The Big Apple is an iconic city – home to a diverse population and a huge range of activities and places to see. Taking a day trip from New York is one of the best ways for tourists, and locals, to get a break from the fast-paced life and enjoy a change of scenery.
Manhattan is ideally positioned between New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, making it easy to visit neighboring states for a day trip. It’s also on the North Atlantic Coastline, where there are sunny beach locations, mountains, and local farms surrounding the big city.
Whether you want to kick back and relax on a beach, explore another big city, or embark on a wine-tasting adventure, New York really has it all!
Getting Around New York and Beyond
New York is well designed for pedestrians, with wide sidewalks and designated street crossings. Walking and cycling are some of the best ways to explore New York, with the best walking and cycling paths being the Central Park routes, Hudson River path, the High Line, and the Brooklyn Bridge walking path.
It’s no secret that traffic and parking is intense. Renting a car would be pretty inconvenient for your trip. Cabs can help get you from point A to B when you need. New York’s famous yellow taxi cabs are a recognizable icon of the city, and are widely available.
Take note: some taxis only accept cash, and most expect tips between 15% and 20%.
The most common form of transportation is the Metro or Subway, and you’ll understand why after a pricey taxi during rush hour. It operates 24 hours a day, and also runs bus and ferry services across the city.
The Subway has 24 lines that serve Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. While the bus system operates over 250 routes, and bus stops are clearly demarcated with round bus stop signs and route numbers. Basically, it is easy to get pretty much anywhere you wanna go!
An MTA MetroCard costs $1 to activate and must have a minimum value of $5.50. A single route subway or bus journey costs $2.75. If you’re in the city for a while, you might want to invest in an unlimited MetroCard which allows you to ride for seven days for $33.
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Half-Day Trips in New York
Even though New York isn’t huge in geographical terms, it can take a while to get in and out of the center of the city. If you’re strapped for time, a half-day trip in New York will give you a taste of the surrounding area without taking too much of your day.
Ellis Island is located at the mouth of the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. It is famous for its rich history as an immigration station, welcoming more than 12 million immigrants into the country from 1890-1920. Today, it’s an iconic landmark and powerful symbol of the American Dream.
The island houses a National Immigration Museum and Family History Center. You can search through a collection of records to trace back your family history (if you are American), and find out when your family first arrived in the US.
Even if you don’t have family ancestry to browse through, the island is a historical marvel that boasts some impressive architecture and fun interactive activities.
Ellis Island also has some of the best views of The Statue of Liberty, which is another must do thing in New York!
Suggested trips: Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty Tour
Pad out your weekend in New York with a trip across the river. Hoboken is a small city in New Jersey that lies just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. As it’s only a 30-minute drive from lower Manhattan, it’s a great spot to spend some time outside of New York.
Even though it’s labeled a city, I like to think of Hoboken as a small walkable town, with a charming and unique vibe. While it’s hard to leave the razzle dazzle of the Big Apple, once you get to Hoboken everything runs at a slower pace. You’ll be treated to boutique eateries, bars, and local shops.
One of my favorite things about this small city is that it’s relatively tourist-free. You can experience a completely different atmosphere only a few miles away from New York.
The main draw to this riverside town is its views from River Street along the Hudson River. When you imagine the New York skyline, it’s this postcard-perfect view that comes to mind. Take a stroll down the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway for the best views, before heading to the original Cake Boss pastry shop for a sweet treat.
Suggested trips: Half-Day Tour to Hoboken with Skyline Views
If Fifth Avenue is a bit out of your price range, Woodbury Commons is the next best shopping spot in New York. It’s only an hour drive from Manhattan, and has a wealth of brands and deals.
The best days to visit are Monday through Thursday, before the weekend crowds take over. You’ll find everything from luxury Prada and Gucci retailers, to Lindt Chocolate Shops and Applebee’s. You are guaranteed your favorite store is hidden away in this sprawling mall.
The best thing, is that it’s entirely outdoors. You’ll be getting some fresh air while you shop around for the best deals. Winter wanderers, wrap up warm!
Suggested trips: Woodbury Commons Outlet Shopping Trip
Full-Day Trips in New York
When you have a bit more time on your hands, New York is positioned between the mountains, oceans, forests, and a bunch of other cities. These are some day trips from New York that will give you a chance to explore something other than the busy streets of the city.
The Hamptons is a classic for locals. Located at the east end of Long Island, it is just about two hours drive from Manhattan (given you don’t get stuck in heavy traffic).
There is East Hampton and Southampton, both known for their rural vibe and small-town charm. You’ll find pristine sidewalks, local wineries, manicured parks, and perfectly organized shop and restaurant displays throughout the towns. They look like a picture-perfect movie set most of the time.
Sag Harbor sits between East and Southampton, and is a historic landmark in itself. Back in its early days, it was the first port of entry to the new Unites States, and is home to the first US Customs house.
Besides the charming towns and villages, the Hamptons are lined with exquisite beaches that draw beachgoers to their shores every summer. But note, many beaches are private and require residents’ permits, while some public beaches require day pass permits.
On weekends, the Main Beach in East Hampton and Two Mile Hollow Beach only release forty day-passes each day. Be sure to have this organized in your New York itinerary if you want a sandy day!
Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May is a small beach town located at the southern horn of New Jersey, and is only a two and a half hour drive from New York.
Cape May is known for its beautiful beaches and boardwalks, but there is more to explore than the surf and sand. The town has a rich history and boasts 19th-century architectural diversity. In fact, the picturesque town holds the title of the ‘First Seaside Holiday Town in America’.
A hotspot for outdoor activities, there is biking, boating, bird watching, and fishing, if you’re feeling adventurous. If relaxing is more your speed, there are many fine dining restaurants and antique shops to browse. Why not extend your trip and spend a night in this cozy condo.
