Between the two of us, we’ve traversed the Northeast coast of the US more times than we can possibly count. Though New England gets all the glory when it comes to roadtrip-worthy autumn leaf peeping, we recommend a different route: New York to Philadelphia to DC.
Amtrak is probably the easiest option, but unfortunately not the cheapest. Instead, we recommend Bolt Bus for the New York to Philadelphia leg of your trip. One-way tickets start as low as €9 and bonus? Free Wi-Fi. The New York stop is right near Penn Station, and though it’s our least favourite neighbourhood in Manhattan, its central location can’t be beat. Book your ticket to Philadelphia JFK & N. 30th St., as it’s a much easier starting point for exploring Philadelphia.
Bolt Bus offers service to DC from New York, but they unfortunately don’t have that option if leaving from Philly. Instead, travel from Philadelphia to Washington, DC with New Century Travel. It’s less glamorous than Bolt Bus, but prices are comparable (one-way starting at €8), and it’s quick, painless, and definitely your best option for heading to the nation’s capital.
Arrive early on your first day, and immediately make HopStop your best friend. Once you’ve mapped your route, head to Union Square/Flatiron. Take a stroll through Madison Square Park, check out the iconic Flatiron Building, and grab breakfast. Murray’s Bagels has some of the best bagels in Manhattan, but the pretzel croissants at City Bakery are the true key to this neighbourhood.
If you’re lucky, your post-breakfast walk through Union Square will coincide with the Union Square Greenmarket. Grab a bite to eat or take some time to people watch before heading to Eataly. Once there, wander through the aisles, gelato in hand, or take the elevator up to the 15th floor to the Birreria.
From the Union Square subway station, take the Q to the 5th Avenue stop at 59th and 5th—right at the base of Central Park. Walk around the park and up to the Reservoir (watch out for joggers!) or perch yourself on one of the giant rocks overlooking the park. If a walking tour is more your style, try the Central Park & Movie TV Sites tour offered by On Location Tours for a different view.
After your grand tour of Central Park is complete, head to the 85th and Park Avenue exit near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Little known secret? The €20 admission fee is only a recommended donation. You can give as little or as much as you want—we like to give about €5 per person. Just don’t tell them we told you.
Cap off your day at Earl’s Beer & Cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches that are to DIE for, a taco that can’t be real, or any of their craft beers on tap.
Once you’ve eaten yourself into a proper beer & cheese coma, travel to Top of the Rock. Tickets start around €19, and late at night is our favourite time to go. Main reasons we prefer the view from Top of the Rock? You get to take in the cityscape with the Empire State Building in view—a perk you don’t get standing on their own observation deck.
The next morning, get another early start to your day, and hit up the Lenny’s on 33rd and 7th before boarding your bus to Philadelphia.
On a budget? See our Philadelphia hostels
Start your morning off walking along Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River, where you’ll catch a glimpse of the local rowing teams taking their boats out for their morning practices. You’ll end your walk at two of our favourite locations in the city, the Philadelphia Water Works and Museum of Art. If your walk hasn’t tuckered you out, try running up the steps, a la Rocky.
For a quick lunch, grab a snack at the famous Reading Terminal Market, and then make your way along the high-end shops on Walnut Street to Rittenhouse Square. We like to picnic here and pretend we have enough money to live in the neighbourhood (…we don’t).
You can’t mention Philadelphia without weighing in on the famous Pat’s versus Geno’s cheesesteak debate. Their locations, situated directly next to each other, make it easy for the visiting traveler to sample both at once. If long lines aren’t you thing, we recommend walking a few short blocks to Jim’s on South Street, where the wait is shorter and the cheesesteaks just as delicious.
Upon arrival, make your way to the National Mall to take in the Capitol and the surrounding monuments. Though a night tour of this area is popular, we recommend an early morning walk around the Tidal Basin. Don’t miss the new Martin Luther King, Jr. monument, but our favorite is the FDR Memorial.
From here, head to one of the many museums the Smithsonian has to offer. We’re partial to the Newseum, but don’t love the price associated with the ticket. There are plenty of free options, and our favorites include the National Portrait Gallery and the National Air & Space Museum. Another favourite? The well-priced and delicious food court in the National Museum of the American Indian.
Once you’ve had your cultural fill for the day, head to Eastern Market to explore the flea market—and don’t miss the crabcakes!
We can’t visit DC without walking along M Street in Georgetown. We recommend window shopping along the trail of high end shops and then stopping for a snack at Georgetown Cupcake. On your walk back, take a stroll along the historic C & O Canal.
Hop on the metro in Dupont Circle, and finish the day off at The National Zoo (open year round and admission is free)! After visiting with the pandas, take the short walk along Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue and end your tour at the National Cathedral.
Author bio: The Lazy Travelers are two best friends who have survived driving across Ireland without a valid license, sleeping on a sailboat in St. Thomas, singing along with drunken expats in a Parisian piano bar, food poisoning in Egypt, and many poorly packed last minute getaways. Together, they aim to encourage others to travel by any means necessary—be it across an ocean or in their own backyard.
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Top images c. Lazy Travelers. Thanks to HBarrison, Le’Moine Photography, Rhys Asplundh for the images off Flickr. Please note, all images were held under the Creative Commons licence at the time of publication.