Fells Point Harbor in Baltimore on a sunny day

Visit Fells Point in Baltimore Harbor. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Experience the Best of Baltimore’s Fascinating Past — and Funky Present

The largest city in Maryand, Baltimore still often gets overshadowed by nearby Washington, D.C. — and wrongly so. Charm City has a quirky character all its own, not to mention a historic waterfront location, an eclectic art scene and great food.

Modern-day Baltimore dates back to 1729, when it was an important port city, and its role in the War of 1812 inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Though it’s technically south of the Mason-Dixon line, Maryland never seceded from the Union, making Baltimore feel both a bit northern and a bit southern.

Today, the city is full of art museums and galleries, independent boutiques, great vintage shops and restaurants that celebrate mid-Atlantic cuisine.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Explore Fells Point and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

In the morning, start with French toast and a cuppa at Teavolve in charming Fell’s Point, a National Historic District of cobblestone streets, 19th-century row houses, waterfront restaurants and shops.

After breakfast, stroll a few blocks to the Inner Harbor, which is a favorite neighborhood for visitors thanks to its many attractions and a great place to get a sense of the city’s storied seafaring history.

At Historic Ships in Baltimore, you can tour three historic ships, including the USS Torsk, a submarine that saw active duty off the coast of Japan, and the magnificent USS Constellation, the last sail-only warship from the Civil War Era.

Learn more about the city’s colonial maritime history at the Robert Long House, the oldest house in the city, standing at just 28 feet wide. For lunch, head to Broadway Market, which dates back to 1786 and houses food stalls serving everything from classic diner fare to Korean food.

National Aquarium in Baltimore on a sunny day
The whole family will love the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor. (Photo: Getty Images)

As you work your way around the harbor after lunch, you’ll eventually reach the National Aquarium, rated one of the best in the country. A great stop for kids (or animal lovers of any age), the harbor-front complex is home to more than 20,000 animals, with areas dedicated to an Amazon river forest, an Australian river gorge and the Mid-Atlantic region.

Adults and older kids will enjoy the American Visionary Art Museum, which celebrates and preserves the inspired, sometimes humorous work of self-taught, “outsider” artists, many of whom were once overlooked by the mainstream art world.

The art here is exuberant and eclectic: There’s a family of robots made from upcycled electronics to a glittery, an eight-foot tall ‘Cosmic Galaxy Egg’ sculpture and a stunning replica of the RMS Lusitania made entirely of matchsticks — by a fifth grader! And don’t miss Sideshow, the museum’s fun, novelty-filled gift shop.

Stick around for dinner at the Rusty Scupper, which serves Maryland crab cakes and other seafood specialties right on the water. Then grab a pint at The Horse You Came In On, a historic tavern that claims to be the only bar in Maryland to exist before, during and after Prohibition. PS: It’s supposedly haunted by the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe, too.

Saturday: Discover Baltimore’s Quirky Art Scene

You got a small taste of Baltimore’s art scene yesterday, but there’s much more to see today. Grab a flat-white espresso and fortifying bowl of oatmeal (topped with granola, chunky apples, and maple) at the charming Bird in Hand Café & Bookstore, then stroll over to the Baltimore Museum of Art, whose permanent collection includes the largest collection of Henri Matisse’s works in a public institution.

The museum is also known for its dynamic temporary exhibits, which range from a John Waters retrospective to installations by renowned contemporary artists like Mickalene Thomas and Spencer Finch. Stay for brunch at Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen, situated in the sculpture garden — it’s nabbed national acclaim, and one bite of the crab cake-based riff on eggs Benedict will show you why.

Speaking of hometown hero John Waters — the eccentric filmmaker who gave us Hairspray, Pink Flamingos and other cult films — another quirky neighborhood you must visit is Hampden, just west of the museum. There you’ll find Atomic Books, where Waters receives his fan mail, plus spots like the oddity shop Bazaar and womenswear boutique Doubledutch.

Stroll down 36th Street, which is lined with shops like The Parisian Flea, which sells vintage and estate jewelry, and Ma Petite Shoe, which sells shoes and chocolate (a bit of a strange combination, but it works).

You won’t be able to miss the muraled Baltimore in a Box — the storefront itself is a piece of public art. Step inside to select a city-themed gift box stuffed with kitschy paraphernalia and well-loved snacks like UTZ Crab Chips and Otterbein’s Cookies to take a little bit of Baltimore back home.

Orange cocktail with fruit and rosemary
Sip on a fruity cocktail. (Photo: Marriott International)

Stop by The Bluebird Cocktail Room for a pre-dinner drink — all cocktails served in this jewel box of a bar were inspired by the poetry of acclaimed American author and conservationist Wendell Berry.

Try a Be Like the Fox (sunflower and berries mixed with gin), and then head over to Woodberry Kitchen, where James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde serves mid-Atlantic farm-to-table cuisine in a cozy space

Sunday: Ride Historic Trains in Pigtown and Watch a Game at Camden Yards

On your last day, you’ll dive deeper into the area around the University of Maryland, which is home to several fascinating historic sites.

First, stop for coffee at Milk & Honey Market by Vagrant Coffee, housed in a former fire station. The glass garage door, vaulted ceilings and exposed brick nod to the city’s industrial past and lend an airy backdrop as you sip your oat milk latte and nibble an almond croissant.

Next up, the B&O Railroad Museum, located in the historic rail station where the first passenger train ticket in America was first sold in 1830. You can spend hours learning about nearly 200 years of railroad history and interacting with the trains, including the most comprehensive collection of Early American locomotives in the world.

And there’s memorabilia galore, including dining car china and silver, Pullman porter uniforms, and the pocket watches used by conductors to ensure passengers arrived as scheduled.

When you get hungry, walk over to the Corner Bistro & Wine Bar for crab cake sliders, a burger, or other bistro classics.

Downtown Baltimore cityscape during sunset
There’s always something going on downtown. (Photo: Marriott International)

In the afternoon, you might want to catch a game at the city’s pro baseball stadium — or take a tour of the field and facilities. Baseball fans should also check out the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum just a few blocks from the stadium.

If you’re more interested in literary history, go to the Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum instead and pay your respects at his gravesite at Westminster Hall. The famously macabre poet launched his career in Baltimore, writing some of his earliest short stories in the home he shared with his aunt.

From there, it’s an easy walk or drive to the elegant neighborhood of Mount Vernon, where you’ll pass mansions once owned by Baltimore’s tony, 19th-century industrialists. Stroll by the majestic, 178-foot-tall Washington Monument, a local landmark built in 1829 to honor our nations’ first President, before dining at The Helmand, a longstanding neighborhood favorite for Afghani cuisine.