Baltimore skyline and Inner Harbor

Baltimore Guide: Planning Your Trip

••• Greg Pease / Getty Images

Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland , located in the north-central part of the state, near the Western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s about 40 miles north of Washington, D.C., and makes a great weekend getaway for people on the East Coast, especially New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Bostonians. And if you’re coming from D.C., it’s great for a day trip. Baltimore has a lot to offer visitors, from historic neighborhoods, top-quality museums, and excellent shopping and dining. And its waterfront location means a happening harbor and plenty of boat and ferry rides.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: Summer is high season, but spring and fall provide lesser crowds and milder temps. All these seasons have various festivals as well.

Language: English

Currency: U.S. dollars

Getting Around: Although the easiest way to navigate Baltimore is by car, parking and traffic are often issues. The downtown area is fairly walkable, and bike riding is a good option, too. The MTA (Maryland Transit Administration) runs three public transit options. There is a small subway, the Metro SubwayLink, often just called the Metro Subway although it is only partially underground. The system covers about 15 miles and only has a single line that runs from Johns Hopkins Hospital, through the central business district, and then north, terminating Owings Mills, one of Baltimore’s suburbs. The subway connects to the more extensive public bus system, and the Light Rail, which mostly runs out to more suburbs, but also has a stop at Camden Yards, the Convention Center, and a few other downtown stations. A single trip on each of these cost $1.90, and a day pass is $4.40 . You can also take taxis, and both Uber and Lyft work in Baltimore. Finally, there is a water taxi that goes to various locations around the bay as well.

Travel Tip: Although the Inner Harbor is the city’s center for tourists, with several of its main attractions, the surrounding neighborhoods of Fell's Point, Federal Hill, Mount Vernon, and Hampden offer authentic local experiences and are filled with great shops, restaurants, bars, and more.

Things to Do

Baltimore has several flagship attractions, including the National Aquarium, Fort McHenry, Camden Yards baseball stadium, and its several stellar art museums. Strolling the Inner Harbor is perfect on beautiful days, and from there, you can take a water taxi to places like Fell's Point, a charming historic waterfront neighborhood with great shops and restaurants. And of course, you can’t visit Charm City without eating crabs doused with Old Bay, the city’s signature seafood seasoning. Don’t miss these activities:

  • See America’s favorite pastime. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is known as one of the country’s best stadiums. It has an ideal combination of tradition and modern amenities that make a day at the ballpark a perfect experience.
  • Eat seafood. Sampling Maryland’s famous blue crabs alongside fresh oysters and other seafood is a must when in Baltimore. From historic Faidley's Seafood, renowned for their crab cakes, to the classic Thames Street Oyster House, you really can’t go wrong as long as you remember to sprinkle some locally made Old Bay seasoning on top.
  • Visit the National Aquarium. Set in the middle of the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium features more than 800 species of fish and animals and provides hours of amusement and education. The aquarium is one of the largest tourist attractions in Maryland and consistently ranked in the top five aquariums in the country.

What to Eat and Drink

Have we mentioned the seafood yet? But seriously, you must eat Maryland blue crabs (crab cakes, steamed crabs, crab pizza, crab soup, crab mac, and cheese…you get it), oysters, and whatever fresh seafood you can get your hands on. And of course, you have to eat it with Maryland’s own Old Bay seasoning. Another classic Baltimore food is the pit beef sandwich, which is made with charcoal-grilled roast beef, onions, horseradish, and barbecue sauce (try it at Chaps Pit Beef). Lake Trout, which is actually whiting that’s breaded and fried, is another classic Baltimore dish. On the dessert end, make sure you sample a Berger’s Cookie, a cakey cookie dipped in fudgy chocolate, and a snowball, which is shaved ice soaked in flavored syrup and topped with marshmallow fluff. For many of these classics, head to Lexington Market, the oldest market in the country. But it’s not all about tradition: the city has several award-winning chefs creating innovative food, including Cindy Wolf, Spike Gjerde, and more.

Baltimore has a good craft beer scene, but sometimes locals prefer their beloved “Natty Boh,” the affectionate for National Bohemian, which was initially brewed in Baltimore (although Pabst Brewing Company now owns it). Look for the mustachioed gentleman on the logo painted and plastered all over town.

Find out where to get the best crab cakes in Baltimore, and, of course, the best steamed crabs.

Where to Stay

From high-end luxury hotels to charming inns to big brand hotels, Baltimore has a wide array of accommodations to fit every style and budget, whether you're alone, with friends, your significant other, or the entire family. The big brands like Marriott, Hampton Inn, and Radisson are here, as well as higher-end options like Four Seasons, Kimpton, and Renaissance. There is also a Live! Casino & Hotel if you want to gamble. For a bit more personality, book a room at one of the boutique hotels like the Sagamore Pendry, The Ivy Hotel, Hotel Indigo, or Hotel Revival. If you're on a tight budget, there are several motels and hostels, and home rentals are plentiful and can often be a good deal.

Explore the best accommodation options Baltimore with our guide to the city's best hotels.

Getting There

Baltimore is accessible by car, bus, train, and airplane. If you’re driving, you’ll likely arrive on I-95. Buses that serve Baltimore include Greyhound, BoltBus, Megabus, Peter Pan, OurBus, PandaNY Bus, and Wanda Coach.

Two trains serve Baltimore: Amtrak, which travels from all across the East Coast and beyond into Baltimore Penn Station, and the MARC train, which is a commuter rail that connects Baltimore to Washington, D.C. and surrounding Maryland suburbs and towns.

Baltimore’s main airport, Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) is 11 miles from downtown. Airlines flying in and out of BWI include Delta, American Airlines, Southwest, United, Alaska Airlines, Spirit, and JetBlue. You can also fly into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which is 43 miles away from Baltimore, or Dulles International Airport, which is 69 miles away from Baltimore.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Baltimore has plenty of public parks and waterfronts, as well as several hiking trails to explore. The Cylburn Arboretum is a large nature preserve that has free admission.
  • The Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Museum of Art are always free, all year round.
  • Patterson Park is filled with free activities: there’s a playground, ice-skating rink, swimming pool, lake, and basketball and tennis courts.
  • Search for bargains on Antique Row in Mount Vernon.
  • The city is filled with historical monuments and sites like Fort McHenry, Edgar Allen Poe’s memorial, and the historic harbor ships. Many are free to see, although some have admission fees to enter certain parts.
  • Browse public markets like Lexington Market and Broadway Market for affordable prepared food and ingredients.

Learn more about the cheapest ways to have fun by exploring the top 10 things to do in Baltimore for free and the best public parks in Baltimore.

Article Sources
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  1. Britannica. "Baltimore."

  2. Maryland Transit Administration. "Regular Fares."