I-95 (Philadelphia and New Castle, DE)

I-95

I’ve been driving up and down I-95 between Washington, DC and northern New Jersey since 2008. The 240 mile trip lasts about 5 hours with normal traffic, but at peak rush hour times and especially on Thanksgiving eve, the drive becomes intolerable. This is the most densely populated stretch of highway in the nation, I believe, so driving anywhere on this highway the night before Thanksgiving is not a good idea. I’ve learned my lesson; I now take Amtrak instead on that day.

This particular drive had me driving Southbound on a Sunday afternoon following a visit to my parents’ house. I had my dog Ollie in tow, making the ride somewhat enjoyable. He gets antsy in the car though; every mile that he spends awake, he gets increasingly uncomfortable. I’ve learned to make frequent stops so he can get out and walk around a little bit. I think dog sleeping pills are something I should look into.

I-95 Driving Tips: Avoiding Tolls, eating the best Chicken Parm, and spotting an extinct volcano

  • New Jersey: This is the toughest part of the trip because of the traffic and sheer length of the route. Each exit is really far apart and there is little scenery in southern NJ. Tip: When the turnpike splits, make sure you get in Cars-Trucks-Buses part of the highway; there is a lot less traffic.
  • Delaware: The First State is laden with traffic at all times of the day, in my experience. The toll on the border of Maryland and Delaware on I95 causes big traffic jams and costs $4 now, so I exit the highway right before the toll to get gas, coffee, food, or whatever I need at the halfway point of my trip. I don’t avoid any other tolls as I don’t it is worth it.
    • DE/MD border toll avoidance:  To avoid this toll on I-95,  about 10 minutes into your ride through Delaware,  exit  when you see Route 896 (Exit 1).  Take Exit 896 North towards the University of Delaware until you see Christina Parkway (University of DE will be to your right).  Make a left onto Christina Parkway (west) and stay on for about one mile.   Make a left onto Elkton Road and about one mile up ahead will be a sign for I95 Baltimore. There are a bunch of gas stations and food places on each stage of this route.
    • Italian grub: If you’re hungry, don’t make a left at Elkton Road; go straight through the light and there is a strip mall with an Italian restaurant called Amalfi Coast (Newark, DE) that I’ve been going to for years. This is a great mom-and-pop establishment with excellent food served in large portions and it’s not expensive. They have an extensive menu. Be prepared to be decisive and don’t look back as you choose between the chicken parmigiana and the calzone.
  • Maryland: On busy days like Thanksgiving Eve or the Sunday after a long weekend, certain stretches of this section get really backed up. I look at my Google Maps traffic app and if the route is covered in red for a long way, I’ll get off the highway and get on US 40, which runs parallel to I95 for a large part of  Maryland. Again, this is only for times when I95 is a parking lot. US40 through Aberdeen is a four-lane highway through a mostly rural section of Maryland dotted with gas stations, strip malls, and strip joints. I’m sure when you get off this route and go into the old historic towns of Aberdeen and Perryville, it’s much nicer. I have not done so yet.
    • Susquehanna River: This is one of most beautiful rivers in the United States. And I95 takes you right over it via the Millard Tydings Memorial Bridge. Don’t take a hard look while you’re driving, of course, but as you go over the bridge, look to you’re right and look out towards the Susquehanna river, which covers your entire field of view. This part of the river is bounded by cliffs on the east side that look to be about 200 feet tall. I also read somewhere that the large island in the middle of the river to the left is a remnant of an ancient volcano!
  • DC: The next step is the Beltway (495), which, even on a Tuesday night at 11pm, will be covered with cars. Try to minimize your time on this road, as I think it is one of the most unpleasant stretches of highway in the Northeast.
  • Money notes:
    • The trip is expensive. Last time I checked the tolls for the one-way trip total $25.
    • If you can, try to get gas in New Jersey as it has some of the lowest priced fuel in the nation. Delaware is not bad either, but I noticed that gas gets progressively more expensive the closer you get towards DC.

