Baltimore, affectionately nicknamed Charm City, offers locals and visitors alike plenty to explore, including a rich history, diverse culture, delicious food and plenty more. From the best places to enjoy blue crab and cheap eats, to fascinating museums, beautiful parks, and free cultural events, these are our favorite things to do in Baltimore that should be on everyone's bucket list. Find out why Baltimore is one of the most underrated cities in the country.
SEAFOOD, BASEBALL AND PLENTY OF HISTORY
Baltimore is known for top blue crab, baseball, and a fascinating history, making it one of our favorite summer vacation destinations. The historic Cross Street Market in the Federal Hill neighborhood has cheap beer and fresh catches. The market is also less than 10 minutes' drive from Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. Tickets start at $15 to catch a game in this handsome, modern stadium in the heart of the city. The Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine -- where the 1814 Battle of Baltimore inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- is $10 for visitors 16 and older, free for kids.
VISIT INNER HARBOR FOR MUSEUMS AND MORE
For a fun, family-friendly afternoon, take a stroll around the Inner Harbor area, which is filled with shops, attractions, restaurants and plenty of free activities for kids and adults. Here you'll find numerous cultural institutions, including the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, the Port Discovery Childern's Museum, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. You'll find plenty of shopping and dining options at Harborplace and the Gallery, and nightlife, dining and more at the Power Plant Live! entertainment district.
EXPLORE HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS
A firmly blue-collar past has given Baltimore a bad rap, but now it's "the coolest city on the East Coast," according to Travel & Leisure. While the Inner Harbor boasts top-shelf attractions including the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center, try exploring character-filled neighborhoods including hip Hampden, historic Federal Hill and fashionable Fell's Point. Baltimore's Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail, the city's newest urban heritage trail, explores a historic African-American neighborhood. Visitors can learn about the city's civil rights legacy, notable residential and religious architecture, and entertainment districts.
EAT CRAB CAKES AT FAIDLEY SEAFOOD
Housed inside the Westside's historic Lexington Market, Faidley's has been going strong since 1886 and it's one of the nation's most iconic eateries. The jumbo lump crab cakes are the biggest draw, but patrons also recommend the fried oysters. But know before you go, this isn't a place to kick back -- customers eat standing up at communal tables.
MEET SEA TURTLES AT THE NATIONAL AQUARIUM
Exhibits at the National Aquarium, one of thetop aquariums in the nation, include several on the wildlife and habitats of creatures from Maryland, Australia, and the Amazon River. Blacktip sharks swim alongside stingrays, fish, and a 500-pound sea turtle named Calypso. Live webcams offer a free preview. Standard prices range from $24.95 for children (3 to 12) to $39.95 for adults. From September to February, Maryland residents get $10 adult and $5 children's tickets when they visit Sunday through Friday before noon. Tickets are also half price for everyone on Fridays after 5 p.m. (the aquarium closes at 8 p.m.)
GRAB BREAKFAST AT GREG'S BAGELS
PICNIC IN PATTERSON PARK
Designed by the Olmsted Brothers -- who also designed Central Park and Golden Gate Park -- Patterson Park includes a boat lake, an ice skating rink, a swimming pool, and acres of outdoor space to stroll and picnic. It rivals Boston's history-steeped public spaces with its 300-year existence -- including its role turning back an 1814 British invasion. And don't miss The Pagoda, originally known as Observation Tower, which was designed in 1890 and provides views of downtown, the Patapsco River, and more.
GRAB A SLICE AT MATTHEW'S PIZZA
Opened in 1943, Matthew's Pizza claims to be the first pizzeria in Baltimore and has made a multitude of "best of" lists, including our own national list. A 10-inch cheese pizza is $10, and most toppings are $2 each.
VACCARO'S ITALIAN PASTRY SHOP
If it's cannoli you crave, head to Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop, which has been a Baltimore institution since 1956 and one of our favorite bakeries in the country. The classic Italian bakery is renowned for its almond cookies, cannoli, and rum cake, an Italian rum-flavored sponge cake with layers of vanilla and chocolate cream with sliced almonds to top it all off. For cannolis to go, they'll provide the cream filling separately so the cone doesn't get soggy.
SEE THE RAVENS PLAY AT M&T BANK STADIUM
Regarded as one of the best stadiums for fans in the country, M&T Bank Stadium is definitely worth a visit to see the Ravens play -- even if you're not a huge football fan. Known for state-of-the-art amenities, ease of access and excellent concessions, you can rest easy knowing that The Ravens are one of three teams tied for the cheapest hot dog in the NFL at $3. At $8.50, however, beers are more expensive than average.
SEE FAMOUS ARTWORK AT THE BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF ART
The Baltimore Museum of Art is free and houses 95,000 works of art, including 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art. Founded in 1914 with a single painting, the BMA is internationally recognized for works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Rembrandt.
