Exploring “Charm City:” Long Weekend Guide for Baltimore
Updated: May 24, 2020
Looking for a long weekend? Baltimore is the perfect place to check out! I am OK with going against the status quo and fighting for #Baltimore as a tourism place. Although it may be rough around the edges, it also has so many gems -- making it one of those underrated cities I love.
Why you should go to Baltimore, Maryland?
I have an entire article dedicated to that, "Why Baltimore, Why Now: 9 Reasons to Visit!" Whether it is for food, music, views or all of the above, #Bmore has it. It is small enough to not be overwhelming, but large enough that you will not be bored!
Fun Facts about Baltimore, Maryland:
Some famous people who originate from Baltimore include Thurgood Marshall, Michael Phelps, Babe Ruth, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Hasselhoof, and Sisqo.
The first United States post office was inaugurated in Baltimore in 1774.
The first telegraph line in the world was established between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore in 1844.
Snowballs (known elsewhere as snow cones) were invented in Baltimore during the Industrial Revolution.
Baltimore City is an independent city (meaning that its not part of any county). As such, it is the largest independent city in the U.S.
Check out my guide to exploring this city nicknamed the “Charm City”
PLACES TO VISIT:
1. Walter Art Museum (FREE):
Containing about 36,000 objects spanning about seven millennia starting from 5000 B.C.E, this art museum is worth checking out. The best part: it’s FREE! The museum started off as a gift from philanthropist and collector Henry Walters. He donated his art collection -- two buildings AND an endowment-- to Baltimore “for the benefit of the public” so that people can be touched by art. I appreciated this museum because of the wide range of art that I saw in one locale. To see Arabic art alongside Christian crosses, alongside Ethiopian icons, alongside Matisse paintings was pretty cool.
TIP:If you are going on a hot summer day, it is a great place to go to cool off from the heat!
2. Fort McHenry:
Heard of the Star Spangled banner? Did you know that it was written in Baltimore? Fort McHenry, located in Baltimore, was the birthplace of our National Anthem during the War of 1812. This is a good place to visit if you are a history lover or want to see some unique views. Upon entering, there is an exhibition where you can learn more about the War of 1812 as well as the meaning behind the words of the #NationalAnthem. Furthermore, you can watch a short film as well as listen to different versions of the anthem from various musicians. I recommend that you come towards the end of the day so you can see when the flag is switched as well as folded. It was an interactive experience that was both informative and an honor to be a part of!
TIP: The most scenic way to get to Fort McHenry is by water taxi. It is a quick 10-15 minute ride from Fells’ Point area.
TIP: The cost to get into the fort is $15. However, you can explore the exhibit as well as the surrounding areas for free.There is also a film that you can watch for free if you do not want to pay to enter the fort. We were there near closing and ended up wandering inside. However, no one checked if we had wristbands.
3. Baltimore Museum of Industry:
This was a museum that I was unsure if I would like, but I ended up loving. The coolest aspect of this place is that it used to be an old oyster cannery from the 1860’s. Now, it is a museum dedicated to the industrial contributions of Baltimore, which is an overwhelming number. There are exhibits and interactive artifacts that discuss the manufacturing industries from the 20th century as well as present day contributions. There are also rooms set up to look like the past, such as an old pharmacy and an old printing room. This is where I discovered, for example, that the first umbrella factory in the United States was established in Baltimore in 1828.
TIP: As with any museum,it is always good to double check the hours of operation. For example, this museum is closed on Mondays. Also, if you have a student ID, you can get a $5 discount.
4. Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture: Anytime I travel, I love to see if there is an African American museum. Baltimore did not disappoint. Located a couple of blocks from the #InnerHarbor, this is the largest museum in Baltimore. It is named after Reginald F. Lewis, the first African American to build a billion-dollar company called TLC Beatrice International Holdings. Lewis is the epitome of “started from the bottom, now we here,” ending up on 1993 Forbes list of 400 richest Americans with a net worth estimated at $400 million. There is so much history to discover among the 11,000 documents and artifacts in the museum. WOW, just WOW! It made me proud of my history as well as more informed.
TIP: If you are a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card holders, you can get in for free on the first full weekend of every month by showing your card and an ID. If you have a student ID, you can get a $2 discount.