Philadelphia, PA

Dog in Philadelphia

Ollie in Philly

 

If I have the time, I like to make one stop on the NJ-DC route to visit historic sites or other places of interest that are not too far out of my way. Philadelphia is a good stop, as long as it’s a weekend and not rush hour. Instead of taking the NJ Turnpike all the way down through NJ, I will take I95 South (confusing I know) on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. This highway skirts the eastern side of downtown Philadelphia and offers great views of the city’s impressive skyline. Definitely a lot more scenic than the boring Turnpike. Independence Hall and the Constitution Plaza, where the Liberty Bell is kept, are only a 5 minute detour off the highway.

Liberty Bell Philadelphia

Liberty Bell

This Sunday, I easily found a parking spot right Washington Square Park, a beautiful green space occupying a city block near Constitution Plaza, and walked with Ollie over to one of favorite buildings in the United States, Independence Hall.

Independence Hall Philadelphia

Independence Hall Philadelphia

Independence Hall Philadelphia dog

Ollie

We also took a short walk over to the Second Bank of the United States, an excellent example of Greek Revival architecture so popular in the United States in the 1800s. Back then, banks were not insured by the federal government, so they had to make evident through a sturdy appearance and design that the deposits kept within were safe and secure. This may have not been the exact reason for the design of this particular building, given that it played a role for the U.S. Treasury, but banks on American main streets certainly had building designs that suggested safety and security for the hard-earned cash deposited in their vaults.

Second Bank of the United States Philadelphia

Second Bank of the United States

I then saw the Liberty Bell before getting back on the road so I could hit New Castle on the way back to DC. I intend to visit Philadelphia again to do a more detailed blog post of the city.

New Castle, DE

New Castle Court House Museum Delaware

New Castle Court House Museum

Before seeing signs for New Castle, Delaware on I-95, I am not sure I had even known that New Castle existed. With some time on my hands, I got off the highway and followed the signs to explore the city. About a 5 minute drive off the highway, the New Castle Historic District is a compact neighborhood of red brick, colonial style buildings and cobble stoned streets bordering the Delaware River.

Amstel House New Castle Delaware

Amstel House

New Castle has a very similar look to Old City section of Philadelphia. I especially liked the New Castle County Court house, the center of the 12 mile “Great Circle” that extends outward to form the northwestern border of Delaware. I spent about an hour taking pictures of the historic buildings and the waterfront area overlooking the river.

Ollie on the green

Ollie on the green

There were also a lot of shops and restaurants and felt it would have been a great place to spend more time. New Castle has a very similar layout to Chestertown, MD, on the Eastern Shore. Chestertown also has a quaint main street, borders the western side of a river, has a large riverside park, and is steeped in history going back to the 18th century.

New Castle

New Castle waterfront, overlooking Delaware River

Row houses in New Castle, DE

Row houses in New Castle, DE

Row houses in New Castle, DE

Row houses in New Castle, DE

Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge, MD

On another recent ride down from NJ to DC, I took a different route through the Delaware/Maryland area and accidentally found a gem of a covered bridge right off I-95 in Cecil County (exit 100A) called Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge. There don’t seem to be many covered bridges in the Tri-State area (NJ-NY-CT) so I was excited to find this one. It was all the more special because I wasn’t looking for it. I am going to nerd out on covered bridges from now on.
I don’t even remember why I got off the highway on that trip, but it provided me with some good memories. Before I saw this bridge, I had to pull over on a small two-lane farm country road to let a young Amish man go by with his carriage and 6 horses. Sometimes you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to get your memorable travel experiences; sometimes they can happen in the most unexpected places.
Gilpin's Falls Covered Bridge Maryland

Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge

 Map

Kevin is based in Washington, DC and writes about his travel adventures in the Mid-Atlantic region and around the world. Through entertaining writing and eye-catching photography, he aims to provide readers with useful information as they plan their next trips.

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