Economically, geographically and culturally, Baltimore is an amalgam. One of early America's busiest seaports, it was also home to the country's first important railroad terminal and was a leading manufacturing center, renowned for shipbuilding as well as airplane production.
Baltimore's air of acceptance inspired waves of Polish, German, Irish, Italian, Greek and other immigrants. The various enclaves these newcomers established made Baltimore a collection of diverse neighborhoods.
Any tour of Baltimore should start with the Inner Harbor. For years the area was at the heart of Baltimore's port facilities. As the city's shipping business declined in the post-war years, the Inner Harbor did too. By the mid-1970s, it was a long stretch of dilapidated docks and abandoned warehouses, but the end of the 1970s saw the start of a concerted effort to revitalize Baltimore. A key part of the plan was the creation of Harborplace , a three-acre retail and entertainment complex that anchors the Inner Harbor. Today, the Inner Harbor's attractions include the Maryland Science Center , the National Aquarium , Oriole Park at Camden Yards , the U.S.S. Constellation , and the Pier Six Concert Pavilion . In addition, there are a number of excellent hotels, including the four-star Harbor Court , many fine restaurants, such as Obrycki's crab house, and two very busy marinas. The Inner Harbor's renovation was vital to Baltimore's renaissance, and it remains the key draw of the city's approximately $625 million-a-year tourist industry.
In 1729, about 60 years after the first colonists settled in the area, Charles and Baltimore streets were built. Today, the intersection of these two roads is at the heart of Baltimore's business district, where you'll find the city's financial and banking institutions, international trade organizations, medical research companies, as well as law, engineering and architectural firms. A grid of roughly 25 blocks, the business district is easy to navigate and is within walking distance of most of the downtown hotels.
To the North
Walk up Charles Street about 10 blocks and you'll find Mount Vernon, one of the city's loveliest neighborhoods. Its chief feature is a park of shrub-lined lawns and flowerbeds, laid out in the form of a cross. The 178-foot tall monument to George Washington stands at the park's center. Mount Vernon is also home to the Peabody Institute , the Walters Art Gallery , the Enoch Pratt Free Library and several excellent restaurants, including The Brass Elephant and Tio Pepe.
Just above Mount Vernon is Bolton Hill. Known as the "Gin Belt" during the 1920s, this area was home to the city's Jazz Age bohemian community. F. Scott Fitzgerald made his home here for a while, and Tender is the Night was published during his stay. Today, the area is home to the Maryland Institute College of Art, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the University of Baltimore.
Still farther up Charles Street lies well-groomed Charles Village, home of Johns Hopkins University. Just next door is Hampden, a funky blue-collar/alternative district made famous by independent film director John Waters. Continue north, and you'll find Guilford, which features Mount Washington, a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood with lots of great restaurants, like The Desert Cafe .
To the South
Just south of downtown is Federal Hill. One of the most popular residential areas in the city, its streets are lined with stately 19th century row homes, and peppered with great restaurants like The One World Cafe . The neighborhood is also home to the Cross Street Market, where a variety of vendors sell a vast array of fresh and prepared food items, and the American Visionary Art Museum .
To the East
Immediately east of downtown is Little Italy, one of the city's most cherished neighborhoods. Settled in the 1840s by Italian immigrants seeking work on the city's railroads, the area is now known for its many restaurants. At last count, the 12 square blocks of Little Italy had 20 restaurants, from old favorites like Sabatino's to newcomers like Aldo's .
Just past Little Italy is Fells Point. This was once the chief Colonial shipbuilding center, where frigates known as Baltimore Clippers were launched. Today Fells Point is known for its craft and antique shops, restaurants, bars and coffeehouses. During the weekend the neighborhood is jammed with college-age revelers who flock to the many party-oriented dance clubs. Young urban professionals enjoy dining at restaurants Bertha's and Ding How , and listening to live music at places like The Full Moon Saloon .
Just above Fells Point is Butcher's Hill, an area once home to dozens of butchers who sold their wares at Fells Point's Broadway Market , and farther north is Old Town, a neighborhood settled by German and Irish immigrants in the early 1800s.
