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10 Surprising Facts About Buffalo, New York

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I have to admit that when I visited Buffalo last week, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Most people who come to the area seem to rush straight to Niagara Falls, without paying much attention to Buffalo. After spending some time there, I wish travelers would pay more attention to Buffalo though – the city kept surprising me with its fascinating history, thriving art scene and recent renaissance of neighborhoods including the downtown area, which is filled with gorgeous art deco buildings.

Before I share more about my time in Buffalo, I’d like to introduce you to the city with ten facts that I learned there that you might not know and that may surprise you:

Buffalo New York1. It is filled with architectural gems

Buffalo is filled with so many architectural treasures, you could spend days just touring the city’s many historic buildings, skyscrapers, churches and mansions. Once a prosperous city thanks to its strategic location on the Erie Canal, which made it a major transportation hub, this wealthy city was able to afford prestigious architects of that era to create a model city to be followed by others. The city’s park-scape was created by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park and Prospect Park in New York, who, influenced by Paris’ boulevards and parks, created an exemplary system of interconnected parkways and green spaces throughout the city.

Buffalo ArchitectureIt can also be considered a pioneer in skyscraper architecture with Louis Sullivan’s 1895 Guaranty Building and the beautiful art deco City Hall skyscraper. The Ellicott Square Building with its Italian Renaissance façade, the H. H. Richardson Complex, which was built to be the New York State Asylum for the Insane in 1870, the Buffalo National Savings Bank with its striking gold-leafed dome, or the Electric Tower, a gorgeous Beaux-Arts Classical Revival building, are other notable buildings. But Buffalo’s architecture deserves its own dedicated article, so more on that later. The city has 80 buildings that are registered in the National Register of Historic Places – an impressive number, considering the compact size of the city.

Architecture in BuffaloBack in its hey day, Buffalo also attracted many wealthy businessmen with money to spend on architects like Frank Lloyd Wright (who built five buildings in the area: three in Buffalo and Darwin Martin’s summer vacation residence on the shores of Lake Erie). Only Chicago has more Wright buildings than Buffalo!

2. A pioneer in many ways

The city has been a pioneer in many aspects, not only in its architecture: Thanks to its proximity to the powerful Niagara Falls, it was the first city to feature electric street lights in 1886. The Hotel Buffalo (originally known as the Statler Hotel) was the first hotel in the world to have a private bath in each room, and grain elevators were invented in Buffalo in 1842. Buffalo was also home to the biggest office building in the world, the Ellicott Square Building, which opened in 1896 (Buffalo held this title for 16 years.)

buffalo grain elevators buffalo river
One of many abandoned grain elevators along the Buffalo River

3. Second biggest city in New York State

Did you know that Buffalo was the second most populous city in the state of New York? I thought for sure that title would go to Albany, the state’s capital, but it is in fact Buffalo that takes 2nd place after New York City.

With close to one million people in the metropolitan area but only about 261,000 in the city center itself, Buffalo is just the right size: not overwhelmingly big but big enough to provide a wide range of entertainment, restaurants and bars and other things to do.

Buffalo from above
Only a fraction of Buffalo – I love how green the city is!

4. Booming art scene

Who knew that Buffalo was home to so much world class art? In total, there are over 50 art galleries (private and public), and the outstanding Albright-Knox Art Gallery alone makes every art lover’s heart beat faster with excitement, showcasing pieces by great painters such as Henri Matisse, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Anselm Kiefer, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Mac Ernst, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Claude Monet, Georges Braque, Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri Rousseau and Toulouse-Lautrec, to name just a few. The Burchfield-Penney Art Center is another top-notch art gallery, dedicated to American painter Charles E. Burchfield, but also showcasing other local as well as international artists.

Buffalo also hosts two art festivals, the Elmwood Festival Of The Arts and the Allentown Art Festival, which attract thousands of art aficionados every year.

