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New York (state)

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New York (state)

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The state of New York [1] 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.

New York regions map.png
Metro New York
New York, the largest city in the United States, is possibly the most well known and celebrated city in the world. A city of towering skyscrapers, ethnic diversity, international corporations, and incomparable culture, New York often serves to represent the entire country to foreign visitors.
The Catskills
Largely rural, wild, and mountainous, the Catskills are a popular vacation destination for New Yorkers, but they also have much to offer the traveler from out of state.
The Hudson Valley
The state capital of Albany and its surrounding cities anchor the top of the Hudson Valley, which extends south to the outskirts of the New York City area. Between them is an area that much resembles New England as a cradle of colonial civilization.
The Adirondacks
The Adirondack Mountains are the true wilderness of New York, protected by an enormous state 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 — the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps, the City So Nice They Named it Twice
  • 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

Other destinations



Before European settlement, the area now known as New York was 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.

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. 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.

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, 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.

Get in

By plane

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, [2].
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (IATA: EWR), Newark New Jersey, Phone: +1 800 EWR-INFO, [3].
  • LaGuardia Airport (IATA: LGA), Flushing (Queens), Phone: +1 718 533-3400, [4].

Large upstate airports

  • Buffalo Niagara International Airport (IATA: BUF), 4500 Genesee St. Cheektowaga, Phone: +1 716 630-6000, [5].
  • Greater Rochester International Airport (IATA: ROC), 1200 Brooks Ave. Rochester, Phone: +1 585 464-6000, [6].
  • Syracuse Hancock International Airport (IATA: SYR), Colonel Eileen Collins Blvd. Syracuse, Phone: +1 315 454-4330, [7].
  • Albany International Airport (IATA: ALB), 373 Albany Shaker Rd. Albany, Phone: +1 518 242-2200, [8].

New York City metro area smaller airports

  • Long Island MacArthur Airport (IATA: ISP), 100 Arrivals Ave. Ronkonkoma (Islip), Phone: +1 888 LI-AIRPORT, [9].
  • Westchester County Airport (IATA: HPN), 240 Airport Rd. White Plains, +1 914 939-8484, [10].
  • Stewart International Airport (IATA: SWF), 1 Express Dr. Newburgh, +1 845 567-2563, [11].

Southern Tier regional airports

  • Greater Binghamton Airport (IATA: BGM), 2534 Airport Rd. Box 16 Johnson City, +1 607 763-4471, [12].
  • Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport (IATA: ITH), 72 Brown Rd. Ithaca, Phone: +1 607 257-0456, [13].
  • Elmira-Corning Regional Airport (IATA: ELM), 276 Sing-Sing Rd. Horseheads, Phone: +1 607 795-0402, [14].

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.

By car

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.

Get around

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.

By car

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.

Major routes

New York - Major Routes map.png

The most important highway in New York is the New York State Thruway [15], 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.

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 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.)

State routes

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.

By train

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 Adirondack line travels roughly along I-87 from New York City to Montreal. The Ethan Allen Express splits off from the Adirondack route to go to Vermont instead of Quebec.


There is a lot of sightseeing to be done in New York, the most obvious of which is either in New York City or Niagara Falls. But New York also has some destinations of incredible natural beauty, especially around the Finger Lakes and in the Adirondacks. The 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.



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".


  • The drinking age, along with the other 49 states, is 21 years of age.
  • Beer and other beverages with a low alcohol content can be found in supermarkets, while hard liquor and wine can be found in liquor stores. Liquor stores, by law, are not allowed to sell beer and champagne.
  • State law stipulates that bars must close at 4am, 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.
  • Driving while intoxicated is a criminal offense in New York state. The blood-acohol limit is 0.08, although you can be cited for DWI at as low as 0.05 if you are blatantly impaired. Minors under 21 have a BAC limit of 0.02.


Stay safe

  • Dialing 911 on any phone, wireless or landline, is free and will connect you with local police, fire, and ambulance services.
  • 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, but it is a secondary offense (meaning you can only be charged with it if you're pulled over for some other reason).
  • 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.

Get out

  • Vermont — The fall foliage in New York's northeastern neighbor is a site not-to-be missed, while during the rest of the year the state offers a rural charm unique in America.
  • 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 southeastern 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 is located south of New York, offering 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 offers rural charm.
  • Ontario — Located just across the Niagara 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 unique French-speaking province is home to a unique culture and distinctly European feel.

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