14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Maryland
The small state of Maryland wraps around the huge Chesapeake Bay, which almost divides it in half. The state is almost divided again, farther west, where at one point only 1.6 miles of Maryland separates the Virginia and Pennsylvania state lines. Also bordered by Delaware, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, Maryland lies at the heart of Colonial America and saw action in the Revolution, War of 1812, and Civil War. Its place in the forefront of American history includes important roles in the Industrial Revolution, the westward expansion, the Space Age, and every other major period in America's story.
For a state its size, Maryland also offers tourists a wide variety of natural attractions, from the long beaches of its Eastern Shore to the heavily forested hills of its western counties. The Appalachian Mountains cross in the west, and state parks protect waterfalls, lakes, and plenty of walking and hiking trails. The former towpath of the C&O Canal offers miles of cycling, and wildlife refuges protect precious wetlands for waterfowl and migrating birds. Whether your interests are history, hiking, birding, sightseeing, or soaking up the sun on a beach, you'll find plenty of things to do in Maryland.
1 Baltimore Inner Harbor
Baltimore's Inner Harbor is a magnet for visitors, filled with attractions and entertainment options. The whole area and the neighborhoods just back from the water have been nicely developed with parks, hotels, restaurants, shops, museums, and historic ships to tour. Foremost of these is the sloop-of-war USS Constellation, a three-masted sailing ship that saw action in the Civil War and intercepting slave ships off the African coast. Also open to tour are the submarine USS Torsk, the US Coast Guard Cutter Taney, and the Lightship Chesapeake. Surrounding the harbor are the National Aquarium; the Visionary Art Museum; and the hands-on Maryland Science Center, with a planetarium. Harborplace is a modern complex anchored by glass-enclosed pavilions featuring shops, restaurants, and an amphitheater on the promenade.
2 Fort McHenry National Monument
Completed in 1803 to guard the entrance to Baltimore's busy harbor, Fort McHenry became a national icon after withstanding a 24-hour bombardment by the British in 1814. The fort saved Baltimore from occupation and inspired Francis Scott Key, held prisoner on a British ship during the attack, to write The Star Spangled Banner. You can walk the ramparts, tour the buildings, and watch a multimedia presentation on the history of the fort and the national anthem.
Address: Fort Ave, Baltimore, Maryland
3 Old Town Annapolis and William Paca House
The few blocks between the Town Dock and the Maryland State House are filled with equal measures of history and charm. Once the United States Capitol, the State House is the oldest one still in continuous legislative use. A short way down the hill, through narrow streets lined with picture-worthy brick and clapboard buildings, is the William Paca House and Garden, home of the signer of the Declaration of Independence, William Paca. Fully restored and furnished in period antiques and original Paca family items, the house is an outstanding example of the home of an influential and prosperous Annapolis family of the Colonial era and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The two-acre garden, with terraces, topiary, and a fish-shaped pond, has also been restored to its 1760s appearance.
Address: 186 Prince George Street, Annapolis, Maryland
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4 The Walters Art Museum
In Baltimore's Mount Vernon Cultural District, The Walters Art Museum is a unique cultural landmark and one of only a handful of institutions in the world that presents such a comprehensive history of world art. Covering all media of art from the third millennium B.C. through the early 20th century, the collections - all beautifully displayed and interpreted - are best known for their exceptional jewelry, enamels, ivories, bronzes, and illuminated manuscripts. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine antiquities are outstanding, as is the medieval and Renaissance art collections. The museum has especially good interpretive materials to engage young people in exploring its collections.
Address: 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland
5 Ocean City
Among the most popular beaches of the mid-Atlantic coast, Ocean City has 10 miles of free public beach and a three-mile classic wooden boardwalk that has been acclaimed as the nation's best. Along this popular promenade are shops, a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, a 1902 carousel, and kiosks selling foods that range from the famous Delmarva fried chicken and Chesapeake Bay crab cakes to saltwater taffy and hot funnel cakes. A tram carries visitors between attractions, and on the beach are frequent free concerts, movies, and other evening activities. The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum has a saltwater tank where you can see local sea creatures.
6 Antietam National Battlefield
Few places illustrate the terrible cost of war like Antietam National Battlefield, scene of the bloodiest day's battle in the Civil War. On September 17, 1862, the Union army, coming from the east, met Robert E. Lee's Confederates, approaching from the west. In the battle that followed, nearly 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing in action. Today, the battlefield is still open countryside, studded with monuments to the regiments of both sides. Civil War buffs will want to follow the entire eight-mile, self-guided tour route (on foot, on a bicycle, or by car); others should at least not miss the old Dunker Church, where the first clash occurred; the Sunken Road, where the next phase played out; and Burnside Bridge, where Union troops at great cost finally forced General Lee to withdraw.
7 National Aquarium
The dramatic building overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor replicates several ecosystems as homes for marine life from all over the world, as well as birds, mammals, and appropriate plant life. The largest of these is the five-story Tropical Rain Forest, which you can explore at various levels to see birds, frogs, plants, and even sloths and monkeys. Elsewhere are sharks and dolphins as well as brilliant tropical fish in the Atlantic Coral Reef Exhibit.
