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Best Things To Do in Baltimore

AOL PICK from our Editors

Many of Baltimore’s attractions (the most recognizable ones) are clustered around the Inner Harbor, and you would be remiss not to wander around this area, the sparkly public face that B’more shows off to the rest of the world. But a big part of the charm of Charm City is her residential neighborhoods, places that may lack classic tourist attractions but are warm and accessible in a comforting, cozy way. To really get into enjoying a Baltimore vacation, you need to take some time to wander past her formstone row houses and public murals. Then pop into one of her many excellent museums, finish the day with a Natty Boh, and realize you’ve been slowly falling in love with one of America’s great cities.

Sports Legends at Camden Yards

Neighborhood: Inner Harbor

The long-suffering fans of the Baltimore Orioles are comforted by the knowledge that their team plays ball in one of America’s great ballparks. Camden Yards (technically Oriole Park at Camden Yards) was the first of the big league “retro” ballparks that self-consciously emulated the great stadiums of the past. Baltimore itself is a sort of retro town, and it’s hard not to love the way the old-school B&O Warehouse dominates the sky behind right field. Tours can be arranged, but if you’re here during the season, catch a game, why don’t ya? Within the old Camden Station train depot is the Sports Legend Museum, chock full of historical sports paraphernalia that will get any fan of the (Baltimore!) Colts, Orioles, Ravens, etc. salivating. Nearby is the row house birthplace of the city’s most famous athlete resident: Babe Ruth. The residence is full of memorabilia commemorating “the Babe.” If you’re not tailgating a game, head on over here.


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Maryland Historical Society Museum

Neighborhood: Mt Vernon

Bet you didn’t know Maryland is historically one of the most interesting states in the country. Seriously. Virginia and Massachusetts get all the attention for their colonial-era history, but look at Maryland. It founded the first real religious freedom acts, and tried to live, for a time, peaceably with local Native Americans. Maryland gave votes to black men and women in its earliest colonial legislatures and uneasily straddled, as it does today, the porous cultural line between North and South—between landowning rural communities supported by slavery and the mercantilism and commerce that would evolve into American industry. The Historical Society explains this saga in extremely thorough but easily accessible detail—you’ll find their museum is kid friendly enough for your children, but cerebral enough for major history nerds.

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American Visionary Art Museum

Neighborhood: South Baltimore
Please excuse our gushing superlatives, but seriously: AVAM is one of the most interesting, innovative, flat-out unique art museums in the U.S.., if not the world. The mission? Showcase visionary and outsider art—in other words, the creations of people who’ve never been to art school. These are the paintings, sculptures and installations of the homeless, the mentally ill, isolated rural individuals, self-appointed hermits and, often enough, your quirky neighbor. Absent any art school pretensions, the work here is raw and vital—it seeks to satisfy no conditions of beauty nor redefine the term, except as regards the vision (hence the title) of its creators. AVAM is one of the East Coast’s ignored gems. If you don’t come here when you visit Baltimore, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice.

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Walters Art Museum

Neighborhood: Mt Vernon

The Walters is a cornerstone of the Baltimore arts and museum scene, yet it is also barely known outside the city’s borders. Let’s remedy this grave injustice. Located in pretty Mount Vernon, this Baltimore museum’s interior resembles an airy classical Greek temple. It’s a space that allows for and encourages a sense of freedom of movement, both of people and ideas. As you proceed through the exhibitions, you’re treated to an impressive collection of historic art, so extensive that this is the sort of place you could feasibly consider an archaeology museum. The works from the Islamic world, Asia and pre-Colombian America are Smithsonian worthy. The European galleries of Renaissance, Baroque and 18th and 19th century work will keep you enraptured for hours. Did we mention admission is free? Why aren’t you here already? Jeez.

