15 great train vacations from D.C.

Savannah Georgia River Street

If you live in Washington D.C., it’s easy to get out of the city on Amtrak for a mountain, beach, urban or small town vacation. Trains at the Washington D.C. Union Station travel up and down the coast and to the Midwest, and you don’t even need to spend a night on the train to reach most of the top destinations on this list.

To start your trip planning, here are the best Amtrak getaways from D.C. with good departure and arrival times. For more travel ideas, check out the best Amtrak day trips from Washington D.C.

Cumberland, Maryland

Cumberland Canal Place Museum
Photo by Bonnachoven/Wikimedia Commons

Book tickets on the the Capitol Limited for a mountain getaway in Cumberland, Maryland. You can hike or bike on the Great Allegheny Passage, C&O Canal Towpath, and in Rocky Gap State Park. History fans will enjoy the C&O Canal National Historical Park, Allegheny Museum and the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. For golf, spa and casino, consider staying at the Rocky Gap Casino Resort.

Amtrak trains arrive early evening and return to D.C. in the morning, so two nights in Cumberland is recommended. An Enterprise Rent-A-Car office is nearby, so call ahead and see if they can pick you up from the train station before booking a rental car. Note that you can also travel from Rockville, Maryland to Cumberland if that station is closer to you. Travel time is just over three hours from D.C. and just under three hours from Rockville.

Staunton, Virginia

Staunton, Virginia
Photo by Kipp Teague

Step back in time with a train trip on the Cardinal to Staunton, Virginia. It is the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, and you can visit his presidential library and museum while you’re there. The historic and walkable city also has an antique automobile museum, festivals, and the world’s only replica of Shakepeare’s indoor theatre, complete with live performances.

Rental cars are available through Enterprise, but call ahead to make sure they can pick you up from the train station. You can use the car to explore the Shenandoah Valley and drive to attractions including the Frontier Culture Museum, Natural Chimneys Park, Grand Taverns and Star B Stables. Plan to stay at least two nights; the Cardinal departs D.C., Alexandria and Staunton on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday only. Travel time is about four hours each way.

Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach oceanfront with boat
Photo by Ryan Somma

For beach time and plenty of outdoor events and activities, take the Northeast Regional to Norfolk, Virginia. In Norfolk, you can rent a car or take Uber or Lyft to reach Virginia Beach (25-minute drive). Choose from many different lodging options there, walk the three-mile boardwalk, visit the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Center and Neptune’s Park, which has free concerts.

Travel time to Norfolk from Washington D.C. is about 4.5 hours, with an arrival in the evening. For the return trip, trains depart in the morning, with only one 6:15 a.m. train on Saturday and Sunday, so you may want to choose the weekday 9 a.m. train for your trip home.

Roanoke, Virgina

Roanoke, Virginia skyline
Photo by Jc7792/Wikimedia Commons

In the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke, Virginia is five hours away from Washington D.C. on Amtrak. With a rental car, you can visit Mill Mountain Park and Carvins Cove Nature Preserve to spend time in the great outdoors. You can also view the Roanoke River with a walk, jog or bike ride on the Roanoke Valley Greenway near downtown.

Rail fans will love that the city has the biggest collection of steam and diesel locomotives in the United States. You can walk to the Virginia Museum of Transportation from the Amtrak station to view the locomotives, along with the Taubman Museum of Art, other museums, hotels and restaurants.

Since the Northeast Regional train arrives in the evening, plan to get your rental car the next morning if you intend to get one (Enterprise is closest; call ahead to see if they can pick you up). It’s an early morning departure back to D.C., so staying here at least two nights is recommended. It is also best to plan your return trip on Saturday or Sunday as the train departure time is around 9 a.m. Otherwise, on weekdays, the train departs at 6 a.m.

Connecticut

Mystic, Connecticut
Photo by Heipei/Flickr.com

Connecticut has many destinations on the Northeast Regional route that are great for families, friends and couples. Bridgeport is a relaxing summer getaway that’s only five hours away from D.C. on the train. Seaside Park is one of Connecticut’s best beaches, and there’s also a zoo, lighthouse and waterfront park to explore.

Mystic (pictured above) is a historic seaport village that is another great travel option. It is about 6.5 hours away from Washington D.C. via train, and is especially charming in the fall. There are events to check out all year long, a walkable downtown area, boat tours and attractions including the Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport Museum.

If you prefer more urban amenities, head to the bigger cities in Connecticut for museums, theaters and historic sites. New Haven is five hours away from D.C. on the Acela, and Hartford is a seven-hour train trip on Northeast Regional or Vermonter trains. Hartford contains the homes of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe in case you are a literary fan or are traveling with one. In New Haven, you can check out the great art scene, Yale University museums, and the train station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

North Carolina

Lake Lynn Raleigh
Photo by Mr.Z-man/Wikimedia

Take Amtrak from the U.S. capital to North Carolina’s capital on either the Silver Star or Carolinian train. Travel time is about six hours, and the Carolinian arrives in Raleigh around dinnertime and the Silver Star later in the evening. In the morning, you can visit the many museums near the Amtrak station; favorites include the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, North Carolina Museum of Art and the North Carolina Museum of History.