5. Top of the World Observation Level:
Looking for a breathtaking view of Baltimore’s skyline and harbor? This is a great spot as you get a 360-degree panoramic view of Baltimore from the 27th floor of the World Trade Center, the world’s tallest 5-sided building. It is the only building in Baltimore offering such views! You can not only see the Inner Harbor, but the surrounding city and beyond to the Chesapeake Bay as well. There is also history and other facts posted there for you to learn about Baltimore on a deeper level.
TIP: Since this is in the Inner Harbor, it is best to check this out as you check out other attractions such as Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, the #NationalAquarium and Historic Ships in Baltimore.
6. National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
I did not know that such a museum existed until I was a chaperoning a weeklong black college tour in 2015. Although I have not been back since, I definitely felt inspired when I visited. This wax museum is very unique because it features all prominent black historical figures. Not only is it Baltimore's first wax museum, but it is also the first wax museum of African American history in the nation. In existence since 1983, the museum features over 100 wax figures and scenes, including a full model slave ship to represent the Atlantic Slave Trade as well as a room highlighting contributions from important black Marylanders contributing to African American history. In 2004, The #BlacksinWax Museum was recognized by the U.S. Congress and became The National Blacks in Wax Museum.
TIP: Be prepared to feel both emotional and enlightened. To see Black history portrayed in this way truly brings it to life, both the good and bad.
7. National Aquarium
The National Aquarium, formerly known as the Baltimore Aquarium, is located in the Inner Harbor. It is known to be one of the top five aquariums in the country, which explains why there are about 1.5 million visitors annually. There used to be a Baltimore Aquarium and a National Aquarium in DC before the DC location closed permanently. This National Aquarium appears to be fairly new by its exterior, including the Upland Tropical RainForest, a multi-floored Atlantic Coral Reef, an open ocean shark tank, and a 4D Immersion Theater.
TIP: Although I personally do not think it is worth $39.95, it is often one of many tourists’ stops. I would recommend checking it out on “Dollar or Less” Days”, which is usually the first week of December. However, let me warn you, the lines for the aquarium during this weekend are extra long so they put a limit on it. You should get there before they open!
8. Historic Ships in Baltimore
If you are into warships, this is the place for you! I am not personally interested in this, but because it was $1 to check out each ship during Dollar or Less Days, I had nothing to lose. It was interesting to see how warships look inside. The Historic ships is a combination of the USS Constellation Museum and the Baltimore Maritime Museum at Inner Harbor. The USS Constellation was the last Civil War vessel afloat and the last all-sail warship built by the US Navy. Did you know that Baltimore was the home to the first black shipyard in the United States. The museum includes four #historicships as well as a lighthouse.
TIP: You can get some good views from atop these ships. Everything looks better from above, am I right?
THINGS TO DO:
1. Explore Lexington Market
This would be my top recommendation. For one thing, it has a lot of history. Established in 1782 and dubbed the "oldest market in America," Lexington Market is home to 66 different food vendors that represent the varied culinary tastes of Baltimore. It has American classics ranging from BBQ and Cajun to seafood, all under one roof. There are also a lot of other vendors that sell books as well as arts and crafts. During the holidays, there are sometimes live performances. Although the interior may not be the most up-to-date, do not let that fool you for what it has to offer! Some of the best food I had in Baltimore was located in #LexingtonMarket.
2. Ride a water taxi or cruise
One of the best aspects of Baltimore is its harbor. Because of its proximity to water, the city allows for great views. The best ways to see these views are by cruise or water taxi. There are 17 different terminals in the water taxi ranging from Inner Harbor to Fells Point to Fort McHenry. Especially in the summertime, the route is more scenic. If you are looking to have some fun, take a Spirit Cruise. Not only will you be able to sail around the city, but you can also decide if you want to join a cruise that allows you indulge in a buffet and party on the dance floor.
3. Listen to live music
I was pleasantly surprised to discover the musical talent in Baltimore. There are many lesser known musicians that are native to Baltimore actually still performing there. My first experience was in Next Phaze Café, where I came expecting to enjoy some soul food, but was delightfully wowed by their #AcousticThursdays organized by singer and songwriter Marc Avon Evans. Just a $5 coverage. I loved the atmosphere as it felt like we were all family. Even some of the musicians wanted to make sure that my mom and I had a means of getting home and walked us out the door and waited until our Uber came. I would check out the following artists instagrams: @Blackroot1; @marcavonevanspix; @jahworksbaltimore.
