Downstate New York is the southernmost and by far the most populous area of New York State.
|New York City |
possibly the most famous and celebrated city in the world, New York is a city of towering skyscrapers, ethnic diversity, international corporations, and incomparable culture
|Long Island |
a mostly suburban area famous for its miles of great beaches
|Rockland County |
the less dense counterpart to Westchester County, it is on the Palisades side of the Hudson, with great hiking and views
|Westchester County |
home to the country's only government-operated theme park - Rye Playland - as well as beautiful neighborhoods and historic towns along the Hudson with rolling hills
- 1 Huntington A pleasant town on the North Shore of Suffolk County, it serves as a kind of regional center of culture and entertainment for the North Shore west of Port Jefferson.
- 2 Long Beach A city on a barrier island off the South Shore of Nassau County with beautiful white sand beaches.
- 3 New York City - Almost universally called "The City" beyond city limits, New York and its skyline, media and formidable cultural institutions absolutely dominate the area. A draw for immigrants, dreamers and fortune-seekers for hundreds of years, it is a magnet for business and pleasure travel from around the world.
- 4 New Rochelle - The largest of Westchester's Long Island Sound cities, its center features a combination of historic low-rises and churches and new high-rise buildings, with much larger areas of suburban houses and greenery outside of Downtown.
- 5 Nyack - A small city in the Rockland County Palisades with great hiking and views.
- 6 Oyster Bay - A hamlet on the North Shore of Nassau County, its attractions include Theodore Roosevelt's retreat at Sagamore Hill, two arboretums and many historic houses.
- 7 Rye - A well-to-do and charming town on Westchester's Long Island Sound coast, it is best known in the area as the home to Rye Playland, the country's only government-owned amusement park.
- 8 White Plains - The seat of government for Westchester County, its downtown has been redeveloped with upscale housing and retail.
- 9 Yonkers - The fourth-largest city in the state, this community just beyond the West Side of the Bronx is diverse, with a long and pretty stretch along the Hudson and worthwhile attractions.
- 1 Coney Island
- 2 City Island - Connected to the rest of the northeast Bronx by a single bridge, it feels like small-town New England, not a big city
- 3 Fire Island - An all-pedestrian summer resort island off the coast of Long Island with Fire Island National Seashore
- 4 Gateway National Recreation Area - With portions in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, this collection of parkland is home to wondrous views of nature and many family activities.
- 5 The Hamptons
- 6 Montauk
- 7 The Palisades - Majestic cliffs rising sharply on the western bank of the Hudson River with numerous viewpoints, trails and camp sites in Rockland County.
- 8 Shelter Island
Downstate New York is the counterpart of Upstate New York, the area of the state that's not part of New York City or Long Island and far enough from the city not to be considered suburban. Since the question of where Upstate starts is a point of contention among the state's residents, where Downstate ends is also disputed, but almost everyone would agree that it includes at least the city, Long Island, Westchester County and Rockland County. Depending on who you talk to, Putnam County and all or part of Dutchess, Ulster and Orange County might be included, but since most of these counties are more exurban than suburban to New York City, we exclude them. All areas of Downstate are parts of the larger New York Metropolitan Area. However, they are not all close to the city: Long Island is 120 miles long from west to east and is downright rural in the easternmost areas of Suffolk County.
Downstate New York is served by two large airports in New York City and one in Newark, New Jersey (NYC IATA for all three of these airports), with numerous flights from almost every corner of the world. John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport are large international airports while LaGuardia Airport is a busy domestic airport. All three airports are run by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. There are also several small airports in the region.
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK IATA) is in the borough of Queens in the eastern part of New York City. Many international airlines fly into JFK and it is a major international hub for Delta Air Lines (Terminals 2 and 3) and American Airlines (Terminal 8). Air France and Lufthansa (Terminal 1), British Airways (Terminal 7), and Virgin Atlantic (Terminal 4) each provide several flights daily into JFK. JetBlue, a large low-cost carrier, occupies Terminal 5. A free AirTrain connects the terminals. Always make sure you know which terminal your flight arrives at or departs from.
LaGuardia Airport (LGA IATA) is a smaller, older airport in Queens, though in the process of reconstruction and enlargement, providing many of the domestic services for the area including the frequent shuttles to Boston and Washington, D.C.. Direct flights are available from all large and most small airports east of the Mississippi, with a few international flights from Toronto and Montreal. The Marine Air Terminal, the terminal used by Delta Air Lines for shuttle services to Washington D.C. and Boston, is one of the oldest, still-in-use, airport terminals in the world.
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR IATA) ☏ is in Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey. The airport has three terminals labeled A, B, C. Terminal C is the home of a major United Airlines hub. Most other international airlines use Terminal B while domestic flights are from Terminal A but there are exceptions, so check your terminal before you head for the airport.
