New York City sports travel guide
Our city guides are meant to showcase the best of a metropolitan area from the perspective of a sports fan visiting to watch a game or two. Here’s our guide to the best of New York sports travel.
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It’s hard for us to imagine why anyone with a travel itch would not want to visit New York City, with all that it has to offer, and that is especially true for the sports fan with a travel itch.
With no less than 11 professional teams playing in the metro area and countless other sporting events taking place in the city over the course of the year, there’s something in New York for every type of fan on a sports travel vacation. And that’s before even discussing all the historical and cultural sights to see.
The vastness of New York’s sports scene (as well as the fact that leagues have offseasons, of course) means it’s impossible to see everything over the course of one weekend, or even one week. That’s OK, though, because it just gives you a good reason to come back.
Still, there are ways to accomplish most of your sightseeing and game-watching goals in a limited timeframe with just a little bit of planning. Read on for some strategies that we’ve employed over the years for our New York sports travel trips.
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The landscape: Where to watch sports in New York
The obvious landing destination for most tourists is Manhattan, but just one of New York’s pro sports venues lies within the most famous of the five boroughs. The rest are scattered among three of the other four boroughs, in the suburbs or in the next state over.
Particularly if you’re a first-time visitor to New York, you should find Manhattan to be the most convenient place to stay for ease of transportation. However, if your trip centers around only one or two of the venues, you may also consider a different locale to be more convenient (more on that in “Where to stay” below).
Note for hockey fans: Beginning with the 2018-19 season, the Islanders began splitting their home games between Barclays Center and their much smaller (but recently renovated) former home, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in the Long Island town of Uniondale. However, the team decided in early 2020 to play at the Coliseum full-time until their new building near the Belmont Park racetrack was completed in time for the 2021-22 season.
• Barclays Center: Home of the Nets. Located at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues in Brooklyn.
• Citi Field: Home of the Mets. Located at Roosevelt Avenue and 126th Street in Flushing, Queens.
• Madison Square Garden: Home of the Knicks, Rangers and WNBA’s Liberty. Located at 7th Avenue and 33rd Street in Manhattan, above Penn Station.
• MetLife Stadium: Home of the Giants and Jets. Located in East Rutherford, N.J., where Interstate 95 (the New Jersey Turnpike) meets Routes 3 and 120.
• Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum: Home of the Islanders. Located in Uniondale, N.Y., along the Hempstead Turnpike near the Meadowbrook State Parkway.
• Prudential Center: Home of the Devils. Located at Mulberry and Lafayette streets in downtown Newark, N.J.
• Red Bull Arena: Home of the Red Bulls. Located at Pete Higgins Boulevard and Cape May Street in Harrison, N.J.
• Yankee Stadium: Home of the Yankees and New York City FC. Located at East 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx.
The strategies: Arriving and getting around New York
New York City has three major airports in its metro area, and which one you choose to fly into has different advantages and disadvantages depending on which airline you fly, where you’re coming from and where you plan to go once you’ve arrived.
• John F. Kennedy International (JFK): Located in southern Queens, it serves as a hub for American, Delta and JetBlue. It is the busiest airport in the region and the primary airport for international flights to and from New York. Taxi fare to Manhattan is $52 flat before tolls and tips; an “air train” line connects the airport to the subway and Long Island Rail Road.
• LaGuardia (LGA): Located in northern Queens, not far from Citi Field, and a hub for Delta. The least trafficked of the three local airports, LaGuardia services mostly shorter flights. Taxi fare to Manhattan starts at about $32 before tolls and tips; bus lines connect the airport to the subway and Long Island Rail Road.
• Newark Liberty International (EWR): A few miles south of downtown Newark, it is a hub for United Airlines, which services most of the airport’s international destinations. It is connected to New Jersey Transit via an “air train” and a dedicated station on the Northeast Corridor line that leads to Manhattan. Taxi fare to Manhattan starts at $50 before tolls and tips.
Traveling long distances by train is an afterthought for most of the country, but not in the Eastern Seaboard. New York’s Penn Station is an Amtrak hub and can be reached in reasonable time (6 hours or less) from as far north as Boston and as far south as Washington, D.C. Seven blocks from Penn Station on Eighth Avenue is the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which serves regional bus lines as well as long-haul services such as Greyhound.
Where to stay
Duh! Midtown Manhattan, right? Well, that’s certainly a wonderful starting point, hotels are most definitely plentiful, and subway and rail makes it accessible to every sports venue. But the hotel rates are also the most expensive in the city — standard rates approach $300 a night for most brand-name hotels. There are hotels all throughout the city, so if your budget needs a break and your trip doesn’t call for you to be in Manhattan most of the time, consider staying in one of the other fine boroughs.
If you think off the beaten path is more for you, here are some options: Brooklyn, particularly in the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood (near Barclays Center and easier access to Citi Field); downtown Newark (near the Prudential Center and convenient to MetLife Stadium and Madison Square Garden via NJ Transit); and near JFK and LaGuardia airports (convenient to Citi Field and Long Island, especially if you have a car).
