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Baltimore Neighborhoods

Baltimore neighborhoods are nations with their own accents, documentation and their own ideas concerning distances. East Baltimoreans rarely cross over into the West side, and if you’re near Hampden, you may think heading south of North Avenue is a chore. The funny thing is, this by and large is a pretty small city—you can cross all of the Baltimore neighborhoods we’re talking about, without stops, in an hour or less by car. But B’more’s ‘hoods are old and, as such, each section of this distinctive city has developed its own distinguishing personality characteristics. Lose yourself in Baltimore’s neighborhoods and you’ll be approaching what it means to be a Baltimorean.

Inner Harbor

We can see the irony here: after waxing poetic about how neighborly Baltimore is the first neighborhood we decide to highlight is the most artificial part of town. But the Inner Harbor also happens to be where a lot of Baltimore’s best attractions are concentrated, all within walking distance and sight of the water that makes this city so special. The harbor used to be just that—a port for light freight—but it eventually fell into disrepair. In 1980 large-scale gentrification gave the Harbor its current face and cachet; a pedestrian-friendly, scrubbed waterfront promenade. Now you can wander down here and walk from the National Aquarium to the Maryland Science Center to Power Plant Live, a multi-level complex of chain-y bars, restaurants and shops. Think of the Inner Harbor as a mall, but outdoors, prettier and full of waterfront breezes that smell like salt and blue crabs (and other words that begin with “cra”—Baltimore has sewage growing pains, all right?).

Fells Point

Fells is another neighborhood with a maritime theme, but the vibe here is more historical smuggler’s port then waterfront shopping galleria. Between the cobblestone streets, Irish and Salvadoran population, and red brick and formstone townhouses, lurks a sense of darkness, the sort of place where pirates would drink rum before raiding the next town. Or perhaps they’d just go shopping in the cool public markets, underground record stores, numerous bars and head shops scattered around Fells. East of here is Canton, one of Baltimore’s prime nightlife spots. West of here, between Fells and the Inner Harbor, are the small streets and excellent pastas of Little Italy. Keep in mind that you can get between Fells Point and the Inner Harbor via Water Taxi.

South Baltimore

We’re encompassing a lot of Baltimore into this neighborhood description, but for our purposes, we count anything south of Camden Yards as South Baltimore. In these streets you’ll see some of the finest examples of Baltimore’s traditional townhouses. You’ll see narrow structures built of grayish formstone fronted by marble stoops occupied by local boys with shaved heads, all sporting sho los (shorts that sag to their ankles). South B’more is anchored by pretty Federal Hill Park and Fort McHenry. There are all kinds of new condo developments going down here, but our favorite reason for coming to the south side is the excellent American Visionary Art Museum.

Mount Vernon

Arguably Baltimore’s hippest ’hood, Mount Vernon is just, well—it’s the sort of place you visit and then ask: “Man, I wonder how much a house here would run?” Mount Vernon has it all;  historical heritage housing, indie shopping boutiques, a fresh eating scene and some kicking nightlife. The focal point is Baltimore’s Washington Monument, which is surrounded by a small, lovely park. Mount Vernon has acres of preserved 19th-century architecture and some of the city’s finest cultural offerings, including the Walters Art Museum and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. This is a perfect spot in which to lose yourself for a few hours—or a lifetime.

Hampden & North Baltimore

Hampden and surrounding North Baltimore (an extremely all-encompassing term for several diverse neighborhoods, we admit) exemplify the particular Baltimore culture of working-class grit combined with general weirdness and a healthy sprinkling of the arts. This is what they call “Hon” culture, folks (“Hon” being the old-school term of address and endearment folks from around here may use on you). The “Hon” reaches its epitome in pink flamingo lawn ornaments and the wonderfully kitschy “Honfest.” Hampden is most famous for West 36th Street, better known as “the Ave,” a strip of vintage shops and art galleries that the hipster in you will melt over.

East Baltimore

The Pulaski Highway is basically a stretch of car dealerships, fast-food chains, truck stops and stripper clubs. Not everyone's cup of tea, but there's a roadside Baltimore restaurant here that's a city tradition you shouldn't miss.