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These five nearby cities and towns boast centrally located train stations, meaning you don’t have to wander too far when you arrive. And while some of them—particularly Roanoke and Staunton—may take longer to reach by train than by car, the relaxed pace and mountain scenery along the way are worth the extra time.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Travel time from Union Station: One hour.
An easy walk from the Harpers Ferry station: Most attractions are reachable on foot. Amtrak as well as MARC commuter trains stop at the restored, circa-1894 station near Lower Town attractions, such as John Brown’s Fort (Shenandoah and Potomac sts.; 304-535-6029). The shops along High Street are also an easy walk, as is the Potomac Grille (186 High St.; 304- 535-1900), which offers salads, sandwiches, and views overlooking the historic train depot.
A farther walk: There are some great hiking paths, including the Appalachian Trail, which runs right through town. To learn about the historic AT, visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters and Visitor Center (799 Washington St.; 304-535-6331). Up the street, A Step in Time Bake Shop (1112 W. Washington St.; 304-535-8046) annually ships hundreds of its Mama Jo’s Pepperoni Rolls to homesick West Virginians across the US.
Travel time from Union Station: About one and a half hours.
Within walking distance: Wilmington’s revitalized riverfront features a 1.3-mile walk along the Christina River as well as museums, playhouses, restaurants, and the home of Minor League Baseball’s Wilmington Blue Rocks. Detour to the Delaware Contemporary (200 S. Madison St.; 302-656-6466) for modern art in an industrial setting, and dine at the lively Big Fish Grill (720 Justison St.; 302-652-3474), which seems to have just as many trophy fish suspended from its ceiling as it does on its menu.
A quick taxi ride away: The DuPont estates and museums, including Winterthur (5105 Kennett Pike; 800-448-3883), the Hagley Museum & Library (298 Buck Rd. E.; 302-658-2400), and Nemours Museum & Gardens (850 Alapocas Dr.; 302-651-6912), lie about five miles from the train station. Stay overnight at Wilmington’s grande dame, the Hotel Du Pont (42 W. 11th St.; 302-594-3100).
Travel time from Union Station: Two hours and 45 minutes.
Within walking distance: Stretch your legs along the 1.25-mile Richmond Canal Walk or learn about city history aboard a 40-minute Riverfront Canal Cruise (139 Virginia St.; 804-649-2800). The Edgar Allan Poe Museum (1914 E. Main St.; 804-648-5523) commemorates the years the writer spent in the city. A block away, popular Station 2 (2016 E. Main St.; 804-249-4702) serves gourmet burgers in a renovated 1899 firehouse.
A quick taxi ride away: “Napoleon: Power and Splendor,” an exhibit of more than 200 items from the French emperor’s household, opens this month at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (200 N. Boulevard; 804-340-1400). Craft-beer fans should check out the Scott’s Addition neighborhood, home to breweries, a meadery, and the sublime Blue Bee cidery (1320 Summit Ave.; 804-231-0280). Spend the night at the chic Quirk Hotel (201 W. Broad St.; 804-340-6040), in the heart of the arts-and-design district.
Travel time from Union Station: Four hours.
An easy walk from Staunton’s station: The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum (20 N. Coalter St.; 540-885-0897) chronicles the life of America’s 28th President, who was born in the adjacent mansion. Catch a play at the American Shakespeare Center (10 S. Market St.; 877-682-4236), whose summer season starts this month with As You Like It in the grand playhouse. Zynodoa (115 E. Beverley St.; 540-885-7775) is a great bet for local, Southern-inspired cuisine.
A farther walk: Most of the town is reachable from the depot, including the shops and galleries along West Beverley, Staunton’s main drag. Photo buffs might check out the Camera Heritage Museum (1 W. Beverley St.; 540-886-8535) for its encyclopedic collection of vintage equipment. Spend the night at the newly renovated Stonewall Jackson Hotel (24 S. Market St.; 540-885-4848), which has accommodated train travelers since 1924.
Travel time from Union Station: Five hours.
Within walking distance: After a nearly 40-year absence, Amtrak service to the Star City resumed last fall. Roanoke’s new station is a five-minute walk from downtown shops and restaurants, including local fave Lucky (18 Kirk St., SW; 540-982-1249), whose moody lighting, sophisticated menu, and long list of craft cocktails feel more Lower Manhattan than southwestern Virginia. Head to the Center in the Square complex (1 Market Sq., SE; 540-342-5700), site of nearly a dozen cultural organizations and museums, including the Roanoke Pinball Museum. Bunk at the historic, Tudor-style Hotel Roanoke (110 Shenandoah Ave., NW; 540-985-5900).
A quick taxi ride away: When dusk falls, head up Mill Mountain to see the Roanoke Star (2000 JB Fishburn Pkwy.; 540-853-2000), the largest freestanding, manmade illuminated star in the world. For dinner, visit River and Rail Restaurant (2201 Crystal Spring Ave., SW; 540-400-6830) for upscale Southern vittles in a former pharmacy.
This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Washingtonian.