Published: October 10, 2011
Many of Baltimore‘s public benches uphold it as the greatest city in america. This is, um, arguable. Charm City (est. 1729) can certainly claim its fair share of historical significance, however, from its industrial beginnings to its civil rights-era unrest and beyond. Baltimore is also rife with art, animals, and oddities that put it right up there with America’s other metropolitan greats in terms of stuff to gawk at. And so here’s a rundown of some fun and interesting places to visit during your next jaunt around town.
Sights and Attractions
The Inner Harbor remains the heart of Baltimore for most visitors, and Harborplace (200 E. Pratt St.,  332-4191, harborplace.com) is still the hub of Baltimore’s tourism industry. And it isn’t all chain stores and theme restaurants (though there are plenty of both); the promenade along the water offers a nice view of the harbor, a pleasant stroll (depending on the crowds), and excellent people-watching (ditto). Be prepared to pay for a parking garage while you spend the day seeing what else the harbor has to offer.
The Orioles haven’t been doing so well of late, but Oriole Park at Camden Yards (333 W. Camden St.,  333-1560, baltimore.orioles.mlb.com, $9-$99) is still pretty popular. Great concessions (crab cakes!), views, and giveaways help ensure an enjoyable ball game, if the team’s in town, or you can just skip the agony and check out one of the daily guided tours for a behind-the-scenes look at the ballpark.
The World Trade Center (401 E. Pratt St.,  837-8439, viewbaltimore.org, $3-$5 for the observation level) offers a bird’s-eye view of the city from the 27th-floor observation level, complete with historical guides and stationed binoculars. For five bucks, it’s a pretty good deal.
Formerly a vantage used to spot incoming ships and a Civil War fort, among other past lives, Federal Hill Park (Warren Avenue and Key Highway, free) now offers a sweeping view of the city from a grassy hilltop park with a playground. It’s great for jogging, picnicking, and resting in the shade after your long stroll around the Inner Harbor.
In 1814, Maryland lawyer Francis Scott Key watched Fort McHenry (2400 E. Fort Ave.,  962-4290, nps.org/fomc) get bombarded by British guns. Inspired by the steadfast American flag, he penned the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Today, enjoy the harbor view from this national monument. From April through September, you might try taking the Water Taxi ( 658-8947, baltimorewatertaxi.com, $5-$10), which also makes stops at the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, and Canton year-round.
The Baltimore Basilica (409 Cathedral St.,  727-3565, baltimorebasilica.org, free) was the nation’s first Catholic cathedral. Now more than 200 years old, it was designed to look “American” rather than Gothic and gloomy, and a recent renovation has it looking as lovely as ever. Join one of the free daily tours.
Established in 1838, Green Mount Cemetery (1501 Greenmount Ave.,  539-0641, greenmountcemetery.com, free) is the last resting place of presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth, poet Sidney Lanier, and philanthropist Johns Hopkins, among others. Take a walk through this leafy/creepy landscape and contemplate the afterlife.
The famed macabre writer Edgar Allan Poe lived in a house at 203 Amity St. for a time with his grandmother and his cousin (a 13-year-old, whom he later married). While living in Baltimore, he penned a number of stories and poems (“The Raven” not among them). Now the 203 Amity house is officially the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum ( 396-4883, eapoe.org), though cuts to its funding may have closed its doors by the time you read this. You can always content yourself with a visit to Westminster Hall (519 W. Fayette St.,  706-2072, westminsterhall.org), where Poe was buried after his mysterious death in 1849.
And if you’re that interested in the past, the Maryland Historical Society (201 W. Monument St.,  685-3750, mdhs.org) houses and displays a large and fascinating assortment of artifacts from the long history of Baltimore and Maryland, including its new-ish Divided Voices: Maryland in the Civil War exhibit.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum (1601 E. North Ave.,  563-3404, greatblacksinwax.org, $10-$12) gives people a new way to learn about the African-American journey from the Middle Passage to the present day through wax figures and dioramas. Kids should see this, but keep in mind that some of the exhibits could be considered gruesome.
There’s a museum for everything nowadays. The National Museum of Dentistry (31 S. Greene St.,  706-0600, dentalmuseum.org, $3-$7) contains such curiosities as George Washington’s dentures and a frightening 17th-century collection of “extraction instruments.” Just be thankful for laughing gas.
