Whether you are on a budget or just looking for some inexpensive ways to spend your time, there are plenty of free things to do in Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland. Located only 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Washington, D.C., the Charm City and its scenic harbor offer a variety of activities to experience on the cheap. Visitors can explore several museums, beautiful parks for hiking and swimming, and enjoy interesting national monuments and memorials. Shopping in the oldest antique district in the United States is another fun option in Baltimore, which offers something for everyone.
See the Skyline From Federal Hill Park
Located on the south side of the Inner Harbor, Federal Hill Park is one of the best spots to scope out Baltimore's skyline, walk or get some other form of exercise, and have a picnic. A beloved landmark in the city, the park and its more than 10 acres of grassy hilltop is known as the place where 4,000 patriots celebrated Maryland's ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788.
Nearby is the American Visionary Art Museum, which features wacky kinetic sculptures and a glittery mosaic exterior. The museum does charge an admission fee but is definitely worth a look—even if it's just from the outside.
Known as the "birthplace of the National Anthem," Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is where Francis Scott Key was inspired to pen "The Star-Spangled Banner." A perfect place to take the kids, the site of days past has plenty of activities and storytellers. Stop by in the mornings or afternoons (confirm times before you go) to see a daily changing of the flag ceremony, depending on the weather.
Although it is free to use the park grounds, have a picnic, and park, anyone entering the historic part of the monument will have to pay a fee. Various fee-free days are held each year.
Pay homage to one of Baltimore's most celebrated residents, writer and editor Edgar Allan Poe, by visiting his historic gravesite and memorial inside Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. Poe was not only a poet; he also created the detective fiction genre and was one of the first in the country to write short stories.
For a small fee, you can also seek out the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, a National Historic Landmark that is open to the public Thursday through Sunday. The writer, who was born in 1809 in Boston, lived in the home from 1833–1835 with his grandmother, aunt, and two cousins.
Visitors to the Baltimore Museum of Art will be pleased to find a museum full of works from the 19th century to contemporary times. The collection of about 95,000 pieces of art includes the largest number of works by Henri Matisse in the world, as well as pieces by Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and many others. Don't forget to take a stroll through the sculpture garden, which is set on nearly three landscaped acres.
The museum, open Wednesday through Sunday, has free admission year-round, with the exception of some events and special exhibitions.
The Walters Art Museum houses a collection of more than 36,000 objects—dating from 5,000 BCE to the 21st century—which includes ancient, Asian, Islamic, medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque works of art, among others. The ongoing Arts of Asia installation features 150 sculptures and other pieces covering a period of 2,000 years, including Himalayan bronzes, scroll paintings (tangkas), and ritual objects.
The museum, which is free to the public, is open Wednesday through Sunday and is located in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, near the Washington Monument.
Scattered throughout the campus of the Maryland Institute College of Art are several galleries that showcase a variety of work made by up and coming student artists (and many times, established regional, national, or international artists). With a hodgepodge of buildings that runs the gamut from neoclassical to modern, the campus itself can be considered a work of art. There are around 100 exhibitions a year on the Bolton Hill campus.
Lace up your hiking shoes or hop on a two-wheeler and head to the 15-mile Gwynns Falls Trail, which begins at the I-70 Park & Ride and meanders along the Gwynns Falls stream southeast to the Middle Branch and the Inner Harbor of the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River. Along the way, you'll catch a glimpse of historic sites, water features, and bridges. In addition, you'll see more than 30 neighborhoods and many Baltimore attractions, including M&T Bank Stadium (home of the National Football League's Baltimore Ravens), Oriole Park at Camden Yards (home of Major League Baseball's Baltimore Orioles), and Federal Hill. The trail is mostly paved, although the one-mile Mill Race section is crushed stone; bikers and walkers will find the path easy to traverse.
Encompassing 207 acres, Cylburn Arboretum is a nature preserve within city limits. A Victorian mansion filled with watercolor paintings is surrounded by woodlands with trails from which native and non-native trees, plants, and flowers can be found. Some of the most favored flora in the collection include beeches, hollies, Japanese maples, magnolias, and Maryland oaks.
The preserve is open to the public all year on Tuesday through Sunday and is free to enter (leashed dogs are welcome).
The oldest antique district in the U.S. is located in Baltimore, along the 800 block of N. Howard Street and the 200 block of W. Read Street. The area dating back to the 1840s has become known as Antique Row over the years. These two blocks offer shops with English, American, and other furnishings, paintings, rare books, and additional items. Taking a stroll and browsing the stores full of collectibles is free, but odds are you'll find a treasure worth spending some money on.
Once an encampment for Union Troops during the Civil War, Patterson Park is now a roughly 130-acre public playground with an ice-skating rink, swimming pool, lake, and basketball and tennis courts. Don't miss the Victorian pagoda for catching some great views of downtown and various neighborhoods and landmarks. Activities are offered year-round at the “Best Back Yard in Baltimore,” but pick up in the summer.