New York (state)
The state of New York is known as the Empire State, and with good reason. As one of the original thirteen colonies that formed the United States, it has long been counted among the most populous and most influential states.
New York is a state of superlatives. Of course everyone knows the most celebrated city in the world, New York City, and it's certainly a premier travel destination, but the state is so much more than just one famous metropolis. Go beyond the concrete canyons of Manhattan and you'll find a large state with a variety of attractions.
From the magnificent Niagara Falls, to the farms and wineries of the Finger Lakes; from the untamed wilderness of the Adirondacks, to the large and small cities scattered throughout the state; every corner of New York has something you can't find anywhere else.
Some people say that New York has two regions: New York City and "Upstate"—i.e., everything else. In fact, New York is a large state with a number of distinct travel regions.
| Metro New York |
The area surrounding New York City, the largest city in the United States and possibly the most well known and celebrated city in the world. It also includes suburban Westchester County and Long Island with great beaches.
| Mid-Hudson and Catskills |
The wilderness of the Catskills and the bucolic colonial communities of the middle Hudson offer two different types of getaways popular with New Yorkers.
| The Capital District |
The state capital of Albany and its surrounding cities anchor the upper part of the Hudson Valley, one of the most educated and most rapidly growing areas of Upstate.
| The Adirondacks |
The Adirondack Mountains are the true wilderness of New York, protected by an enormous park that encompasses most of the upper third of the state. Only scattered small settlements and the occasional roadway break up the stunning vistas.
| The North Country |
The North Country is dominated by large open areas between widely spaced cities, with a culture that borrows from neighboring Canada. The St. Lawrence River and its Thousand Islands are a major destination in this region.
| Central New York |
With hills and rivers, cities and farms, hard work and recreation, Central New York is a microcosm of New York as a whole. Syracuse is the region's cultural and economic center.
| The Finger Lakes |
The Finger Lakes are 11 long, thin bodies of water that provide waterfront activities and sightseeing opportunities. Hundreds of wineries dot the region, and the city of Rochester is a center of industry and innovation.
| The Southern Tier |
Bordering Pennsylvania's Northern Tier, the Southern Tier is a largely rural area with a few medium-sized cities, but with several cultural and industrial attractions.
| The Niagara Frontier |
The city of Buffalo and the world-famous Niagara Falls are the major destinations in the Niagara Frontier, but the eastern areas of the region also offer attractions focusing on history, agriculture, industry, and the local waterways.
- Albany — the state capital, steeped in the history of the state
- Binghamton — the Carousel Capital of the World
- Buffalo — the largest city in upstate New York, home of the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Sabres... and the Buffalo wing
- Cooperstown — an historic town that features the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
- Ithaca — a small town with an attitude and home to Cornell University and Ithaca College.
- New York — possibly the best known and most celebrated city in the world, with towering skyscrapers, ethnic diversity, international corporations, and incomparable culture.
- Rochester — an old industrial city with a rich history of innovation and progress; now home to numerous universities and the famous "garbage plate"
- Saratoga Springs — the "Spa City", famous for its horse races and also a worthy stop for its offbeat performing arts scene
- Syracuse — the "Salt City" is known for its industry, and is home to Syracuse University and the Great New York State Fair
- Adirondack High Peaks — the tallest mountains in the largest state park in the United States
- Catskills — Largely rural, wild, and mountainous, the Catskills are a popular vacation destination
- Chautauqua Institution — more-or-less a summer camp for adults, founded in 1874
- Darien Lake — the roller coaster capital of New York
- Fire Island National Seashore — a barrier island in Long Island with great beaches
- Lake George — boating, lakeside activities, and a big amusement park
- Letchworth State Park — see the Genesee River gorge and its three large, scenic waterfalls
- Niagara Falls — a powerful and awe-inspiring set of waterfalls on the Canadian border, and the "honeymoon capital of the world"
- Thousand Islands — a scenic vacation spot for the rich and famous, right on the Canadian border
Before European settlement, the area now known as New York was already home to a number of Native American tribes. The Iroquois Confederacy (or Haudenosaunee), comprising the Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, Mohawk, Oneida, and Tuscarora tribes, was a major early exercise in representative democracy that may have influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States in their own pursuit of constitutional government.
European settlement of New York began at New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. From there, Dutch and then English settlers expanded northward along the Hudson River to present-day Albany, then west along the Mohawk River. Sites in this area of New York were pivotal in the Revolutionary War, especially at Saratoga north of Albany, and New York City served briefly as the nation's first capital. Settlement further west was impeded by poor terrain and Indian territories, but by the early 19th century, even those areas were becoming well settled.
A true population explosion was brought on by the construction of the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany, completed in 1825. Cities like Rochester grew up almost overnight, able to ship their goods easily to points both east and west, and New York City at the mouth of the Hudson became the young country's busiest and most important harbor.
