Destination NY: The State Capitol and Empire State Plaza

Regional News

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York was one of the original 13 colonies, so there is a lot of history to soak up. After a year of being closed because of the pandemic, the State Capitol is now reopened for tours.

Capitol tour guide Stuart Lehman showing NEWS10 around the building

Capitol tour guide Stuart Lehman walked NEWS10 through the halls of the building, just as he has with tour groups for 20 years. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to just about every inch of the massive building that sits on Washington and State streets, including the Million Dollar Staircase. It actually cost about $1.5 million to build.

You’d get quite a workout if you walked all 444 steps, and saw all 77 famous faces like Christopher Columbus, and Minerva the Roman Goddess of Learning, carved into the red Scottish sandstone.

The Million Dollar Staircase

“Everything you see here was carved by hand, by men standing on ladders and scaffolds, using hammers and chisels,” Lehman explained.

The staircase has a rich past, and is central to the action during present-day sessions. Activists and politicians fight for their causes on the steps, where they hold rallies, and sometimes just try to get better cellphone reception.

NEWS10’s Giuliana Bruno and Capitol tour guide Stuart Lehman

The bills boasted on the steps get their “yea” or “nay” in the legislative chambers, another stop on the tour. On the Assembly floor sits a political artifact neatly roped off in the corner, keeping careful time of its 150 members.

“That clock was in the old State Capitol, in the assembly chamber, when Abraham Lincoln visited in 1861 and made a speech there,” Lehman said.

Clock in the assembly chamber

While the senate side has less chairs, there’s more room for private side conversations that won’t disrupt lively debate. A set of staircases are the only acoustic dead spots in the room, hence their nickname, “the whispering staircases.”

After touring the inside of the Capitol, there’s still lots more to see and do right across the street at the Empire State Plaza. Several different buildings house history, entertainment, and more.

Art at the Empire State Plaza

Abstraction was a popular style between the 1950s and 70s when the Empire State Plaza Art Collection was created, hence some funky geometric structures. 17 out of 92 pieces in the gallery are outdoors.

But don’t mistake The Egg for one of them. Yes, it looks like a sculpture, but it’s a building that houses two theatres where you can see the ballet, a concert, comedy shows, or even take a yoga class. Construction of the egg started in 1966 and finished 12 years later.

The Egg

You can take in up to 60 miles of views on a clear day by visiting the 42nd floor observation deck at the Corning Tower.

It would be wise to set a whole day aside to see the exhibits at the New York State Museum, where you can go back to the ice ages and visit the mammoth, see what the state’s wildlife has to offer, and view the world trade center gallery.

All of these attractions are now open to the public. If you can’t make the trip to Albany, virtual tours put together during the pandemic when doors were closed are available online.

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