Albright Knox Gallery Buffalo
The Albright Knox Art Gallery

5. Inaugural site of Theodore Roosevelt

I was surprised to learn that Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated in Buffalo, and not in the nation’s capital. An inauguration that doesn’t take place in Washington, D.C. is very rare, and Roosevelt was sworn in in Buffalo because President William McKinley was shot while visiting the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in the city. After McKinley died from his mortal wounds, Roosevelt was inaugurated as the 26th President of the United States in the Wilcox Mansion, which is now a museum dedicated to the inauguration and other happenings from that era. The beautifully restored mansion combines old and new by displaying exhibits from the Pan-American Exposition and offering some fantastic interactive features that make it fun to learn more about the inauguration and the events surrounding it. My favorite feature: the desk in Roosevelt’s recreated presidential office where I could play president and create a newspaper with headlines about myself 🙂

president heinrich6. Buffalo has a huge waterfront

Thanks to the city’s location right at the confluence of the Buffalo River, the Niagara River and Lake Erie; Buffalo has a large waterfront, which I wasn’t aware of. The city’s waterfront is one part of the city that has been seeing a big renaissance in the last few years, offering a range of walkways and restaurants as well as fun activities throughout the summer – people gather here for outdoor movies and concerts, artisan markets and free yoga classes on the grass here. Alternatively, you can take a historic river cruise from here to see the massive grain elevators, which were a major contributor to Buffalo’s wealth at the turn of the 20th century, close-up, or take a boozy cruise around Lake Erie.

I personally love being by the water, and seeing the vibrant waterfront and how it is being transformed (with more developments to come over the next few years) was great.

Buffalo Waterfront7. You can cross right into Canada from here

I knew that you could cross into Canada at Niagara Falls, but I didn’t know that you can get to Canada straight from Buffalo as well. The centrally located Peace Bridge lets you cross the international border right in town and brings you to Fort Erie in Ontario. The bridge has connected the two countries since 1927.

buffalo niagara river
Canada – on the other side of the Niagara River

8. A festive city

I was surprised to see what a festive city Buffalo is! I happened to be in town during Garden Walk, the largest flower festival in the U.S., but learned that there are about two dozen festivals throughout the year – which is an average of two per month! The rich cultural heritage of the city led to the creation of a wide range of ethnic festivals such as the Polish Harvest Festival, the Italian Festival and one of the country’s biggest St Patrick’s Day Parades, but Buffalo is also known for its big Gay Pride Festival, the Taste Of Buffalo, the Allentown Art Festival and its own Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve.

In addition, there are several recurring festivals and events throughout the summer, like Food Truck Tuesday and Live at Larkin in Larkin Square, Yoga at the Gardens, Shakespeare in Delaware Park or Thursday at Canalside Concerts, to name just a few.

Buffalo Festivals
Food Truck Tuesday, Garden Walk & Canalside Yoga

9. Buffalo used to be one of the wealthiest cities in U.S.

In the early 1900’s, Buffalo had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States! That was around the time when Buffalo was an important railroad hub and stop along the trade route from East to West, plus the largest grain-milling center in the United States. When the St Lawrence Seaway was opened, replacing the Erie Canal as the most significant waterway in the region, and Amtrak rerouted trains to nearby Depew, the steel industry and grain milling declined and consequently, Buffalo’s prosperity dropped. But you can still see many of the millionaire’s mansions along Delaware Avenue, which was known as Millionaires Row back in the day.

Buffalo Delaware Avenue10. There’s more food than just Buffalo Wings!

The diverse food scene was probably what surprised me most about Buffalo. Obviously, there are Buffalo Chicken Wings which are famous throughout the U.S. (but aren’t anywhere as good as at the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the original Buffalo Wings!), but thanks to the city’s ethnic diversity, however, there is also a wide range of international restaurants to be found and the list of places I wanted to eat at was impossible to work through – I would’ve needed to eat constantly to try all the restaurants that I wanted to try. There are currently 904 restaurants listed on TripAdvisor for Buffalo – which shows you how much of a foodie town Buffalo is. I’ll write about Buffalo’s restaurant (and food truck!) scene more later, but favorites of mine included the Seabar (excellent sushi), Left Bank (Italian food) and the Westside Bazaar with its selection of African, Indian and South East Asian food stands.

