New York

Should you rent a car in New YorkUSA>New York

New York, New York — the city that is so good, they named it twice — but what is it like to get around? New York’s world-famous subway system has more stations than any other in the world, and many of them are actually elevated above the streets, affording a view of the city as you travel around. In New York, yellow is London’s black, and no trip to the Big Apple is complete without a ride in one of the city’s famous taxis, and a lively conversation with the driver is not an optional extra. New York is very much a city on the water, with numerous ferries criss-crossing the Hudson, and the world-famous free Staten Island Ferry offering incredible views of lower Manhattan.

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New York has so much to offer within the five boroughs that it’s hardly surprising that so many visitors never really go beyond the city limits, other than to get to and from the airport, if they are flying in via Newark.

It is naturally fair enough to say that if your intentions are strictly to stay within this area, then there’s really no point at all in getting a rental car, because traffic doesn’t just move slowly here, it moves very frustratingly slowly, block by block, and particularly in Manhattan at least, on a very restrictive one-way pattern.

So even if there’s absolutely no need to rent a car in New York, it is something worth considering if you are considering some longer excursions from the city, especially into Long Island, or north into New England. You may also want to look into a road trip from New York for a week or longer – but the opportunities here are nothing like as impressive as they are in the great American west (see Las Vegas, Denver etc).

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Any plan to get a rental car in New York is almost certainly going to be based on heading substantially out of the city, and this might typically involve heading up through the Hamptons on Long Island, heading north into upstate New York or through into the neighbouring Connecticut and then Rhode Island or even Massachusetts, or potentially heading south through New Jersey, and beyond.

  • If you already have a number of places in mind, then the chances are that a rental car for this kind of trip is already going to be sorted.
  • If you are looking at visiting a sequence of places, but trying to do so by public transport, then you’ll probably find it quite disappointing. This isn’t to say that public transport outside the city of New York isn’t up to much, but simply that it’s far more geared towards getting commuters in and out of the Big Apple than it is towards travelling from town to town in more rural areas.
  • For a group of family travelling together, getting a rental car in New York may be worth it, as Amtrak fares can be quite pricey, especially at busier commuter times. Even in summer when the car rental cost goes up, driving may still be better value if train services are also busy, for example around the weekends.

If you are visiting New York from Europe and this is your first time in the US, and you are also looking at visiting other major cities on the eastern seaboard, then it doesn’t really make much sense to get a rental car for this. See also our car rental guides for Boston in the north and then for Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.

All of these cities can be easily reached from New York by train, or potentially by a short hop internal flight, but the freeways running along this corridor are relatively unspectacular, so there is little enjoyment from driving.

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Getting around New York without a rental car shouldn’t really need a huge amount of self-justification – New York after all, perhaps after London, has some of the most iconic transport services, from the rattling steel subway cars on elevated tracks above Brooklyn through to the yellow cabs, the famously free Staten Island Ferry and of course the world famous Grand Central Station.

  • You don’t need a car at all in Manhattan or any of the other five boroughs (unless you are staying right in the edge of the city and driving out).
  • New York has some of the most iconic public transit services anywhere in the world – including the subway itself, and especially the elevated sections around Brooklyn.
  • Buses in New York are efficient and frequent. Buses within the city are operated by MTA, who also operate the metro. One fare card can be used on all services.
  • Compared to other major cities, bus and subway fares in New York are cheap.
  • You can also travel easily using New York’s iconic yellow taxis (beware of touts around JFK airport).
  • If you are just looking at heading to various other relatively nearby locations as a day trip, then as long as you are pretty much heading out and back in the reverse of what most commuters do, you should be fine. There are also numerous longer distance train and bus services running throughout the Northeast corridor.
  • Compared to other continental US cities, car rental in New York is relatively expensive, with sharp rises during the summer.
  • North East ‘Acela’ corridor – New York is the largest city in ‘ Boswash’ conurbation, which stretches from Boston in the north-east down to Washington DC to the South West. These cities are both well worth visiting in their own right, and you can either fly there or take the train. Philadelphia and Baltimore also have some points of interest, and these are within easy reach by train too. All of these cities have rich city centres, so there really is not much point in driving there, especially as the freeways do not offer a particularly exciting driving experience — you will see more from the train anyway. This Northeast corridor is served by Amtrak’s flagship Acela high-speed train service, which is very comparable to European services — not quite as quick as France’s TGV, but still faster than intercity services in the UK. Note however, that you can pay a considerable supplement to use the Acela trains, it is usually much better value to take a slightly slower Metroliner services.
  • Fuel in New York is generally expensive relative to other places in the USA, apart from California. It is still cheap by European standards.

Niagara Falls

If you are looking at visiting Niagara Falls, then although this might well be in upstate New York, it’s a substantial hike by train or bus. You certainly can make something of a scenic drive of it, but it’s also very easy short hop international flight to Buffalo.

You could also make a loop around Long Island and then up to Cape Cod before continuing back via Niagara Falls – a road trip of this nature would take around a week, a needless to say, it would be best in the fall.

See our Niagara Falls/Buffalo page for more details.


It should be obvious enough to state that you really really don’t need a car in New York. We think that because New York is one of those cities that has so much more to offer actually within the urban area itself, and because public transport within these five boroughs is extremely strong.

When is it worth hiring a car in New York? Generally, the further you want to go away from the city, and the more you are looking at travelling in a loop, rather than going out of New York and back again as day excursions, the better value a rental car may look.

So ultimately, should you rent a car in New York? Our overall verdict for the first-time visitor to New York is that there’s still really no need to even think about getting one here, so it’s a strong no.

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Author: Carometer

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