Written by: Benjamin Smith | Best Company Editorial Team
Last Updated: August 19th, 2020
"From the Empire State Building to Central Park to the Statue of Liberty — New York City has it all. It's probably the one city in the world that everyone should visit at least once in their life.”
— Rishi Kapoor, CEO and Founder of Nanak Flights
If you have not yet had the chance to visit New York City, it is a trip that you need to get on your calendar. As the number one city to visit in the United States, it offers tourists some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. What you may not know is that New York City is surrounded by over a dozen small cities, towns, and travel destinations that can revolutionize your visit there. Though you certainly don't need a rental car to get around this city, it would be a sin not to grab a rental for a day trip to one of these incredible locations that are listed below.
Reasons to get out of New York City
Important Note: Drive times may differ depending on time of day, traffic, weather, etc.
Under an Hour Drive
Red Hook, Brooklyn (42 minutes)
Red Hook is a small-town waterfront neighborhood that is well known for its shipping terminal, restaurant, and small shops. It used to be bustling with longshoremen that worked on the ships or on the docks and still maintains a taste of its past. It is a great place to stop for lunch and a walk past all of the shops.
City Island, Bronx (46 minutes)
City Island is a part of the Long Island Sound and is accessed by a bridge from Pelham Bay Park. Once there, you find yourself in a New England-type setting surrounded by seafood restaurants right on the waterfront and a number of small shops and antique shops to keep you busy.
Flushing, Queens (51 minutes)
Flushing is home to one of New York’s three Chinatowns. With a large mall with food courts serving food from a number of Asian countries, it is a great spot to experience a bit of unique New York culture. For those looking for some extra relaxing, the Spa Castle should be added to the itinerary.
Storm King Art Center (1 hour 12 minutes)
Boasting an open 500 acres, this outdoor sculpture park brings art, nature, and people together to defy the boundaries of discovery. You will want to check the website for seasonal or holiday closures before going.
The Rockaways, Queens (1 hour 27 minutes)
Located just south of the city (near JFK International Airport), this peninsula and rocky beach area is much less crowded than the beach on Coney Island. Recent renovations of the beach area, boardwalk, and shops has made it a popular stop.
Asbury Park, New Jersey (1 hour 41 minutes)
Asbury Park is known as one of the biggest hubs of cultural and ethnic diversity as well as creative energy and natural beauty. It has become very open and friendly to the LGBTQ+ community and is one of the fastest growing and most exciting shore resorts in New Jersey. Providing beach access, the boardwalk, arcades, music venues, and much more, it is a great spot to escape to for a change of scenery.
Hyde Park, New York (2 hours)
Just because the downtown area is not very large does not mean you shouldn’t give this city a chance. Hyde Park is home to the Culinary Institute of America, the Franklin D. Roosevelt home, a local farmers market, the scenic Hudson, and much more. If you had to choose one reason to visit, the Culinary School of America stands alone. You just can’t miss it!
Woodstock, New York (2 hours 5 minutes)
Woodstock has been pinned as a free-spirited town and a countercultural mecca for a number of generations after its namesake music festival in 1969. It continues to be a hippie haven with tie-dye-laden head shops and weekend tourist jams. The phrase “Peace and Love” remains part of the core of this town and its eclectic shops, live music venues, and art institutions.
Cold Spring Harbor, New York (2 hours 9 minutes)
Cold String Harbor offers options for a number of different activities for visitors. With the Cold Spring Harbor State Park and JK Kayak and Sup, you are able to get out of the car and enjoy nature. For those interested in history and landmark destinations, The Whaling Museum and Education Center and St. John’s Episcopal Church are some fun places to visit.
Mystic, Connecticut (3 hours 29 minutes)
With a New England charm, Mystic has everything from quiet farm areas to coastal towns. It has options to get people participating in active adventure, relaxing activities, arts and culture, family fun, and lots of history. Whether you enjoy amusement parks, beaches, museums, nature centers, or fine dining, Mystic will keep you entertained during your stay.
Watch Hill, Rhode Island (3 hours 45 minutes)
Nestled on the edge of a Rhode Island peninsula, Watch Hill provides visitors with exquisite views and stunning sunsets. Popular places to visit during your time there include The Ocean House, Carousel Beach, Nappatree Point, and the Watch Hill Carousel.
Newport, Rhode Island (3 hours 51 minutes)
Newport is known for its seaside location, Colonial roots, and ever-present yachting crowd. With three popular beaches that look out over the Rhode Island Sound and a number of famous attractions such as the Cliff Walk, it provides visitors a number of ways to enjoy the beauty of the east coast
4+ Hour Drive
If you find that you are going to have a significant amount of time off for your trip, it may be worth taking a weekend to and exlpore one of these awesome places.