New York grew and thrived for decades, its cities serving as centers of industry, business, and culture for the entire nation. Even as more and more western areas opened up and began to be settled, New York remained the Empire State. New York Harbor served as the point of entry for countless immigrants after the Civil War, which contributed to a diverse, energetic population.
New York held the title of most populous for over 150 years and has counted numerous important and influential figures among its native sons and daughters. Since the middle of the twentieth century, New York's influence has waned somewhat as California, Texas, and Florida have swelled in population, but New York remains one of the most dominant states in the nation.
There is no concise way to describe the geography of New York, except maybe to say it is "diverse".
The city of New York, a major Atlantic port, is of course at sea level. It serves as a small fulcrum connecting Long Island (to the east) and the rest of the state (to the north)—to reach one from the other, one must pass through New York City. North of the city lies the vast majority of the state, known as "Upstate New York". The land rises as one goes north, following the Hudson River upstream. The river cuts a gorge through these Appalachian highlands, forming a wide river valley. To the west of this valley, the Catskills rise—a "dissected plateau" to geologists, but just "mountains" to laymen. Beyond the Catskills, the terrain drops and levels, forming the rolling hills of the Southern Tier.
North of the Catskills is the Mohawk River valley, which runs from west to east into the Hudson. Further west, you will find the Finger Lakes region, a series of long skinny lakes formed when river valleys were blocked by debris from retreating glaciers. North of the Finger Lakes, between them and Lake Ontario, lie large swaths of lowlands, areas which were once underneath the surface of a much larger, pre-glacial Lake Ontario.
North of the Mohawk valley and east of Lake Ontario, you can find the vast mountain range of the Adirondacks, which gradually give way to the St. Lawrence River valley in the northernmost part of the state.
New York has four distinct seasons.
Upstate New York is well known for its brutal winters. Although temperatures don't get as low as they do in areas like Minnesota and North Dakota, thanks in part to the giant heat reservoir known as Lake Ontario, that same lake serves to generate plenty of lake-effect snow. That being said, it is not unheard of for temperatures to drop into the single digits or even below zero, especially in areas of the Adirondacks and North Country, away from the Lake. The major upstate cities compete each year for the "coveted" Golden Snowball Award for most total inches of snow—one small measure of pride for a city digging itself out from piles of snow several feet deep.
Snow is especially heavy to the east of Lake Ontario. Clouds pick up moisture as they travel over the lake's longest dimension, then dump it all on Watertown as they are forced to rise by the Tug Hill Plateau.
New York City is downright tropical by comparison. With the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, the Big Apple benefits from the warm Gulf Stream waters without having to deal with ocean-effect snow. Nevertheless, though New York City gets much less snow than places upstate, it is not uncommon in winter, especially January and February.
Spring in New York tends to start out cold and damp, especially in areas near Lake Ontario, as the Lake's waters have by then been thoroughly chilled by winter. True springtime comes around May, segueing quickly into summer.
Summer features brilliant sun that is only rarely scorching, with occasional heat waves. Humidity is often high but the months are punctuated by spells of lower humidity that bring everyone outside to enjoy the weather.
Leaves start to turn color in September; at their peak, New York's leaf scenery is among the best in the country. By late October, though, it's all over but the raking, and winter begins to set in, with snow often falling by Halloween.
English is spoken throughout the state. Other languages can be found with varying degrees of regularity in scattered pockets across the state, particularly German, Italian, and Polish. French is sometimes heard in the North Country, due to proximity to Canada, and Spanish is common wherever Hispanics live.
As New York city is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, there is probably hardly any major language not spoken there.
International travelers will almost certainly come in via one of New York City's airports; while the major upstate cities have airports that can accommodate international flights, they are now fairly rare. Domestically, travelers will usually be coming from hubs such as Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte, Philadelphia, or Boston. Flights into the smaller airports will likely connect through the larger ones.
New York City - The Big Three
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (IATA: JFK), Jamaica (Queens), +1 718 244-4444.
- Newark Liberty International Airport (IATA: EWR), Newark, New Jersey, +1 800 EWR-INFO.
- LaGuardia Airport (IATA: LGA), Flushing (Queens), +1 718 533-3400.
Large upstate airports
- Buffalo Niagara International Airport (IATA: BUF), 4200 Genesee St. Cheektowaga, +1 716 630-6000.
- Greater Rochester International Airport (IATA: ROC), 1200 Brooks Ave. Rochester, +1 585 464-6000.
- Syracuse Hancock International Airport (IATA: SYR), Colonel Eileen Collins Blvd. Syracuse, +1 315 454-4330.
