“Charm City” has welcomed visitors since 1729 when it was founded as a port and shipbuilding town. Baltimore has become well known as a top rated tourist spot with its historic sites, museums, and neighborhoods, including Federal Hill, Mount Vernon, Fell’s Point, and Canton. As always, Baltimoreans are happy to see new faces. If you hear a “Hi, Hon!” you can be sure you’re welcome. It’s a 1 hour drive to Washington DC (40 miles), a 2 hour drive to Philadelphia (100 miles), and a 3½ hour drive to NYC (190 miles)
Top 12 Attractions
1. National Aquarium – Ranked by Coastal Living as the Best Aquarium In America and featured at the top of our list of the 25 Best Aquariums In America, it features over 16,000 specimens and let’s one surround themselves among patrolling sharks, stroll among coral reefs, and visit a rainforest on the roof. One of the most noteworthy exhibits is Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes, a 120-foot-tall glass cube at the front of the aquarium, which takes visitors to the floor of an Australian river gorge. Wander past tanks filled with death adders, pythons, archer fish, and barramundi, while kookaburras, parrots, and lorikeets fly overhead, with a total of 1,800 animals, as well as plants native to Australia. The top of the aquarium features brightly colored birds, the shy iguana, and the sloth who reside on this level. You can beat the crush by purchasing timed tickets in advance, either in person or through the aquarium’s website. Admission is $25 for adults and $15 for children.
2. Baltimore Museum of Art – The largest museum in Maryland is famous for its Matisse collection. The $4-million Cone Wing showcases their collection of paintings by Matisse, Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Renoir. Other highlights include the 35,000-square-foot West Wing for Contemporary Art, with work by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Baltimorean Grace Hartigan; Early American decorative arts and a gallery of miniature rooms; European art that includes Impressionist paintings by Monet and Degas; and the Jacobs Wing, a collection of 15th- to 19th-century European art displayed in jewel-toned rooms. Admission is free of charge.
3. Fort McHenry – The star-shaped fort looks much as it did back in 1812 in it’s heyday, and its buildings, repaired in the days following the attack, still stand. The star-spangled banner is central to this fort, a national monument. Because their flag is so big, around 20 people are needed to keep it off the ground. The large flag flies only during daylight hours and a smaller flag flies at night. Exhibits recall Baltimore under siege during the War of 1812 and the fort’s service during the Civil War and as a World War I army hospital. Admission is $7 for adults and free for children.
4. Federal Hill – Get a great view of the city from that big hill overlooking the Inner Harbor. Take the 100 steps on the Battery Avenue side, or enter from Warren Avenue, where you won’t have any steps to contend with at all, except maybe a curbstone. The hill has been valued for its scenic views since the first Baltimoreans came here to watch construction around the harbor. A single cannon recalls the Civil War, when federal guns were trained on the city. Take your dog (on a leash) or your children. Once the kids get tired of the view, they can play in the fenced-in playground. Free of charge.
5. Port Discovery Children’s Museum – At this kid-powered museum with three floors of exhibits, children of all ages can cross the Nile to explore ancient Egypt, crawl through a kitchen drain to solve a mystery in Miss Perception’s Mystery House, and climb the three-story-high Kidworks. Walt Disney Company Imagineers designed many of the exhibits here! We rank it at #4 on our list of the 10 Best Children’s Museums In America. Admission is $13.95.
6. Gorge Peabody Library – One of Baltimore’s hidden treasures, the 1866 Peabody is an architectural gem with the cast-iron balconies soaring five levels to a shining glass ceiling. It’s an academic gem as well — the resting place of 300,000 volumes, mostly rare books, with some dating to when the printing press was new. Philanthropist George Peabody provided the funds to build this magnificent “cathedral of books” and ordered that it be filled with the best works on every subject. Literary exhibits change regularly in an adjacent gallery. Free of charge.
