Department of Astronomy Center for Radiophysics & Space Research

About Ithaca

"Well, there are a hundred billion stars in the Galaxy, and only a limited amount of space in the book's microprocessors," he said, "and no one knew much about Earth of course."
"Well for God's sake I hope you managed to rectify that bit."
"Oh, yes, well I managed to transmit a new entry off to the editor. He had to trim it a bit, but it's still an improvement."
"And what does it say now?" asked Arthur.
"Mostly harmless," admitted Ford with a slightly embarrassed cough.

-- Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Ithaca is a pretty little town nestled between the rolling hills of upstate New York, on the south edge of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. Depending on how you count it, Ithaca has between 30,000 and 50,000 people - a big city it isn't! But it has beautiful lakes, stunning gorges and waterfalls, gorgeous fall colors, and a thriving local art and culture scene. Some people love it from Day One, and some others never do.

Cornell has a beautiful campus: take a virtual tour! On this page, we have some possiblities for things to do and a few bits of practical advice . . .




Some first years take advantage of the on campus housing offered to graduate students and their families. The family housing is a fairly good deal, but for single people you can almost certainly do better (financially at least) by finding a place off campus. Prices drop as you go further from campus, but commuting becomes harder, of course. The Cornell Housing Office and the CUInfo housing page would be a good place to start your search. Within Cornell's Housing Office web pages is a searchable off-campus housing database. Landlords pay a fee to have a their property listed here - it's really just high-tech classifieds. Craigslist is a good place to search as well. Local newspapers, (The Cornell Daily Sun, The Ithaca Journal, and the Ithaca Times) might also have some useful classified ads. If you are willing to spend $20 or so in order on your housing search, then check out or In my opinion, the $20 is probably worth it...

Apartments are often listed by area in Ithaca. Here's a list and description of the more common areas.

  1. Collegetown - South edge of campus. Location for many restaurants (Subway, Pita Pit, Collegetown Bagels, Aladdin's, several pizza joints) and bars.

  2. Commons (Downtown) - Pedestrian area down the hill from campus and collegetown. Lots of restaurants and local shops. Living here is nice, but you have to conquer the hill to reach campus. Bus service is generally good during the day but limited in late evening.

  3. Fall Creek - Near downtown. Nice, quiet residential area. Close to shopping with good bus service.

  4. North Campus - Northern part of campus. Good bus service.

  5. Cornell Heights/Cayuga Heights - North part of town. Mostly houses. Close to Pyramid Mall but generally shopping areas not walkable.

  6. South Hill - location of Ithaca College. Fairly far from campus, but you can walk to downtown and catch a bus.

  7. East Hill - East of Collegetown. Very residential and is the location of Cornell's Maplewood Apartments. East Hill Plaza is close and has a supermarket. Good bus service (two day routes and one night route).

  8. Lansing - northern edge of campus. Cheaper rents but would require driving to campus.

  9. West Hill and Cayuga Lake - Farther from campus and would require a car. Check that houses are suitable for winter.


Whether you decide to live on campus or off campus, it's advisable to start looking for housing as soon as you decide that you are coming to Cornell. On-campus housing is allocated on a first-come first-served basis, with the application process beginning sometime in April or early May, so that if you wait for Cornell to send you information in the mail, it may already be too late to get the best on-campus housing spots. (The same rule applies to on-campus parking as well.) Note that Cornell will charge you $50 to apply for on-campus housing, whether or not you actually get a spot!

When it comes to off-campus Cornell students tend to start looking for housing for the next academic year sometime in February!! Grad students usually start somewhat later, and there's always something to be found even if you wait until August, so don't panic if you can't start looking right away.




The Cornell Fingerlakes Credit Union is very convenient. They have a branch in the Cornell Store. where you can open an account, and conduct most of your banking. They also have pretty good service, and many ATMs in various locations on campus and around Ithaca. However, you must be an employee of Cornell or a resident of Tompkins county to become a member. If you're TA'ing, great, that counts. If you're on a external fellowship, though, you're probably not a Cornell employee (Cornell fellowships counted last time we checked) and will have to check with CFCU if you qualify as a resident.

