Baltimore City Culture

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Baltimore City Culture
Baltimore has moved beyond its industrial roots to become a budding cultural capital. There is a thriving arts scene, local theater productions and nationally acclaimed tours, and many important historical sites.
By Elizabeth Doerr, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Visit Baltimore
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    Historical Sites of National Importance
    Francis Scott Key penned the "Star-Spangled Banner" in Baltimore after witnessing the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812; it's now a National Monument and Historic Shrine. Learn about the role Baltimore played in the Civil War at the B&O Railroad Museum, Maryland Historical Society, and the USS Constellation warship. Once home to Frederick Douglass and a key stop on the Underground Railroad, Baltimore is also important in African American history; learn more at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture, and the powerful National Great Blacks in Wax Museum.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Baltimore
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    An Industrial and Port History
    Up until the early 20th century, Baltimore was a busy entry point for European immigrants to the United States. This early immigration history is evident through several neighborhoods including Little Italy and Greektown. Eastern European influence is less localized, but evident in the traditionally built St. Michaels Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canton, and the Lithuanian Hall Association in Hollins Market, which hosts a monthly soul dance party. For insight into Baltimore’s immigration and industrial history, visit the Baltimore Maritime Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and the B&O Railroad Museum.
    Photo by Walter Bibikow/age fotostock
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    History in Baltimore's Buildings
    You can see the Domino Sugar Factory’s glowing neon light from Federal Hill Park—one of the few still-functioning factories in Baltimore representing the industrial history of the city. Most of the old canneries and breweries, like the old National Bohemian brewery with its iconic winking logo, have been converted to shops, restaurants, and art spaces. The city's history is evident in the architecture: Fells Point has colonial clapboard houses, row homes, and cobblestone streets; Woodberry and Hampden have the old Clipper, Union, and Meadow Mills; Mount Vernon has brownstone row houses and is the home of the classical Peabody Library.
    Photo by Elizabeth Doerr
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    A Vibrant and Varied Art Scene
    Art institutions such the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, and the American Visionary Arts Museum have paved the way for a new crop of innovative galleries and grassroots movements in Baltimore, while elite art school MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) provides fresh talent. In the Station North Arts & Entertainment district near MICA, industrial warehouses have been converted into mixed-use spaces including housing for local artists and studio spaces such as the Copycat Building, Area 405, and the Cork Factory. Station North is also home to projects like Open Walls Baltimore, a celebration of international street art combined with community revitalization. The Bmore Art blog has the latest on the local art scene.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Baltimore
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    Poe’s Influence on Baltimore
    Not many cities would name their football team after a classic poem, but the Ravens are one way Baltimore shows its pride for poet Edgar Allen Poe, who lived and died in in the city. You'll see subtle Poe influences around the city, like the Annabel Lee Tavern in Canton. Pay homage to the poet at his gravesite at the Westminster Burial Grounds and at the Poe House Museum, where visitors can learn about Poe’s work and life in Baltimore. Toast the poet at The Horse You Came in On Saloon, Poe’s last destination before his mysterious death, and the oldest continually operating bar in the country.
    Photo courtesy of Amanda Barrett/Edgar Allen Poe House
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    Baltimore's Music Scene
    Tune into 89.7 WTMD upon entering Baltimore for “radio for music people.” The public radio station is at the center of Baltimore’s vibrant music scene, hosting free Live Lunch concerts almost every Friday at noon at their Towson studio, and free First Thursdays concerts outdoors through the summer. Larger venues like the Pier 6 Pavilion and Ram’s Head Live attract popular national groups, while a mix of up-and-coming local and national groups play small venues like the 8x10 and Ottobar. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra holds court for classical music lovers at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Baltimore
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    Historic Public Markets
    Built in 1782, Lexington Market sits in the heart (and stomach) of urban Baltimore, as the largest and oldest public market in the country. The market was once bustling with horse-drawn carriages bringing daily produce and meats to the city. Now Lexington Market is full of independently owned stands selling prepared foods, fresh seafood, candy, and more. The scene both contrasts with and exemplifies the urban grit found right outside the market doors. Five other smaller public markets (Avenue, Broadway, Cross Street, Hollins, and Northeast Markets) are scattered throughout the city, continuing a vibrant tradition of local commerce.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Baltimore
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    Quirky Traditions
    Baltimore has a number of quirky and unique traditions. Duckpin bowling is a variation on 10-pin bowling, but with shorter pins, a smaller ball, and slightly different rules; play it at Patterson Bowling Center. The colorful horse-drawn Arabber produce carts were once a common sight on Baltimore's streets, but now just a few can be spotted vending in the summer, with a distinctive call. Pedal-powered sculptures race across the city in the Kinetic Sculpture Race every spring, and '60s kitsch is celebrated at Hampden's HonFest in June. Food-wise, Old Bay seasoning is a fixture in every kitchen, and fudge-covered Berger cookies are beloved despite their calorie content.
    Photo by Edwin Remsberg/age fotostock
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    Family-Friendly Baltimore
    The Baltimore harbor has plenty of activities for all ages. The diverse National Aquarium offers behind-the-scenes immersion tours and even sleepovers with dolphins and sharks. Families can explore the waters in a Chesapeake Bay Monster “Chessie” paddleboat. Educational fun can be found at the harbor's Maryland Science Center and the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Away from the water, kids can ride the rails and delve into the history of transportation at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum and the B&O Railroad Museum. The whole family can get inspired at the American Visionary Art Museum, featuring creative and unique exhibits by untrained artists.
    Photo by John Greim/age fotostock
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    A Year of Festivals
    Baltimore has something going on just about every month, but a few festivals in particular represent the unique charms of the city. Hampden’s Miracle on 34th Street puts visitors in the holiday spirit at Christmas time with eccentric displays like a hubcap Christmas tree, a nativity scene made from vinyl records, and a light display depicting Baltimore icons. In early May, Baltimore hosts the Maryland Film Festival screening all genres of independent films from around the world. Artscape takes over Mount Vernon and Station North in July for the country's largest free visual and performing arts festival. Hit the ground running in October at the Baltimore Running Festival, with full and half-marathons and a 5K race.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Baltimore