15 Things to Know Before Visiting Baltimore, MD

36th Street in Hampden, Baltimore.
36th Street in Hampden, Baltimore. | © bohwanwang / Pixabay / Derivative from original
Kate Elizabeth Orgera

From the neighborhoods to the history to the arts, there’s more to Baltimore than meets the eye. There’s much to love about Charm City, but it can be a lot to process all at once for first-timers. Here’s our rundown of the 15 things you need to know before visiting Baltimore.

Birthplace of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

In 1814, Francis Scott Key was in Baltimore when the British attempted to capture the city during the war of 1812. As he saw the flag fluttering in triumph at nearby Fort McHenry, he penned what would become the United States national anthem. Baltimore has since embraced this legacy in its official slogan.

Crabs, Old Bay®, and Natty Boh are king

The signature flavors of Baltimore are crab, Old Bay® Seasoning, and National Bohemian “Natty Boh” beer. Because Maryland is the biggest distributor of blue crabs in the country, Baltimore, as its port city, will put crab meat in pretty much anything. But while Old Bay® often goes with crab, it’s a Baltimore staple in its own right, often sprinkled on fries, wings, and more. Natty Boh, first brewed in Baltimore in 1885, is no longer made in its home city, but 90% of National Bohemian sales to this day are from Baltimore, its mustachioed mascot a symbol of the city.

Bigger than the Inner Harbor

While the Inner Harbor is a major attraction for visitors, there’s so much more to explore when you’re visiting Baltimore. You’ll find arts and culture all over the city, not to mention great restaurants and bars, parks, and historical landmarks. So don’t waste the trip in just one area.

Little shops in Canton Square, Baltimore

City of neighborhoods

Instead of districts, Baltimore is split up into about 200 neighborhoods. While many are purely residential, each has its own history and personality, with great restaurants and attractions to offer. Our guide to the coolest neighborhoods in Baltimore is just the tip of the iceberg. Check out this map to explore the different neighborhoods.

Weather more Northern than Southern

While Baltimore is technically a Southern city, just under the Mason-Dixon line, the weather falls more in line with the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast, meaning hot and humid summers and cold, wet, and blustery winters. It does tend to warm up a little faster than Pittsburgh or New York in the spring, but like their springs, you could still get snow as late as April.

Easy to get around

There are a number of ways to get around while visiting Baltimore, many of them affordable. The Charm City Circulator and Harbor Connector water taxi are free transportation services that stop in many popular neighborhoods of southern Baltimore. There’s also the Baltimore Water Taxi, with more stops and an all-day pass at a decent rate. Lesser-known methods are the subway, which runs from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Owings Mills, and the light rail, which runs from BWI Airport to the suburbs. For cyclists, the city has a bike share program, plus protected bike lanes along main roads.

Full of history

Baltimore, once called “The Monumental City,” was for years an important commercial center and gateway to the west, and its historical landmarks stand as proof of its lasting legacy. Home to the original Washington Monument, America’s first cathedral, the B&O Railroad, historic ships from the Civil War and World War II, and much more, there’s a lot to learn from Baltimore about the history of the United States.

Lots of cool people come from Baltimore

Baltimore has produced amazing athletes, artists, writers, and more, and pays tribute to them throughout the city. You can visit Babe Ruth’s Baltimore birthplace as a museum. Edgar Allan Poe, who grew up in the area, also has a museum in his name and is buried in Westminster Burying Grounds. Billie Holiday has a mural dedicated to her in her old neighborhood of Fell’s Point and musician Frank Zappa has a bust and a city holiday in his name.

Baltimore is Birdland

Baltimore is dedicated to its sports teams, which, because of their winged mascots, has earned them the nickname “Birdland” or “Birdtown.” All over the city, you’ll find a number of establishments sporting Orioles orange-and-black or Ravens purple – sometimes both! Add in Johns Hopkins University’s famed lacrosse team, the Blue Jays, and you’ve got a regular birdhouse.

“Painted Ladies” rowhouses on the 2600 block of N. Calvert Street, Baltimore

Rowhouses rule

While rowhouses can be found in other U.S. cities, Baltimore has the most rowhouses of all of them. Baltimore rowhouses span multiple styles and eras, often with marble steps and their own colorful Charm City flair. For particularly beautiful rowhouses, walk around Charles Village or Abell to see the eye-popping “Painted Ladies.”

Baltimore loves its movies

Baltimore has served as the setting for a number of great films – Sleepless in Seattle and Diner come to mind, not to mention John Waters’ body of work. But Baltimore also has a deep appreciation for film, with independent movie houses like The Charles and The Senator, both open since 1939, and Bengies Drive-In, open since 1956. It also hosts the Maryland Film Festival every year and a number of outdoor film festivals in the summer.

Great place for the arts

Charm City is host to a vibrant arts culture, with great art museums like the BMA, Walters Art Museum, and the American Visionary Arts Museum as well as Artscape, the largest free arts festival in America. Venues such as Power Plant Live! And Rams Head Live! host big-name music concerts, while the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Peabody Institute host classical and jazz performers, not to mention tons of smaller venues and music festivals. Local theaters range from the smaller Everyman Theater to the Broadway-sized Center Stage and Hippodrome. So whatever your tastes, you’ll find something that suits you.

Home of Hon culture

“Hon,” short for “honey,” is not exclusive to Baltimore, but the city has turned it into a way of life. A callback to ’50s-’70s working-class neighborhoods such as Hampden and Canton, Hon culture is characterized by plastic flamingos, cats-eye glasses, beehive hairdos, and a particular accent. Once seen as tacky, John Waters, Cafe Hon, and HONFest have helped residents and newcomers celebrate this quirky part of Baltimore. Though there’s disagreement on whether it’s respectful or not, Hon culture is a reflection of the charm of Charm City.

Exterior of Cafe Hon in Hampden

Historic public markets

Baltimore’s public market system is the oldest continuously-running market system in the U.S., with Lexington Market, established in 1782, its oldest market. Other notable markets include Broadway Market, Cross Street Market, and the more recent R House. There’s also plenty of farmers’ markets to visit in the warmer months, including the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar.

Stay vigilant

While no place is completely free from danger, civil unrest and crime have unfortunately made Baltimore one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Mount Vernon has seen a recent increase in crime, and the intersection of McCulloh Street and West Preston Street is a major danger zone. But some areas are better than others, such as Hampden and neighborhoods around the harbor, or Federal Hill, whose overall crime rate is 3% lower than the national average. So do your research and be watchful, especially after dark, and you can have a great time visiting Baltimore.

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