New York, New York, so good they named it twice, and then made everyone forget about the rest of the state, which is a huge mistake! Don’t get me wrong, New York City is a true highlight of any visit to America and is a fascinating city in it’s own right. It’s founding role in the nations history alone is worthy of note, but there are also world famous sites, attractions and even city streets on every corner, the food scene is legendary, the statues and bridges iconic and the nightlife legendary, you could spend months and an entire lottery win exploring the city that never sleeps!
But beyond the city itself lies an entire state full of amazing beaches, forest covered mountains, nature reserves, a fully fledged wine country and pretty towns filled with American charm that few international visitors head out to, not to mention Buffalo city, Lake Erie nd the Iconic Niagara Falls themselves!
Culture and Etiquette.
New York has a reputation for being loud, obnoxious and rude, but that isn’t entirely true. Yes the harsh NYC accent, rude hand gestures and ability to shove absolutely everyone out of the way in a crowd denser than a rugby scrum is typical of many New Yorkers and may make it seem as if they would all be happy to run you over if they got in their way, but that’s just the way it is in the city and isn’t actually true. Mostly. The wider state is very different indeed. New York State is relatively conservative compared to the largely liberal and multicultural city, and generally people let their inner friendliness out more (all New Yorkers are nice really, even if the frenetic pace of the city hides that away sometimes!) Other than than generally polite western customs apply.
What You Need To Know.
Citizens of 35 countries – including the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and most Western European countries – can enter under the Visa Waiver Program if visiting the United States for a period of less than ninety days by getting an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). This is a straightforward process – simply go to the ESTA website, fill in your info and wait. It is often done within 24 hours but it is safe to leave at least 72 hours before you fly. For everyone else you will need to apply for a non immigrant visitor visa, the details of which vary from country to country and can change so it is always best to check on your own government website.
The US Customs and Border Protection programme Global Entry gets pre-approved travellers through border control faster at some US airports. British citizens can register for a background check here. If you pass the background checks, you’ll be invited to apply for Global Entry.
All travellers are strongly recommended to be up to date on their routine vaccinations including MMR, diptheria – pertusis – tetanus and varicella (chicken pox) by the Centre of Disease Control and the NHS Fit For Travel website. There are currently no other recommendations for leisure travel in the US.
Please note recommendations on the Covid19 Vaccination change regularly. Please check with a qualified health professional for up to date guidelines.
If you need emergency treatment in the US, dial 911 and emergency services will treat you and bill you later. Keep all reciepts for your travel insurance company and make sure you get good, comprehensive travel insurance.
Common over the counter medicine in the UK, Europe and other parts of the world are heavily restricted from being brought into the US, please check the US government website for up to date advice. UK prescriptions are also not valid in the US. If you need a script for regular medication you would need to have a prescription from a US provider once you arrive.
Crime and Safety.
America is not crime free but with few exceptions it is also not as dangerous as the media make out. Even NYC is no more dangerous than any other major city despite its reputation. Crime statistics show very clearly that whilst crime does happen, it is relatively rare. Plan carefully, take reasonable common sense precautions for keeping yourself safe and reducing risk and take care of your possessions and generally speaking you should have have few problems.
The US is expensive no matter where you go and there is just no getting round that fact. You will not get by on an extreme budget in the US and a mid range budget will get you a basic but good level of accomodation, transport and activities. On average, depending on what you do, where you go and what your comfort levels of accomodation are you will be looking at between £80 to £150 GBP per day on a mid range budget, not including transport costs.
When To Go.
There is literally no bad time to visit New York State. The shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn are often considered the best times for travellers because they have less travellers in general, is a little bit cheaper than the peak times, and the autumn is the best time to see the colours change on the trees and watch the state explode into a riot of orange and red hues. Winter in NYC is bitterly cold and packed with Thanksgiving and Christmas holidaymakers, but there is nowhere else on earth quite like NYC during the festive season! Just wrap up warm, and budget well!
Places To See.
New Yorks second city and generally not as frenetic or as expensive as its big brother (although still not cheap), Buffalo has a ton of iconic experiences for travellers, from Buffalo Zoo to tasting the famous Buffalo chicken wings. Located at the eastern end of Lake Erie, Buffalo is a genuine alternative to NYC for those who want a different city experience.
The Finger Lakes are known – and named for – the eleven stretches of long, thin glacier formed lakes that spread through the state. These lakes, according to Native American legend, were left there as a handprint of the Great Spirit as he blessed the land, a heritage that lives on in each of the lakes names, Skaneateles, Otisco, Cayuga, Keuka, Seneca, Hemlock, Conesus, Honeoye, Canadice, Canandaigua and Owasko, but it is a blessing that not only provides the people with a heritage and a way of life, as many people make a living off the unique envioronment the lakes provide, but a natural beauty that is hard to beat.
There are tons of stunning national parks surrounding these lakes that showcase some of the most spectacular waterfalls, rivers and waterways that can easily rival anywhere else in the world. Watkins Glen state park just south of Seneca lake is home to one of the tallest and most jaw dropping waterfalls thanks to the 400 foot gorge that cuts through the park, and travellers can explore these passges easily on foot thanks to the extensive hiking routes collectively known as the Finger Lakes Trails.
And if hiking isn’t your thing, you can easily spend some time enjoying an array of watersports, fishing or boating on the water itself.
New York City.
Let’s face it, most visitors to the state will be heading straight for NYC, one of the most famous cities in the world and the city that never sleeps. NYC is so big and ever changing that you could spend a lifetime exploring it and still not see everything, but the major iconic attractions of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, the Empire State Building and others are all absolute must sees.