Long Island MacArthur Airport (Islip Airport) (ISP IATA), in Ronkonkoma (Town of Islip), Suffolk County, Long Island, is served by Southwest Airlines, a major discount carrier in the US. American Airlines has a minor presence at the airport. The Long Island Railroad offers a discount package for MacArthur Airport travelers on its website.
Stewart International Airport (SWF IATA) is 75 miles north of midtown Manhattan, near Newburgh, but convenient to Rockland County and northern Westchester. It mainly serves flights to/from Florida on JetBlue Airlines. To travel between the city and SWF:
- A shuttle bus ($1, 40 minutes, Mon-Fri only) connects SWF with the Beacon Metro-North Railroad Station of the Hudson Line, which has stops at every Hudson River community in Westchester County and at Manhattan's Harlem and Grand Central stations.
- Shortline operates bus service ($20, 90 minutes) between the airport and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. Buses are timed based on arrivals and departures of Norwegian Airlines flights.
Amtrak (+1-800-USA-RAIL [872-7245]) trains arrive in New York at New York Penn Station, directly under Madison Square Garden, between 31st and 33rd Streets between 7th & 8th Avenues. Popular trains leaving during rush hours can fill up quickly; it is a good idea to make reservations online, or via phone, and pick up your ticket using a credit card or your confirmation number at one of the electronic kiosks located throughout the station. On some of the non-business routes, for example New York to Montreal, Amtrak takes more time and costs more money than taking the bus or renting a car. Check and compare schedules and prices before booking. Amtrak also serves Croton-Harmon, New Rochelle and Yonkers in Westchester County.
Amtrak's Acela express train provides regular fast commuter service between major points along the east coast such as Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Providence and Boston. Amtrak services are also available from points along the East Coast down to Florida, points between New York and Chicago (including Pittsburgh and Cleveland), from Upstate New York including Albany, Rochester, Buffalo and Niagara Falls, and from Toronto and Montreal, Canada. Service from California takes at least 3 days and requires a change of trains in Chicago.
Metropolitan Lounge, located on the Mezzanine level of Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station, offers complimentary drinks, wi-fi access, newspapers and magazines, and clean bathrooms. Access to the lounge is granted to travelers with sleeper tickets, First Class Acela tickets, or Amtrak GuestRewards SelectPlus membership.
Downstate New York is served by two commuter railroads.
- Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) operates between New York Penn Station and Long Island with New York City stops at several stations including Jamaica, Woodside, Long Island City and Hunters Point in Queens, and Atlantic Terminal station in Brooklyn.
- Metro-North Rail Road (Metro North) operates between Grand Central Terminal and points north and east of the city all the way to Connecticut. Trains also stop at the Harlem station on 125th Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan, and there are several stops in the Bronx that are served by some trains (notably, most Stamford Local trains serving the cities on Westchester's Long Island Sound coast stop at Fordham before proceeding to Manhattan). The New Haven line serves cities along the Long Island Sound coast through Westchester County, but unless you want to bypass Westchester, you will take the Stamford Local and not the New Haven train. The Hudson Line serves points along the Hudson River to Poughkeepsie. The Harlem Line serves Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties to Pawling and Wassaic.
The first things people from the area and abroad think of as sights in this region are all in Manhattan or New York Harbor:
- The Midtown and Downtown skylines, and skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building and the Woolworth Building
- The Statue of Liberty
- The dizzying jumble of lights, advertisements and crowds of tourists and the Broadway theaters on Times Square
- The famous museums of art, starting with the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art
- The Brooklyn Bridge, which was built to connect the cities of New York and Brooklyn in the 19th century when they were still separate cities
However, there are also important sights in the Outer Boroughs and beyond.
- Brooklyn Heights is a historic neighborhood of lowrise residential buildings and churches, with great views from its promenade
- With fewer tourists and more locals, Brooklyn's Prospect Park is a fitting counterpart to Manhattan's Central Park, and the neighborhood of Prospect Heights on its north end also contains the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, with its famous collections of Egyptian art, Assyrian reliefs, 19th-century American art, and art from Africa and Oceania
- The Bronx Zoo is widely considered one of America's greatest. Next to it is the New York Botanic Garden, much larger than the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The Bronx is also home to very large municipal parks including Van Cortlandt Park, which you can access by taking the 1 subway line to the last stop.
- The Fair Grounds of the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park still look futuristic today.
- The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, Westchester County's largest with some 18,000 items in its collection, features works by the 19th-century Hudson River School painters and a planetarium on beautiful grounds with views across the Hudson.
- Nyack Beach State Park provides great views up, down and across the Hudson, good birdwatching and excellent hiking.
- Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, at 4,315 acres, is the largest park in Westchester County, with excellent hiking and sculptures and historical rustic buildings and artifacts.
- The two arboretums and historic buildings including the home of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay on Nassau County's North Shore.
There is really a wealth of activities to indulge in in this region.
- Great urban walking in many areas of New York City and many other cities and towns with real downtowns, such as the ones on the Long Island Sound and especially (because of the great views) the Hudson River in Westchester County.
- Great hiking in many parks. Don't think of this region as all urban at all, though of course there are some big parks within New York City's limits, and some of those in outlying areas of Queens and the Bronx aren't very urban at all. However, in Rockland County, northern Westchester and parts of Long Island, there are very large parks with quite a rural feel.
- Swimming and surfing: Long Island's Atlantic coast has some great beaches, with Fire Island particularly famous but by no means the only one. Surfers also appreciate the beaches.
- Boating: If you have access to a sailboat, there is great sailing to be had in any of the region's waterways during good weather. You can also rent a kayak or canoe at various stretches along the Hudson from Manhattan on upstream, and there are some ponds in urban parks that rent rowboats by the hour.
- Recreational train-riding: The Hudson Line is one of the most beautiful in the U.S., and you get great views across the Hudson by taking Metro North from New York through Westchester and Putnam Counties to Poughkeepsie, some ways north of this region. Sit on the left side going north (toward Poughkeepsie) and the right side going south (toward New York) to have the best views across the Hudson.
- Attending performances: New York City is world-famous for its Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway theaters, concert halls and clubs that host performances. Unless you hate the performing arts, you'd be remiss to visit the area and miss taking in some live performance.
- Sports: New York City hosts the Yankees (in the Bronx) and Mets (in Queens) in the American and National Leagues of Major League Baseball, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets in the National Basketball Association, and the New York Rangers in the National Hockey League. The New York Islanders NHL team plays its home games at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, though starting at the beginning of the 2021-22 season, they will be at the UBS Arena at Belmont Park in Elmont. There are also minor league baseball teams such as the Brooklyn Cyclones in Coney Island and college basketball, football, baseball (etc.) teams and track & fields meets at various area universities and sometimes at major arenas such as Madison Square Garden in Midtown Manhattan and the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn.
- There are famous amusement parks in Coney Island, Brooklyn (check out the view of Manhattan from the top of the Wonder Wheel!) and Rye, Westchester County.
New York City is full of a very great variety of delicious restaurants at all price points, with cuisines from every continent but Antarctica represented, but there are also some well-known upscale restaurants in Westchester.
The entire region, and probably especially Westchester and Long Island, is known for its diners. Many of them are quite good, and not all are cheap. The best ones are often those owned by Greek-Americans, so if you go to one and see Greek dishes like moussaka, spanakopita (spinach pie) or Greek salad on the menu, consider ordering them if you're in the mood. Diners tend to provide very hearty meals with plenty of carbs in the form of sides of home fries, french fries and/or onion rings and lots of bread, but you can also get smaller items like sandwiches (but beware: open sandwiches can be huge!) and soups.
The New York area is also known for its Ashkenazic Jewish and Italian-American food. There are lots of places where you can get at least a decent bagel (many locals get it with lox and a schmear, which means cream cheese) — get them when they've just been made and are still warm, for the best taste and texture — and sandwiches are often eaten on rye bread, though you may have to search a little harder to find really good pastrami. Lots of corner pizzerias serve a slice that's far superior to the offerings of chain pizzerias, and if you want a really sublime pizza-eating experience, consider going to one of the sit-down places that serve whole thin-crust coal-fired pies. Quite a few pizzerias also serve heroes, which are humongous hot sandwiches on Italian bread, consisting of options such as sausage; meatballs; or veal, chicken or eggplant Parmigiana plus generous helpings of tomato sauce and mozzarella. Consider sharing one with a travel partner unless you have a huge appetite. In addition to the widespread Italian-American cuisine, there are also many "Italian Italian" restaurants. Both categories can be upscale, but regional Italian food is more likely to be at least mid-priced.
If you're hankering for chowder, consider ordering Manhattan clam chowder, which is tomato-based, if it's on the menu.
Another specialty of the area is New York cheesecake. Many diners serve good renditions, along with pies, ice cream and other types of cake, but there are also bakeries that specialize in cheesecake.
There is an increasing proliferation of authentic Chinese restaurants in the area, especially but not exclusively in New York City. They cover a wide gamut of regional styles and also include many specialists in noodles, dumplings, hotpot (usually on the spicy side) and Sichuan-style drypot. Whereas decades ago, you might be best advised to go to Chinatown for real Chinese taste, in the 2020s, there are many other areas that also have numerous options, including Flushing and Elmhurst in Queens, Brooklyn's Sunset Park and Manhattan's East Village, and similar restaurants of quality are to be found in smaller quantities throughout the city and in many suburbs. Not all of them are inexpensive, but even the less inexpensive ones are often good values.