Buffalo Food

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41 Comments

  1. Ah, wings. The Anchor Bar might have invented it, but seriously, Duff’s makes it better. If you look at Yelp’s reviews of the Anchor Bar, at least a couple of years ago, there seems to be two types of reviews: visitors who rate it very high, and locals who rate it just average to meh. And I have to agree, Anchor Bar just has lots of hype since they invented it, but whenever I wanted wings during the time I lived in Buffalo, we always went to Duff’s. 🙂

    1. If you read correctly, she said it had around a million in population and was the 2nd largest in NY State,.. not the USA?

  2. This is so awesome, Dani! Buffalo is SO CLOSE to me and it never crossed my mind to actually go and play around in the city. I fell into the whole “there’s nothing to see there” trap! Ah!! Thanks so much for the suggestion. I’m looking forward to your posts on this city and I’m definitely considering it to be my next short trip!

  3. Who knew Buffalo was such a great city? It sounds like the type of place I could live. I love that it has a booming art scene and a waterfront! There’s something about living on the water that’s a must for me 🙂

  4. Those of us who live here know what a great place it is. The music scene is fantastic as well. And sports-so many semi-pro and amateur choices including my favorite, roller derby league, Queen City Roller Girls. There is so much to do most of the time here it’s hard to choose!

  5. As a Buffalonian, I tell all my friends one place you need to visit when visiting is of course Anchor Bar. But Duff’s is a great place to go for great wings. Just be advised….Duff’s wings are hotter than the norm. In fact they have a warning sign about it. The taste of Buffalo is fun. There’s many great restaurants all over Buffalo and it’s suburbs. If you fly in stop by charlie the butchers (Beef on Weck) near the airport. It’s seriously 5 minutes from the airport to Charlie the butchers.

  6. Also La Nova’s pizzeria and well as Bocce’s pizzeria are both staples. Since our bars stay open till 4 am one place that is a must go to is Jim’s Steakout. A sub place that stays open just a little past when the bars stay open.

  7. It’s funny you say there are roughly two festivals a month. Here in Buffalo, there are only a few months of reliable warm weather so all of those festivals are jam packed into every weekend between mid-June and mid-October. The summer months have so much to do that residents have to pick and choose. t’s a great city that’s slowly waking up and articles like this make us smile.. Glad you stopped by., come back soon.

  8. Love that you love my hometown! And I love that the first comment on your blog was correcting you about the chicken wings: Jeruen is right, Duff’s is superior to Anchor Bar– and I’m talking about their original location on Sheridan Drive.

  9. I have to say that Doc Sullivan’s and 911 Tavern has the absolutely BEST wings. These hometown pubs have way tastier wings than a chain like Duff’s. (That’s just my option tho)

  10. Those of us that live here know why it’s one of the greatest places to live and those that leave always seem to come back.
    Not mentioned in this article are the great sports teams here, outstanding housing and cost to own a home and ease to get around. In Buffalo your 20 minutes from everything. Great shops, great food and anything that any large city has. Without the big city problems….It is and always will be the Queen City

  11. I remember a place called Otto’s….thought their wings were great and MY favorite place is Brennan’s Bowery Bar. They have some great jumbo wings too….

  12. Frank B. — This is not a valid correction. The CSA combines Niagara Falls, so it doesn’t portray an accurate reading of Buffalo…. It would equally be like saying “Niagara Falls has a population of 1.2 million.”

    Also, 44th largest? Well ya if you’re only talking CSAs… But that’s a pointless statistic, since many major cities aren’t even in CSAs… So who cares? These are not corrections. They’re fake statistics used to make Buffalo sound bigger than it is.

