Once an industrial hub for shipbuilding and steel mills, Baltimore Inner Harbor or “Charm City” is one of the state’s most popular destinations for museums, maritime history, and of course Maryland crab. Many of the historic brick buildings have been revived from their industrial era and converted into new trendy restaurants, hotels, and attractions.
Here’s the best way to experience the Baltimore Inner Harbor including what to do, what to eat, and where to stay.
What to do:
Explore the National Aquarium
Thousands of people come to the Inner Harbor each year just to see one of the best aquariums in the country, Baltimore’s National Aquarium. Home to over 20,000 animals, the attraction includes nine species of mesmerizing jellies, a colony of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, and a 225,000-gallon shark exhibit. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a deep look at life below the surface: Stingrays and sea turtles glide gracefully through the water as brightly-hued bony fish swim through coral.
A Living Seashore interactive experience allows guests to discover sea creatures including horseshoe crabs, Atlantic stingrays, and moon jellyfish with their fingertips. For an additional cost, guests can enjoy a film in the 4-D theater, walk the catwalk above sharks, or participate in a private Dolphin Training Session. The National Aquarium offers half-price admission every Friday night.
Website: Baltimore’s National Aquarium
Tele: (410) 576-3800
Location: 501 E Pratt St. Baltimore, MD 21202
Climb aboard a historic ship
A collection of Historic Ships docked along the harbor is one of Baltimore’s iconic landmarks. There are four ships permanently on display: An 1854 sloop-of-war designed by the U.S. Navy, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter from the 1930s, a WW II submarine, and a 1930’s lightship formerly used with the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Visitors can view the ships from the boardwalk, or for a nominal fee climb aboard and tour their interior. The Historic Ships institution also cares for the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse, which was in operation until 1948.
In preserving and sharing these historic sites with the public, the institution hopes to honor those who served aboard the ships while serving as a cultural and educational resource for the community.
Website: Historic Ships
Tele: (410) 539-1797
Location: 301 East Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21202-3134
Experience Baltimore Inner Harbor by boat
What better way to explore a harbor than by boat? Watermark offers water taxis and a number of cruises to take in some of the area’s most popular landmarks including Fell’s Point, the Bay Bridge, and the U.S. Naval Academy. Specialty sunset cruises with live entertainment are also available. For those seeking a bit of fun, there is even a haunted Spirits & Spirits boat tour and an urban pirate ship!
Kiddoes may enjoy themed paddle and electric boats operated by the Living Classrooms Foundation. The Chessie Dragon paddle boats and electric Pirate Ships of Baltimore are a popular family-friendly attraction and provide employment to youth and young adults. Proceeds from ticket sales support hands-on education and training programs. Since 1985, the Living Classrooms Foundation has served over 30,000 Baltimore children, youth, and adults.
View Baltimore from above
It seems as if no big city is complete without an opportunity to view the skyline from above. Baltimore is no exception. Top of the World is located on the 27th floor of the city’s World Trade Center. For around $6 USD, visitors can visit the 27th floor of the World Trade building for a spectacular view of Baltimore’s skyline, the Inner Harbor, and more.
While visiting Baltimore’s World Trade Center, make a point to visit the memorial to the victims of the September 11th attacks, located in front of the building.
Website: Top of the World
Location: 401 E Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 23202
Catch a sunset from Federal Hill
Federal Hill is arguably the best place in the Baltimore Inner Harbor to watch the sunset. Once a lookout point during the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the hill is now a public space for visitors to enjoy the surrounding views of the city: the inner harbor and skyline to the north, M&T Stadium, and Camden Yards to the west, and the iconic Domino Sugar building to the east.
During the day, Federal Hill is filled with picnickers, and families enjoying the playgrounds. By night, the site is filled with star-gazers and romantics hoping to catch the last glimmer of a setting sun. Paying tribute to the site’s historical significance, Federal Hill Park also has a number of monuments and artifacts including cannons that were used at Fort Federal Hill during the Civil War.