- Annapolis, Maryland (4 hours)
- Providence Rhode Island (4 hours 11 minutes)
- Shelter Island, New York (4 hours 13 minutes)
- Washington, D.C. (4 hours 25 minutes)
- Boston, Massachuesetts (4 hours 29 minutes)
“If you are staying outside of the city, for instance in Long Island or New Jersey, you can take the Long Island Rail Road or NJ Transit to get to the city, which aren’t as frequent during the non-peak hours but are comfortable and cheaper options than driving if you account for the cost of parking. I wouldn’t recommend driving to vacationers as traffic in most of the streets and intersections in NYC is overwhelming, and the parking cost is exorbitantly high. Unless you’re quick and skilled at parallel parking on narrow streets, try to stay away from driving, especially on weekdays.”
— Anupriya Basu, writer for Insurantly.com
Car rental services in New York City
Let's say that you decide that you want to visit one of these places. Nothing can be more frustrating than not having control of your schedule when on vacation. When you are in the city, public transportation can get you around easy enough. As you plan to step outside of the city, you are going to want to grab a rental car.
Uber and Lyft could be options, but if you are going more than an hour away, it will likely be cheaper and more convenient for you to grab a car for the day. Some rental car companies that have rental locations near the city include the following:
- Avis Car Rental
- Budget Car Rental
- Empire Rent A Car
- Sixt Rent A Car
- JFK Auto Rental
- Prestige Car Rental
- Enterprise Rent-A-Car
- Thrifty Car Rental
- Hertz Car Rental
- Alamo Rent A Car
To learn more about these companies or read current customer reviews, click here.
Attractions in New York City
“New York is a city synonymous with great live entertainment catering to every budget and every taste. With budget options becoming more and more available, New York is very affordable to get to and with many great public transport options in the city, you are never too far from the action.”
- Kieran White, Photojournalist
- Statue of Liberty
- Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- Empire State Building
- Times Square
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Fifth Avenue
- Grand Central Terminal
- One World Observatory
- Wall Street
- The Chrysler Building
Where to stay to see it all:
According to Sharon Beck, CEO of Kosher Private Chef (KPC), New Yorkers believe the world revolves around them and for good reason. Whether you are visiting family in town, vacationing, or traveling for business, KPC recommends the St. Regis Hotel located next to The Museum of Modern Art and Central Park. It doesn't matter if you are a movie star, a titan of industry, or even a common man, you are always treated like royalty. To make the experience even grander, the hotel offers a house car and complimentary butler service for each room.
If the St. Regis Hotel doesn't sound like the right place for you, Beck suggests the Chatwal, a historic Manhattan luxury hotel set two blocks from Times Square and Bryant Park. This hotel also offers butler service but differs as it has a world-renowned spa with an indoor saltwater pool and 24-hour fitness center.
There are many perks to staying at hotels when traveling, but for those who are looking to save a bit of money, Airbnb and Vrbo are great options. Not only will you have your own private space, but you can also have a place to cook or store groceries if you want to avoid spending too much eating out for every meal.
Museums and Memorials
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum
- The Frick Collection
- Radio City Music Hall
- Brooklyn Museum
- Whitney Museum of American Art
- New-York Historical Society
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Parks and Gardens
- Central Park
- High Line Linear Park
- Bryant Park
- Prospect Park
- New York Botanical Garden
Culture and The Arts
- Broadway and the Theater District
- New York Public Library
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- Carnegie Hall
- Apollo Theater
Best ways to get around New York City
The easiest way to get from one place to another here is using the subway trains as much as possible, suggests Chizoba Anyaoha, founder of TravSolo. They come frequently on good days when there is no traffic or delays. Each train is interconnected to each other, so even when you get lost, you're never really lost — think of it as an opportunity to explore new areas.
For more open areas like the Bronx, Queens, and parts of Brooklyn, the bus is the ideal form of transportation. Just make sure you know what buses to transfer to in order to get as close as possible to your final destination. Even so, most places are within walking distances.
If you are looking for other forms of transport, you can hail one of the many yellow taxi cabs around the city. Though it seems like an easy task, hailing a taxi and getting where you need to quickly is not a cake walk. To make sure that you are an expert before you get there, check out these tips from the Art of Manliness.
Parking in New York City
If you decide to rent a car for the entirety of your trip to New York as you have plans to go to a number of the incredible places located just outside the city, you need to have a parking plan in place in advance. Parking is near impossible in this busy city. For some expert tips and ideas of where you can park in the city, check out these parking tips from Sixt.