The lovely Hudson River Valley area, which begins about 45 mi/70 km north of New York City, can be visited while traveling between New York City and Albany. Tarrytown, Croton-on-Hudson, West Point, Hyde Park, Kingston and Rhinebeck are the most common stopping points for visitors, but there are several other interesting villages and towns.
On your way out of the Bronx, consider a brief stop in the town of Mount Vernon at St. Paul's Church National Historic Site. Built in the 18th century for a parish established in the 1660s, it was involved in early attempts to establish freedom of religion in the U.S. and later figured in the Revolutionary War.
The tour of the Hudson River Valley really begins with the group of historic-preservation sites around Tarrytown (about 25 mi/40 km north of Manhattan along Highway 9), operated by Historic Hudson Valley (http://www.hudsonvalley.org). Plan a short stop at Sunnyside, author Washington Irving's cottage. It's located, appropriately enough, in the village of Sleepy Hollow, which takes its name from Irving's story of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman (the village was formerly known as North Tarrytown but renamed itself in 1996).
Near Sleepy Hollow is Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate, which is open for tours. It has gardens, beautiful interiors, an impressive collection of modern art and vistas of the Hudson River Valley. The other restored sights in the area are Philipsburg Manor (the restored home and mill of early Dutch settlers) and Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson (an accurate re-creation of life just after the American Revolution). Each of these stops is worthwhile if you have the time for a leisurely drive, as is the National Trust for Historic Preservation-owned Lyndhurst (a triumph—or nightmare, depending on your tastes—of 1800s Gothic architecture once owned by robber baron Jay Gould).
Cross the Hudson at the Bear Mountain Bridge and head up Highway 9W by West Point, home of the U.S. Military Academy, where Army officers (and more than a few politicians) received their education. You'll find an excellent free military museum and a visitors center just outside Thayer Gate in Highland Falls. Guided bus tours depart from there: They're the only way to see the Academy's highlights, including Trophy Point and the Cadet Chapel. http://www.westpointtours.com.
About a half-hour farther west is Goshen, where the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame is located. Visitors can learn all about the figures and feats of the sport, take a tutorial on announcing races and ride in a simulated 3-D race complete with bumps and flying horseshoes.
Cross back to the east side of the river at Newburgh, then head north from Beacon on Highway 9 for an opportunity to combine exercise with panoramic views. Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park is the longest elevated pedestrian park in the world. The 1.5-mi/2-km span—originally a railroad bridge—attracted more than 1 million visitors in its first two years of operation.
Continue north to visit Hyde Park, home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site was the first lady's home 1945-62. It's furnished with Val-Kill furniture made on-site as part of a cottage industry Mrs. Roosevelt operated 1927-36. At the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, the library and museum house FDR's papers, ship models and personal belongings. The president and his wife are buried in the Rose Garden, which is a popular site for visiting historians and politicians.
Nearby is the Vanderbilt Mansion. Now a National Historic Site, this estate, built by Frederick Vanderbilt and completed in 1899, is a little gaudy for modern tastes but still worth seeing. Also in the area is the Culinary Institute of America. This famous school for chefs has five restaurants where you can sample the work of tomorrow's cooking superstars. It's a real treat, but make your reservations well in advance.
Just north of Hyde Park you'll encounter Rhinebeck, home to the oldest continuously operating inn in the U.S. Even if you're not seeking overnight accommodations, the Beekman Arms is a fine place for food and a drink. Explore the shops in the center of town, including A.L. Stickle Variety Store—an old-fashioned five-and-dime that's been a fixture since 1946. Or head out to Cole Palen's Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome early June to mid-October, where historic aircraft are displayed and weekend air shows feature World War I-era planes.
If you cross the Hudson River in nearby Poughkeepsie—home of Vassar College, whose alumni include Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Meryl Streep—you'll find yourself in Ulster County. The western part of the county is technically part of the Catskills, but the eastern sections (those nearest the Hudson) can easily be taken in on a drive through the Hudson River Valley.
The town of New Paltz is one of the oldest towns in upstate New York. It was founded in the 1670s by French Protestants (the Huguenots) who traveled overseas seeking religious freedom. Near the town center is Historic Huguenot Street, a National Historic Landmark District lined with homes from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The French settlers brought their love of wine with them, and the area still has a number of vineyards. Visitors can drive along the Shawangunk Wine Trail, which runs through the southern portion of the county, and sample various vintages at participating wineries.
An interesting overnight stay is at the Victorian-era Mohonk Mountain House, built in 1869 on Lake Mohonk (reservations necessary). Located on the Shawangunk Ridge in the heart of the valley, this stunning and enormous hotel (one of the oldest in the U.S.) has thousands of acres of pristine forest and winding trails, plus swimming, boating, ice-skating, cross-country skiing and showshoeing in season.
If you're bound for Albany, head up Interstate 87 to Kingston. This town is the gateway to the Catskills and contains the Old Dutch Church, which was built in 1852 to house a congregation that was founded in the 1650s, and the Senate House State Historic Site, where New York's first senate met in 1777.
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