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. Here the best rail trips you can take from Atlanta that have good train departure and arrival times.
Note that trains heading west toward New Orleans depart from Midtown Atlanta daily at 9 a.m., and northeast-bound trains depart daily at 11:30 p.m.
For less than $30 one-way, you can travel by train to Birmingham, Alabama 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, 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 on same day if you don’t want to stay overnight. The train back to Atlanta departs daily around 5:30 p.m.
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.
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. 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.
For a classic college town or winery experience and historical visit to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, plan to a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. Travel time is about 11 hours with an arrival around 11 a.m. — you’ll spend the night on the train. There are many restaurants and a few hotels in walking distance from the Amtrak station, 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 at 9 p.m., so you could spend the day in Charlottesville and return without booking a hotel. 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 around 9 p.m., which is enough time to experience some of the nightlife. We recommend getting a Lyft or Uber car to your hotel, but you can also get around on the streetcars. The return train to Atlanta departs daily around 9 a.m., or you can fly back to shorten the commute.
As a bonus, New Orleans offers connections to the Sunset Limited Amtrak route for travel out west, and to the City of New Orleans train, which travels to cities including 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 around noon.
The train back to Atlanta departs around 7 p.m., 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.
Check out the free 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 14 hours, with a daily return train to Atlanta at 6:30 p.m. Plan to stay in D.C. at least one night.
For an essential American experience, travel to Philadelphia on the train to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Founder Fathers established the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You’ll arrive late afternoon at the 30th Street Station following a 17-hour train trip, with the option to connect with SEPTA subway and commuter trains, taxis, Lyft and Uber. Don’t miss eating a Philly cheesesteak, and checking out the steps at the art museum, made famous by the Rocky movies. A hop-on-off sightseeing trolley and bus tours are also options for getting around the city. If you stay only one night in Philly, you’ll have 24 hours to explore, otherwise plan to stay two nights or longer if you want more time to see the sights.
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.