The 6 best day trips from New York City

Rachel is one of the writers on the latest New York City guidebook. Here she shares her top choices for when you need a city break for a day.

New York City is filled with endless adventures — but it’s that constant bustle that makes day trips away from the concrete jungle so very necessary. Fortunately, there are plenty of options in every direction for those moments when you need to truly exhale.

For a dose of culture, head north to Beacon for a sprawling modern art museum along with a plethora of local galleries and vintage shops. To tour historic sites, Sleepy Hollow, also to the north, offers everything from stunning estates to legendary cemeteries. If you’re looking for a more relaxing getaway, choose from beaches in either direction: south to the Jersey Shore or east to Rockaway. If it’s small-town charm you’re craving, Cold Spring is your answer, and if you simply want to expand your pizza repertoire, head northeast to New Haven.

Here are six trips that each offer a breath of fresh air from the Big Apple.

The stone. vine-covered mansion at the Kykuit Rockefeller Estate
Head to the Sleepy Hollow area to visit historic sites like the Kykuit Estate © Shutterstock / Photo Spirit

1. Sleepy Hollow

Best for history and gourmet
Travel time: About 45 min without traffic

Sleepy Hollow may be the stuff of legends, inspiring Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1820, but actually, it’s just a sweet little riverside village packed with historic sites. The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, an operating 90-acre site, is where Irving is buried along with other notable names, from Elizabeth Arden to Andrew Carnegie. The famous tale was supposedly set in the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground out front. Honoring its literary fame are the Headless Horseman Bridge, with a historic marker, and an 18 ft-tall steel statue. 

Other town highlights include Kykuit, a 1913 Classical Revival-style estate that was home to four generations of Rockefellers, especially notable for its basement art gallery and outdoor fountains; Philipsburg Manor, taking visitors back to 1750 to learn about the harsh realities of the enslaved community; and further out, past the center of Tarrytown, Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, the writer’s beloved waterfront home that captures his sense of whimsy. 

Make a full day of it by snagging a coveted dinner reservation at nearby Blue Hill at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture – a badge of honor for New Yorkers since it opened in 2004. Located on the farm where much of its ingredients are sourced, the upscale restaurant has no menu – just a chef-selected lineup of the most elegant dishes created with what’s available in the field and local markets.

How to get to Sleepy Hollow: While there is Metro-North train service to adjacent Tarrytown, the sites are just out of walking distance and spread out, so renting a car may be the most efficient way to explore the highlights. Take either Interstate 87 or the Saw Mill Parkway north out of the city.

Read more: The top 5 road trips in New York State

2. Beacon

Best for art lovers
Travel time: About 80 min by train; 75 min by car without traffic 

Come for the art, stay for the artistry! The Dia Art Foundation may have NYC locations in Chelsea and Bridgehampton, but it’s best known for its flagship Hudson Valley outpost, Dia Beacon, which opened in 2003. Set on the Hudson River bank in a massive former Nabisco box-printing factory, the museum immerses visitors in contemporary artwork from the 1960s to now. 

Afterward, step into town, which is filled with art galleries and studios of all kinds. Stop in at Hudson Beach Glass, Analog Diary or Mother Gallery, peruse the vintage shops (don’t miss Vintage: Beacon) or enjoy a cup of joe at Bank Square Coffeehouse. Those looking for a more active adventure can hike to Mount Beacon, but be forewarned that there are some steep sections.

How to get to Beacon: With so much – including Dia Beacon – walkable from the train station, the Metro-North is a great option, boarding at either Grand Central or Harlem-125 stations. Take the Poughkeepsie line north and hop off about 80 minutes later. Alternatively, drive north on Interstate 87 or the Palisades Interstate. 

Rockaways, Queens, New York beach front and ocean during summer. Blue skies and white sand.
When you need some sand and sun, catch the train to Rockaway © Shutterstock / heymynameismark

3. Rockaway, Queens

Best for a beach day
Travel time: About an hour

It’s a tale of two worlds on the two sides of America’s largest urban beach, made famous by the Ramones’ 1977 song “Rockaway Beach.” On the west end, families are drawn to Jacob Riis Park, with the adjacent green ruins of Fort Tilden from the first World War. Starting around Beach 108th St, the east end is home to the city’s only official surfing beach, along with a scene of artists and hipsters. Along the way, the boardwalk’s concessions offer everything from lobster rolls to pizza.

