Cheap family vacations
Travel time: 2hrs by car; 1hr 30min by train
If you can't shake the urge to be in an urban enviornment, you won't have to travel terribly far from home to explore another city. Philadelphia is a stone's throw from NYC (via Amtrack or the NJ Transit with a SEPTA connection). It's a wonderful place to see where our nation's history unfolded, and curious minds will love making a visit to Independence National Historical Park. There you'll find the Liberty Bell, Congress Hall and the Ben Franklin Museum, among other attractions. History buffs will love the opportunity to step back in time and wander through the gorgeous Historic Old City, full of boutiques, galleries, restaurants and sites from way back when. Kids (and their adult counterparts) will love meeting friends at the Philadelphia Zoo and those brave souls looking for a scare will want to see the abandoned cells of Eastern State Penitentiary—especially during Halloween. If you get the munchies, a pitstop to the Italian Market is a must. For those who can't resist a Philly cheesesteak, there are 15 best spots to snag 'em, so stake out our go-to's. When you're wiped out from your adventures, tuck in at DoubleTree by Hilton, which is a stone's throw from the city's most alluring spots.
Travel time: 2hrs 30min by car or train
This laid-back town sits in the shadow of the Shawangunk Mountains. Take in their breathtaking beauty by hiking into Mohonk Preserve, an 8,000-acre nature preserve with plenty of easy to moderate trails. New Paltz is also home to Historic Huguenot Street, a neighborhood of 30 buildings dating back to the 17th century. Shell out $15 per adult for a guided tour (kids under 12 are free) or download the free app to learn about the history and culture of the Huguenot immigrants on your own. Stroll along the charming Main Street to find plenty of tasty restaurants, quaint shops and antique sellers. There’s a centrally located and reasonably priced Hampton Inn in New Paltz; the area also boasts plenty of cheap options on Airbnb.
Travel time: 3hrs by car
No summer is complete without a trip to this pristine New Jersey beach town. Hit the seas for some whale watching and try to catch underwater creatures during the journey. Families will also love visiting the Cape May Lighthouse and Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. But don't be fooled—this isn't just a warm-weather destination. There are plenty of ghost tours in the town that'll kickstart that spooky Halloween spirit. Mom and dad will love fresh seafood at The Mad Batter, and they can take comfort knowing there are breakfast and dinner kids' menus, so even pint-sized picky eaters will enjoy munching. If you're vacationing with a large brood in tow, make a studio reservation at Madison Avenue Beach Club, which features an outdoor pool and hot tub. Bonus points: It's right in the heart of the Cape May action, so you'll never have to stray too far.
Travel time: 3hrs by car
One of the most affordable ski destinations in the area, Hunter Mountain makes an easy winter vacation destination. Families can also take advantage of a nearby snow-tubing park and zip-line course. It’s a winter sports town, but if you do visit in warmer months, you might spend some time hiking through the Catskills. With few hotels in town, your best bets are either the Hunter Mountain Resort (which can spike in price during busy season) or one of the many cabins on Airbnb.
Travel time: 3hrs 30min by car
Chances are the first thing that comes to mind when you hear "Mystic, Connecticut" is pizza, but there are plenty of other avenues to explore other than tasty slices. Get in tune with maritime history at the Mystic Seaport Museum, see what creatures of the deep are lurking at the Mystic Aquarium or walk through new exhibits at the Mystic Museum of Art. Parents will love tastings at B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill (while kids score seasonal non-alcoholic apple beverages, of course). Wind down for the night at The Inn at Mystic or Hyatt Place Mystic.
Travel time: 4hrs 30min by car; 1hr by plane
So there might be a bit of a rivalry between NYC and Boston when it comes to baseball (to say the least), but don't let your love for the Yanks stop you from visiting this gorgeous New England city. Indulge in a culture fix at the Museum of Fine Arts, meet creatures at the aquarium, stroll through the iconic Public Garden and Boston Common and so much more. Foodies, prepare to grab some silverware: Just like its NYC counterpart, Time Out Market: Boston will also delight hungry patrons with the best eats in the city (which will make its debut within the coming months). When you're ready to call it quits for the day, check out offerings at The Copley House. Though it might be a bit further than other hotels, you'll swoon over the budget-friendly accommodations in these quaint brownstones. Plus, there is convenient parking if you're traveling by car.
Travel time: 6hrs by car; 1hr 20min by plane
Maine’s largest city is still a great bargain—especially when you compare it to New York City prices. Kick off your trip with a stroll through the quaint downtown neighborhood of Old Port. It’s full of kitschy gift shops, local restaurants and New England charm. Spring and summer visitors can spend an afternoon root, root, rooting for the home team at a Portland Sea Dogs baseball game—tickets are legendarily cheap. Don’t forget to visit the Portland Head Light, a classic New England lighthouse, and the Tate House Museum, an impeccably preserved Colonial home, while you’re there. Stay in the heart of Portland at the Hilton Garden Inn to make your trip especially convenient.
Travel time: 6hrs 30min by car
For a family trip with plenty of teachable moments, take the kids to Williamsburg. The town boasts three historic attractions—Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Battlefield—that will show little ones what life was like in the colonies. Chat with living history performers as you explore village life in Colonial Williamsburg, then visit the first settlement at Jamestown and a recreated Powhatan village. Round out the trio by exploring the site of the final battle of the Revolutionary War at Yorktown. When the kids have had it up to here with history, take a break at Busch Gardens. This European-themed park has enough roller coasters and water rides to keep everyone happy. As for hotels, the Days Inn Williamsburg Historic Area offers the best bang for your buck—albeit without any extra frills.
Travel time: 7hrs by car
Though it’s a bit of a drive from New York City, Niagara Falls is well worth the journey. Marvel at the sheer power of the falls—3,160 tons of water flows over them per second and they’re capable of producing more 4 million kilowatts of electricity—on a Niagara Falls Tour With Maid of the Mist Boat Ride. Since it’s such a huge draw for tourists, the Niagara Falls area boast plenty of budget hotel options. We like the Days Inn Niagara at the Falls: It’s still affordable, but the rooms don’t feel cheap. Don’t want to go through the hassle of planning your own trip? Sign up for one of the two-day all-inclusive bus tours of Niagara Falls from New York City.
Travel time: 7hrs by car
For a relaxing beach vacation, make the day’s drive down the coast to Virginia Beach. This charming seaside town offers plenty of fun warm-weather activities, from learning how to surf to biking along the boardwalk to paddling out on a kayak in search of dolphins. Climb to the top of the Cape Henry Lighthouse for spectacular views of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Beach bums might want to book a room at the Best Western Plus Virginia Beach, which is just a four-minute walk to the ocean.