Easy breaks from New York City

Being in the city that never sleeps can be exhausting. For those in search of a quieter slice of life, these quick trips will take you away from the Big Apple in three hours or less.

As the most populous city in the United States, New York has plenty to offer in terms of first-class restaurants, world-famous museums and far-out fashions. But being in the city that never sleeps can be exhausting. For visitors and locals who want to enjoy a different pace of life, here are a few ways to get away from the Big Apple in three hours or less.

By bike
Slightly more than 20 miles southeast from midtown Manhattan is Rockaway Beach in the borough of Queens – a stretch of land once called the “Irish Riviera” thanks to its large Irish population. With 170 acres of sand, it is the largest urban beach in the country.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the coastal neighbourhood hard, destroying much of the 5.5-mile wooden boardwalk, but the federal government has pledged $300 million to repair the damage and volunteer efforts have cleaned up much of the surrounding area.

As a testament to the neighbourhood’s strength, the concession stands that were located on the concrete part of the boardwalk will reopen this summer along with a new wine bar called Sarya’s. Known as the Rockaway Beach Club, the collection of stands serves up everything from Venezuelan street food to classic boardwalk fare like ice cream and lobster rolls.

Rent a cruiser from Ride Brooklyn in Park Slope off Bergen Avenue and take nearby Flatbush Avenue to Prospect Park West until hitting Ocean Parkway (one of the country’s very first bike roads). Take Emmons Road to Flatbush Avenue which becomes the Marine Parkway Bridge (which has a small lane for cyclists and pedestrians). Ride east to Rockaway Park and the beach. Burned out on biking for the day? The A line at the Rockaway subway station will shuttle you back to the city (though avoid rush hour if you want to board with the bike).  

By train
The college town of New Haven, Connecticut, often gets overshadowed by its larger New England neighbours Boston and Portland, but the town’s colonial charm and diverse restaurant scene is easily accessible via a two-hour train ride from New York.

Start with lunch at one of the many “apizza” joints around town, so called for New Haven’s thin-crust, brick-oven take on the classic pie. The unique fresh clam apizza can be found at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in the Wooster Square neighbourhood just east of the State Street train station.

After lunch, walk off the slices around the New Haven Green, built in 1638 as a central square for early puritan colonists and used today as a park and festival grounds. Take a peek inside the park’s Federalist-style First Church of Christ, constructed in 1814, and venture down into its crypt, the resting spot of 137 gravestones, including infamous traitor to the British Benedict Arnold’s first wife. Visitors can enjoy the church’s massive pipe organ during the 10 am Sunday service.

New Haven also has a number of art galleries and museums, thanks to the presence and influence of nearby Yale University, the third oldest university in the country. Visit the Yale University Art Gallery, which houses more than 185,000 pieces of international and American art, or the Peabody Museum of Natural History, which displays mounted apatosaurus and stegosaurus dinosaur bones in its great hall.

Take the New Haven Metro North line from Grand Central Station to New Haven State Street Station, about an hour and 45 minute trip. Once there, downtown New Haven can be traversed by foot, or a bike can be rented at Devil’s Gear Bike Shop.

By car
Just 150 miles west of Manhattan, the scenery changes from soaring skyscrapers to open farmland.

More than 31,000 Amish people call Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County home, the oldest community of its kind in the United States. The community chooses to avoid modern technologies such as gas-powered automobiles, electricity and telephones. Instead, they carry on in much the same way as when they immigrated from Europe more than 300 years ago, relying on passed-down farming techniques, horses and buggies, and large families to sustain their villages.

Today’s population does not mind sharing their way of life with visitors, and welcomes guests to experience their lifestyle with farm tours, buggy rides and local shops that feature handmade quilts, furniture and jams. Start at the Amish Farm and House near the city of Lancaster, where visitors can tour an 1805 farmhouse, 15 acres of farmland, as well as an Amish schoolhouse and blacksmith, then book a 55-minute, five-mile ride with a horse and buggy through the back country roads and farmland through AAA Buggy Rides. Bring home a memento of the slower-paced life from Riehl’s Quilts and Crafts, housed on a working dairy farm in the town of Leola, where colourful quilts, handmade dolls and wooden train whistles are on display.

Take  I-95 South to I-276 West, then follow the signs to US 30 West. Once in Lancaster County, download the Lancaster County Exploration Map to plot out must-see stops or stop at the visitor’s centre to take one of the daily 90-minute countryside tours.

By air
Only a 90-minute flight from New York, Montreal mirrors New York City as Canada’s cultural capital, but does so in a completely different language (French is the city’s official language, and 60% of residents speak it as their primary language). If you visit in winter, wander the city through the expansive underground tunnels that connect shopping centres like Complex Desjardins with spectacular museums like the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, which has a strong Canadian and Quebecois art collection, and the Musée d’art Contemporain, which primarily showcases living artists.

In summer, walk the cobbled streets of Old Montreal just southeast of downtown, enjoy local food and crafts, and take in the city’s past at Pointe-à-Callière, a history and archaeology museum built above the ruins of the first settlement. A 18-minute multimedia presentation on a 270-degree screen gives an initial overview of the city’s founding, then visitors can wander on the carefully constructed landings over the archaeological digs that have uncovered artefacts and structures from the city’s founding, such as a Catholic cemetery dating from 1643.

Montreal locals do claim that their city’s bagels beat their New York neighbours, thanks to their wood-oven taste and denser recipe. So before you leave, put your taste buds to the test at Fairmount Bagel or St-Viateur Bagel, both in the northwest Mile End neighbourhood, and try a poppy or sesame seed bagel as it comes hot out of the oven.

Book a nonstop flight on AirCanada or West Jet, then flag a cab or take a bus to the city centre. From there, the efficient Métro allows for easy access across the city. Once you are there, book a free, 75-minute guided walking tour with Free Montreal Tours, which takes visitors to historical spots throughout Old Montreal.