- Albany International Airport (IATA: ALB), 373 Albany Shaker Rd. Albany, +1 518 242-2200.
New York City metro area smaller airports
- Long Island MacArthur Airport (IATA: ISP), 100 Arrivals Ave. Ronkonkoma (Islip), +1 888 LI-AIRPORT.
- Westchester County Airport (IATA: HPN), 240 Airport Rd. White Plains, +1 914 939-8484.
- Stewart International Airport (IATA: SWF), 1 Express Dr. Newburgh, +1 845 567-2563.
Southern Tier regional airports
- Greater Binghamton Airport (IATA: BGM), 2534 Airport Rd. Box 16 Johnson City, +1 607 763-4471.
- Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport (IATA: ITH), 72 Brown Rd. Ithaca, +1 607 257-0456.
- Elmira-Corning Regional Airport (IATA: ELM), 276 Sing-Sing Rd. Horseheads, +1 607 795-0402.
Jamestown (IATA: JHW), Saranac Lake (IATA: SLK), Plattsburgh (IATA: PBG), and Niagara Falls (IATA: IAG) have very small airports with only a few scheduled flights each day. General aviation airports are scattered throughout the state.
- From southern Ontario, Toronto, and points west (including Detroit): Take the QEW; it ends at the Peace Bridge (US$3/CA$3) and puts you on I-190 in Buffalo. You could also take the QEW to the 420 (for the Rainbow Bridge (US$2.50 Canada-bound only) to Niagara Falls) or the 405 (for the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge (US$3.25 Canada-bound only) to Lewiston). Both of these will connect up with I-190 as well. Visitors from the Detroit area sometimes cut across Southwestern Ontario (401-403-QEW) rather than going south around Lake Erie.
- From Ohio and Western Pennsylvania: I-90 becomes the New York State Thruway (see Get around for details) at the PA-NY border. I-86 splits off shortly before the border, allowing you to avoid tolls.
- From Pennsylvania and New Jersey: U.S. 219 heads north near Olean, headed for Buffalo. U.S. 15 connects with I-86 in Corning; you can continue north on NY 15 or I-390 to Rochester. I-81 connects with NY17 in Binghamton, headed for Syracuse. I-84 passes through the lower part of the state. I-95 is the major east coast route and passes through New York City.
- From Vermont: US 2 bridges Lake Champlain near the Canadian border. South of Lake Champlain, overland crossing is possible near Lake George.
- From New England: I-95 connects Boston to New York City through Connecticut; I-90 goes through Springfield (Massachusetts) to Albany.
- From Quebec: Autoroute 15 (Interstate 87) is your route south from Montreal and the Laurentians to Albany and New York City.
- From Eastern Ontario: Highway 401 follows the border in the Thousand Islands region; the (toll) Thousand Islands Bridge (401 exit 661) leads to I-81 (Watertown-Syracuse-Binghamton). International bridges at Prescott-Ogdensburg and Cornwall-Massena may be less busy than I-81 as they land on two-lane highway on the US side.
- From Vermont: A ferry joins Burlington to Plattsburgh. Multiple ferries cross Lake Champlain from Vermont to New York, including some in the Adirondacks region.
- From New Jersey: Multiple operators transport commuters directly into Manhattan, including NY Waterway/BillyBey (+1-800-53-FERRY), Seastreak (+1-800-BOATRIDE) and Liberty Park Water Taxi (+1 201-432-6321). There's even a New Jersey ferry specifically to visit the Statue of Liberty in New York.
- From Connecticut: Seastreak operates a limited sightseeing service
- From Eastern Ontario: A seasonal car ferry joins Wolfe Island ON in the Thousand Islands to Cape Vincent NY; many seasonal passenger tour boats call at Boldt Castle on Heart Island NY from both sides.
Many cruise ships call at New York's ports from far and wide. The last of the major ocean liners, Cunard's Queen Mary 2, continues to uphold the century-old traditions of the Titanic era with scheduled liner service from Southampton UK to New York City.
- See also: rail travel in the United States
There are many trains that go through New York, especially through Pennsylvania Station in New York City.
- From New England:
- Acela Express is a high-speed train connecting Boston, Providence, and New Haven to New York City
- Northeast Regional is a train that also follows the same route but cheaper
- Lake Shore Limited goes from Boston to Albany and Buffalo
- Ethan Allen Express comes from Vermont to New York City via Albany
- Vermonter is a train from Vermont to New York City via Springfield and Hartford
- From other states in the Mid-Atlantic
- Acela Express is a high-speed train through New York City from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
- Northeast Regional is a train from Virginia that follows the same route as Acela Express but cheaper
- Keystone Express comes from Harrisburg to New York City
- Pennsylvanian goes from Pittsburgh to New York City
- From the Midwest
- From the South
- From Canada
New York is a big state, but it's not so big that driving isn't feasible. Even the trip from Buffalo to New York City is only about seven hours—too long for a day trip, certainly, but a weekend trip is doable for the dedicated. An alternative is to take a small regional jet from one of the upstate cities into New York; more expensive, but the trip is only 45-90 minutes in the air. Amtrak also runs trains that connect the five major cities for an in-between solution. If you're headed someplace more out of the way, though, you'll probably need to drive.
