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10 Top-Rated Day Trips from New York City

New York City has so much to offer that many tourists, and even the locals, never venture outside of Manhattan. However, it is well worth escaping the urban jungle to spend time in the peaceful, picturesque surroundings. Charming historic towns are scattered around the idyllic countryside of New York State. Especially beautiful in late spring, summer, and autumn, the landscape features forested rolling hills and lush valleys. Tourists only need to take a one-hour train ride to arrive at the colonial-era village of Sleepy Hollow, a delightful place brimming with Old World ambience and famous for the Legend of the Headless Horseman. For an immersion in vintage American charm, take the train from NYC to the quaint rural community of Cold Spring or to the lovely Victorian-era city of Beacon. To go hiking in rugged, unspoiled terrain, head to Bear Mountain. Several of the attractions on this list are within greater New York City but are popular day-trip excursions, like Coney Island, Governors Island, and Rockaway Beach; they're ideal for a fun day of recreation and relaxation.

1 The Colonial-Era Villages of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown

The Colonial-Era Villages of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown
The Colonial-Era Villages of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown Shinya Suzuki / photo modified
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Sleepy Hollow is a colonial-era village on the Hudson River (about 20 miles north of New York City), an area that was historically a center of farming and milling. It's easy to arrive here by car or the Metro North Railroad (which takes about 35 minutes from Grand Central Station). Sleepy Hollow inspired the Legend of the Headless Horseman by Washington Irving and is famous for its Halloween festivities, when the town comes to life with haunted houses, glowing pumpkins, live music, street fairs, and parades. Of course, the Headless Horseman is sure to make an appearance. The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is considered a must-see sight during Halloween or any time of year. Other tourist highlights are the 17th-century Old Dutch Church and the Philipsburg Manor, both mentioned in Irving's short story. Visitors can also try to find the Headless Horseman Bridge, although it's unknown which of the rustic bridges spanning the Pocantico River is the one that Irving described in his story. Another top attraction is Kykuit, a historic site registered by the National Trust. Four generations of Rockefellers lived in this stately mansion, which is perched on a hilltop surrounded by magnificent gardens overlooking the Hudson River.

Less than one mile away from Sleepy Hollow is Tarrytown, another quaint colonial village. A must-see sight in Tarrytown is Lyndhurst, the Gothic Revival mansion on a 67-acre estate that was owned by railroad baron Jay Gould. Tourists can travel a few miles further (three miles away) to Sunnyside, the home of author Washington Irving. The estate was originally a Dutch farmer's house and is now open to the public for tours.

2 Cold Spring: A Country Village in the Hudson Valley

Cold Spring: A Country Village in the Hudson Valley
Cold Spring: A Country Village in the Hudson Valley
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Cold Spring is a charming country village in the Hudson Valley only 50 miles north of Manhattan. Considered one of the best-preserved 19th-century towns in the region, the village has a picturesque historic center that was built up along the Hudson River. A babbling brook runs right through the town's Main Street, which is lined with restaurants, boutiques, and antique stores. During summertime, visitors enjoy having coffee at sidewalk cafés and dining by the riverfront or at the restaurants with outdoor patios, many of which offer live music. Cold Spring is a place for relaxation. Take a stroll through the pleasant promenade of the town's riverside park. Discover the beauty of Stonecrop Gardens, with its woodlands and English-style flower garden. Go for a hike in the wooded rolling hills surrounding the town. Many hiking and biking trails lead through pastoral scenes of leafy trees and babbling fresh-water streams. Visitors can also participate in water sports, including boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddle-boarding, and waterskiing on the river. In the autumn, fall foliage cruises are popular.

Cold Spring is accessible from New York City by car, train, or ferry. The train (which takes about one hour 45 minutes) is the least stressful way to arrive here. However, traveling by car makes it possible to attend cultural events in the area. During the summer months, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival takes places at an outdoor theater in nearby Garrison (one mile away) on the grounds of the Boscobel Mansion. This Georgian-style mansion has exquisite gardens on the banks of the Hudson River. Visitors may picnic on the Boscobel lawn or enjoy snacks from a café beside the theater. The town of Garrison also has several excellent restaurants. The Philipstown Depot Theatre also in Garrison offers top-notch theater performances throughout the year.

