Scenic Train Rides for Traveling Through Virginia

Old Town, Alexandria taken from the Wilson Bridge that crosses the Potomac River.

Photos by Coyle/Getty Images

Train travel is all about the journey. It’s a chance to relax, enjoy the view, meet fellow travelers, and savor in the experience of travel itself. Virginia offers an abundance of natural beauty: mountains, valleys, rivers, and countryside, all waiting to be absorbed at a leisurely pace by train. Prepare to sit back and enjoy the view on five of the most scenic train routes in Virginia.

Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Train

The Northeast Regional train is fast, efficient, and will take you through the heart of Virginia’s historic landscapes with daily routes from Alexandria to Newport News, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach.

While the Northeast Regional doesn’t have an observation or dining car, you’ll still enjoy comfortable seats, plenty of legroom, power outlets at the seats, complimentary Wi-Fi, and a café car to purchase snacks, salads, sandwiches, and beverages. Choose from Coach or Business Class, and there’s even the option of boarding the “quiet car” where cell phone use is prohibited.

Alexandria to Newport News

Hop on board at the Alexandria Station or Washington D.C.’s Union Station. The southern route of the Northeast Regional takes about four and a half hours from Washington to Newport News. You’ll follow the Potomac River near Quantico, travel amidst historic grounds, and end near the James River in Newport News. Along the way, step off the train to explore D.C.’s countryside in Prince William, visit historical sites in Fredericksburg, discover Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, and catch some beach time in Hampton, just minutes from Newport News. The scenery changes at every stop leaving you plenty of options to plan a rail tour of Virginia.

Alexandria to Roanoke

The Northeast Regional train has two routes, the second one traveling from Alexandria to Roanoke. You’ll travel away from the coast on this route to view scenic mountain towns. Consider detraining in Charlottesville and Roanoke to take in the beauty for a day or two.

If you appreciate a sunset trip, take the Northeast Regional from Alexandria to Roanoke. You’ll depart at 5:11 p.m. and arrive in Roanoke at 9:55 p.m.. Then on the return ride, get the same view but catch it in the early morning light when you depart Roanoke at 6:20 a.m. to arrive in Alexandria at 11:01 a.m.

Charlottesville is located in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you detrain in Charlottesville, take in the local scenery at the many parks, rivers, and lakes.

Roanoke is considered the great secret of the Northeast Regional train. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this charming town was built around the railroad. The Roanoke Station is centrally located and you’ll find an abundance of hiking opportunities on some of the best trails in the Northeast – and the highest point of the Appalachian Trail.

Tips for Riding the Northeast Regional

Book tickets in advance for the best rates. Children younger than 2 years old ride free; ages 2 through 12 ride for 50 percent. Seniors, Military Personnel and Families, and NARP Members save 10 percent on most train routes. Amtrak holds special promotions for discounted fares to/from Virginia stations occasionally. Use the promo code V552 when booking and receive 15% off with the “Virginia Anytime Fare.” Book tickets at Amtrak.com.

Buckingham Branch (James River Rambler)

The Buckingham Branch by the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society offers three seasonal train rides departing from Dillwyn, Virginia. In the spring, you’ll ride the James River Rambler.

On the James River Rambler, you’ll depart from the Dillwyn Station on a vintage diesel powered train for a journey through rolling hills, deep forests, and natural beauty in the heart of Central Virginia. It’s an open-air train that covers 16 miles in about three and a half hours down to the James River. The train consists of two restored passenger coaches and two modified open-air cars. There’s also a box car that’s been converted into a commissary. The open-air cars, M001 and M002, are pulpwood rail cars with no sides that were converted in the early 1990s. Metal cattle gates run along the side and seating includes benches that run down the middle of the car.

In addition to an enchanting and unique train ride, the scenery along the river is remarkable with forests, creek banks, and steep cliffs. As the train crosses the James River, the view from the bridge is thrilling.

The James River Rambler runs three times daily on three dates in the spring. Purchase tickets for the spring ride. Choose from a 90 minute train ride for $15, or a three-hour ride for $26 for adults; children’s tickets are $8 and $13.

Buckingham Branch (Autumn Leaf Rambler)

In the fall, hop aboard the Autumn Leaf Rambler that runs on three dates in October, at least twice daily. Depart the Dillwyn Station for a fall foliage tour on the open-air train through rolling hills, farmlands, and forests in Central Virginia. The spectacular view of the James River from the bridge is filled with color. Because the train route is rural, there is no internet access and cash is preferred for buying food and souvenirs.

The third ride provided by the Buckingham Branch by the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society is the Santa Train. On this 45-minute excursion, Santa travels through the train to greet the children.

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