Other options are M&T (ATMs on campus), Tompkins County Trust (ATMs on campus), Bank of America (only three ATM's in Ithaca: Collegetown, Cayuga Heights, near K-Mart), and HSBC (with branches downtown, in East Hill Plaza, and near the Pyramid Mall).


Transportation Options


  1. Driving: Many of the graduate students here have cars, but many also do not. It's really up to you what you choose to do. Parking on campus during the day is expensive, and some of the parking lots are a bus ride from the Space Sciences building. Parking (in certain areas) is free at night and on the weekends, but that can be tricky during the semester - especially during prelims. The advantages of having a car are that 1) it is much easier to get around in Ithaca and to get out of Ithaca on weekends and 2) you can get much nicer or much cheaper housing if you are willing to commute by car. The more convenient parking spaces on Campus are allocated on a first-come first-served basis, starting in March for the following academic year. Check out I think that it's possible to reserve a space in, say March, and then cancel that reservation in July or August, if, for example, you end up finding an apartment that's close to campus. But don't take my word for it - read the fine print yourself. If you do not have a car many people are happy to offer rides to social events etc. Note: According to the Commuter and Parking Services you are supposed to register your car to park on campus even when it is free.

  2. TCAT: The Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit is the local bus service in Ithaca. Cornell has an agreement with TCAT that incoming students receive a free bus pass IF they don't buy a parking pass. There are also certain student parking passes that come with an included OmniRide bus pass. For returning students full year passes are fairly cheap ($200). Starting in Fall of 2007 they are also making rides after 6 pm and on weekends free for everyone. See here for details. If you don't want to pay for a pass rides are $1.50. The policy for Cornell students and TCAT changes often, so it's best to check websites for the latest news. Also TCAT routes themselves often change due to construction, and they often don't post notices at the stops, so it pays to check their website occasionally for updates on route changes. 

  3. Biking: Ithaca is very hilly and Cornell is right at the top of a hill. Whether biking is feasible really depends on where you live. I wouldn't suggest biking up Buffalo Street (except for dedicated bikers), but the ride in from Cayuga Heights or the Eastern Heights area is quite pleasant. TCAT has a "bikes on buses" program, where you can put your bike on a bike rack when you take the bus (for no extra charge): riding the bus up and your bike back down the hill is a great way to go!


Getting to Ithaca


  1. Driving: Ithaca is a 30 minute drive north on highway 13 from Interstate 86, which runs east-west from New York City to Erie, Pennsylvania; a 40 minute drive south on highway 79 to Interstate 81 to Pennsylvania, and 60 minutes south of Syracuse (which also lies along Route 81). It is within a 6 hour drive of most of the major cities on the East coast, however, which is nice. Here is an on-line map of Ithaca from Yahoo. If you do bring a car and plan on registering in New York State be aware that New York requires both a front and rear license plate. Also, when you go to the DMV to get a NY drivers license, they will take your old license and give you a temporary paper license with no photo. The official photo license is processed in Albany, and it takes 2-3 weeks for it to arrive to you in the mail. That means you may have no photo ID if you don't have a passport (which is a good thing to have for traveling to conferences in foreign countries or going to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls).

  2. Bus: Ithaca has a bus station served by:

    • Shortline. The preferred choice for getting to NYC by most people who bus it. Take your headphones and you can watch movies for free on the way.

    • Greyhound

  3. Train: Don't even try - it's not possible! Syracuse is the closest stop. 

  4. Airplane: Ithaca has an airport which is served by US Airways and Northwest. Syracuse International airport is about an hour and a half drive away. You can also bus to NYC for the airports there in 5 hours (leave an extra hour to get from Port Authority to the airport at least).




There are three major shopping areas in Ithaca. For small, local stores check out the downtown Commons. The Tompkins County Public Library is also located next to the Commons. The big retail stores are located in two places. Pyramid Mall is on the north edge of town (just off highway 13), and one can find the Target, Best Buy, Old Navy, Sears, Borders, the largest movie theater, and several other major chains. It's serviced by TCAT routes 30 and 32. On the south edge of town off highway 13 is Wegmans (a large grocery store and a staple of Upstate NY living!), Barnes & Noble, EMS, Tops Supermarket, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Staples and Petco. Bus Route 15, the "southside shopper," will take you there.


