On Madison Avenue at the southern end of the Empire State Plaza  is the oldest and largest state museum (Madison Ave., 518/474-5877, www.nysm.nysed.gov , 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, free admission) in the country. Spread out over a maze of high-ceilinged rooms, it’s packed with life-size dioramas, sound and video shows, historical artifacts, and scientific specimens of all types.
The New York State Museum is divided into three major exhibit areas: New York Metropolis, Adirondack Wilderness, and Upstate New York Native American Peoples. The Adirondack Wilderness exhibit is especially impressive. Here, in a vast darkened room, you hear the sounds of running water and birdsong before turning the corner to enter a “prehistoric wilderness.”
Other exhibits re-create a logging operation, canoeing expedition, blast furnace, and black-bear habitat. In the New York Metropolis section is an exhibit on the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.