Baltimore is rich in history and culture for visitors and tourists alike. Whether you come for a day or a week, it is easy to find lots of free or inexpensive things to do in this Mid-Atlantic region’s city by the Chesapeake Bay. Let’s take a look at just the Harbor and surrounding area as there is so much to do!
1. Take a ship tour or climb a lighthouse to relive memories of a seafaring city
For maritime history buffs, the Inner Harbor has plenty to offer. There are usually several ships to tour on any given day. The LV116 Chesapeake is a piece of forgotten history when such lighted vessels anchored up for months or years on end to provide a beacon to shipping channels in the bay. LV116 Chesapeake’s service started in 1930 and ended in 1971 when she was decommissioned. Now moored permanently in the Inner Harbor, she is the brightest colored ship in the collection. You can tour her or one of three other historic ships for various prices under 10 USD if you are 60 years old and over, or under 20 years old with a student ID. Children five and under are free and discounts are available to military personnel with a valid ID, (see link below for more pricing info). The nearby Seven foot Knoll Lighthouse is free and well worth a visit. Here you can climb up into the lighthouse and see what life was like for the keepers of the light and their families in this tin-can like structure on stilts.
2. Visit the Visionary Art Museum for a vision of art
Walking the Inner Harbor is a must to see all the shops, restaurants and colorful old townhomes. The walking path takes you all the way to Canton to the east, or walk all the way to the Visionary Art Museum across the harbor toward the imposing Domino Sugar Factory. This museum is one of the most fun and interesting you will ever see. This is off-the-charts art with a story. Most displays feature interesting stories about the artist that will pull you into the artist’s work on display. The Visionary Art Museum is guaranteed not to be a typical art museum experience and is sure to please old and young. Many will laugh over the fart display downstairs by the restrooms with several quotes, stories and photos to back up the fart themed art. Even though this is not under 10 USD, they do have free days announced on their website, and some discounts might bring your admission fee in under the 10 USD limit if you are a student with a valid ID.
For lunch under 10 USD, try one of the following in the Inner Harbor area: Leinenkugal's Beer Garden, Corner Bakery Cafe, PF Changs, Dick's Last Resort or Tin Roof.
3. Free transportation with Charm City Circulator
Use the Charm City Circulator to move around downtown Baltimore if walking isn’t your choice. It’s free and they have a website that shows where each bus is in real-time so you can tell approximately how long of a wait until it arrives. They have four routes connecting you to most places in the core of downtown Baltimore using either the Green, Orange, Purple and Banner lines. The "Banner" line will take you from the Inner Harbor all the way out to Fort McHenry, with the Visionary Art Museum along the route.
4. Inspiration for a national anthem at Fort McHenry
Fort McHenry is famous for the bombardment it received from the British Royal Fleet during the War of 1812. It was near here, onboard a British ship in 1814 that Francis Scott-Key penned the words to The Star Spangled Banner, the national anthem for the United States of America. Fort McHenry has a newly renovated visitor center that shows a ten minute long orientation film. The film depicts the history of the fort and events leading up to the 1814 bombardment and writing of the famous poem that became a national anthem. When the film ends, the national anthem plays and the curtains are opened to reveal an exceptionally large American flag waving over the fort. Some in the room shed tears it is such an emotionally charged moment. It’s free to wander the grounds surrounding the fort, but costs 10 USD for adults sixteen years or older to enter inside the walls of Fort McHenry. You should plan on spending one to two hours to make the most of your visit.
5. Uncover war memories at the Baltimore Civil War Museum
The next war to come to Baltimore was the Civil War and Baltimore was smack in the middle of it. Drop into the Baltimore Civil War Museum housed in the old President Street Station to read about north and south interests threatening to pull Baltimore apart during this conflict. This is another excellent low cost attraction on the Charm City Circulator’s green and orange routes. Federal Hill Park offers a view of the Inner Harbor from this old gun fortification that was used in both the War of 1812 and Civil War. Placards explain some of the history of this Baltimore landmark. The Charm City Circulator's Banner line serves this site.
6. Quoth the raven - Catch signs of Edgar Allan Poe
Signs of Edgar Allan Poe can be seen in parts of Baltimore. Poe died in 1849 and was placed in an unmarked grave at the time. Most say he is buried in the Westminster Hall Cemetery on the southeast corner of Fayette and Greene Streets. This current monument was dedicated on the 17th November 1875 and was attended by Walt Whitman, Judge Neilson Poe, (Edgar’s cousin) and other dignitaries. However, there are some who say Poe is not buried there. Maybe you can prove he is? In the summer months, the Poe House on 203 N Amity Street is open to the public if you desire more interaction with the famous poets influence in Baltimore. It’s a good low-cost attraction with an admission fee of 5 USD for adults. Seniors, students and active military pay only 4 USD and children under twelve are free. The Poe house is only open on weekends beginning Memorial Day weekend through December. It’s best to check their Facebook page for opening time and days. For more information on Poe see the link below.
7. Climb the Washington Monument for a splendid view
A visit to the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore is free and interesting. Come see this 178 foot tall monument that was finished in 1829 honoring George Washington. Visitors can climb the 227 steps to get a view of the area. After recently being renovated to the tune of 5.5 million USD, the Washington Monument was rededicated and opened on 4th July 2015 and is looking clean and new. The Mount Vernon neighborhood has some of the most luxurious brownstone townhomes from the days when Baltimore’s elite lived and prospered here. Notable institutions in the neighborhood are the Peabody Institute and the Walters Art Museum. The Walters Art museum is free except for special exhibitions and features over 25,000 pieces of art on display. And once again the Charm City Circulator gets you there for free on the Purple line.
8. Relax at Patterson Park
On the east side of Baltimore is Patterson Park, a sprawling urban oasis. The Pagoda is one of the most visible structures in the park. This spot is a favorite for sledding when the snow flies in winter. It was here, on 12th September 1814, residents converged ready to repel the British invasion of Baltimore after sacking Washington DC. The park is a popular place for dog walkers and features a special dog park. Out of town visitors would enjoy taking a nice walk here on a spring day enjoying a brief visit in nature before continuing explorations of the area. Just east on Eastern Avenue is one of the best restaurants for the under 10 USD crowd. Chicken Rico is a very popular Peruvian restaurant where you can get a tasty one quarter rotisserie chicken with two delicious side dishes and a can of soda for only 8.25 USD! With fifteen side dishes, including chicken fried rice, yucca, coleslaw and more, this is a tasty lunch or dinner spot for dine-in or takeout.
Is it safe to visit the Charm City?
With the riots of 2015 widely reported in the news, many might think it is not safe to visit Baltimore. I go there often and feel safe, but like most big cities I am careful about where to go especially at night. If you stick to the areas in this article you should have a safe and fun trip to this historical city. Baltimore has much to see, do and taste if you love great food, museums and history. I believe you will have a memorable trip filled with positive experiences in this place called The Charm City.