When it comes to getting away from Atlanta by train, only one option exists: Amtrak's Crescent Train. The Crescent is the only passenger rail train serving the city that runs to destinations beyond the metro area. With New York City at one end of the line, New Orleans at the other and many stops in between, travelers have plenty of destination options. But if you have only a weekend, it's best to save the Big Apple and the Big Easy for another trip and consider options closer to Atlanta, unless you want to spend most of your short getaway in transit.
Baseball, Craft Beer and More in Birmingham
The first major city west of Atlanta on the Crescent is Birmingham, Alabama. The Birmingham you may imagine from old newsreel footage of the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s is long gone. In the 21st century, it's become an unlikely hot spot for tourism. For those arriving by train, some notable spots are within easy walking distance to the Amtrak station. Stroll through Railroad Park, take in a minor league baseball game of the Birmingham Barons at Regions Field and hoist a pint of locally brewed beer while listening to live music at Good People Brewery. All of these places are within a stone's throw of each other near the station. For accommodations, plenty of chain properties are close by, around the University of Alabama-Birmingham campus. The Hotel Highland is a boutique property in the hip Five Points South neighborhood about a mile and a half away.
Main Street Bliss in Greenville
What Birmingham is to the west, Greenville, South Carolina, is to the east along the Crescent's route -- a city with a downtown once dying on the vine now infused with new life and vigor. Tourists were once steered away from downtown; now they come in droves. It all has to do with the revitalization efforts begun by visionary city leaders in the 1970s. In May 2012, those efforts earned Greenville a spot on "Travel + Leisure's" list of "America's Greatest Main Streets." Tree-lined Main Street is filled with shops, restaurants, clubs, a few hotels and often plays host to special events in its sidewalk plazas, including free music concerts. The street crosses over Falls Park on the Reedy, Greenville's major public green space containing Reedy Falls, a don't-miss spot while in town, especially for a picnic lunch or an early evening stroll.
Small Town Getaway in Toccoa
If an old-fashioned, Mayberry-style small town getaway piques your interest, head to the Blue Ridge foothills town of Toccoa, Georgia. It's the second stop from Atlanta heading northeast on the Crescent. Adding to the old-fashioned vibe, Toccoa is a flag stop station, meaning the train doesn't stop there unless someone has purchased a ticket. The station is a couple of blocks away from the Simmons-Bond Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in a historic home across from the courthouse square in the heart of town. A couple of miles north of the inn, Toccoa Falls, on the grounds of Toccoa Falls College, is one of Georgia's more spectacular waterfalls, plunging 186 feet over a cliff and said to be one of the highest plunge falls east of the Mississippi.
Big City Family Trip to Charlotte
Charlotte isn't a vacation destination that Atlantans usually consider, perhaps because this large metropolitan area is very similar to where they live. But for families with younger children, a train-based getaway to this North Carolina city might be just the ticket. Charlotte also has something that Atlanta doesn't have: the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which Atlanta lobbied hard for but lost out to the Queen City. Other major attractions are Discovery Place -- a science museum with an IMAX theater -- and Carowinds, a large amusement park with plenty of thrill rides. Charlotte's Amtrak station is outside the downtown area, so you'll need to rent a car or rely on taxis and the city's public transit system for getting around.