Major areas of the state are served by an adequate network of Interstate Highways, supplemented by state routes that run between all but the smallest villages. Expressways are mostly limited to Interstates with a few exceptions.
Expressway exits are numbered sequentially in New York, a fact unremarkable to New Englanders but potentially confusing for everyone else. If you're at Exit 2 and looking for Exit 28, you have a lot farther to go than just 26 miles.
The most important highway in New York is the New York State Thruway, which runs on I-90 from the Pennsylvania border in the west, northeast to Buffalo, then east past Rochester, through Syracuse, and to Albany. I-90 continues to Boston while the Thruway picks up I-87 south to New York City. The Thruway, a toll road for most of its length, is the primary route between the major upstate cities and is often used to get to and from New York. Expect to pay about four cents a mile ($13.10 from Downtown Buffalo to Downtown Albany for a car with no trailer, for example). Most New Yorkers grumble at the price but pay it anyway for the efficiency the route offers.
To allow travelers to avoid leaving the highway (and paying a toll) before they reach their destinations, the Thruway is dotted with large service plazas every 35–50 miles or so. Each contains two or three restaurants/snack stands (at least one restaurant will be open all night) and a gift shop/convenience store. Burger King, Tim Horton's, Roy Rogers, and TCBY are among the more common vendors. Vending machines, free wi-fi, and of course gas pumps are available as well. Gas prices are high, but such are the benefits of having a "captive audience".
A cheaper but slightly slower route to New York City from the west is along I-86, the Southern Tier Expressway. State Route 17, which I-86 is supplanting, is still in the process of being upgraded to Interstate standards; east of Binghamton you'll encounter a few at-grade intersections, but it's still a quick route, and it's toll-free.
The slowest but most "interesting" route across the state is U.S. Route 20. As a route stretching coast-to-coast across the northern U.S., it covers much of the same ground as Interstate 90 does today. U.S. 20 is much older, though, traveling right through the middle of countless old villages that lie south of the Thruway. It's a simple two-lane highway for most of its length in New York, but if you have the time and the patience, it can be more interesting than the long stretches of nothingness along the Thruway or the Southern Tier Expressway.
I-81 and I-87 are the major north-south routes. I-81 travels south from the Thousand Islands at the Canadian border through Syracuse and Binghamton into Pennsylvania. I-87 (known as the Northway north of Albany) connects Montreal in Quebec with Albany and New York City. I-88 travels diagonally northeast-southwest, providing a connection between Binghamton and Albany. The only significant east-west route across the top of the state is U.S. 11, which diverges from I-81 in Watertown and heads northeast, then east.
In Western New York, Rochester is connected to points south via I-390 to Corning. From Buffalo, travelers can head southwest along I-90 or south along U.S. Route 219, which is currently being upgraded to expressway. (Those heading southeast will take the Thruway to I-390.)
New York has a good network of state routes, supplemented by county routes in some counties. Most villages are at the intersection of two or more state routes, and signage is usually clear, making it relatively simple to find your way to a particular place. You can be fairly confident that numbered state routes will be well maintained (including plowed in the winter) and rarely too far from civilization. Some interesting itineraries can be devised just by following a particular route wherever it leads.
In general, one- and two-digit state routes will be primary routes, although plenty of exceptions exist; you shouldn't assume anything just from the number. Major cross-state routes include 3, 5, 7, 17, and 104.
Municipalities in New York are well prepared for winter weather, but it can get so severe at times that even their expert crews can't keep up. Pay attention to travel advisories; in New York, if they say stay off the roads, they really mean it! During less severe winter storms, drive slowly and carefully. Follow a snowplow (at a safe distance!) if you can, though watch out for ones dropping salt.
Cell phone service can be spotty in the northern part of the state; be aware that you may not be able to easily call for help on the highways in that region.
A few miscellaneous traffic laws:
- State law mandates that your headlights must be on if your windshield wipers are running.
- Drivers, front-seat passengers, and children sitting anywhere must wear seat belts with primary enforcement.
- You are not permitted to use hand-held cellular phones while driving; hands-free phones are permitted but use with extra caution.
- Turning right on red light is permitted after stop, except where signs indicate otherwise like "NO TURN ON RED". However, this rule is reversed in New York City.
- There is no turn on red arrow.
- Vehicles turning left must yield to oncoming traffic unless they have a green left-arrow.
