Top 10 hidden gems to see outside of NYC

By Andy Sto Published 08/08/2023

There are plenty of ways to get to know NYC, but sometimes you need a break from the city. Here are 10 hidden gems and hotspots outside of the Big Apple for your next-day trip or weekend getaway.

1. Beacon, NY

Beacon, NY is shy of an hour and a half from NYC. If you enjoy outdoor activities, art and culture, and small-town charm, this is your place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Head there for a trip with friends or alone.

What to do

Beacon is a hub for the arts community. While you’re there, be sure to check out:

  • The DIA Beacon Museum: a contemporary arts organization with works by Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, Dan Flavin, and others
  • Main Street: lined with art galleries, restaurants, and unique boutique shops
  • Bannerman Castle: a historic site accessible by boat tour, located on Pollepel Island on the Hudson
  • Mount Beacon: stunning views of the Hudson Valley and surrounding mountain landscapes
  • Hudson Valley Brewery: for local, innovative beers after a day of exploring

How to get there

To get to Beacon from the city, hop on the Metro-North Hudson Line from Grand Central. You can also drive or take a bus to Beacon, which is 60 miles north by car.

2. Fire Island

Fire Island is a large island on the outer barrier islands located off Long Island, NY. It’s known for its laid-back, bohemian vibe and open atmosphere.

What to do

Fire Island is great for outdoor activities, beaches, and natural beauty. While you’re there, be sure to:

  • Have a beach day: choose from miles of beaches with soft sand and clear water. Optimal beach months start in late May and go through early September
  • Explore Sunken Forest: in the heart of the island, find diverse plant and animal species and enjoy a peaceful walk
  • Visit Fire Island National Seashore: a protected area with 26 miles of dunes, marshes, and beaches to learn about the natural history of the area
  • Climb Fire Island Lighthouse: on the western end of the island, enjoy stunning ocean views if you dare climb to the top
  • Kayak and paddleboard: rent equipment or join a guided tour within the island’s calm bays and inlets

How to get there

Take the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to Bay Shore Station. Then, take a ferry to Fire Island. The total travel time from Penn Station is about two hours. You can also drive or bus to the ferry terminal.

3. Mohonk Preserve

Mohonk Preserve is an excellent place for scenic views, adventure, and eye-catching out-of-the-city social media pics. The preserve protects the northern Shawangunk Ridge and inspires people to care for, enjoy and explore the natural world.

What to do

Nature lovers at Mohonk Preserve can enjoy:

  • Rock climbing: the Shawangunk Mountains, which encompass the preserve, offer guided climbs, lessons, and independent routes for all levels of climbers
  • Mountain biking: enjoy over 30 miles of roads and trails and the option to rent a bike in the area
  • Hiking: get your steps in with over 8,000 acres of protected land and 70 miles of trails to choose from
  • Birdwatching: find yourself amid over 200 bird species including eagles, owls, and hawks
  • Cross-country skiing: if you’ve already explored all of the holiday markets in NYC, it may be time to try cross-country skiing in Mohonk Preserve

How to get there

Climb aboard the Metro-North Hudson Line from Grand Central towards Poughkeepsie. From there, take a shuttle or taxi to the preserve. Door-to-door – or should we say door to trail – the trip will take you around two hours.

4. Catskill Mountains

You may have heard of the Catskills for its breathtaking scenery, rich history, or outdoor activities. These mountains cover 5,000 square miles and offer plenty to do and see.

What to do

It’s no surprise that the Catskill Mountains are home to outdoor fun. You can enjoy:

  • Scenic drives: through winding mountain, valley, and forest roads, including the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway and the Route 28 Scenic Byway
  • Waterfalls: check out Kaaterskill Falls, Bash Bish Falls, and Vernooy Kill Falls to get started
  • Skiing and snowboarding: once you’ve checked off the best NYC activities for December, stay at a ski resort in the Catskills for all types of winter fun including tubing, snowshoeing, and skiing
  • Historical sites: learn something new at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Woodstock Museum, and the Olana State Historic Site

How to get there

Reaching the Catskills requires taking a bus or driving for 2-3 hours. Popular destinations within the area include Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain.

5. Phoenicia, NY

Water lovers will enjoy some time in Phoenicia, located within the Catskills 100 miles north of NYC.

