Stuck for holiday ideas this year? Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Why not consider these 10 American cities to see by train?
By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
It’s a bit frustrating that airlines aren’t flying to all their full destinations right now, and for Americans, the case is even worse. While some countries, like Mexico, are still welcoming Americans as tourists, many others have closed their doors to those from the Land of the Free. Of course, this severely limits holiday options for most.
And even when the airports do open up, many an eco-conscious traveller is shunning air travel in favour or transport methods that don’t emit so much CO2. One such method is the train.
Trains are by far the most eco-friendly way of traveling and they can even be quite luxurious! If you want to explore America from coast to coast, it’s easier than you think! For example, here below, I’ve picked 10 American cities to see by train. We’ll start on the East coast, and go West from there, hitting up some of the most iconic metropolises in the nation.
Ready? Let’s go!
10 American Cities To See By Train
Although it’s often referred to as ‘Beantown’, Boston is highly cultured, and is well known for its prestigious university. Tourists can enjoy plenty of intriguing attractions, starting with the Skywalk Observatory at the top of the Prudential Tower.
Walkers will love the leafy Freedom Trail, which starts from the oldest park in town, or the Boston Common, which goes all the way to Charlestown — the historic waterfront neighborhood. The best time to see these places, in my opinion, would be fall, when the trees turn firecracker orange, yellow and red!
If you’re a fan of the old TV show “Cheers,” you can have a drink at the very bar that inspired the series. For those fond of architecture, you must see the Quincy Market, which was designed by Alexander Parris and completed in 1826 reviving the style of ancient Greek buildings.
Train info: In Boston you can choose between Back Bay Station, North Station and South Station, which will take you to your next destination, New York’s Penn Station.
2. New York
Ahhh, the city that never sleeps! This may be the most obvious and most desirable of all the American cities to see by train. Her lights on The Great White Way (Broadway) have inspired artists and writers for decades. Of course, this city has innumerable things to offer – and that includes plenty of eco friendly hotels you can stay in!
If it’s your first time visiting New York City, then you can’t miss the most classical of all the tourist attractions, such as the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Empire State Building and Times Square. Museum lovers will be in their element, having a hard time choosing between the MoMA, the Met, the Guggenheim and the Frick Collection.
But there’s something for nature lovers, too: Central Park is not the only green spot, but there are a variety of tinier parks scattered around the Big Apple. If you have covered all the hotspots in Manhattan, the other boroughs are fascinating too. Besides Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx, you can take the ferry to Staten Island to discover the diversity of the American experience.
Train info: From New York’s Penn Station, travel to Washington’s Union Station.
3. Washington D.C.
The nation’s capital is special. Not only is it famous for the White House, which you can see from the outside, but you can also schedule a tour inside – but be warned, you have to submit your request at least three months in advance.
It’s easier to admire the Capitol building, which is the seat of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin.
This city is also very strong on venues that preserve and enhance the historicity and culture of America, like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum.
Train info: From Washington’s Union Station your train will take you to another Union Station but this time in Chicago.
The Windy City, in the state of Illinois, is most known for its beautiful skyscrapers such as the Willis Tower SkyDeck and the 360 Chicago. It’s also known for its Millennium Park, made famous by the Jay Pritzker Pavilion — a Frank Gehry-designed structure that hosts of the Chicago’s biggest outdoor festivals and concerts.
Another iconic part of the city is the Navy Pier, which opened in 1916. Some other historical gems to explore in the city are The Rookery Building, which was designed by architects Daniel Burnham and John Root in 1888, and the Art Deco Buckingham Fountain, built in 1927.
Train info: From the Chicago Union Station take the train to Memphis Central Station.
Calling all fans of the King of Rock and Roll! Memphis is an obligatory stop! You simply have to visit Graceland: the private residence of Elvis Presley. But there is plenty more to do in one of the most populous cities in Tennessee, set along the Mississippi River.
For example? Beale Street is a meaningful location in the history of blues, characterised by street performers and bars that feature live concerts. This musical city is well known for its concert venues such as the Mud Island Amphitheatre, the Orpheum Theatre, the Ballet Memphis, the Opera Memphis and Sun Studio. The latter is a recording studio that opened in 1950 and has now been turned into a museum.
The town is also famous for its bars – namely Coyote Ugly and the Hard Rock Cafe, but if you prefer to be outside, don’t miss the Shelby Farms Park, where you can engage in a variety of activities, from paddle boating and kayaking to horse riding.
