Spring is the perfect time to visit Baltimore, Maryland, a city with a funky, small-town feel. Host to major league sports teams, historic monuments, and a bustling waterfront, Baltimore also has a lively arts scene. Yes, there’s more to Baltimore than blue crabs and baseball.
Inner Harbor is probably every tourist’s first destination when visiting Baltimore, and for good reason. The Inner Harbor district has museums, tons of restaurants, nautical destinations, shopping, and scenic observation points. A few highlights include:
American Visionary Arts Museum:
Referred to as AVAM by the locals, the American Visionary Arts Museum was called “one of the most fantastic museums anywhere in America” by CNN. Dedicated to original thematic exhibitions, AVAM has some of the weirdest, inspirational, eclectic art you’ll ever see. This isn’t your typical walk-down-a-hallway-with-paintings-on-the-wall kind of experience; it’s more immersive and engaging. One of the museum’s most well-known events is called the Kinetic Sculpture Race. Held every year, the race draws hundreds of engineering nerds to construct and “drive” human-powered all-terrain sculptures through the city. Each team prepares elaborate costumes to go with their sculpture/vehicle, along with a healthy sense of humor, so the race is truly a spectacle to behold.
Baltimore Museum of Art:
The Baltimore Museum of Art boasts an impressive collection of well-known artists from Georgia O’Keefe and Andy Warhol to Van Gogh, Matisse, and Renoir. Added bonus? Admission is free.
One could argue that if you’ve seen one aquarium, you’ve seen them all. The National Aquarium in Baltimore, however, could be the exception. Featuring impressive exhibits like the Blacktip Reef, Dolphin Discovery, and the bottom-level open pool filled with stingrays and tropical fish, the aquarium is a delight. The admission is steep compared to most other attractions ($34.95 with the senior discount), but well worth a visit.
The U.S.S. Constellation, currently docked at pier 1 along Inner Harbor, was built at the end of the 18th century and was the Navy’s last all-sail ship. Visitors can climb aboard and tour the decks as well as go below to see what it was like to be a sailor in the 19th century.
Power Plant Live!:
Less of a single attraction and more of a district, Power Plant Live! is stuffed with bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues just blocks from Inner Harbor. What was once an old power plant generating the city’s electricity is now the neighborhood hotspot, particularly after dark. Options include nightclubs, beer gardens, escape rooms, live music venues, and, yes, even indoor ax-throwing.
Although it’s an embarrassingly touristy thing to do, Spirit of Baltimore and Watermark Cruises offer sightseeing tours of the Harbor that can be a ton of fun. Alternatively, you can rent a “Chessie Dragon” paddle boat for a self-propelled sea tour as well.
Top of the World Observation Center:
For only $6, you can ascend to the top of the World Trade Center — the 27th floor — which has a 360-degree view of the city and harbor.
Fort McHenry is the star-shaped stronghold where the Americans fought off the British Navy in the Battle of Baltimore in 1812. Most notably, it is where Francis Scott Key — detained on a ship in the Chesapeake Bay — saw a flag soaring “by the dawn’s early light” after the battle, which inspired him to write the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Admission to the park is free, but getting into the fort costs $15 for anyone 16 years and older. You can enjoy a guided tour or partake in a number of programs, or simply enjoy a picnic on the scenic grounds.
Surrounding John Hopkins University is an adorable area just vibrating with student energy. Independent bookshops, eclectic food options, and tons of easy-to-find funky, vintage shopping opportunities abound. If that sounds good to you, Charles Village is definitely worth a stroll.
Walters Art Museum
The Walters isn’t as well-known as some of the other museums in town, but with free admission and art dating back to 5000 BC, it’s definitely worth seeing. The museum comprises three buildings featuring Renaissance paintings, Asian art, Byzantine and Ethiopian exhibits, and an extensive Egyptian collection. It’s also known for its fascinating Medieval galleries, which include artifacts like suits of armor from the Middle Ages.
Edgar Allen Poe
When he wasn’t in Boston, Edgar Allen Poe lived in Baltimore, and the city collectively loves to boast about hosting that master of the macabre. Poe penned several of his works in the attic of his house in Charm City — which you can visit — until he died under mysterious circumstances after visiting The Horse You Came In On Saloon — which you can also visit. You can pay homage at his gravesite, which lies at the back of Westminster Hall, or check out some original manuscripts at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Finally, if you can’t get enough of Poe-themed establishments, make sure to stop by the Annabel Lee Tavern, which is dedicated to the literary icon.
Pro Tip: Use the CCC
Take advantage of the Charm City Circulator (CCC), a free bus that has four routes around downtown Baltimore. The bus stops at most of the historic sites you want to see, and there’s even a service that goes to Fort McHenry. You might have to wait a few minutes at stops, but it’s sure easier (and cheaper) than negotiating parking everywhere.