15 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Baltimore
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Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland and an important seaport on the wide estuary of the Patapsco River. Its place in American history was won in 1814, when British forces bombarded Fort McHenry for 25 hours without its surrender.
The sight of the American flag still flying over the fort on the morning after the bombardment inspired Francis Scott Key's poem The Star Spangled Banner, which became the text of the national anthem.
Baltimore's Inner Harbor is the focal point of the city, surrounded by several outstanding museums and the busy Harborplace, with its pavilions, shops, restaurants, and promenade. Moored here are several historic ships that are open for tourists.
Baltimore's distinct neighborhoods are part of its attraction to visitors: lively Fell's Point, sedate Mount Vernon, Little Italy, and hip Hamden. Between these; the many museums; historic sites; and cultural activities, which include a renowned symphony orchestra, Baltimore offers plenty of things for visitors to see and do.
See also: Where to Stay in Baltimore
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
One of America's foremost historic sites sits just three miles southeast of the city center. Fort McHenry, built between 1798 and 1803 to command the harbor entrance, is revered as the place that inspired the National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.
In 1814, during the battle of Baltimore, it withstood a 24-hour bombardment by a British fleet of 10 warships, five bomb ketches, and a rocket vessel, thus saving Baltimore from capture and occupation.
In the fort's visitor center are displays and a film on the history of the fort, and you can tour the casemates and grounds to learn about the fort and its history through ranger talks and living history demonstrations. The original of the famous flag now hangs in the Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
Address: 2400 East Fort Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: http://www.nps.gov/fomc/index.htm
2. Walters Art Gallery
In a city with more than its share of excellent museums, The Walters Art Museum, located in the Mount Vernon Cultural District, is a standout. This internationally renowned institution is one of only a few museums worldwide to present a comprehensive history of art from the third millennium BC to the early 20th century.
Among its thousands of treasures are a fine collection of ivories, jewelry, enamels, and bronzes, and a large reserve of illuminated manuscripts and rare books. The Walters' Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ethiopian, and western medieval art collections are extensive, as are the museum's holdings of Renaissance and Asian art.
Every major trend in French painting during the 19th century is represented by one or more works in the collection. The museum is especially notable for the many ways in which it makes its exhibits and collections accessible to children, with special activities, puzzles, treasure hunts, and more ways to engage young minds.
Address: 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: http://thewalters.org/
3. National Aquarium
The most frequently visited attraction in Baltimore is the National Aquarium, in a striking building overlooking the Inner harbor. Exhibits in this huge complex explore Atlantic and Pacific coral reefs, the open ocean environments, a kelp forest, Amazon river forests, hidden sea life, life on the seashore, Australian aquatic life, and more.
Of particular note is the Tropical Rain Forest, a complete environment five stories high, where visitors can tour from the forest floor to the treetop canopy and see all kinds of birds, frogs, and a variety of larger mammals, such as sloths and monkeys. Elsewhere, visitors meet sharks and dolphins and the hundreds of exotic species found in the Atlantic Coral Reef Exhibit.
Address: Pier 3 and 4, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: http://www.aqua.org/
4. American Visionary Art Museum
Baltimore's most unusual art museum by far is the American Visionary Art Museum, which displays the work of self-taught artists from around the world. This is not just a gallery of paintings and drawings, but a lively - and frequently changing - celebration of the creative spirit.
Exhibits could include sculptures made from toothpicks, fabric collages, intricate embroidery, costumes created for a neighborhood festival, folk art from around the world, or art by people who are incarcerated. The exhibits all have an exuberance that is contagious, and there is always something thought provoking.
The main building's architecture is also an artistic creation, winning many international and national awards for its design and beauty. The sculpture barn, formerly the Four Roses warehouse, houses towering exhibits that might include an entire dragon from a Chinese New Year parade. If you are looking for unique gifts of souvenirs, be sure to save time for the museum's delightfully quirky shop.
