When you think of destination cities, you probably think of cities like New York, San Diego, New Orleans, or Miami. Baltimore, Maryland, doesn’t usually come to mind. But in fact, it’s one of the most historic cities in the US.
Whether you want to visit historical neighborhoods or tour the USS Constitution, the city has a lot to offer. You can also visit the National Aquarium, and the US Naval Academy is just a short drive away.
But if you’re not a local, touring an unfamiliar city can be a challenge. You don’t know where the attractions are, or when is the best time to visit them. The solution is to book a guided tour. Tour companies are run by insiders who know exactly where to go, when to go there, and what parts of the city to steer clear of. Here are a few great ways to get out and enjoy Baltimore, Maryland.
1. Take a Food Tour of Fell’s Point
The Fell’s Point neighborhood is one of the most historic neighborhoods in the entire United States. Boasting 161 buildings on the National Historic Register, there are plenty of sights to see. The most famous of these is the Robert Long House, which is available for guided tours. In addition, you can also visit the first African-American-owned shipyard in the United States.
But you know what’s better than visiting a historic district? Visiting a historic district and enjoying the best local cuisine. On a guided food tour of Fell’s Point, you’ll begin on the east side of the neighborhood.
The tour will begin by explaining the history of the area, as well as several of the most famous historical buildings. You’ll also learn about the local industry and commerce, as well as the social history if this famous American neighborhood.
As you move through the neighborhood, your guide will talk about local historical and cultural sites. Of particular interest is the history of Fell’s Point in the War of 1812, where it became the landing point of a British raid. The area’s industry is also notable, with several old shipyards that played an important part in American history.
Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy delicious local food at five different restaurants. You can enjoy local crab cakes, craft cocktails, and vegetables from local farms. The total tour length is 3 ½ hours, good for an afternoon of activity.
Keep in mind, though, that you’ll be on your feet for most of this time. If you have a mobility impairment, you’ll want to choose another way to explore Baltimore.
2. Take a Cruise on the Inner Harbor
If you want to enjoy the city without walking the entire time, you’ve got several options. One way is to take a cruise on the Inner Harbor. Baltimore’s famous harbor is what made it the city it is today. Indeed, there were already docks and shipyards before the United States was even a country. There’s plenty of history to enjoy, as well as food, drinks, and music.
This isn’t just any cruise. It’s a dinner cruise on the Spirit of Baltimore, one of the most famous local cruise ships in the country. It’s a semi-formal affair, so make sure to dress accordingly. Swap out that tee shirt for a polo, and ditch the halter top for something a little more formal.
You can book a group of any size, whether it’s just you and your partner or the whole family. Keep in mind that groups of 15 or more are non-refundable, so plan accordingly.
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From the moment you step on board, you’ll be treated to a premium experience. A maître d will escort you to your own candlelit table. The seating is cabaret-style, arranged with a view of a stage where the staff perform a variety of songs. Before dinner, you can explore the ship, and even enjoy some adult beverages while you view the city against the sunset.
Dinner is buffet-style, with a variety of dishes to suit every taste. Vegetarians can enjoy a fresh salad or a delicious local pasta. Carnivores can enjoy freshly-prepared chicken or Alaskan salmon. The buffet is all you can eat, so feel free to eat your fill. While you eat, the staff will entertain you with music and point out the local sights.
After dinner, the buffet will be cleared and replaced with coffee and desert. The live music will be replaced by a DJ, who will play all the latest hits while you relax. Spend some time on the dance floor, and rock out to your favorite hits for a full two hours.
Alternatively, you can visit the top deck for some cocktails. Take in the night sky, and enjoy the cityscape from a unique vantage point. It’s the largest outdoor deck in Baltimore, and it’s yours to enjoy for the evening.
3. Book a Helicopter Tour
For an even more unique experience, why not get a birds-eye view of the city? With a helicopter tour, you can view the city in a way that even most locals don’t get to experience. Take to the skies in an air-conditioned helicopter, throw on some noise-cancelling headphones, and you’ll be ready to rock.
