Day Trips from New York City: The Top 12 Options
It can be difficult to escape New York City's siren song. The city's world-class art museums, theaters, restaurants, nightlife, and other enticements persuade many visitors to plan their entire vacations within the confines of the five boroughs.
But leaving NYC has its rewards, for locals and visitors alike. The city sits near some of the country's prettiest nature areas as well as significant historic sights, scintillating art museums and sculpture gardens, kid-friendly attractions, and more. And because all roads lead to the Big Apple, there are direct, uncomplicated ways to get to these places—and quickly.
Below you'll find trips you can easily make in one day, with transportation time of no more than 2 hours each way. For those seeking longer road trips out of the city, see our other round-up of escapes from New York.
But for trips that let you get out of town and back before bedtime, read on.
Pictured above: Bear Mountain Bridge in New York State
John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Booker T. Washington, and five U.S. Presidents slept at Mohonk Mountain House, founded in 1869. But you don't have to stay overnight to enjoy the charms of the place. Around 85 miles of trails loop to, from, and throughout the resort, which neighbors a land trust and state parks, making the area ideal for hikers. Most famous are Mohonk's rock scrambles, including the Lemon Squeeze—a very narrow passage that's fun to wedge yourself into for a rewarding view on the other side.
Before or after a hike—or a swim or a showshoeing expedition, depending on the season—book a meal in the Mohonk Mountain House's handsome dining room, which was built in 1893 and only started serving alcohol in 2006. That's when the Quaker family that's owned the resort for five generations finally bowed to contemporary mores. The history of the Smiley family, the land they purchased and preserved, and the many famous people who have visited over the years is recounted at the engaging Barn Museum on site. Be sure to wander around the resort to see the eclectic array of architectural styles that helped the retreat become a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Getting there: Most visitors drive their own cars along either I-87 or the Palisades Interstate Parkway to get from NYC to Mohonk in roughly an hour and 40 minutes. It's also possible to hop a Trailways bus to New Paltz and then grab a taxi to the resort.
When Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu debuted new sculptures at the Storm King Art Center in 2022, she described her ties to the Hudson Valley sculpture park in spiritual terms. "It calls people back and back again, like a place of pilgrimage," Mutu told the New York Times.
For art lovers, those words are not hyperbole. Set on 500 green and rolling acres, Storm King is home to works as expansive as the landscape. We're talking epic, often house-sized sculptures by some of the biggest names in modern and contemporary art: Alexander Calder (his Five Swords is pictured above), Mark di Suvero, Sol LeWitt, Isamu Noguchi, Nam June Paik, Richard Serra, Lynda Benglis, and others. Bring a picnic, some sunscreen, and stamina: It takes several hours to walk around the entire park.
Getting there: Storm King is accessible by car from NYC (it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get there—more if traffic is bad) or by NJ Transit train to the Salisbury Mills-Cornwall station.
From a pilgrimage for art lovers we turn to a trip for the rock-and-roll faithful. The seaside city of Asbury Park has played a pivotal role in the career of Bruce Springsteen. The Boss launched his career at the Stone Pony music venue (from which he later kicked off his iconic Born to Run tour) and he even titled his first studio album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
While we can't guarantee you a Bruce sighting today, it's a sure thing you'll find great live music. The Stone Pony remains a vibrant source for that, though the venue has stiff competition from the Asbury Lanes and other spots in town. The scene is hot before sundown, too, thanks to the bars that sponsor "darties" (daytime parties) right on this classic beach town's nearly mile-long boardwalk.
Even if you're not in the mood to party, the boardwalk is a lot of fun to stroll. It's lined with restaurants of all sorts, a mini golf course, arcade games, a historic carousel, and more. Fronting the boards are the golden beaches that first attracted visitors in the 1870s. The destination remains one of the best places along the eastern seaboard to catch some rays.
Getting there: Academy Bus makes the 1.5-hour commute from Midtown Manhattan's Port Authority Bus Terminal direct to Asbury Park several times a day. It's also possible to take an NJ Transit train from the city, though depending on the number of stops along the way, that will likely take closer to 2 hours.
