Baltimore has been the site of incredible change, both politically and industrially, from its beginnings as one of the most important ports of early America. Visitors experience Baltimore through its unique neighborhoods, each of which carries stories of the city’s—and the nation’s—history. Baltimore innovates through art, culture, and especially food, while retaining the old traditions of a city on the water.
The harbor is a wonderful place to spend a vacation, but to really see what makes Baltimore tick, dig into a few of the neighborhoods around the city. Federal Hill overlooks downtown and the Inner Harbor, and has a young vibe, restored row houses, and lively shops and restaurants. Hampden is the eccentric center depicted in John Waters' films, anchored by local small businesses. Mount Vernon was historically home to Baltimore’s elite, and is now the city's major cultural district. Up-and-coming Station North is the heart the city's grassroots art scene. Further neighborhood gems are found near the water in Fells Point and Canton, and deeper into the city in Belvedere Square and Hamilton.
In a city on the water, there's a high likelihood at any restaurant that fresh seafood is on the menu. Mussels and oysters are common appetizers, though crab is Maryland's specialty, served steamed with a healthy dusting of the locally produced Old Bay seasoning. A proper crab feast typically involves beer (perhaps one of Baltimore's own National Bohemian brews, colloquially known as Natty Boh) and a bucket of crabs laid out over brown butcher paper. New visitors to Maryland might find crab-picking laborious or even painful, but the messy and finger-licking experience is an essential—and worthwhile—one.
Baltimore beams with intense city pride, and it's this pride that is at the heart of the nickname Charm City. Visitors may arrive with preconceived notions from TV shows like The Wire, but locals are quick to point out what is special about their town. Baltimore has pride for its local sports teams (The Orioles and the Ravens), its (formerly) local beer (Natty Boh, now brewed by Pabst after more than a century in Baltimore), their famous poet (Edgar Allen Poe), and their favorite eccentric movie director (John Waters). Ask a Baltimorean what they love most about their city, and it’ll likely lead to a lively discussion of Baltimore's many charms.
Hampden’s 36th Street is the place to shop small and local. Find everything from home goods and gifts at Trohv, to vintage and modern clothing for men and women at Hunting Ground, to pure kitsch at HONTown (Baltimore's ubiquitous term of endearment, short for honey). At each month's First Friday event, you’ll find free wine, beer, and snacks at many of the neighborhood shops. Fells Point is popular among both tourists and locals for inexpensive antique shops, local art galleries, clothing, and music. Check out Harbor East for a great selection of popular national brands without the mall, plus hometown favorites like Under Armour athletic gear and boutique wine shop BIN 604.
Baltimore is best to visit during the spring and the fall. Summer brings great events and activities, but it is hot and humid from June to early September, so be prepared to hydrate and take air conditioning breaks. Visitors can take advantage of the free Charm City Circulator bus with four routes throughout the Inner Harbor, Mount Vernon, Fells Point, Federal Hill, and Penn Station. To explore other sections of the city like Hampden or Woodberry, consider renting a car or taking a taxi. The regional commuter train MARC puts DC within an hour's ride of Baltimore's Penn Station.
Elizabeth Doerr Baltimore Local Expert