7. The Walter’s Art Museum – Begun with the 22,000-object collection of William and Henry Walters, this gem’s ancient and medieval galleries practically sparkle. Walk through the galleries of sculpture, jewelry, mummies, and 19th-century French paintings to see the progress of fine art through 50 centuries. The Knight’s Hall displays tapestries, furnishings, and suits of armor from the Middle Ages. The Egyptian collection is one of the best in the U.S. The original Palazzo building features 1,500 works from mostly the Renaissance and baroque periods. Hackerman House, open Saturday and Sunday, features Asian art. The Palace of Wonders is the imaginary gallery of a 17th-century Flemish nobleman with art, collections from nature, and artifacts from around the world. Admission is free of charge.
8. The Baltimore Basilica – Visit America’s first cathedral. Designed by Benjamin Latrobe, who was working on the U.S. Capitol at the same time, this neoclassical basilica is considered one of America’s most beautiful. A national shrine and historic landmark, it has been a monument to religious freedom since 1806. Notable visitors have included Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II, both of whom now have memorials to their visits. A controversial restoration, including the removal of stained glass and uncovering of 24 skylights in the dome, has resulted in a light-drenched sanctuary filled with glittering details. For natives who remember the dark, solemn space, this was a startling revelation and a welcome one. The project also uncovered balconies once reserved for African-American Catholics and cloistered nuns. One of my favorite features is the undercroft, which has a chapel, museum, and crypt. Admission is free of charge.
9. Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad Museum – American railroading got its start here when the B&O was chartered in 1827, and the first locomotive, the Tom Thumb, was built here. The remarkable roundhouse was restored after the roof collapsed in a 2003 snowstorm and is now more accessible for visitors with disabilities and parents with strollers. As damaged pieces are repaired, they are returned to the roundhouse, but it’s still filled with an awe-inspiring collection of engines and rolling stock. A car barn has the largest locomotive ever built. Platforms enable visitors to tour trains outside, including a World War II troop sleeper, a caboose, and a refrigerated car where a train movie runs continuously. A short train ride is available for a nominal fee of $2 for adults and just $1 kids, and takes passengers along some of the oldest train tracks in the world. Admission is $14 for adults and $8 for children.
10. Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum – Last, but certainly not least, comes a museum that honors one of the biggest legends of our time. George Herman “Babe” Ruth was born in this rowhouse, where two rooms have been re-created to look as they would have when the Sultan of Swat was a boy. Other exhibits include a wall enumerating his home runs, plus memorabilia from his major league career and his days at St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore, where he learned to play the game. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children.
11. American Visionary Art Museum – Undoubtedly, this has to be one of the coolest museums in all of America. A 55-foot-tall whirligig made of old machine parts spins and clangs in front of this Inner Harbor institution, which was decorated with a mirrored mosaic by Baltimore’s school kids. The AVAM showcases outsider art: pieces made by self-taught creators who craft such things as a toothpick-sculpture Lusitania, an art car covered in bent forks and spoons, and robots conjured from tubing and discarded fans. Don’t miss the collection of automata, housed in a former whiskey warehouse next to the main building. The mechanical sculptures spring into action at the touch of a button as the wooden man lapping up a bathtub full of spaghetti. General admission is $15.95 for adults, $13.95 for seniors and $9.95 for children.
12. The Maryland Zoo – See over 2,000 animals at this historic zoo that opened back in 1876, yet continues to thrive. You’ll also get to pick your own animal encounters from the rhinos, okapi, and zebras to the penguins, ostriches and polar bears. These signature tours take you inside the zoo areas where you can watch handlers feed and tend to the animals. We featured this zoo’s incredible tour on our list of the Top 10 Behind the Scenes Tours in America. The price of the Behind-the-Scenes tour includes general admission, so you don’t have to worry about paying to walk around the zoo afterwards. These tours start at $300 and take groups of up to four people. General zoo admission from mary-December is $17.50 for adults, $14.50 for seniors and $12.50 for children.