Born nearly 300 years ago on a small pocket of the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore is a city known for its beginnings. It’s the birthplace of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” slugger Babe Ruth and Olympian Michael Phelps. Its rich heritage also includes America’s first gas street lamps, commercial railroads and post office system. Even the nation’s first bicycle was born here.
From historic Fort McHenry to the celebrated National Aquarium, Baltimore is a hidden gem and there’s never been a better time for visitors to explore its offerings, including award-winning restaurants, renowned museums, trendy shops and fresh-faced businesses along the bustling waterfront. Even as it moves at warp speed into the future, this community stays proudly rooted in the past, its vibrant culture, unpretentious character and small-town feel.
Fittingly dubbed “Monument City,” Baltimore is home to a plethora of historic buildings and landmarks dating back to the earliest days of America. Visitors should start at the hallowed Fort McHenry, which defended Baltimore (and Washington, D.C.) from British invasion during the War of 1812, and even inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem.
After a walk around the star-shaped fortress and its breathtaking promenade, history buffs can wind their way to Federal Hill Park (first admired by early English explorer and fictitious Pocahontas paramour, John Smith) for sweeping views of the city skyline before heading east toward the shipyard-turned-nightlife neighborhood of Fells Point, whose cobblestone streets boast bustling bars and restaurants and the sumptuous new Sagamore Pendry Baltimore hotel, built in a luxuriously restored 1914 property on the city’s historic Recreation Pier. Along the way, stop and admire remnants of the harbor’s maritime history, as its docks are still studded with historic ships, including the USS Constellation and Pride of Baltimore II, which offer deck tours throughout the year.
Clockwise from top right: A guest room at Sagamore Pendry Baltimore; Baltimore's Federal Hill Park; Climb to the top of the Washington Monument for panoramic views over the heart of the city; The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra presents classical masterpieces in the luminous Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Mark Swisher); Cherry blossoms in bloom at Druid Hill Park.
A few blocks north of the Inner Harbor, the midtown Mount Vernon neighborhood also hosts a wealth of historic attractions. Located in the midst of the main thoroughfare on Charles Street, the Washington Monument (the country’s first, completed in 1829) serves as a community focal point, with its 227-step climb well worth the view at the top. After the descent, sightseers can indulge their inner bibliophile amongst the ornate floor-to-ceiling bookshelves at the nearby George Peabody Library, as well as along the marble halls of the central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
The city is also home to famous residences, such as the Edgar Allan Poe House where the fabled macabre poet once lived, the elegant Mount Clare Museum House built circa 1760 by one of Maryland’s first senators and even the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, where the baseball legend spent his childhood years. Just a fly ball away, you’ll find the B&O Railroad Museum—where the Baltimore-Ohio route revolutionized railroading and forever linked the United States.
Need some fresh air? Nestled at the edge of Druid Hill Park, near the northern fringe of the city limits, the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens has become an urbanites’ refuge with its enchanting greenhouses and sprawling flowerbeds. A short drive north into Baltimore County, the Ladew Topiary Gardens also offer an easy afternoon excursion to some 250 acres of manicured gardens, sweeping nature walks, butterfly houses and a pastoral farmhouse in deep-rooted horse country.
No matter where you end up, no trip to Baltimore is complete without a walk along the Inner Harbor. Day or night, visitors can soak up the sight of the majestic Domino Sugars sign, a beacon of the city skyline and a vestige of its storied past. From here, beneath its magnificent yellow facade or nighttime red neon glow, both daytrippers and globetrotters are sure to be charmed.
By Lydia Woolever