Helicopter tours take you to the sky in a jet-powered Bel 206 Jet Ranger. This state of the art helicopter has enough room for four passengers, complete with convex windows that provide a clear, 360-degree view.
The most basic option is a 15-minute tour. On this tour, you’ll see Fort McHenry, which famously survived a British siege and became the inspiration for the Star Spangled Banner. You can also see some famous ships that are permanently docked in the harbor. These include the USS Torsk, a World War II submarine that’s now a museum ship.
You can also view a decommissioned aircraft carrier from the same angle as an incoming pilot. Dozens of sailboats dot the harbor, mostly pleasure boats out for a day trip. You’ll also spot the USS Constitution, America’s first warship from the Revolutionary War.
In addition, you can view several historic neighborhoods. You don’t just get to see downtown. You also get to see the Fell’s Point and Mount Vernon neighborhoods before you land. You even get a birds-eye view of Camden Yards and the M&T Bank Stadium. If you’re a sports nut, you’re sure to appreciate that part of the tour.
If you’re up for a longer trip, you can take a more comprehensive 20-minute tour. On this wider-ranging tour, you can view the famous Pimlico Race Course. You can also see Druid Lake, as well as TV Hill. This way, you can take in the entire city.
There’s also an even longer, 30-minute tour. This tour takes you all the way to Annapolis, where you can view the Annapolis marina. You also get to enjoy a flyover of the US Naval Academy, as well as the famous Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
4. Tour Local Craft Breweries
If you want to understand a city, you want to understand and appreciate all their local beers. So why not book a craft brewery tour? These aren’t your big, corporate beers. They’re local beers, brewed in Baltimore. Across four different stops, you’ll enjoy 16 different beers, all of which are different styles.
Not only that, but you’ll get to go behind the scenes and see how the beer is made. Watch the brew-masters ply their trade, and see the entire process from the grain to the barrel. If you’ve never toured a brewery, you’ll enjoy this part of the tour. You’ll never look at your everyday beer the same way again.
Of course, if you’re tasting that many beers, you’re going to want some food in your stomach. Along your way, you’ll enjoy a delicious lunch. This lunch is served specifically for beer connoisseurs, with the food and beers specifically chosen for a perfect pairing.
Tours are available both in the early afternoon and in the evening. And if you’re trying to squeeze more activities into the day, you can choose a shortened tour that’s slimmed down to three breweries over the course of three hours.
5. Book a Day Trip to New York
If this is your first time visiting the US east coast, it would be a shame to miss out on New York City. And thanks to Amtrak, you’re just a couple of hours from New York by rail. So book a day trip, and enjoy everything that New York City has to offer.
Trains depart in the early morning. Along the way, you can enjoy Amtrak’s premium rail service. Grab a meal in the Café Car, kick back and nap, or watch a movie. Leave your traffic woes behind and take advantage of congestion-free rails. By mid morning, you’ll be pulling into New York’s famous Penn Station.
The tour package includes a double-decker bus tour of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Along the way, you’ll stop at zoos, theaters, museums, and even an observatory. You can also take a boat tour of the harbor. You can get off at any stop to see the sights, or you can stay on the bus and carry on with the tour.
One of the most popular sights is the Intrepid, a World War II aircraft tour that’s open for touring. Another is the 9/11 Memorial Pool at the site of the old World Trade Center. Nearby, you can visit New York’s famous Battery Park, or the Fraunces Tavern that was George Washington’s headquarters during the first years of the Revolutionary War.
You can also visit Federal Hall, the site of George Washington’s inauguration. You can snap a picture in front of Wall Street’s famous bronze bull, or grab lunch at Senor Frog’s. Stop off at Broadway and 42nd Street to see some of New York’s most famous theaters, or visit the flagship Macy’s store or Time Square. In the evening, hop on another Amtrak train for your return ship.
