I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much.
Although I had been to Baltimore once before, just briefly for an Orioles game, I had heard nothing but negatives since.
There’s so much crime! Haven’t you seen The Wire?
So when I was presented with the opportunity to travel to Baltimore, Maryland for a work assignment, I initially hesitated at the thought of spending any additional time there to explore the city. Besides, I had been traveling so much lately as I was in Washington, D.C. for work and spent Christmas in Montreal. Fortunately, my curiosity and adventurous spirit exceeded my pessimism and I embraced the opportunity to explore a new place.
Is it just me, or does anyone else feel a defiant urge to visit a place just because someone told you that you shouldn’t?
Once again, I am so glad I chose to ignore the travel advice of my friends and colleagues. They had been wrong before, and they were wrong again in the case of Baltimore. Although there are definitely some rough parts of town where the crime is high and the poverty is heartbreaking, the majority of Baltimore’s tourist attractions are located in very safe areas.
As soon as I arrived, I quickly dropped my bag at the hotel and bolted out the door in search of what makes Baltimore America’s “Charm City.” I spent the next few days finding out why Baltimore is truly one of America’s metropolitan gems, complete with history, culture, arts, sports, and, most importantly, hospitality.
Here’s how you, too, can experience the charm of Baltimore in just three days!
Baltimore is truly at the center of American history. Although cities like Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. tend to attract more of the American history enthusiasts, Baltimore can hold its own against any of these cities. From the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812 to the Civil War, Baltimore and its strategic location along the Chesapeake Bay played a crucial role. It is for that reason that I recommend you devote an entire day to Baltimore’s important role in American history.
8:00 AM Visit Fort McHenry
Although Fort McHenry played a role in multiple wars in America’s history, it is perhaps most remembered for inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner, now America’s national anthem, as he watched British troops attack the Fort in 1814 during the War of 1812. Key wrote the lyrics to the song, but the tune was actually a popular British drinking song heard in pubs throughout Great Britain. Take a morning to explore the Fort for yourself and learn about its significance beyond the famous song. You can reach the fort either by city bus or by taking a water taxi (very cheap) from the Inner Harbor to the right of the U.S.S. Constellation. Just be aware that the taxi operates or reduced hours during the winter, as I inconveniently discovered.
1:00 PM Head to the Flag House
Grab a quick bite in the Inner Harbor and then head down the street the the Flag House, also known as the Star Spangled Banner house. Here you will see the house in which the flag that flew over Fort McHenry (the Star-Spangled Banner) was sewn by Mary Young Pickersgill. It’s a quick guided tour preceded by a video, but it’s well worth it. You’ll even see remnants of the original flag, though the majority of the flag is on display in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. On the outer facade of the museum, visitors can view a to-scale version of the flag to gain a sense of the enormity of the task presented to Ms. Pickersgill.
2:30 PM Historic Ships of Baltimore’s Maritime Museum
Several historic ships line Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, including the U.S.S. Constellation. You can purchase a ticket at the booth outside the Constellation to tour one or more of the ships. If historic ships aren’t your thing (or the line is too long!), learn about Baltimore’s role in American history at one of these great historical attractions: Baltimore Civil War Museum, the B&O Railroad Museum, or Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture.
5:00 PM Catch an Orioles baseball game or Ravens football game, depending on the season
Baltimore is a sports-lovers paradise, and it definitely embraces its home teams. I was lucky enough to be there while the Ravens were in the NFL playoffs and the whole city adorned purple. The Ravens have a great defensive lineup worth checking out in person, and the Orioles play in a beautiful, historic stadium at Camden Yards. Both are a great way to experience local Baltimore culture.
Looking for entertainment? Baltimore has turned some of America’s favorite forms of entertainment into educational opportunities! Split your day between some of Baltimore’s best museums and its spectacular aquarium.
10:00 AM Geppi’s Entertainment Museum
If it’s a part of American popular culture, Geppi’s has it. From Batman to Superman, Captain America to Ironman, and the Care Bears to the California Raisins, Geppi’s preserves America’s entertainment history. This is a fun museum for adults and kids alike, and you can learn more about it here.
11:00 AM Sports Legends Museum
As I’ve already mentioned, Baltimore has a rich history of sports. You can explore its famous teams and athletes throughout history at this great museum. Learn more here.
12:00 PM Stroll the grounds of Camden Yards as you make your way to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum
Babe Ruth may have ended up playing for the New York Yankees, but he began his life in Baltimore, just a few blocks from Camden Yards, where the Orioles play today. This quick museum is worth dropping by, especially since you can get a discounted ticket when you also visit the Sports Legends Museum. Details here.
1:30 PM Lunch at the Power Plant
Hop on the Charm City Circulator, the city’s free bus system that visits most tourist destinations, and head back to the Inner Harbor. Purchase your tickets for the National Aquarium and head next door for lunch at one of quick places to eat at the Power Plant, an old factory-turned-restaurant hub (complete with a Barnes & Noble).
2:30 PM Visit the National Aquarium
You’ve already bought your ticket, right? Good! It’s your turn in line. Check out the multi-story aquarium, complete with just about every fish in the sea! Watch as aquarium volunteers feed the sting rays and sea turtles, check out the impressive jellyfish exhibit, and catch a dolphin show! The aquarium will entertain you and your family for hours, and help you learn more about America’s marine life.
