Day trip from DC
February 3, 2017 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I want to wander around an unfamiliar city for a day or a weekend. What are some cities (not including New York, Philadelphia or Boston) that are a relatively quick and easy trip from DC, using bus/train and possible to navigate/travel around without a car?

I've been feeling a kind of localized wanderlust. I can't travel abroad right now but I'd really like to go to an unfamiliar city where there's no chance of running into anyone I know and just wander around for a bit. New York and DC are both super-familiar and I've been to Boston and Philadelphia too often for them to work for this purpose. Any suggestions for East Coast cities that are easy to navigate without a car (at least in part), can be traveled to by bus or train and are interesting to walk around in? Something that's within 2 to 4 hours train ride from DC would be preferable
posted by armadillo1224 to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Baltimore?
posted by rtha at 11:17 AM on February 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

Do you know Richmond, VA at all? You can take Amtrak to the Main Street Station (NOT the Staples Mill Rd. Station) and you'll be right by the Capitol building and all kinds of good stuff. Also a decent bus system if you want to go to the west end.
posted by JanetLand at 11:17 AM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Came in to recommend Williamsburg, Va. Amtrak drops off right in town and there are plenty of places to stay within walking or taxi distance of Colonial Williamsburg. It's actually a great time to visit as it's low tourist season. I'm from there and you can Memail me if you want more recommendations.
posted by tooloudinhere at 11:17 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

You could try the interactive amtrak map to see where amtrak has routes from union station
posted by TheAdamist at 11:20 AM on February 3, 2017

+1 Baltimore. Also, Pittsburgh is a great city to visit over a weekend. Looks like the Amtrak goes there, but it may be faster by bus.
posted by busybee at 11:30 AM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I love it when people come to visit Pittsburgh and I love trains, but dear god the train connection to DC is wretched. There's a lot of mountains between here and there, and that train goes sloooowww and the return train leaves at ass-o-clock in the morning.

If you want to visit Pittsburgh (and you should), rent a car and drive.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:38 AM on February 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

Hartford was pretty neat. Specifically West Hartford, near Blue Back Square.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:42 AM on February 3, 2017

Best answer: Baltimore is the obvious one, especially if you are looking for a larger city.

Consider Annapolis and Fredericksburg. Both are too small if you want to wander all day, but they have pleasant downtowns with historical sites, house and other museums, and shops and restaurants.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:48 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Lancaster, PA could work - you would need a car to get to any of the Amish sights, so that's out, but the train station is downtown and the entire downtown is fairly small and very walkable - you can get take a walking tour (there's a lot of history there), go to Frankiin and Marshall, Wheatland, and hit up Central Market. A full weekend would probably get boring, but it could fill a day or two.
posted by Mchelly at 11:53 AM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd probably start with Baltimore if I were you, especially if you like aquariums or the inner harbor during good weather. Annapolis is nice if you like naval history.

You can bus to Charlottesville, which is moderately walkable and has a public transit system to get around on.

If you want a smallish town feel that still has a moderately sized shopping area, Culpepper is on the train line.

Raleigh and Durham are about six hours via public transit, but not terribly pedestrian friendly outside of the immediate downtown areas (which do have a number of museums and things to do/see).
posted by Candleman at 11:56 AM on February 3, 2017

One thing you can do - although this would be a weekend trip - is to take Amtrak to NYC and transfer to either metro north, or jersey transit or the LIRR to get to any cute little town on those routes. You could go to Beacon (metro north), or Princeton (jersey Transit) or Port jeff maybe (LIRR).

Also - throwing a hat in for New Haven. Good pizza. Lovely museums at Yale. Bookstores.

Lancaster PA is also a cute historic town with a nice yet small walkable downtown imo. (Mchelly just beat me!)