Train info: From the Memphis Central Station, travel to the Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans.
6. New Orleans
I’d say New Orleans is probably one of the most popular American cities to see by train!
The French claimed Louisiana in the 1690s, and Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville was appointed Director General in charge of developing a colony in the territory. He founded New Orleans in 1718, and the place still retains much of its French charm.
In fact, New Orleans is best known for its French Quarter. This is where Tennessee Williams set his famous play (and later movie), ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ Bourbon Street is the most renowned place in this area. Here, you can admire red-tiled roofs, quaint courtyards and buildings dating back 300 years (not much for we Europeans, but a lot for Americans).
And of course, jazz lovers simply must hit up some of the city’s musical hotspots, such as Snug Harbor or Preservation Hall, where you’ll hear some of America’s most talented musicians play the music that made this city so famous, vibrant, and fun!
Train info: From New Orleans’ Union Passenger Terminal go to the Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station.
In this great Texan town, you will be utterly charmed by the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, which has become a safe haven for local flora and fauna. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science equally glorifies the beauties of nature as does the Pioneer Park. The latter was designed by artist Robert Summer, to recreate the Shawnee Trail that was a major Texas cattle drive route during the 19th century.
A less glorious but equally important moment that is etched in this city’s history can be experienced on The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. This is the infamous spot where some believe Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK in 1963. Not far from this building you can walk to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial and pay homage to the great man.
Train info: From Dallas’ Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station, it’s an easy hop to El Paso Union Depot.
8. El Paso
This might be one of the most unusual American cities to see by train. I don’t know why, but many people skip this city on their trips to Texas. And that’s a pity! It’s a place that’s well worth seeing, thanks to its cross-cultural atmosphere. Because it stands on the Rio Grande across the Mexico–United States border from Ciudad Juárez. This can be fully grasped at visiting The National Border Patrol Museum. Another important artistic venue in town is the El Paso Museum of Arts, home to a remarkable collection of more than 7,000 works focusing on American, European, and Mexican spanning from the 12th century until today. Also the surrounding landscape is very special in El Paso, that can be admired at the Franklin Mountain State Park and you can traverse aboard the Wyler Aerial Tramway.
Train info: From El Paso’s Union Depot travel to Los Angeles Union Station.
9. Los Angeles
This is definitely one of the top 10 American cities to see by train!
The City of Angels, defined by Hollywood, the Chinese Theatre and Walk of Fame, has a variety of attractions waiting for you to discover.
If you love the beach life, you can’t miss Venice Beach or Santa Monica. If your inner child is waiting to be unleashed, Disneyland and Warner Bros Studios await you! Architectural geeks will love the outstanding Getty Center designed by Richard Meier, Peter Zumthor’s LACMA Building, Frank Gehry’s Binoculars Building and Walt Disney’s Concert Hall.
For an off-the-beaten-track tip, make sure you go to the Griffith Observatory – the view from this hilltop takes your breath away! But if you’d like to see stars of another kind, hit up any of the city’s most famous hotels (like the Beverley Hills hotel) and keep a keen eye out for celebrity spotting.
Train info: From the Los Angeles Union Station take the train to your final destination, the San Diego Santa Fe Depot.
10. San Diego
San Diego is the oldest town in California. It’s characterised by Spanish Colonial-style buildings overlooking the ocean.
One of the things to do in San Diego is to visit a place between the Petco Park and Convention Center, where you can find yourself the heart of town: the Gaslamp Quarter National Historic District. Here, you can marvel at the Victorian buildings by day and enjoy the nightlife the city has to offer in the darker hours.
Love being outside when on your holidays? This is the place for you! Admire surfers riding oceanic waves (or ride some yourself) at Mission Beach, the epitome of San Diego’s West Coast lifestyle. Or, take a trip to the national Redwood Park to see some of the largest and most impressive trees on the planet.
Alternatively, visit the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Here, you can not only enjoy some sunshine and fresh air, but also visit the shops, museums, and Mexican restaurants on the site. It’s a historic area where you can learn more about the area’s Mexican history, and also indulge in a fishbowl sized Margarita – or two! In fall, this is a great place to experience some Day of the Dead celebrations, too.
Finally, San Diego’s Seaport Village is another quaint location. Here, you can enjoy the waterfront area and have a romantic stroll or dinner.