New York is one of the greatest cities in the world -- we should know, one of us was born there! -- but when the weather gets hot and humid it's not exactly a wonderful place to spend a weekend outdoors.
There's any number of city guides for things to see and do in Manhattan, but there are dozens of hidden treasures within a couple of hours on the train, all of which are well worth a visit. So here are a few options for getting away from NYC for a weekend.
Head over to Grand Central Station at 42nd and Lexington and take the Metro-North commuter train up the beautiful Hudson River. The Main Concourse at Grand Central is a work of art all on its own, so take the time to admire it, especially if you're there outside rush hour.
(If you are there in rush hour, take care, because stopping suddenly can get you bowled over by a herd of bankers in sneakers.)
Grab a bite to eat (or to take with you on the train) in one of the 35 places to eat in Grand Central. We love Two Boots Pizza downstairs and Junior's Cheesecake upstairs, or if you've some time to wait, the famous Oyster Bar.
Make sure you grab a window seat on the left hand side of the train as it leaves Grand Central -- that's where the view is once the train leaves the Bronx. The view is especially gorgeous when the leaves are turning red, orange and yellow in autumn, but the vibrant green of summer is equally pretty.
Just half an hour north of Grand Central Station, Tarrytown is a small village with interesting restaurants and two notable historic houses: Lyndhurst and Sunnyside. Lyndhurst has occasional summer evening music events. Sunnyside, the home Washington Irving (of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame) has some particularly beautiful gardens and interesting literary events.
About ten minutes north of Tarrytown is the notorious Sing-Sing Prison, and the train actually passes through the facility itself. The barbed wire is a dead giveaway when you're riding through. The prison gave us the term "up the river" to mean being sent to jail, since Sing Sing is just up the Hudson from New York City. You'll have to commit a serious crime if you want to visit, though.
Forty-five minutes north of Manhattan is Croton-on-Hudson, served by the rather industrial Croton-Harmon station. Hop in a cab to Van Cortlandt Manor, which has costumed guides if that's your thing, and historical information about the drafting of the US Constitution if it's not.
Head up to beautiful, walkable Cold Spring (eighty minutes north of NYC) for brunch or lunch at the excellent Cold Spring Depot, followed by a browse of the steep streets of the town, full of little antique stores on and around Main Street. The Kittleman House bed & breakfast is an old favourite for staying the night, and the riverside park with views up to West Point is lovely.
Military historians will love West Point, the US Military Academy. (So will organists -- the West Point Chapel's organ is among the biggest in the world.) The view from the cliffs over the river to Cold Spring is stunning too. Call in advance to check tour timings, to check that foreign nationals are still permitted (they were as of May 2011) and remember to bring photo ID, probably your passport.
To get to West Point by train, head to Peekskill station (sixty-seven minutes north of NYC) and take a 20-minute taxi ride. (The Short Line bus also runs direct from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, but it's not as scenic as the train.)
Within the West Point grounds, the historic Thayer Hotel is a classy choice, renowned for its Sunday Brunch and a great place to stay. For drinks o'clock, there's a rooftop bar overlooking the Hudson River.
The end of the Metro-North Hudson Line is Poughkeepsie, an hour and forty-five minutes north of New York City. Poughkeepsie itself isn't much to look at, but Springwood in Hyde Park (the former home and now burial place of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor) is worth an afternoon.
Eat at the Culinary Institute of America (also in Hyde Park, three miles north of Poughkeepsie) for an incredible (and incredibly reasonably priced) meal prepared some of the world's top trainee chefs, before rolling yourself back into Manhattan. (If you have dinner, the last train south leaves Poughkeepsie at 10.59pm, arriving back into the city at 1am. Double check the Metro-North schedule.)
Do you have a favourite New York City weekend break place? Let us know in the comments or join in the conversation on Twitter: @AusBT