Baltimore is bursting with culture and its museums reflect that. But aside from the “typical” art and science museums (which are still quite impressive), Charm City has several unique institutions like the American Visionary Art Museum, the Edgar Allen Poe House & Museum, the B&O Railroad Museum, and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, to name a few. Whatever type of museum experience you’re looking for, it’s likely that Baltimore has it. Here are the city's top museums worth a visit.
With an international collection of more than 95,000 works of art, the BMA is a must-see for any art lover. A highlight is the Cone Collection of modern art, which includes an impressive number of Henri Matisse prints and paintings as well as works by Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, and other luminaries. In 2020, the museum committed to only acquiring art by women and is exhibiting works by female-identifying artists in 16 separate solo exhibitions and seven thematic group shows.
The neoclassical building itself is impressive (it was built in the 1920s by John Russell Pope), and the grounds include landscaped sculpture gardens that are definitely worth exploring. The on-site restaurant Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen is perfect for Sunday brunch (make a reservation!) and a great place to sample Chesapeake Bay cooking. Admission is free.
A Baltimore original, the AVAM is one of the most unique museums in the country. It’s the official national museum of self-taught and outsider art, featuring works of art in all mediums by self-taught artists. The building is hard to miss, with its reflective surface and giant mirror-covered school bus outside. Inside, be prepared for the most un-museum museum you’ve probably ever been in—it’s hard not to be wowed. Don’t miss the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, Leonard Knight’s LOVE Balloon, Grace Bashara Greene’s Button Lady, and Baltimore native Paul Darmafall’s crushed glass paintings. The gift shop is a great place for one-of-a-kind items, and the café, Cielo Verde, features an eclectic menu with several Venezuelan dishes.
One of Maryland’s largest and busiest attractions, the National Aquarium sees about 1.5 million visitors a year. Right in the heart of the Inner Harbor, the aquarium holds more than 17,000 animals and fish. Exhibits include a tropical rainforest, the multi-level "Atlantic Coral Reef," an open ocean shark tank, "Dolphin Discovery," and "Australia: Wild Extremes." There are also 4-D immersion movies and daily behind-the-scenes tours, both of which cost extra.
Admission is $39.95 for adults; we recommend buying tickets online because there are often long lines and they can sell out. The aquarium is least crowded on weekdays before 11 a.m., but if you can only come on a weekend or holiday, try to come after 3 p.m. It’s also important to note that while strollers are not allowed, you can check them and get a free carrier to borrow.
This museum has more than 10,000 documents, photographs, and objects relating to African American Marylanders. Just two blocks from the Inner Harbor, the Lewis Museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and has been open since 2005. Permanent exhibits explore the 400 years of African American history in Maryland, while rotating special exhibits focus on African American art. There is also an oral history recording studio, resources center, and auditorium. Take time to stop in the gift shop, which has an excellent selection of items relating to African American culture.
William Thompson Walters and his son Henry Walters accumulated an impressive art collection in the 19th century, and in 1934, the Walters Art Museum—located in the family's impressive Mount Vernon mansion—opened to the public. Items on view include masterworks from ancient Egypt, Greek sculptures, bronze Renaissance sculptures, 19th-century paintings, Chinese ceramics, and Art Deco jewelry. Best of all, the Walters is free for everyone, all the time.
One of Baltimore's most famous residents, writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe lived in this classic brick row house in the 1830s. A national historic landmark, his former home became a museum in 1949. Today, it includes exhibits on Poe’s foster parents, his life and death in Baltimore, and poems and short stories that he wrote while living in the city. Artifacts on display include Poe's chair, lap desk, and telescope. Various readings and lectures for the community are held here as well. The museum is only open Thursdays through Sundays.
A model slave ship, various exhibits, and more than 100 life-size wax figures of famous African Americans make up this unique museum inside an old Baltimore firehouse. Founded in 1983 by Drs. Elmer and Joanna Martin, Congress officially designated it a national museum in 2003. People depicted as wax figures in the museum include Emmett Till, Marcus Garvey, Imhotep, Rosa Parks, Malcom X, and Barack Obama. Please note that there is limited free parking available.
This museum dedicated to American railroad history boasts one of the most significant collections of railroad paraphernalia in the world, and also features the largest collection of 19th-century locomotives in the country. The museum is inside the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s Mount Clare Station and roundhouse, which dates back to 1829 and was the site of the first regular railroad passenger service in the U.S.
The museum is also home to 15,000 artifacts and a historic mile of track, which is available to ride Thursday through Saturday from April to December, and weekends in January. Train tickets can be bought on-site only, so get there as early as possible to secure your ride. Other kid-friendly attractions include a train carousel and a special kid’s zone. Plus, every summer the museum welcomes Thomas the Tank Engine on two separate weekends; you can purchase those tickets in advance here.
One of the Inner Harbor’s main attractions, the Science Center is a great place to take the family. The large museum features a recently renovated IMAX theater, rooftop observatory, planetarium, and exhibits such as "Dinosaur Mysteries, Life Beyond Earth" and "Cells: The Universe Inside Us." The Shed is perfect for DIY activities like woodworking, sewing, and animation. Throughout the day, live shows about topics like liquid nitrogen and chemical reactions take place on the Demo Stage. The exhibit halls, Demo Stage, and planetarium are included with admission, but IMAX shows cost extra.
Located inside the former President Street train station—the oldest surviving urban railroad station—this museum is a must for history buffs. The station, a Baltimore City landmark built in 1849, was a secret passage for President Lincoln and saw some of the earliest bloodshed during the Civil War. After many years of neglect, the station was renovated and reopened as a museum in 1997. Exhibits demonstrate Baltimore’s role in the Civil War and its connection to the Underground Railroad. The museum is open Friday through Monday; admission is $3 for adults and free for children under 12.