Unleash Your Summer Spirit: Must-Do Activities in WNY

People walking on the boardwalk at Canalside in downtown Buffalo in summer.

Canalside in downtown Buffalo offers a variety of summer activities.

By Shannon O'Sullivan

Published June 14, 2024

The Buffalo-Niagara region’s most anticipated season has arrived! With a plethora of festivals, concerts and outdoor recreation, you can fill your summer weeks with endless activities and delectable delights. Here are some #UBTrueBlue ideas for a sensational summer in Western New York.

Festival and Fair Season

People marching through a neighborhood with rainbow flags and clothing.

The summer celebration season kicks off the first week in June with the Buffalo Pride Festival and Parade and Buffalo Greek Fest.

The pride festival and parade honors and supports Western New York’s diverse LGBTQ+ community. As it winds through the historic Elmwood Village, the parade features floats and performances from more than 150 organizations. The festival follows the parade at Canalside downtown and includes musical and drag performances, as well food and drink.

Buffalo Greek Fest also takes place in Elmwood Village at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. Celebrants can sample the finest Greek ambrosia, including souvlaki and gyro. Guests can also expect Greek cultural exhibits and traditional Greek dancing. The proximity of both festivals makes for an enriching and entertaining start to the summer festival season for the whole family.

The second weekend in June marks the Allentown Art Festival. Since 1958, Buffalo’s historic Allentown neighborhood has showcased the finest artwork, crafts and photography from talented artisans. Dozens of tents are set up throughout Allentown, which invite attendees to peruse and purchase exquisite paintings, jewelry, photography and more. Allentown hosts a vibrant bar and restaurant district, and it’s one of the best times to try out Gabriel’s Gate – renowned for having some of the best wings in the city.

June is jam-packed as Buffalo also celebrates Juneteenth, the nation's longest-running African American holiday. The holiday commemorates the arrival of Union troops in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, when they announced the end of slavery and enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, two years after it was made effective in the U.S. The Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo has been a community staple since 1976 and is held on Buffalo’s historic East Side in and around Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Attendees can engage in an array of educational and cultural activities that “…preserve and promote the broad spectrum of African American heritage.”

In late July, fans of Italian cuisine can look forward to Buffalo’s Italian Heritage Festival. Located in Buffalo’s historic Little Italy neighborhood on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo, the fest includes a performance stage for entertainers, as well as crafts and games.

Also held in late July is a summer favorite in Western New York: Canal Fest. Taking place along the Erie Canal between the City of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, revelers can experience a carnival-like atmosphere with rides, games and fireworks. This eight-day event contains various activities and food for the whole family.

Lasting for 12 days in August, the Erie County Fair caps off the summer festival season and is a brief, 30-minute drive from downtown Buffalo. In addition to thrill rides and games, fairgoers can enjoy live music performances, stand-up comedy acts and a demolition derby.

Summer Concert Series and the Buffalo Waterfront

Brutalist architectural style music venue.

Buffalo’s premiere summer concert venue, Artpark, is celebrating 50 years of showcasing world-class musicians and performers in 2024. Artpark’s grounds contain over 150 spectacular acres amid the backdrop of the Niagara Gorge. Before taking in live music at the park’s breathtaking amphitheater, concertgoers can experience the natural beauty of the area and explore the quaint town of Lewiston. Just a 20-minute drive to Niagara Falls and about a 30-minute drive from downtown Buffalo, Artpark is well worth the excursion.

Live music enthusiasts have numerous opportunities to catch performances at the Buffalo Waterfront downtown. Check out the concert schedule at the Outer Harbor. Every Sunday evening in July and August, music fans can also view more intimate performances in the beer garden as the sun sets via the free Sun Down Wine Down series.

Additionally, Canalside offers a slew of daily summer activities, including kayaking, paddle boating, a boardwalk and outdoor fitness classes. When hunger and thirst strike, the food and beer garden, as well as nearby restaurants, are in walking distance.

Tuesdays also offer opportunities to catch outdoor concerts. The Bidwell Concert Series runs from June through August in Bidwell Parkway, part of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, in the Elmwood Village. Food Truck Tuesday at Larkin Square downtown offers cuisine from dozens of food trucks throughout the summer with a rotating lineup of live music acts.

Next-Level Thrill Rides

People in lifejackets on a boat tour in white-capped waters.

Thrill seekers can venture to Six Flags Darien Lake. Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Buffalo, Darien Lake is New York State’s largest combination Theme Park and Water Park Resort. Six rollercoasters and unforgettable rides like the 242-foot tall Sky Screamer, as well numerous water park rides, will satisfy any need for adrenaline-fueled fun. There is also a campground next to the park for those who want a multi-day visit coupled with a quiet camping experience at night.

Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours pair an exhilarating thrill ride with the natural wonder of Niagara Falls. Adventurers can choose to depart from either Lewiston or Queenston, Ontario, Canada — both locations are about a 15–20-minute drive from Niagara Falls. Riders have the option of cruising down the whirlpool rapids of the Niagara River in either a covered boat to stay dry or in an open-topped one to get soaked. Either way, this is one of the most unique and exciting activities for a Buffalo-Niagara summer.