DEVOUR A SANDWICH AT CHAP'S PIT BEEF
Praised as "carnivore heaven" in the Zagat guide, Chap's is the place for unbelievably tender meat. There isn't much ambiance at this hugely popular greasy spoon, but fans say the food is so good that no one cares about the atmosphere. Ordering a pit beef sandwich is a must, but it's highly customizable. Choose from four kinds of beef, five breads, and a slew of toppings.
TAKE YOUR PUP TO THE BEST DOG PARKS
With more than 50 activity options for you and your canine companion, Baltimore is one of the best cities for dog owners. One of the best choices here is Locust Point Dog Park at Latrobe Park, a fully fenced-in play space with astroturf, rocks to climb, and even a water slide just for dogs. Doesn't get much better than that. For those seeking a more nature-oriented experience, check out the 380-acre Cromwell Valley Park, which includes pastures, cultivated gardens, fields, woods, and orchards.
If you're looking for a pet-friendly hotel, Brookshire Suites welcomes pets, allowing them to stay for free and offering a variety of pet amenities.
SLURP VIETNAMESE PHO AT MEKONG DELTA CAFE
The Mekong Delta Cafe has been voted the best cheap restaurant in downtown Baltimore by readers of Baltimore magazine, and some of the best cheap eats in the country by us. Reviewers love the quick lunches, especially the pho (Vietnamese noodle soup). Most dishes are under $10 and appetizers are $6 or less.
LEARN A BIT OF STAR-SPANGLED HISTORY
History fans shouldn't miss the chance to visit Fort McHenry, one of the country's must-see attractions. The inspiration behind "The Star-Spangled Banner," the fort is accessible by public transportation. Entrance is $10 for those 16 or older, and there are free daily ranger talks throughout the day.
GRAB A CAN OF NATIONAL BOHEMIAN BEER
Affectionately known as "Natty Boh," National Bohemian has earned a fiercely loyal cult following among beer drinkers in Baltimore and beyond. First brewed in 1885, brewing operations for the beer with a mustachioed mascot have since moved out of state, but roughly 90 percent of the beer is still consumed there -- usually while eating crabs and watching the Orioles play. Ask anyone from "Bohtimore" and they'll tell you it's "Crabs, Bohs and O's."
FEAST ON WINGS AT KISLINGS TAVERN
Putting the Mid-Atlantic's favorite crab seasoning on wings in a state synonymous with blue crab was a stroke of genius, but we give Kislings Tavern even more credit for just flat-out using "BaltimoresBestWings.com" as its website. They are, after all, some of the best wings in the country. Kislings thinks enough of its standard sauce to bottle it, but its masterstroke was taking the red pepper flake, paprika, and celery salt of Old Bay seasoning, cutting it with honey and applying it to wings for the crowd-favorite, Honey Old Bay. A more than 20-year-old wing joint doesn't stay around that long by missing the simple connections, and that was a big one to make in this region.
SHOP MUSIC, MOVIES, AND MORE AT THE SOUND GARDEN
Long live the record store. And game store. And movie store. Long live Sound Garden! Baltimore's Sound Garden, one of our favorite small businesses in the nation, has over 10,000 square-feet of new/used records, DVDs, CDs, games, posters, stickers, and whatever else you need to complete your ultimate collection. They'll also purchase your old vinyls, CDs, and DVDs. It's a win-win.
SEE A MOVIE AT LITTLE ITALY'S OPEN AIR FILM FEST
Every screening is a full-fledged community event at the Open Air Film Fest in Baltimore's Little Italy. The free outdoor movies are projected on the outside wall of Ciao Bella Restaurant every Friday at 9 p.m. from July 7 to Aug. 25. Free popcorn is provided, along with live music from local singer Mario Palumbo.
VISIT THE NATIONAL GREAT BLACKS IN WAX MUSEUM
One of the most unique museums in the country, the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum greets visitors with lifelike wax replicas of some of history's most important black figures, including American icons W.E.B. DuBois, Bessie Coleman, and Malcolm X. There are also figures representing the Middle Passage, the Underground Railroad, entrepreneurialism in America, and more. Admission is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and students, $12 for children, and free for children under 3.
DINE ON ITALIAN CLASSICS AT ALDO'S
Elegant Aldo's in Baltimore's Little Italy manages to bring an upscale, romantic feel to old-world Italian dining. The osso bucco and all of the veal dishes are standouts, fans say, but those in the mood for a splurge might want to try the signature Tournedos Rossini -- grilled filet mignon and seared foie gras in a truffle wild mushroom sauce.
EXPLORE ANCIENT ARTIFACTS AT WALTERS ART MUSEUM
The Walters Art Museum is home to one of the most extensive collections of artifacts from the ancient world. Free general-admission exhibits include glimpses into lives and artistic cultures from ancient Egypt through the Renaissance. Its family arts center provides a place for children to unwind while expressing their creativity, and the museum offers free strollers on a first-come, first-served basis.
SIP SCOTCH AT BIRDS OF A FEATHER
A Scotch lover's paradise, the cozy Birds of a Feather bar in the Fells Point neighborhood is home to an impressive selection of precisely organized whiskeys. Every high-end detail is spot on, from large comfortable leather chairs to dim lighting. Birds of a Feather is local drinkers' choice for a special occasion or indulgent night out, and it's one of the coolest bars in the country.
