New York weekend getaways: 5 ideas to leave the city

New York has so much to offer that it’s hard to imagine why you would want to leave it for a weekend. Indeed while living there we spent most of our weekends exploring different neighbourhoods and tasting a world of food in the city’s endless stream of restaurants. There is however much to see away from the city, and on a number of occasions we decided to take a break and explore beyond the five boroughs. Here are a few suggestions of places that can be enjoyed as a day trip or even an overnight break from New York:

2006.06.29 Princeton 0361. Princeton – a little over an hour by train from the city, this famous university town is the equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge (without the punts). You will walk through impressive college buildings that feel so familiar (think A Beautiful Mind or Scent of a Woman and you’ll know why you recognise them). There are gift shops catering for the visitors selling treats such as jalapeno fudge (not as good as it sounded) and numerous sweet treats. It is a town that it easily covered in a day trip.

2. East Hampton – the summer retreat of many of the NY’s rich and famous, this is a place where tourists come to spot celebrities unwinding on a weekend or for the summer. It is a couple of hours by bus from the city, and can be visited as a day trip or for a weekend. Beyond the line of bars and restaurants that you find in the centre of town, we took a walk through the suburban streets towards the sea. The houses are typical very large villas, and it is easy to imagine the big parties that are thrown on the lawns and by the pools of these palatial dwellings. The beach itself is a long stretch of golden sand and was deserted when we arrived.

We didn’t stop any celebrities while we there, although ironically on returning to the office on the Monday, one of our clients came in and said “I saw you on Saturday walking through East Hampton”, so I was the one who was spotted! Overall it’s a pleasant place to wander around and enjoy fresh air and sunshine, but to me it lacked any atmosphere that would make it a memorable visit. Judging by the many millionaires that choose to call it home, others are more enamoured with it than me.

3. Lower Hudson Valley. This area offers some fantastic hiking, and all less than an hour by train from the city. Taking the Hudson Valley railway north from NY you can visit the town of Cold Spring, and feel you are a million miles from the city and almost in red-neck country. Even though this is clearly commuting distance from New York it has the sense of a place that doesn’t change much with time. We took the train just beyond Cold Spring to a station by the name of Breakneck Ridge. I use the term station lightly, as in fact the train guard pulled out a set of steps for us to leave the train here. It is a stop purely for the purposes of hikers to start at an adjacent trail head. It is wonderful hiking country, and we enjoyed a full day in the hills and forests of the river valley.

You can also explore some of the historic mansions along the Hudson Valley, and visit the home of Roosevelt and the Vanderbilt Mansion to get a glimpse of the luxuries that the New York elite enjoyed in the 19th and early 20th century. These properties are easy to visit if you have a car (almost impossible if you don’t) and provide a great way to enjoy the river valley if the weather turns nasty.

4. The Catskills. Further upstate you can visit the little town of Woodstock, made famous by the festival that took place over 40 years ago. The festival site is easy to visit although there is nothing to see now. The town itself is a quaint collection of bohemian stores and cafes and provides all that an craft-loving tourist could want. Vegeterian dishes abound in the eating places of the town, and I got the feeling that while it was a nice place to wander through it was trying to cling on to a past that had long gone.

Neighbouring Phoenicia is similar in appearance, and set in the heart of the Catskills and close to dense woodland it is a great base for walking on the many surrounding trails. It is also famous as a place where you can ride the river rapids on a tube – although when we visited in June the river was so cold that we could have been the only people stupid enough to jump in. So we didn’t.

5. Washington D.C. It’s possible to visit DC with an overnight stop, although if driving as we did then you should stay for two nights, as it is a five hour journey each way. The nation’s capital, DC has so much to explore and was one of my favourite places to visit in the US. Walking along the Mall, with the Capitol Building at one end and the Lincoln Monument at the other, much of the city’s attractions are located somewhere in between. The many impressive and poignant war memorials highlights America’s fraught history and it’s worthy tradition of honouring its fallen. Nowhere is this felt more than in Arlington Cemetery, where the nation’s great and good are buried. Along the Mall are many of the best museums in the US – we spent most of our time in the Air and Space Museum, where you could see (and feel) moon rocks, and see many of the early aircraft that were flown and built by the pioneers of flight. We also visited the Smithsonian Museum, although again we didn’t have enough time to do it justice. And of course we peered through the railings at the White House, although George W was not to be seen in the garden that afternoon.

Away from the main area, the suburb of Georgetown is a very nice place to venture and amble between the shops and cafes, admiring some of America’s oldest architecture. This is the liberal heart of America, and the atmosphere is suitably chilled and the cafe scene in full flow.We didn’t get to feel a sense of why DC is one of America’s most violent cities, but then we didn’t venture away from the main tourist areas and these are by all accounts considered very safe.

There are many other options for trips away from the city (please feel free to suggest some here) and I think especially for those living in the city long term, it is healthy for mind and body to get out from time to time and smell the fresh air that’s not far at all from the heart of the city.  

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2 Responses to “New York weekend getaways: 5 ideas to leave the city”

  1. Thanks for the ideas. I went to high school in the Hudson Valley and can certainly attest to the awesome hiking in that area. Some friends of mine operate an outdoor/hiking gear store in Beacon. They frequently pick NYC people up from the train station (on the Metro North Hudson Line) and chauffeur them to different trail heads, then get everyone back to the train at the end of the day/weekend. The store is called Mountain Tops on Main St in Beacon.

    I’ve never been to Princeton….might go there for a weekend trip sometime!

    October 5, 2010 at 4:33 pm
  2. Thanks for the tip Jackie – sounds like a store I would like to have known about when we were over there. Hudson Valley must have been great to have as a local playground when growing up. It’s a world away from city life!

    October 6, 2010 at 8:36 pm