-known artists honoring Pablo Picasso, runs through February 15. Local artist, Amy Greenan will also be featured in the museum’s TopSpin gallery, with an opening reception on February 1.

The Emancipation Approximation”, featuring prints by prominent African American artist Kara Walker, will open with a reception on February 22 and run until the end of May.

Head to the southtowns for more freebies.
There are a number of free attractions south of the city too, including two in Lackawanna, as well as one in Eden and one in East Aurora.

Our Lady of Victory Basilica (716-828-9648; 780 Ridge Road, Lackawanna. Daily 7-7
Our Lady of Victory Basilica dominates the skyline of Lackawanna; This circa 1926 Italian Renaissance style basilica was built by the late Father Nelson Baker, who is under consideration for sainthood in the Catholic Church. The basilica, which has an immense 165 foot copper topped dome, is constructed almost entirely of marble. When it was built, the dome was second in size only to the U.S. Capitol dome. The lower level features a gift shop, as well as a small museum which chronicles the life of Father Baker, who is buried within the basilica.


Steel Plant Museum (716-823-0630; 560 Ridge Road, Lackawanna. Monday, Wednesday 1-9, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 10-5.
Just down the street from the basilica, Lackawanna’s circa 1922 Carnegie library houses the Steel Plant Museum, a tribute to the steel industry in western New York. The collection has memorabilia pertinent to the steel industry in the region, including Bethlehem Steel, which was once the largest steel plant in the world.


Original American Kazoo Company (716-992-3960; 8703 South Main St., Eden. Tuesday-Saturday 10-5, Sunday 12-5.
Eden, New York is considered the Kazoo Capital of the World. Be sure to visit The Original Kazoo Company, the only metal kazoo factory in existence. Kazoos are manufactured on the original equipment, which dates back to 1907. Tours are self-guided and admission is free. However, be warned, they have a wonderful gift shop, with all sorts of toys, books, giftware and more, so you might end up spending some money on a kazoo or two.


Toy Town Museum (716-687-5151; ), 636 Girard Avenue, East Aurora. Open Monday–Saturday 10–4.
A trip to the southtowns would not be complete without a stop at the 8,000 square foot Toy Town Museum. It features a permanent collection of Fisher-Price toys, as well as other toys and artifacts on loan from other museums and private collectors. Young children will enjoy Toyworks, an interactive play area. (This museum has since closed)

The Birthplace of Western New York
The city of Batavia in Genesee County, about 25 miles from the Buffalo area, is considered the birthplace of western New York. There are a couple of attractions of note here.

Holland Land Office Museum (585-343-4787; ) 131 W. Main Street, Batavia. Tuesday-Saturday 10-4. Also open Mondays, Memorial Day–Labor Day.
It was from the Holland Land Office in Batavia that early settlers bought over three million acres of land. The 1815 Federal style stone building has 20 inch thick walls, which made it fireproof. The Holland Land Office closed in 1830 and the building fell into disrepair. Luckily it was saved from demolition in 1894 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.



Each time I visit this museum I always seem to discover something new. The exhibits focus mainly on Genesee County history, as well as Seneca Indian history. In late February, the museum will feature an exhibit on the history of volunteer firefighting in Genesee County.


Oliver’s Candies (585-343-5888, 800-924-3879; ) 211 W. Main Street, Batavia. Daily 9-9. Oliver’s Candies is a local landmark established in 1932 by Joseph Boyd Oliver. Mr. Oliver started out selling homemade blanched peanuts door-to-door and later went on to create his signature Cashew Glaze and Hostess Squares. Today the shop carries over 350 varieties of candy and has the largest selection of locally made chocolates in the area. The candy shop, which also has an ice cream parlor, is within walking distance from the Holland Land Office Museum.

Often overlooked freebies in downtown Buffalo
You still can find free stuff to do in downtown Buffalo. Although if you come by car it will cost you a bit, as alas, there is no free parking!

Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (716-858-8900; ), 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo. Monday-Sat. 8:30-6 (Thursday until 8) Sunday 1-5 (closed Sundays during the summer months) While one usually doesn’t think of a library as an attraction, the central library in downtown Buffalo offers much more than your average neighborhood branch library. Over three million books can be found on 58 miles of shelves in this massive 400,000 square foot building, which covers two city blocks. You can research local history, as well as your own family history, check out the latest best-sellers, enjoy a bite to eat in Fables Café or shop at their gift shop. The library’s Mark Twain Room features the original handwritten manuscript of the Adventurers of Huckleberry Finn and other Twain memorabilia.


Buffalo City Hall Observation Deck (716-851-5891), 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo. Open Monday–Friday 9–4, closed holidays.
Buffalo’s city hall is a well-preserved example of Art Deco architecture, which was popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s. To learn more about this architectural masterpiece, Buffalo Tours (716-852-3300; offers a free one-hour tour, weekdays at noon. After the tour, take the elevator to the 25th floor, then climb three flights of stairs to the observation deck on the 28th floor, which has a great view of the city, Lake Erie, the Niagara River and the Canadian shore.


Keeping things documented
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum (716-885-4139; Two locations 453 Porter Ave. and 220 North Street, Buffalo. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11-4.
I have to admit that until last year, when my son had some artwork displayed at a high school art show at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum, I had never been there. Ten Karpeles Museums are located throughout the United States. There are two of these museums in Buffalo: Porter Hall, on Porter Avenue built as a church in 1911 and North Hall on North Street, a Greek-Revival style building, also a former church built in 1911.


These museums contain the world’s largest private holding of original manuscripts and documents, with over one million documents, including the original drafts of the Bill of Rights and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Every four months the exhibits are rotated among the museums. Not only are the documents fascinating, the buildings that house them are gorgeous. Starting in January until the end of April, the North Hall will feature an exhibit on Florence Nightingale and the Porter Hall will have a Sigmund Freud exhibit.

One of a kind museum
Museum of Disability History (716- 817-7261; ), 1291 North Forest Road, Williamsville. Open Monday–Friday 10–4.
This one-of-a-kind museum, operated by the organization People Incorporated, one of the largest non-profit human services agencies in western New York, focuses on how people with disabilities were treated throughout the ages.


While some of the museum’s exhibits focus on topics such as insane asylums and compulsory sterilization laws, many exhibits have a more positive spin on the treatment of the disabled in recent history, including programs like the Special Olympics.