Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: July 2023

Buffalo is located along the eastern shores of Lake Erie close to Niagara Falls. It was named after the Buffalo River, rather than the animal, although there are several bison statues scattered around the city. It’s known for its historic architecture, industrial past, lively entertainment and for being a popular spot for cross-border shoppers from Canada.

Day 1: History

We’ve been taking a bit of a break from camping this summer and have instead been trying to explore places that we’ve often overlooked that are reasonably close to home. Buffalo seemed like an obvious choice as it’s about a two hour drive from where we live (assuming there’s no traffic or issues at the border). While we’ve driven through Buffalo a number of times, we’ve never actually stopped to check out the sights. And so we decided to take the Friday off of work and spend an extra long weekend exploring the city.

We left home bright and early and didn’t encounter too much traffic to reach the Peace Bridge where we crossed the border into the United States. We had learned our lessons from a couple of weeks ago when we went to Cleveland about what you can (or rather can’t) take with you in terms of food and came better prepared. Thankfully we had no issues. From the border it was less than a 15 minute drive to get to Buffalo’s waterfront.

We started at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, which showcases three decommissioned US Naval vessels that are open to the public for self-guided tours. Starting with the USS The Sullivans, we followed the yellow arrows through the upper part of the ship. This retired Fletcher-class destroyer served in World War II and the Korean War before being used for training and then a museum ship. Most of the rooms were closed, especially on the lower levels, as the ship partially sank a year ago from ongoing weather damage.

Next up was the USS Little Rock. Despite its name, it’s anything but small. The ship is a Cleveland-class light cruiser that was constructed shortly after World War II and therefore didn’t see much action. It was converted into a missile ship, patrolled the Atlantic Ocean and served in the Mediterranean. Many of the rooms were open to explore, which included areas where the crew slept, the kitchen, mess hall, the admiral’s quarters, sick bay and the bridge. Some of the rooms were also filled with paraphernalia and artifacts from the navy.

We then boarded a submarine, the USS Croaker. It served in World War II and was also used during the Cold War. We toured through the various chambers, which included the torpedo room, officer’s quarters, crew quarters, kitchen, mess hall, engine room, maneuvering room and another torpedo room. The submarine held around 80 crew, which seemed like a lot given the tight spaces and how small the rooms were.

After eating lunch, we drove through downtown Buffalo to admire the historic buildings. This included a brief visit to Buffalo City Hall, known for its Art Deco architecture. There’s an observation deck located on the top floor, which is reputed to provide a great view of the city, free of charge. However, it was temporarily closed when we visited. Instead we admired some of the mural paintings located in the lobby.

We hopped in the car and drove to the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site where we had signed up for the last guided tour of the day. It was here where Roosevelt took the oath of office as President of the United States in 1901, after the assassination of William McKinley.

The first part of the tour included a visit to the museum which features a series of displays and information from the Pan-American Exposition, which is where McKinley was shot. This helped set the scene of what Buffalo was like in 1901, along with the events that led to Roosevelt’s inauguration.

We then visited some of the rooms in Ansley Wilcox’s house, a close friend of Roosevelt. This included the library where the inauguration took place. Over the years, many of the original furnishings have been returned or restored to the national historic site.

Once we wrapped up our tour, we headed towards our accommodations to relax for the rest of the evening.

Day 2: Architecture

We planned to start the day at the Darwin D. Martin House, which was designed by the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Martin was a wealthy businessman that hired Wright to build a house in the city for him and his family. This Prairie style home helped launch Wright’s career and is considered one of his earliest and greatest achievements.

There are a few options in terms of tours. We signed up for the Martin House Plus Tour, which is two hours in duration and covers all the spaces visited on the Martin House tour, plus the Barton House and Gardener’s Cottage that are also part of the Martin complex. Unfortunately photos are not permitted inside any of the buildings, with the exception of the pergola and conservatory.

Our tour started at the visitor centre with a short video that provided more information about Martin and his relationship with Wright. We then followed our guide to the Barton House. It was completed in 1903 for Martin’s sister and brother-in-law, and was the first building constructed as part of the larger estate. It is considered one of the best preserved Prairie style homes designed by Wright.

