Best Amtrak trips from Indianapolis

Chicago skyline

Indianapolis only has one Amtrak route (the Cardinal) that provides service to Chicago, New York City and many places in between — but only three times per week. Despite the low frequency, many overnight rail vacations (and even a few day trips) are options if you plan around the schedule.

To get started, here are the best Amtrak trips from Indianapolis with good train arrival and departure times. For more trip options, you can travel to Chicago and transfer to trains that travel all over the country. See the best Amtrak trips from Chicago to learn more.

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Lafayette, Indiana

Lafayette, Indiana is the home of Purdue University and is only 1.5 hours away from Indianapolis via train. A Saturday day trip is easily doable, with plenty of time to see the sights or go to a Purdue sporting event. You’ll arrive at 7:30 a.m. and the return train departs Lafayette around 10 p.m. Top things to do include exploring the Wabash Heritage Trail next to the Wabash River, having a meal at Triple XXX (featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”) and visiting The Hann Museum and the Columbian Park Zoo. Adults can also have a drink the Knickerbocker Salon, which claims to be the oldest bar in Indiana.

Chicago

Chicago River Skyline
Photo by Picken/Flickr.com

Chicago is another Amtrak day trip option from Indianapolis. Travel time is about five hours with an arrival around 10 a.m. (Central Time). The return train to Indy departs around 6 p.m., so you’ll have time to visit one of the many museums, go on a boat tour, hang out at a beach, eat pizza or check out some of the top attractions. The seasonal water taxi, Uber, Lyft, Divvy Bikes and CTA trains are ways to get around.

If you decide to stay overnight on a Saturday, you can take an Amtrak bus back to Indianapolis on Sunday. For a train-only overnight trip, one of the best options is to book tickets to Chicago on Thursday and return on Saturday, which will require a two-night stay.

Charleston, West Virginia

New River Gorge Bridge
Photo by Famartin/Wikimedia

Charleston, West Virginia is an overnight train ride from Indianapolis — you’ll spend about nine hours on the train. The city is the gateway to exploring the New River Gorge National Park (pictured above). You can rent a car in Charleston and drive about two hours to the national park, which features whitewater rafting, guided hikes, camping and more. If you’d rather stay in town, you can visit the West Virginia State Museum, Capitol Market and Clay Center (art and science museum).

The train arrives in the morning on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and returns on these same days early in the evening. Because of this schedule, you can spend a day in the area and get back on the train without paying for a hotel or other vacation rental. Otherwise, the Indianapolis departure on Friday and return on Sunday from West Virginia is a popular weekend trip option.

The Greenbrier Resort

Welcoming guests since 1778, The Greenbrier Resort is less than a 10-minute walk away from the White Sulphur Springs Amtrak Station. There are numerous indoor and outdoor activities to keep you entertained. Choose from golf, biking, kayaking, carriage rides, spa treatments, an arcade, bowling alley, indoor pool and more. Travel time on the train is about 12 hours with an arrival around noon. Plan to stay at least two nights here (Wednesday to Friday or Friday to Sunday). Wednesday to Sunday is another option if you want more time to relax and enjoy the resort amenities.

Staunton, Virginia

Staunton, Virginia
Photo by Kipp Teague

Staunton, West Virginia is a historic and walkable city with an antique automobile museumfestivals and the world’s only replica of Shakepeare’s indoor theatre. It’s also the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, and you can visit his presidential library and museum while you’re there.

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 outdoor attractions including Natural Chimneys Park and Grand Taverns. Plan to stay at least two nights. Gibson’s Warehouse, a boutique hotel, is next to the Amtrak station if you’re looking for a convenient place to stay.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Monticello
Photo by Janice Knecht

Visit wineries, orchards, the University of Virginia and Monticello (pictured above) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Travel time is about 15 hours with an arrival in mid-afternoon. There are many restaurants and a few hotels (including Hampton Inn and Suites) in walking distance of the Amtrak station. Lyft, Uber and taxis are transportation options, or rent a car at Enterprise (pick up service available). Plan to stay at least two nights and consider visiting in spring so you can check out the Taste of Monticello Wine Trail Festival. See the list of other Charlottesville events to help with trip planning.

Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria, Virginia
Photo by Ken Lund

For a small-town vibe and easy access to Washington D.C. and Mount Vernon, consider a trip to Alexandria, Virginia. George Washington considered Alexandria 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 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.

Washington D.C.

National Mall in Washington DC
Photo courtesy yotut/Flickr.com

With free museums, stately monuments, year-round events and a huge restaurant scene, there are many things to see and do in Washington D.C. The train trip from Indianapolis takes about 18.5 hours, and you’ll spend one night on the train and arrive around dinnertime. Union Station has a direct connection to the WMATA Metro red line, so you can easily get around without a car. Lyft, Uber and taxis are also available. Plan your trip in mid-March to view the cherry blossoms or in the fall for cooler weather and fewer tourists.

Baltimore

Baltimore Inner Harbor
Photo by Chris6d/Wikimedia Commons

Baltimore is a historic city with charming neighborhoods and a fun waterfront scene. 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 AquariumFort 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. Tip: Washington D.C. is only 40 minutes away via Amtrak, so you can easily visit both cities if desired.

Philadelphia

Liberty Bell in Philadelphia
Photo by Phil Roeder/Flickr.com

Plan a trip to Philadelphia to eat cheesesteaks and experience the birth of America. Top sights include the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Reading Terminal Market and the oldest street in North America. Travel time is 20.5 hours from Indianapolis, with trains arriving at the historic 30th Street Station near The Franklin Institute and Philadelphia Museum of Art. The city has bike rentals (be sure to check out the Schuylkill River Trail), commuter trains, subway trains, tourist trolley and rideshare services, so it’s easy to get around. Spring and October are pleasant times to explore the city without the crowds, or plan to properly celebrate America’s independence in Philadelphia over Fourth of July weekend.

New York City

Times Square New York City
Photo by Sam Valadi/Flickr.com

New York City is the last stop on the eastbound Cardinal route, about 22 hours from Indianapolis via train. You’ll arrive in Penn Station‘s new train hall with easy access to the subway, commuter trains, taxis and rideshare services. There are many museums, attractions and Broadway shows to check out, plus world-class shopping and dining experiences.

Penn Station also provides access to Amtrak routes that travel to Upstate New York via the Hudson River Valley, which is very scenic in the fall.

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