    1. I stand by my post. The number I stated is the official US Census population figure for the Buffalo urbanized region of which Niagara Falls 14 miles from downtown Buffalo is a part. From a birds eye view they are one urbanized area no different than any other suburb and central city. They are served by the same mass transit system, same airport, same radio and TV stations etc. Because Buffalo and NFNY are the same market, the same metro area.

    2. Greg: If I simply wanted to make Buffalo sound bigger I would have simply pointed out that the 8 counties of WNY have a current population of 1,584,000 according to the US Census Bureau and that metro Niagara immediately accross the rivier from Buffalo has a population of 400,000 which in truth givce the Buffalo region a population of approximately 2 million.

  13. I was born and raised in Buffalo, and though we moved around during my husband’s working years, we chose to retire here…and have always been happy we did! Love the friendly people, the music and art scenes, the many sport offerings, the schools and colleges, the water activities, the beautiful architecture, the closeness to Canada, the large and growing medical field (top-rated hospitals), the colorful springs, the near-perfect summers, the spectacularly brilliant falls, and the fun winters, the……I could go on forever!

  14. The 11th point should have been about the incredible music scene in Buffalo! Buffalo’s music scene has a great history, with many well-known musicians to come from our great city. Also, many musicians made it a point to make this a stop on their tour, because of the local talented musicians here they could “jam” with. Miles Davis, John Coltrane just to name a few.

  15. This was very informative on a city that I can’t say I knew that well. When I visited Niagara Falls, which was over the top, we did take in some basic tourist sites. I do remember visiting an
    old fort.
    Besides your info, I’ve enjoyed reading the back and forth dialog from friends in Buffalo.

  16. Born in Buffalo 1942, attended p.s # 34 in 1 st ward(constructed during Civil War), lived in the fruit belt 1950 to1960, Graduated from Lafayette H.S in 60′ and moved to Miami, Fl where I’ve lived for 54 years( I love the warm weather) I enjoyed reading the 10 facts about Buffalo though I am familiar with most of them. I have very fond memories of Buffalo and visit as often as I can. I attend all the Lafayette reunions and love seeing my fellow former students. I will always be a “Buffalonian”, and am proud odf the strides the city has made and the cultural enrichments the citizens continuously promotes.

  17. Wow !! your post actually makes Buffalo such a compelling visit. It has never ever occurred to me to visit this place. Personally, the waterfront and architectures will be good enough to keep me occupied. Thanks for the share.

  18. I am from Toronto and have loved Buffalo for since a kid over 50 years ago. I also completed my Masters degree in the area and got to know it well. It’s an unknown treasure. This article points out so many of the features of the city. Yes, Buffalo is chicken wings and the Anchor Bar, but that is only one thing. Buffalo sports fans are awesome…the Bills, the Sabres, the Bisons. The architecture as noted is amazing. As someone who loves Frank Lloyd Wright, it’s quicker to get to Buffalo for a refresher than Chicago. The art galleries are amazing. Buffalo, I find is easy to get around…as noted it’s only 20 minutes to anywhere. It has a very well developed medical services base. It is home to many fine universities and colleges. The city offers great entertainment. Buffalo has been hard hit in economic times over the years, but each time has revived and changed to meet the times. Yes, people can berate the city, but I really believe it just shows they don’t know that much about it. Seeing it from I-190 or 290 does not give you a true picture of all the city has to offer. Yes, I guess I am a Buffalo Booster. Just hope it doesn’t get too much publicity too lose some of it charm.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Glen! I am so happy to see that Buffalo has so many fans 🙂 One thing you mentioned that I really liked was how close everything was. And I found the city to be bike-able, something I always appreciate 🙂

  19. FABULOUS article‼️ Buffalo is my hometown….and I love to visit ‼️ The waterfront is amazing?. I love that now people can appreciate and enjoy this wonderful city❤️

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