- The state speed limit is 55 mph, unless otherwise posted, as is the case with rural expressways being 65. Speed limits on surface roads will generally be 30 within cities and villages, except on the outskirts where it might be 35-45. School zones may have a limit of 15 to 45 mph during school hours, 7am-6pm.
- New York has a 'safe and prudent' speed law, so in adverse weather conditions, you can be pulled over even if you are below the posted limit if you appear to be sliding or otherwise struggling to maintain control over your vehicle.
Amtrak provides passenger rail service primarily among the "Big Five" cities. Anything outside of the Erie Canal/Mohawk River/Hudson River corridor, though, and you're probably out of luck.
The Lake Shore Limited from Chicago has stops in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Schenectady, and Albany; from there riders can switch trains to Boston or continue (with a stop in Croton-on-Hudson) to New York City's Penn Station. The Empire Service starts in Niagara Falls but follows the same route as the Lake Shore Limited once it gets to Buffalo, with some additional stops along the way. The Maple Leaf is identical to the Empire Service except that it continues across the Canadian border to Toronto.
- Coach USA Shortline. In addition to Megabus, Coach USA also operate the Shortline as a commuter bus from Rockland, Orange and Sullivan Counties, NY; Bergen County, NJ; and Pike County, PA to Midtown, Downtown, the Eastside, and Wallstreet in Manhattan and over longer distances from Monticello, Binghamton, Ithaca, Owego, Elmira, Corning, Alfred etc.
- Trailways of New York (Adirondack,Pine Hills, New York), ☎ +1 716 855-7533, toll-free: 1 800 776-7548. Largest intra-state bus operator serving multiple cities and towns throughout New York (state) on multiple routes.
- Megabus, toll-free: +1-877-462-6342. Travels between New York City & Toronto via Binghamton, Syracuse, Rochester, Ithaca, and Buffalo; and New York City to Saratoga Springs via Albany
- Greyhound & NeOn, toll-free: +1-800-231-2222. Travels between New York City & Toronto via Binghamton, Syracuse, Rochester, Ithaca, Geneva and Buffalo; and New York City to Montreal via Albany, Glen Falls & Plattsburg. Another route traveling between Boston and Cleveland stops in Albany, Utica, Syracuse and Buffalo. Some are operated by Greyhound Lines while others are operated by NeOn, their co-brand with Greyhound Canada and Trailways of New York.
- 7Bus, ☎ +1 631 725-7777. Ronkonkomo, Melville and/or Stony Brook University in East Long Island from Manhattan in New York City
- Hampton Jitney, ☎ +1 631 283-4600. Goes to various places in eastern Long Island from multiple stops in Manhattan and Brooklyn
Every year thousands of travelers (both in-state and out) take to the New York State Canal System to spend hours, days, or even weeks cruising the placid waters and visiting a variety of villages and cities along the way. The crown jewel of the canal system is the famous Erie Canal, in operation for nearly two centuries. The Erie runs from Buffalo all the way to the Hudson River at Albany, but there are several smaller canals that connect the Erie to other waterways: the Cayuga-Seneca Canal to the Finger Lakes, the Oswego Canal to Lake Ontario, and the Champlain Canal to Lake Champlain. This extensive network means you can, in theory, see the six biggest cities in the state all without leaving your boat.
The canals are drained and unusable between November 16 and April 30 each winter... not that you'd want to be out on them anyway. The canals open at 7AM and close between 5PM and 10PM depending on season. Call toll-free 1-800-4CANAL4 (422-6254) for canal information and conditions.
There are locks and sometimes lift bridges throughout the system, and if you want to go through any of them, you'll need to purchase a permit. Two-day, ten-day, and all-season passes are available, and the price varies based on the length of your vessel. You can purchase permits ahead of time by mail, or in person at any Canal Corporation Sectional Office; many of these offices are located next to locks or bridges, but not every lock or bridge has one. The canal web site has a list of offices, and forms for mailing. Permit fees as of 2012:
|Under 16 ft (4.88 m)||$25||$12.50||$5|
|Under 26 ft (7.93 m)||$50||$25||$10|
|Under 39 ft (11.89 m)||$75||$37.50||$15|
|Over 39 ft||$100||$50||$20|
The natural beauty of the state is diverse, from the incomparable Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park, to the mountainous unspoiled terrain of the Catskills and the Adirondacks, to the tranquil Finger Lakes. Adirondack Park, in particular, is an incredible gem—it's the largest single park in the continental U.S. and where the art of American painting began.
But urban sightseeing is also an important part of New York tourism. The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is something every American should see at least once, and many a tourist has passed the time just gawking at every sight in Manhattan. Certainly the Big Apple has the lion's share of the state's museums and landmarks, but that's no excuse for ignoring upstate. Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany are cultural centers as well, and each has unique attractions you won't find in New York City.
