Sometimes you just feel like getting away without doing the driving yourself. The solution? A day trip on an Amtrak train. You get to ride the rails like they did in the olden days and arrive in a new city in a few hours. Hop back on the train, and you’re back home in no time. Make it an overnight trip if you want a little more time to explore your destination.
Trade in one city for another with a day trip via Amtrak to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With seven round trips daily on Monday through Saturday and six round trips on Sunday, the Hiawatha train gives you plenty of options in terms of when you leave, how long you stay and when you return. The trip takes only about 90 minutes one way, so you can easily make it there and back in a day with time to check out the highlights of the area.
Hop off at the Intermodal Station in downtown Milwaukee to start your day trip adventure. You really don’t need to leave the downtown area to fill your day full of shopping, dining and culture. And really, what else do you need? The Milwaukee Trolley Loop is an effortless way to move around the area. The trolley features 14 stops, dropping you off near major attractions for easy access.
The Milwaukee RiverWalk lets you get a feel for the downtown area while enjoying beautiful views of the Milwaukee River. The two-mile trek includes several sculptures along the way to beautify the journey. Stop by one of the many restaurants and brewpubs along the route to fuel up for the rest of your day trip. You’ll also find several shops along the way.
Other Milwaukee attractions are easily accessible in this area. Some of the highlights include:
- Harley-Davidson Museum: If you’re a fan of the Harley, make a stop at this downtown museum. Explore the history of the brand through an array of exhibits, including motorcycles from 1903 to the present. Check out the many interactive displays, including the Experience Gallery, where you can actually sit on motorcycles.
- Milwaukee Art Museum: If you prefer art over Harleys, head to the Milwaukee Art Museum. With 30,000 pieces in the collection, the museum offers something for every guest. The collection includes ancient works to present day artists. Be sure to show up at nine or noon, when the roof opens like a bird.
- Historic Third Ward: Just south of downtown, the Historic Third Ward area is a popular stop. What once was a warehouse district is now a trendy part of town known as the Arts and Fashion District. Wander through galleries and boutiques, take in a show at one of the theaters, treat yourself to a spa day or dine at one of many restaurants.
- Milwaukee Public Museum: Explore this world-renowned natural and human history museum on your next trip to Milwaukee. You may not make it through all three floors if you have other items on your agenda for your day trip, but even seeing part of the museum is a treat.
- Milwaukee Food and City Tours: See a large chunk of the city while indulging in some of Milwaukee’s best food on a bus tour. Discover some hidden culinary gems while experiencing the culture and architecture of the city.
- North Point Lighthouse Museum: Learn more about the North Point Lighthouse and Milwaukee’s maritime history at this museum.
- Brewery and Pub Tours: Milwaukee offers several brewery tours and tastings to let you explore the beer culture of the city. Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery is one option. Lakefront Brewery is another popular tour option. Since you’re taking the train home, you can enjoy a few extra rounds.
Taking the Wolverine Service or Blue Water train out of Chicago gives you many stop options, including Kalamazoo. Daily service along these routes means you can make it to Kalamazoo and back easily. The name may sound funny, but Kalamazoo has a hip, progressive vibe, particularly in the downtown area.
You’ll find plenty to do on your day trip to Kalamazoo. Some options include:
- Kalamazoo Valley Museum: History, technology and science highlight the interactive exhibits at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. See more than 50,000 artifacts, including an Egyptian mummy. Check out presentations in the planetarium.
- Air Zoo: Even if you’re not interested in aircraft, Air Zoo is a fun stop with plenty to enjoy. The museum features several old and rare aircrafts, but it also mixes in an amusement-style environment with flight simulators, a RealD 3D theater and rides reminiscent of an amusement park.
- Gilmore Car Museum: If you prefer to stay grounded, add the Gilmore Car Museum to your Kalamazoo itinerary. The museum started as one man’s private collection of vintage vehicles. After buying 90 acres of land, he turned his collection into a museum. It’s the largest North American auto museum.
- Binder Park Zoo: It may not be a huge zoo, but Binder Park Zoo lets you see a variety of animals in a natural setting. Plus, the small size makes it easy to tackle on a quick day trip.
New Buffalo, Michigan
The Wolverine Service and Blue Water trains both make stops in New Buffalo, a small town with plenty of recreation options. The city lies along the shores of Lake Michigan, making it an ideal spot to relax on a day away from Chicago.
Here are some entertainment options while in New Buffalo:
- New Buffalo City Beach: Enjoy a relaxing day at the beach. The water is often chilly, but you can still take a dip if you want.
- Third Coast Surf Shop: If you’d rather stay on top of the water, head to Third Coast Surf Shop. There, you can rent a kayak or a paddleboard to explore Lake Michigan.
- Shopping: When you’ve had enough of the lake, wander around town to enjoy the numerous boutiques. You’ll also find a selection of restaurants where you can refuel.
- Four Winds Casino: If you prefer indoor activities, test your luck at the Four Winds Casino. The casino features slots and table games. Dining options include a Hard Rock Café, a buffet and a steakhouse among others.
You don’t have to leave the state to have a fun Amtrak day trip. Hop on the Saluki or Illini lines to get to Champaign, Illinois. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is located in this area. In addition to exploring the campus, you can find several entertainment options linked to the college.
A day in Champaign may include activities such as:
- Krannert Art Museum: Located on the University of Illinois campus, the Krannert Art Museum claims the title of second largest general fine art museum in Illinois. The museum features pieces from around the world ranging from ancient to contemporary, giving you a well-rounded art experience.
