Getting Around Baltimore: Guide to Public Transportation

Baltimore Light Rail - No.1
Steve Ember / 500px / Getty Images

Baltimore’s public transport system may not seem efficient at first glance, but it’s a very affordable way to get into and around the city if you plan your journey carefully. Compared to nearby Washington D.C., Baltimore is relatively compact: most popular tourist neighborhoods are within an hour’s walking radius of downtown.

While its layout and size make it easy to navigate on foot, Baltimore can be overwhelming if you’re driving or trying to choose between the many forms of transport available. There are four different types of buses alone, and their schedules are notoriously haphazard. Cycling has never taken off either; despite having designated lanes, several failed bike-sharing programs have kept cyclists mostly off the roads.

However, Baltimore is investing in streamlining and sprucing up the system—with a focus on sustainability—so stations and rides are continually getting makeovers. All core services (local buses, light rails, and the subway) operate on the same fares, with discounts available for students and mobility needs, so you don’t have to choose between route convenience and price:

  • One way: $1.90
  • Day pass: $4.40
  • 7-day pass: $21
  • 31-day pass: $74

You can also subscribe to receive core service updates and disruptions via text alerts, but your network may charge a standard messaging fee.

Baltimore’s interconnected core services also benefit from extensive accessibility considerations, and the city has a separate MobilityLink program for individuals who can’t use or need assistance using the fixed system.

How to Ride the CharmCity Circulator

By far the most accessible and economic transport option is the Charm City Circulator. This free hop-on-hop-off shuttle is a government initiative to reduce emissions and congestion and offers connections between tourist hot spots and bus stops, train stations, and outskirts parking garages.

  • Routes and Hours: The four shuttle routes don’t run on a specific timetable, but expect one every 10-15 minutes. Monday to Thursday service aligns with commuting hours (7 a.m. to 8 p.m.), but Friday service extends to midnight. Saturday and Sunday services start at 9 a.m. and run until midnight and 8 p.m. respectively.
  • Service Alerts: The circulator has a separate system for mobile updates, with the same caveat about messaging fees.
  • Accessibility: Every shuttle is equipped with an adjustable incline accessibility ramp.

How to Ride the Harbor Connector

Another free-service operation, the connector joins key waterfront neighborhoods and gives you a chance to enjoy the novelty of transportation via boat while soaking in the harbor scape. A paid full-service water taxi also exists seasonally and on weekends if you’re feeling lush.

  • Routes and Hours: Connectors between Maritime Park, Tide Point, Canton Waterfront Park, Harbor View, and Harbor East run every 15-30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 11:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Inclement weather temporarily halts service.
  • Accessibility: Select connectors have been equipped, but they’re not a fully accessible option.

How to Ride the Baltimore Metro Subway Link

Baltimore’s subway is a single 15.5-mile track that connects Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Stations outside downtown can be a bit dark and dreary, but recent upgrades to central stations incorporate green practices and local culture into the aesthetic.

  • Routes and Hours: There are only 14 stops on the track, so it’s not a comprehensive underground, but it does mean you can get quickly between the Inner Harbor and slightly farther away sights like the State Centre (where the annual Artscape festival happens) and the Maryland Zoo. Trains arrive every 8-15 minutes, and services run from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 6 a.m. to midnight on weekends and holidays.
  • Transfers: Rogers Avenue has shuttles to Pimlico Racetrack, and many downtown stops join other local services. Stops outside of Penn-North all have nearby garages to encourage park and ride commuting.

How to Ride the Light RailLink

The Light Rail is the cheapest way to reach downtown straight from the airport (40 minutes) or Penn Station (10 minutes). It stretches further north than other Baltimore transport lines, so it’s also a good option for exploring the state fairgrounds or Towson and Hunt Valley shopping centers.

  • Routes and Hours: Services around downtown stations run more frequently than ones from Hunt Valley or the airport, which are every half hour. Check departure and arrival times in advance since certain stops start and close earlier than others. The airport service runs from roughly 5 a.m. to 12:40 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, and 10:35 a.m. to 8:40 p.m. on Sundays and holidays.
  • Transfers: One of the most connected services in Baltimore, the light rail intersects every other type of available transport, and many stops have direct links to multiple buses.

Local Buses 

Baltimore’s bus system is the most complex option, and unless you’re venturing into outlying neighborhoods, other services are much more reliable and easier to navigate.

The system is comprised of four bus types: CityLink (high-frequency routes with a 24-hour service), LocalLink (neighborhood reach around CityLink buses), ExpressLink (limited-stop service between suburbs and downtown), and commuter buses (connecting outlying regions to downtown). Headway between buses aims to be 10 to 15 minutes, but riders continually report frustrations over longer intervals. Other than the 12 CityLink lines, services operate on differing timetables, so review the full bus route planner thoroughly.

The MARC Train

Divided into three lines, the MARC train links Baltimore to bordering states and other parts of Maryland. Due to limited stops within the city, it’s not great for traveling around Baltimore proper, but if you’re transferring between Penn Station and the airport, going to an Orioles’ game, or taking a day trip to Washington D.C., it’s a good alternative to driving. Timing and ticketing prices vary, so check the route planner before heading out. 

Taxis and Ride-Sharing Apps

All public transportation tapers off by midnight at the latest, even on weekends, and the options after dark become increasingly scattered and dubious. The safest and most reliable way home or between destinations after dark is a taxi or rideshare. If you’re staying centrally, fares are usually well under $10. Taxis from the airport to the Inner Harbor cost around $35.

Renting a Car

Unless you’re familiar with the city or visiting areas not connected by MARC or Amtrak, renting a car will probably cost you more money and anxiety than it’s worth. Plenty of parking garages with easy access to attractions exist, but prices soar during the summer and game days. Street parking and navigation can also be tricky: Baltimore is a slightly off-kilter grid of one-ways, narrow streets, and sometimes challenging-to-follow signposting.

Tips for Getting Around Baltimore

  • Maximize convenience and avoid fretting over cash or tracking down ticket machines by downloading Maryland’s free ticketing app, CharmPass. After adding payment information, you’re set to buy and use fares anytime on any public transportation service. You can also buy multiple fares for trip companions and save tickets offline.
  • With the purchase of any one-way fare for core services, you get a courtesy transfer window of 90 minutes, during which you can bounce between as many core services as you wish without additional charges.
  • Check the city’s social calendar before deciding how to get around, because traveling in and out of the city can be a massive headache during peak traffic times. Game days at M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards, summer festivals at Power Plant Live and the Inner Harbor, and events in the convention center quickly clog downtown and increase parking prices and journey times dramatically.
  • If you’re driving, keep an eye on the clock and traffic alerts. Baltimore is the epicenter of several major (but limited-lane) highways that connect to Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Virginia, and other Maryland commuter cities, so accidents and rush hours easily create standstills lasting for hours.