The jewel of the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore, Maryland, is a hidden gem among the great cities of America's eastern seaboard. The energy level is high, the attractions are many, and the history is thick on the ground. If you're planning on a pilgrimage to Charm City (and want to have some fun once you arrive) you'll need to know a few things.
Must See in Baltimore
No first time trip to Baltimore is complete without visiting these sites:
Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the home of the Orioles and one of the most hallowed locations in all of baseball. The ballpark itself ushered in the retro design movement in baseball stadium construction and consistently ranks among the top places in the nation to catch a game.
The National Aquarium is, arguably, the nation's best. Here you can thrill to the dolphin show and afterwards toddle over to the indoor rainforest while enjoying the 16,000 marine creatures that call this aquatic cathedral home.
Fort McHenry is the National Park site where the Star Spangled Banner was born. Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the words to the national anthem when he saw the fortification (and the flag that flew over it) withstand a massive assault by the British navy way back in 1814.
Where to Stay in Baltimore
If you're feeling ritzy, plant your flag in the Harbor East neighborhood at the Four Seasons. You'll be walking distance from the attraction-heavy Inner Harbor and Fells Point areas, plus the Italian food in nearby little Italy is terrific.
For a classic Baltimore experience, stay in the Mount Vernon neighborhood at one of the many vintage hotels. The cultural heart of the city, Mount Vernon boasts the nation's first true monument to George Washington, as well as America's first Catholic Cathedral. The Walters Art Museum and the Peabody Library provide additional highlights.
As a rule of thumb, stick closer to the Inner Harbor if you've got the family in tow as you'll appreciate the tourist friendly atmosphere and easy access to the tall ships and National Aquarium.
Best and Worst Time to go to Baltimore
Early fall (September, October) is prime for visitation. The weather is pleasant, the Orioles are playing, and the crowds are manageable. Although spring and summer are lovely, the tourists are out in force, making it feel crowded.
Where to Get Lost in Baltimore
Walking along the cobblestone streets in Fells Point is like stepping back in time as this picturesque waterfront neighborhood dates back to the early 1700s. There are a myriad of interesting shops, eateries and watering holes to wander through. If you can't find a good crab cake sandwich in this eternally charming enclave, you're not looking hard enough.
The Best Deal in Baltimore
Free fun can be found in Little Italy just beside the Inner Harbor. Make your way over to D'Alesandro's Park off Stiles Street to watch the locals play bocce and maybe toss a ball or two yourself. Then adjourn to Joe Benny's Focacceria for great atmosphere and delicious meatballs at a price that can't be beat.
Transportation in Baltimore
If you're venturing between neighborhoods along the harbor, use the water taxi. Otherwise, a cheap day pass gives you unlimited access to Baltimore's metro-subway and local bus routes. Just remember that whether it be weekend or weekday, the metro closes at midnight, so make alternate travel arrangements if you plan on carousing into the wee small hours.
Getting in from BWI Airport
If you're landing at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), you'll find yourself about 25 minutes away from the downtown area with the Maryland Transit Administration's (MTA) Light Rail as your most inexpensive option for getting into town. Then again, you're so close to the city that a taxi or Uber won't break the bank.
Local tip for visitors to Baltimore
For something different, visit Illusions Bar & Theater off South Charles Street in the Federal Hill neighborhood for drinks, and a magic show. The fun abounds and tickets are cheap, so your money won't vanish.
Aaron Killian is a freelance writer and licensed tour guide living in the nation's capital region. He is a true history geek and loves showing off the area to visitors. Follow his exploits by visiting www.historicamerica.org.