By Jessica Allen

Looking for a fun Sunday drive? An unusual summer Friday adventure? A great way to spend a day off? There are many castles (yes, castles) and mansions right outside of the city limits. Our picks, listed below, make for an easy day trip, meaning you can see how the other half lives, or lived, and still be back in the city for dinner.

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Bannerman Castle
PO Box 843
Glenham, NY 12527
(845) 831-6346
www.bannermancastle.org

Plenty of castles have moats, sure, but very few are located on actual islands. Yet so it is with Bannerman Castle. To get there you have to take a 90-minute train to Beacon, then a boat to Pollepel Island. Alternatively, you can arrive by kayak! The 1901 castle was built in a mock-Scottish style by the Bannerman family, which ran a successful armament business and used the island to store some of its goods. An explosion in the on-site arsenal led to the magnificent craggy ruins you see today. If you like your castles with a side of ghoulishness, then this one is for you, for sure.

Castle Craig
Peak Drive
Meriden, CT 06451
www.cityofmeriden.org

High above the town of Meriden looms Castle Craig. With the help of Frederick Law Olmsted, businessman/philanthropist Walter Hubbard created an 1,800-acre park, full of wildflowers, winding hiking trails, oodles of trees, mountain views, and, yes, a tower. Said tower was designed to resemble Turkish structures constructed along the Danube in the 1100s, and it really feels as if a hobbit might poke up at any moment for a chat or second breakfast. Given its location, the castle offers an excellent vantage point from which to gorge on fall foliage. Hubbard Park is about 2.5 hours by car from the city.

Kykuit
381 North Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591
(914) 631-8200
www.hudsonvalley.org

Kykuit was constructed by the then-richest man in the United States in 1913, also known as John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil. Some four generations of Rockefeller eventually made their home among the estate’s 3,500 acres (which boast a view of Manhattan in the distance). Among the highlights you’ll see during the guided tour are the bowling alley in the basement, the extensive contemporary art collection, and the classic cars and horse-drawn carriages lovingly maintained in the garage. Metro-North offers a package from Grand Central Station, approximately 50 minutes.

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Lyndhurst Mansion
635 South Broadway
Tarrytown, NY 10591
(914) 631-4481
lyndhurst.org

Walking around a mansion like Lyndhurst, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time people actually lived here, that this mansion was once someone’s home. In this case, the mayor of New York City, who commissioned the house in 1838, followed by railroad magnate Jay Gould and his children, who probably ran through the 17 rooms open to the public, roamed around the turrets, frolicked in the battlements, and maybe even spent a night or two in the tower. Did they ever just ogle the Tiffany stained glass or ran their hands along the cans in the pantry downstairs? Who knows? MetroNorth runs seasonal getaways to this excellent example of Gilded Age luxury, about 45 minutes by train from Grand Central Station.

Olana State Historic Site
5720 Route 9G
Hudson, NY 12534
(518) 828-0135
www.olana.org

By the time Frederic Edwin Church began construction on the grand house that would come to be known as Olana, he was already one of the most famous artists in America. Inspired by his extensive travels in Europe and the Middle East, Olana was created to evoke a Persian palace and sits on 250 perfectly landscaped acres, co-designed by Church and Calvert Vaux, who helped create Central Park. Standing on the great grounds (about two hours from Penn Station), admiring the views of the Catskills and the Hudson, will give you at least a taste of the majesty and romance that lie at the heart of Church’s most significant landscapes.

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544
(609) 258-3000
www.princeton.edu

Often cited as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the entire United States, Princeton is a bastion of Gothic architecture. A particularly fine example is Holder Hall, built in 1910, part of a massive construction project in the early 20th century. The campus features spires, towers, arches, recessed entryways, and great stone buildings boasting a parade of grotesques and gargoyles. (Download a map before you go to make sure you spy them all.) It’s like the Middle Ages come to life, 80 minutes by NJ TRANSIT train or 90 minutes by bus from Manhattan.

Springwood National Historic Site
519 Albany Post Road
Hyde Park, NY 12538
(845) 229-9115
www.nps.gov

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“All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to say, so beloved was the house in which the 32nd president was born and grew up. Known as Springwood, the house was purchased in 1916 by FDR’s dad for just $40,000. Today, you can tour the rooms, visit the graves of both FDR and his wife, Eleanor, in a serene rose garden, and do research in the official presidential library. The Roosevelt Ride, run by the National Park Service, is a seasonal free shuttle from Poughkeepsie (about two hours by train) that also stops at the Vanderbilt Mansion.