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Train Trip (East Coast)

Train Trip (East Coast)

By
Trip Plan Tags: 
budget,
city,
day trip,
east coast,
train travel
Destinations: 
Boston,
Cambridge,
Cleveland Park/Tenleytown,
District of Columbia,
Financial District,
Lincoln,
Massachusetts,
New York,
New York City,
North America,
Penn Quarter

Our new vacay plan: to see the US via train travel. No hotels for us! Just a cozy sleeper car, we'll be stopping for a short while in some of the coolest places in the country! Yay Amtrak passes!!!

ITEMS

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See + Do

The White House, D.C.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Tel: 202 456 7041
Website: www.whitehouse.gov

The most famous address in the nation, this grand white mansion modeled on an Irish country house (the designer, James Hoban, was an Irishman) has been the home of every American president, with the exception of George Washington, who oversaw its construction but spent much of his time at Mount Vernon. Each administration has made its mark, but in recent decades no one has had more influence than Jacqueline Kennedy, who embarked on an extensive restoration project that returned the house to a bygone grandeur and brought original objects and furniture back into the fold. Tours are arranged for groups of ten or more through the offices of a U.S. citizen's member of Congress or an overseas visitor's embassy and can be requested up to six months in advance. Tours take place Tuesday through Saturday mornings and generally include a visit to several reception rooms, including the gold-and-white East Room—the site of weddings, JFK's funeral, and Richard Nixon's resignation.

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See + Do

Smithsonian Museums, D.C.

Washington, D.C.
Tel: 202 633 1000
Website: www.si.edu

The Smithsonian Institution comprises 17 museums in Washington as well as two museums in New York, which, taken together, truly span the world and the ages. The holdings of the nation's attic are estimated at 137 million objects. Visitors usually start in the institution's first building, The Castle, which holds a general information desk for all the institution's museums and the crypt of James Smithson, a British scientist and the original benefactor (1000 Jefferson Dr. S.W.). Smithson's reasons for bequeathing his fortune to the United States in 1829 to create a facility to expand knowledge have never been entirely explained—especially since he had never been to the country. Many of the Smithsonian's museums are located on the National Mall, between the Washington Monument and Capitol Hill. The museums are mobbed pretty much all the time, especially on weekends in the spring and summer; your best bet is to arrive as soon as the museums open (at 10 a.m.) on a weekday.

The newest addition to the stable (opened in 2004) is the National Museum of the American Indian, which studies and chronicles the culture and traditions of indigenous populations in the Western Hemisphere and Hawaii. Four permanent exhibits explore Native American beliefs, history, contemporary life, and people native to the Chesapeake region. A 20-foot totem poll, carved by American Indian artist Nathan Jackson, is hard to miss (4th St. and Independence Ave. S.W.; www.americanindian.si.edu). Next door, the National Air and Space Museum, along with its Virginia satellite, the Udvar-Hazy Center (14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly, VA; www.nasm.si.edu/museum/udvarhazy/), tracks the history of flight with the world's largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft, from the Kitty Hawk to the Apollo 11 command module. Hands-on exhibits, like flight simulators, allow armchair pilots to experience flying a plane (7th St. and Independence Ave. S.W.; www.nasm.si.edu).

On the north side of the Mall, closer to the Washington Monument, the Natural History Museum explores the natural world through fascinating specimens of insects, plants, and animals; fossils; rare gemstones; and cultural artifacts (10th St. and Constitution Ave. N.W.; www.mnh.si.edu). The National Museum of American History reopened in late 2008 after a two-year, $85-million renovation. The architectural overhaul better showcases the museum's more than three million artifacts, especially the Star-Spangled Banner—the tattered flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem—which now has its own state-of-the-art gallery. Other items on display include domestic items such as the first hand-powered vacuum cleaner, and iconic items of American entertainment—Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and Julia Child's kitchen (14th St. and Constitution Ave.; www.americanhistory.si.edu).

The African Art Museum, Freer and Sackler galleries for Asian art, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of modern and contemporary art are also located on the Mall. The American Art Museum, which includes the Renwick Gallery for American crafts and Portrait Gallery, Anacostia Community Museum, Postal Museum, and the National Zoo are further afield.

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See + Do

National Zoo, D.C.