If being outdoors is more your thing, you can get a Lyft or Uber ride to Pullen Park (the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the United States), Lake Lynn (pictured above) and Umstead State Park. All of these destinations are great for kids, and there are many other kid-friendly things to do in the city.

Durham, home of Duke University, and Greensboro, are also on the Carolinian route (seven and eight hours away). There is a beautiful botanical garden, performing arts center, great food scene and Eno River State Park to explore in Durham. In Greensboro, you can visit the International Civil Rights Center, Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden, Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, the Greensboro Arboretum and other attractions.

Return trains to D.C. depart in the morning, so plan to stay in North Carolina for at least two nights. Note that Greensboro is also on the Crescent route, and Crescent trains offer a quicker travel time to and from D.C. (just over six hours vs eight hours on the Carolinian).

Westerly, Rhode Island

Westerly Rhode Island Beach
Photo by Waffies/Flickr.com

For a quintessential summer beach vacation, ride Amtrak to Westerly, Rhode Island. There are many beaches, nature parks and water sports to keep you busy. Plus, the Watch Hill village features a historic carousel, lighthouse, ice cream shops, restaurants and retail stores that kids and adults will enjoy. If you have a rainy day, visit the Living Sharks Museum, Grey Sail Brewing (tours and tastings available), Westerly Armory or one of the city’s art galleries. Travel time is about seven hours on the Northeast Regional, with several departure options to and from Washington D.C.

Boston

Boston in Autumn
Photo by Tim Grafft/MOTT

If there is a time to ride the Acela Express train, it’s from D.C. to Boston. Travel time is one hour faster than the Northeast Regional, about 7 hours. It’s a great fall getaway, craft beer destination, and place to experience American history via The Freedom Trail. If you’re looking for more things to do, go to a baseball game at Fenway Park or visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Public Garden, Boston Common, Samuel Adams Brewery or the many other attractions.

There are multiple Amtrak trains that travel between Boston and Washington D.C. daily, so trip planning can be based on your travel preferences. One night in the city is doable if you have limited time. Depending on where you decide to get a hotel room, Airbnb or other lodging, keep in mind that you can book your tickets to either the Back Bay Station or South Station.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina buildings
Photo by Neal Vickers

Get your fill of Southern food, beaches and history with a trip to Charleston, South Carolina. The Palmetto Amtrak route offers the best arrival time (around 7 p.m.) after the nine-hour journey from D.C. It’s about a 20-minute Uber or Lyft ride to downtown Charleston and 25 minutes to the Isle of Palms, where you can book accommodations near the ocean. If you prefer to rent a car, plan to use a rideshare service to reach rental car options at the airport.

For the return trip, the Palmetto departs daily in the morning, or take the Silver Meteor train back to D.C. in the evening. Regardless of the option you choose, you’ll need to stay at least one night in South Carolina. Be sure to visit Fort Sumpter if you enjoy American history and historical sites.

New River Gorge

New River Gorge Bridge
Photo by Famartin/Wikimedia

The Cardinal Amtrak route is one of the most scenic in the eastern United States, especially the segment through the New River Gorge. Plan your trip in late spring or summer to view the scenery, with Charleston, West Virginia as your destination. This 9.5 hours rail journey will let you see the gorge from the train, and once you are in Charleston, you’ll have multiple lodging options, restaurants and an Enterprise car rental office in walking distance of the Amtrak station.

The train departs D.C., Alexandria and Charleston on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only. Plan to stay at least two nights in Charleston or in the surrounding area. The best weekend option is to leave on Friday morning and return to D.C. on Sunday morning. If you decide to rent a car, you can drive about an hour to the New River Gorge National Park to explore more of the beautiful scenery and hike, fish, rock climb or go whitewater rafting. Cabins, motels and other lodging options are near the park if you’d rather not stay in downtown Charleston.

Vermont

Smugglers' Notch skiing
Photo by Robbie Shade

A great destination all year round, Vermont has skiing, hiking and quaint towns near several Amtrak stations. Brattleboro is nine hours away from D.C. on the Vermonter train. You can start a distillery tour at Saxtons River Distillery, hike at Wantastiquet Mountain Natural Area, Fort Dummer State Park or to Retreat Tower, and go to the ski hill in town. Get a car at Enterprise for your adventures; they offer pick up services.

