Baltimore is one of the Eastern Seaboard’s best kept secrets. Here, old and crabby are reasons to visit. Fort McHenry is known for its role in the song “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the Lexington Market has been a source of local farm goods since the late 1700’s. Up and down Baltimore’s historic streets, new bars and restaurants are swishing open their doors, making this old town seem much younger.
From free activities to smashing hotel deals, here are 11 reasons to visit Baltimore this spring and summer.
There is good news for weary bus riders. If you book a full-price Amtrak ticket to Baltimore now through December 19th, 2013, you get an additional companion ticket for 30% off. The trip takes under three hours. This offer is available on the Amtrak website.
2. Charm City Circulator
The Circulator, a free bus system that hits the major hot spots in downtown Baltimore, is the perfect tool for the budget-conscious traveler. The Orange Route goes east-to-west and a Purple Route follows a north-to-south track. The CCC runs seven days a week and leaves every ten minutes. A new course, the Star Spangle Route, is expected to open in early 2012 and shuttle visitors to places like Fort McHenry.
3. Harbor Pass
The Harbor Pass offers discounted entry rates (adults/$49.99, kids/$39.95) to a range of must-see sites like the National Aquarium, Maryland Science Center, and the Port Discovery Children’s Museum. Special hotel packages are also allotted to visitors who purchase the Harbor Pass. You can find more information at the Harbor Pass website.
Free Things to Do
1. Baltimore Museum of Art | 10 Art Museum Drive, Charles Village
Little known fact: Baltimore Museum of Art has the world’s largest collection of works by Henri Matisse. The Cone Collection, donated by a pair of sisters Claribel and Etta Cone, has works by Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso and many more. BMA’s Contemporary Art Wing will reopen this November with groundbreaking installations by Sarah Oppenheimer as well as works by Andy Warho and Robert Rauschenberg.
2. Lexington Market | 400 W. Lexington Street, Downtown
This bustling and vibrant market opened in 1782 and is a must-see. Today, shoppers can visit this historical site and still buy produce, meat and seafood from local farms. The Lexington Market is also a great place to grab a quick bite as it houses a variety of food vendors ranging from Falafel to fried chicken. Live music is scheduled most weekends as well, making this a fun and tasty place to stop in.
3. Star Spangled trails
Baltimore historians have put together an extensive network of self-guided walking and biking routes that every visitor should take advantage of. Whether you are an art lover or a history geek or a little bit of both, there are tours that take you nearly everywhere in the city. Star Spangled routes are organized by activities, themes and location, making it easy for visitors to map out their day. This is a great way to get to know Baltimore and exercise at the same time.
Where to Eat
1. Pete’s Grille | 3130 Greenmount Ave, Charles Village
Situated in Charles Village, this greasy spoon serves up bountiful brunch plates of pancakes and eggs. With counter-seating only, Pete’s feels like an old-timey classic and to many Baltimore natives, it is. Doors close at 1pm, so this is the perfect off the beaten path starting point for the early bird to fuel up before a day of exploring Baltimore.
2. Golden West Cafe | 1105 W 36th Street, Hampden
“Organic” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “expensive.” This hip restaurant serves up reasonably priced, locally sourced meals in Baltimore’s kitschy Hampden neighborhood. Guests will dine on Southwestern-themed, seasonal cuisine like Sopaipillas Enchiladas and the Aztec Burrito with fried plantains and roasted squash. Golden West also has an extensive vegetarian menu, so no one is excluded.
Where to Drink
1. Birds of a Feather | 1712 Aliceanna Street, Fells Point
Scotch drinkers beware—this place is cheap and deadly. This quirky, maritime-themed bar in Fell’s Point serves up a variety of single-malt and blended scotch whiskey. The drinks menu may be intimidating, but this warm and welcoming watering hole is not. Owner Alicia Horn offers an affordable bar menu to soak up some of the liquor ($6 burger, anyone?). Best of all, Birds of a Feather is reasonably priced, with drinks in the $7-$15 range.
2. Cat’s Eye Pub | 1730 Thames Street, Fells Point
This Irish pub is a Baltimore favorite known for two things: good live music and cheap beer. This well-worn dive has nearly thirty beers on tap and a regular roster of bands that provide a fun atmosphere for its drinkers. Spirits specials are offered up daily and go as low as $2.50 for a beer. Here, your pocket change will get you booze and entertainment for next to nothing, so make yourself a regular during your visit.
Where to Sleep
The Harbor Nights package gives guests a discounted stay at one of several hotels in the harbor, such as the Admiral Fell Inn (from $179) and the Pier 5 Hotel (from $219), along with free breakfast and drink discounts at bars in Baltimore’s nightlife hub, Fells Point. If you aren’t much of a night owl, visitors can also take advantage of a variety of other packages like the Ultimate Inner Harbor Experience or the Wine and Dine Getaway.