3001 Connecticut Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel: 202 633 4800
Website: www.nationalzoo.si.edu

Always a hit with kids, the National Zoo was founded in 1889 and absorbed into the Smithsonian Institution one year later. The leafy, 163-acre Frederick Law Olmsted–designed grounds in northwest Washington are home to over 400 species—from tiny leaf-cutter ants to four-ton Asian elephants. Late spring, when there are adorable baby animals to coo at (and before the swampy humidity sets in), is the best time to visit. Each April, the zoo celebrates all things panda with films, costumed characters, and keeper talks, but watching bamboo-eating Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their cub, Tai Shan, is a big draw year-round. In the Invertebrate Exhibit's touch tank, you can tickle the backs of sea stars, horseshoe crabs, and sometimes shoulder up to giant tarantulas (if you're gutsy enough). Parking is limited, but the Woodley Park–Zoo stop is just a 20-minute metro ride from downtown on the red line.

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See + Do

The Mall and Its Monuments, D.C.

Washington, D.C.
Tel: 202 426 6841
Website: www.nps.gov/nama

Most of Washington, D.C.'s must-see monuments are clustered on the western end of the National Mall, so it's possible to see them all in one day. Construction of the Washington Monument progressed in fits and starts throughout the 19th century, which is why the stone on the top half of the tower is a different color than that on the bottom. (Editor's Note: Due to structural damage from the earthquake on August 23, 2011, the interior of the Washington Monument has been temporarily closed to the public.)

At the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool, the National World War II Memorial pays homage to the 16 million who served, and a wall of 4,000 gold stars marks the 400,000 soldiers who gave their lives in this war. Fifty-six granite pillars signify the unity of the states and territories, and 24 bas-relief sculptures recall significant battles in the conflict (17th St. and Independence Ave. N.W.). Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial design, chosen in a national competition, comprises two black granite walls angled into a V inscribed with the names of the 58,000 soldiers who died in the nation's longest war. Families and friends make pilgrimages here to touch their loved ones' names or to make rubbings on paper.

At the western end of the Reflecting Pool, Daniel Chester French's imposing marble sculpture of Lincoln is the focal point of the Lincoln Memorial. Flanking the statue are murals depicting Lincoln's achievements and inscriptions from his Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address. It was on the second step here that Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963; look for an inscription on the spot where King stood (Independence Ave. and 23rd St. N.W.).

On the shores of the cherry tree–lined Tidal Basin sit the FDR Memorial and the adjacent Martin Luther King Memorial. The former remembers Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration with sculptures spread throughout a garden, including one of the president in a wheelchair, a rare image even now. The latter, opened in 2011, honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a 30-foot granite statue of the civil rights hero and a wall inscribed with excerpts from his famous speeches (W. Basin Dr. S.W.).

Farther south on the Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial commemorates the author of the Declaration of Independence (and the nation's third president) with a towering statue in a rounded neoclassical structure, along the lines of the Pantheon in Rome (Ohio Dr., between the Tidal Basin and Potomac River).

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See + Do

International Spy Museum, D.C.

800 F Street N.W.
Washington, D.C.
Tel: 202 393 7798
Website: www.spymuseum.org

The only facility dedicated to the study of international espionage, this museum has a permanent collection of artifacts and spy gadgets (such as a pistol disguised in a lipstick case that was used by the KGB). There also are rooms devoted to spy work during World War II, the spy-versus-spy world of the Cold War, and the dangers that we face today. Fittingly, the museum is near the FBI headquarters, just north of the National Mall.

Barking Crab Restaurant

See + Do

Freedom Trail, Massachussetts

Boston Common Visitor Center, 148 Tremont Street
Boston, Massachussetts 02111
Tel: 617 357 8300
Website: www.TheFreedomTrail.org

