Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
New York State has so much to offer travelers, from natural wonders and beautiful beaches to historic sites and fascinating museums, as well as a diverse food and drink scene. Whether it’s the excitement of New York City, the serenity of the Hamptons, the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley and Catskills, the winter sports of the Adirondacks, or the water activities and wineries of the Finger Lakes, New York State truly has something for everyone.
Of course, New York City is a major highlight and can easily take up most if not all of a trip, but it’s actually just a small part of the 54,556 square miles that make up the state. If you have the time (or you’ve already been to NYC), the rest of New York State is well worth exploring, especially if you’re a nature lover, wine enthusiast, or culture hound.
New York State’s diverse landscape includes bustling cities, charming villages, pristine beaches and lakes, gorgeous islands, looming mountains, rushing rivers, deep canyons, lush forests, and vast farmland, broken up into regions including the North and South Forks of Long Island, the Hudson Valley, the Capital Region, the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Finger Lakes, and more. If you’re more of a city person, New York State has some of the best, including the five boroughs of New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island), Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany, the capital.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: New York State has something to offer year-round, but it’s important to be aware that it can get quite cold in winter, with snowfall a guarantee. Of course, that means skiing, ice-skating, and other winter sports, as well as some beautiful holiday lights and markets in December. Christmas and New Year’s are peak visiting times in New York City. Spring and fall are both excellent times to visit because they are not peak season, but still offer pleasant weather perfect for hiking, vineyard and farm visits, and exploring cities. Summer is high season in New York State, and beaches, lakefronts, and rivers will be full of swimmers and sunbathers. Summer in New York City is also peak season, so expect museums, parks, restaurants, and other attractions to be crowded. Hotel, car rental, and flight prices will be at their peak during the summer months, and it can also get quite hot, especially in New York City.
Getting Around: The train system in New York State is robust and it’s fairly easy to get to hundreds of destinations throughout the state. Public transportation makes getting around New York City easy, fast, and affordable. Outside of NYC, there is the Long Island Railroad, which goes from Penn Station in Manhattan and Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn to various points all across Long Island, and Metro North, which travels from Grand Central Station in Manhattan to points north, including Westchester County, the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, Albany, and more. Amtrak also services cities like Manhattan, Albany, New Rochelle, Poughkeepsie, Syracuse, Hudson, Utica, Buffalo, Rochester, and more. There are also various bus lines that serve the state, including Greyhound and Peter Pan. Or you can fly between major cities, including New York City, Islip, Rochester, Buffalo, Albany, Syracuse, and Westchester County—if you’re traveling to far-flung places like Buffalo, a flight can save you six hours of driving there from Manhattan, for example. Taxis, Lyfts, Ubers, and car services are prevalent in major cities like Albany, Rochester, and Buffalo. Renting a car if you’re remaining in New York City is generally a bad idea as parking is difficult to find and/or very expensive and traffic is bad, but if you’re traveling outside of NYC, renting a car can be an easy option, especially for reaching more rural areas.
Travel Tip: The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are usually when flights, hotels, and car rentals will be cheapest. Attractions will also be the least crowded. Best of all, those seasons offer beautiful landscapes, either with blooming spring flowers or colorful fall foliage. Hiking during those seasons is ideal, thanks to the lush scenery and mild temperatures.
Things to Do
New York State is bursting with activities all year long. From top-notch museums and monuments to stunning parks and peaceful beaches, there are things for kids and families, romantic activities for couples, and friend groups can find plenty of things to do. Architecture fans, history buffs, foodies, art hounds, sun seekers, hikers, and nature lovers will all be happy here. Don’t miss these activities:
- Go for a Hike: New York State has 180 state parks, from the Long Island coast to the mighty Niagara Falls, with the Catskill and Adirondack mountains in between. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in all kinds of landscapes, offering stunning panoramic views.
- Set Sail: New York State has every kind of body of water imaginable: oceans, lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks, and streams. Go kayaking around Shelter Island, sailing through the Thousand Islands, or canoeing in one of the dozens of lakes in the Catskills; or book a boat tour on Lake George or one of the Finger Lakes, as boating is a time-honored New York pastime. Even New York City has a robust boating culture, and seeing the sights by boat is a great experience or you can hop on the Staten Island Ferry for free.
