The Washington D.C. area has many options for train travel. Ten Amtrak routes stop at the Washington D.C. Union Station, plus you can connect with Northest Regional trains and destinations at the New Carrollton, Alexandria and Burke Centre Amtrak stations in the suburbs.
To explore your options, here are the best day trips you can take from D.C. that have good departure and arrival times. Destinations are listed in order from shortest to longest travel time from Union Station. For more ideas, check out 15 train vacations from D.C. that require at least one overnight stay.
Only 40 minutes away from Washington D.C. on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional route (30 minutes on Acela), Baltimore is a great option for a day trip. Once you arrive, you can easily connect with Lyft or Uber for a ride to the Inner Harbor or attraction of your choice, including the National Aquarium, Fort McHenry and Fell’s Point neighborhood. Consider a boat tour for a unique way to see the city, and rail fans should consider visiting the B&O Railroad Museum. You’ll have plenty of time to explore; the last train back to D.C. departs around 10:30 p.m.
The childhood home of George Washington, Fredericksburg has a charming historic district near the Amtrak station. The city has many old buildings you can tour, the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library, National Military Park, Battlefield and National Cemetery, where many Union soldiers are buried. Be sure to check out some of the local restaurants and breweries while you are there.
Travel time is 1 to 1.5 hours each way. Choose from an early morning departure from D.C. on the Northeast Regional or late morning departure on the Carolinian. For the return trip, the last Amtrak train back to D.C. departs Fredericksburg around 7:30 p.m.
Delaware has three big claims to fame. It was the first state to ratify the Constitution, it was the home of the wealthy du Pont family, and the Wilmington, Delaware Amtrak station was frequently used by President Joe Biden when he was a U.S. Senator. You can make the same commute as “Amtrak Joe” to see the beautiful train station and to explore outdoor attractions and gardens, the growing restaurant scene and museums. Nemours Estate, Wilmington Riverwalk, Delaware Art Museum, and the Wilmington and Western Railroad train trips are some of the top things to do.
Satisfy your hunger for an authentic Philly cheesesteak in Philadelphia, or visit the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall or the many other museums and historic sites. Amtrak commute time is about two hours, with the option to connect with commuter trains, subway, Lyft, Uber, tourist trolleys and bikeshare once you’re in the city. The Schuylkill River Trail is an especially beautiful place for a bike ride.
Like many other destinations on this list, there multiple Amtrak trains to choose from each day, including on the Northeast Regional route, with the last departure from Philly after 11:30 p.m.
If you are a morning person, get on the 7 a.m. Northeast Regional Amtrak train to Richmond, Virginia. You’ll arrive in downtown Richmond 2.5 hours later, with easy access to top attractions include Maymont estate and park, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Science Museum of Virginia (in a former train station) and the Carytown neighborhood, which has unique shops and restaurants near the Museum District. The return train to D.C. departs at 6 p.m.
New York City
Be a part of the Big Apple with a quick day trip to New York City. Travel time is about 3.5 hours with multiple departure times and train routes to choose from, with the earliest arrival before 10 a.m. The last Northeast Regional train to D.C. leaves Manhattan around 6 p.m., or book tickets on the Vermonter, which departs around 7 p.m. You’ll have time to visit a museum or attraction, shop and/or eat at a restaurant or two. Don’t forget to explore the new train hall at New York Penn Station while you are there.
Williamsburg, Virginia is a 3.5 hour train ride away from Washington D.C., and a day trip is doable if you book tickets on the 7 a.m. Northeast Regional. After you arrive, you can easily walk to Colonial Williamsburg from the train station to explore shops, restaurants, historic buildings and art galleries. Wear comfortable shoes or consider a Segway tour to reduce walking time.
If modern-day activities are more your thing, it’s a 15-minute Lyft or Uber ride to Busch Gardens amusement park. Regardless of which attractions you visit, you’ll have about five hours in the city before the 5 p.m. return train to D.C.
Explore museums and the five-mile Noland Trail on a day trip to Newport News. There is an early morning departure from D.C. on the Northeast Regional, and you’ll arrive around lunchtime. The return train departs around 5 p.m., so you’ll have about four hours to explore. Top attractions include the Mariners’ Museum and Park, Virginia Living Museum and Virginia War Museum. If you need more time, plan to stay overnight. Amtrak travel time is about 4.5 hours each way.