New York (state)
New York is known as the Empire State and with good reason; it has been one of the most populous and influential states since the 18th century. 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, New York has something to offer everyone.
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.
- Albany — the state capital, steeped in the history of the state
- Buffalo — the largest city in upstate New York, home of the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Sabres—and the Buffalo wing
- Cooperstown — historic town and home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
- Ithaca — a small town with an attitude and home to Cornell University
- New York — the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps, the Town So Nice They Named it Twice
- Niagara Falls — the "honeymoon capital of the world" thanks to its namesake waterfalls
- 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, but 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
English is spoken throughout the state, as expected. 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.
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), Phone: +1 718 244-4444, .
- Newark Liberty International Airport (IATA: EWR), Newark New Jersey, Phone: +1 800 EWR-INFO, .
- LaGuardia Airport (IATA: LGA), Flushing (Queens), Phone: +1 718 533-3400, .
Large upstate airports
- Buffalo Niagara International Airport (IATA: BUF), 4500 Genesee St. Cheektowaga, Phone: +1 716 630-6000, .
- Greater Rochester International Airport (IATA: ROC), 1200 Brooks Ave. Rochester, Phone: +1 585 464-6000, .
- Syracuse Hancock International Airport (IATA: SYR), Colonel Eileen Collins Blvd. Syracuse, Phone: +1 315 454-4330, .
- Albany International Airport (IATA: ALB), 373 Albany Shaker Rd. Albany, Phone: +1 518 242-2200, .
New York City metro area smaller airports
- Long Island MacArthur Airport (IATA: ISP), 100 Arrivals Ave. Ronkonkoma (Islip), Phone: +1 631 467-3377, .
- 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, Phone: +1 607 257-0456, .
- Elmira-Corning Regional Airport (IATA: ELM), 276 Sing-Sing Rd. Horseheads, Phone: +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.
The route you take depends on where you're coming from:
- From Lower 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 Lower Ontario 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 New England: I-95 connects Boston to New York City; I-90 does the same to Albany. More northern routes are rare.
- From Quebec: Autoroute 15 is your route south from Montreal; it becomes I-87 at the border.
- From Eastern Ontario: Highway 401 passes close to the border at the Thousand Islands; take Highway 137 to the Thousand Islands Bridge to pick up I-81.
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 ($11.65 from Buffalo to Albany, for example). Most New Yorkers grumble at the price but pay it anyway for the efficiency the route offers.
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 Corning you'll encounter a few at-grade intersections, but it's still a quick route, and it's 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 and front-seat passengers (and children) must wear seat belts.
- You are not permitted to use hand-held cellular phones while driving; hands-free phones are permitted.
- Turning right on red is permitted except where signs indicate otherwise (this is reversed in New York City, however).
- Vehicles turning left must yield to oncoming traffic unless they have a green left-arrow.
- The state speed limit is 55 mph, but rural expressways can raise that to 65. Speed limits on surface roads will generally be 30 within cities and villages, except on the outskirts where it might be 35. School zones have a limit of 20 mph during school hours.
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.
- The Niagara Falls.
The natural beauty of the state is diverse, from the incomparable Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth Park, to the mountainous terrain of the Catskills and the Adirondacks, perfect for hiking and camping. The numerous waterways of the state include Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, the Erie Canal, and the Hudson River, all of which see regular boat traffic throughout the summer months.
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 almost 100 wineries in between. The region produces perhaps the best Rieslings outside of Germany, and Finger Lakes ice wines are growing in popularity.
None of the upstate cities compare to New York City 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.
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".
This page was last edited at 02:33, on 26 February 2009 by Wikitravel user LtPowers. Based on work by James Yolkowski, Peter Fitzgerald, David, Evan Prodromou and Philipp Schäufele, Wikitravel user(s) Episteme, Ypsilon and Johnwaters37, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.