6. Enjoy a Fun Scavenger Hunt
If you’re traveling with children, some of the historical tours might be a bit boring for the little ones. And the craft brewery tour will be off-limits altogether. But kids and adults can all enjoy a game. So why not turn your Baltimore tour into a game by going on a city-wide scavenger hunt with Urban Adventure Quest?
The scavenger hunt starts in the Inner Harbor, and ranges throughout the city. Along the way, you’ll have to solve various clues and complete challenges. Remember, this is a game, so it’s all about having fun. With the companion smartphone app, you’ll navigate all throughout the city.
Throughout your hunt, you’ll visit the Maryland Science Center, the USS Constellation, the 9-11 Memorial, the Baltimore Power Plant, the Inner Harbor lighthouse, Little Italy, the Baltimore World Trade Center, and the Star Spangled Banner Flag House. When you’re in Little Italy, take the time to stop for a local Italian pastry. It’s well worth your time.
The smartphone guide lets you decide when you want to start, and you can move as quickly or as slowly as you want. Make sure to book with the group rate. If you pay per person, you’ll spend more than you wanted to. Once you get going, your kids will be as engaged as you are. They might even learn something along the way!
7. Visit the National Aquarium
Another great activity for the whole family is a visit to the National Aquarium. Formerly known as the Baltimore Aquarium, the National Aquarium is located on Pier 3 in the heart of the Inner Harbor. First opened in 1981, it quickly gained a reputation as the best aquarium in the world. Over the course of an average year, the National Aquarium draws 1.5 million visitors.
Inside the aquarium, you’ll be able to view over 20,000 individual animals from over 700 species. The National Aquarium holds an incredible 2,200,000 gallons of water, providing an ample habitat for all of these marine animals.
Perhaps the National Aquarium’s most famous attraction is the shark tank. The tank is over five stories tall, with a spiral stairway running around the outside. As you ascend, you’ll see a wide variety of sharks, all of them swimming at their natural depth. If you ever wanted to get an up close and personal look at a sand tiger shark, now is your chance.
The aquarium also hosts an immersion theater, where you can experience a virtual ocean tour. There are also exhibits on the Atlantic Coral Reef, as well as the world-famous Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit. You can even see some dolphins. There are seven Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the mammal pavilion adjacent to the aquarium.
8. Take a Food Tour of the Mount Vernon Neighborhood
After all that activity, you’re going to be hungry. So why not end your day with a food tour? While you’re at it, why not get a taste for the city’s history? If that’s what you want, a food tour of the Mount Vernon neighborhood might be right up your alley.
Mount Vernon was named after George Washington’s Virginia estate, and was donated by a wealthy Revolutionary War veteran to build a monument in his memory. As time went on, the neighborhood became Baltimore’s wealthiest neighborhood, the home to local aristocrats.
Today, the aristocrats are gone, but their gorgeous architecture remains. Instead, the neighborhood has become a cultural hotspot, with many ethnic restaurants, museums, and shops. Whatever you want to eat, from Italian to Korean food, you’re going to find it in Mount Vernon.
The food tour begins at the Maryland Historical Society. There, your guide will give you an overview of the neighborhood’s history, starting with the War of 1812. You’ll learn about Baltimore’s culture at the time, and how their aristocrats shaped and formed the city.
Next, you’ll tour the neighborhood, stopping at four local restaurants along the way. Sample Turkish kebabs, Afghan cuisine, Chinese dumplings, and cap it off with a fusion restaurant that offers a bit of everything. The tour wraps up at the top of the hill, with a stunning view of the city.
9. Watch a Baltimore Orioles Game
The Baltimore Orioles may not be the winningest team in baseball, but they play in one of the most famous stadiums. Camden Yards is one of baseball’s “retro-modern” stadiums, constructed in the 1990s, but designed like stadiums from the 1890s.
With its deep, 400-foot center field corner, it’s famous for center field play. Grab a stadium dog, buy yourself a beer, and bust open a bag of peanuts. Then take in the city skyline at one of the world’s most beautiful ballparks. Who knows? The Orioles might even win!