Just to the east lies Canton. Originally an industrial area populated by Welsh, German, Polish and Irish immigrants, Canton today is a lively residential area known for its friendly eateries like Nacho Mama's and upscale bars like The Gin Mill . To the north of Canton is Greek Town, a quiet residential neighborhood famous for its restaurants, Ikaros foremost among them.
To the West
A quick trip west from the Inner Harbor will take you into Pigtown, originally an area of stockyards manned by German and Irish immigrants. It's now a residential neighborhood, filled with classic Baltimore-style rowhomes with marble steps and formstone facades. Pigtown is now home to the B & O Railroad Museum , and the area's most famous son is memorialized at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum .
The Chesapeake Bay takes its name from a Native American phrase for "Great Shellfish Bay." So it's no wonder that Baltimore, nestled along the bay's north shore, developed a hometown cuisine dominated by crustaceans. The blue crab, in particular, has become a city staple. In Baltimore, you'll find moist crab meat stuffed inside Chinese dumplings, sprinkled over linguine and wrapped in fajitas. Perhaps the ultimate crab meat dish, and certainly the one Baltimore is most famous for, is the crab cake. You'll find these delightful crab meat patties served in scores of bars and restaurants all over the city.
Wherever you decide to go for crab cakes, there are a few terms you should be familiar with. The first is Market Price. Crabs are both seasonal and in short supply, and thus the price varies even during the prime crabbing months of June through September. You should also know the terms Special, Backfin, and Jumbo Lump. These are the three grades of crabmeat, and rank the size of the pieces from smallest to largest. All three grades have the same flavor, and crab cakes made with Special or Backfin are usually much less expensive than those made with Jumbo Lump.
Once you've sampled the local delicacy, you'll want to take on the rest of the city's culinary treats. A great place to start is the Inner Harbor, which is in many ways Baltimore's showpiece. This dockside expanse is home to numerous educational and tourist attractions, hotels, stores, and enough restaurants to allow you to dine-out happily for weeks. For fine dining, Fleming's is a Steakhouse and wine bar with plenty of labels, as well as seafood options, to choose from. Little Havana serves seafood as well but with a Spanish and Cuban touch. They also have space for parties and can provide catering. By far the best seafood restaurant in Inner Harbor is the famous McCormick& Schmick's .
Heading uptown from the Inner Harbor on North Charles Street, you'll soon come to the lovely neighborhood of Mount Vernon. Here, in the shadow of a 178-foot monument to George Washington , you'll find a number of great places to dine. Two more of the city's absolute best, The Brass Elephant and Tio Pepe are located here. Relative newcomers like Brewer's Art , which serves creative German-styled fare, also thrive here. Finally, it's also home to an array of fine ethnic restaurants such as Akbar , which serves Indian dishes.
Just south of the Inner Harbor is Federal Hill. A touch funkier than Mount Vernon, it's also host to a wide range of places to eat and drink. Foremost among them are Matsuri , one of the city's many fine Japanese restaurants, and the One World Cafe , a bohemian-flavored coffeehouse that serves great food and offers lots of vegetarian and vegan choices. Finally, over on the bay side of the neighborhood, you'll find Joy America Cafe , a four-star restaurant atop the American Visionary Art Museum .
Just to the east of the Inner Harbor lies Little Italy, one of Baltimore's culinary treasures. At last count, this 12-block expanse was home to over 20 fine Italian restaurants. It's really not fair to name just a few, but Sabatino's , Aldo's and Della Notte provide fine examples of what the area offers.
On weekends, this maritime district is swarmed with college students and young professionals looking for fun in the area's many nightclubs, such as The Latin Place . The neighborhood is also a favorite haunt of Baltimore's bohemian folk, who frequent the area's coffee houses, like Ze Mean Bean , which serves Eastern European dishes and coffees amidst an atmosphere of books and music. Then there are those places like Bertha's , an illustrious seafood restaurant. There are also plenty of places to hear live music, including The Full Moon Saloon , which features blues music, and The Cat's Eye Pub , which features Irish music. And finally, it's also home to two of the towns best new four-star restaurants, The Black Olive and Kali's Court .