For those who’d like to experience the waves, lessons can be booked at the Station Surf Shop near the Beach 90th St subway stop. If you’d like to stay overnight, make the Rockaway Hotel your home base, enjoying dinner at Uzbek spot Uma’s or on the outdoor patio at Sayra’s Wine Bar before getting a drink at Rockaway Surf Club.

How to get to Rockaway: This just might be the best deal in town: getting to the beach for the price of one $2.90 subway ride. Take the A train bound for Far Rockaway or the S to Rockaway Park. Those opting for the Long Island Railroad can ride to the Far Rockaway station and connect to the Q114 bus, but the most scenic way is on the NYC Ferry’s Rockaway route.

Read more: The 12 best beaches in New York State, from peaceful escapes to party towns

4. Cold Spring

Best car-free small-town getaway 
Travel time: About 1hr 15 min by train; 90 mins by car without traffic

The Putnam County village of Cold Spring has all the ingredients for a break from the big city: a historic downtown filled with boutiques, antique shops and eateries; a dockside park with Hudson River views and hiking trails in the West Point Foundry Preserve. And the best part is that it’s all super compact and only a few minutes’ walk from the Metro-North train station. 

Those with a car who’d like to venture further out can also head up the road about 3.5 miles to Magazzino Italian Art museum, while Boscobel House and Gardens in adjacent Garrison has one of the best views of Constitution Marsh, West Point and the Hudson River.

How to get to Cold Spring: Hop on the MTA’s Metro-North train’s Poughkeepsie line from Grand Central Station and in just six stops and 75 minutes, you’ll be disembarking right in the heart of Cold Spring. (You can also board at the Harlem-125 St station, one stop closer.) Those driving can take the Palisades Interstate Parkway north to US-202 East/US-6 East in Highlands before following NY Route 9D to Cold Spring’s Main Street. 

5. New Haven

Best for pizza fans 
Travel time: About 2 hours by train or car without traffic

A pilgrimage out of NYC for pizza may seem sacrilegious, yet this Connecticut college town has its own stamp on pizza: a thin crust Neapolitan variety charred in a coal oven and referred to as apizza, stemming from the Neapolitan dialect. 

Frank Pepe Pizzeria has been around the longest, opened in 1925 by Italian immigrant Pepe, who put his own spin on the dish from his native Naples with tomatoes from Mt Vesuvius’ foothill and pecorino cheese from Sardinia. Down the street is Sally’s Apizza, founded in 1938 by Salvatore “Sally” Consiglio. The modest 15-booth spot shows its distinction in its custom ovens, said to produce an “iconic oven-kissed char.” 

On State Street, Modern Apizza belongs to the same era, established in 1934 by Tony Tolli. Bar joined the scene in 1991 with comparably thicker-crust pizza and toppings like mashed potato, eggs and brisket.

How to get to New Haven: Trains on the New Haven Line on Metro-North depart throughout the day from Grand Central. Riders can also hop on at the second stop, Harlem-125 St. Journeys are about 2 hours long. Those driving can take Interstate 95 north. Expect traffic during peak hours and consider taking the parallel Merritt Parkway for portions of the ride to avoid congestion.

Read more: Stay longer and plan a pizza-themed weekend in New Haven

A wooden footbrdge at dusk in the Sandy Hook National Recreation Area along the Jersey shore
 Wander environmentally protected beaches in Sandy Hook © Shutterstock / Andrew F. Kazmierski

6. Sandy Hook, New Jersey

Best for a ferry trip
Travel time: About an hour by ferry or car

Get a taste of the Jersey Shore at its northernmost point in Sandy Hook. The 1,665-acre peninsula has seven miles of beaches and is easily reachable from Manhattan in the summer months by a ferry service that picks up in both midtown and downtown.

The beaches are part of the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area, combined with the Statue of Liberty (catch a glimpse on the ferry ride!). Visitors can sign up for free ranger tours to visit the top of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse – from 1764, it’s the oldest operating one in the country – and see the Lighthouse Keepers Quarters and History House. Also explore the country’s first mortar battery, which dates back to 1894.

How to get to Sandy Hook: The high-speed Seastreak ferry runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day and is about an hour from midtown, with a bus shuttle service taking beachgoers to  Beach D, Beach E, Gunnison or North Beach. Alternatively, take the New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line train to Red Bank and then its 834 bus to the Highlands. You’ll be dropped off near the park entrance, but can get to Beaches B, C or D. Drivers can take the New Jersey Turnpike south to Exit 11 onto the Garden State Parkway South to Exit 117 and follow Route 36 east.

This article was first published Oct 1, 2017 and updated May 28, 2024.

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