I just spent the weekend of the Women's march in Baltimore (taking amtrak to and from the march) and we loved it. Had a fabulous time there.
posted by rdnnyc at 11:57 AM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing Baltimore. Annapolis is also surprisingly interesting, and takes just about a day for the major sights, which are conveniently close together.
posted by ubiquity at 12:00 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

New Haven. Museums, beautiful historic campus, the restaurant scene isn't much but you could take a taxi to one of the two famous pizza places...
posted by praemunire at 12:10 PM on February 3, 2017

Annapolis MD is a city for a day visit.
posted by tman99 at 1:34 PM on February 3, 2017

One of my best friends had a delightfully demented personal goal to take day trips by bus from DC a few years back, and while I don't think anyone would recommend Megabus for its quality of service, it does go from Union Station to a surprising number of places. I prefer BoltBus, but it doesn't have as many routes. On Amtrak in the near vicinity, I'd suggest Harpers Ferry if you haven't been, and Fredericksburg if you have a reasonably high tolerance for college students. Baltimore is also an easy jaunt. If you're willing to spend a long time on the train, the Northeast Regional goes all the way up to Boston, and the Vermonter goes to Burlington and is ridiculously picturesque along the way. I have done, and enjoyed, both of those routes, although you lose a day to transit on each end, so it's best to think of the journey as being part of the fun (and plan to hang out in the cafe car for variety).
posted by bowtiesarecool at 1:50 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Charlottesville? Amtrak takes about 2.5 hr and drops you off on West Main St, about halfway between the pedestrian downtown mall and the gorgeous grounds of UVA. Very walkable. Lots of small coffee shops, bookstores, restaurants/pubs to nip into. If you are willing to take Uber or a cab, you can also get to Monticello, which is very worth it if you've never been. The only downside is that there are only a couple of trains/buses a day.
posted by basalganglia at 2:14 PM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Providence, RI is a tad over your 4 hr limit by Acela, but it's one of the great matriarchal cities of New England.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:54 PM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Frederick Maryland? Easy trip on the MARC train, has a compact downtown with cute shops and restaurants and old buildings.

I would not recommend Princeton for a day trip. Getting downtown by way of New York is kind of a pain in the ass, you can see the sites in town in a few hours tops, and the surrounding area is not at all pedestrian/public-transit friendly.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:41 PM on February 3, 2017

When you come to Baltimore--and you will, because it's awesome--avoid the aquarium and all the inner harbor trappings unless that's specifically your thing. Baltimore has amazing museums and cuisine and walkable neighborhoods and weirdness galore. The Inner Harbor is devoid of all this goodness, just a glue trap for catching conventioneers and people headed to/from ball games.

Head to Federal Hill, or Hampden, or Canton, or Mt Vernon, or Brewer's Hill, or Bolton Hill. Visit AVAM or the Walters or the BMA. Eat pho, or Ethiopian, or bao bao dumplings, or crabcakes. Visit a 200 year-old market or the country's oldest Catholic cathedral. Buy fabulous shoes and artisanal chocolate in the same store, eat local ice cream with caramel and Old Bay, or spend some time in a local brewery's tap room. Visit the war of 1812 fort where the Star Spangled Banner was written. All in walkable neighborhoods, by foot or public transport from Penn Station, where both Amtrak and the $8 MARC train put you.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:51 AM on February 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

As long as you're OK with using Uber/Lyft to get around in addition to walking, I highly recommend you come visit Richmond, VA. I think that MegaBus and other similar options are cheaper than Amtrak as far as getting down here; either way, I would recommend you arrive at Main Street Station. Find an AirBnb in a walkable neighborhood like the Fan or Church Hill. I'm about to make my weekend pilgrimage to my local amazing bakery/coffee shop ( , and honestly you could happily go from restaurant to restaurant in Richmond for weeks if you had an unlimited budget :) . You might enjoy walking around Carytown for shopping and food and ending with a $4 movie at the historic Byrd theatre (; enjoying some of the beautiful urban trails in the James River Park system if it's a nice day, or going to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for a wander.

Richmond is awesome in that each neighborhood has its own feel and attractions. Don't be fooled, though- public transportation sucks, and you'll need Uber to get across town.

I may be biased, but I feel especially qualified to answer this question because I was a DC resident for a few years and am so, so happy to be in Richmond. I don't know how to explain, but it's just got a different vibe; it's only 2 hours away but so much more relaxed down here.
posted by sparringnarwhal at 7:51 AM on February 4, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for all the ideas! I've narrowed it down to Pittsburgh, Annapolis, Harper's Ferry and maybe Richmond. I love Baltimore but I have actually lived there before and visit all the time. For anyone in the future looking at this question, it's definitely the perfect city for a DC day trip.
posted by armadillo1224 at 8:40 AM on February 4, 2017

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