Atlanta was once a major passenger train hub, but today there is only one Amtrak route that travels to and from the city, the Crescent. It’s a long-distance train that travels between New Orleans and New York City, so there are a variety of places you can visit. Unfortunately, you can’t easily travel to Savannah from Atlanta by train. That trip requires traveling to Washington D.C. and transferring to a different Amtrak route.
Here the best rail trips you can take from Atlanta that have good train departure and arrival times. To view schedules, use the “Find Trains” feature on the Amtrak.com homepage.
Note that trains heading west toward New Orleans depart from Midtown Atlanta daily in the morning and northeast-bound trains arrive late at night.
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A day trip option, travel from Atlanta to Birmingham in 4.5 hours. There is a walkable downtown area with many hotels and museums near the Birmingham Amtrak Station. Top attractions include the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, McWane Science Center (great for kids), Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Birmingham Zoo (the last two require a rental car or rideshare commute).
You’ll arrive in time for lunch (note that Birmingham is on Central Time), with the option to spend about four hours in the city and return to Atlanta in the evening. There are multiple hotels a short walk away from the station if you want to stay overnight, including Fairfield Inn & Suites, Elyton Hotel, The Kelly and the John Hand Club.
If you love college football, then you already know that the University of Alabama is in Tuscaloosa. You can plan your Amtrak trip around a home football game, or explore the riverwalk, go to a show at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater or visit one of several museums — there’s one focused solely on William “Bear” Bryant, former Crimson Tide coach.
Travel time on the train is about six hours with an arrival in the afternoon and a return train to Atlanta also in the afternoon. The Amtrak station is on the edge of town, so it’s easiest to use Lyft or Uber to get around. Plan to stay at least one night in the city. There are multiple hotels in the walkable downtown area to choose from (view top places to stay).
Laurel, Mississippi, like Birmingham, has a walkable downtown area next to the Amtrak station. The quaint city has undergone major transformation thanks in part to the “Home Town” HGTV show, which is filmed here (check out the Home Town tour if you’re a fan of the show). In addition to exploring local restaurants and shops, the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art is one of the top attractions to check out. Or consider planning your trip around the yearly Day in the Park arts festival, held the first Saturday in May.
Travel time on the train is about 9 hours, and you’ll arrive in time for dinner. There is a daily noon train back to Atlanta, so you will need to book accommodations for at least one night in Laurel. Check out short-term vacation rentals for a unique and historic place to stay.
For a small town main street experience, winery tour and a visit to Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s plantation), plan to a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. Travel time is about 11 hours — you’ll spend the night on the train. There are many restaurants and a few hotels in walking distance from the Amtrak station (Hampton Inn & Suites is the closest), but you’ll need to use Lyft, Uber or taxi to reach Monticello. The car ride is only 10 minutes, so fare shouldn’t be too expensive.
The train back to Atlanta departs daily in the evening so you could spend the day in Charlottesville and return without booking overnight lodging. On the train you can choose from a roomette or bedroom for more comfortable accommodations, or sleep in a coach seat to save money.
New Orleans is one of the most popular train trips from Atlanta. It’s a daytime, 13-hour rail journey with travel over Lake Pontchartrain via the longest railroad bridge in the United States. Arrival time is at night, but there’s enough time to experience some of the famous nightlife. Check out one of the unique tours on foot, bus or boat while you’re in town and enjoy the many great restaurants.
Lyft and Uber are easy ways to get around, plus the streetcars can take you the Garden District and City Park. The return train to Atlanta departs daily in the morning, or you can fly back to shorten the commute. As a bonus, New Orleans has connections to the Sunset Limited for travel out west and to the City of New Orleans train, which travels to Jackson, Mississippi, Memphis and Chicago.
Civil War history buffs will enjoy a trip to Manassas, Virginia. The Manassas National Battlefield Park is a 20-minute drive away from the Amtrak station, and you can check with the two nearby Enterprise rental car offices to see if they can pick you up from the Amtrak station. Travel time is just over 13 hours on the train with arrival midday.
The train back to Atlanta departs early evening, so you can return the same day if desired. If you want to stay overnight in Manassas, the Olde Towne Inn is in walking distance from the Amtrak station, and there is a historic downtown area to explore. Consider leaving Atlanta on Friday so you can check out the local farmers market next to the station when you arrive on Saturday.
George Washington considered Alexandria, Virginia his home town, making a visit here a unique way to experience the roots of America’s first president. Embassy Suites and Hilton hotels are conveniently across the street from the Amtrak station, and the charming Old Town district on the Potomac River is a 25-minute walk away.
In addition to rideshare services and taxis, transportation options include blue and yellow line trains at the King Street-Old Town Metro Station, which will take you to Reagan Washington National Airport and all the sights in Washington D.C. The Old Town water taxi is also a fun way to reach the National Harbor, The Wharf and Georgetown.
Check out the many museums and monuments in Washington D.C. via an overnight train trip from Atlanta. Arrival time is in the afternoon, and you can easily transfer to a WMATA red line subway train at the DC Union Station for an inexpensive ride to hotels and attractions. Travel time is about 14 hours from Atlanta. Plan to stay in D.C. at least one night.
For an essential American experience, travel 17 hours on Amtrak to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers established the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Other top things to do include eating a cheesesteak, exploring the waterfront and climbing the steps at the art museum, made famous by the Rocky movies. A hop-on-off sightseeing trolley, bikeshare rentals and a variety of tours are great ways to see the sights.
If you stay one night in Philadelphia, you’ll have 24 hours to explore, otherwise stay two nights or longer. View top-rated hotels to plan your trip.
New York City
New York City, like New Orleans, is the end-of-the-line on the Crescent. You’ll arrive around dinnertime in Penn Station’s new train hall, which has connections to the MTA subway and is in walking distance of the Empire State Building and Times Square. Keep in mind that you’ll want to stay at least two nights in Manhattan or the surrounding area if you plan to go to a Broadway show — get tickets on your second day in the city. Travel time is about 18.5 hours to and from Atlanta.
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Top photo credit: Chris Litherland (New Orleans)