From there we made our way to the main entrance of the Martin House to learn more about Wright’s architectural style and see his work up close. The house was completed in 1905 and was ahead of its time in terms of having an open space concept. We explored the main floor, which was fully furnished and contained some pieces that were even designed by Wright. Of particular interest throughout the house are the hundreds of stained glass windows which feature sixteen distinct patterns of art glass. But despite all the windows, many of the rooms were rather dark. We then went upstairs to explore the eight bedrooms, most of which were empty, but it gave a good sense of the look and layout that Wright was going for.

We made our way back downstairs and through the pergola to the conservatory, which showcased a few tropical plants and a full-sized replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture that can be found at the Louvre in Paris.

We had one last building to visit as part of our tour, the Gardener’s Cottage. It was completed in 1909 to house the gardener and their family who lived and worked on the estate. It was built using the same Prairie style design as the rest of the structures on the property, which included art glass in all the windows.

Our tour ended at the Carriage House where the gift shop is located. We were then free to explore the grounds and gardens. We did a lap around the complex before heading to Rochester where we planned to spend the rest of the afternoon.

Day 3: More Architecture and some Art

We started our morning at the Forest Lawn Cemetery to go for a stroll through the grounds. The cemetery covers 250 acres and features several mature trees, water features, headstones, memorials and statues. Of particular interest is the Blue Sky Mausoleum, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright at the request of Darwin D. Martin. While the plans for the mausoleum were completed in 1928, it wasn’t built until 2004.

We then drove to the Fontana Boathouse, situated along Lake Erie close to the Peace Bridge. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905 for the University of Wisconsin. However, it wasn’t built until 2007 after years of fundraising. The building was closed when we visited, but we walked around it and enjoyed the views of the lake.

Remember how I said the boathouse is located close to the Peace Bridge? When we put the address of the next stop into our GPS, it told us to get on the highway and to turn off onto an exit that didn’t exist. It turns out that highway leads to the Peace Bridge and we had no choice but to keep going. We were able to turn around at the Duty Free store just before crossing the bridge, but we still had to go through American customs to get back. We had a good laugh with the customs agent as this apparently happens all the time and we were on our way.

We were back on the highway going in the proper direction towards Graycliff where we had signed up for an afternoon tour. But it seemed the universe was working against us and threw another obstacle in our way. It turns out part of the highway was closed for a cycling race. And we’ve already established that our GPS is not the most reliable. It took us a while to get past the detour and we were already running a bit behind given the mix-up at the border, so we really had to put the pedal to the metal. Thankfully there was no traffic and we managed to hit nearly every green light. We made it to Graycliff five minutes late and were still able to join up with our tour group.

Graycliff is situated on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Martins to serve as their summer house and was built between 1926 and 1931. The estate covers 8.5 acres and contains three buildings. In terms of tour options, we signed up for the extended tour which is two hours in duration and covers all the different areas on the property.

The Martin family came under some hard times during the Great Depression. They abandoned their house in the city, but managed to keep Graycliff. After Darwin and his wife Isabelle passed away, the estate was sold in 1951 to the Piarist Fathers, a Roman Catholic teaching order, who used Graycliff as a boarding school. Over the years, the property was altered, but the structures designed by Wright were largely left intact. The property was put on the market in 1997. When a developer expressed interest in purchasing it with the intention of putting up condominiums, the community banded together to save it through the newly established Graycliff Conservancy. Since then the Conservancy has been focused on preserving and restoring the estate, and offering guided tours.

After exploring the main house, we moved over to the Foster House. It was initially designed as a garage with an apartment above to house the chauffeur and his family. However, the Martins requested that Wright extend the building so their daughter and her family could spend their summers there.

Once we wrapped up our tour, we headed back into the city to check out the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. The museum was expanded a couple of years ago, but these sections were still closed for renovations when we visited. The museum showcases a large collection of modern and contemporary art, along with some American and European art.

There was also a special exhibit on Lucas Samaras’ Mirrored Room, which contains a room covered entirely in mirrors. We waited in line for our turn to spend a minute among the mirrors.

We then drove back towards the Peace Bridge to cross the border for real this time.


