Let's just take the train somewhere
September 10, 2019 11:17 AM   Subscribe

What are some fun day trips from Union Station in Washington DC by train? For the purposes of this question, I'm defining a "day trip" as three hours each way or less. I'm deliberately leaving this question open-ended, so just let me know why the place you have in mind makes such a fun day trip!
posted by capricorn to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Winterthur is in Delaware, not too far from the station. My husband loves to take my daughter there on the train.
posted by nkknkk at 11:21 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Philadelphia and Baltimore are obvious (and very good choices), but Richmond and Charlottesville are also excellent. Harper's Ferry is also quite nice.
posted by General Malaise at 11:25 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Harper's Ferry is nice, but I don't believe it's a feasible day trip from DC by train. The Capitol Limited leaves DC at 4:05 pm and returns from Harper's Ferry at 11:31 am. The MARC Brunwick Line similarly has AM departures from Harper's Ferry and PM departures from DC. If there's an option I'm missing, I'd love to hear about it.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:05 PM on September 10, 2019

Oh yeah, apologies. I forgot that Harper's Ferry really is an overnighter trip.
posted by General Malaise at 12:21 PM on September 10, 2019

Fredericksburg, Virginia has some interesting historical stuff within walking distance of the station.
posted by exogenous at 12:48 PM on September 10, 2019

Baltimore (just an hour away!) has a free bus service called the Charm City Circulator that stops at Penn Station. On that route ("the Purple Route"), you can see the Baltimore Museum of Art (free), the Washington Monument ($6 to climb to the top), the Walters Art Museum (free), the Pratt Free Library (free, of course), the Basilica of the Assumption (free), the Peabody Institute Library (free, and amazing if you love books, but only open 10-5 Tuesday through Thursday and 10-3 Friday), the Inner Harbor, including the Visitor Center (free), the National Aquarium (incredibly expensive, but worth it at least once) and the Maryland Science Center (not free, and IMO too expensive for what they offer), and the Federal Hill neighborhood. Federal Hill itself (free) is a few blocks east, and another block takes you to the American Visionary Art Museum (not free, but worth it). You can also change to the Banner Route and take it to Fort McHenry (not free, but worth it). If you come on a weekend, you might also be able to take in a matinee at the Lyric Opera House or the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

In general, I would not expect to do more than two or three of these in a day, so you'll probably need to make several trips. Memail me if you'd like further details.
posted by ubiquity at 1:59 PM on September 10, 2019 [16 favorites]

Amtrak's Acela Express takes three hours to go from Union Station to NYC's Penn Station.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:52 PM on September 10, 2019

Seconding Fredericksburg. The downtown is quaint and full of indie boutiques, restaurants, and antique stores. The Fredericksburg Battlefield National Park is a 15 minute walk from the train station, downtown is right there at the train station. Carl's Custard stand, a freaking institution would probably require an Uber as its about 2 miles from the train station, but totally worth the effort. Kenmore house, owned by Mary Washington (George's mom) is also there in walking distance. Rising Sun tavern features cosntumed staff recreating the 1776 tavern experience in a tavern built by George Washington's brother. Ferry Farm (where George cut allegedly cut down the cherry tree) is directly across the river. The whole downtown is steeped in Revolutionary and Civil War history. There are also several breweries and a Capital Ale House featuring over 100 taps.
posted by COD at 3:19 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lancaster, PA . The train station isn't near any of the Amish areas of interest, but it's a reasonable walk to downtown and a slightly-less-reasonable but still doable walk or easy cab ride to Wheatland (home of James Buchanan, the up-until-recently most incompetent President).

Hershey, PA is also doable - it's about a 15 minute cab ride from the Harrisburg train station. Not a ton to do there if you don't want to go to the amusement park, but the town smells like chocolate and the hotel has a really nice spa.

And of course Philadelphia.
posted by Mchelly at 3:21 PM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Pretty sure you have to go via Philadelphia to get to Lancaster or Harrisburg, which makes either of those a pretty onerous day trip.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:56 PM on September 10, 2019

Note that Charlottesville is not actually a viable day-trip, because the DC->Charlottesville trains (the Northeast Regional, Cardinal, and Crescent) leave late in the day, and have no returning train until the next morning.
posted by waldo at 6:27 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

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