Make It a Road Trip
Once you've decided the time of your visit, consider your options for getting to the Big Apple. Driving to New York City will save you the cost of airfare and is certainly a popular choice when coming from nearby cities.
If driving seems like a good option, be sure you have a plan for what to do with your car once you arrive. Parking is at a premium in the city, so driving in means paying for garages. The average hotel parking fee runs $25 to $45 a day. If you plan to use public transportation once you arrive, which is advisable — if not mandatory — in Manhattan, you can find a parking lot with a weekly rate, which will save you money.
Driving in and Out of the City
Whether you're coming from Connecticut, New Jersey, or upstate New York, your options for entering the boroughs are the George Washington Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel, and Holland Tunnel. If you don't have an E-ZPass tag (for electronic toll collecting), be sure to bring enough cash for the tolls.
The George Washington Bridge, which opened in 1931, has two levels of two-way traffic connecting Manhattan to Fort Lee, New Jersey, from 179th Street. Primary routes to the bridge are the Henry Hudson Parkway on the west side along the Hudson River and Harlem River Drive, which becomes FDR Drive, along the East River.
RAINY DAY FUN
Whether you fly or drive, before you head off for the city, let the kids draw a map of the route. Point out the landmarks you'll be passing through or over on the way: states, bodies of water, landmarks such as the George Washington or the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Island. These may be their first, and therefore most memorable, glimpses of the city.
The Alexander Hamilton Bridge connects the Cross Bronx Expressway directly with the George Washington Bridge, crossing into Manhattan. The GW Bridge stands 200 feet above the Hudson River and is one of the most traveled bridges in the world. It connects easily with the Palisades Parkway, Interstate 80, the New Jersey Turnpike, and other major New Jersey roadways. You can also walk or bicycle across the bridge on outer walkways. The toll is charged only to traffic entering Manhattan.
The Lincoln Tunnel connects Manhattan from West Thirtieth to Thirty-second streets with Weehawken, New Jersey and, like the George Washington Bridge, intersects with most major New Jersey routes. The tunnel has three connecting tubes that were completed in the late 1950s.
Follow the signs for the Lincoln Tunnel carefully, as the lanes have been divided for use by trucks and cars. Some lanes are closed to passenger cars. Nearly 40 million cars, trucks, and buses use it every year. There is a toll, charged only to traffic entering Manhattan.
With the E-ZPass, a prepaid toll card you mount on your car windshield, you can zip through the tollbooths in several states instead of waiting in line to pay. If you don't have the pass, make sure you go through the Cash Only lanes. If you make a mistake and go through an E-ZPass lane (marked by a purple and white sign), the system will trace you through your license plate and send you a bill.
The Holland Tunnel connects Lower Manhattan from Canal Street to Jersey City and provides easy access to I-78, the Pulaski Skyway, the New Jersey Turnpike, and Routes 1 and 9. The granddaddy of underwater travel, this tunnel dates back to 1927. There is a toll for traffic entering Manhattan.
Vehicle traffic between Manhattan and Staten Island flows through Brooklyn via I-278 over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. You can no longer take your car on the Staten Island Ferry; they were banned after a deadly accident in 2004 killed 13 people.
Gas is significantly cheaper in New Jersey than in New York City, and finding a gas station in Manhattan is not an easy task. If you're driving through the Garden State, fill your tank before you cross the border. If you find yourself running low in Manhattan, look for gas stations on the far west side, near access to the Westside Highway, or the east side off FDR Drive.
If you're traveling from Queens into Manhattan or vice versa, you can take the Queensboro Bridge, also known to locals as the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge (Simon and Garfunkel sang about it in “Feelin' Groovy”), which connects Long Island City in Queens with First and Second avenues in Manhattan at Fifty-seventh and Sixty-ninth streets.
Although the bridge has two levels, it has been undergoing restoration for a decade and chances are you'll encounter construction delays somewhere, sometime, until 2009. Nonetheless, the bridge is toll free! It provides easy access to Queens Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, and, via Van Dam Street, the Long Island Expressway in Queens.
The Queens Midtown Tunnel is at the west end of the Long Island Expressway. The tunnel deposits you in the east thirties in Manhattan, between First and Second avenues. The tunnel toll is in both directions and traffic is very busy during rush hour.
The Triborough Bridge connects Queens from Grand Central Parkway to Manhattan at 125th Street, where you can easily go south onto FDR Drive or north onto Harlem River Drive. The elaborately designed bridge also connects Queens with the Bronx, and the Bronx (from the Bruckner Expressway) with Manhattan. There is a toll in all directions.
If you want to leave Manhattan for a multi-stop trek to one of the four outer boroughs — the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island — it's probably best to go by car. Use the main parkways and expressways to get to your chosen section of the borough, and carefully follow local street directions once you've exited.
The Bronx connects with Manhattan at the Triborough Bridge and at other bridges, including the Willis Avenue Bridge, which connects the Harlem River Drive with the Major Deegan in the Bronx. The Willis Avenue Bridge (off the Harlem River Drive), Third Avenue Bridge (at 129th Street), the Madison Avenue Bridge (at 138th Street), and the Macombs Dam Bridge (at 155th Street) also connect the Bronx with Manhattan.
On Manhattan's west side, you can take the Henry Hudson Parkway north past the Cloisters and connect with Riverdale (part of the Bronx), which goes directly into the Henry Hudson Bridge. There is a toll in both directions. The road becomes the Saw Mill River Parkway and heads north to Westchester, where you can catch the New York State Thruway and the Hutchinson River Parkway.
The city has privatized its low-cost municipal parking lot system. Muni Meters in every borough accept quarters, dollar coins, credit cards, and prepaid New York City parking cards. The city has also planted single space meters that accept credit cards in all boroughs.
There are four routes connecting Brooklyn with lower Manhattan. The famed Brooklyn Bridge will take you from Cadman Plaza or the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) into Manhattan with easy access to FDR Drive or Park Row by City Hall. The Manhattan Bridge connects Flatbush Avenue and Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn with Canal Street in Chinatown. The Williamsburg Bridge connects Metropolitan Avenue and the BQE with Delancey Street in Manhattan. All of these bridges are free.
The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel connects West Street in Manhattan to the Gowanus and Prospect Expressways in Brooklyn. The tunnel is easily accessible from the FDR Drive or Henry Hudson Parkway. The tunnel toll is in both directions.
The best way to plot your course, both in getting to the city and once you are there, is with an online mapping service like Maps On Us, Mapquest, or Google Maps. Many of New York's streets are one-way or have limited access, especially with new traffic laws during weekday work hours that restrict turns in midtown Manhattan between Sixth and Park avenues. Internet maps will show you the best way of reaching your destination and will give you directions based on the address. Another option is to contact the Automobile Association of America (AAA), which provides maps and driving directions to members, both hard copy and online.