87 thoughts on “Buffalo

  1. Thattamma C.G Menon says:

    So wonderful photos to view , specially so beautiful and cleanest home tour excellent 🌹🙏👍🏻
    Very interesting lines to read that dear you all how nicely enjoyed there 👌👏worth to see 👍🏻😊
    Thank you so much for sharing and grace wishes dear friend 💕👏

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for leaving a comment. It was neat to see some of the buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and appreciate the architecture. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Linda

  2. kagould17 says:

    The city hall is very reminiscent of the Empire State Building, but much shorter. I would have really enjoyed the Frank Lloyd Wright part of the tour, except for the 2nd Customs crossing. I have been close to Buffalo before but never thought of exploring it. Thanks for showing me what I missed. Have a good Friday Linda. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I was pretty impressed with all the historic buildings in downtown Buffalo, including city hall. But maybe that’s because my expectations before visiting were pretty low. It’s too bad the observation deck wasn’t open as it’s always nice to get a different perspective of the city from up above. It was neat to visit a few of the places designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We’re now curious to see some of his other designs in different states. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Linda

  3. Ab says:

    I love that you’re exploring cities such as Buffalo as part of your summer series of posts. Buffalo is a city I often associate with shopping and I would never have thought much else about it.

    The naval and military museum looks really cool. I think T would love exploring the ship and the submarine.

    I would love visiting the historic homes and the gardens – and the cemetery looks very idyllic and peaceful.

    The mirrored room also looks interesting – like the one they had at the AGO in the recent while.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s funny that you mention it as the only time I’ve ever stopped in Buffalo was to do some shopping. I’m glad we returned to explore it more fully. The decommissioned ships and submarine as part of the naval park were pretty interesting to explore. And I liked how it was a self-guided tour so we could go at our own pace. I couldn’t get over the musty smell inside many of the rooms though, especially in the submarine. The Frank Lloyd Wright places that were visited were the highlight for me. We’re now curious to check out some of his other works around the US, especially Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

      I haven’t been to the AGO in years. And I’ve realized I haven’t really written much about Toronto. Perhaps that should be one of our overlooked cities that we can profile.

      • Ab says:

        I think a tour of Toronto would be wonderful to see through your eyes! I bet you’d discover a lot of things that I would never have thought of. Do it! 🙂

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        For sure. I have a habit of taking where I live for granted sometimes. It’ll be neat to revisit some sights and to see what’s changed since we moved away a couple of years ago. Toronto Island is high up on my list as I haven’t been there in years.

      • Ab says:

        The Island would be good to see through your eyes. It’d be interesting to do an urban hike too through the PATH. There are also the historic museums (you can get free passes through the library). Whatever you decide to do, can’t wait to see it.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Oh gosh, navigating through the PATH is always such a struggle!! That’s good to know about the free passes through the library. Now that we’re going downtown more often for work, I think it’s a sign to see more of Toronto.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I know this is awful to say, but we went to Buffalo with pretty low expectations. I was blown away by the historic architecture, especially all those old brick buildings. They don’t make them like that anymore!

  4. Mike and Kellye Hefner says:

    I am tempted to print this entire post to save for future reference, but I will save it to my favorites instead. What a fantastic long weekend trip! When we get to Buffalo one day, we will be following in your footsteps to visit all of these fantastic sites. Thanks so much for the great post!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. You are too kind. It’s been fun to explore some of these cities that we’ve often overlooked or written off for being too “boring”. Buffalo certainly exceeded my expectations. We’re now hoping to visit more of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings.

  5. ourcrossings says:

    I just happen to mistakenly press ‘enter’ before the sentence was even finished and apparently, much to my horror, there’s no option to delete a comment on WordPress! Anyway, I’ve never been to Buffalo but would love to visit as I adore cities which are cultural hotspots—home to art galleries, a burgeoning craft beer scene, and dotted with architectural gems throughout its historic neighbourhoods. I am glad to see you had a great time. Thanks for sharing, and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It happens to the best of us! It’s funny because I never really realized just how close Buffalo is to where we live. Thankfully we had no issues or delays at the border. Buffalo has definitely changed a lot over the past few years. It was neat to explore the downtown and admire all the old brick buildings. I’m glad many of these structures have been restored, repaired or repurposed rather than torn down to make room for more parking or modern looking buildings. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. While Buffalo wasn’t high up there on our travel bucket list, it’s reasonably close to home and was perfect for a last minute getaway.

