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While millions of people flock to New York City every year, right on its doorstep on the other side of the Hudson River is the State of New Jersey.

The Garden State may feel like an extension of NYC (albeit more leafy!) though with a huge range of distinctly unique food, history, and the famed Gold Coast, there are plenty of reasons to jump across the river.

Totally understandable if the only thing you can name about New Jersey is the expansive white-sand Jersey Shore, after-all it’s easy for NJ to be shadowed by it’s more fame hungry neighbor!

If this is the case we’ve put together an introduction for you to the State – its diverse landscapes, cities, with a bit of rock and roll history thrown in too!

Travel right now might be on pause, but once it does become safe to move around again, you’ll find that New Jersey has a lot to offer!

An Introduction to New Jersey

Getting Your Bearings

New Jersey RF

New Jersey is largely known for it’s proximity to New York and Philadelphia – it’s a State firmly sandwiched between the two; separated from each by a river.

The major airports here are Newark Liberty (EWR) and Atlantic City (AIY), and in terms of experiences you’ve got a good range of quiet, peaceful landscapes, and on the opposite end of the extreme, the bright lights of Atlantic City (Vegas of the East).

Top towns and cities in New Jersey include Newark, Jersey City, Cape May, and Atlantic City (known for it’s casinos and nightlight), but don’t forget that New Jersey is called the Garden State for a reason.

The most popular place most travelers base themselves is Atlantic City – see this map for hotels & airbnbs in the city:

The State may be sandwiched between two major concrete jungles, but the interior is defined by stunning nature; the Meadowlands District home to 265 bird species, Delaware Water Gap with 70,000 acres of hiking, kayaking, and fishing.

History of New Jersey

New Jersey Battleship RF

Before European Settlement, the Delaware Indians inhabited New Jersey, who lived in small tribes and were a hunting and gathering community. They are today recognized as the original owners of the land.

The first explorers came from Europe in 1524, and Newark Bay was founded in 1609, which was the start of the State’s colonial history. It was originally claimed for the Dutch, and called New Netherlands.

The British took control of the colony in 1664, and the State became an important battle ground during the Revolutionary War because of it’s central location to the 13 colonies, and position between Philadelphia and New York City.

More battles were fought in NJ than in any other State, and many historic attractions and battlefields can be visited to this day (like Princeton Battlefield State Park which is where Washington secured victory over the British in the Battle of Princeton of 1777).

New Jersey saw huge economic expansion during the industrial revolution, and while in the 20th century it claims credit for rock legends like Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, one of it’s most famous residents was Thomas Edison (he invented the light bulb).

Tying this all back into travel, New Jersey has also been at the center of aviation history, and on May 3, 1919, was part of the historic first ever passenger flight in America, which flew from NYC to Atlantic City. Today Newark is one of the world’s busiest airports.

The Nightlife

Craps casino Vegas game RF

New Jersey is known as the Garden City, though one big pull is Atlantic City, with its boardwalks, nightlife, and casino scene to rival Vegas (it’s more like a ‘little sister’ to Vegas as opposed to on the same level!).

This is where the world’s first boardwalk opened in 1870, and it’s where people come on the East Coast for a fix of gaming, live shows, dining, and nightlife – you’ll be lost in the dazzling lights of casino games for hours!

A great waterfront casino hotel, Tropicana Casino and Resort is set on the Atlantic City boardwalk alongside various shops and entertainment venues. With restaurants, entertainment, gaming, nightlife, and luxury accommodation, this is one of the best all rounders.

Even if you’re not staying or putting money down on the tables, they have weekly comedy shows, a pumping nightclub, and host regular martial arts competitions.  ROC is not only the longest running Mixed Martial Arts show in Atlantic City, they have also sent over 130 fighters to the UFC.

The Beaches

Atlantic City Hotel RF

The beaches deserve their own mention in an introduction to the State, as come Friday, this is where the majority of the local population migrates!

Set on the Atlantic Ocean, New Jersey has 130 miles of shoreline and there are plenty of seaside towns to set yourself up at. Check in advance though if the beach you’ve chosen is charged.

Beaches here range from family-friendly, to resort-like luxury, those with a serious music scene, and those which let you escape from the crowds. There truly is something here to match any vibe.

Sandy Hook is a beach run by the National Parks where locals bike, kayak, and bird watch, where-as Ashbury Park is a great choice for one with a deep music culture (the debut studio album by Bruce Springsteen).

Bradley Beach is a paid beach but is pristine, and very low key, though our personal favorite is Cape May, which is a historic seaside town, like stepping back in time.

It may be difficult to travel safely right now in 2020, but this won’t be the case forever. When New Jersey opens back up, we highly recommend planning a trip ‘across the river’!

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.


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