Summer might be the most popular season to take weekend trips out of town, but traveling is way more fun in the fall, what with the changing leaves and the spiked cider. It may seem hard to flee the city if you don't have a car, but thankfully there are plenty of worthy cities, towns, and villages accessible by train, be it Metro-North, Amtrak, NJ Transit, or the Long Island Railroad (bus is also a good transit option for some of these spots). Here are our favorite train trip destinations, and note that for the purposes of this post, we stuck with places worth visiting for just a day or weekend—leave your favorites in the comments.
"RIstatehouse" by Loodog at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
PROVIDENCE, RI: Fall in Providence is like fall in Brooklyn, except on a smaller, more saturated scale. The leaves are brighter, the dive bars are cheaper (Captain Seaweeds has the best jukebox), and the coffee shops—Coffee Exchange if you like dark wood panelling, The Duck and Bunny if you like telling people that you and Emma Watson have the same taste—have more dedicated regulars. From the train station, it's a quick, steep walk up the hill to Benefit Street, where every other building has a historical plaque, and smokestacks puff on the horizon. Benefit Street also serves as the unofficial barrier between hillside RISD, and hilltop Brown University, so it's the perfect highway for casting judgement on meticulously-dressed late-teens.
Halloween season is the right time for an H.P. Lovecraft tour, and/or self-guided exploration of the RISD nature lab, where undergrads make charcoal sketches of a human fetus in a jar. If that's not real enough, there's a book bound in human skin at the John Hay Library on George Street. And if you're there on actual halloween—or any Wednesday night for that matter—Whiskey Republic has the highest ratio of sexy halloween costumes to Providence College bros. (Just be sure to call it Whisko). (Emma Whitford)
MYSTIC, CT: Most people are familiar with the town of Mystic, Connecticut from the Julia Roberts movie that bears its name, though only some of it was actually filmed in Mystic, CT. Millennial children who harbored strange fascinations with educational computer games may also recall that the Mystic Seaport was the location one visited in the 1996 version of Where In The U.S.A. Is Carmen Sandiego?. Either way, this seaside village is a three-hour, ~$55 Amtrak ride from Penn Station, and once there, ship enthusiasts and fans of 1980s coming-of-age films can explore everything from a famed aquarium to the city's leading maritime museum.
The aforementioned Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration ($35) is a good place to start—the spot boasts the only beluga whales in New England, a slew of adorable penguins, and rotating traveling exhibitions. It's also near the Olde Mistick Village, which, sadly, is not exactly a recreated 1600s town, but a super cute little old-timey shopping center.
For boat fiends, the Mystic Seaport is the world's largest maritime museum, and they've recreated not just 18th and 19th century ships and boats, but a seafaring village as well. Vessels include whaler Charles W. Morgan, island steamer Sabino, and Noank smack Emma C. Berry—there's also a recreation of La Amistad, a slave ship that was the setting for a major slave revolt by captives bound for Cuba from Sierra Leone.
And last but not least, there's Mystic Pizza, which, while not the actual filming location for Mystic Pizza, is probably still a good place to learn some hard life lessons about growing up.
The Wadsworth Atheneum (via Facebook)
HARTFORD, CT: New England's "Rising Star" tends to get overlooked in favor of touristy coastal towns (see Mystic, CT, also on this list) and its sometimes snooty sister city New Haven to the south (fine, the pizza is pretty good) when it comes to visiting the Nutmeg state. But the capital city has plenty of interesting cultural institutions, nature experiences and delicious food to warrant a weekend trip up from the city. Frustratingly, MetroNorth doesn't reach up to Hartford, but the city is easily accessible via Amtrak if you can part with $86 and two and a half hours of your life. Once there, it's easiest to get around by car, but there's a complex web of buses also available to visitors; a single fare is a very reasonable $1.50 and a 3-Day Pass is only $7.50.
Downtown Hartford has undergone a revitalization in the past few decades, including the instillation of many handsome parks and walks along the Connecticut River and a cluster of bars and restaurants that make it an appealing area to stay. It's also central to many of the city's most celebrated attractions, including the Wadsworth Atheneum—the country's oldest continually operating art museum—which opens its Warhol & Mapplethorpe: Guise & Dolls this month. Also downtown, the newly minted Connecticut Science Center (catch one of their Liquid Lounge parties, which include drinks, dancing and live gallery science), Hartford Stage for live theater, and The Bushnell, home to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, as well as touring musicals, ballets and other performances.