You go to Hyde Park to eat well and to pay your respects to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The longest-serving U.S. commander-in-chief has his presidential library here—the country's first institution of its kind. FDR was born in Hyde Park and is buried in the garden; his home is now a national historic site. Rangers do an excellent job of explaining the biography and career of one of the most influential figures in U.S. history. In recent years, interpretive commentary has expanded to include an analysis of the physical challenges the wheelchair-using president faced when he was partially paralyzed by polio.
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt's hideaway, Val-Kill Cottage, is this small town's second national park site—and a great place to learn about that equally dynamic American icon.
Nearby, the National Park Service oversees Hyde Park's third national park site, the Vanderbilt Mansion (pictured above). This over-the-top palace gives visitors a glimpse of what a robber baron's life would have been like during the Gilded Age.
Many visitors stay overnight to see these sights, but if you start very early you can fit in all three in one day, breaking up the history with a superb lunch crafted by the top chefs of the future at the Hyde Park campus of the Culinary Institute of America.
Getting there: It's equally speedy to take the Taconic State Parkway or the Palisades Interstate Parkway in your own car from the city to Hyde Park; expect a drive of about an hour and 45 minutes. There are train/bus combos, too, but those extend travel time to well over 2 hours.
Thriving LGBTQ+ communities shape the vibe at these twin towns connected by a walkable bridge over the Delaware River. That results in an everyone-is-welcome ethos, fab shopping at design-forward stores, unstinting support for local artists at several galleries, and joyous, sometimes outrageous events such as one of the region's largest Pride parades in May and the famed High Heel Drag Race in October. Of course, there's musical theater, too, performed with a high sheen of professionalism at the Bucks County Playhouse. Among the stars of stage and screen who got their starts at this legendary theater: Dick Van Dyke, Grace Kelly, Robert Redford, and Audra McDonald.
The surrounding region also contains several sights and activities worth your time. About 20 minutes down the road in Doylestown, you'll find the superb Michener Art Museum as well as the Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle, former home of Henry Mercer, a major figure in the 19th century's Arts and Crafts movement. Not far away, visitors can engage in boating and history—or a combo of the two. During the American Revolutionary War, George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River here, an event commemorated at Washington Crossing Historic Park; a reproduction of the famed painting by Emanuel Leutze is on display at the visitor center. Paddle in Washington's wake by renting a kayak, canoe, or raft (there's also tubing) on the river or at Delaware Canal State Park.
Getting there: The fastest option is the 45-minute Amtrak service to Trenton; then take a taxi to Lambertville or New Hope, which will add another 20 minutes to the journey. Driving is another possibility, but traffic getting out of NYC could make that the longer option.
Fire Island is a prime destination to celebrate resilience and rebirth. In 1938, a hurricane flattened the long, skinny barrier island (it's 32 miles long but only half a mile wide). Some 9,000 homes were destroyed by high winds and 18-foot-tall waves. But what rose from the ruins is one of the most unique vacation ecosystems imaginable.
The largely car-free island is knit together by wooden boardwalks that serve as both streets and bike paths. Because most transportation is by foot, bike, or boat (water taxis and ferries), each hamlet has a unique character, and hopping between them—mixed with time lounging on Fire Island's sweeping white sand beaches, of course—is an appealing way to while away a day (or four).
You might head to charming Kismet, which has a number of little shops, eateries, and a historic lighthouse, then to The Pines and Cherry Grove, LGBTQ+ havens known for afternoon tea dances and evening ragers. At Ocean Beach, the drink of choice is Rocket Fuel, kind of like a piña colada but with triple the liquor. The Sunken Forest encompasses a rare assemblage of trees protected by sand dunes and the National Park Service.
Be sure to study the ferry map carefully before you head out. Three different Long Island towns are connected to different ports on Fire Island, and it's easy to hop on the wrong ferry.
Getting there: How you go will really depend on which Fire Island town you're visiting. But one of the speediest ways to reach the island is to take the North Fork Express bus to Ronkonkoma, and then hop the ferry to Cherry Grove. Kismet is accessible by car, so many visitors take a train from Manhattan's Pennsylvania Station to Babylon (1 hour, 15 minutes) and then hop a 15-minute taxi to the town.
If it's your first time in Philadelphia, get ye to Independence Hall. There's no better place to get an understanding of the conflicts and conundrums that went into the formation of the first U.S. government—and still bedevil Americans today. The National Park Service rangers who run tours are master storytellers, bringing to vibrant life the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the all-out brawl that was the Constitutional Convention.