Address: 800 Key Highway, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: http://www.avam.org/
5. Baltimore Museum of Art
The Baltimore Museum of Art is the largest art museum in Maryland with art from around the world, covering a broad spectrum of periods and styles. The permanent collection includes the world's largest collection of works by Matisse. Other notable artists represented include Picasso, Cezanne, van Gogh, and Andy Warhol.
Along with modern art; one of the nation's most important African collections; and impressive collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; the museum has a sculpture garden representing a century of modern and contemporary works. Admission to the museum is free.
Address: 10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: https://artbma.org/
6. Inner Harbor and Historic Ships
So many of Baltimore's top attractions and popular things to do surround the Inner Harbor that you could spend several days in this area alone. A highlight is the collection of historic vessels moored here, all of them open for tours. The oldest is the sloop-of-war USS Constellation, a three-masted sailing ship that saw action in the Civil War. You can also tour the submarine USS Torsk, a US Coast Guard Cutter, and the Lightship Chesapeake.
Harborplace, an attractive modern complex with two glass-enclosed pavilions in historical style, is both a shopping center and market, with a large number of shops, restaurants, and open spaces. Street artists display their skills in the Amphitheater on the Promenade.
Address: 201 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: http://www.historicships.org
7. See a Game: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Plan a weekend getaway to Baltimore to see a game. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the official home of the Baltimore Orioles, the city's Major League baseball team.
The one-time railroad center is only two blocks from the birthplace of baseball's most legendary hero, George Herman "Babe" Ruth. The modest home is now a museum, and a statue of Babe Ruth is a favorite photo stop just outside the park. You can tour Oriole Park for a look behind the scenes in the press box, club levels, and dugout.
Official site: http://baltimore.orioles.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=bal
8. Fell's Point
Fell's Point is a historic area along the waterfront that has been beautifully restored. This old harbor quarter was once the shipbuilding district of Baltimore, with places of entertainment for the seamen. Today, behind the many restored brick buildings are restaurants, cafes, and shops, making it a popular place to meet. The lively market building has stalls selling local foods. Water taxis connect Fell's Point to the Inner Harbor.
9. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum
Pratt Street runs west to the Mount Clare Railroad Station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, from which the first passenger train in the United States ran west to Ellicott's Mills in 1830. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum takes in the Mount Clare Station (1851), the Print Shop (1884), and a roundhouse that now houses an excellent collection of historic locomotives.
The centerpiece is the turntable, which connects with 22 lines containing locomotives and coaches. With only a few exceptions, all the exhibits are originals and in working order. In front of the building is a large open area with more locomotives. There is also a miniature railway system.
Address: 901 West Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: http://www.borail.org/
10. Maryland Science Center
At the southwest corner of the Inner Harbor is the modern Maryland Science Center, with a planetarium. The scientific displays that fill its three floors are geared primarily to engage young visitors, but the museum will also interest adults as they explore physics, space travel, and other subjects.
Full size dinosaurs roam through the Dinosaur Mysteries exhibit, where kids can be paleontologists in the dig pits, field lab, and excavation sites. One of the most innovative exhibits is a Baltimore-inspired "street" of brick row-house storefronts, each store with related challenges and activities: how gears work at the Bike Shop, sound experiments at the Music Store, or designing and flying paper airplanes at the airport.
Address: 601 Light Street, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: http://www.mdsci.org/
11. Baltimore Museum of Industry
A bit out of the way, but well worth visiting, the Baltimore Museum of Industry is a fascinating look at the wide variety of businesses and manufacturing that has taken place in the city through the years. The main emphasis is on the workers and small business owners who were the backbone of the city's development.
Entire workshops are preserved or replicated, representing a wide variety of activities and skills. You'll see a print shop, a cannery (Civil War troops were fed on the canned products of Baltimore fisheries), and have a look at some of the traditions that are peculiar to Baltimore, such as whitewashed doorsteps and painted window screens. The tug Baltimore is moored at the quay.
Address: 1415 Key Highway, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: http://www.thebmi.org/
12. National Cryptologic Museum
About 20 minutes from the city center, the free National Cryptologic Museum features the work of spies and counterspies, as well as methods of encrypting strategic communications. Here, you can see the actual Enigma machine that enabled the allies to decipher German signals during World War II.