The Baltimore Museum of Industry (1415 Key Highway,  727-4808, thebmi.org, $6-$10) memorializes the city’s days as an important industrial center, and the working men and women who helped it thrive. Charm City is the birthplace of disposable bottle caps and modern radar and the location of the first American umbrella manufacturer and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which made the city a major shipping center in the 1800s. America owes us! Volunteers are sometimes around to demonstrate blacksmithing and the like.
Speaking of the B&O, the B&O Railroad Museum (901 W. Pratt St.,  752-2490, borail.org) is a must for train nuts, with its collection of vintage locomotives and other rolling stock, and the soaring old roundhouse is worth a visit in its own right.
The 3.2-mile Baltimore Heritage Walk (heritagewalk.org, free) begins at the Inner Harbor and spans four city neighborhoods, stopping at marked attractions along the way (museums, churches, that kind of thing). Spend 90 minutes with a guide, or grab a map and guide yourself.
And then there’s Fells Point (fellspoint.us). Yes, the whole thing. Once a bustling seaport, historic Fells Point now harbors picturesque cobblestone streets, cute little shops, waterside restaurants, and loads of taverns. If it’s close to dark, check out the Fells Point Ghostwalk (731 S. Broadway, baltimoreghosttours.com, March-November), a walking tour with a costumed guide who will tell local ghost stories and show you around the neighborhood’s haunted spots. The Baltimore Ghost Tours folks also offer a Fells Point Haunted Pubwalk (21 and over, and lots of fun) and a Mount Vernon Ghostwalk.
The Baltimore Museum of Art (10 Art Museum Drive,  573-1700, artbma.org, free) houses an inspiring collection, whether you’re into Aztec gold, impressionists, or tiny dollhouse rooms filled with miniature furniture. And it’s free! The only downside is that the West Wing, home to the excellent contemporary art collection, is closed for renovations until spring 2012. But, there’s an outdoor sculpture garden and frequent special (ticketed) exhibits upstairs. If you work up an appetite, Gertrude’s ( 889-3399, www.johnshields.com/restaurant/rest/gertrudes.html) isn’t just another museum cafe, but a much-loved restaurant serving Maryland favorites for lunch, dinner, and brunch.
The Walters Art Museum (600 N. Charles St.,  547-9000, thewalters.org, free) offers another breathtaking free collection, spanning art from the 19th century back to ancient times, plus a separate building just for the Asian art exhibit (open only on certain days). Afterward, wander around historic Mount Vernon.
The American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Highway,  244-1900, avam.org, $9.95-$15.95) is a trip. Colorful, surreal, and often (but not always) lighthearted, the work (all by self-taught artists) will not fail to delight you, even if you don’t consider it “art.” Plus, don’t miss the killer gift shop.
Fans of books and beautiful buildings will want to take a look around the George Peabody Library (17 E. Mount Vernon Place,  840-9585, peabodyevents.library.jhu.edu, free), known for its amazing architecture and rare-books collection. You can even hold your wedding or other fancy event there if you book far enough in advance.
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (301 W. Camden St.,  625-7060, geppismuseum.com, $7-$10) is the place for toy and comic geeks, or anyone who likes looking at colorful stuff from the ’80s. A blast from pop culture’s past.
The National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.,  576-3800, aqua.org, $19.95-$24.95) is the big catch among Baltimore tourist attractions, and you shouldn’t skip it. The towering glass building is host to about 660 different species, including birds, reptiles, and hundreds upon hundreds of fish, plus a dolphin show. The animals are awesome, but the human crowds can be very daunting, especially during school field-trip season or on weekends. Try to go early on a weekday; buying your tickets online ahead of time is always a good idea.
In terms of animal exhibits and the rather morose carnival-ride area, the Maryland Zoo (1876 Mansion House Drive, Druid Hill Park,  396-7102, marylandzoo.org, $12.50-$16.50) is still in a literal rebuilding phase. Even so, it’s a great way to kill daytime hours. Check out the adorable penguins and the impressive chimpanzee exhibit, and feed a giraffe ($2 per branch of leaves). The parking is free but the food is pricey (and nothing to write home about), so pack a lunch.
If you’re more into plants than animals, the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens of Baltimore (Druid Hill Park, 3100 Swan Drive,  396-0008, baltimoreconservatory.org) offers a bounty of rare and beautiful foliage in its series of themed garden rooms. Not far away, the 207-acre Cylburn Arboretum (4915 Greenspring Ave.,  367-2217, cylburnassociation.org, free) offers crowd relief with a jaunt through the urban arboretum’s peaceful and plentiful garden trails. Daffodil season (April-May) is especially pretty.
> Email Audrey Szepinski