The second place was An die Musik Live which I discovered as I was googling events happening in Baltimore during the weekend. On a regular, they host a Live Jazz Music night in a small historic townhouse. It is very intimate considering that it has no windows and they require you to not have any phones out. It is meant for you to truly listen to the music! The day we attended featured Karter Jaymes, a Grammy-nominated Baltimore native. During a previous long visit to Baltimore, I enjoyed some soulful entertainment at Ida B'sTable over a modern soulful dinner. Every Friday and Saturday night at 7 PM, they welcome local musical guests to their stage in the restaurant.
4. Walk around Fell’s Point through Charm City Food Tour
One of the best ways to explore any place is through its food. It is a great way to learn about its history, culture, and traditions. I have done many food tours during my travels, but this particular one was one of the best ones I experienced for three reasons: knowledge of the tour guide, neighborhood, and the amount of food given. The tour guide was a native to Baltimore and was a former journalist for the Baltimore Sun turned professor. She really knew her neighborhood history. On the surface, #FellsPoint looks like just another touristy area. However, there is a lot of history that she shared about this historic district that was founded nearly 300 years ago. We got to experience a range of foods including local seafood, Mexican cuisine, and Maryland Crab soup.
5. Visit Inner Harbor
Inner Harbor is probably one of the most visited areas in Baltimore. Understandably so as this area is filled with several tourist attractions such as the National Aquarium, African American museum, and historic ships. Furthermore, there are a lot of restaurants and even a mall. On any given day, you will find some interesting entertainment. Whether you want to visit a museum or just chill by the waterfront, it is worth making a stop to this area.
Places to Eat
1. Next Phaze Café:
The motto of Next Phaze Cafe is “Memorable Meals + Comfortable Convenience + Exceptional Events.” I would absolutely agree! Here you will find some tasty soul food that is very well seasoned: whether it is crab cakes, ribs, fried chicken, collard greens or mac and cheese cooked the right way. If you attend on certain evenings during the week, you will get to enjoy your delicious food with some talented live entertainment.
2. Jimmy’s Famous Seafood
I discovered this place looking for good seafood options as well as looking at restaurants featured on Baltimore’s episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. This is one of the pricier and furthest restaurants we went to. However, it was very much well worth it! If you are looking for a fancier ambiance and really rich food (and especially amazing seafood), this is the place to go!
3. Ida B’s Table
This is a modern soul food restaurant, which is reflected in their higher end prices. However, they serve great food and there is a nice ambiance. On weekends, there is live music with your entertainment. You will find many black customers frequenting there, especially many older professionals.
4. Lexington Market
This market has American classics ranging from BBQ and Cajun to seafood all under one roof. Here are my three top spots that I recommend you check out in this market.
Faidley’s Crab Cakes: Founded in 1886, this place is known for their award winning lump crab cake! Tasting it personally, I understand why it was named one of the 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations across America. What makes this crab cake so good is that it has the perfect combination of wet and dry ingredients and it is more crab that breading.
Berger’s Cookies: This bakery was started in 1835 by German immigrant Henry Berger. Years later, one of his sons took it over. Several people native to Baltimore recommended this place. It is one of those classic, old school bakeries.
Connie’s Chicken and Waffles: This fast food spot allows you to get chicken wings and waffles with easy access. The story of this place is motivating as two brothers joined forces to open the restaurant after being motivated by their mother’s home cooked meals. They want everyone to have that loving experience. The best part is that they give back to their community for causes such as STEM, financial literacy, and community empowerment.
Keep in mind before traveling to Baltimore...
Many museums close on Mondays, so make sure to plan around that. If you are expecting to see a lot on a Monday, be sure to be strategic as you may come across some bumps. Make sure to also search hours for locations.
Come check out Baltimore during Dollar or Less Days during the first weekend of December. It may be cold during this time, but it is a great way to save a lot of money on many tourist attractions that can range anywhere from $10-$40. This includes attractions such as the Science Center, National Aquarium, and Port Discovery.
If you are arriving by bus, make sure to take Greyhound as it is the only one that drops you downtown Baltimore. Megabus and Boltbus drops you off at the lot about 20 minutes away!
As you can see, normally it costs $18 to see four ships. On "Dollar or Less Days," I got to see it for $ 4 total! That is 450% less!