Albany, the real capital of New York, has become practically synonymous to Northeast families with two words: class trip. To me, thats a shame, since unless youre a student (or a chaperone) on an outing from a local school, you may think youve got no reason to visit. But thats simply not true.
If you and your chattering pack of friends were ever dragged to Albany as children and hustled along the downtown capitol buildings Great Western Staircase (pictured) you know you probably were less than equipped to fully appreciate its unique history. Return to the site (popularly known as the Million Dollar Staircase, due to its then-exorbitant cost of construction from 1883 to 1897) as a parent with your kids and have them examine some of the 77 faces carved into the sandstone. Among the likes of Lincoln, Washington, and Susan B. Anthony, you and your child will likely come across a face provoking a Who is that? and for good reason: once the famous faces were sculpted, architect Isaac Perry allowed his carvers to chisel the faces of their friends and relatives. Also a peek into the assembly chamber should get an appreciative Whoa for its sheer vastness. (Free walk-in tours of the capitol, lasting about an hour, are offered Monday through Saturday).
From here, if youre rolling with second graders or older, you might walk 15 minutes east of the capitol to the Henry Hudson Planetarium (open daily, $3), where a worthy show explains how fugitive slaves tracked the stars while seeking the escape and shelter offered by the Underground Railroad. Skip the planetarium, or leave it for a different day, and walk instead 15 minutes south to the New York State Museum (open daily). There, you and your kiddos will be able to hop aboard one of the 40 horses, deer, or donkeys of the antique working carousel, moved to the museum in the 1970s after a long stint merrily going round in Cuba. The carousel is a permanent exhibit and, along with general museum admission, is free.
Afterwards, if you find yourself (as I do) struggling to adequately explain the events of September 11, 2001 to your children, consider a walk through the museums The World Trade Center: Rescue, Recovery, Response exhibit. Its powerful, emotional, and respectful. To decide whether you and your family can manage it, take a panoramic look at part of the exhibit here.