They don't call it the Empire State for nothing. New York State, named after the Duke of York and future King James II, stretches northwards from New York City, Long Island and the Hudson River Valley, through the Catskills to the rugged Adirondack Mountains, Great Lakes and Niagara Falls more than 350 miles away. Long Island is best known for a string of upscale resort towns in Southampton and East Hampton, collectively known as The Hamptons, but the island has far more to offer.
East of the Hamptons, you can visit Jackson Pollock's studio at Springs and stay on secluded, brooding Shelter Island. And the Montauk Preserve on the eastern tip of Long Island seems like it's a million miles from the city. The Gold Coast on the north shore is where F Scott Fitzgerald set The Great Gatsby. A number of impressive mansions are open to the public.
Goin' up the country
Half-an-hour north of New York City and you're in the country. In the scenic Hudson Valley, picturesque small towns bristle with history. Just outside Tarrytown is Sleepy Hollow, where Washington Irving's famous legend is set, and Irving's enchanting cottage, Sunnyside, which is gently falling into the river. Beacon is a small river town that has been transformed into an "art" town by the arrival of the Dia Art Foundation. Nine years ago, this NYC-based contemporary arts organisation set up a museum here (diabeacon.org).
Following the river road northwards is the Franklin D Roosevelt Home and Library and the Vanderbilt Mansion at Hyde Park.
The right bank
The west bank of the Hudson leads to the Catskills and much of the west and north of the state. West Point, the military academy, is located close to the river. Woodbury Common, probably the best outlet mall in the USA, is close by. The Catskills, part of the Appalachian Range and an area of rolling hills, farms, small towns and villages, are a couple of hours' drive from New York City.
Woodstock is the most celebrated town, but far more interesting is the tiny village of Bethel, 60 miles away, where the iconic festival took place in 1969. There is now a fabulous museum that chronicles the story of the Sixties (bethel woodscenter.org), as well as a fine concert arena.
Just 150 miles north and west of the Catskills are 11 glacial lakes, known as the Finger Lakes. This is the prime wine-growing area in the state and the second-biggest wine producer in the USA after California. Apart from the lakes and wineries, the area is best known for its wealth of National and State Parks.
The 215ft Taughannock Falls – higher than the better-known Niagara Falls – are protected by the State Park that takes their name. It is just outside the charming university town of Ithaca, which overlooks Lake Cayuga.
Grand Canyon East
At the western edge of the Finger Lakes is Letchworth State Park, known locally as the Grand Canyon East. The Genesee River roars through a deep gorge, with three large waterfalls. Featuring 66 miles of hiking trails, spectacular views, rustic cabins, hot-air ballooning and white-water rafting, it's a great place to spend a day or two.
A five-hour drive north from New York City is the beautiful and remote Adirondack region. The Adirondack Park is the largest outside Alaska, and covers more territory than the state of New Jersey. It includes 46 mountains, 2,800 lakes and ponds and 600 miles of river, in one of the least densely populated regions in the USA. The vast, rugged area is ideal for camping, hiking, biking and river trips into the wilderness. Lake Placid, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980, is the best-known lake. Others include Lake George, Long Lake, Blue Mountain Lake and the Fulton chain of lakes. Those with an interest in Native American culture shouldn't miss the Six Nations Indian Museum, close to Saranac Lake.
Saratoga Springs, on the south-east fringes of the Adirondacks, is best known for its mineral springs and thoroughbred horseracing. An elegant town, with Victorian architecture, spas and museums, it's a great place to pamper yourself and unwind for a couple of days. Less than 40 miles south of Saratoga Springs is Albany, the state capital. It has some great architecture and if you're a fan of the Hudson River School of artists, then head to the excellent Albany Institute of Art (albanyinstitute.org).
Most visitors head up to the Canadian border just to see the spectacular Niagara Falls. Nearby Buffalo, which was once seen as a decaying industrial relic, has undergone a renaissance in recent years. Art galleries, cafés and restaurants have sprung up in the city and architecturally it has some real treasures, including homes by Frank Lloyd Wright, a park by Frederick Law Olmsted and the Prudential Building by Louis Sullivan, the father of the skyscraper.
Every year, 400,000 Americans make the pilgrimage to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (baseballhall.org) in Cooperstown, population 2,300, about three hours' drive north from Manhattan. The village sits beside Lake Otsego, one of the most underdeveloped and exquisite lakes in the state and is graced with elegant period architecture, fine hotels and B&Bs, and the fantastic Fenimore Art Museum (fenimoreartmuseum.org).
On the trains
The Metropolitan Transit Authority website offers a wide selection of day and overnight trips. Trains to the Hudson River Valley leave from Grand Central Terminal. Trains to Long Island destinations depart from Penn Station. Amtrak trains venture further upstate. The Adirondack takes you on a spectacular ride through the state to Montreal.
The road less travelled
One of the best ways to enjoy the state is to avoid the highways and take the back roads through bucolic landscapes and small communities. The Taconic Parkway beats Interstate 187 hands down. One scenic drive upstate is on Route 2 along the southern shores of Lake Champlain and the picturesque village of Essex. US 6, the highway on which Sal Paradise tries to cross America in On the Road, is worth a spin around the Shawangunk Mountains and Harriman State Park.
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