3 Americana Charm in the Historic Town of Beacon

This historic town in the Hudson Valley is a wonderful day-trip destination from New York City, about 65 miles north and accessible by car or train (one hour and 30 minutes' ride on the Metro North commuter line). It's worth journeying out to this little town in the lush Hudson Valley countryside. Beacon is steeped in history and old-fashioned Americana charm, with its handsome red-brick architecture, Victorian-era buildings, and locally-owned boutiques. The town also brims with interesting antique shops, art galleries, museums, and fine dining restaurants. For a scenic hike, follow the Incline Railway Trail up to the top of Mount Beacon. The hike takes about one hour each way, and hikers are rewarded with sensational panoramic views from the summit.

4 Hiking and Cycling at Bear Mountain

View from Bear Mountain
View from Bear Mountain
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Bear Mountain State Park is a picturesque retreat in nature, about 50 miles north of New York City on the west bank of the Hudson River. It takes about two hours to arrive here by train. Hikers and cyclists relish the rugged scenery and endless choice of trails. More than 200 marked paths traverse the state park, a vast wilderness that encompasses the 2,000 acres of wooded mountain terrain, including a lake and river with fishing access. A recommended hike is the 1.3-mile Bear Mountain Summit Loop up to the top of Bear Mountain. The sweeping views from the summit make the one-hour uphill journey worthwhile.

During summertime, visitors enjoy the shaded picnic areas, swimming pool, and playing field. In winter, skiers can go cross-country skiing and from late October through mid-March, the outdoor rink is open for ice skating. Fishing is also possible during the season. Bear Mountain State Park has two attractions that appeal to families with kids: the Trailside Museum & Zoo and Merry-Go-Round. The Trailside Museum & Zoo educates visitors about biodiversity and has nature-themed games. The Merry-Go-Round is a special carrousel that features hand-carved seats depicting native animals such as the black bear, Canadian goose, deer, raccoon, rabbit, and wild turkey. Bear Mountain is lovely in the springtime with many wildflowers. In autumn, the vibrant multi-colored fall foliage is spectacular.

5 Summertime Fun in Coney Island

Summertime Fun in Coney Island
Summertime Fun in Coney Island
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With its roller coaster rides and famous fairground foods, Coney Island is synonymous with summertime fun. This iconic seaside destination, although not technically an island, is in the southernmost part of Brooklyn, only 14 miles away from Manhattan, and easily accessible by subway. Epitomizing American popular culture, the old-fashioned Amusement Park allows visitors to forget their cares and have a few hours of fun. Besides the Amusement Park and Beach Boardwalk, Coney Island also has museums, film screenings, and circus performances.

Coney Island is open seasonally from Easter until Halloween. The park has more than 50 rides and attractions with opening hours only on weekends from Easter through Memorial Day, and all week long from Memorial Day until Labor Day, then only on weekends from Labor Day through October. The Coney Island beach and boardwalk are open year-round; lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The New York Aquarium and Nathan's Hot Dogs are open almost daily year-round. During the summer, visitors are dazzled by fireworks displays every Friday evening at 9:30pm.

6 Governors Island

Governors Island
Governors Island
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Just a short ferry ride away from Manhattan, Governors Island is an escape from the hubbub of New York City. The ferry leaves from the Battery Maritime Building and arrives at Soissons Landing on Governors Island. A visitor's first impression will be the peaceful traffic-free atmosphere and sensational views of New York City. The island's Play Lawn offers amazing panoramas of the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline, and Brooklyn Bridge, while the Northern Promenade provides a view of the New York Harbor. For more stunning vistas and some historical insight, head to the Castle Williams. This National Monument (open to the public for tours) is an 18th-century sentinel overlooking the New York Harbor. Besides the beautiful scenery, the other main reason to visit Governors Island is for the recreational activities. Visitors can go cycling, walking, enjoy picnics, or play miniature golf. For a casual meal or snack, tourists can choose from several casual restaurants and a few ice cream shops. Culture hounds will appreciate that Governor's Island hosts events such as art exhibits and film festivals; check the schedule before planning a trip.