- Stroll Through Village Main Streets: Although the state is home to one of the largest and greatest cities in the world (New York City), it also has hundreds of charming small towns and villages. Long Island and Upstate New York are filled with some of the quaintest little towns, complete with charming Main Streets perfect for strolling along. Aside from classic diners and general stores, many towns these days also have galleries and independent boutiques selling handmade, small-batch or one-of-a-kind items—with nary a chain store in sight. Many of these towns are also quite old and are filled with historic and beautiful architecture. The Catskills, Hudson Valley, the North Fork of Long Island, and the Finger Lakes are the best regions to visit for some small town charm. Some quintessential villages in New York State include Livingston Manor, Narrowsburg, Woodstock, Rhinebeck, Catskill, Kingston, New Paltz, Beacon, Geneva, Skaneateles, Greenport, Sag Harbor, Lake Placid, and Saratoga Springs.
What to Eat and Drink
New York State is known for so many foods, from bagels and pizza in New York City to fresh oysters and seafood in Long Island. It’s also the birthplace of some famous foods that have spread beyond New York like Buffalo wings and Thousand Islands salad dressing, as well as some that can only be found in their region, like Beef on Weck and sponge candy (Buffalo), Garbage Plate (Rochester), grape pie (Finger Lakes), and spiedie (Binghamton). New York State is also extremely diverse, and it is easy to find food from dozens of cultures around the world, especially in New York City.
New York State is also known for its wineries and craft breweries, cideries, and distilleries. Long Island and the Finger Lakes are both known for their excellent vineyards, and they are all easy to visit and have tastings. The Catskills and Hudson Valley are great regions to experience the craft brewery, cider, and distillery boom, and most will have tasting rooms, tours, and bars to sip at.
Where to Stay
New York State has various options for accommodations. In cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany, all the large chain hotels are represented, as well as a few independent ones, and plenty of Airbnbs. In the Hamptons, there are fewer hotels and house rentals, and those are often difficult to secure for less than a week or a month—and everything is pricey. Other parts of Long Island will have Airbnbs and hotels. The Catskills and Hudson Valley have experienced a boutique hotel boom, and there are some really wonderful small, independent hotels that offer unique experiences as well as larger family resorts. The Finger Lakes has some hotels but quaint inns and bed-and-breakfasts are also popular up there. Lake George and Lake Placid have a good selection of independent hotels at a wide range of price points, as well as a robust vacation house rental selection.
- Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Buffalo is 9.4 miles from downtown Buffalo and 25 miles to Niagara Falls.
- Albany International Airport is 12 miles to downtown Albany, 9.7 miles from Schenectady, 29 miles to Saratoga Springs, and 55 miles from Lake George.
- Greater Rochester International Airport in Rochester is 7.4 miles from downtown Rochester and between 45 minutes to a 1.5 hours to parts of the Finger Lakes, depending where in that region you’re headed.
- Syracuse Hancock International Airport is 7.9 miles from downtown Syracuse and about 30 miles to parts of the Finger Lakes.
If you're starting your trip in New York City or headed to Long Island or the Catskills or Hudson Valley, consider one of the city's main airports:
- John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens is the largest and has a lot of international flights, but it can be intimidating and exhausting to traverse its many terminals. It is 16 miles from Midtown Manhattan and a good option if you’re headed to Long Island.
- La Guardia International Airport in Queens is more manageable and recent upgrades have greatly improved its look, functionality, and services. It also has plenty of flights from most major carriers but less international options than JFK and EWR. It is 8.5 miles away from Midtown Manhattan and a good option if you’re headed to Long Island.
- Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, is 16 miles from Midtown Manhattan and sometimes flights there can be cheaper. It is the hub for United so almost all United flights will arrive and depart from here and it also has robust international offerings.
Amtrak trains to other major East Coast cities run fairly often to and from Penn Station, Albany, New Rochelle, Poughkeepsie, Syracuse, Hudson, Utica, Buffalo, Rochester, and more. Buses are usually the cheapest option, with Greyhound, Megabus, and Bolt Bus, serving NYC, Albany, Rochester, Buffalo, and more, but they often take the most amount of time. And of course, driving is always an option.
Culture and Customs
New York City has a culture all its own and there are several unwritten rules that locals follow, including how to walk on a busy sidewalk (hint: don’t stop in the middle of it), subway etiquette, how to hail a cab, and proper bicycle behavior. The rest of the state has its own quirks, but overall is not much different than the rest of the United States.
Tipping is important in New York; be sure to tip taxi drivers, wait staff at restaurants, and bartenders.
Money Saving Tips
- There are tons of awesome free activities, events, and places to visit in New York State, including parks, museums, beaches, and lakes. Several museums and attractions have certain days or times that are "pay what you wish" or are sometimes free.
- Visit during the spring, fall, or winter (except for Christmas and New Year’s) to save big on airfare, hotels, and Airbnbs.
New York State Government. "State Parks."
National Chicken Council. "Chicken Wing History." January 24, 2017
NPR's The Salt. "Thousand Islands, Two Tales: Who Really Invented That Dressing?" September 5, 2016