Mexicans have increasingly made their presence felt in the region, with good taquerias, taco trucks and little eateries in the back of some Mexican grocery stores, particularly in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, Queens and Spanish Harlem and towns like Patchogue on Suffolk County's South Shore. However, the Latin-American population is very diverse, so you can also find South American cuisines such as those of Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Venezuela represented. One cuisine you are unlikely to be familiar with if you come from another part of the U.S. is Dominican cuisine. The largest concentration of Dominicans in the country is in the Upper Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and West Harlem, though you can find Dominican restaurants in other neighborhoods, too. Dominican eateries tend to be a good value, often offering lunch or dinner specials that include a sizable main dish, rice or tostones (starchy unripe plantains) and red or black beans. It's a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs cuisine featuring stews, main-dish soups, rotisserie chicken and the like, and it's tasty without being spicy. There are also some Puerto Rican restaurants, serving a related cuisine.
Another increasing presence in the area are the halal trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants serving Middle Eastern or South Asian dishes such as kebabs, shawarma and spicy chicken, lamb, beef, fish, etc. over rice or in pita.
If you prefer to patronize upscale restaurants when you're on vacation, New York City gives you a lot of choices, including New American, French, Japanese (sushi/sashimi, kaiseki, even yakitori), Italian, Spanish (particularly tapas), traditional American steakhouses, seafood specialists, various kinds of fusion, and even some elevated Sichuan cuisine, and you have choices in the suburbs, too. One word of advice, though: Be careful about relying exclusively on Michelin ratings, which can be controversial among New Yorkers who believe their reviewers don't understand a lot of the non-French food here so well. Your best bet is probably to check several sources including Michelin, New York Times reviews and websites including this one, and even better if you have friends with similar taste who can give you personal recommendations.
Restaurants are usually open till at least 10 PM in New York City, and often till 11; some are typically open into the early morning hours. Diners and a few other restaurants, including in some suburbs, can be open round the clock. In the suburbs, restaurants may close at 10 or even earlier. Many restaurants do not open for lunch and even more serve only lunch and dinner, but diners typically are open early in the morning and serve breakfast all day if you prefer to have that instead of ordering from their lunch/dinner menu.
Brunch is a big event on weekends in the area, but it brings with it long waits for a table, so consider finding a place that serves brunch on weekdays if your schedule allows. An alternative is dim sum (small Cantonese plates served with tea). Dim sum restaurants can be very crowded on weekends, but many of them are open every day, and some serve dim sum all day.
Alternatives to restaurants
Instead of going to a restaurant for breakfast or lunch, you can go to a deli and have them make you a sandwich. One traditional type of breakfast sandwich in the region that you may or may not have encountered elsewhere is the egg sandwich, but that's only one option. A bagel with lox and a schmear is another type of sandwich that is widely available option throughout the region. There are also some fish stores that serve fried fish sandwiches to go. Various types of food carts or trucks are near parks or at certain intersections at particular hours, and many slices of pizza are ordered to go and eaten on the run.
New York State is the #3 wine-producing state in the U.S. after California and Washington. The largest wine-growing area is Upstate in the Finger Lakes, but the second largest area is the North Fork of Long Island. Consider trying some of these local wines, or those from the Hudson Valley a bit north of Downstate New York. Wine tasters are also welcome to visit the vineyards on Long Island, and tours are available.
Beer is also brewed in the area. For example Brooklyn Brewery is indeed in Brooklyn, and their lager is quite commonly drunk in bars in the area.
There are also a number of bourbons and ryes distilled in the area. For example, Widow Jane is distilled in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and is complex and smooth, with a bit of an edge. Some other very good bourbons are distilled on Long Island. Inquire at liquor stores, whiskey bars and bars with wide selections of liquor.
Bars are normally open late in New York City. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, closing time for most bars was 4 AM. You should expect earlier closing times in the suburbs but may find bars open till midnight or later even there.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City was among the safest cities from crime in the country. The pandemic brought with it a frightening rise in shootings, homicides and bias attacks, with those on people who are or look Asian increasing at the greatest rate. Homicides are still way down from the bad old days of the 80s and early 90s, robberies declined from 2019 to 2020 and rapes have remained at about the same rate, but things bear watching in the future to see if they improve with the end of the pandemic and associated economic crisis, worsen or stay about the same. The pandemic has also strained people's mental health, and more mentally ill homeless people are on the streets than before. Keep your wits about yourself, but don't be afraid to visit, though if you look Asian, consider traveling with a friend and be more careful if you walk alone.