You can drive any route you want, as long as you fly.
-Henry Ford (not really)
If you want to do it smart, you’ll fly. If you want to do it cheaply, we’ll show you how to drive.
Seriously, though, if you live farther away from the Cape than Hartford, you might think about flying into Boston and renting a car. Jet Blue offers one-way fares in the mid-high two figures if you book early. That’s cheaper than the train. The drive from Boston to the cape is about 90 minutes, and you skip the biggest traffic bottlenecks on the eastern seaboard. Trust us, if you have the money to spend, you’ll recoup it handsomely in stress avoidance.
If you must drive from NYC, here’s what to keep in mind.
The route has at least 3 major bottlenecks, one of which – NYC proper to Connecticut – can’t be avoided if you get the timing wrong.
To get out of the city from Queens or Brooklyn, take the Whitestone Bridge to the Hutchinson River Parkway.
From Manhattan, take the WestsideHighway north to the Sawmill River Parkway, the Cross County Parkway, and the Hutchinson River Parkway.
Why? Two reasons – the parkways are closed to trucks, which cuts out a lot of the traffic up front, and more difficult to find, unless you’re coming directly off the Whitestone. As a corollary, they’re “invisible” to most GPS devices, which are strongly biased toward distance conservation, and tend to underestimate the delay potential of traffic, unless you actively specify them, so novices who don’t know the area will tend to be funneled to the major highways.
Stay on the Hutchinson as it turns into the Merritt, until New Haven.
Route 15, the Merritt Parkway, joins Route 91 at Meriden , CT. Take 91 North to Hartford (not at rush hour, see “timing” below), then route 384 to bypass Hartford. Finally, grab state route 6 east to the outskirts of Providence.
Route 6 is off of most people’s radar because it’s a state road. (Although it links CT and MA.) You will be driving through towns, stoplights, and stop signs. You will still save time over the major highways unless you travel in the dead of night. Trust us – we’ve experimented.
From the outskirts of Providence, take Route 295 northeast to Mansfield, change to 495 going southeast, grab 4 going across to the east until you hit Plymouth, then finally take 3 from there to the Sagamore Bridge.
This helps you avoid the key bottlenecks of Providence, Fall River, and the Blue Star Highway, which can be backed up all the way to the cape. The Bourne Bridge is a not the George Washington, nor even the Kosciusko – it’s a two-lane affair, with sub-highway speed limits, that empties into a roundabout. Into that funnel, imagine dumping all the weekender traffic from all the metropolitan areas from NYC all the way up the coast and it’s a wonder the traffic moves at all.
This is an area more art than science, and any number of random things – crash, construction, or weather – can cause jams even at off-peak hours, but there are several rules-of-thumb.
1. If at all possible, avoid traveling between NYC and the cape on a Friday.
If you can leave Thursday night or Saturday night it’s better. Every working stiff with a bottle of Hawaiian tropic and a taste for crab has the same brilliant idea to beat the traffic by traveling on Friday.
2. Avoid rush hours at bottlenecks.
This seems obvious but it depends on your route. If you’re taking the route we prescribe there are two: NYC and Hartford. Leave NYC early and you’ll likely hit its morning rush hour. Leave late enough to hit Hartford and later than 2:30 and you hit Hartford’s.
Two times are actually excellent for travel, if inconvenient for circadian rhythms – super early, like 4:45am, or late evening, like after 8 or 9pm.
We do recommend the Cape as a weekend getaway from New York, but the difficulty of road travel puts in a slightly more varsity category than the Hudson Valley, Ithaca, or the north end of Long Island.
If you want to save money by driving, take our tips and prepare to be patient. If you have a little money to spend, JetBlue into Logan is seamless.