LEARN CITY HISTORY AT THE BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY
The portable electric drill is an American invention, first made in 1917 by Black & Decker, which was then headquartered in a small Baltimore machine shop. Now owned by Stanley Works, the company still has roots in Baltimore and a few production facilities in North America, but the vast majority of its manufacturing is conducted in China. You can learn more about Baltimore's fascinating industrial history at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
WALK THE BWI HIKER-BIKER TRAIL
Whether you're just passing through on a layover or here for a longer time, you can stretch your legs on the 12.5-mile hiking and biking trail at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Many sections of the trail are said to be surprisingly peaceful despite being so close to airport runways. The trail wraps around the entire airport and includes a children's playground. If you're feeling even more ambitious, bikes are available for rent just outside the international terminal.
CELEBRATE THE CITY AT FELL'S POINT FUN FESTIVAL
VISIT JOHN WILKES BOOTH'S GRAVE AT GREENMOUNT CEMETERY
The 19th century stage actor John Wilkes Booth is notorious still today for assassinating Abraham Lincoln shortly after the close of the Civil War. His body rests in the family plot in Baltimore's Greenmount Cemetery, one of the most famous grave sites in the country, where visitors will often leave pennies bearing Lincoln's profile atop his headstone as a small form of tribute for the late president and retribution for his murderer.
CLIMB ABOARD THE RAILROAD MUSEUM
The Railroad Museum in Baltimore, one of our favorite indoor attractions in the country, boasts the world's oldest and most comprehensive American railroad collection. Kids can visit the Choo Choo Blue Kid Zone in the roundhouse and participate in story and activity time on the weekends. Look for demonstrations in which staff operate the 1884 roundhouse and its 60-foot wooden turntable to move a historic rail car.
FIND CREATIVE COMFORT FARE AT CHARM CITY WINGS & WAFFLES
If the chicken and waffles combo has lost its zing, Charm City Wings & Waffles has some solutions: fish and waffle ($9) and shrimp and waffle ($10) platters to tempt diners alongside more traditional waffles in original or red velvet favors for as little as $4.50 and a waffle with fresh fruit for only a dollar more.
GO RETRO AT BENGIES DRIVE-IN THEATRE
Located in Middle River, to the northeast of Baltimore, Bengies Drive-In Theatre claims it has the largest screen in the nation, measuring an astonishing 6,240 square feet. Admission varies from $5 to $10 per adult for weekend screenings, many of which are triple or even quadruple features padded out by classic cartoons through intermission.
ORDER FRESH FISH AT SHOYOU SUSHI
When you're not eating Maryland crabs with Old Bay seasoning, your next seafood-centric meal in Baltimore should be at Shoyou Sushi. Nestled on a quiet residential street, this cozy, unassuming spot features some of the best sushi in the country, served up by chef Bruce Li. The sushi and sashimi offer up generous slices of deliciously fresh fish, while the large rolls like the Oriole Park are great. And don't miss the signature Japanese Burrito, packed with shrimp tempura, crab, spicy tuna, and avocado in a soy paper wrapper.
LEARN THE HAUNTED HISTORY OF WESTERN BURIAL GROUND
This cemetery, located at the Westminster Presbyterian Churchyard, is the final resting place of legendary author Edgar Allen Poe and is regarded as one of the scariest places in the country. Given Poe's grim subject matter, he'd likely be pleased at rumors that his spirit haunts the graveyard today. Yet he's not the only alleged specter. The very Poe-esque Skull of Cambridge is another local legend. A murdered minister was supposedly laid to rest in this cemetery, and his skull has never stopped screaming. Legend states the skull was entombed in concrete in an attempt to muffle the noise, yet it's said that those who listen carefully can still discern the endless screams.
SEE THE LIGHTS ON CHRISTMAS STREET
Known as "Christmas Street," West 34th Street in the Hampden area of Baltimore has made a tradition of glitzy displays for 71 years, and it's one of our favorite light displays in the U.S. The online real estate brokerage Redfin has repeatedly named it one of the country's top displays, noting that visitors will find the most lights at the 700 block between Keswick Road and Chestnut Avenue through Jan. 1.
SHOP FOR THE SEASON AT CHRISTMAS VILLAGE
Located in the city's Inner Harbor area, Christmas Village in Baltimore (Nov. 23 to Dec. 24) started in 2013 as a sister market to Philadelphia's fair and is already becoming a seasonal must-see. The combination indoor and outdoor market has more than 50 booths selling European-style food, drinks, trinkets, and arts and crafts in wooden huts and a heated festival tent.
GRAB A TACO AT TORTILLERIA SINALOA
It's counter seating only at this popular taqueria in the waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point, but Tortilleria Sinaloa's devotees say that shouldn't be a deterrent to getting some of the most delicious, authentic tacos in town -- and some of the best Mexican food in the U.S. That doesn't mean there's no local flavor, though: Specialties include a tilapia taco with Old Bay butter sauce.