Halls of Fame
It's safe to say no state has as many Halls of Fame as New York. The most popular is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown—any true baseball fan should visit at least once. There's also the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (for thoroughbred horse racing) in Saratoga Springs, the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Amsterdam, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota. The National Soccer Hall of Fame was located in Oneonta (near Cooperstown and Canastota in Central New York), but it closed a few years ago.
But it's not just sports, either. The National Women's Hall of Fame is in Seneca Falls, and the National Toy Hall of Fame is housed at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester. You'll also find the American Theatre Hall of Fame in Manhattan's Theater District, and the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs.
- Erie Canal — New York's homegrown gem; try biking, hiking, or boating along America's first superhighway
- The Jazz Track — New York City is a major stop on this tour
- Touring Shaker country — starts in Colonie, near Albany
- Appalachian Trail — passes through the state, but only for 72 of its 2100 miles
- Underground Railroad travellers took various routes; Harriet Tubman's freedom train led from Philadelphia through New York State.
As a true four-season state, New York's activity schedule varies widely throughout the year. Obviously, the busiest time of year is the summer—which can be glorious—but localities work hard to make sure there's plenty to keep residents and visitors occupied even in the depths of winter.
New York City is the cultural center of the country, never mind the state, with countless theaters and world-renowned sports teams. None of the upstate cities compares in profile or in prominence, but each of them has a selection of first-class attractions and amenities sufficient to support tourism, without the crowds and frenetic activity of their larger neighbor. And when it comes to recreation, the Big Apple can't hold a candle to upstate's natural landscapes.
The mountainous terrain of the Catskills and the Adirondacks is perfect for hiking and camping, while the numerous waterways of the state—including Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, the Erie Canal, and the Hudson River—all see regular boat traffic throughout the summer months. Hunting and fishing are also big business upstate.
New York will never be mistaken for Colorado by winter sports enthusiasts, but the unique glacial terrain of Western New York and the mountainous Adirondacks provide for some pretty good skiing. (Keep an eye out in late 2014 for state-sponsored bus service from Toronto and New York City to upstate ski resorts!) Ice rinks (most of them indoor, allowing year-round skating) abound as well. One of the premier winter-sports destinations is sleepy little Lake Placid, which has twice hosted the Winter Olympics and is home to Herb Brooks Arena, site of the 1980 Miracle on Ice.
Oenophiles can visit one of the top wine regions in the country in the Finger Lakes; the entire region is dotted with small towns and villages of historic character, with more than 100 wineries in between. The region produces perhaps the best Rieslings outside of Germany, and Finger Lakes ice wines are growing in popularity. Wine tours, which let you visit multiple wineries in a single trip, see huge crowds, and the region is also home to a small but growing group of craft breweries, distilleries, and even cideries. The state's second-largest wine-growing region, the Peconic in and near the forks in eastern Suffolk County, Long Island, also produces some very good wines.
New York's agriculture is also on display at the numerous county fairs held in late summer. The biggest of these by far is the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, south of Buffalo—it's the third-largest (and one of the oldest) county fair in the country and rivals even the Great New York State Fair (held just outside Syracuse) in popularity.
New Yorkers love all kinds of sports. Of course American football, baseball, and basketball attract most of the attention, as they do throughout the U.S., but soccer, ice hockey, and lacrosse are increasingly popular, especially among youths.
New York City is, naturally, the center of professional sports, and you'll find fans of the Big Apple's sports teams throughout the state—even though some of them actually play in New Jersey! Baseball's Yankees and Mets, basketball's Knicks and Nets, hockey's Rangers and Islanders, and soccer's New York City FC all play in the city. The Jets and Giants football teams and Red Bulls soccer team play just outside the city in north Jersey, as do the New Jersey Devils (hockey).
Upstate, the sports business is smaller and more local. Buffalo has two major teams in the Buffalo Bills (football) and Buffalo Sabres (hockey); both have large followings as far east as Syracuse.
Baseball is the biggest pro sport upstate. Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse all have AAA clubs sporting near-big-league talent with minor-league prices. Binghamton has a AA club, while Auburn, Batavia, Fishkill, Jamestown, Oneonta, and Troy have single-A short-season teams (as do Brooklyn and Staten Island in New York City).
Hockey is also big-time in the upstate cities. Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Binghamton, and Albany all have teams in the American Hockey League, the second level of professional hockey, while Elmira and Glens Falls have ECHL teams on the third level. New York is also a hotbed for amateur hockey, and no state has more varsity college hockey teams than New York. Ten New York colleges and universities play Division I men's hockey, and eight play women's hockey; fourteen have D-III teams.
