August 6, 2021 | Stefanie DiMartino

By: Sarah Funk, Stefanie DiMartino 

Have you ever wondered about the differences between living in NYC versus living in New York state? Even though both technically make you a New Yorker, living in New York State and living in NYC are not the same at all! In fact, for most of the world, when they think of “New York” they only think of New York City, not the state. However, New York City makes up less than 1% of the square miles of New York State. 

So, why am I qualified to give information on this topic? Because I’m a true New Yorker, having lived in both upstate and downstate New York. I grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York – a small horse racing town 3.5 hours from New York City. I lived there for 18 years, but for the last 14 years I’ve lived in NYC.

Below are the main differences between upstate and downstate New York.

The Differences between living in NYC versus New York State


There is a drastic difference between things to do in NYC compared to the rest of the state. 

New York City

NYC has some of the best cultural centers, museums, art galleries, and attractions in the entire world. NYC is home to many famous and iconic sites such as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and Central Park. It is also home to the theatre industry in the United States – you can see multiple Tony Award winning Broadway shows or some of the greatest performers of all time at Madison Square Garden. NYC also boasts an impressive 37 Michelin Starred Restaurants, as well as some of the world’s best bars. Overall, NYC is the 2nd most visited city in the entire world with an average of 66 million visitors. There is so much to do here that my entire channel is practically dedicated to it (besides various travel guides).

Times Square NYC
Times Square NYC. Photo by Anthony Rosset on Unsplash

New York State

Before living in NYC, I spent 18 years living in Saratoga Springs, New York. Though we have some museums and have live theatre, the caliber cannot compare to New York City. Yes, they are still entertaining, but they are not world-class like they are in NYC. What we lack in cultural institutions is more than made up for in outdoor activities, along with historic charm. I have an entire guide on Saratoga Springs, but my personal favorite thing to do is go to the horse-racing track. To stay up-to-date on information regarding the races, the horses, betting, what to wear, and more, then be sure to visit the Americas Best Racing site. You do not want to miss the horse-racing experience when visiting Saratoga Springs!

Saratoga Springs horses
Saratoga Springs horses. Photo by Luis Yanes


New York City

NYC has a much faster pace. Typically, most people in NYC will go to work, then go out with friends, and even go to a show or some type of activity, all in the same day! In NYC, it is much more common for people to jam multiple things into one day, rather than spending a lot of time in one place. There’s a reason it’s called the city that never sleeps!

New York State

Outside of New York City, life is much more laid back. There is a slower, more calm pace. Generally, people are more relaxed upstate and tend to “take it easy.” Usually, there won’t be too many activities planned in one day. It is common for people to go to work and then go right home, or maybe have only one major activity planned in a day.


New York City

From a landscape point of view, although NYC used to have a similar landscape like the rest of the state, today it’s quite different because the city has been leveled and built up. Though Central Park may look like a natural landscape, fun fact – it is entirely manmade! However, one thing has not changed and that is that NYC is surrounded by salt water, while the rest of the state is not. Of course, this excludes Long Island, which is also surrounded by water. There is the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson River, and the East River surrounding the city. What was once marshes, babbling brooks, and forests, are now skyscrapers and concrete. 

New York State

Of the 54,500 square miles that make up New York state, only 302 of them are part of NYC. That is only .5% of the square miles of the entire state! Though NYC may have the most famous park in the world – Central Park – upstate New York is known for its beautiful natural landscape, including iconic sites like Niagara Falls (the oldest state park in America). There is also the Adirondack Mountains and Catskill Mountains that cover nearly 11,000 square miles combined and have some of those most scenic natural views in the state.

Adirondack Mountains NY
Adirondack Mountains New York. Photo by Gary Yost on Unsplash

There are also the beautiful Finger Lakes, Lake George, and then the massive Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie (which are two of the largest lakes in the entire country). The rest of the state borders six US states – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Out of the 50 states, there are only 13 that border Canada and New York state is one of them! However, getting to Canada from NYC is about a 6+ hour drive depending on where you go, so it is not that close.   


The architecture is one of the most distinguishing differences between upstate New York and NYC. 

New York City

NYC is known for its skyscrapers, apartment living, and brownstones. New York City has over 6,000 high-rise buildings in total, 274 of which are skyscrapers standing over 492 ft (150 m) tall. It’s an impressive portfolio of real estate, putting NYC as the number two destination globally for such towers, only behind Hong Kong. The tallest of all of the buildings is One World Trade Center, which is 1776 ft tall to represent the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. It is also the 6th tallest building in the world! There is a lot more to know about NYC: its history, its architecture, and more, so I highly recommend joining one of my 5-star rated NYC tours.

One World Trade Center NYC
One World Trade Center NYC. Photo by Lucas Franco on Unsplash

New York State

The architecture throughout the rest of the state varies. There are only 2 other skyscrapers outside of NYC across the whole state. Most of the architecture in upstate New York is colonial, shaker, or federal style homes, or lower buildings that are under 150 feet tall (45 meters). 


The median household income in New York State as a whole is $65,323. 

New York City

This one might shock you. Many people think that NYC is the richest area in the state, however, that is not necessarily true. In fact, there is more poverty in NYC than anywhere else in the state. 16% of New Yorkers live below the poverty level. On the other hand, NYC is home to nearly 1 million millionaires, as well as the most billionaires in the world – 99. The wealth gap is most extreme in NYC than anywhere else in the state.

Most things are expensive in NYC, but it varies based on the borough. For all the differences between the 5 NYC boroughs, you can watch that here

On average the rent in NYC can be anywhere from $2k- $6k for a one bedroom in most places. 

New York State

The income across the state can vary dramatically. But one thing is for certain, the county with the highest median household income is not in NYC. It is in Nassau County, situated on Long Island! The median household income in Nassau is $111k. In Western New York, the median household income varies from $54k -$63k, while in Southern New York (just north of NYC), it fluctuates between $63k – $92k. Northern  New York varies as well, ranging from $49k in St. Lawrence County to $80k in Saratoga (most likely from the wealthy horse-racing crowd).

Western New York is the cheapest area to live – average rent is around $650. The price can get as high as $1,700 for the rest of the state, but most places don’t top $1k for a one bedroom. 


New York City

The primary way to get around NYC is by subway! Of course, any mode of public transportation is the most used in the city – subway, train, and bus. There also is a good majority of people that will get around by yellow taxi cab or Lyft/Uber. 

New York State

The primary way to get around the rest of New York state is by car! It’s not as dense or closely populated the way NYC is, so to get around to other places, a car is usually a necessity! 


One of the biggest differences between living in NYC and New York state is the diversity. 

New York City

It’s not a coincidence that NYC is coined the “melting pot of the world.” Depending on where you are in NYC, the diversity is quite different. However, one thing is clear – NYC is the most diverse area in the state with about 25% of the overall population being non-white. If you’d like to learn the exact breakdowns, watch my video on the 5 boroughs.

New York State

If you are outside of NYC, and particularly in southern New York (the area bordering NYC), the large majority of the state is white. On average about 90 – 97% of the population is white

In conclusion, these are the differences between living in NYC versus New York state. Have any of these differences surprised you? Overall, New York is a great state and it’s well worth a visit to both NYC and any one of the other amazing towns or cities of New York.

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