Hartford boasts some lovely architecture, too, including the fascinating Colt Park (yes, the gun guy) with its High Victorian buildings; the Aetna headquarters, which are inside the world's largest colonial revival building; the Soldiers & Sailors Arch and Corning Fountain, both in Bushnell Park; and, of course, the home of American literary legend Mark Twain, whose fanciful home has been turned into a museum celebrating the author's life and legacy.
Stop by the Pig's Eye Pub for a pint and a game of pool or neighboring Black Eyed Sally's for their lineup of jazz, funk and soul acts. Wine lovers should check out Bin 228 and their Italian-accented menu, while beer hounds should head to City Steam Brewery for a pint of their Naughty Nurse Amber Ale. If you love a dive, to Spigot Cafe with you! Infinity Hall offers up both established music acts with a charming bistro to boot, while Trumbell Kitchen—part of Hartford's prolific Max Restaurant Group—offers a menu of international comfort foods in a lively, convivial environment. (Nell Casey)
"Island Pond-Harriman State Park" by Mwanner at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
APPALACHIAN TRAIL, NY: One of the most intriguing destinations along Metro-North has to be the Appalachian Trail stop, which really is just as it sounds—a desolate platform at the edge of the trees, 66 miles from Grand Central Terminal. The train pauses just long enough to disgorge a trickle of daytrippers and backpackers into the wild, leaving them with little more than their thoughts and 2,144 miles of potential hiking.
The MTA's website starkly lays out the facts: Connecting Service? No connecting service. Station Parking? No station parking. Taxis: None. If you're really in a lurch, the NY-22 is nearby, but shhhhh...pretend that's just the sound of birds.
Trains only stop at the "station," on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, and then only twice each day. It's strange and comforting to think that at one hour it's possible to be surrounded by the bustle of Bryant Park, dodging tourists and urine puddles and hot dog carts and construction, and in the next be completely ensconced in nature. Return to civilization after a night in a nearby hiking shelter, or just...don't. The Georgia border is only a few short months away. Think about it. (Lauren Evans)
TARRYTOWN/SLEEPY HOLLOW, NY: With Halloween on the horizon, now's as good a time as any to visit Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, home to the notorious Headless Horseman. While they tell me the Horseman does not actually exist (a likely story), Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow are both quite real, and are about a 35-50 minute Metro-North ride from Grand Central Terminal (Sleepy Hollow is serviced by the Philipse Manor station; Tarrytown is serviced by a station of the same name).
Sleepy Hollow's the obvious treat for fans of the macabre—you can tour the Philipsburg Manor House, which dates back to 1693, and the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, where much of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" took place. Author Washington Irving is actually buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, as are Brooke and Vincent Astor, Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Gompers, and IBM creator Thomas J. Watson.
In Tarrytown, located just south of Sleepy Hollow, you can check out the Tarrytown Music Hall on Main Street, which is one of the oldest Westchester theaters that's still in operation—it was built all the way back in 1885. There's also the beautiful Gothic Revivial Lyndhurst mansion, which was once owned by railroad tycoon Jay Gould and served as the set for 1970s television series Dark Shadows. And for more fun with Washington Irving, his home, Sunnyside, is appropriately located on West Sunnyside Lane, and is now a museum that focuses on the author.
"Nassau-hall-princeton" by Dmadeo - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
PRINCETON, NJ: An hour and a half on NJ Transit will get you to an idyllic suburb that doubles as a quiet college town for Princeton University's 8,000 graduate and undergraduate students. The campus and its adjacent main drag Nassau Street together form Princeton's picturesque downtown area, where visitors can window shop boutique stores in a historic setting.
With some of the most striking Collegiate Gothic style buildings in the Dirty Jerz, the university campus is an attraction in its own right. It's near impossible to miss Princeton's iconic Nassau Hall at the campus entrance; from there, stroll among the college's residence halls and let yourself return to a time when anything seemed possible, before you learned the truth of the world. Be sure to get a look at the Princeton University Chapel, which architect Ralph Adams Cram considered the pinnacle of Princeton's Gothic architecture.