7 Princeton University and Town

Princeton University and Town
Princeton University and Town James Loesch / photo modified
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Founded in 1756, Princeton University is a prestigious Ivy League institution in a serene, park-like setting. Around 180 university buildings grace the campus' expansive 500-acre grounds. Meandering tree-shaded paths lead from dorm rooms to classrooms and libraries. Visitors will enjoy wandering around the campus, while admiring the inspiring ivy-covered halls. The architecture of the university's buildings reflects a wide range of styles, from colonial and Romanesque to modern. The Collegiate Gothic buildings were modeled after the medieval halls of Oxford and Cambridge in England. The campus' most noteworthy monument is the colonial-era Nassau Hall, built in 1756. This historic landmark witnessed a turning point in the Revolutionary War during the Battle of Princeton in 1777. British troops surrendered to General George Washington here, and Nassau Hall then became the new nation's capital building.

Other must-see sights are the Princeton University Chapel and the Princeton University Art Museum. With its exceptional collection of around 92,000 works of art, the Princeton University Art Museum is considered one of the top art museums in the United States. For cultural performances, find out the schedule of McCarter Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, which offers an excellent program of theater, dance, and music concerts, and the Westminster Choir College, renowned for its classical choir. Be sure to spend time exploring the historic town of Princeton, which has many restaurants and shops. If visiting around mid-September, head over to Terhune Orchards for Apple Days. This festive annual event includes apple picking, live music, and pumpkin paintings.

8 Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach
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About 21 miles from Manhattan in Queens, Rockaway Beach is actually several different beaches along the expansive stretch between 3rd Street and 153rd Street. Known as the best beach destination near the city, Rockaway Beach merits the one-hour-and-15-minute journey from downtown Manhattan by subway. Rockaway beach buzzes with activity during the high season, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. On balmy summer days, sunbathers, swimmers, and surfers come out in droves, however this gorgeous seaside destination is popular year-round. Enjoy the refreshing ocean scenery; go for a walk along the sandy beach; and stop for a snack at one of the food stands on the Beach Boardwalk at 86th Street, 97th Street, and 106th Street. Rockaway Beach also has public restrooms and shower facilities, seven playgrounds, skate parks, handball courts, volleyball courts, a roller hockey field, and basketball court.

9 Greenwood Gardens

Greenwood Gardens
Greenwood Gardens Kristine Paulus / photo modified
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This splendid 28-acre formal garden is surrounded by 1,200 acres of parkland, including the forests of South Mountain Reservation. Previously a private estate with an elegant manor house, Greenwood Garden was transformed in 2000 into a nonprofit conservation organization and public garden. The property features a blend of contemporary, classical, and Arts & Crafts garden-design styles. Visitors are delighted by the Italianate-style terraces, moss-covered paths, groves of shady plane and spruce trees, and wildflower meadows. Greenwood Gardens also offers events throughout the year such as lectures about gardening and holiday festivities. Visitors may take birding walks led by an Audubon Naturalist or a general 45-minute guided walking tour to learn about the garden's history and landscaping. Greenwood Gardens is in Short Hills, New Jersey, just 22 miles from New York City, which is easily accessible by train. The ride on New Jersey Transit begins at Penn Station and takes about one hour and 30 minutes.

Address: 274 Old Short Hills Road, Short Hills, NJ

10 Designer Label Outlets at Woodbury Common

Shopaholics make a beeline to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets for brand name shopping at bargain prices. Located in Central Valley, 46 miles north of New York City, Woodbury Common is a two-hour train ride from Manhattan on New Jersey Transit. The impressive selection of designer-label outlets includes Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Brunello Cucinelli, Calvin Klein, Escada, Fendi, Gucci, Izod, Kate Spade, Lacoste, Levi's, Loro Piana, MaxMara, Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino, and Versace.

Tourists traveling here by car could easily visit other attractions in the area. Those seeking pampering should head to the Middletown spa (21 miles away) or Highland Mills spa (three miles away). For an adventure, try a hot air balloon ride that takes off in Middletown. Golfers can play golf in Central Valley and Monroe (four miles away). To continue shopping but instead focus on artisan boutiques, drive 11 miles away to the Sugar Loaf Art & Craft Village. Surrounded by apple orchards and ranches, Sugar Loaf is a cute village where artisans live and work in renovated 18th-century barns. The shops of Sugar Loaf showcase the artisans' handcrafted pottery, paintings, candles, woodwork, and jewelry. After browsing the enticing boutiques, stop for a snack or meal at one of the village's excellent restaurants.

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