New York high schools produce many outstanding lacrosse players, and that's reflected in the growing popularity of professional lacrosse. Rochester and Buffalo both have indoor teams in the National Lacrosse League, while Rochester and Hempstead (on Long Island) have outdoor teams in Major League Lacrosse; both leagues feature the sport's top professionals.
Soccer is very popular among the youth of New York, but professional soccer has struggled to make inroads. Rochester has a top-level women's team and a second-level men's team (and an indoor squad to boot), while New York City has top-level and second-level men's teams (top-level women's and men's teams also play nearby in New Jersey).
New York's diversity is on full display when considering its cuisines. New York City, of course, as the point of arrival for so many immigrants, is home to some of the most authentic and most diverse ethnic cuisines in the country. Even upstate, though, in cities not known for their diversity, you can find plenty of variety.
American cuisine is ubiquitous, of course, except perhaps in areas of New York City like Chinatown and Little Italy. Italian food (much of it Americanized, admittedly) is also found throughout the state. Asian cuisines—mostly Chinese and Japanese, but with some Thai and Indian restaurants in the larger cities—are also common. Greek food is readily available, primarily at family restaurants that also serve plenty of American food and a smattering of Italian. Polish specialties can be found in Buffalo, and the North Country has some French-Canadian influence in its cuisine.
Notably, each of the upstate cities seems to have its own unique home-grown dishes. Buffalo is famous for its chicken wings, of course, but also features "beef on weck". Rochester is home to "white hots" and the late-night favorite "garbage plates". Syracuse has salt potatoes, the Utica-Rome area has its "chicken riggies", "spiedies" originated in Binghamton, and Plattsburgh residents favor "Michigan" hot dogs. While perhaps not as famous as Philadelphia's cheese steaks, most of these local favorites are worth trying, if only to get a taste of the local "flavor".
From the Finger Lakes region all the way up to the North Country, Amish and Mennonite communities contribute fresh vegetables, fruits, and baked goods that are often found at road-side farm stands or at farmers markets. And New York City is well-known for New York-style pizza, pastrami, bagels, pretzels, cheesecake, danishes and black & whites, among other local specialties.
Many visitors don't realize that New York still has a very large agriculture industry. The state is one of the top American producers of apples, grapes, milk, sweet corn, and maple syrup. To highlight New York-grown food and drink, the state has begun opening Taste NY stores in several service areas along the Thruway. There are also stores at JFK and LaGuardia airports and Grand Central Terminal in New York City and farmers' markets throughout the state, including a large one thrice weekly at Union Square in Manhattan.
New York is the second-biggest wine-producing state in the country, though a distant second to California. The Finger Lakes are the largest wine country in the state, and there is also a substantial wine industry in Peconic, which consists of the forks of Long Island and adjacent countryside on the eastern end of Suffolk County. The oldest wine-growing area is the Hudson Valley, which still has some wineries.
There are also quite a few brewers in the state, including Ommegang, a brewery in Cooperstown that produces an excellent Belgian-style ale, and Brooklyn Brewery, which produces a solid lager.
Whiskey is also produced in New York. Baiting Hollow on Long Island produces an excellent whiskey and Hudson's, in the Hudson Valley, produces excellent though pricey whiskey and rye.
As a major apple-growing state, New York also produces both unfermented and hard ciders, but probably the best place to get those is either fresh at an apple orchard or at a bar that concentrates on hard cider.
Compared to some of its neighboring states, New York has fairly loose liquor laws.
- The drinking age is 21, the same as every other state. Minors may not sell alcohol in liquor stores nor loiter in them, even when accompanied by an adult.
- Beer and other beverages with a low alcohol content can be found in supermarkets, drugstores and convenience stores, along with (since 2010) some wines, while hard liquor and most wine can be sold only in liquor stores. Liquor stores, by law, are not allowed to sell beer. They are also not allowed to take returns, so all sales are final.
- New York also requires that all liquor stores must be owned by a single actual person who lives within a certain distance of the store, and that person may only hold one license. This effectively bans chain liquor stores.
- Liquor stores must be closed at least one day of the week. Most choose to do so on Sundays even though they are no longer required to be closed on that day.
- Unlike many other states, New York does not require that anyone pouring beer or ale into a growler at a brewery for their own consumption off-premises use a growler specific to that brewery. You can even fill growlers at certain convenience stores.
- State law stipulates that bars must close at 4 a.m., although individual counties and municipalities may set an earlier closing time; outside of New York City, Albany and Buffalo, bars tend to close much earlier. Alcohol cannot be sold before noon on Sundays in most counties, and all sales for off-premises consumption are banned between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
- While New York does not allow counties to go dry, towns may do so, with varying degrees of flexibility (for example, West Almond in Cattaraugus County forbids liquor sales for off-premises consumption, while several other towns do not allow on-premises consumption). Most of the totally dry communities are in remote, lightly-populated rural areas of the state that travelers are unlikely to visit without a specific reason to do so.