Address: Pier 3 and 4, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland
8 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum is one of Baltimore's most popular attractions and offers a look at some of America's railroad history. The museum operates out of historical buildings, including the Mount Clare Station, and showcases an extensive collection of locomotives and coaches, most of them in working order. The main attraction in the Roundhouse, where the rolling stock is displayed, is a turntable with 22 connecting lines.
The Mont Clare Station is itself an important part of American rail history, as it was from here that the first passenger train in the United States traveled to Ellicott's Mills in 1830.
Address: 901 West Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Baltimore
9 Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
The 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse is the visual centerpiece of a collection of historic buildings and boats that illustrate life and work on the Chesapeake Bay since the Native Americans hollowed out logs for canoes. In the Small Boat Shed, you can see working and recreational watercraft used throughout the bay's history, including early settlers' adaptations of Native American canoes to use for fishing and oystering. At Waterman's Wharf, hands-on and audio exhibits draw visitors into the world of oystermen and crabbers in a typical shanty and onboard an oystering skipjack. You can also visit the former home of Eliza Bailey Mitchell, sister of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and an Heirloom Garden of kitchen and medicinal plants cultivated along the bay since Native American times. A working boatyard continues boat-building and repair traditions as staff maintains the museum's Floating Fleet.
The Chesapeake Bay hosts one of the world's great bird migrations as hundreds of thousands of water, shore, and song birds shelter in its shoreline marshes each spring and fall. Along with hunting and birding, this migration has given rise to an entire genre of waterfowl art. You can see exhibits here on the waterfowl, while each November in nearby Easton, the Easton Waterfowl Festival is the country's premier wildlife art show.
Address: 213 North Talbot Street, St. Michaels, Maryland
10 Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
The C&O Canal operated from 1828-1924 as a transportation route, primarily hauling coal along the Potomac River to Georgetown. Hundreds of locks, lock houses, and aqueducts are still standing as reminders of the canal's role as a transportation system during the Canal Era. The canal follows the route of the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, MD.
Bordering the canal are the well-maintained towpaths, where mules and horses once labored to pull barges through the canal. The route is now a park, and the towpath is a favorite for walking and cycling, and in certain parts, for horseback riding. In most places, the route is shaded by trees, which give way frequently to reveal views of the Potomac River. All along the route are locks, lock-keepers' cottages, and the remains of canal buildings. Perhaps the most interesting of these examples of canal architecture is the Monocacy Aqueduct, a seven-arched stone bridge that carried the canal across the Monocacy River. Built between 1828 and 1833, the 536-foot-long aqueduct is an icon of the canal and of transportation history.
11 Baltimore Museum of Art
Known for its superb collections of 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art, the Baltimore Museum of Art now holds 95,000 works by artists that include Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Joan Miró, and Marc Chagall, in addition to the world's largest collection of works by Henri Matisse. Along with paintings, sculpture, and graphic arts, the BMA displays notable collections of textiles, jewelry, and furniture, as well as African, Asian, and Near Eastern art. The African collections are among the most important in the United States, comprising more than 2,000 objects ranging from ancient Egyptian art to contemporary works. Masks, headdresses, figural carvings, jewelry, royal staffs, textiles, ceremonial items, and pottery reflect more than 200 African cultures.
Outside the museum, two landscaped Sculpture Gardens present a century of modern and contemporary sculptures. Inside the building, the highly acclaimed restaurant, Gertrudes, features the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding farmlands.
Address: 10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, Maryland
12 Assateague State Park
Assateague State Park is on Assateague Island, a barrier island on Maryland's Eastern Shore. On the east side of the island is the windswept landscape of the Atlantic Ocean, with a long stretch of beach that's popular in the summer for swimming and surfing. On the more protected bayside of the island, park visitors enjoy fishing and kayaking. The island supports a range of wildlife, but is known in particular for the feral horses that roam the dunes and windswept grassland. The park has campsites, picnic tables, a camp store, and snack bar. The closest town is Berlin, about eight miles away.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Assateague State Park
13 American Visionary Art Museum
American Visionary Art Museum displays and celebrates the work of self-taught artists, both local and from around the world. Its collection and frequent changing exhibits are often surprising and thought provoking, looking at art in new ways and from new perspectives. These may represent traditional folk arts that have been passed down through generations, or they may be creative uses of found materials by artists using whatever medium was available to satisfy their creative drive. The exhibits that fill its main building - itself an award-winning work of art - and the adjoining sculpture barn will never be boring and will likely leave you smiling.
Address: 800 Key Highway, Baltimore, Maryland
14 Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, just 12 miles south of Cambridge on Maryland's Eastern Shore, covers 26,000 acres of marshes, ponds, and forest. The refuge provides habitat for a large number of migratory birds and is a popular spot with birdwatchers. The area is also home to the rare Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, only recently removed from the endangered species list. The best times to visit are in the spring and fall, when birds are moving through, but the property is lovely, and you'll see wildlife at any time of year. A visitor center has information on the wetlands. The best way to see the refuge is on one of the numerous walking trails or from the Wildlife Drive.
Address: 2145 Key Wallace Drive, Cambridge, Maryland