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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.