Americas largest wilderness reserve outside of Alaska, Adirondack State Park has mile after mile of secluded beaches, coves and hidden swimming holes to discover. For the adventure junkie there are tons of watersports to enjoy and a lot of ski areas for cross country skiing.
In south east NY, the Catskill Mountain Preserve is a stunning and vast range of forested mountains filled with hiking trails, wildlife preserves, picturesque Americana towns and even a ski resort or two. You could spend months travelling here and still not discover everything.
Bemus Point, a small but infinitely charming town on the shores of Chautauqua Lake, showcases this perfectly. It has taken the idea of lake life and run with it to the extent that it is a vital part of the towns identity.
A small boat museum explores the town’s heritage of being on the water and explains why it is such a big part of Bemus Point’s identity with a large portion of the residents owning or using boats in some way, floating festivals on the lake and a common weekend pastime of taking a boat out on the lake to swim and relax; but it is wandering around the town itself, with its quaint, hipster stores, seaside feel and seafood restaurants on wooden docks overlooking the water that really draws you into a sedate way of life that makes you never want to leave!
National Comedy Centre.
The National Comedy Centre in Jamestown is a vast space dedicated to the history and the culture of comedy. Endorsed by some of the biggest names in not just comedy but showbusiness itself, from Dan Akroyd to Jerry Seinfeld and beyond, this center is a homage to comedy in the home of stand up. On the service it is very much a museum of comedy greats, holding items such as Charlie Chaplins cane and handwritten notes from the infamous Rodney Dangerfield, to more mainstream memorabilia such as the helmets from the Coneheads movie or even Egon Spengler’s infamous Jumpsuit donated by the late, great Harold Ramis’ family! That’s right, the suit from the original Ghostbusters! The original one, not the crappy reboot no one liked! As you explore this awesome collection of memorabilia, the Comedy Center takes you on a journey through comedy itself, not just to show you the history of the art form but to celebrate comedy in all its forms and allow you to experience the very subjective nature of comedy in your own unique way.
Panama Rocks Scenic Park.
Panama Rocks Scenic Park in Chautauqua County is the number one rated trail in New York State and is perfect for those who want a little bit of soft adventure in the great outdoors. The main trail is an easy one mile loop taking in huge, towering rocks, deep crevices and rocky passageways and even a cave or two. This unique geological treasure is a 300 million year old quartz conglomerate sedimentary rock, covered with centuries old trees and vines and is recognised as one of the ancient forests of the north east. This is a perfect family day out that will get you into the great outdoors without too much strain, and you can even practice a bit of axe throwing at the activity center while you are here!
Sunset Bay Beach Club.
Enjoy a beach getaway on the shores of Lake Erie at the Sunset Bay Beach Club and grab some surf and turf at Cabana Sam’s Beach Bar and Grill! There is nowhere else in New York State that makes you feel as if you are as far away from NYC as possible! Sunset bay may not be an ocean beach but lake Erie is so big you really wouldn’t tell the difference, so grab your swim shorts and come down for a traditional seaside day out, complete with an arcade bar and ice cream! And make sure you grab a table at Cabana Sams early, there is a good reason it is called Sunset Bay!
Tanglewood Nature Centre.
The Tanglewood Nature Centre and Museum provides the whole family an opportunity to get back to nature away from the big city with over 10 miles of trails that provide homes and habitats for over 40 native and exotic wildlife species. These animals are being semi rehabilitated into the wild in this vast national park, or occassionally cared for in the Nature Centre in the cases of those animals that have been so injured or mistreated by people they can never return to the wild.
The mission of the center is to educate people on conservation and preservation whilst taking care of the natural landscape so that everyone, including the animals that lie there, can enjoy the region.
A visit to the world famous and iconic Niagara Falls is an absolute must when in upstate NY, but it is surprising at how many casual visitors to the city don’t realise this is an option. The famous waterfalls themselves can be seen on the American side of the border from the observation tower at Prospect Point which gives the iconic views of all 3 falls over Niagara Gorge. You can take a tour to the Cave of the Winds on the iconic Maid of the Mist boat or take in the views at the panoramic restaurant. There is also an interesting discovery centre and large aquarium here, but if you want to spend a few days at Niagara the city is worth exploring too and is a good base to explore everything the iconic waterfall region has to offer.
Things To Do.
Enjoy The Food.
New York state has no shortage of amazing food spots and restaurants, from awesome street food from the myriad of food trucks to Buffalo restaurants serving the famous wings and beef heck, there is literally nowhere in New York State with bad food! But some of the best foodie experiences were at the local independent hipster places bringing in a foodie renaissance in the smaller towns. Whether you want fresh breakfast or a light lunch make sure you savour each and every experience and take every opportunity to eat somewhere new.
Take In A Baseball Game.
Grab a hot dog and a beer and head to Yankee Stadium, home of the world famous New York Yankees, for a game of Americas national pastime! Even if you aren’t a big sports fan like me (and even if you don’t understand a thing of what is going on), the experience of being in the stadium and listening to the roar of the crowd is a unique experience.
Go Hiking At Niagara Falls.
They may not let you go over the falls in a barrel anymore but there is certainly a whole lot of things to see and do in the Niagara region including some epic hiking trails. Crossing huge river rapids, forests, streams and meadows filled with unique geological features, there are a lot of opportunities for those who want to get out in the fresh air. Hiking to the eternal flame at Chestnut Ridge or the Reinstein Woods Nature Reserve are particular highlights.
Take A Wine Tour.
Very few people think of New York as a wine destination, but with over 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes region, wine tasting is an absolute must, and there are plenty of iconic wine trails to choose from including the Keuka Wine Trail and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. You simply won’t get a chance to visit them all, there are just too many, but you can easily spend a good week or two exploring a few of them and enjoying some of the amazing twons and scenery along the way.