Baltimore's history, great architecture, walkable neighborhoods and generous benefactors all contribute to a vibrant city with both classic and also ever-evolving things to do. Frequent visitors will find exciting additions to their favorite historic attractions that add to – not detract from – the enjoyment. The nation's first effort to memorialize George Washington is the most famous icon of the city. Indeed, the Washington Monument appears on the Baltimore flag on a field made up of the Calvert family arms.
Baltimore has been an integral part of America's past through every historic era. Early Americana fans and those yearning to learn about the elusive War of 1812 can check out such places as the Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry, which inspired Francis Scott Key – an ancestor of namesake F. Scott Fitzgerald – to pen the lyrics to our national anthem: The Star Spangled Banner.
Baltimore's Pratt Street Riot was the occasion of the first deaths by hostile forces in the Civil War. You can learn more about Baltimore's role in the Civil War at the Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library – so chock full of treasures, it was the target of a famous theft in recent years – as well as several other locations, including the Baltimore Civil War Museum at President Street Station and even Green Mount Cemetery.
Peabody Music Library
Shh . . .get out of all the city's hustle and bustle for free, right in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Our nation's oldest music library – now part of Johns Hopkins University – is one of the largest. Its holdings include some of the rarest and earliest musical manuscripts, as well as sound recordings in every format. The public is welcome; books are brought to the reader by librarians. But it's the interior itself that's stunningly beautiful. Flooded with natural light from the skylight and adorned with Corinthian columns, this library is actually an extremely popular local wedding site. During the summer, as a matter of fact, the library's only open on weekdays. (410-234-4595)
The National Aquarium is a very popular destination with visitors of all ages, so they stagger admissions to ensure everyone can see the marine life. You ascend the building on a slight incline, with low lighting. Exhibits start from fish and crustaceans that live in Maryland and expand to more far-flung, exotic creatures. Additionally, there are dolphin and shark exhibits. On the top floor, you'll find a recreated tropic rainforest with the flora and fauna typical of that ecosystem. The museum has a special "after dark" program that includes interesting talks, exhibits and even local chef created sustainable seafood dinners. (410-576-3800, 800-551-7328)
Jewish Museum of Maryland
The Jewish Museum of Maryland is located in what was the original settlement of Baltimore's Jewish population during the Great Migration over 100 years ago. Their exhibits focus on the Jewish experience in America with a special emphasis on Baltimore. Fun and engaging exhibits have included Jewish fashion, Jewish food, Baltimore's department stores, Jews in cinema and Paul Simon. The openings of exhibits usually have a special speaker and Kosher snacks. Admission tickets include the historic Lloyd Street and B'nai Israel Synagogues. There's also a small, but fantastic gift shop offering exquisite Judaica, perfect for house gifts during the holidays.
Adult - $10
Senior (65+) - $8
Student (13 and over) -$6
Child (4 to 12) - $4
Non-public school (as part of school group) - $2
Public school (as part of school group) - FREE
Children under 4 - FREE
Member - FREE
With guest pass - FREE (410-732-6400)
Ripley's Believe It or Not Baltimore
You're going to go to the Inner Harbor, of course. Before the eating and drinking-a-thon or if it starts to downpour or broil, do something fun that invites conversation! Those with a quirky personality, love of trivia and history will be amazed at the weird and exotic exhibits. While not totally about Baltimore, some locally themed items give this museum (a franchise) a unique feeling. People of all ages will find themselves gasping, giggling and sharing stories to their friends. The 4D movie feels like an actual amusement park ride. The mirror maze will have you running around and dancing. (443-615-7878)
Geppi's Entertainment Museum
Pop culture, comics, animated characters . . . they've evolved over the period of our country's history. The owner, Steve Geppi, has himself evolved to own most of the distribution of the major comics in the US. His special favorite items form the backbone of the museum. There are comics and pop culture characters from every era, which makes it fun to visit with people of all ages. Your childhood memories are different from grandma's, after all! The museum is arranged generally by chronology – with some special exhibits, like Baltimore heroes. You realize that even animated cats, smiley faces and other pop icons had and have political and social lessons to give . . . as well as making you happy. (410-625-7060)
Baltimore Museum of Art
This exciting art museum has free admission every day. Collections are arranged both chronologically and geographically: be amazed at the sheer number of African, Asian and ancient Americas works of art. Some collections are still in storage during the multi-year renovation process. The BMA also has an outstanding contemporary art collection, rivaling collections in much larger cities. Two courtyard gardens are home to 20th century sculptures, as well as Jazz in the Sculpture Garden events. In addition to its permanent collections, the BMA hosts a wide range of temporary exhibits. Their gift store has a wonderful variety of books on fine art as well as crafts, jewelry, clothing, stationery and other interesting curios. (443-573-1700)
Green Mount Cemetery
Green Mount was where many of Baltimore's elite were buried, though beloved Governor William Donald Schaefer is not. In the pre-museum era, cemeteries had the best sculptures, art, the finest gardens open to the public for free. Green Mount carries on this tradition beautifully. Also, because its stone gates are protective and the cemetery is raised above the surrounding landscape, the 68 acre "garden" cemetery is home to wildlife not commonly seen in any city, as well as providing an amazing view of downtown. Famous people buried here include Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson Bonaparte, the abandoned socialite sister-in-law of Napoleon. It is also the final – confirmed in a recent Circuit Court case – resting place of John Wilkes Booth. In the words of Southern aficionado and author Jon Brayton, "It is here that we count backwards by studying history as it is - not how we wish it would be." (410-539-0641)
Washington Monument and Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore was the first to start construction on a monument to George Washington. It's located in what was historically the toniest neighborhood in the city; its surrounding cross of green space is still a beloved gathering space. Recently renovated after a regional earthquake in time for its 200th anniversary, it was host to the city's First Thursdays monthly party and also the Baltimore Book Festival. Sadly, they had to move while work was being done and won't return. However, it's still the site of fireworks and concerts for the Christmastime lighting of the monument, as well as Flower Mart – normally in the spring, but postponed until September this year. Head to the website to learn about walking tours and also, to make arrangements to climb to the top. The 228-step spiral staircase to its top more than rewards intrepid visitors with lovely views of the city skyline. (410-962-5070)
Walters Art Museum
What period of history is your favorite? Egyptian mummies, Etruscan jewelry, Medieval coats of armor, ancient manuscript? What about Baroque oil paintings on lushly colored walls? All these and more are available to the public for free. The Walters does have special touring exhibits that do charge a fee except for on Thursday nights. Also, check out their website well in advance for fun events and the cool "Make Night": classes in everything from making jewelry to sushi rolls! The classes include a ticket for fine wine and craft beer, as well as a talk about how the class relates to museum exhibits. The classes fill up early, so be sure to sign up as quickly as you are able. (410-547-9000)
Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine
Don't let the 3 seconds your history teacher spent on the War of 1812 color your decision about Ft. McHenry. The continue war against England was complicated and doesn't lend itself to an easy narrative. The US Park Service rangers at Ft. McHenry breathe life into the battle and how Baltimore safeguarded the freedoms we all enjoy today. Summer is an especially good time to visit the fort, with daily ranger talks and weekend living history. The Fort McHenry Guard performs drill, musket and artillery demonstrations. It's interesting to see people wearing the uniforms they did, acting as they did. Fort McHenry was where the flag was still flying that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. (410-962-4290)