10. Take a Day Trip to the Naval Academy
The US Naval Academy isn’t just a source of competent officers; it’s also one of the most beautiful campuses on Earth. First founded in 1845, the Naval Academy hosts some impressive architecture.
Better yet, they offer public tours six days a week. Visit the world’s largest dormitory at Bancroft Hall, and take in the Venetian stained glass at the chapel. Keep in mind that the Naval Academy is located in Annapolis, so you’ll need a rideshare or a rental car to get there.
11. Tour the Walters Art Museum
Located in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, the Walters Art Museum is a major cultural hub in the city. Better yet, it’s free for all visitors. They host a wide variety of art and artifacts, dating from 5,000 BC to the modern era, and totaling 36,000 objects.
During your tour, you’ll view 19th-century French art, ancient copies of the Koran, Roman artifacts, and even Buddhist art. You don’t need to go to Paris or New York to see these kinds of displays. They’re right here in Baltimore.
Things to Do in Baltimore FAQ
So, what else do you need to know about your trip to Baltimore? Here’s a crash course on some of the most frequently asked questions.
Suppose your cruise is just docking for a single day? What can you do in a single afternoon that’s worth your while? To begin with, we already mentioned the National Aquarium. The National Aquarium is renowned worldwide as the best aquarium in the world. You’ll see over 20,000 animals and more than 700 species. If you only have an hour or two to visit, don’t miss out on the multi-story shark tank. The dolphins are also a must-see attraction.
Another must-see sight is the Inner Harbor itself. There, you’ll get to view some of America’s most famous warships. Perhaps the best well-known of these is the USS Constitution. The Constitution first served in the Revolutionary War, and is the only sailing ship in the world that’s still in active military service.
You can also go on board four other historical ships. One of these is a US Navy sail ship that was first launched in 1854. Another is the USS Torsk, a submarine that served for two tours against Japan in World War II. There’s also a ship from Pearl Harbor, and a US Coast Guard ship from the 1930s. Nearby, make sure to check out the Inner Harbor’s lighthouse, which was built back in 1855.
Downtown Baltimore is about 10 minutes from the cruise terminal by car. Hire a cab or a rideshare driver, and enjoy all that the bustling city has to offer. Shopping and theaters are all at your fingertips.
Unfortunately, Baltimore has gotten an undeserved reputation for drugs and violence. In large part, this was due to the critically-acclaimed HBO series The Wire. Indeed, the city does have a high rate of poverty, and it leads the nation in the number of robberies per capita. That said, rates of violent crime are lower than in many American cities.
The good news is that as with most major cities, crime is generally limited to certain areas of the city. The “touristy” parts of town remain very safe, provided you follow the general rules of being a tourist. Specifically, watch out for pickpockets. Pickpockets plague most tourist attractions throughout the world, and in that regard, Baltimore is no different. Avoid carrying your wallet in your back pocket, and you should be just fine.
Neighborhoods to avoid include Edmondson Village, the Monument Street area, Pulaski, Hopkins-Middle East, Greenmount East, Orangeville, Fairfield, Grove Park, Cherry Hill, West Baltimore, Berea, Greater Rosemont, and Madison-Eastend. Mount Vernon, Fell’s Point, and the Inner Harbor are among the city’s safest neighborhoods.
If you’re going to explore the city on foot, a map can help you avoid the bad areas. When in doubt, check with your hotel’s concierge to get directions. They’re friendly, and they’re happy to help you map out a route where you can stay safe.
There are a large number of hotels near the Port of Baltimore, so you have many to choose from. The top-rated hotel is the Pier 5 Hotel Baltimore, Curio Collection by Hilton. It’s not on the waterfront, but it’s nearby, and it has the best-rated rooms.
If you want a waterfront hotel, the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront and the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel are both excellent options. Make sure to choose a room that faces the harbor, though. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting your money on a view of the cityscape.
For a more budget-friendly option, book a room at the Days Inn by Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor. It’s not on the waterfront, but it’s nearby. So you can get a reasonable price with all the convenience of accessibility.
Main Photo Credit: Cruise Maryland