Winding around 16 historical sites, the two-and-a-half-mile Freedom Trail is a good introduction to Boston history—and also to the city's sometimes complicated geography. Pick up a map at the visitor's center on Tremont Street at the edge of Boston Common and walk along the red line on the ground (it's sometimes painted, sometimes lined in brick). While it's possible to walk the trail in an hour or two, leave time to stop along the way. You'll pass the graves of John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Ben Franklin's parents at the Granary Burying Ground; Boston's first meeting house, Faneuil Hall, which hosted debates about the Sugar Tax of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765—note the distinctive grasshopper weather vane on the top of the building, and don't miss the little-known military museum in the attic (4 South Market Building; 617-523-1300)—and the Paul Revere House. Dating to 1680, it's the oldest building still standing in downtown Boston, and a good example of Colonial-era architecture, though it's been used for so many purposes since Revere lived there (including, at one point, a cigar factory), and it really doesn't look much like it did then (19 North Sq.; 617-523-2338). As immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," two lanterns (as in "two if by sea") were hung in the belfry tower of the Old North Church to signal the landing of the British in 1775. It's a lovely building, though you cannot climb the tower (193 Salem St.; 671-523-6676). Launched in 1797, the U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the world that's still afloat. U.S. Navy sailors take you below deck to explain what life was like for early-19th-century seamen, and there's also a World War II destroyer, the U.S.S. Cassin Young, berthed nearby (1 Constitution Rd.; 617-242-7511). Both are free.—updated by Jon Marcus

Guided tours are available daily between April and mid-November. Specialty tours, such as a historic pub crawl, are held the rest of the year. Tickets can be purchased online.

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See + Do

deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Massachusetts

51 Sandy Pond Road
Lincoln, Massachusetts 01773
Tel: 781 259 8355
Website: www.decordova.org

More popular with locals than tourists, the deCordova is off the beaten track by virtue of its location, about 16 miles west of Boston, in the picturesque town of Lincoln. The experience is well worth renting a car for the day. Set in a converted mansion overlooking woods and a large lake, the museum focuses on contemporary art, much of it by New England artists. But the real fun here is the sculpture park: 35 acres of rolling hills and wooded areas, populated by about 80 contemporary sculptures. You (and any kids you happen to be toting) will enjoy the time outdoors while taking in a little culture, too. Don't miss Jim Dine's Two Big Black Hearts: two huge bronze hearts with the artist's handprints and various tools, such as hammers and garden clippers, cast into them. If renting a car isn't an option, you can access the museum by taking the MBTA commuter rail (Purple Line) from Boston's North Station to Lincoln and then a taxi (see the Web site for details). And since you're in the neighborhood, you might want to swing by nearby Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden.

Museum building open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 5 pm; sculpture park open daily from dawn to dusk.

See + Do

Cambridge, Harvard University, and MIT


Website: www.cambridge-usa.org

Billing itself as "Boston's Left Bank," Cambridge is an academic center, a technological corridor, and a vibrant, multicultural city located just across the Charles River from Boston. It's easily reachable on the T or by foot across one of the several bridges, and you'd do well to set aside an entire day to explore it properly. In Harvard Square, street musicians compete for attention with socialists handing out literature. Purists complain that it's become too commercial and there are too many chain restaurants and shops (and it's true, you'll find the usual Gaps and Pizzeria Unos), but it's still a great place for strolling and people-watching with an ice cream cone from Herrell's (15 Dunster St.; 617-497-2179). South of Harvard along Mass. Ave. (only tourists call it Massachusetts Avenue), Central Square is a corridor of ethnic restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops with a funkier, edgier feel, such as the Middle East music venue and the1369 Coffee House (1369 Cambridge St. in Inman Square, 617-576-1369, and 757 Mass. Ave. in Central Square, 617-576-4600,). At Harvard University, get your bearings at Harvard Information Center, located in the Holyoke Center arcade (1350 Mass. Ave.; 617-495-1573), then walk around Harvard Yard to admire the centuries-old academic and residential buildings. There are three art museums to choose from: American and European works at the Fogg (32 Quincy St.; 617-495-9400), art from German-speaking countries of northern and central Europe at the Busch-Reisinger Museum (32 Quincy St.; 617-495-9400), and Asian, Islamic, and Indian art at the Sackler (485 Broadway; 617-495-9400). Even non–science types will be impressed by the Harvard Museum of Natural History, home to the intricate Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, commonly known as "the glass flowers." It includes more than 830 species that were created as early as 1886 for botany students to study (26 Oxford St.; 617-495-3045). Across the street from Harvard Yard, the Sanders Theatre presents concerts (from folk to classical music) and public lectures. First used in 1876, this all-wooden space evokes old English academia, and is prized for its acoustics (45 Quincy St.; 617-496-2222). Farther downriver, MIT has a museum, too, which details some of the technological breakthroughs and geeky pranks of that university's rich history (265 Mass. Ave.; 617-253-5927); some cutting-edge architecture to admire, by the likes of Frank Gehry (the Ray and Maria Stata Center on Vassar Street); and world-class art by Pablo Picasso, Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder, and others. Pick up a guide, or arrange a guided tour, at the List Visual Arts Center (20 Ames St., Building E15; 617-253-4680).—updated by Jon Marcus

