One of the great things about visiting Europe is getting around by train. Even short hops get you to places with new cultures, languages, cuisines, even types of chocolate. Truth is, you can do that in the U.S., particularly along the Northeast Corridor.
I’ve long wanted to do this—connect the dots by train or bus between Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., in a single trip. Now that I have, I wonder why more people don’t? It makes a lot of sense.
For my trip, I picked fun city escapes that, in most cases, had escaped the notice of most travelers, and even some locals.
In Boston, I learned that Thoreau’s Walden Pond in nearby Concord, Massachusetts, is now a popular swimming hole. And that you could get there by bike from Cambridge, more or less following the British march that launched the American Revolution in 1775. Another day, I hopped island to island, visiting historic forts and nearly empty beaches on an all-day $15 ferry ticket. That’s where I met Kurt and his turquoise shorts living in a historic cottage community without water or electricity.
From Boston I took the Acela train to New York, and the views looking across Queens onto Manhattan are some of the city’s finest. I lived in New York for 15 years and probably never spent a more rewarding couple of days than I did walking by art deco buildings along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, just a couple of blocks from Yankee Stadium.
Speaking of baseball, I made it to a Yankees–Red Sox game but equally enjoyed seeing a (far cheaper) game overlooking the New York Harbor from Staten Island, and watching Book of Mormon actors play in the Broadway Show League in Central Park, a little-known theater bonding tradition for half a century.
Only a couple of hours away by train, Philadelphia is one of the U.S.’s most overlooked cities, in my opinion. It’s historic, packed with superb art, and cheaper than its neighbors (hotels run about half the rate of D.C. or New York). It has the biggest landscaped urban park in the country. And it’s weird. I asked locals what it is about Philadelphia that prompted residents to do things like save old plucked teeth and bulbous tumors, hold a “Mischief Night,” and keep up a neo-Gothic prison in a hipster neighborhood.
Out of Philadelphia the train passes some of the city’s famous murals and in a couple of hours pulls into Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, a couple of blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
People like to say D.C. was built atop a “pestilential swamp.” Actually, I learned, only about one percent of the original landscape was wetland. You can visit pockets of that swamp at the overlooked Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, where I spent my July 4th. It’s just past Capitol Hill, which few visitors realize is a leafy neighborhood, home to a super Victorian market, the original Lincoln memorial, and the world’s most unusual dog park. Often in travel, I dream of living in the places I visit. My fantasy D.C. neighborhood? That’s Capitol Hill.
The great thing about taking this “road trip” by train is that I never had to worry about parking the car. All four cities are pedestrian-friendly, with bike lanes and good public transit to boot.
Seeing four cities in one trip felt like a classic European experience to me. I’d long wanted to do that. Now that I have, I want to again.