From curling to rink skating, ice bumper cars, year-round outdoor ropes courses, and snowmobiling, plus a ton of variously themed festivals, there’s plenty of opportunity to take part in the joys of the season throughout the region’s eight counties. For a reputable list of festivals, try Step Out Buffalo or Visit Buffalo Niagara.
The area’s long history and deep commitment to ice hockey and other fun winter pastimes will seduce you—maybe subtly or maybe with a bang. Start at downtown Buffalo’s $300 million+ Canalside, a still-evolving recreation destination.
Get on the ice at the multi-rink HarborCenter, where you can join a late-night adult hockey league and find camaraderie, exercise and beer. For fun with friends or family, head to the Ice at Canalside, a 35,000-square-foot outdoor rink on the recreated Erie Canal where you can skate, curl, play pond hockey and pedal one of Buffalo’s own ice bikes.
Along the Buffalo River, come winter, RiverWorks Brewery and sports complex turns into another destination for hockey, curling, skating, and climbing. Play or practice, then eat and drink.
Across the street, try indoor rock climbing at the Central Rock Gym. In the same building are several contenders in the area’s hot craft beer and distilling scene. Swig a pint at Resurgence Brewing Company; or hit Hartman’s Distilling Company tasting room for a dram of bourbon. Climb first, drink later. And, you don’t have to participate in the sports to enjoy the eats and drinks.
Labatt Blue and Buffalo RiverWorks host “Labatt Blue Pond Hockey,” an annual weeklong event that just keeps getting bigger, with more events and activities for hockey fans—from the mildly interested to the rabidly obsessed. It’s all things hockey, with a fiercely competitive tournament and a week of activities including participatory events like a skills competition, a Battle of the Bands, and a USA Sled Hockey Exhibition. It takes place in February.
Niagara County - Head for the magical-looking “frozen” Niagara Falls and the Gorge—the Falls rarely ever really freeze solid, but as you’ll see, they look incredible and frosty when the temps drop.
Instagram-ready shots await you at the Aquarium of Niagara, where adorable penguins and sea lions sit around looking cute all day.
It’s also wine country up there, so pour yourself into a tour or festival—it’s always the right time for ice wine.
Explore charming and historic towns like Lewiston. After a day perusing galleries, shops and other cultural attractions, warm up by the fireplace in a Center Street tavern.
Chautauqua County - Indoor and outdoor winter fun is sought and found by all ages. Jamestown’s National Comedy Center is a remarkable accomplishment; the interactive, tech-driven and funny-ha-ha exhibits will help ease your way through winter. Area wineries, breweries and distilleries can also help.
And a major highlight is Peek’n Peak Resort’s Lunar Lights snow tubing. The experience puts you in a whole new state of mind; you’re hurtling down an amazing LED-lit hill, with pulsing DJ-driven music and an all-over sensory experience. Their Magic Carpet Lift eliminates the work of hauling your tube up the hill between rides.
Genessee County - Midway between Buffalo and Rochester, also amps up the winter fun; Palm Island Indoor Water Park, operated by Quality Inn & Suites, is an easy getaway for an unusual winter activity—the 10,000 square foot attraction lets you slide into heated pools, shoot hoops with a splash, plus offers reasonably priced amenities to make a day or weekend of it. To get everyone outside and moving, consider a tromp through New York State’s oldest county forest, the Genesee County Park & Forest Interpretive Center.
Orleans County - A tight community of expats and artsy types is helping Medina, NY, about an hour from Buffalo, earn a reputation for its growing “destination” restaurant scene; it’s coupled with Hart House, a hip Euro-inspired boutique hotel, craft cocktail bars and burgeoning cultural appeal.
Top restaurants include the Shirt Factory, one of the area’s most lauded cafés. Nearby Mile 303 is the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail; join the beautiful people at the turquoise, abstract canal-themed sculptural bar running through it. Family-owned Mexican joint Mariachi De Oro started as a taco trailer; you can now saddle up at its tequila bar and dining room for delicious authentic food.
The annual Wine About Winter festival in February is a great way to drink in the downtown historic district…as you enjoy shopping and gallery-gazing along Main Street. If you’re inclined, hit the snowmobile trails; it’s some of the area’s famously gorgeous terrain.