In 1609, explorer Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River searching for a route to the Orient and paving the way for early Dutch settlers. The English followed, and the river became a highway on which the agricultural products grown and produced in its fertile soils and forests were transported to New York City. Artists took inspiration from its landscape, forming the Hudson River School, and the nation’s wealthy old guard built mansions along its banks. By the mid-1950s, however, the river—“Its natural magnificence is unsurpassed,” painter Thomas Cole once said—was a polluted, contaminated mess. Inland, unmonitored development began to consume what had been flourishing pastures and farmland.
Happily, the past two decades brought a dramatic and exciting turnaround for the Hudson Valley. Canoes and kayaks ply the river and abandoned riverfront factories find new life as museums and performance venues, such as Dia:Beacon, which houses the Dia Art Foundation’s collection in a former Nabisco box-printing factory. More than 35 properties have been designated National Historic Landmarks and countless others protected as historic sites, all of which welcome visitors.
Walking and hiking trails stretch for miles, and once-decaying cities, such as Hudson and Beacon, are home to innovative, distinctive clothing, crafts and antiques stores catering to residents and visitors alike.
Smaller villages, such as Rhinebeck, Tivoli and Pine Plains, maintain their distinctive character. A new generation of farmers is revitalizing the area’s agricultural heritage, producing award-winning cheeses, distilled spirits and beers, grass-fed livestock and heirloom fruits and vegetables. (Visit the Rhinebeck Farmers’ Market for a taste.)
And in a place where a dinner out once consisted of nothing special, a slew of top-notch restaurants—like Mercato, an Italian trattoria in Red Hook—feature chefs partnering with local producers to serve true farm-to-table food.
By all accounts, the Hudson Valley has reclaimed its former grandeur. Here are ten can’t-miss places to visit while there.