Unless you are staying in an outlying suburb, or have a need to go far outside the city during your trip, don’t even think about renting a car. Trust us on this one. If you are in town just to see your favorite team play, and to get in some other sightseeing, you won’t need it. Every venue listed above but one (see below) is accessible by public transportation — in most cases, we mean the subway, and the rest can be reached by rail — so save yourself the added stress of fighting traffic and paying for parking.
Here’s a quick rundown on subway/rail accessibility for each venue:
• Barclays Center: Accessible via the Atlantic Av/Barclays Center station on the B, Q, 2, 3, 4 and 5 trains. Long Island Rail Road’s Atlantic Terminal stands across the street from the arena.
• Citi Field: Accessible via the Mets/Willets Point station on the 7 train, which leads to Manhattan. Long Island Rail Road also serves the station.
• Madison Square Garden: Penn Station, underneath the arena, is on lines A, C, E, 1, 2, and 3 of the subway system; is the terminus of NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor line and is a major hub for Amtrak routes throughout the northeast.
• MetLife Stadium: The Meadowlands train station, just outside the stadium, is active during events only. Trains run to NJ Transit’s Secaucus Junction station, between Penn Station and downtown Newark’s station, also called Penn Station (confusing, yes, but it shouldn’t be difficult to tell the difference between the two).
• Prudential Center: Accessible via Newark Penn Station (two blocks away) on Amtrak or NJ Transit. The arena will be visible to the west as your train pulls into the station.
• Red Bull Arena: Accessible via PATH, a commuter rail service. From Newark Penn Station, take a PATH train to Harrison. The venue is three blocks from the station.
• Yankee Stadium: Accessible via the 161st St/Yankee Stadium station on the B, D and 4 trains.
Taxis, of course, are always an option in New York, and they can get you to any of the venues if you’re willing to pay more than standard subway or rail fares.
Of all the venues, only Citi Field, MetLife Stadium and Red Bull Arena have large swaths of parking lots in the immediate surrounding area. With the rest, you’ll more than likely be taking your chances with independent parking operators. The standard rules apply: Know that the lesser the cost, the farther away you probably are, and buyer beware when it comes to each individual lot, where they make you park your car, and how secure the lot is while you’re off at the game.
The highlights: Points of interest in New York
You don’t need us to tell you that New York is gigantic, and there’s much more to do than anyone could possibly cram into a 3-4 day trip, let alone someone who’s visiting New York on a quick sports travel vacation.
Our suggestions are tailored toward the first-time visitor, so if these don’t strike your fancy, or they’re all on your been-there-done-that list, we encourage you to seek out other fine forms of sightseeing and entertainment before the games.
Sightsee, of course
Just a few of the many options include heading up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, looking up at all the lights of Times Square, boarding a ferry to the Statue of Liberty, paying your respects at the National 9/11 Memorial, taking a stroll through Central Park, watching skaters at Rockefeller Center (during the winter) … and on and on and on. If you’d like to hit a lot of attractions, consider a CityPass or a similar tourist coupon book that offers discounted admission to a number of popular sights.
Eat like you mean it
Again, the possibilities are endless, but you could do a lot better than the tourist traps and chains that surround Times Square. Here are just a few options to consider for your New York sports travel trip:
• Lombardi’s (32 Spring Street in lower Manhattan): Considered the birthplace of New York-style pizza and the first pizzeria in operation in the United States, it has been going since 1905.
• Katz’s Delicatessen (205 Houston Street in lower Manhattan): Perhaps the most well-known of New York’s many delis and the site of several famous movie and television scenes.
• Sylvia’s Restaurant (328 Malcolm X Boulevard, Harlem, Manhattan): Famous for its fried chicken and one of the most well-known purveyors of soul food in Harlem.
• Leo’s Latticini aka Mama’s of Corona (46-02 104th Street, Corona, Queens): One of the most popular delis in the predominantly Italian neighborhood southwest of Citi Field. Mama’s also has a stand in the Mets’ ballpark.
See a show
Got a free night? Spend it taking in a show on Broadway, or see a taping of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” or head to a concert at Carnegie Hall or Radio City Music Hall. And those are just the options in midtown Manhattan, as New York lives up to its reputation as a cultural mecca. For discounted or last-minute Broadway tickets, head to the TKTS booth in the middle of Times Square (though lines there tend to be on the long side).
Though college sports usually get short shrift in New York’s vast sports scene, there are options for your sports travel vacation. The most prominent program in the area is Rutgers, whose campus is about half an hour away in New Brunswick, N.J. (accessible from Penn Station on NJ Transit). The Big East basketball tournament was an annual tradition at Madison Square Garden, but recent conference realignment is expected to change which teams play at MSG in the future.
The USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing, next to Citi Field, hosts the U.S. Open every August/September. The complexed is also serviced by the Mets/Willets Point station on the 7 train and Long Island Rail Road.
In early June, the New York area hosts the third and final jewel of horse racing’s Tripe Crown, the Belmont Stakes. The event takes place at Belmont Park in the suburb of Elmont, just outside Queens. The site may become more well-known to sports fans once the Islanders’ new arena is completed.