- Driving while intoxicated is a criminal offense in New York state. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08, although you can be cited for driving while intoxicated at as low as 0.05 if you are blatantly impaired. Minors under 21 have a blood alcohol limit of 0.02. It is also illegal to drive with an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the vehicle regardless of who is consuming it.
- Hunting while intoxicated or ability impaired is also a violation of the law and can result in jail time.
- Dialing 9-1-1 on any phone, wireless or landline, is free and will connect you with local police, fire, and ambulance services in an emergency.
- In New York State it is illegal to use your cellular telephone while operating a motor vehicle or riding a bicycle, unless it is a hands-free phone. Violators should expect hefty fines, although enforcement varies widely across the state. Texting while driving is also prohibited; the state has outfitted all interstate highway rest areas with limited free Wi-Fi to give drivers an alternative.
- Deer are very common in New York and pose a threat to motorists, more so at night. Reduce your speed in suburban and rural neighborhoods at night to reduce the chance of an accident.
- Don't approach wild animals, especially ones that are acting unusually friendly or confused. Rabies outbreaks in animals do occasionally occur. If bitten, especially by a racoon, bat, skunk, fox or dog, seek medical attention immediately.
- Upstate New York contains a few species of poisonous snakes, such as the Copperhead, the Eastern Massasauga and the Timber Rattlesnake. Although it is uncommon to encounter these snakes, seek medical attention if bitten immediately.
- Also beware of the Black Widow spider, and seek medical attention if bitten.
- Rifles and shotguns: In contrast to neighboring New Jersey, which has virtually zero-tolerance for any firearms of any sort, New York (except for New York City) has a reasonable and fairly welcoming policy as to travel with long guns (rifles and shotguns) except for so-called 'assault weapons.' Rifles and shotguns need to be unloaded and cased in a vehicle's trunk while under transport, and can be carried afield while hunting or target shooting. See the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation website for appropriate hunting licenses, which will add legitimacy to the possession of long guns, and make encounters with law enforcement a non-event. The same cannot be said of handguns.
- Handguns: Do not transport a handgun into New York State without a New York State handgun license. Handguns in New York are required to be registered and listed upon the individual's handgun license. Therefore, no un-registered handguns are allowed in New York State (even by a license holder), and no individual can possess a handgun in New York State without a license. New York State does not recognize any out of state licenses. Air travelers who live in neighboring Vermont and utilize Albany International Airport as the nearest airport to home have been arrested upon check-in with the airline if they have a handgun in their checked luggage.
- If you witness a civilian carrying a handgun in a rural area: Visitors to the New York metropolitan area, who then visit the Catskills region later in the trip, will experience a major cultural change within several hours drive regarding firearms. While possession of a firearm for self-defense purposes in New York City is reserved for the famous or extremely wealthy only, several county sheriffs in the Catskills region have actually implored their licensed handgun owners to carry their weapons as a deterrent to terrorism/mass shootings. Because of this, the presumption should be that a civilian carrying a handgun in the Catskills region of the state is licensed to do so, and has been requested and encouraged by law enforcement to do so.
New York was the birthplace of the gay rights movement in the USA with the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969. New York and states in New England were among the early US states to legally recognize same-sex marriage. The majority of New Yorkers are socially tolerant and used to diversity, even in upstate areas that are perceived to be more conservative than New York City.
It is important to remember that New York City was one of the targets of the 9-11 attacks, and the memory of 9-11 is still very fresh in the minds of New Yorkers, especially in New York City. Some may not wish to discuss the topic of 9-11, while others will gladly share their personal stories with you.
- Vermont — the fall foliage in New York's northeastern neighbor is a famously beautiful sight, and the state offers rural charm all year
- Massachusetts — the birthplace of America's revolution, the state's eastern neighbor is home to historical towns, the vacation hotspot of Cape Cod, and the always-interesting city of Boston
- Connecticut — New York's eastern neighbor is home to Yale University, Mystic Seaport, the restaurant and nightlife scene in downtown New Haven, the Maritime Aquarium, and two major Native American casinos
- New Jersey — the Garden State, located south and west of southeastern New York, offers everything from the glitz of Atlantic City to the migratory birds of Cape May
- Pennsylvania — New York's southern neighbor saw the birth of the nation in Philadelphia and also offers rural charm
- Ontario — located just across the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, this Canadian province shares Niagara Falls and offers everything from the eclectic city of Toronto to the nature of Algonquin Provincial Park
- Quebec — New York's northern neighbor is Canada's French-speaking province, home to a unique culture and distinctly European feel