  6. rkrontheroad says:

    I had no idea there were so many interesting things to see in Buffalo! I’ve been over the Peace Bridge many times but never stopped to explore. The mirror room looks fascinating! Who did that painting that you posted?

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Same, we’ve driven across the Peace Bridge several times but have never really stopped in Buffalo. I really liked all the old brick buildings scattered around the downtown core. The mirror room in the Buffalo AKG Art Museum was pretty cool. I wish we could have stayed in a bit longer, but then again that would have meant we’d also have to wait longer in the line. As for the painting, I was looking through my pictures again and it turns out I forgot to take a picture of the information panel beside it that typically states who made it. It’s too bad as it was one of my favourite pieces that we saw.

  7. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    I have been through Buffalo so many times but have never taken the time to appreciate it. Thanks for the great tour, especially of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Interesting and enjoyable post. Cheers.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! Buffalo wasn’t high up there on our list of places to visit, but we’re kind of over front country camping in Ontario and have instead been trying to visit places that we haven’t been to that are close to where we live. It was neat to see all the old brick buildings in Buffalo and to visit a few of the houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I never would have thought that Buffalo would be such a good area to appreciate architecture!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We’re pretty much over front country camping in Ontario and have instead been trying to find other places to explore when we have some free time this summer. Buffalo was reasonably close by, so we decided to give it a whirl. I was pretty impressed with all the old brick buildings and historic architecture. The Mirror Room was pretty cool. We were only allowed to stay inside it for a minute, which went by way too quickly.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh I know. We’ve driven through Buffalo a few times and I never thought twice about spending much time here for sightseeing. I’m glad we decided to give it a second chance as I was impressed with the architecture. We’re now curious to visit a few other buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, especially Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

  8. travelling_han says:

    I love your strategy this year of long weekends to explore a few spots close enough to home to get to in a few hours. I’ve never seen any write ups on Buffalo but it looks super interesting and I especially love the architecture of the City Hall – what a building! 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We’re taking a hiatus from camping in Ontario this summer (except for our annual canoe trip to Algonquin), so we’re trying to get creative on things to do and new places to explore. I’m not going to lie, Buffalo wasn’t even on my radar, but given its close proximity to where we live, we decided why not. It certainly exceeded my expectations, especially the architecture.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      While Buffalo wasn’t high on my list of places to visit, it’s reasonably close to where we live and made for a fun weekend getaway. It was nice to go in with no expectations. We’re now tempted to see more of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture in other states.

  9. Little Miss Traveller says:

    It was so interesting to learn about Buffalo and of all the museums and attractions on offer. I’ve taken a tour of several submarines and it’s hard to imagine long spells in such cramped conditions. U liked the look of all the places you visited and it sometimes happens that they are temporarily closed coinciding with visits. Another splendid post Linda.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I was pleasantly surprised at how much there is to see in Buffalo. Visiting the submarine was an interesting experience. I didn’t last long as the stuffiness and poor air quality was making me feel nauseous. Instead my husband graciously stayed behind to take more pictures for me.

  10. Bama says:

    Buffalo looks really interesting, and I particularly like the Art Deco architecture of the city hall. It’s great that you explore cities located a few hours’ drive away from where you live — I should do the same more often. That Mirrored Room installation at the AKG Art Museum in a way reminds me of one of Yayoi Kusama’s works that was on display at a local art museum here in Jakarta some years back. I think both look really cool.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Buffalo has really revitalized its downtown in recent years and has done a fabulous job of restoring and repurposing many of its old historic brick buildings. The city hall was quite the sight. It’s too bad the observation deck on the top floor was closed when we visited. The Mirrored Room was pretty neat and well worth the wait to see. Glad you had a similar experience at one of your local art museums.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      There certainly was a lot to see and explore in Buffalo to keep us entertained for a long weekend. Thankfully it wasn’t a far drive to get to and we we didn’t waste much time stuck in traffic.

  11. jmankowsky says:

    Great post! I never would have thought about visiting there. To me it was always “the city with all the snow”. 🙂 I loved all your architecture, but the Art Deco is my fave.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for leaving a comment. There’s a good reason we decided to visit Buffalo in the summer as opposed to the winter! I was impressed with all the old brick buildings in Buffalo. The city has done a wonderful job of trying to revitalize their downtown.