Nearby are historic sights that expand on and enrich the stories you'll hear at Independence Hall. The National Constitution Center and the Museum of the American Revolution, in particular, are superb.
If you've already done historic Philly, an art pilgrimage might be in order. Both the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have more than enough eye candy to keep museumgoers busy for hours. If macabre medical oddities are your jam, try the Mütter Museum, a splendid cabinet of curiosities—that is not for the squeamish.
And as long as you're not a vegetarian, you simply must grab a cheesesteak before leaving town. You may not need to eat again for another day, and your shirt is pretty much guaranteed to acquire permanent stains. But you can't go wrong with thinly sliced beef and melted cheese on a hoagie roll.
Getting there: The fastest way to get to Philly is to take Amtrak's Acela train for the hour-and-change ride. Regular Amtrak service is cheaper—and not much slower.
Comfy shoes are required for a visit to Beacon, a former mill town along the Hudson River that has been transformed over the last two decades into one of the East Coast's premiere art destinations. The makeover began in 2003, when Dia Beacon opened in a former Nabisco factory—a space large enough to house the gargantuan sculptures of gargantuan talents such as Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Gerhard Richter, et al.
As the crowds flooded in, entrepreneurs and artists opened galleries, design-forward boutiques, artists' workshops, and restaurants along Beacon's mile-long Main Street. Eventually it too became a tourist attraction—and a trek, hence the comfy shoes tip. But don't come just to see the new stuff. Hiking up Mount Beacon or taking a cruise or kayak out to the island topped by Bannerman Castle (pictured) are more-than-worthy detours from all the art.
Getting there: Getting to Beacon and getting around does not require a car, thanks to express Metro-North Railroad service from New York City. The view-rich journey should take about an hour and a half.
You can't get to and from Niagara Falls in a day, but Kent Falls State Park offers a less crowded—and far less developed—alternative. Sure, the cascades here are less mighty than at Niagara, but the series of waterfalls on Falls Brook are picturesque, and the park, developed by FDR's Civil Works Administration in the 1930s, has a fine network of hiking trails. They include art trails with reproductions of 19th-century works by Connecticut artists every 15 feet or so, with info on the artists and the location. Also in the park: well-stocked trout streams for anglers, a handsome covered bridge, and picnic tables next to outdoor grills.
Getting There: I-68 North leads from the city in a straight, 1-hour, 50-minute line to the park. Unfortunately, the public transit alternatives will nearly double your travel time.
Kingston rivals Philadelphia on the history front, but the New York State town is far smaller, so it's easier to see the highlights in a day. Kingston's many important Revolutionary-era buildings attest to the place's storied past. It is the oldest Dutch settlement in New York and the state's first capital. Today several of the historic structures are museums, including the only one in the state dedicated to the story of the Hudson River.
Perhaps the most photographed site is the Rondout Lighthouse (pictured above). Alas, the interior can't be toured, but the city does offer guided kayak tours in season that let you paddle near the structure. Passengers aboard the Rip Van Winkle II also get up-close views of the lighthouse. The classic steamship chugs along the Hudson, taking tourists to all the area's top sights.
Getting there: Several Amtrak trains a day serve the nearby Rhinecliff station in roughly an hour and a half from Manhattan. Then it's a quick taxi ride to Kingston. Driving yourself will usually take the same amount of time, unless traffic is hairy.
Many paths lead up Bear Mountain. If you prefer to keep things light and easy when it comes to nature, you can simply drive to the top of the peak and take in the glorious views. If challenging hikes are more your style, you have a number of choices leading up to and around the summit; a favorite of photographers is the Timp-Torne Trail, which rewards trekkers with far-off views of the Manhattan skyline.
But this mountain-centered state park isn't just for trails and views. There's also has an onsite zoo, a handsome merry-go-round featuring carved animals native to the region, playfields, and the 32-acre Hessian Lake, which offers rowboats for rent and bass fishing.
Note: In summer 2023, Bear Mountain State Park was temporarily closed due to storm damage. Make sure the park has reopened before you visit.
Getting there: An hour-long MTA train from Grand Central Station will get you to Peekskill. From there it's a 10-minute taxi ride to the park.