What to do

Head to Phoenicia and choose from this diverse list of activities in the area:

  1. Tubing: once you’ve learned the best ways to meet people in NYC, grab your new friends and head to Esopus Creek in the summer to float down the river and let loose
  2. Fishing: anglers come to Phoenicia from across the state to fish in Esopus Creek, Ashokan Reservoir, or Schoharie Creek
  3. Dining: if you’ve already gone through our Brooklyn Top Brunch List, enjoy local eats at Tavern 214, Brio’s Pizzeria, and Sweet Sue’s in Phoenicia
  4. Hiking: get your exercise in at Giant Ledge, Tremper Mountain, or Slide Mountain

How to get there

Phoenicia is a bit of a drive, but it’s worth the 2.5-hour trek to get there. Adirondack Trailways also provides a daily bus to get you to and from.

6. Cornwall, NY

Combine history, art, and nature in one quaint little town in Cornwall.

What to do

You can’t leave Cornwall without seeing:

  • Storm King Art Center: for world-renowned sculpture set across 500 acres of rolling hills and forests
  • Black Rock Forest: learn from their educational programs and stick to the trails in this 4,000-acre forest
  • New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site: history buds stand in awe in this Revolutionary War site
  • Village of Cornwall: you may know about the best unique food spots in NYC, but the center of Cornwall has its own culinary curiosities to enjoy

How to get there

Access Cornwall by car, driving about 100 miles north of NYC, or use the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line and get off at Cornwall-on-Hudson.

7. Woodstock, NY

Almost everyone has heard of Woodstock, so why not check out where the legendary music festival took place?

What to do

You can’t visit the center of counter-culture without also checking out:

  • Levon Helm Studios: for a live concert
  • The Woodstock Artists Association and Museum: explore over 2,000 works of art from prominent Woodstock-associated artists
  • Woodstock Farm Sanctuary: take a tour and learn about the over 400 rescued farm animals on site

How to get there

Take the daily bus with Adirondack Trailways to Woodstock in about 2.5 hours or drive the route and cut off some travel time.

8. Kerhonkson, NY (Pine Barrens)

Agriculture fans and nature lovers would enjoy visiting the Pine Barrens at Kerhonkson. If you’re heading to Mohonk Preserve, consider making a pit stop here.

What to do

Get ready to walk, explore, and enjoy local fruits and veggies at these stops:

  • Kelder’s Farm: is one of the many places you can pick your own fruits and veggies, enjoy a corn maze, or feel like a kid again at a petting zoo
  • Minnewaska State Park Preserve: has over 50 miles of trails, three lakes, and great views of the Shawangunk Mountains
  • Accord Speedway: for races on a dirt track most Fridays during the summer
  • A wide array of accommodation options: enjoy resorts and spas, camping, and ranch stays throughout Kerhonkson

How to get there

Head to Kerhonkson by car on the NY State Thruway and/or Route 209. The drive is about 90 miles.

9. Hunter, NY

Hunter is located in Greene County and is known as a sporty winter getaway and an adrenaline-packed summer favorite.

What to do

Hunter is for the brave and excited of heart. While there, you’ll want to muster up the guts to enjoy:

  • Chairlift rides: during the summer and fall, enjoy chairlift rides over the Catskills
  • New York Zipline Adventure Tours: take the leap and ride the longest and highest zipline in North America here
  • Winter activities: skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, tubers, and more will have plenty to do in Hunter

How to get there

Drive up to Hunter on the NY State Thruway or Route 23A, among other highway options. The ride will take between 2.5-3 hours depending on traffic.

10. Niagara Falls

This last one may not be as hidden as the others, but it’s well worth visiting. If you have a few days to spare, make the trip and take in all the area has to offer.

What to do

The infamous Niagara Falls offers:

  • Prospect Point and Terrapin Point: some of the best views of the falls from NY
  • Niagara Falls State Park: for the views and a picnic
  • The Cave of the Winds: ride an elevator down and walk on wooden walkways near the falls
  • Niagara Gorge: for white-water rafting

How to get there

You can fly straight to Buffalo from one of NYC’s three airports then drive, taxi, or shuttle to the falls. There is also an Amtrak Train from NYC that takes 9 hours to get to Buffalo.

Making the most of NY

Since New York City has a lot to offer, the areas around this bustling hub are often underrated. A thorough experience in New York should expand outside of the five boroughs, so we hope you’ll find the time to explore some of these hidden gems around NYC.

If you’re new to the city, need friends for an adventure, or are still looking for an NYC niche to call home, check out our NYC co-living spaces for those who love adventure and new experiences.

We’re always around to answer questions or help out a friend who’s new to the city, so we hope to hear from you. Cheers!

About the author Andy is a seasoned digital nomad from Brussels. He runs a blog for digital nomads, remote workers, and remote company leaders: He enjoys hiking, singing, playing improv games and discovering hidden gems all over the world.