While the town itself isn't much of an arts hub, the university brings in all kinds of creative activity. Catch a show at the McCarter Theatre or peruse ancient and contemporary art from around the world at the Princeton Art Museum, where admission is free. (Roxie Pell)
PHILADELPHIA, PA: Philadelphia is kind of like New York's poor cousin, with an evil baseball team and a questionable propensity for calling sandwiches "hoagies." But it's still an interesting city to visit, and a pretty short ride, with a 1.5 hour Amtrak trip running about $90 in peak hours. You can do it in a day!
Once you're there, Philly's historic area is a big draw for history buffs, boasting important Revolutionary Era landmarks like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence—tours are free.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is worth a visit, with a $20 ticket getting you in to see hundreds of thousands of works that span through history, with highlights including Picasso's Nous autres musiciens (Three Musicians) and El Greco's Pieta. An even better art spot is the Barnes Foundation, which boasts a massive collection of post-Impressionist and Modernist art, in addition to ancient and other works. You should also stop by the delightfully creepy Mütter Museum, whose collection of medical oddities includes a piece of tissue from John Wilkes Booth's thorax, a conjoined liver from a pair of Siamese Twins, tons of jarred cysts and tumors and the skeleton of 7'6" tall man—tickets cost $15.
There's also The Franklin Institute, one of the country's oldest science museums. For $16.50 admission, you can hang out in an unmanned space station, investigate a train wreck, step inside an old school airplane, utilize lightening rods, check out Sir Isaac Newton's loft, and play virtual reality sports. This museum is probably meant for children, so perhaps find one, bring it in with you and leave it to its own devices while you play with all the science toys.
Beyond the museum tours, there's the appropriately eerie Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site, the University of Pennsylvania's campus/University City, the Old City/Society Hill area, dozens of excellent restaurants, cheeseteak, and Federal Donuts.
BALTIMORE, MD: We got heat for including Baltimore in a roundup a few years back, but screw all the haters, Charm City is lovely (provided you know where to go) and it takes two-and-a-half hours to get there via a ~$100 Amtrak ride. Once you're there, you can either rent a car, brave the bus system, take the free Charm City Circulator, or hail a cab (Uber has changed the game there) to get around. The Inner Harbor is the most convenient place to stay, with plenty of affordable hotels and available transportation in the area. It's also a quick walk to the spectacular National Aquarium, which is worth a visit if you have kids/a fondness for baby sharks and feel like spending $35 on a ticket.
Other museums of note: the trippy American Visionary Arts Museum in Federal Hill ($16 ticket), the Walters Art Museum in Mount Vernon (free!) and the Baltimore Museum of Art in Charles Village (also free!), which has more Henri Matisse works than any other museum in the country. If art's not your thing, you can also wander through some of Balty's funkiest neighborhoods, like thrift store haven and John Waters-favorite Hampden, mansion-heavy Roland Park, and waterfront spot Fells Point (Hampden, Fells and Charles Village are also good spots to book an Airbnb if you don't feel like staying in a hotel).
For touristy-yet-tasty eats, opt for a crab feast at Schultz's Crab House and down Maryland crab cakes at Faidley's in Lexington Market; for less touristy fare, eat Afghan food at The Helmand and try the pizza at Iggie's, both in Mount Vernon; get fancy drunk on Resurrection Ale at The Brewer's Art in Belvedere, or hang with Dan Deacon, Future Islands, and other Baltimore music greats at dive bar Club Charles in Station North. The city's got a killer music scene, with DIY shows, jazz, and hip-hop galore—check out Baltimore's alt-weekly, City Paper, for listings.
(John Del Signore/Gothamist)
Bonus: AMTRAK UP THE HUDSON, NY: This isn't a destination pick, but for those who find that half the fun is getting there, the ride up to Albany along the Hudson River via Amtrak's Empire Service is the most scenic route you can take on any train out of the city. If you're lucky enough to get a seat on the left side of the train, the view of the river is breathtaking—the ride takes you past the Hudson Highlands, West Point, and along the Catskill Mountains. (Again, it is imperative that you sit on the left heading north, on the right headed south. Do not fuck this up.)
The route's biggest bragging point is that it regularly travels to Albany, though you can take it to Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff and Hudson if you aren't drawn to that city's natural wonders. Certain trains continue all the way to Buffalo, with noteworthy stops at Saratoga Springs and Rochester, and there are some that stretch up to Niagara Falls, running through the Finger Lakes region and following the old Native American Mohawk Trail.