If you’re new to the Capital Region or just passing through, there’s one place that can’t miss your itinerary – Washington Park in Albany NY. The park spans 84 acres and is located in the heart of Albany’s historic district, making it a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.
As a local, I’ve spent countless hours exploring this urban oasis and would love to share my personal guide with you. So here it is, a locals’ guide to Washington Park Albany.
Looking for more fun activities in Upstate New York? Check out our extensive list of things to do in the Capital Region.
Who designed Washington Park Albany?
Washington Park was first conceived in 1869 by Frederick Law Olmsted (the same landscape architect who conceived of New York City’s Central Park) and Calvert Vaux when Albany was at the height of prosperity. Located at the north end of the Hudson River and the original eastern terminus of the Erie Canal, the capital city was a center of transportation and home to some of the earliest railroad systems in the world.
In the 1860s, Albany, New York was one of the top 10 most densely populated cities in America and one of its wealthiest. But it still retained the open space–previously used for burial sites, military parade grounds, and even a drain tile factory–that was available to develop Washington Park.
Olmsted envisioned a series of parks and boulevards in Albany, with Washington Park as the crowning jewel. That dream was never realized. However, his idea to dam Beaver Kill to form a lake resulted in the picturesque 5.2-acre Washington Park Lake that now anchors one end of the park.
John Bogart, an Albany native, and John Cuyler ended up drawing up plans for the 81-acre park in 1870, and much of the landscape took shape shortly thereafter under the guidance of Superintendent William S. Egerton during his 38-year tenure.
Now Washington Park is home to over 100 species of trees and several historical monuments, making it an integral part of Albany’s cultural landscape.
What Is There To See And Do At Washington Park?
Washington Park features a mix of formal and informal landscapes, including winding paths, open fields, and wooded areas. One of the park’s most popular features is its beautiful lake, which is home to ducks, geese, and other wildlife. Visitors can circle the lake on walkways or simply relax and enjoy the view from one of the many benches situated along the water’s edge.
The Lakehouse and Amphitheater
By the 1920s, several buildings showed wear and tear and were slated for renovations. The Old Lake House was torn down, and replaced by J. Russell Wright’s elaborate Spanish Revival building in 1929. It opened just days before the stock market crash.
Nowadays architectural marvel hosts numerous events throughout the year, from the beloved Tulip Festival in May to the Lakehouse Summer Concert Series. For Summer 2023, you can catch the musical comedy, Something Rotten and later, The Secret Garden.
The Tulip Festival
Speaking of the Tulip Festival, it’s an absolute must-see. Held annually on Mother’s Day weekend, this event showcases over 140 different types of tulips spread over the park. The vibrant colors are a sight to behold, and there are live music performances, local artisans selling their wares, and plenty of food to enjoy.
How Did The Albany Tulip Festival Get Started?
Washington Park fell into decay after the Stock Market crash and Albany’s loss of prosperity. But in the spring of 1940, the City of Albany planted 90,000 bulbs and was rewarded by increased attendance prompted by curiosity about the spectacle.
In 1948, Mayor Corning named the tulip as Albany’s official flower and put in a request for Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to designate a particular variety, resulting in the Orange Wonder being the Tulip of Albany. And so the Tulip Festival was born in 1949.
King Memorial Fountain & Moses Statue
In addition to its natural beauty, Washington Park is also home to a variety of historic landmarks and monuments. One of the most striking is the King Memorial Fountain, sculpted by J. Massey Rhind in 1893, and depicting Moses smiting a rock. Its four figures represent infancy, youth, adulthood, and old age.
Look also for the Stone Footbridge, Washington Park’s oldest remaining original structure, and Knox Street Mall, a tree-lined pathway graced with a series of black-iron benches created by sculptor Merlin Szosz.
Washington Park is a great place to go for a walk or to walk the dog, as meandering paths wander and loop around the park, through gardens, and around the lake. Rolling lawns are ideal for picnics, and there are plenty of park benches for enjoying a book, or quiet meditation. Bring your own croquet set and other lawn games to enjoy Washington Park as it was when it was first envisioned.
Winter in the Park
Even during the colder months, Washington Park is a sight to behold. The annual Holiday Lights in the Park event transforms the park into a winter wonderland with beautiful light displays that will leave you in awe.
Is There Parking In Washington Park?
Washington Park is open all day (sunrise-10/11pm) and free to enter. There is no fee to park on park roads; however, parking is limited to 90 minutes on weekdays. Except during special events, you can usually find parking space within the park, and there is additional parking on city streets nearby.
Tips from a Local
Remember, the park is best explored leisurely. Pack a picnic, bring a book, or just enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings. And if you’re interested in bird-watching, don’t forget your binoculars!
There you have it – a locals’ guide to Washington Park, Albany. From engaging events to peaceful strolls, there’s always something to do in this urban sanctuary. So, whether you’re a local or a tourist, make sure to take time out of your busy schedule to discover the magic of Washington Park. Enjoy!