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The top three long weekend getaways for families near New York City

Explore these ultimate family-friendly getaways all within a few hours of New York City. | By Tanvi Chheda | October 12, 2022

It’s easy to get restless in a city that never sleeps. The solution? Take the whole family for a collective breather with these long weekend getaways from New York City. All within a few hours drive, these destinations are perfect for families looking to reconnect and take in fall colors while discovering stunning historical sites.

  • A breath of fresh air: Hike to a cascading waterfall in Ithaca

  • Appreciate the past: Learn about the founding of our nation in Philadelphia

  • Explore new heights: Take in mountain views in the Catskills

Ithaca, New York

A picturesque and progressive college town at the base of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca makes for an ideal family getaway. The four-and-a-half-hour drive (220 miles/355 kilometers) from the city takes you through quiet countryside bursting with autumn hues to aptly set the stage for the weekend.

Once in Ithaca, explore a few of the 150 cascading waterfalls in the area, known as gorges, including the 215-foot-tall Taughannock Falls and 165-foot-tall Buttermilk Falls. Hike on one of the park’s trails along the gorge or enjoy a picnic by the lake.

Wander around Cornell University’s stunning campus, popping into one of the 17 libraries and the Victorian Gothic-style Sage Chapel, with its stained glass and mosaics. For a sweet afternoon treat, visit the recently renovated Cornell Dairy Bar, which offers fresh ice cream from the university’s own dairy, including flavors imagined by food science students themselves.

On your return drive to New York City, stop for apple picking, freshly pressed cider and Insta-worthy family photos among pumpkin patches at local farms such as Indian Creek and Grisamore. Plan a visit to gorgeous South Mill Cider for a cider flight made from heirloom apple varieties and paired with locally sourced cheeses and maple-covered nuts.

Philadelphia

A two-hour-drive from New York City, Philadelphia offers everything from history and food to art and nature within its 135 square miles (350 square kilometers). For open-air pursuits, bike a section of the 75-mile (120-kilometer) Schuylkill River Trail, or explore the lively Delaware River waterfront, taking in views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Make a stop at Penn’s Landing, where several historic ships are moored, and families can rent paddle boats through the Independence Seaport Museum. When you’re ready for room service, baths and bedtime, Hilton Penn’s Landing is just steps away with views of New Jersey across the river.

After a good night’s rest, start the day by checking out some of Philly’s many historic sites. History buffs of all ages will be in awe of the 2,080-pound (943-kilogram) Liberty Bell and nearby Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. At the Museum of the American Revolution, join a 60-minute highlights tour to learn about the Boston Tea Party and see George Washington’s Revolutionary War tent.

Having worked up an appetite, head to Goldie, a casual vegan eatery from acclaimed chef Michael Solomonov – of Zahav fame – for falafel sandwiches, shawarma-spiced French fries and a selection of tehina shakes. For a break from the historical heavyweights, burn off some steam at the 6-acre Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse at Fairmont Park.

Oh, and before you head home, make sure to stop in at charming Shane’s Confectionery, America’s oldest candy store, for hot chocolate and some edible souvenirs.

Catskills, New York

Part of the larger Appalachian Mountain range, the Catskill Mountains are breathtaking come fall, with majestic oaks exploding into rust orange, golden yellow and scarlet red hues. A weekend getaway to the Catskills is an easy trip from New York City, taking just a few hours depending on your mode of transport.

Rising up from Hudson Valley and to the west of the Hudson River, this region encompasses 700,000 acres of preserved forest and occupies parts of four different counties. The sheer size of the Catskills means it’s best to focus on one or two areas rather than try to cover it all. Need a new family tradition? The Catskills is a popular camping destination – whether you prefer glamping, RVs or sleeping under the stars in the backcountry, the journey awaits.

You can reconnect with nature – and with one another – along the relatively easy 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) round-trip hike to Mount Utsayantha, which pays off with stunning views of fall foliage. Have little ones? Skip the trails and drive along the 52-mile (83.6-kilometer) Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, stopping at small towns such as Windham, Catskill and Woodstock.

Meanwhile, older kids will love soaring above the treetops on a zipline tour at Hunter Mountain for a heart-pumping perspective.

New York City

Switch it up! Make your vacation a staycation by exploring your own backyard.

Start with iconic city sights like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The ferry, operated by Statue City Cruises, takes you on a scenic ride around New York Harbor even if you have younger children and don’t intend on climbing the 162 steps from the pedestal to Lady Liberty’s crown. After the ferry ride back to Battery Park, drop in at the whimsical SeaGlass Carousel, with its 30 color-changing fiberglass fish.

The centrally located Motto by Hilton New York City Chelsea is a convenient (did we mention it offers connecting rooms and rooms with bunk beds for families?) base for your weekend explorations, making it easy to stay comfortable while you experience those must-visit historic and kid-friendly attractions you’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Oh, and if you still haven’t made it to the High Line, fall is your chance — with summer crowds gone, walk the linear park built along a former elevated rail line. Several water features and outdoor sculptures will most certainly keep the kids engaged.

Refuel with burgers at Shake Shack and scoops of mango and orange fennel ice cream at Malai, both nearby. If little ones need a nap, your hotel is a quick stroller ride away. For those with older kids, continue the day with a matinee Broadway show such as “The Lion King,” for a family-friendly introduction to live theater — and a New York rite of passage.

Whether you’re hitting the road for a few days away from familiarity or finally getting to explore the sights you’ve always wanted to see in your own city, these top long-weekend destinations are sure to please the whole crew.

Tanvi Chheda is a travel writer and family travel expert based in Los Angeles. From taking her daughter to Peru at the age of 2 to visiting several U.S. National Parks with her family, she loves seeing new places through her kids' eyes and encourages other families to do the same. A former Travel + Leisure editor, Tanvi has written for The New York Times, AFAR.com, Robb Report, Virtuoso Life and Ciao Bambino, among others.

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