First of all, if you are considering renting a car to actually see the sights in New York City, don’t do it! Someone could make an entertaining reality show that forced visitors to rent a car in New York City and then document all the cruel things they’d have to go through. Parking is hard to find and astronomically expensive when you do find it. Your hotel might charge you $40 or more per day to park your car, and that’s only on the condition that you can’t take it out of the garage without paying another fee.
The good news is, the city is wonderfully laid out for visitors in a way that a car would never be missed. Walking, combined with public transportation and the occasional taxi ride will make for a much more carefree visit.
Renting a car for trips outside of New York City
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Okay, now we’re talkin’! If you are combining your New York City trip with some extra time seeing other sights in the general area, renting a car can be a great way to go. Yes, there are trains that link NYC to all the other large cities in the region, and there are even commuter trains that cheaply shuttle people to various suburbs, but this is America where the car is king. You’d never be able to reach most of the interesting things by using public transportation alone.
Places you might go:
- Long Island/the Hamptons — In summer the richest of the rich reconvene out in their beachfront playground.
- Fall foliage tours — In October and November the forests of New England become tourist magnets with their unpredictable bright colors.
- Saratoga Springs — This resort town is home to the country’s finest horse racing meet for 7 weeks in the second half of summer, and home to natural springs and resorts year round.
- Niagara Falls — It’s not close to NYC, but these waterfalls on the Canadian border are a huge attraction and a fun road trip.
- Philadelphia, Washington DC, Baltimore, Atlantic City, and Boston are each within an easy day’s drive to New York City.
Where to rent a car in New York City
You have four basic options here, each with pros and cons.
- In Manhattan — Believe it or not, there are many New York City car rental agencies right in Manhattan. They are all housed in multi-level garages instead of parking lots, so you won’t know they are there unless you are looking for them. They tend to have the highest prices per day, by far, but if you have a group with you and you are only renting for a couple of days it might be worth the extra money for the convenience.
- JFK and LaGuardia Airports — We’ll lump these together since it’s the same deal at both. Prices for New York City car rentals are cheaper than renting in Manhattan, but it’s a fairly expensive hassle to get out there. Needless to say, if you are renting your car at the beginning or end of your trip, this is the way to go, but if you are renting a car with stays in Manhattan before and after, it’s probably not worth the trouble.
- Newark Airport — It must be the insane New York liability and insurance laws, but cars rented at Newark Airport are almost always cheaper than at the other two airports, and often by quite a bit. A midsize car might go for $100 per day in Manhattan, $80 per day at JFK and LaGuardia, and only $50 per day at Newark, and that’s for the same company and same car! If you are renting a car for a week at the beginning or end of your New York City trip you might even consider flying in and out of Newark so you can save a lot on the rental itself.