Or head to the state capital Montpelier, which is 11.5 hours away on the Vermonter train. This is a must-do destination for fresh maple syrup or to get outside. The city is near many ski resorts, including Smugglers’ Notch (pictured above, which also has a water park in the summer), Bolton Valley, Stowe Mountain, Mad River Glen and Sugar Brush.

Other top attractions nearby include the Trapp Family Lodge (of “Sound of Music” movie fame), Hubbard Park, Camel’s Hump State Park, Wrightsville Beach, Ben and Jerry’s factory tour in Waterbury, and the Bragg and Morse farms. Pre-arrange for the nearby Enterprise staff to pick you up with your car rental.

Savannah, Georgia

Forsyth Park Savannah Georgia
Photo by J. Stephen Conn

Book tickets on the Palmetto train for an 11-hour daytime Amtrak trip to Savannah, Georgia. You’ll arrive around 9 p.m., and the historic district (along with its many hotels) is 10-minute Lyft or Uber ride away. In the morning, walk to restaurants and explore the parks, squares, cemeteries and River Street (pictured top of page). Many tours and river cruises are also options for sightseeing.

If you want to rent a car, there is an Enterprise in downtown Savannah. Tybee Island beaches are a 30-minute drive away. When you’re ready to head back north, you can choose from a morning or early evening Amtrak train to D.C.

Chicago

View from Navy Pier Ferris Wheel
Photo by Adam Arroyo/Flickr.com

For a vacation full of great food, live music, museums and lake time, head to Chicago on the Capitol Limited or Cardinal train. The Capitol Limited travels there in about 17.5 hours, which is the fastest option. Although the trip time is about six hours longer on the Cardinal, you’ll be able to travel through the New River Gorge as a perk.

Regardless of which route you choose, you’ll spend one night on the train and arrive in the Windy City in the morning. The Chicago Loop is a short walk away from the Amtrak station as well as several CTA train stations and a water taxi stop, making it easy to get around. Lyft and Uber are also available, so you don’t need a rental car.

Check event calendars to plan your trip around one of the many festivals or concerts, or visit top attractions including the Art Institute of Chicago, 360 Chicago Observation Deck, Millennium Park, Field Museum, Chicago Riverwalk, Navy Pier, Lakefront Trail, Magnificent Mile, Wrigley Field and so much more. We recommend staying in Chicago at least one night, although you can easily stay multiple nights to enjoy all that the city offers.

The trains to Washington D.C. depart Chicago in the early evening — note that the Cardinal only runs three days each week, but the Capitol Limited is daily. You can even choose to ride both routes; one to Chicago and the other to D.C. to experience both.

Florida

Florida Sunrise Atlantic Ocean
Photo by DaSpader/Wikimedia

Florida is an easy overnight train trip from Washington D.C. There are three daily Amtrak routes to choose from: Auto Train, Silver Meteor and Silver Star. You can board the Silver Service trains at Union Station or in Alexandria, and the Auto Train departs from Lorton, Virginia (you must be transporting a vehicle in order to book tickets on this route).

The shortest Florida trip is to Jacksonville on the Silver Meteor, which takes about 14 hours, and you’ll be sleeping for a large portion of that time. There’s a great mix of beaches, parks and cultural amenities, including the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, Cummer Museum of Art and Riverside Arts Market. One night in Jacksonville is an option if you can only be away from D.C. for a few days.

The Silver Meteor and Silver Star also travel to Winter Park and Orlando (about 17 hours on the Silver Meteor), with many theme parks a Lyft or Uber ride away, including Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld. It’s also a 17-hour overnight trip between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida on the Auto Train. From Sanford, you can easily drive to Orlando, Cape Canaveral and Daytona Beach.

While you can travel to any of the Amtrak stations in Florida, keep in mind that only the Silver Star goes to Tampa (21.5 hours) and nearby cities. The Miami Station is the last stop in the Sunshine State, with a travel time of 23 hours on the Silver Meteor and 27 on the Silver Star.

New Orleans

New Orleans French Quarter
Photo by Pedro Szekely

The longest train trip you can take from Washington D.C. (without changing trains) is to New Orleans. At the end of the Crescent route, the city is just slightly farther away from Miami with a travel time of 27.5 hours. You’ll spend one night on the train, cross over the longest railroad bridge in the United States, and arrive in the evening. Plan to take a taxi, Lyft or Uber to your hotel after getting off the train.

Besides the amazing food, music and festivals, you can walk or ride streetcars around New Orleans to explore the Garden District, French Quarter, Jackson Square and the oldest cemetery in city. Other top sights include the National World World II Museum, Audubon Zoo and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Plan to stay in New Orleans at least two nights (three is better). It’s a morning Amtrak departure back to D.C.

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2 thoughts on “15 great train vacations from D.C.

  1. You can’t travel directly between Kansas City and Washington D.C. (or Washington State). East Coast Amtrak trains only travel as far west at Chicago or New Orleans.

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