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Our Train Vacation – (Part 1) – Fun Family Vacations
Our Train Vacation – (Part 1)

Our Train Vacation – (Part 1)

Philadelphia to Chicago

Train Vacation Day 1: Amtrak Pennsylvanian going around Horseshoe Curve - Altoona, PA- Susquehanna River View
Train Vacation Day 1: Amtrak Pennsylvanian going around Horseshoe Curve – Altoona, PA

Our Train Vacation (Part 1) took us from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, PA to Pittsburgh, PA on Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian, followed by a trip on Amtrak’s Capital Limited to Chicago, IL.  Here’s a summary of our itinerary:


Day 1
:  Amtrak Pennsylvanian
from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh

We left Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station at lunchtime on a 7-hour ride to the other end of the great State of Pennsylvania.  We rode along the Susquehanna River for several miles; through the Pennsylvania Dutch Country; around the famous Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, PA; and arrived in Pittsburgh with 2-3 hours of daylight left!  We ate a quick dinner in the cafe car and played cards and games in the booth together.

Pittsburgh is a very pedestrian-friendly city so we took advantage of the daylight and tried to see everything that we could.  We checked our bags behind the Amtrak counter and took off on foot to see the Steel City.  The downtown area was nice and the waterfront area near Three River Stadium was really scenic and enjoyable.  3 rivers:  Allegheny, Ohio, & Monongahela.  Just before midnight, our overnight train to Chicago boarded for the next leg of the adventure.

Train Vacation Day 1: Amtrak Pennsylvanian going around Horseshoe Curve - Altoona, PA
Train Vacation Day 1: Amtrak Pennsylvanian going around Horseshoe Curve – Altoona, PA
Train Vacation: Day 1 - Pittsburgh River Walk
Train Vacation: Day 1 – Pittsburgh River Walk
Tips:  If the weather is nice, stroll along the river walk;  Hungry?: Try one of Pittsburgh’s famous Primanti Brothers’ sandwiches (fries & slaw served on top of your burger).

Day 2:  Amtrak Capital Limited from Pittsburgh, PA to Chicago, IL; Tour Chicago; Board Amtrak’s Empire Builder

Our overnight on the Capital Limited was in the coach section and while the seats recline and were fairly comfortable…we had some very noisy snoring passengers in our car.  In hindsight, I wish we had upgraded to a sleeper car.  We also had a 2-hour delay in Ohio with a disabled freight train on the rails ahead of us.  This would compress our Chicago sightseeing time.

The walk from Chicago’s Union Station to Willis Tower was an easy and fun 15-minute stroll.  Had we not lost a few hours with a late arrival, we would have taken a double-decker bus tour of the city that included stops along the waterfront and at the Navy Pier.  But given our compressed timeline, we chose to take in the view from the Willis Tower Sky Deck – and we loved it!

Amtrak’s Empire Builder was the highlight of our train vacation!  It’s legendary route, dining car, observation car, and sleeping cars made the journey itself part of the destination.  When we left Union Station, we had a nice full-course dinner in the dining car (an added benefit of upgrading to the sleeper cars!).  The Amtrak crew was great and welcomed us with champagne for the adults and sparkling cider for the kids – nice touch!

As we curled up in our beds and the rhythm of the rails put us to sleep, the train made its way through the Wisconsin Dells and St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota as we dozed off to a good night’s sleep.

Train Vacation: Day 2 - Chicago - Willis Tower
Train Vacation: Day 2 – Chicago – Willis Tower
Train Vacation: Day 2 - View of Chicago from Willis Tower
Train Vacation: Day 2 – View of Chicago from Willis Tower
Train Vacation: Day 2 - Amtrak Empire Builder Dining Car
Train Vacation: Day 2 – Amtrak Empire Builder Dining Car
Tips:  Try Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza.  There are plenty of locations in the city and even some good spots within Union Station.  If we had a bigger budget and more vacation time, I would have liked to add an overnight in Chicago to do some additional sightseeing.

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