Long Island is the biggest island in the USA and extends from New York to Montauk Point, just past the Hamptons. Fun fact – the well-known New York neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens are actually located on this island!
Long Island is packed with fun things to do for the whole family. It’s hard to fit all its offerings into a single-day tour, consider staying in Long Island and make a full itinerary! From stunning hikes, beaches, and vineyards to manicured gardens, extravagant mansions, and seaside villages, there’s an abundance of things to explore.
It is an easy trip to do alone, without the guidance of a tour guide.
The Delaware River
The Delaware River is a huge river that passes through five states, and provides drinking water for millions of Americans. It starts through Philadelphia, before splitting off into different tributaries in the northern part of the state. Depending on what point of the river you visit, it’s only about an hour and a half drive out of New York.
The river isn’t only used as a water source, it’s also a great place to enjoy some outdoor activities! When you’re itching to escape the dynamic city of New York, visit the river for a kayaking trip and some outdoor fun.
There are also tons of walking, hiking, and mountain biking trails along the river’s edge.
Suggested trips: Delaware River Kayak and Wine Tour
No matter how much of a city person you are, it’s always great to get out of the hustle and bustle and explore the great outdoors. The Catskills are a mountain range in Upstate New York, located two hours north of Manhattan.
During the summer months, it is a great hiking location with a bunch of waterfalls, river streams, and tall peaks to explore. My favorite time to visit is during winter, when a thick layer of snow covers the mountains. The Catskills are home to two of New York’s top ski resorts – Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain. Both are great for every level of skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, or just enjoying a hot cocoa.
There are a few small villages to explore too. Two of the best towns worth checking out are Tannersville and Andes, both of which have a bunch of cafes, eateries, day spas, and shops to keep you busy.
Airbnb experience: Horseback Guided Mountain Trail in the Catskills
Philadelphia and Amish Country
One of the most unique day trips from New York is a trip to Amish Country in Pennsylvania for a taste of the simple life. In a world overcome with modern technology, life can get pretty fast-paced and stressful, and I’m sure we’ve all been intrigued by the low-key lifestyle of the Amish Mennonite people.
Lancaster County is located just west of Philadelphia, and is home to America’s largest Amish community. You can hop on the train at Penn Station in Manhatten and be in Philidelphia within an hour and a half. From there, rent a car or join one of the local Amish country guided tours.
When you visit this region, you’ll be able to explore markets and experience local cooking and cuisine. You can even have an authentic Amish buggy ride through the countryside, and learn what it’s like to live without modern technology. Try leaving your phone off during the tour to get the full experience!
Suggested trips: The Amish Country with Amish Mennonite Guides
Hartford is the capital city of Connecticut, and is only a two and a half hour drive, or train ride, from Manhattan. Founded in 1635, it is one of the oldest cities in America, and houses the country’s oldest public art museum as well as the famous Mark Twain House.
I recommend making a trip to the Connecticut Science Center, especially for those with young kids. The museum has a bunch of DIY activities that explore the science of sound, sight, and space.
If the weather cooperates, stop off at the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden for some fresh air and beautiful views. It’s one of the most extensive rose gardens in the country, with over 800 varieties of roses. Bushnell Park is another great outdoor space to enjoy the sunshine.
If a day isn’t enough time to explore all that Hartford has to offer, book a night at this cozy suite.
New Haven and Yale University
From uncrowded beaches to tasty cuisine and exciting art, New Haven is a beautiful place to visit from Manhattan, especially during the summer. This Connecticut town is only an hour and forty minutes from New York by car, and is most well known for being the home of Yale University.
With the Ivy League school bringing academics and students to the city, you’ll be able to watch collegiate sports matches, see world-class events, festivals, shops, museums, and of course, some top restaurants and bars too.
Besides the exquisite university campuses, New Haven is dotted with spectacular churches and buildings, and a culturally exciting downtown. Some of the best restaurants in the city can be found in Little Italy, which is a great spot to grab some grub after a day exploring.
For those who really want to immerse in the city, this full loft condo in the heart of the action is perfect.
The Poconos Mountains
The Poconos is another beautiful mountain region in Pennsylvania that is just a couple of hours’ drive from New York City.
During summer, it is most well known for bird watching, zip-lining, fishing, and whitewater rafting. Depending on how much time you have to spend, you can embark on an overnight hike or spend the day exploring the botanical wonders.
Those visiting with young kids can enjoy the local adventure and water parks. With stunning lakes in the valley mountains, there are also loads of lake beaches to relax on, if that’s more your vibe.
When winter hits, the mountains become a wonderland covered with snow attracting all sorts of winter sports fanatics. There are five main ski resorts in these mountains, including Big Boulder Ski Area, Blue Mountain Resort, and Camelback Mountain.
The resort villages and towns appropriately self-define themselves as ‘small-town charm meets big mountains.’
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Don’t Forget your New York Travel Insurance
It’s good to get lost sometimes, but it’s also good not to get too lost. There are people that want you home in one piece.
There’s one travel insurance provider The Broke Backpacker trusts for all his wildest shenanigans… World Nomads!
Click the button below to get a quote on your insurance or read our in-depth review of World Nomads’ coverage. And then… let the shenanigans begin. 😉
New York is one of those cities that never stops giving. However, a visit isn’t complete without seeing more of what New York state, and surrounding states, have to offer.
As the city is conveniently located between New Jersey and Connecticut, and only a quick drive from Philadelphia and Maryland, you can take some of the most exciting day trips from New York City.
My personal favorite trip would have to be a trip to the Poconos or Catskills. After spending a week or so in the big city, there’s nothing better than escaping to the mountains, whether it be to ski in winter or hike in the summer.
Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀
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