- Giertz Gallery at Parkland College: The area boasts another art museum opt, this time in Urbana. While small, it hosts a variety of exhibits that are worth your time.
- Crystal Lake Park: If you want to spend the day relaxing and enjoying nature, head to Crystal Lake Park. The lake is a wonderful place for fishing or water sports. Playgrounds keep kids busy, and trails let you burn energy while you explore nature. You can also stop by the Anita Purves Nature Center for a fun and educational experience.
- Orpheum Children’s Science Museum: For families, the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum is an ideal stop. Themed play areas include castles, tugboats and an animal clinic.
- William M. Staerkel Planetarium: Second only to Adler Planetarium in terms of size in Illinois, the William M. Staerkel Planetarium on the Parkland College campus in Champaign offers up a fun and educational experience. Attend one of the science programs or a light show at the planetarium.
If you’re starting somewhere else and taking a trip to Chicago, you’re in luck. The city has many great places to stop during a quick day trip. It’s impossible to fit even a fraction of Chicago’s best attractions into a day trip, but you can get a taste of the city. Easy public transportation options get you from the train station to the stops on your one-day Chicago itinerary.
Consider these options:
- Hop On, Hop Off Bus: Get the lay of the land via the Hop On, Hop Off bus. The bus travels a large loop to hit major Chicago attractions. See more of the city, and hop off when you want to explore something even more. The numerous stops make it easy to get from one point to another, saving you time over walking.
- Boat tours: Another way to see lots of Chicago architecture at once is on a boat tour. Many of the tours depart from Navy Pier with various options. The cruises are generally less than two hours, so you’ll have plenty of time to visit other Chicago landmarks.
- 360 Chicago or Skydeck: Check out the city from above at one of two viewing options. The John Hancock Building features 360 Chicago, while the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, hosts Skydeck. Both options offer a unique view of the city.
- Millennium Park: Taking a picture by the Bean, officially known as Cloud Gate, is a must in Chicago. Millennium Park is a spacious park in the Loop area of the city. Check out the fountain, take in a show or simply enjoy the park atmosphere.
- Museum Campus: If you’re interested in culture, head to the Museum Campus. You’ll find several museums in the area, making it easy to walk between them. If you’re only staying in Chicago for a day, you won’t have time to visit them all. In fact, you may not make it all the way through one of the museums.
If you want a quick tour through more than one, the Museum Campus is a good option. The main options in the area are the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. Soldier Field is also in the area if you’re a Bears fan. While not included in the Museum Campus, another popular Chicago option is the Museum of Science and Industry.
- Art Institute of Chicago: For art lovers, a stop at the Art Institute of Chicago is a must. The museum features over 300,000 pieces in its permanent collection. You may not have time to see them all, but spending a few hours browsing the collection is worth it.
- Lincoln Park Zoo: The Lincoln Park Zoo is a classic Chicago stop. It’s free to enter the zoo, which features animals displayed in a park-like setting.
Tips for Amtrak Day Trips
Ready to ride the rails to a fun destination? Amtrak is an awesome way to get out of town, but make sure you plan ahead to make the trip run smoothly. Here are some tips to make it happen:
- Check the routes: Many of the train lines run daily routes, often with multiple trains running the route. This gives you some flexibility in your schedule. However, it’s important to make sure you can catch a train heading back to Chicago the same day while giving yourself enough time to explore your destination city. Check the routes and schedules.
- Plan your time: When you’re only visiting a city for the day, you need to make good use of your time. Scope out the options for attractions, as well as transportation within the city. Have an idea of where you’re going and how much time you plan to spend at each stop. While some vacations are laid back, an Amtrak day trip is not a time to leisurely move through your day. If you miss the return train, you’re out of luck.
- Pack lightly: It’s tempting to pack everything you might need, but you don’t want to overpack for a day trip. Pack only the essentials based on where you’re going and what you plan to do while you’re there. You don’t want to lug a heavy bag the entire day.
- Dress comfortably: Without your own vehicle to drive everywhere, you’ll spend a lot of time walking. Dress in clothes that keep you comfortable and allow you to walk easily. Supportive, comfortable shoes are important if you’re planning to do a lot of walking.
Check the weather for the day of the trip to ensure your attire matches the forecast. You may need to bring layers, so you can adjust what you’re wearing when the temperature changes.
- Eat locally: When you’re visiting a new place, eating at a locally-owned establishment gives you a unique experience. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from locals once you arrive.
- Use GPS: Check out a map of the area before your trip, so you know where you’re going, but having GPS available once you arrive is also important. Use a GPS navigation program on your phone to find attractions in your destination. The GPS will come in handy if you end up getting lost.
- Choose nearby attractions and restaurants: If you have a must-do activity on the itinerary, plan your other activities and stops nearby. You don’t have a lot of time to waste getting from one side of the city to the other. By sticking to a core area, you’re able to cover more ground.
- Head back to the train early: It’s tempting to fit in as much as possible, but don’t risk missing your ride by waiting too long to head back to the train station. You may run into traffic or other issues that make the trek longer than expected.
- Extend your trip: You may find it tough to squeeze in everything you want to do in one day. Consider turning your one-day Amtrak adventure into an overnight trip. You’ll have more time to see the sights and try out the local restaurants.
Where will you go on your next Amtrak day trip to or from Chicago? Wherever your travels take you, Giordano’s is ready to serve you a piping hot pie to keep you fueled.