Historic artifacts include everything from the most elementary cipher disks, code books, and encrypting typewriters to supercomputers. A scavenger hunt encourages children to decrypt messages and answer questions as they tour the museum.
Guided tours last about 90 minutes and are filled with fascinating insights into the world of spies and codes, from the Code talkers of World War II to the role of communications in the Cold War and later. In the adjacent National Vigilance Park are two reconnaissance aircraft used for secret missions.
Address: 8290 Colony Seven Road, Baltimore, Maryland
Official site: https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/
13. Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
One of the best family-friendly activities in Baltimore is a trip to the zoo. In operation since 1873, this historical zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals. The zoo has recently undertaken some significant upgrades to the animal enclosures and park grounds.
Have you ever wanted to toss a fish to a penguin? Well, here's your opportunity to actually step right into the pavilion and feed the endangered African Penguins. Or perhaps your sense of adventure leans more towards walking a goat? In that case you'll be able to lead your charge through the farmyard pathways.
If you have small children, the most gentle and sedate animal interaction is giraffe feeding. Step onto the deck and hold out an acacia branch and watch the giant animals lower their heads to softly take your tasty treat with their giant grey tongues. For more animal interaction, swing by the petting area and see what it's like to pet a farmyard animal.
Other things to do at the zoo include riding the carousel and the miniature Jones Zephyr Train.
Official site: https://www.marylandzoo.org/
14. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Basilica of the Assumption is one of the oldest Roman Catholic cathedrals in the United States. It was built in the time of Archbishop John Carroll. In the crypt are the tombs of Archbishop Carroll (1735-1815) and others.
The building is a National Historic Landmark and was fully restored in the original style between 2004 and 2006.
Address: 409 Cathedral Street
Official site: http://www.baltimorebasilica.org/
15. Washington Monument and Mount Vernon
The Washington Monument, surmounted by a statue of the nation's first President, is a landmark of Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood. A 228-foot spiral stairway leads to the top of the monument, where there are observation windows.
On the ground floor of the monument is a museum with displays on George Washington and the monument itself. The neighborhood is filled with the former mansions of Baltimore's 19th-century industrialists. Now part of the Mount Vernon Cultural District, many of these grand homes house museums, shops, and galleries.
Address: 699 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland
Where to Stay in Baltimore for Sightseeing
Baltimore is a city with a great waterfront, and to get a real sense of the city, staying downtown near the inner harbor is the best option. The lively downtown is easily walkable, with the stadiums, attractions, restaurants, and entertainment options clustered in one area.
Sports fans will want to stay on the west side, close to Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, and if you are more into history and restored architectural gems, staying on the other side of the harbor, near Fell's Point, is a good choice. Below are some highly-rated hotels in the center of the action:
- The Four Seasons Baltimore is right beside Fell's Point and the heart of Little Italy. This towering glass hotel offers first-class service and commanding views out over the harbor and city.
- Set in a 1906 Beaux Arts building, once the headquarters for the B&O Railroad, the Kimpton Hotel Monaco offers modern amenities while exuding historical charm.
- Just a few blocks from the convention center, and across the street from the Maryland Science Center, is the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore, with panoramic views of the Baltimore skyline from the roof-top pool.
- At the top-end of mid-range is the boutique hotel Inn at Henderson's Wharf, where every guest is assigned a butler for the duration of their stay.
- The Hyatt Place Baltimore/Inner Harbor, in Fell's Point and near the aquarium, is steps away from beautifully restored historical buildings housing restaurants, shops, and cafés.
- For a funky, poetry-inspired theme experience, the Hotel Indigo Baltimore Downtown features rooms with murals on the ceilings.
- The Holiday Inn Express Downtown, housed in an old bank building, offers a shuttle service to many of the main attractions.
- The Sleep Inn & Suites is only a half-mile back from the waterfront and provides standard rooms at an attractive rate.
- For budget-conscious sports fans, the Holiday Inn Express Baltimore at the Stadiums is within walking distance to both stadiums.