Best Attractions in BaltimoreIn a city with dozens of attractions and things to do, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
By Greg Weekes
Find Plenty of Activities at the Inner Harbor
The Inner Harbor is a perfect family destination—a waterfront setting with plenty of open space for kids to unleash energy, numerous sightseeing attractions and a backdrop of huge tanker ships, put-putting tugboats and pleasure craft bobbing on blue water. Water taxis are a convenient and fun way to get from one Inner Harbor location to another.
The National Aquarium , a AAA GEM, is one of the most popular things to do in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. You'll see everything from puffins to moon jellies at this state-of-the-art facility, where exhibits replicate, among other environments, a tropical coral reef, a Mid-Atlantic seashore, an Amazon River tributary and a Maryland mountain stream.
The Inner Harbor has plenty of scenic charms, and perhaps the best way to appreciate them is from the 27th floor at the Top of the World Observation Level , the world's tallest pentagonal building. In addition to a lofty bird's eye view of boats parading along harbor waterways, the observation room windows offer a 360-degree panorama of downtown Charm City.
More Fun Attractions to Keep Kids Entertained
Yet another Inner Harbor attraction—and a AAA GEM—is the Maryland Science Center, IMAX Theater and Davis Planetarium . Follow the life journey of a blue crab, one of the region's most economically valuable residents, and learn about the Chesapeake Bay's vital natural resources. At Newton's Alley you can test scientific principles like “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Grab your pith helmet for a trek to another GEM, The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore . The zoo's animal residents include African elephants, Arctic foxes, chimps, chinchillas, saddle-billed storks and more. Visitors also can feed giraffes and penguins and experience behind-the-scenes animal encounters.
Get to Know Baltimore's History
In 2012 Baltimore kicked off 3 years of events commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, a conflict that culminated in Great Britain's assault on the city's strategic harbor. Fort McHenry withstood a 25-hour bombardment that was witnessed by Maryland lawyer Francis Scott Key, who wrote a poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in tribute. You can learn more about our national anthem and view a replica of the flag that flew over the fort at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine , a AAA GEM attraction.
There's more historic heritage at The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House , the former home of seamstress Mary Young Pickersgill. Pickersgill created the original flag that flew over Fort McHenry; measuring 30 by 42 feet, it contained 15 stars and 15 stripes.
Just a few blocks from The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture salutes the legacies and cultural contributions of African American Marylanders. Exhibits chronicle the tragedy—200 years of slavery that tore families apart—as well as the triumphs of rebuilding neighborhood and communities. The museum also has a notable rotating collection of early jazz recordings.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum also honors African American accomplishments. It's not only a time capsule of the nation's past but also an educational history lesson, with likenesses of important historical figures (Benjamin Banneker, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman), civil rights pioneers (Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell) and celebrated Marylanders (Eubie Blake, Billie Holiday, Reggie Lewis).
Baltimore was an important port as far back as the late 18th century, and this rich nautical heritage can be explored at the Historic Ships in Baltimore . Four national historical landmarks are permanently docked at Piers 1, 3 and 5 on the Inner Harbor, including the Constellation, a U.S. Navy ship built in 1797 that was named after the “new constellation of stars” on the American flag, and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Taney, a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary , a AAA GEM attraction, was built in 1821 and is the first consecrated Roman Catholic cathedral in the United States. This neoclassical-style building, designed by American architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, is distinguished by massive Ionic columns and a light-filled interior capped by a beautiful painted dome.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad—originally connecting the port of Baltimore and Sandy Hook, Md.—is one of the country's oldest, and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum , a AAA GEM attraction, thus bills itself as “the birthplace of American railroading.” Take a train ride, visit the Roundhouse and check out the historical displays in the Exhibition Gallery.
Get Inspired at an Art Gallery
Where else will you find a model of the USS Lusitania painstakingly created from more than 100,000 toothpicks, a throne constructed from flattened bottle caps and a towering sculpture of Divine, star of several outrageous movies directed by Baltimore's own John Waters? At the American Visionary Art Museum , that's where. This AAA GEM attraction is the city's most enthrallingly creative art museum, spotlighting works by largely self-taught “visionaries.”
In addition to the must-see American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore has two other notable art museums, both GEMs. Along with paintings and sculptures (installed in two outdoor gardens), The Baltimore Museum of Art displays furniture and decorative arts in period room settings. Don't miss Anthony Van Dyck's “Rinaldo and Armida,” one of the Dutch master's most monumental works. The eclectic highlights at The Walters Art Museum include medieval crossbows; exquisite Fabergé eggs; two 3,000-pound statues of the ancient Egyptian lion-headed goddess Sekhmet; and the Chamber of Arts and Wonders, a re-creation of a 17th-century Flemish nobleman's residence replete with natural history objects.
If it's associated with the Old Line State, you'll find it at the Maryland Center for History and Culture , a vast repository of artifacts, memorabilia and archives. This GEM attraction, founded in 1844, is the state's oldest continuously operating cultural institution. Wander among a collection of more than 2,200 paintings, including many by Revolutionary War hero and noted naturalist Charles Willson Peale; English silver from the Colonial period; Confederate and Union Civil War uniforms; and everyday items from snuff boxes to washing machines.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.