Website: Department of Recreation & Parks: Federal Hill
Location: 300 Warren Ave. Baltimore, VA 21230
Learn something new at one of the Inner Harbor’s museums
There are enough museums around the Inner Harbor to keep visitors busy for a few days.
The American Visionary Art Museum “specializes in original thematic exhibitions that seamlessly combine art, science, philosophy, humor, and especially social justice and betterment”. It is not what you would expect from a typical art museum. Works on display are eclectic, unique and will challenge your notion of how “art” should be defined.
The Baltimore Museum of Industry commemorates the industrial legacy of Baltimore through exhibitions, programs, and events. Permanent exhibitions include a 1906 steam tug boat and the Cannery, a display of the 1865 Platt and Company oyster cannery which once occupied the same historic building.
The Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture is the largest African American museum in Maryland covering over 400 years of history in its permanent collection. Visit the museum and discover over 11,000 documents, objects, and resources celebrating the contributions of African American Marylanders.
The Port Discovery Children’s Museum is ranked among the top five children’s museums in the country and is a popular family-friendly activity in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. Located inside the historic Fish Market building, the museum contains three floors of interactive exhibits promoting learning through play. It is a multi-sensory experience for kids ages 0-10 with age-appropriate activities for each age group.
A four-story “SkyClimber” allows older kids to test their climbing skills. Inspired by Baltimore’s maritime history, the “Port” exhibit is designed like a 3-story ship encouraging kids to take on the role of captain and other members of the crew. For the toddler to Pre-Kindergarten group, there is a creative arts studio for children to express themselves through painting, sculpting, and other art forms.
Believing it is never too early to start learning, the museum even has a number of activities for babies and infants. These include a soft play area for young minds to explore textures and other new sensations.
Enjoy the Night Life at Power Plant Live
While the waterfront is the more popular attraction during the day, Power Plant Live is where you want to be at night. See how well you can aim a hatchet at Kraken Axe Throwing – because ax throwing and alcohol always sound like a good idea. Test your sleuthing skills while trying to escape from the Charm City Clue Room. Take bets on how long you can ride a bucking bull at PBR. Dance the night away at Mosaic nightclub. Just want to enjoy a cold beer? Head to Leinie Lodge & Beer Garden where you can imbibe under a glass pavilion, by the outdoor fireplace, or while enjoying a few lawn games.
Website: Power Plant Live!
Tele: (410) 727-5483
Location: 34 Market Place
Baltimore, MD 21202
Catch a game at M&T Bank Stadium or Camden Yards
M&T Bank Stadium is home to the Baltimore Ravens NFL team. Fun fact: The Ravens are named after a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, who died and was buried in Baltimore. Directly adjacent to the stadium is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home to the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. Check the respective websites to find the game schedule and purchase tickets. Both stadiums also offer tours.
Experiment at the Maryland Science Center
The Maryland Science Center makes science fun through interactive experiences and hands-on learning opportunities. Three levels of exhibits explore topics ranging from astronomy and engineering to physics and anatomy. The creative exhibits and engaging demos present science concepts in a way that are not only easy to understand but also enjoyable to learn.
Lie on a real bed of nails to explore the topics of physics and anatomy. Walk through dinosaur footprints and excavation sites to learn about paleontology. Practice chemistry in a real science laboratory where you can create and observe real chemical reactions. The Maryland Science Center also features a 50-foot planetarium and a rooftop observatory to explore the night sky and ponder life beyond Earth. The observatory is free to the public on Friday nights
Website: Maryland Science Center
Tele: (410) 685-2370
Location: 601 Light Street Baltimore, MD 21230
Watch classical theatre with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is one of the largest theatre companies in the state of Maryland with three venues in Baltimore and Ellicott City. The Inner Harbor venue is located in the historic Mercantile Trust and Deposit Building – an 1886 bank turned nightclub, now turned Shakespearean Theatre. An adjacent Studio hosts acting courses and workshops for both adults and youth. In addition to Shakespearean productions, the company also puts on an annual adaptation of A Christmas Carol, set in 19th century Baltimore.