To the northeast of Fells Point is Canton, one of Baltimore's recently refurbished neighborhoods. Formerly an industrial area, it's now home to a number of upscale cocktail bars, such as The Gin Mill and The Cosmopolitan Bar & Grill . There are also several cozy, friendly neighborhood eateries, like Nacho Mama's and the Cosmopolitan Bar & Grill .
Many other great restaurants are scattered throughout the rest of Baltimore's many neighborhoods. The East Baltimore neighborhood of Greek Town is, as its name implies, host to many excellent Greek restaurants, Ikaros foremost among them. In the midtown neighborhood of Charles Village you'll find Niwana , a great Korean and Chinese eatery. Just to the north, in the Govans neighborhood, lies the marvelous Cafe Zen . To the west, Hampden is home to Cafe Hon . Up in the quiet neighborhood of Mount Washington, located in northwest Baltimore, you'll find several charming eateries including The Desert Cafe .
Indeed, you can count on always being able to find something good to eat, no matter where you go in Baltimore. And remember, when in doubt: order the crab cakes.
About 14 million people visit "Charm City" each year, lured by Baltimore's warm hospitality, modern conveniences and long list of interesting and unique attractions.
Harborplace Harborplace is a festive market with shops, eateries and plenty of activities. Nearby, concerts under the stars can be enjoyed at the Harborplace Amphitheatre , and at Pier One, you'll find the U.S.S. Constellation , the only surviving Civil War-era naval vessel and all-sail warship built by the Navy. Dine at Phillips Harborplace . Next, stop into the National Aquarium .
National Science Center The National Science Center is located not far from many other attractions. Just around the bend of Key Highway, beyond Federal Hill Park , is the American Visionary Art Museum . Have a meal at Regi's American Bistro . Jump on the Key Highway to see Fort McHenry , though it may be worth a day trip of it's own.
Camden Yards Camden Yards , where the Baltimore Orioles play, is located in the downtown district. An interesting museum to visit here, while it is a bit of an oddity, is the Dental Museum , just 2 blocks away from the Yards. Dine at the nearby Prime Rib . The Babe Ruth Museum and the B&O Railroad Museum are also not far from here.
Mount Vernon and Charles Village The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption , the first Roman Catholic cathedral in the U.S., is located a short ride northeast of Camden Yards , near Mount Vernon. Here you'll also find the Walters Art Gallery , where admission to the permanent collection is always free. One block away, you can see the world-renowned Peabody Institute , which is attended by world-famous vocalists, pianists, and composers. Dine at the City Cafe .
Baltimore Museum of Art Located on the Johns Hopkins University campus is the John Russell Pope-designed Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). The BMA has the second-largest private collection of Andy Warhol pieces in the country. Also on the University's grounds is the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame , next to Homewood Field. If the lacrosse team is playing, you can catch a game, or just tour the Hall of Fame. After that, walk over to the Baltimore Zoo , which offers a children's area where they can walk on lily pads and climb inside a tree. The Ambassador Dining Room restaurant is a great place to grab a quick bite.
Baltimore offers many different touring options to help you organize your schedule. Hop on a boat and enjoy the views of the Inner Harbor, or check out the main city attractions by bus. You can also get a fun, historical perspective through one of the many ghost tours available.
Bus Tours Baltimore Party Shuttle Tours ( +1 202 286 9661/ http://www.baltimorepartyshuttle.com/ ) Baltimore Suttle ( +1 410 254 8687 ) Greenspring Tours ( +1 410 561 1119 ) Presenting Baltimore ( +1 410 539 9994 )
Boat Tours Project Liberty Ship ( +1 410 558 0646/ http://www.liberty-ship.com/ ) Ride The Ducks ( +1 410 727 3825/ http://www.baltimoreducks.com/ ) The Bay Lady ( +1 410 727 3113/ http://www.harborcruises.com/baylady.htm/ )
Sports Tours Big League Tours ( +1 866 619 1748/ +1 317 534 2475/ http://www.bigleaguetours.com/ )
Historical Tours Preservation Society Tours ( +1 410 675 6750 )
Ghost Tours Mysterious Maryland Tours ( +1 443 817 0967/ http://www.ghostscience.net/tours/ ) Preservation Society Tours ( +1 410 675 6750 )