See + Do

Boston Red Sox / Fenway Park, Massachusetts

4 Yawkey Way, Kenmore Square
Boston, Massachusetts 02215
Tel: 877 733 7699 (toll-free), Tel: 617 226 6000
Website: www.redsox.com

Even Yankees fans have to admit that there's something special about seeing a ball game at Fenway Park. First opened in 1912, it's one of the smallest stadiums in the major leagues, and it's always packed (every game has been sold out since May 15, 2003) with fans eagerly awaiting a home-team hit over the Green Monster, the 37-foot-high left-field wall. (The seats on top of the Green Monster are particularly coveted.) Sellouts or not, you can still get face-value tickets on game day—300 are set aside for every game and are sold beginning two and a half hours before the first pitch at the little-noticed Gate C ticket window on Lansdowne Street. Or you could pay a huge surcharge to one of the ticket brokers with storefronts in the neighborhood. If you still can't score seats for love or money (or because the Yankees are in town), you can take a guided tour of the ballpark, including the press box, the dugout, the graffiti left by players inside the Green Monster, and the exact spot (Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21) where Ted Williams' record home run touched down. The whole Fenway experience is steeped in tradition, from the manual scoreboard to the organ to the Boston-accented hecklers. Grab a sausage-and-pepper sandwich outside the park before or after. Remember, Massachusetts liquor laws are strict: Beer vendors do not wander the stands, so you'll have to buy your overpriced beer at the beer stands underneath the seats. And bring ID, even if you haven't needed it in years.—updated by Jon Marcus

See + Do

World Trade Center Site/Ground Zero, New York

Bordered by Church, Barclay, Liberty, and West Streets
New York City, New York 10048
Website: www.tributewtc.org

The devastating events of September 11, 2001, are still painfully fresh memories to all New Yorkers. The 16-acre site that once held the World Trade Center is now a vast construction site, where the new tower complex and memorial is taking shape and projected for completion in 2013. A Tribute Center opened in September 2006 as a gallery and information center. Guides affiliated with the Tribute Center also offer tours of the perimeter of the Trade Center site, interweaving narratives of the events of September 11 with personal accounts of that day (120 Liberty St.; 212-393-9160).

See + Do

Theater in New York City, New York

New York City, New York

For many people, the quintessential New York City experience is going to the theater. Despite (justified) complaints that today's offerings have become too middlebrow and overly focused on Hollywood stars, no city in the world has a scene as accomplished and varied as that of New York. There are stagings all over town, but the Theater District around Times Square is where you can expect to find most of the long-playing musicals. The Broadway Ticket Center is one-stop shopping for all Broadway and several Off-Broadway productions. You can book both that day's performances and future dates for just a few dollars more than the box office price, subject to availability.

The choice is reduced but the prices are lower—generally half-price—at the TKTS booths. The Times Square booth in a glorious red glass structure on 47th Street and Broadway opens at 3 pm for evening performances, 10 am for matinees on Wednesday and Saturday, and 11 am for Sunday matinees. Tickets are for that day's performance only; available shows are listed on the board. The downtown booth at South Street Seaport is open from 11 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday, 11 am to 7 pm on Saturday, and 11 am to 4 pm on Sunday; matinee tickets are available the day before.

For more consistently highbrow fare (often Shakespeare), aficionados head to the 50-year-old Public Theater in the East Village, where alumni Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline once trod the boards. The same organization puts on the sell-out (and free) Shakespeare in the Park performances during summer months.

Note that most Broadway theaters are dark on Mondays; many Tuesday and Sunday evening performances start an hour earlier, at 7 pm.

