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It may be compact – its nickname is “Smallbany” – but New York’s state capital wields an outsized influence over the “Big Apple” a few hours south. Albany bustles with government workers, lobbyists and students from the State University of New York (SUNY), all going about their business in this Hudson River city.

Take a stroll downtown for some interesting architecture and worthwhile museums. The most recognizable building, the oval-shaped “Egg,” houses a performing arts center. The 42-story Corning Tower next door has an observation deck with panoramic views. Both the New York State Museum and the Albany Institute of History and Art feature well-curated exhibitions focusing on regional culture.

When the legislature is in session, members head to clubby hangouts like downtown's Jack's Oyster House and Pearl Street Bars. Students flock to the more bohemian Lark Street.

The surrounding countryside is gorgeous. Charming Hudson River towns, lovely Lake George, the high peaks of the Adirondacks and even the Berkshires in Massachusetts are all a short drive away.