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Nicholas DeRenzo

For many New Yorkers, the state capital conjures images of boring bureaucracy, but don’t let downstate snobbishness keep you away from this vibrant little city that could. Located about 150 miles north of the Big Apple up the Hudson River, Albany traces its roots as a city to the 17th-century Dutch imperial days, when it served as a fort and fur trading post. Some 350 years later, the Dutch once again spurred big change: In 1959, after giving Princess Juliana of the Netherlands a tour of his city, Governor Nelson Rockefeller was so embarrassed by the state of the decline that he committed to whipping Albany into shape. The result is a newly reinvigorated cultural hub, centered around the Brutalist-style Empire State Plaza. Microbreweries and distilleries fill old municipal buildings, restaurants showcase the global diversity of the state, and the great outdoors—from the Catskills to the Adirondacks to the Berkshires—await at the city’s front door.