  12. leightontravels says:

    I believe this is my first ever article on Buffalo and it looks really interesting. The houses are all amazing, especially Graycliff. I’m glad that it was saved from a condominium destiny. As someone who feels a touch claustrophobic, I struggle to imagine myself in a submarine, for long spells of time in such a tight space with no way out.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. Graycliff was my favourite of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses that we visited. I’m glad the community was able to rally together to purchase the property to prevent it from being torn down and converted into a condo. It’s funny because there’s a condo complex right beside Graycliff too. The submarine was an interesting experience. I ended up racing through it as I was starting to feel dizzy from the poor air quality. My husband was kind enough to stay behind and take plenty of pictures for me.

  13. wetanddustyroads says:

    Interesting beds for the crew on the USS Little Rock – I assume it’s not for comfort. The Martin House’s stained glass windows are beautiful and I also like the pergola – in its day, this must have been an exceptional house. And it’s interesting to read how long it took to build the mausoleum and the Fontana Boathouse – I wonder why. And how much fun is that Mirrored Room – it had me a bit confused 😉. Thanks for the tour through some lovely buildings in Buffalo – a place I never heard of until your post today.
    Just a side note: We also have a Buffalo River here, which is why East London is popularly known as ‘Buffalo City’.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Ha, nothing about those ships or submarines looks like it’s built for comfort! The ships at least have much more space, but it looks like it’s a tough life either way. It was neat to tour through the Martin House and appreciate the architecture. The glass art included in all the windows was pretty neat. There are a few buildings that were constructed long after the architect’s death, including the Fontana Boathouse. I guess it took a lot longer to secure the funding than anticipated! I know what you mean about the Mirrored Room! It felt like a bit of a mind game of where to look. We only had one minute in the room, which went by in the blink of an eye.

  14. grandmisadventures says:

    What a great collection of Wright’s architecture ideas brought to life. That look of simple straight lines and the windows was certainly a hallmark of his. Beautiful stained glass in the Martin House! And the mirrors just look like a lot of fun to stand in. Buffalo is one of those cities that I know the name but knew little beyond that so it was great following along with you today 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I’ve heard of Frank Lloyd Wright before, but this was the first time I’ve toured through one of the buildings that he designed. He was definitely in a league of his own at the time. The glass art in all the windows was my favourite feature of the Martin House. The only downside I found was that despite all the windows, it was still quite dark inside. Now that we’ve been to a couple of Wright’s buildings, we’re curious to see more.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. We’ve driven through Buffalo a number of times, but I’m glad we took a few days to finally check out the sights. Now that you mention it, it would have been fitting to go for Buffalo wings while in Buffalo. We’ll just have to save that for another time.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Same. I was also impressed at how much there is to do in Buffalo. We’ve driven through here a number of times so it was nice to finally stop and check out the sights. It was neat to explore the old submarine, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit claustrophobic. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to live and work on one for an extended period of time.

  15. BrittnyLee says:

    The prairie style houses are so unique. I love them !! I love admiring architecture when traveling . I enjoy all the differences and similarities you can find. It’s so fun 😊 . Buffalo seems beautiful ❤️😍

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s hard to believe that the Martin House was designed and built over a hundred years ago. I’m a fan of the open space concept, but found the rooms a bit too dark for my liking. Agreed, it’s always neat to appreciate the different architectural designs and styles while travelling.

  16. Lookoom says:

    I’ve visited Buffalo several times, and I think it’s a good example of an American city with very socially marked neighbourhoods, whereas nearby Canadian cities are more inclusive. The city centre is like a museum of architecture from the last two centuries, there’s so much diversity, without trying to make a coherent whole.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m glad we decided to give Buffalo a proper visit. You’re absolutely right about the city centre being a museum of architecture. They’ve clearly done a lot of work of revitalizing their downtown, which has worked out well.

  17. usfman says:

    There’s plenty to see in Buffalo. My problem seem to be finding times to visit there when it’s not freezing cold. I would like to see those Frank Lloyd Wright homes.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Buffalo also seems to get hit by a lot of snowstorms! I’m glad we found some time to go in the summer when the weather was much nicer for wandering around. Touring through the Martin House and Graycliff were the highlights of our visit. It’s hard to believe Frank Lloyd Wright designed them around a hundred years ago. We’re now curious to check out some more of his work, especially Fallingwater.

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