The 5 Best Neighborhoods in Albany, NY

Albany is more than just a city. It is a vibrant and historic region. It encompasses several municipalities and neighborhoods that expand far beyond the city’s borders.

In fact, most residents of the Albany area live outside of the city, in a region known as the Capital District. The suburbs and villages to the north, in particular, are considered bedroom communities for the one million residents of four counties: Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga.

While many area residents live outside of the city, there is a burgeoning population who are attracted to urban living. Some of these neighborhoods bleed into one another, and some stretch out farther than others. These five are just a handful of the best places to live and hang out in New York’s capital:

1. Center Square

Albany is essentially a long sloping hill that runs from the uptown areas of the University at Albany downhill to downtown and the Hudson River. Downtown is mostly filled with commercial office space and government buildings, with few residential areas in the immediate area. As you spread up the hill, you run into Center Square, an enclave of row houses from the 1800s. Lively Lark Street runs through the neighborhood, with some funky restaurants, bars, tattoo parlors, gift shops and art galleries. This “village in the city” has cobblestone streets and abuts Washington Park, a grand park in the center of Albany.

Center Square residents enjoy theater in the park during the summer, and proximity to the city’s entertainment options year-round. Larkfest and Tulipfest are just two of the many celebrations held in this neighborhood every year. In the winter, you can dare to bare if you participate in the Santa Speedo Sprint down Lark Street.

Parking can be a bit of a struggle here, though, as many of the city’s state employees often park in the neighborhood streets. Some great local restaurants include El Loco, The Savoy and Stack’s Espresso Bar.

2. Pine Hills

If you venture to the western end of Washington Park, home styles change from 1800’s row houses and park-facing old mansions to more modest homes with driveways and backyards. Pine Hills, this uptown neighborhood, is named after the tall pines that once dominated the outskirts of the city. Today, many college students reside in this area. Colleges and universities nearby include the University at Albany’s downtown campus, the College of Saint Rose, Albany Medical College, Albany Law School, Albany College of Pharmacy and the Sage Colleges.

The residents are not all college student, though, and the area features a bunch of great restaurants, coffee shops and one of the city’s independent movie theatres, the Madison Theater.

3. Manning Boulevard

If you keep moving west along the aptly-named Western Avenue, you will find lovely Tudor-style homes and countless apartment options. This area between Pine Hills and the University at Albany campus crosses Manning Boulevard. This main residential street showcases some grand homes, each with historic character. Behind the large homes, there are lovely residential neighborhoods that stretch out south and west.

As you travel further up Western Avenue, there is a growing commercial district, including Stuyvesant Plaza. This open-air mall features trendy outlets, such as West Elm, and some of the best country French cooking in all of upstate New York at Provence. Push on a little further past the University of Albany and you’ll find yourself smack dab in the middle of the shopping attraction that is Crossgates Mall.

4. Warehouse District

A  decade ago, Albany’s Warehouse District had one dive bar and one greasy-spoon diner. Back then, no one lived in this area just north of downtown, because most of the real estate was large factories, warehouses and other commercial properties. Then, an enterprising restauranteur opened a nightclub and built some loft-style apartments nearby. While this area hasn’t reached its full potential as a residential neighborhood, there are now several places to eat and drink, including some of the area’s trendiest spots.

The popular Wolff’s Biergarten serves up German beers in a converted firehouse, craft brews are on tap at Druther’s and one of New York’s best cideries, Nine Pin Ciderworks, has a tasting room on the buzzing stretch of North Broadway.

Head south towards downtown just a few blocks, and you enter the city’s Entertainment District. The finest restaurants in the area, including Yono’s, Angelo’s 677 Prime, and Ama Cocina are all in walking distance. The Palace Theater hosts concerts, plays, and movies. Across the street, Pearl Street starts with Capital Rep — Albany’s downtown civic theater — and stretches south to the area’s sports and entertainment arena, the Times Union Center.

5. Bishop Gate

Many residents refer to the area north of the city that leads to the town of Colonie as Northern Boulevard, but its technical name is Bishop Gate. This neighborhood is a mix of working-class homes, apartment complexes and stately homes that lead to Loudonville — a hamlet outside city limits that is home to gorgeous mansions, Siena College and collection of swank shops and eateries.

The center of Bishop Gate, however, is the setting for some recent exciting development. One of the best new restaurants in the city, famous for its breakfasts and cocktails, is the Madison Cafe on Northern Boulevard. New condominums line Albany Shaker Road, which is like a back road short cut to some of the city’s biggest commercial areas: Corporate Woods and Wolf Road.

And, still many more

This list could go on, and there are countless wonderful communities a short drive from city limits as well. The Capital District is a widespread region. People drive 20 miles to work like it is a short trip, because, with very few traffic issues and extensive highways, that likely is only a 20-minute ride.

Albany has the bustle, nightlife, shopping and dining of a major metropolitan area without traffic jams and hectic lifestyle. Check out some of these top neighborhoods for a meal, or for your next move.

Kevin Wheatley