The Our State Guide to NC By Train Black-and-white photos from the 1930s reveal just how swanky train travel could be — passengers dressed to the nines, dining on fine
The Our State Guide to NC By Train
Black-and-white photos from the 1930s reveal just how swanky train travel could be — passengers dressed to the nines, dining on fine china, and playing cards while the countryside whizzed by. Almost a century later, we still think it’s a pretty romantic way to travel. These days, comfort and ease is the name of the game, as passengers zip past new scenery in plush, spacious seating. Whether they’re using the train’s Wi-Fi to catch up on work, reading a book, or reconnecting with friends and family, a sense of adventure abounds. Best of all, there’s no traffic to contend with — and you can even bring your bike on board.
In this series, we’ll share ideas to get you excited about jumping on a train to explore the state! Find out where to go, what to do, and what to eat in downtowns across North Carolina — all within walking distance of the train station. This month, we’re heading to downtown Greensboro.
Emerging from the pedestrian tunnel at Greensboro’s historic 1927 J. Douglas Galyon Depot feels like traveling back in time. Sunlight pours in through grand, clerestory windows and illuminates a mural of the 1920s Southern Railway network. Travelers await their trains from mahogany pews that give the soaring space a reverential feel. Walking under the main entrance, defined by its Beaux-Arts-style, two-story glass arch, you get the feeling that today, anything is possible. After all, you’ve arrived by train to “Gate City,” North Carolina, nicknamed in the 1940s when more than 40 passenger trains passed through the station each day.
From its home on East Washington Street, Greensboro’s depot is in the heart of downtown, a short walk to more food, entertainment, and cultural destinations than you could possibly experience with just one day. The best way to begin? A quick walk — and lunch.
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Three blocks up Washington Street and a right on South Elm, Crafted The Art of the Taco is a far cry from your typical taco joint. This locals’ favorite serves gourmet tacos with flavors that surprise and delight. Try the Fixie, brimming with braised beef, grilled pineapple, spicy sweet chili sauce, coconut aioli, cilantro, and scallions. Or the Honky Tonk with buttermilk brined fried chicken, herb ranch, and pickles. On the lighter side, their house salad — mixed greens, kimchi, mandarin oranges, guacamole, and cotija cheese — with a side of chips and dips will prepare you for an afternoon of exploring the best of Greensboro’s downtown.
Just one block up Elm, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum gives its visitors an opportunity to learn about the city’s Black history, all while touring an iconic civil rights landmark. On Feb. 1, 1960, four NC A&T students dared to sit at the Woolworth’s whites-only lunch counter, bravely challenging racial inequality. Today, that same lunch counter has been restored into an exhibit that celebrates their bold efforts.
For the full experience, plan to spend two hours exploring the museum. Their Seated Tour and Walkthrough, which starts at 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. most days, includes a presentation and staff-guided tour in the museum’s auditorium followed by a walk-through of the gallery spaces. While not required, reservations are encouraged.
Today may be a family adventure, but this park lives up to its mission to be “a park for all people.” LeBauer features ping-pong tables just waiting for a pick-up game, a rock-climbing wall, grassy hills for toddlers to scale, and a splash pad in the summer.
While your kids play, sneak over to the park’s open field and enjoy a moment of quiet under the Where We Met sculpture by artist Janet Echelman. Composed of 35 miles of technical fibers crafted into 242,800 knots, the wispy, mesh-like artwork sways 60 feet overhead. The lines of Echelman’s sculpture were inspired by Greensboro’s “Gate City” nickname — specifically, she says, by the six railroad lines that intersected here. “The routes brought together people from diverse cultures and races, so I wove together lines of brilliant color that meet at the center,” Echelman says.
Now it’s time for a little pre-planning. Duck into Cheesecakes by Alex (back on Elm Street), buy yourselves a treat, and tuck a second away in your bag. It’s almost impossible not to dive right into every one of their delectable deserts, but boy will you be happy on your train ride home. While this downtown mainstay is known for their cheesecakes, the layer cakes — like carrot, Triple Chocolate Threat, and strawberry red velvet — are moist and delicious, and their cupcakes, muffins, cookies, turnovers, and brownies satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth.
Right across Elm Street, the independent Scuppernong Books is a downtown can’t miss for bibliophiles. Not only is it beautiful and intimate, with hand-carved oak bookshelves lining the exposed brick walls, but it smells like fresh-drip coffee and you can peruse their selection while sipping a glass of wine from their on-tap (yes, on-tap wine!) selection. Maybe the best part: The owners love to listen while you ramble on about your favorite types of books, and they’re spot-on with their suggestions.
From its perch on the corner of Elm and McGee Street, Greensboro’s Just Be giftshop offers a carefully curated selection of clothing, accessories, jewelry, and housewares. Their tagline, “gifts with stories to tell,” describes not only their collection, but also the artists — like jewelry maker Stephanie Willis who is also a local social worker. There’s even a hand-illustrated black-and-white map of Hamburger Square, the intersection where Just Be sits, with a train chugging down the adjacent tracks. When you’re checking out, let them know your travel mode, and they’ll wrap your purchases for easy transit.
If you have any energy left, this is the place to burn it. From Just Be, make a right on Elm and pause, looking both ways before crossing over three sets of tracks to South Elm. A block later, tucked away at the end of Lewis Street, Boxcar Bar + Arcade features more than 50 arcade cabinets, 15 pinball machines, and 175 console games. Challenge your travel companion to a game of Rampage, or post up at the Star Wars pinball machine and throw your tokens away with reckless abandon.
Back at the station, pop into the coffee shop for a quick pick-me-up, and settle in while you wait for your ride home. In this new light, you’ll notice features you may have missed earlier — the polished terrazzo floors, a larger-than-life Southern Railway Map painted above the train entrance — all details that reinforce the station’s romance and sense of adventure. In a matter of minutes, you’ll be nestled in your plush seat with your feet up, a new good book, and a treat — your reward for a day spent in the Gate City.
More NC By Train Trips: First Stop, Durham Station