Things to do


This does not attempt to be an exhaustive list, but to give you some idea of the sorts of things current graduate students get up to around here. See the Student Organizations page for more info: it lists over 700 interest groups!

  1. Big Red Barn

    1. TGIF - Every Friday during the semester the Big Red Barn hosts TGIF (Tell Grads it's Friday). The Barn is just by the Space Sciences building and there is always a group of us from Astronomy over there. The Big Red Barn is Cornell's graduate student center, and as such it hosts a variety of other events as well.

    2. International Coffee Hour - Thursdays (academic year) at 4 pm. Free coffee, cookies and popcorn.

  2. Music, Art, Theater, Movies - Links to many Cornell music groups and to a concert calendar.

    1. Music - Cornell has several music groups open to the student body. Because Cornell doesn't have a huge performing arts program, most ensembles are filled by non-music majors, and it is a great break from the daily grind. There are two orchestras (Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra), five choirs (University Chorus and Glee club for example), several jazz bands and concert bands. The full list of performing ensembles can be found here. Contact Laura (lspitler at astro) if you're interested in music groups. 

    2. Theater - Ithaca has several theaters. The Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts is in Collegetown, and the Hangar Theater is located in Cass park.

    3. Art - The Johnson Art Museum is located on campus in a cool, modern-looking building with a great view of Cayuga Lake from the 5th floor.

    4. Movies - The Cornell Cinema has two theaters on campus (Uris Hall and Willard Straight), and tickets are $4 for students. It shows a lot of international movies and documentaries as well as popular movies months as a second-run theater. There are also three other cinemas in town (schedule).

  3. Sports & Outdoors

    1. Cornell Outdoor Club. There are lots of outdoorsy things to do in Ithaca. Cross country skiing is popular in the winter, backpacking, hiking, bike trips and kayaking in the summer. The Outing club is a good way to meet people for planning trips and for access to equipment. See this page.

    2. Ultimate. Ithaca has a very active Ultimate Frisbee community. Cornell's club teams do quite well and there is also a summer league and pick-up games. Talk to Greg (sloan at astro) for more info.

    3. Softball. The Astronomy department has a summer softball team - the "Big Bangers". We are in a non-competitive, recreational co-ed summer league and we have a lot of fun.

    4. Running. There is a very active trail and road running and community in Ithaca. See the FLRC homepage for more info.

    5. Soccer and tennis. There are also graduate students who play soccer (babs at astro) and tennis (laszloi at astro).

    6. Windsurfing. Cayuga Lake, a mile or so from campus, can get big winds and big waves from time to time, although this is more common in the spring and fall. Cayuga Lake in summer is a great place to learn to windsurf. The Ithaca Windsurfing club has equipment and teachers to help you learn. Contact Marc (berthoud at astro) for details.

  2. Other activies

    1. Role playing and gaming. Many members of the department enjoy doing this. Contact Rebecca (rah53) if you're interested.

    2. Poker - Occasionally a group of us plays a low-stakes game of Texas Hold 'Em.

    3. Ithaca Farmer's Market - One of THE things to do in Ithaca. During warmer months happens on Cayuga Lake on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and in Dewitt park on Tuesdays. Here's a link.

    4. Wine tasting - The Fingerlakes Region is a well-known wine region. Wineries run up along both sides of Cayuga Lake as well as Seneca Lake. The hotel school even offers a popular class on wines.

  3. Events - just a few of the popular events that happen in or near Ithaca during the year

    1. Ithaca Festival - June

    2. Grassroots Festival - A music and dance festival in Trumansburg in July.

    3. Apple Harvest - October

    1. The Library Book Sale. Twice a year, the Ithaca public library holds a massive and wildly popular used-book sale as a fundraiser. Check out

    2. Chili Festival - February