Grad Tips: Finding Fun Things to do in Ithaca

June 17, 2024

By Katya Hrichak

As a graduate student, you have a lot to learn. Scholarship and research aside, there are many facets of the graduate school experience that are important to your success but might not be obvious or easy to figure out. Between achieving a sense of well-being, attending to basic needs, maintaining relationships or caring for others, etc., there’s a lot to keep track of.

The Graduate School is here to help. With the Grad Tips series, we’ll be providing insight into different aspects of the graduate student experience, sharing tips and advice on how to get the most out of your time at Cornell. To vote on the next topic in the series, check for a poll in upcoming issues of the Graduate School newsletter, News and Events.

This week’s topic: finding fun things to do in Ithaca

Cornellians head to Beebe Lake for some morning canoeing.
Several locations in Ithaca and Tompkins County offer canoe, kayak, and paddle board rentals.

At first glance, Ithaca can seem a bit small and isolated, especially if you’re moving here from a larger city. But don’t let its size and lack of immediate major highway access deceive you—Ithaca has a lot to offer. From outdoor adventures to festivals to museums to the food and beverage scene, Ithaca has fun activities for everyone.

Where can I find upcoming events and opportunities?

Online events calendars are your best bet for discovering events and activities, both in the Ithaca area and at Cornell.

In the broader community, the choices include:

Here at Cornell, the Graduate School events calendar, Big Red Barn newsletter, and Cornell events calendar are places to scan for ideas. The Barn newsletter is automatically delivered to your inbox every Friday, keeping you up-to-date with the Graduate School’s social happenings. Cornell’s events calendar gives you the option to create your own custom weekly events email, tailored to your individual preferences.

What cultural or annual events happen in Ithaca?

Throughout the year, downtown Ithaca is home to many festivals and annual events: the Apple Harvest Festival in September, Chowder Cook-Off in December, Chili Cook-Off in March, and Ithaca Fest in June.

Several music festivals happen annually in the surrounding area, including Reggae Fest in Ithaca in June and the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance in Trumansburg in July.

Smaller-scale annual series also take place, including the CFCU Summer Concert Series on the Commons and Movies in the Park at Stewart Park, both of which happen each summer.

Keep an eye on local calendar listings for additional events and opportunities.

What is there to do inside?

Snow falls near the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.
The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art features a panoramic view of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake, in addition to numerous exhibits.

Opportunities for indoor recreation and activity exist all across Ithaca.

Ithaca is home to several theaters, movie theaters, and venues for musical and theatrical performances. Cornell offers live performances at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts and Bailey Hall and smaller performances in various locations across campus, including Barnes and Lincoln Halls. Cornell Cinema offers discounted tickets and all-access passes for graduate and professional students.

For go-at-your-own-pace activities, Ithaca and the surrounding area offers access to a number of museums featuring art, history, science, and more. Cornell’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art not only provides guests with many exhibits to explore, but the top floor offers a panoramic view of the city and Cayuga Lake.

Ithaca is also home to a variety of restaurants, cafés, wineries, and breweries, and cideries. In addition to standard dining or relaxing, some of these locations also offer special events, like trivia nights or small musical performances.

Those looking to stay active indoors have many locations and activities to choose from. Gyms around Ithaca and the Cornell Fitness Centers provide a variety of ways to exercise, including open gym spaces and group fitness classes. At Cornell, students can also rock climb, bowl, use outdoor courts, or borrow equipment for individual or group use. Cornell’s Recreational Services website is a great place to start.

What is there to do outside?

Visitors walk a path around a pond
The F.R. Newman Arboretum features walking paths through tree collections and gardens.

“One of the very best things about Cornell is our location in this area of great natural beauty,” said Kathryn J. Boor, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education. “I love being outdoors in all weather – which is very fortunate, given the fact that we have four distinct seasons in our region.”

Ithaca is home to many opportunities for outdoor recreation year-round. Numerous parks, preserves, and trails exist for walking, hiking, and biking. Spots along the lake provide options for kayaking, canoeing, and paddle-boarding. A few of the lakes and gorges offer venues for safe swimming—though not all, so it is important to pay attention to the signs. In the winter months, many of these outdoor areas become perfect for cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing. A short drive yields access to hills for downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing.

A few popular locations from around the area include Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock Falls, and Robert H. Treman State Parks, and the Black Diamond and Waterfront Trails. The Finger Lakes Land Trust has dozens of preserves across the region, and the Cornell Botanic Gardens similarly has natural areas throughout the county, both on-campus and off-campus.

“I highly recommend visiting our local parks, including Taughannock, Buttermilk, and Treman,” said Boor. “And if you only have a few minutes to spare, you don’t even need to leave campus to feel like you’re in another world—a hike around Beebe Lake or through our own Botanic Gardens and Arboretum will immerse you in nature.”

Regardless of where your interests lie, Ithaca has a lot to offer.

“I think it’s really important to explore this beautiful place – and hope that it brings joy to all who wander,” said Boor.