Beyond Times Square – put a New York fly drive on your list of family adventures
If you’re going to fly to NYC, especially in the summer or the Fall (that’s autumn to us Brits), then why not extend your short break in The Big Apple?
Hire a car once you’ve exhausted the bright lights of NYC, and take a little time to explore the breathtaking beauty and tranquility of The Empire State.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Upstate New York on several occasions, and because my role at the time was to showcase the very best that New York State has to offer to UK travel agents and travel journalists, I got to see the very best of it. There is so much to explore beyond the Big Apple, with tons of outdoor adventures and jaw-dropping scenery to boot.
So don’t head home on a city-break high, wind down, relax, and explore so much more on a New York fly drive adventure. Extend your short break, you’re in The USA after all - use the opportunity to make more amazing memories stateside.
How long do you need for a New York fly drive adventure?
Aside from The Big Apple, New York State’s most famous attraction is probably the mighty Niagara Falls, which straddles Canada and the USA. The drive from NYC to Niagara Falls is on par with driving from London to Glasgow in terms of distance (circa 400 miles).
My advice to you would be to take a couple of weeks to explore Upstate New York, and then cross the border into Canada, drop off your hire car, and fly back to the UK direct from Toronto. (The distance from the USA/Canada border at Niagara to Toronto airport is 75 miles).
If you can’t spare quite so much time, take a few days to explore the regions closer to NYC - The Hudson Valley, The Catskills, and Long Island are all distinctly unique. Adding them into your itinerary transforms a little city break into a New York fly drive adventure full of more opportunities to make amazing memories in New York State’s lakes, mountains, vineyards, quaint towns and villages, and by the ocean.
Head up the Hudson for outdoor recreation
Just 30 minutes outside of downtown NYC is the historic Hudson Valley - a world away from the mayhem of Manhattan. This entire region is brimming with natural beauty and loads of history. It’s a great place to head to if you’ve got kids - the region is big on horse-riding, canoeing, hiking, biking, and climbing. Head to Bear Mountain State Park, Minnewaska State Park, and Kaaterskill Falls for fresh air, serious scenery, and family fun.
Check into the Mohonk Mountain House - a Victorian castle located just 90 miles north of NYC. This is old-school glam, Americana at its best, and if, like me, Dirty Dancing is one of your all-time favourite films, you’ll want to visit Mohonk. All that’s missing is Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman entertaining you with the Cha Cha Cha or the Fox Trot on an eve. The rest of this resort, set to the backdrop of the jaw-dropping Shawangunk Mountains is the perfect antidote to the hectic hedonism of Times Square.
There’s a daily schedule of activities to keep everyone entertained at Mohonk and combining a stay here with NYC makes for one heck of a family holiday.
Carry on up to The Catskills - walk in the footsteps of rockstars
Before Glastonbury, there was Woodstock. Named after an upstate music mountain town that became the symbol of peace, love, art, and community, Woodstock remains the quintessential rock town today. If you get to experience Broadway and Woodstock in one trip, then you’ve earned some serious bragging rights.
You’ll find restaurants, cafes, juice bars, vintage clothing stores, and record and toy shops on Woodstock's hip and happening Tinker Street.
Pop into Phoenicia Diner in Phoenicia for the best pancakes in New York! Just a 20-minute drive west of Woodstock, this retro-chic-designed proper American diner has been serving piles of pancakes with dozens of toppings since 1962 and has hosted a rockstar or two.
A 90-minute drive southwest of Woodstock is Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The Museum at Bethel Woods is situated on the actual site of the 1969 Festival. This is your opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, and Janis Joplin - here the legends of the 1960s come to life and you’ll be transported back to the summer of love.
Lounge around on Long Island - the best beaches in America!
You might not automatically think of ‘beach holiday’ when you think of New York. Well, 90 minutes outside of Manhattan (The distance between NYC and Long Island is 49 miles) are some pretty magnificent beaches boasting fine white sand, spectacular waves, miles of boardwalks, and shore-side restaurants.
The best beaches in my opinion are Jones Beach State Park, Montauk, and Fire Island. Coopers Beach in Southampton and Main Beach in East Hampton are consistently named in the annual ‘Top Ten Beaches in America!
Long Island is also big on wine with over 60 wineries, many of which offer tours, dining, and live music in the summer months. Baiting Hollow Farm & Vineyard, and Wölffer Estate Vineyard are worth a visit.
Reserve a table at Wölffer Kitchen Amagansett - a bohemian eatery in the heart of the Hamptons. Sit outside on the porch if you can and tuck into fresh scallops and sip on a crisp Riesling from The Estate.
No doubt you’ll want to check out the house porn in The Hamptons and it’s absolutely worth it. The Hamptons are a string of towns located on the tip of Long Island where Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lopez, Paul McCartney, and Jon Bon Jovi (to name drop a few) have homes. Amazing seafood restaurants, boutique shopping, wineries, and a lively club scene - check out The Surf Lodge in Montauk, known for hosting concerts with some huge names like John Legend and Jimmy Buffett. They have some cute rooms here too.
More Upstate New York highlights
Letchworth State Park - affectionately known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” - boasts 50 waterfalls and some pretty impressive deep gorges and has got to be one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S.A. A great way to see it is from above on a hot air balloon ride.
I got to try my hand at glass-blowing at Corning Museum of Glass which was a lot of fun - both Letchworth State Park and Corning Museum of Glass are in the Fingerlakes region - 250 miles northwest of NYC. Also famous for its wineries and finger-shaped lakes.
And, if like me you love photography, the George Eastman Museum in the city of Rochester is a must.
If you make it all the way to Buffalo - the 2nd largest city in the US just 20 miles from Niagara Falls - you’ve got to try the famous buffalo wings at Bar Bills Tavern.
Remember - there’s a lot more to New York than New York.