Sunset from Rocky Steps, City Hall, Fountain, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, AmericaWatch the sun set over the sights of Philly before heading back to NYC © joe daniel price / Getty Images

PhiladelphiaRide the Acela Express out of the hellish netherworld of Penn Station and into one of the USA’s most historic cities. Take a cab from the city’s imposing classical station to Independence National Historical Park to see the Liberty Bell and the rooms where the Declaration of Independence was signed and sealed. Grab a slice (or a hulking Philly cheesesteak) at the South 9th Street Italian Market before heading to the superb Philadelphia Museum of Art. As well as stunning local work, you’ll also find an absurdly impressive collection of ‘greatest hits’ by the likes of Picasso and Klee – not to mention a statue of Rocky at the foot of the gallery’s steps.

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, New Jersey

Just over an hour from New York City, this stunning sculpture park in Hamilton, New Jersey is home to works by established and emerging artists. The domestic arts building showcases American sculptors old and new, while the vast, 42-acre outside space hosts an ever-growing collection of incredible pieces. The park also hosts workshops in photography and dance, making it a great place to try something different while taking a breather from Manhattan’s never-ending bustle.

A stark modern sculpture stands among the rolling hills of the Storm King Arts CenterStorm King Arts Center is a verdant escape from the city © Jeremy Weate /CC BY 2.0

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Storm King, New Windsor, New York

If sculpture in picturesque surroundings is indeed your jam, you can also head north to the Storm King Art Center. It’s a popular weekend escape for New Yorkers, who enjoy strolling its rolling hills punctuated with intriguing modern sculptures by Alexander Calder, Maya Lin, Donald Judd, Richard Serra and others. The art center, which was originally envisioned as a museum devoted to Hudson River School painting, takes its name from the nearby Storm King Mountain and offers perfect vantage points for picnics (there’s also a cafe onsite).

Sands Point Preserve, Long Island

Said to be the inspiration for East Egg, the home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, Sands Point is a swanky town on the north shore of Long Island. Sands Point Preserve, part of which was once owned by the Guggenheims, is home to the gorgeous Hempstead House, built in the early 20th century and originally designed to mimic Castle Kilkenny in Ireland (you can tour the grand halls and imposing rooms for a small fee). Sands Point is also crisscrossed by six fantastic nature trails. The designated forest path cuts through ancient oak woodland, with the trail starting at the main visitor entrance – maps are available from the visitor center. Spring and autumn are particularly beautiful here, but the preserve is open all year round.

Asbury Park boardwalk, New Jersey

Immortalized by Bruce Springsteen and battered by the ill winds of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the boardwalk at Asbury Park is a New Jersey institution – and just an hour from NYC. As well as the usual seaside attractions, the real draw here is the Stone Pony, the music venue that gave birth to The Boss. Stay late to catch a band and grab a beer. Or come early, hang out on the beach and make like you’re a character in a track from Born to Run.

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a neon ladder lights up a room in the old factory that is now the home of DIA:BeaconA world-class collection of modern art is on display at Dia:Beacon © 1000zen /CC BY 2.0

Beacon, New York

Hop on the Metro-North at Grand Central and take the 80-minute ride up to Beacon, nestled on the eastern flank of the Hudson River. Though part of the folksy town’s charm is its main street dotted with adorable cafes, antiques enclaves and lifestyle boutiques, the key attraction for many is Dia:Beacon. Housed in what was once a Nabisco box printing factory and fitted with dramatic skylights throughout, the airy gallery is as visually stunning as the works it has on display. When you’ve had your fill of culture, settle in for a meal overlooking a waterfall at the historic Roundhouse Beacon.

Arden Point to Glenclyffe, Garrison, New York

Upstate New York is awash with stunning landscapes. This short walk, just under four miles, takes in gorgeous views of the Hudson Valley, through woodland and along the banks of the river, which eventually courses down Manhattan’s west side, on past Lady Liberty and into the Atlantic. Routes are well marked and you’re never far from civilization. Garrison can be reached on the Hudson line from Grand Central in an hour and a quarter.

Hudson, New York

Further north of Garrison, Hudson is a pretty town offering a glimpse of a slower, simpler time in this busy corner of the United States. The beautifully designed train station is the oldest continuously run Amtrak stop in the state, dating back to 1874. Be sure to check out the superb Olana house, built by US landscape painter Frederic Church. Situated just outside of town, Church’s mansion was inspired by the Persian designs he’d seen when traveling in the Middle East, and is now home to works by the Hudson River School of painters, of which Church was a key member. The house is open from Tuesday to Sunday and entry is by tour only – book in advance online.

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the interior of the Phoenicia Diner, with midcentury vinyl booths and formica tablesThe Phoenicia Diner has old-school charm © Mikki Brammer/Lonely Planet

Tannersville and Phoenicia, New York

Across the river from Hudson sits the charming duo of Tannersville and Phoenicia at the gateway of the Catskill Forest Preserve. This sweeping natural landscape provided the setting for the classic American folktale Rip Van Winkle, and there are references to it throughout – including a namesake bridge. Tannersville is known as “the painted village in the sky” thanks to the bright, multicolored architecture on its main thoroughfare. Head to the famous Phoenicia Diner for a delightfully caloric breakfast, and then burn it off with a hike to Kaaterskill Falls or, in winter, skiing at Hunter Mountain.

Fire Island

Set away from the Atlantic coast of Long Island, Fire Island can feel truly isolated and peaceful if you pick the right moment to visit (that is, don’t come on Labor Day or July 4th when the crowds flock here). Its sandy dunes and vast beaches are a perfect way to unwind after days of traipsing sidewalks and visiting sights. Simple and relaxed, it’s the place to come when NYC has finally become too much.