Wear your finest to the races, luxuriate in mineral waters, and then lunch with the ladies…. while it sounds like an Edith Wharton novel, it’s also a day in historic Saratoga Springs. Here are five reasons to visit historic Saratoga Springs.
1. Duh, it Has History.
This upstate region was originally occupied by the Algonquian-speaking Mahican Indians until the first European settlers arrived around 1776.
Saratoga Springs was later established as a settlement in 1819.
The Battle of Saratoga, an important turning point of the American War of Independence, was fought near here. You can learn all about the battle at the Saratoga National Historical Park (just outside the city) and take a self-guided tour that you download on your cell phone or mp3 player.
In 1863, the Saratoga Race Course opened and horse racing turned the city into an important tourist destination at a time when horse racing was a popular international sport.
The popularity of gambling spread and casinos were opened in the town and along Saratoga Lake on the southeast side of the city making it a top vacation spot.
Visitors can see what an old-time gambling room looked like at the Saratoga Springs History Museum. The casino was originally opened in 1870 and was called the Saratoga Club House (because casino was not gentlemen-ly) where it drew wealthy American and international visitors.
In 1883, it was bought by Richard Canfield who changed its name to Canfield Casino, which still appears over the museum’s front door. The museum features clothing, furniture and artifacts from the 19th through the 20th century. The highlight is a room dedicated to what ladies would have worn to the races to see and be seen during the town’s heyday.
Other historical museums to visit:
2. Its Waters Can Heal You of All Ailments (not really)
For centuries in Europe, certain natural springs were thought to have healing properties and people traveled many miles to “take the cure.” With its wealth of mineral waters, Saratoga Springs became a hotspot for turn of the century visitors seeking to cure everything from muscle ailments and gout, to skin disease and constipation. As a result, many large hotels and amenities sprang up to accommodate visitors seeking better health in this burgeoning upstate New York town.
The town still has many spas that incorporate mineral water in treatments but you can also fill up your own water bottle in the 17 public springs throughout the county. Each one is naturally carbonated and has its own distinct flavor.
TIP: Be careful how much you drink, I’ve heard it does indeed have natural laxative properties!
3. It Has Historic Hotels and Inns
When the springs first attracted tourists, a young entrepreneur, Gideon Putnam, saw its potential and built the first hotel for travelers. Tourists came and a budding community was born. Unfortunately, Putman’s grand Union Hotel was demolished in the 50’s when local tourism took a downturn but there are still many historic inns and houses turned B & B in town.
Adelphi Hotel – Although closed for renovations, keep your eye on this hotel. Built in 1877 between The Grand Union Hotel and The United States Hotel (see historic photo above), it survived because, with 150 rooms, it was much smaller than the grand dames but still catered to the elite. It is slated to re-open this spring and the new owners promise to keep the hotel’s historical integrity.
4. It Has Quaint Holiday Events
First Night Saratoga, December 31, 2013 5:00pm-12:00am
A New Year’s Eve family-oriented celebration that has something for everyone including a 5k run, entertainment, live music and activities in over 35 venues across the city ending in a festive fireworks display. This year kids under 12 are admitted free with an adult ticket purchase.
The Polar Express, run by the Saratoga North Creek Railway, allows families to experience the magic of the season with a journey on the Polar Express train just like in the book and animated Disney film of the same name.
Read along with the story as the train makes its magical round trip journey to the North Pole. Meet Santa and enjoy caroling, hot cocoa, a sweet treat, and a special gift for each child. Kids are encouraged to wear their pajamas, just like in the story. It runs until December 29th.
5. It Has Culture
Saratoga has many art galleries and museums including the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Children’s Museum at Saratoga and the National Museum of Dance but the jewel in its crown is the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC).
Located in the heart of Saratoga Spa State Park, this covered amphitheater opened in 1966 with a presentation of the great George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by the New York City Ballet and continues to be its official summer home along with the Philadelphia Orchestra. What could be better than seeing classical dance and music in an open air theater on a warm summer night?
If classical is not your thing, it also presents summer performances of jazz, pop, rock, modern dance and opera, as well as hosting a yearly Wine & Food Festival.
Live nearby? The center also provides seasonal lawn passes for classical performances. Pack a picnic and enjoy the music under stars.
The town’s culture also includes a downtown area chocked full of places to check out like independent boutiques, public art, bistros, sweet shops, book stores and fine dining. While its days of reigning supreme as a top vacation destination may be over, Saratoga Springs is still rich in history and culture and it has a lot of reasons to put it on your list as a future destination.