Overview

Baltimore, Maryland, is a special blend of historic and contemporary, as development around the city suggests. And the city offers plenty of things for visitors to see and do.

There is quite possibly no better example of this than Camden Yards, the baseball stadium for the Baltimore Orioles, which has become one of the key elements in renovating the central city. Camden Yards works because it manages to be both contemporary and historic (its vintage styling was the prototype for several other "throwback" stadiums).

This kind of new-old blending happens a lot in Baltimore. Up-to-the-minute restaurants and clubs inhabit vintage neighborhoods. Historic figures such as Babe Ruth are celebrated in museums. It's a city that keeps an eye on its past without ever getting stuck there.

A great place to see the mix of tradition and innovation is at the lively Baltimore Inner Harbor (a close neighbor to Camden Yards). Once a run-down warehouse district, it has been transformed into a colorful, thriving area that serves as the heart of the city and contains several first-rate visitor attractions.

Geography

The Inner Harbor is where most visitors to Baltimore begin their visit. A square-shaped waterfront just south of the central business district, it's lined with museums, shops, restaurants and other attractions. Downtown fans out from the harbor, with Charles Street dividing the east and west sides of the city. Just to the east of downtown is Little Italy, a neighborhood of ethnic eateries and colorful, well-kept row houses.

East of Little Italy is Fells Point, a historic maritime community with some of the city's most popular restaurants, bars and shops. East of Fells Point is Canton, another hip neighborhood pulsing with new restaurants, boutiques and evening activity.

South of downtown is Federal Hill, an enclave of renovated houses that perches on a hill overlooking the harbor. North of downtown is Mount Vernon, a stately neighborhood of elegant row houses, tree-shaded parks and one of the country's first monuments to George Washington. This is Baltimore's cultural corridor—the Walters Art Museum, the Peabody Library and Conservatory of Music, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the Lyric Opera House and Center Stage are found there.

Farther north is The Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus. Ringed by the neighborhoods of Charles Village, Waverly and Hampden, this part of town offers a good view of the city's less-touristy side. It is also home to the Baltimore Museum of Art and its peaceful sculpture garden.

History

Though the area was first settled in the early 1600s, Baltimore Town was founded in 1729. From the start, it was the site of bustling commerce, thanks to its deep harbor on the Patapsco River, a major tributary of Chesapeake Bay. Shipping and shipbuilding were some of its earliest industries, and the famous Baltimore-built clipper ships were the scourge of the British navy during the War of 1812.

The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad boosted Baltimore's prosperity in the mid-1800s, making the city a portal to the U.S. interior. In the decades following the Civil War, the city grew, industry boomed and The Johns Hopkins University and hospital were founded. In 1904, most of the downtown area fell victim to the Great Fire, and more than 70 blocks were completely rebuilt in the years following.

The city's latest renaissance began in the early 1980s, with the transformation of the Inner Harbor. Gone are the ancient piers and crumbling warehouses at the water's edge. The rebirth continues: Areas adjoining the Inner Harbor, such as Canton, Federal Hill and Fells Point, boast 21st-century architecture and industry along a waterfront mapped out more than 250 years ago.

Baltimore has evolved as a "bedroom community" for the nation's capital. The resultant influx of newcomers is turning Baltimore into a thriving cultural destination in its own right with better-quality restaurants, high-end shopping and more varied entertainment. In addition, the presence of several world-class hospitals has attracted a great number of medical-research professionals to Baltimore in recent years.

Sightseeing

Baltimore embraces the broad confluence of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay. Begin your visit to the city down by the water at the Inner Harbor. The thriving waterfront is just south of downtown Baltimore and is home to three important attractions: the National Aquarium (among the best in the world), the Maryland Science Center and the historic ships that comprise the Baltimore Maritime Museum. The Inner Harbor is just west of Little Italy and the charming former seamen's village of Fells Point. The neighborhood of Federal Hill, home to many fine restaurants, is directly south of the Inner Harbor. Fort McHenry National Monument sits at the north end of Locust Point, more than 2 mi/3 km to the west.

Just to the northwest of Federal Hill, the focus is on baseball rather than battles. Camden Yards, the Orioles' stadium, has become a sightseeing attraction in its own right, blending classic style and contemporary convenience. The nearby Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum pays tribute to the famous slugger and Baltimore native, and also celebrates the history of the Orioles (for whom Ruth played briefly, early in his career).

There are several landmark buildings in the city. Highlights include the absolutely beautiful Renaissance-style city hall and Evergreen House, a sprawling 19th-century Italianate mansion on land owned and maintained by The Johns Hopkins University. The Washington Monument and Gallery in Mount Vernon Place honors the first U.S. president and was designed by Robert Mills, who drew the plans for the more famous Washington Monument in the nation's capital. Another historic place is Edgar Allan Poe's grave site at Westminster Hall and Burial Ground.

Don't overlook some of the city's other attractions. They include the Baltimore Museum of Art's Cone Collection, the Walters Art Museum's Faberge eggs, the B&O Railroad Museum's vintage railcars and the American Visionary Arts Museum's works by self-taught artists.

Nightlife

Baltimore's after-dark hot spots cover an area from Canton to Federal Hill. In general, Baltimore is a laid-back town that likes to linger over a beer and listen to music in a cozy setting rather than go clubbing until all hours of the morning. Many consider simply dining out the evening activity of choice.

Federal Hill draws the college crowd, and Canton and downtown attract young professionals. On warm summer nights (especially after Orioles night games), the Harborplace promenade fills with strollers and people-watchers. Most places close around 2 am.

Dining

Over the past decade or so, restaurants in Baltimore have morphed from down-home diners and seafood joints to the truly cosmopolitan and eclectic eateries more typical of a large, sophisticated city. Never fear, however—you can still find a down-home experience and some of the best seafood the country has to offer. The Chesapeake Bay provides a plentiful harvest for the city's regional specialties: plump crab cakes, fried soft-shell crabs or steamed crabs smothered in fiery Old Bay seasoning (a Baltimore experience not to be missed, especially during prime crab season, March-September). You can also find just about any ethnic or fusion cuisine your heart desires, at many price ranges and all within easy reach.

City restaurants near the Harbor, Federal Hill, Fells Point and Canton may have later hours, but in general, Baltimore is not a late-night town, especially in the suburbs. You'll find most restaurants at their busiest 6-9 pm for dinner. General hours for breakfast are 7-11 am. Lunch is usually served 11:30 am-2:30 pm.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$30; $$$ = US$31-$50; and $$$$ = more than US$50.

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