5:30 PM Head to Federal Hill
Walk around the Inner Harbor and up the steps to Federal Hill to take in the great views of the city skyline and Inner Harbor at night. On your walk, you will get to experience the entirety of the Inner Harbor park, which is a great place to hang out in its own right.
6:30 PM Venture into the Fell’s Point neighborhood for dinner and entertainment
Best way to get there is the Charm City Circulator! Fell’s Point is one of Baltimore’s historic neighborhoods and now boasts a lively arts scene and great restaurants.
9:00 AM Breakfast at Lexington Market
Although Lexington Market left me a bit disappointed, it’s definitely worth checking out for its historical value. You’re sure to find a few delicious options for breakfast here to fuel your final day of exploration.
10:00 AM Baltimore Basilica
Baltimore’s Basilica is actually America’s first cathedral and one of Baltimore’s most impressive historical attractions. You can read more about how to plan your visit here. Don’t forget to visit the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden behind the Basilica.
11:00 AM The Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum was my favorite museum in Baltimore, and one of the better museums I’ve visited in the world. Allow two to three hours to explore all of the collections. You can grab lunch at the museum’s cafe (which is convenient, but might be a little pricy), or you can leave and come back — admission is free!
2:00 PM Washington Monument and Museum at Mt. Vernon Plaza
This is a quick, but worthwhile attraction located just up the street from the Walters. A nice little park surrounds the monument and museum.
2:15 PM The George Peabody Library
Located just up the street and around the corner from the Walter’s Art Museum, the George Peabody Library is part of the Peabody Institute, the music school of Johns Hopkins University. The biggest attraction here is the Reading Room, which houses over 300,000 books from the 19th Century. There is also an Exhibition Gallery, which when I was there, held an exhibit with original works from the likes of Albert Einstein and Marie Curie. Admission is free.
3:00 PM Peruse the shops on Charles Street
This area is definitely an arts and music haven. Take your time heading back to the Inner Harbor and enjoy the unique shops along Charles Street.
4:00 PM Shopping at Harborplace
You can either catch the Charm City Circulator or simply walk back to the Inner Harbor area to enjoy the numerous shopping opportunities at Harborplace, located across from the historic ships at the Inner Harbor. You’ll find tourists and locals alike at this spectacular mall.
6:30 PM Dinner in the Inner Harbor
Your choice of restaurants, pubs, and even a beer garden at Harborplace or Power Plant Live! If you haven’t tried some of the seafood in Baltimore, here’s your last chance. Everyone recommended Phillips restaurant to me as a great place to find seafood. But, since I can’t stand seafood, I chose to pass.
How to make it happen
Getting There: The best and cheapest way to reach Baltimore is by plane, flying into Baltimore’s BWI airport. From there, you will be able to take the train into town. Your hotel will likely be located on or near a bus line, which you can catch from the train station. If you are traveling to Baltimore from a city on the east coast of the United States, you can take an Amtrak train directly into Baltimore’s Union Station from pretty much anywhere along the eastern seaboard.
Transportation: You can navigate your way around Baltimore by using the city’s FREE bus system, the Charm City Circulator. Although its lines (Orange and Purple) do not take you everywhere in the city, they do take you to most of the tourist destinations. For anything outside of this area, you can easily catch a local city bus. During my entire stay in Baltimore, I never needed to use any transportation other than the Circulator, the city bus, or my own two feet. It really is a very manageable town, and you can walk to many places safely and comfortably, particularly within the Inner Harbor.
Anticipated Costs: If you are traveling on a tight budget, one positive about Baltimore is that transportation should not set you back much. There are also cheaper places to eat if you are willing to forgo the fancy restaurants with prime views of the waterfront. I will say, however, that most of Baltimore’s main attractions, its museums in particular, will cost you about $15 – $20 USD per person. In some cases, discounts are offered if you buy certain packages, or children receive reduced or free admission. But I found myself rather frustrated that I had to pay an average of $15 USD for many of the most important sites. To lower your costs, take advantage of the free or low-cost museums, like the Walters, buy cheap nosebleed seats at sporting events, and consider staying in a local hostel rather than an expensive hotel if that is conducive to your travel lifestyle. I saved money by walking everywhere (or taking the Circulator), by staying in a hostel after my employer-paid time expired at the fancy hotel, and by eating at very cheap restaurants. This helped off-set the higher prices I had to pay for the attractions as my food, lodging, and transportation costs were quite low.
What are you waiting for?
Start planning your three-day weekend escape to Baltimore today!
I know there is plenty in Baltimore that I have not included in this brief guide. After all — you can only realistically do so much in three days! Baltimore has enough spectacular museums, that you could spend three whole days just on museums alone. A three-day stay in Baltimore is all about balance: food, fun, entertainment, history, and the arts. You can do it all in Baltimore.
My visit to Baltimore was one of the most pleasant visits I’ve had in America’s cities. The people were polite and eager to help me when I was lost. The food was great, the views spectacular, and with its combination of sports, history, and entertainment, it had pretty much everything I could ask for in a city. So the next time you’re looking for a great American city to explore, I hope you’ll consider the charming city of Baltimore.
Have you visited Baltimore? What activities do you suggest for the perfect 3-day weekend in the Charm City?