Help Plan An Imperial Whistle Stop
December 9, 2016 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Through a few quirks of planning, I have a voucher for $260 worth of train fare on Amtrak that I need to use up by March. I'd like to use it on one of the two three-day weekends we have this winter - any suggestions where?

Assume New York/Penn station and a friday night as the departure, and I'm more flexible about the return time on that Monday. And ideally the $260 should be a round trip; which means I can't go TOO far from Penn Station. So we're pretty much looking at east of Mississippi.

I'd also like to avoid visiting cities I've already visited: so Boston, Hartford, New Haveh, Philadelphia, and DC are out. I'm also looking at more southerly places (I considered Montreal briefly, but I suspect that in Winter it'd be cold as balls). I'd also like to avoid renting a car when I get there, so somewhere where I could easily get around on foot or on public transit would be ideal. More into museums and historical stuff and "hey, this is a cool street, let me take a walk and look at things" than I am into night clubs and shopping. Quirkly little festivals would be good too.

Hit me!
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
I was thinking Charleston, but it turns out to be a pretty long train ride for a three day weekend (over 13 hours each way from NYC).
posted by exogenous at 11:50 AM on December 9, 2016

You could easily kill a three-day weekend in Mystic, CT and environs. Mystic Seaport & the Mashantucket Pequot Museum are easily worth most of a day each, and Mystic Aquarium and/or the U.S. Submarine Force Museum (including the U.S.S Nautilus, which you can tour) are worth seeing as well. Several trains run each day. You would probably need to rent a car, though.

Northhampton, MA has a nice quirky downtown and a couple of colleges nearby with affiliated museums. Again, a car would help you make the most of it. Also, there's only one train per day, and it leaves Penn Station at about 11:30 AM.

If you're looking for somewhere that might be warmer but is still in striking distance of a Friday afternoon/evening train ride, I've heard good things about Fredericksburg, VA (Motto: "America's Most Historic City".) But I've never been there myself.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:22 PM on December 9, 2016

Baltimore is exactly right for a long weekend, IMO. Lots of historical and museum-y stuff, several areas worth wandering around in aimlessly, and plenty of quirky little festivals. It has decent public transit, much of it free. Winters are not too bad -- it will probably be better than in NYC. And it's quite close to NYC, so you'll have almost three full days if you come down Friday and go back up Monday evening. If you decide to come this way, memail me and I can give you detailed suggestions.
posted by ubiquity at 12:26 PM on December 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

BTW, another point in Baltimore's favor is that, if you take the Acela express, on the one hand it will only take 2.5 hours to get there, and on the other hand it will completely use up your voucher. It might even cost a few dollars more than that, but you can reduce the cost by taking one of the slower trains (still less than 3 hours) one way or the other.
posted by ubiquity at 12:38 PM on December 9, 2016

I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Buffalo a few years ago....I'd expected it to look like Bridgeport CT when I attended UB in the early 90s.
posted by brujita at 12:52 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buffalo has a lot to offer — architecture by Wright and Richardson, great museums, interesting places of worship, Peace Bridge to Canada, Teddy Roosevelt Inaugural Site — but it's surprisingly hard to get to from NYC (8 hours by train) and gets pretty cold in the winter.
posted by ubiquity at 1:45 PM on December 9, 2016

nthing Baltimore as a possibility. If you take a slower train, get a sleeper compartment. Your meals are included, and you've got your own comfortable space. It's a nice "first-class" experience.

The Walters art museum is free and has a wonderful collection. I stayed around the corner in February, which was good because it was bitter cold. With some warmer weather, the Mount Vernon neighborhood would have merited more walking around time.

If you're in that part of town, go to Helmand restaurant for great Afghan food, unless you're uncomfortable with the fact that it's owned by Hamid Karzai's brother.
posted by Picklegnome at 1:55 PM on December 9, 2016

I went for the 1st time in the winter.....yes sub-0 temps and snow, but when it snowed it was just a little bit at a time.
posted by brujita at 2:47 PM on December 9, 2016

Charlottesville would be another option. It's a longer ride (six to seven hours) than Baltimore, but usually you get half an hour to wander around Union Station in DC while they swap engines. $260 is roughly on par with what I pay for a round trip, though it can be less than that if you buy early enough (my return trip in a couple weeks only cost me $70).

The train station is roughly in the middle between the two big areas: the downtown mall, a pedestrian mall with lots of restaurants and shops; and the U.Va. Grounds (the Rotunda, the Fralin Art Museum). They're only a mile and a half apart, but there's a free shuttle that runs between them.

The one catch is that I generally advise against taking the afternoon NYC-bound train home (the Cardinal, which only runs MWF)--it often is delayed a few hours, which causes additional delays on the leg between Charlottesville and DC. Ideally, you'd catch one of the trains home Tuesday morning instead.

Feel free to reach out via memail if you want more details / recommendations.
posted by thecaddy at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2016

Hmm, since other Virginia locations have been suggested: perhaps Staunton, Virginia, and the American Shakespeare Center? Current and upcoming season information here. It too is served only by the Cardinal (MWF). There's a hotel next door to the Blackfriar's Playhouse.

Here's the link to the Staunton visitor information site.
posted by apartment dweller at 5:02 PM on December 9, 2016

Good ideas, all; I'm kind of leaning towards Baltimore, but I'll follow up with some folks separately with Baltimore-related questions.

Any more ideas, keep 'em coming.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on December 13, 2016

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