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Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Neighborhood: South Baltimore

Within American history, Baltimore is probably most famous for being the city that gave us “The Star Spangled Banner.” Here’s the skinny: Back in 1814, the British, fresh from burning Washington, D.C., to the ground, took their navy up into Chesapeake Bay planning to bring Baltimore—one of the country’s most important ports—to heel. Baltimore lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key was sent to parlay with the British admiral, and was held on the enemy ship while the British launched a two-pronged attack that was repelled by Maryland militia and the men manning Fort McHenry, which guards the approaches to Baltimore harbor. After seeing the “bombs bursting in air,” Key wrote a poem, set it to a contemporary drinking song ("To Anacreon in Heaven”) and boom—you’ve got the opening song to every baseball game in America. Today Fort McHenry is a quiet, National Parks-managed spot. The fort’s old foundations are still visible. You can watch the ships roll in and an awesomely corny video clues you in on the history.

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Enoch Pratt Free Library

Neighborhood: Mt Vernon
The Pratt library isn’t a Baltimore vacation destination as such, yet it is such a fantastic library we’d feel remiss not to include it as one of the must-see things to mark off your Baltimore checklist. Established in 1882, the Pratt’s first building opened in 1886, but the present Central Library building actually went up in the 1930s. It’s a wonderfully embellished soup of the best of 19th and 20th century decorative arts. The building has massive department-store-like windows and the entrance is at street level, deemed to be more welcoming than traditional libraries' grand entry staircases. The library’s massive collection includes extensive works on Maryland, African Americans and a special collection of the works of hometown wit and scribe H.L. Mencken, including the notes from his masterpiece “The American Language.” Even the mission of the place, as stated by founding beneficiary Enoch Pratt himself, makes us smile; the Pratt "shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color."

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The Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum

Neighborhood: Inner Harbor

The 1793 home (and home office) of Miss Mary Pickersgill, the woman who made the flag that would become the actual Star Spangled Banner, is kept and preserved today as a living museum. Living-history interpreters in early-19th century dress are friendly and knowledgeable. Many of the objects within the house were originally owned by the Pickersgill family. The Flag House is about a half-mile east of the Inner Harbor.

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USS Constellation

Neighborhood: Inner Harbor

Another distinctive mark on the Inner Harbor’s pretty face is the tall masts and sails of the USS Constellation. Actually, there have been several Constellations—the first, built in 1797, was the first American ship to put to sea and the first American ship to defeat and capture an enemy vessel. It was broken up in 1853. The second Constellation is here in Baltimore. Built in 1854, this grand sloop-of-war was one of the flagships of the U.S. Navy throughout the 19th century, quite literally circumnavigating the globe in service to her country. The boat, which admittedly has been rebuilt with features taken from 1797 and 1854, is part of the Historic Ships in Baltimore exhibit, which preserves several other historic American warships for the sake of all you nautical nuts.

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Maryland Science Center

Neighborhood: Inner Harbor

Next to the Aquarium, the Science Center is the most kid-friendly place to visit in Baltimore. Adults will enjoy it, too; just be ready to deal with the happy shrieks of countless fieldtrip groups as they learn about cells, dinosaurs, space, gravity and that Maryland mascot, the blue crab. The science center is a space that, to put it lightly, puts an emphasis on interactivity. It’s loud and noisy and, honestly, quite a good time. An on-site IMAX and planetarium might provide you with a bit of massive-film-screen respite if you just need to sit down for a bit.

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National Aquarium in Baltimore

Neighborhood: Inner Harbor

Topped by its distinctive glass pyramid, the Aquarium is both the most-touristic site in Maryland and the most-recognizable feature of the Baltimore skyline. Once you get inside, we’ll allow you time to put your shoes back on after your socks have been knocked off—you’re staring up at a waterfall that re-creates an entire Australian ecosphere. Continue on inside to tour through five levels of aquatic experience. Each floor is themed differently; the first is filled with sharks and stingrays and things that make kids squeal in delight. You’ll work your way up through exhibits on local sea life, different marine habitats and a lovely Amazon Rainforest terrarium/aquarium. Make sure you catch a dolphin show while you’re around.

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