For those willing to travel beyond the Inner Harbor, the Ellicott City location offers a program called “Chesapeake Shakespeare Company In-The-Ruins”. Guests can enjoy an outdoor theatrical production set against the backdrop of the ruins of a 19th-century girls’ school. This family-friendly experience is free for anyone under the age of 19.
Website: Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
Tele: (410) 244-8570
Location: 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore MD 21202
Where to eat in the Baltimore Inner Harbor:
For ambiance, there is no better place to eat than right on the harbor. Phillips Seafood serves up award-winning crab cakes alongside an extensive menu of classic dishes. The restaurant is located within the Pratt Street Power Plant which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and also forms part of the Inner Harbor skyline. Diners can also choose to enjoy their Maryland crab on the outside “crab deck”, an overwater dock sitting directly in the Baltimore harbor.
For amazing food with “insta-worthy” food presentation, check out Miss Shirley’s Cafe. The menu features eclectic Southern-inspired dishes like Chicken ‘N’ Cheddar Green Onion Waffles and the Pratt Street Pulled Pork BBQ Grilled Cheese. Don’t miss out on Miss Shirley’s signature dish “Get Your Grits On”. Jumbo blackened shrimp are served over fried green tomatoes, stone-ground grits with diced bacon and roasted corn, and dusted with a delicate cajun spice. It is quite possibly the best and tastiest variation of Shrimp and Grits you will find. Miss Shirley’s Cafe has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives, and voted “Maryland’s Favorite Restaurant” making this one of the most popular restaurants in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. They do not accept reservations so arrive early to beat the line – yes, I promise you there will be a line.
Hang out with the locals at one of Baltimore’s dives. From the Inner Harbor head north along Light Street until you hit the cross-section with Water Street. There you will find three Inner Harbor staples illuminating the alleyway: Peter’s Pour House, Water Street Tavern, and Key West Patio Bar. These three dive bars serve up typical greasy pub fare along with happy hour specials and heavy pours. Given its somewhat hidden location, you are more likely to mingle with the local Baltimore crowd as opposed to out of towners on a weekend getaway.
If you prefer to mix your food with lively crowds and entertainment, head over to Power Plant Live. This fun collection of bars and restaurants has plenty of outdoor seating allowing you to enjoy your libations in the middle of all the action. Grab a seat at any of the outdoor patios for people watching or a prime view of entertainment on the main stage. Try a hand-crafted beer while playing lawn games at the Leinie Lodge & Beer Garden. Support local musicians at the Tin Roof. Watch a UFC fight on one of the big screens at the Vegas-themed Luckie’s Tavern. Whatever your mood, there is something for everyone.
Where to stay:
Hotel RL is located just steps from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Housed within the historic Keyser Building, the hotel mixes original architectural details like exposed brick with modern style including colorful graffiti artwork and unique light installations. Hotel RL has partnered with Baltimore Uncovered on Project Wake Up Call, to raise awareness and funds for the homeless. As part of this community initiative, artistic black and white portrait photography can be seen throughout the hotel, calling attention to homeless people and their living situations.
The lobby is outfitted with corner sofas and communal workspaces serving as a gathering place for locals and travelers to meet, work, and converse. Guests can enjoy entertaining and intimate performances on the Living Stage while sipping on ethically sourced Victrola Coffee from the Café. Hotel RL offers a number of other amenities including a fitness center, game room, and free bike rentals.
Guest rooms are designed with a modern minimalist style including chic wooden floors, frosted glass doors, and an open closet gear wall. A distinguishing characteristic of the Hotel RL rooms is the impressive wall art. Each room includes an artistic rendering of Baltimore’s skyline and inner harbor, a beautiful reminder of the city’s history and iconic landmarks.
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