The Big Apple’s immense gravitational pull and the exceptional amount of things to see and do there mean that many people, tourists and locals alike, give little thought to life just outside this cosmopolitan jungle. In this case, though, ignorance certainly is not bliss, and anyone looking to explore the city’s surrounding areas will be profoundly rewarded. Within 2.5 hours or less by rail, bus or car from New York City, there are no shortage of amazing places to spend the day exploring, and perhaps the best thing about them is that you can still be back in the city in time for bed. After just a short journey, daytrippers can visit a selection of iconic neighboring cities, areas of great natural beauty, hiking trails, vineyards, beaches, notable architecture and museums, historic villages and towns filled with Americana charm. Here are some of my favorites.
Beacon is a small commuter town in the heart of the Hudson Valley that’s filled with charm, history and rich cultural offerings. There’s so much to see and do here that many New Yorkers tend to come here for a weekend getaway, but as it’s only a quick train or a 90 minute drive from Manhattan, it’s an ideal spot for a day trip. If you’re a history buff, visit Bannerman Castle, built in the early 1900s, or Madam Brett Homestead, a Dutch-style house built in the early 1700s. If art is more your thing, you absolutely cannot miss Dia Beacon, an incredible contemporary art museum with a huge exhibition space and works by greats such as Dan Flavin, Andy Warhol and Richard Serra. There’s a gorgeous bookshop and a cafe here too. Of course, no trip to Beacon is complete without a mosey down Main Street, where you can explore antiques, apothecaries, jewelry, clothes, wares by local makers and expertly curated shops filled with all things art and design. Foodies and coffee lovers are also spoiled for choice here. Check out Kitchen and Coffee, Meyer’s Olde Dutch and Wonder Bar. If you visit on a Sunday you’ll be treated to an iconic duo with Beacon’s famous Farmers Market and their Flea Market in full swing.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest city, is just an hour and a half away from NYC by train. In fact, many people live in Philadelphia and work in New York City, but making the trip in the opposite direction is also definitely worth your while. Philadelphia is one of the most historic cities in the United States and its colonial charm will make you feel as if you’ve traveled not just a hundred miles but a few decades into the past as well. Of course, Philly is also very much an up-and-coming city for younger generations and as a result, the city has thriving art and music scenes, impressive museums, shops, a great coffee culture, and a delicious array of restaurants to fuel your day of exploring. Wander through the cobblestone streets of Old City, snap an iconic photo at the Rocky Statue or Liberty Bell, and explore the collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the Barnes Foundation. If you’re more of the curious type, visit The Franklin Institute or the Mütter Museum. Then, wind down with a drink and something to eat in Fishtown before heading home.
The quaint little village that inspired Washington Irving’s famous ghost story about the disappearance of Ichabod Crane is known as one of the country’s most haunted towns. Sleepy Hollow is a Dutch settlement that looks as if it has been frozen in time, with plenty of historic sites to visit such as Philipsburg Manor, The Old Dutch Church, and the Kykuit Estate, owned by the Rockefeller family. If you’re an art lover, you must stop by Union Church of Pocantico Hills, a tiny church close to the Kykuit Estate, with incredible stained glass windows made by none other than Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. The rose window, made by Matisse, is actually his final completed work before his death in 1954.
Of course, Sleepy Hollow is worth a visit all year round, but it comes alive in the Fall and due to its exceptionally spooky atmosphere. It is the perfect day trip destination for all those Halloween lovers out there. If you’re looking for a little scare then make sure to visit the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Headless Horseman Bridge (where Irving tells us the infamous ghost was most often spotted), and Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s residence while he was in town. If you happen to visit on Halloween, you must check out the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, the popular event where over 7000 carved pumpkins are illuminated and on display.
Nestled in the Hudson Valley and just over an hour’s drive from Manhattan is every art lover’s dream, Storm King Art Center. With art and large-scale sculptures from artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Isamu Noguchi and Nam June Paik, this 500 acre outdoor museum is the perfect place to spend a culture-filled day outside, far from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Rent a bike and cycle through the park to take in some of the world’s best sculptural works and breathtaking scenic views. Explore the indoor galleries inside the Museum Building, pick up a souvenir inside the curated museum store, and then sit back and sip on something refreshing at the outdoor cafe before you head on home.
The Glass House, otherwise known as Johnson House, is a historic house museum in New Canaan, Connecticut. As its name suggests, The Glass House is an architectural wonder, completely transparent and made entirely from glass. The property is the signature work of architect Philip Johnson who designed the house and lived there from 1949 until his death in 2005. It acts as an ideal vantage point to take in the verdant scenery of the surrounding landscape, which includes an entire 50 acres that visitors can explore. As Johnson lived so much of his life here, he also built and commissioned other interesting structures on the property, such as an artist studio, a man-made pond and pavilion, outdoor sculpture, and most notably, a Painting Gallery and a separate Sculpture Gallery, both purpose-built to house his art collection, with works by Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and more. You must buy a ticket to visit the site, which is only accessible via an official tour, although you can opt for a self-guided tour option.
New Canaan is accessible by car and train from NYC and the Glass House Visitor Center (where all tours begin) is just a short walk from the train station. New Canaan itself is also worth exploring before you head home, with a charming selection of boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
If you’re looking to escape the chaos of NYC but really can’t face any longer journeys, there’s no shortage of great day trip locations within New York’s city limits. A few honorable mentions go out to Governor’s Island, Rockaway Beach, Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. There’s so much to do in such close proximity to the city if you’re willing and able to go exploring.
Bryony Parker is a writer and artist currently living in São Paulo, Brazil and working on her Masters in International Affairs. You can find her at @par666ker on all social media.