See + Do

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side
New York City, New York 10028
Tel: 212 535 7710
Website: www.metmuseum.org

Philippe de Montebello, who was the director of this epic museum for 31 years, once said that you can tour its highlights in an hour if you look selectively and walk very fast. Not to argue with the man, but we're not sure we believe it. You could spend weeks here admiring the collections. Among the highlights: a European painting gallery packed with masterpieces (Rembrandt, Giotto, Caravaggio, Raphael, Goya, El Greco, Turner, Vermeer, Degas, Renoir, and Cézanne are all represented); a trove of Egyptian art and artifacts, including the showstopping reconstructed Temple of Dendur; an impressive selection of Greek and Roman statuary; American paintings and sculpture from colonial times through the present day; and prehistoric artifacts from all over the globe. Our suggestion is to pick two or three small sections you'd like to see, and then return another day for a few more. Or browse some of the less-appreciated and less crowded—but no less stunning—collections, such as the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, or the smallish but exquisite galleries of Modern Art. The museum's Costume Institute displays portions of its extensive collection of clothing from around the world in themed exhibits twice a year. Also make time to sit and people-watch in the common areas, such as the space by the American Wing Café, overlooking a fountain—you'll rarely hear as many languages spoken in one place. And if you're looking to actually meet one of those people, let us suggest the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden (closed in winter), accessed by the southwest elevators on the first floor. It has amazing views of Central Park, hosts sculpture exhibits, and serves up simple drinks such as beer and wine. The Met is pretty much always buzzing, but the crowds thin on Friday and Saturday nights, when the museum stays open until 9:00 p.m.; members can get into some exhibits half an hour before they open to the public in the mornings.

Closed most Mondays.

See + Do

Greenwich Village/West Village, New York

New York City, New York

The West Village extends from Houston to 14th streets and from the Hudson River to Broadway, where the East Village unofficially begins. Farmland in colonial times, it's now home to some of the most beautiful streets in the city: leafy, sometimes cobbled lanes dotted with 18th- and 19th-century brownstones and outdoor cafés. Poets, artists, writers, and anyone with an alternative lifestyle has long been drawn here. The gay community that used to make its headquarters along Christopher Street has mostly moved to Chelsea with the artists, but still takes to the Village streets for Gay Pride Day the last Sunday of June and for the nation's largest Halloween parade. Bleecker Street, which cuts a diagonal swath through the village from Hudson Street to Sixth Avenue, has become the epicenter of interest for visitors, thanks in part to landmarks such as Magnolia Bakery and a micro-neighborhood of swanky boutiques. Escalating real-estate prices mean many of the original pioneers have been replaced by high-income families and NYU college students, and national chains have replaced a number of the small, independently owned shops that used to give the area much of its character. But it's still easily the most charming neighborhood in Manhattan.

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See + Do

Central Park, New York

New York City, New York
Website: www.centralparknyc.org

New York City without the park is a dismal thought. Created by visionary landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the mid-1800s, the 843-acre park stands as the calming yang to the city's fervent go-go yin, with ample nooks and open fields to allow for just about any pursuit. (Did you catch that guy playing violin on a unicycle?) Its boundaries run from 59th St. north to 110th St. and from Fifth Ave. on the east side to Central Park West. There are simply too many attractions to list: First-timers might pick a section and wander-go-lucky, or hunt down specific sights. A good option is to begin from the southeast corner at 59th St. and Fifth Ave., near the iconic, newly revamped Plaza Hotel, and head diagonally northwest—you'll likely pass the Zoo (sorry—the Wildlife Center); the Sheep Meadow, a 15-acre field that serves as a prime summer tanning and pickup spot; the area near the volleyball nets where a faithful set of characters roller-skate to old disco tunes every weekend; and then arrive at the Bethesda Terrace, where two sets of stately stairs lead down to the Angel of the Waters Fountain and its lake. The area is the most picturesque spot in the park. The Loeb Boathouse, on the east side near 72nd St., is where New Yorkers come to have brunch and watch boaters; if they're feeling romantic (and energetic), they might even rent a boat themselves (212-517-2233; www.thecentralparkboathouse.com). If you find yourself in the northern tier, stroll through the Conservatory Gardens on the east side at 105th St.. The cheapest thrill in all of Manhattan is the Carousel at 64th Street—$1.50! The north end of the park, past the Reservoir, feels wilder and more remote, with trails that lead into the woods and past streams—you won't even feel like you're in New York. Always, you'll find characters, musicians, and a spot to be left alone—heaven in the city.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.