Saratoga is a delight to explore on foot, whether through its plentiful parks and gardens or its historic streets that are graced with fine examples of late-19th and early-20th-century architecture. But exploring Saratoga also means doing what visitors have come to this resort town to do for many decades: see a horse race at the internationally renowned Saratoga Race Course, walk or ski in Saratoga Spa State Park, and take advantage of some of the best summer cultural life any city has to offer. Saratoga Springs may be at its most enjoyable in summer, but the other seasons reveal a pleasant, slower pace.
The "Mane" Attractions
Saratogians like to say that their town isn't just about horses, but during the race season, everything else definitely takes a back seat to the track. Saratoga's race season lasts 6 weeks, from late July to Labor Day. The Saratoga Race Course, built in 1864, is the oldest thoroughbred track in the nation, acclaimed as perhaps the most beautiful in the country; its fans are legion. If you're in Saratoga during the meet, it's an obligatory visit to join the socialites and the hard-core race fans and bettors. Races are held Wednesday through Monday, with the first race post time at 1pm. The Saratoga Race Course (tel. 518/584-6200), a 350-acre, 1 1/8-mile track, is located at 267 Union Ave. General (grandstand) admission is $3 and Clubhouse admission is $5. Reserved seats in the Clubhouse are $8, grandstand $5. For advanced ticket purchase, contact the New York Racing Association at tel. 718/641-4700, or during race season, tel. 518/584-6200, ext. 360. You can also visit their website, www.nyra.com/index_saratoga.html, or call tel. 800/814-7846 for tickets, schedules, and additional information.
Race fans may also enjoy a bit of harness racing, which you can witness year-round at the Saratoga Equine Sports Center, Nelson Avenue (tel. 518/584-2110). Races generally start at 7:40pm, but see www.saratogaraceway.com for the exact schedule. Polo, anyone? From June to September, Saratoga Polo organizes matches played at Lodge Field (corner of Crescent and Nelson aves.) and Whitney Field (corner of Bloomfield and Denton rds.), usually four nights a week at 5:30pm. For more information, call tel. 518/584-8108.
Rewards for Early Risers -- Early morning before races is a great time to come out to the track; expert commentary accompanies the thoroughbreds as they go through their morning workouts, and a buffet breakfast is served each racing day on the Clubhouse Porch from 7 to 9:30am.
Hyde Collection Art Museum
Saratoga Springs' charms can make the resort town difficult to leave, but art fans may be pried loose by the presence of a splendid collection of old and modern masters just 20 minutes north of town in Glens Falls. The Hyde Collection Art Museum, housed in a gorgeous renovated mansion, is reminiscent of New York City's Frick Collection in its breadth and beautiful setting. Among the treasures assembled in the 1912, neo-Renaissance Florentine-style villa are works by Raphael, da Vinci, Van Dyck, Tiepolo, El Greco, Rubens, Tintoretto, Homer, Whistler, Turner, Degas, Seurat, Renoir, Picasso, and van Gogh. The most remarkable works are Rembrandt's unusual Portrait of Christ (1655-57), purchased from the Russian government in 1934, and Botticelli's small Annunciation (1492), the first piece collected by the Hydes. Louis and Charlotte Hyde were a wealthy industrialist couple who began collecting European art in the 1920s; their mansion is furnished as they maintained it, with French and Italian 17th- and 18th-century pieces and massive tropical plants in the sky-lit central courtyard. A new wing hosts temporary exhibits and a gift shop. You'll need at least an hour here. The museum is located about 8 miles north of Saratoga Springs at 16 Warren St. in Glens Falls (tel. 518/792-1761; www.hydecollection.org). Admission is free, but donations are accepted. It's open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm; and Sunday from noon to 5pm. Docent-led tours ($6 per person) daily 1pm to 4pm; tours of Hyde House, Thursday through Sunday at 3pm.
Especially for Kids
Saratoga Springs is a nice and relaxed place for families, with plenty of parks and sights that should entertain children of all ages. Most kids would love to attend a thoroughbred horse race at the Saratoga Race Course, one of the most famous and beautiful tracks in the world. There are great features for kids at the track, including free walking tours of the stable area, a tram ride, and a starting gate demonstration. An interactive exhibit, the Discovery Paddock, teaches children how horses and jockeys prepare for races, and kids can even ride the "Equipony" and dress up like a jockey, "weigh in" on a scale, and hammer a shoe on a mock-horse hoof. Open every racing day from 8am to 9am in season.
The Saratoga Children's Museum, with its cute play areas, is a no-brainer for tots, and the Saratoga Automobile Museum is also a fun outing. Older children, especially those budding ballerinas, will enjoy the National Museum of Dance & Hall of Fame. Saratoga Spa State Park is a delightful urban park with miles of hiking trails, two swimming pools, and a skating rink, fun in any season. The Heritage Area Visitors Center publishes a brochure called Things to Do with Kids!
Saratoga's Spas & Springs
Native Americans believed the waters of Saratoga Springs had natural therapeutic properties, and so did early Americans such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Saratoga Springs became a famous spa town in the 19th century, and was known as "Queen of the Spas," with hotels hosting visitors seeking the local mineral waters for drinking and mineral baths. A geological fault line runs through Saratoga Springs and a solid layer of shale produces naturally carbonated waters from deep limestone beds. Saratoga Springs' heritage as a mineral spa resort town lives on, if on a smaller scale. Roosevelt Baths and Spa, 39 Roosevelt Dr., in Saratoga Spa State Park (tel. 518/226-4790; www.gideonputnam.com/spa.aspx), makes the most of the town's heritage with a full-service spa in one of the old classic spa buildings, built in 1935. Charmingly low-tech and reminiscent of old-world European spas, it even retains old steam cubicles and instruments. Services include mineral baths, massages, reflexology, body wraps, facials, and hot stone therapy. More modern is The Crystal Spa, 120 S. Broadway (tel. 518/584-2556; www.grandunionmotel.com/spa.htm), also offering clay and mud wraps, facials, and "pamper packages." Credit cards are not accepted.
You can also take a self-guided tour of Saratoga's mineral springs. There are 16 spots in and around the city, in Congress Park, Saratoga Spa State Park, and High Rock Park. Pick up the tour brochure Tasting Tour of Saratoga's Springs at the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.