Philadelphia in the fall

New York may be the greatest city in the world, but sometimes it’s also the greatest city to take a break from. Fortunately, thanks to easy train, plane, and road options, it’s easy to zip off to East Coast cities that are just a weekend jaunt away. Here are three that will inspire, indulge, and delight travelers over a fall holiday. 

Alexandria, Virginia

In a historic small city like Alexandria, it’s easy to feel warmly welcomed, no matter the season. But fall is especially lovely, with shady lanes giving way to cozy cafés, enticing boutiques, and plenty of seasonal events and activities

Even better, this getaway is an easy train trip from NYC into Washington D.C.. From here, you can take a 20-minute taxi ride to Alexandria for about $20. If you’re tempted to check out the nation’s capital, Alexandria’s waterfront links to D.C.’s Wharf Water Taxi, and you can take 20-minute cruise to the District Wharf or Georgetown for $10.

But, why leave, especially when Alexandria is happy to share everything from “concept” eggrolls to a bustling waterfront arts collective with you? The epicenter of quaintness is Old Town’s King Street. At one end is the towering George Washington Masonic National Monument (George’s Mount Vernon home is a half-hour drive south). On the Waterfront Park end, see what local makers are creating at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, or grab dinner and a beer at Virtue Feed & Grain, which is housed in a converted warehouse.

In between, find sweet spots like The Hour, which sells sparkly new and antique cocktail accessories; Blüprint Chocolatiers, makers of Virginia’s most original homemade sweets; Threadleaf, a contemporary clothing boutique; and Hooray for Books!, which sells games and toys and hosts literary events. Then, head to Meggrolls for mondo eggrolls like you’ve never known, with fillings like Buffalo wing, chicken parm, and lamb gyro.

Travelers thirsty for history shouldn’t miss Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, where the first five presidents were regulars. In their day, hangover cures surely awaited at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary — now a museum that’s wholly trapped the 1805 pharmacy in time. Today it’s a fascinating reliquary to potions and medical equipment from 214 years ago. Like much of Alexandria, the old-world ways are key to the city’s present-day charms. 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

From New York, slipping off to Philadelphia can feel as easy as commuting to a sixth borough. Yet it’s far enough away to appreciate a slower pace and affordability. By train from Penn Station, expect to hit Philly’s 30th Street Amtrak Station in 90 minutes; driving or one of the many bus options clocks in at a two-hour ride.

The city tempts weekenders with year-round hotel deals booked through VisitPhilly.com, which brings the bonus of free hotel parking, a Philly PHLASH shuttle pass, free tickets to attractions like the National Constitution Center, and restaurant gift cards. (The perks change seasonally.) Other discounts await with a CityPASS (the $52 pass is good for three attractions), and the Go Philadelphia Pass (price varies based on number of days and attractions).

Much of Philly’s best draws are anchored in its Center City and Washington Square West neighborhoods, both just a short walk to historic Independence Hall and other national heritage sites. Art lovers will want to pre-buy tickets to view the marvelous (and rather compact) Barnes Foundation, a museum near Logan Square. A short walk away, the Rodin Museum showcases the sculptor’s great works, while the regal Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the country’s best fine-art institutions.

For dining, a cheesesteak is mandatory, so head to Sonny’s Famous Steaks in Old City for a perfectly built sandwich (Cheez Whiz is optional, and a veggie version is available). Broaden your senses with a turn at historic Reading Terminal Market (pronounced “Redding”) near City Hall, where you’ll find some of Philly’s favorite proprietors serving everything from Cajun gumbo to Chinese dumplings to fresh-shucked oysters. 

Provincetown, Massachusetts

If “serenity now” is a term you desperately need this autumn, make a break for Cape Cod’s tranquil northern point. Provincetown has long been the weekend getaway destination of choice for New Englanders who crave quiet coastal quality time. New Yorkers make it to P-town for getaways year-round too, drawn to the magic combination of low traffic, low noise, and high-quality seafood. 

The drive from NYC is just shy of 300 miles, so the Amtrak train to Boston is a low-stress option. From Boston, car rentals are favored for the dreamy three-hour drive up Cape Cod; though the Provincetown Fast Ferry is just 90 minutes, and now runs from May through early December.

P-town has long been a haven for artists, so don’t miss the impressive exhibits at the century-old Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Galleries galore line Commercial Street, each with its special niche subject matter where you can appreciate intimate works from local artists, or worldly depictions from international artists. 

Theater and film are a big draw here, so check the calendars for the non-profit Waters Edge Cinema, which hosts first-run films, and special screenings including the Provincetown International Film Festival each June. Or, support live performance with a show at the famous Provincetown Theater.

Because P-town also is a famous LGBTQ destination, expect to find plenty of queer culture and nightlife. There are theme weeks throughout the year, so look up Provincetown’s events calendar for flamboyant, sporty, and sometimes ribald festivals and events. 

Just be sure to plan ahead for your stay, since many of the inns are small-scale, and in winter may close for extended periods. Likewise for restaurants, though winter is always prime season for New England lobster, oysters, and other great seafood — for some, the most tempting travel draw of all. 

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