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A historic port city on the east coast of the US, nestled north of Washington DC and south of Philadelphia, Baltimore is the state of Maryland’s largest city, with a population of almost 600,000 in the city proper and around 2.8 million in the metro area. A metropolis where diverse histories and cultures clash, mesh and merge like the point where two oceans meet, it’s the birthplace of The Star Spangled Banner and home to literary greats like Edgar Allen Poe and civil rights icons like Frederick Douglass. Nicknamed ‘Charm City’, Baltimore comprises a collection of uber-cool neighbourhoods where you can sample everything from international street food and craft beer to world-class contemporary art and design. Add a liberal sprinkling of museums, restaurants, cafes, clubs and independent shops, and you’ve got a location that’s much more than the sum of its parts.
There are many eye-popping attractions to see here and in surrounding Maryland by road, and renting a car in Baltimore is easy with Enjoy Travel. Renting a small car like a Chevrolet Spark costs just $34.59 per day here if you book off-season, a compact Nissan Versa is $34.93 a day and a sleek and spacious Hyundai Elantra ̶ ideal for scenic road trips ̶ is $38.09 a day. Rent a car in Baltimore from Enjoy Travel and the delights of this dynamic city are yours to discover.
Guide to Baltimore
US East coast cities like New York, Boston and Washington DC are better known than Baltimore as tourist traps, but there are many reasons why this underdog city with a proud working-class heritage punches above its weight and seduces visitors with awesome attractions that are by turn earthy, sophisticated and surprising. Here’s a swift summary of what makes B’more so special.
There’s evidence of Paleo-Indian inhabitation of the area around Baltimore stretching back to 10,000 BC in several archaeological sites and by the early 17th Century it was home to the Susquehanna indigenous people, who hunted extensively in the Baltimore County area and upwards, with the Piscataway people occupying the land to the south, from the north bank of the Potomac River downwards. European colonisation started in 1634 when an English ship arrived in the Potomac and anchored at St Clement’s island after which, in the all too familiar historical pattern, the Susquehanna were (sadly) defeated as much by European diseases as by physical force.
Although complete European control took a few decades to achieve, the province of Maryland was soon declared and the city is actually named after founder The 2nd Baron Baltimore, a member of the British House of Lords. Maryland was thereafter a British colony which, thanks to its strategic position, profited from its involvement in Transatlantic slavery and the associated trades in tobacco and sugar. However, during the American Revolution, Baltimore played a central role in resisting British taxation and was the de facto capital of the US from December 1776 to 1777, when the 2nd Continental Congress sat in Henry Fite House. In 1814, The Battle of Baltimore against Britain inspired local lawyer Francis Scott Key to pen the poem Defence of Fort M’Henry which became the US national anthem The Star Spangled Banner.
In the early 20th Century, city leaders introduced residential segregation in Baltimore, although the US Supreme Court ruled against it in 1917 and, fast-forwarding a few decades, the city expanded rapidly right through the 1960s and 1970s, when it was a hub of civil rights protests and activities. Around this time, a massive regeneration drive centred on the Inner Harbour downtown area began, which included the construction of buildings like the Maryland Science Centre, Baltimore World Trade Centre, Baltimore Convention Centre and retail and restaurant complex Harborplace, over the subsequent decades. Through this initiative and others like it, combined with the activism, dedication and diligence of diverse groups united by a civic vision of citizenship, contemporary Baltimore is a city which acknowledges its past yet accentuates its positives in order to move forward in an inclusive and outward looking way. Whether you want to delve deep into the cultural melting pot or simply sample a soupçon, it always stimulates the senses.
Things to do in Baltimore
Baltimore’s official tourism tagline encourages you to ‘renew your spirit of exploration’ and through discovering its diverse neighbourhoods connected like a delicate string of pearls, delving into its varied and vibrant cultural communities and embracing everything from its turbulent history to its tongue-tingling cuisine, you’ll definitely feel refreshed, revived and recharged by the end of your visit. Take a look below at some of the hotspots in this cool city.
Museums, Zoos & Monuments
There are more museums in Baltimore than you can shake an antique stick at and many of them host world-class exhibits and attractions. The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) is free to enter and boasts the world’s largest collection of artwork by French master Henri Matisse, while the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is a must-see for anyone who adores unique art created by everyday people, from prisoners to mathematicians and people who live with complex psychological conditions ̶ inspirational! Meanwhile, if animals float your boat, don’t miss Maryland Zoo and the National Aquarium, where you’ll meet sharks, crocodiles, salamanders, penguins, lions, leopards and much more. In terms of monuments, you simply can’t miss the Washington Monument, the 178-foot behemoth that’s towered over the Mount Vernon neighbour hood and city skyline for over 200 years ̶ there’s an elegant exhibition gallery at the base that’s free to enter and you can climb to the top of the tower for a small fee. But there are also several stunning historic ships to see in Baltimore, such as the USS Constellation and USS Submarine Torsk, while Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is worth driving to if you want to learn more about the aforementioned 1812 Battle of Baltimore, when US troops defeated a formidable foe in the form of the British Navy.
Music & culture
Baltimore is a hotbed of live music venues where you can enjoy all genres of local groups in compact and chic bars, national and international acts in large arenas, and just about everything in between. The 14,000 seat Royal Farms Arena is the city’s flagship emporium for stadium acts, but the 1500 seat Rams Head still attracts big name acts thanks to its unique ambience pioneering soundsystem and lighting rig, and the Modell Lyric’s beautiful architecture and lush décor provides a chic backdrop for comedy and dance as well as music. Meanwhile, if theatre floats your boat, the historic Hippodrome hosts travelling Broadway plays as well as concerts, and the Baltimore Soundstage is the place to be when you want to dance like no one’s watching to Hip-Hop, R&B and metal. Outwith music and theatre, Baltimore is famous for its summer street fairs, trendy rooftop bars, row houses with front stoops, and arrabers ̶ fruit and vegetable vendors who sell their wares from horse-drawn carts.
All good neighbourhoods
Another of Baltimore’s nicknames is ‘City of Neighbourhoods’ and there are over 200 in a sparkling constellation which makes the city such an exciting place to work and live in, as well as a magnet for visitors in the know. The Inner Harbour might be the city’s best-known hangout spot, but there’s culture aplenty in neighbourhoods like Canton & Brewers Hill, with its brick rowhouses, Canton Waterfront Park and Natty Boh tower (named for National Bohemian beer), and Druid Hill Park, home of Maryland Zoo and a gorgeous green space which hosts farmers’ markets, outdoor yoga classes and guided walks. Alternatively, the famous Falls Point is home to Baltimore’s oldest bar, the wonderfully named The Horse You Came In On Saloon, and Hampden is the hipster HQ, hosting quirky bars, the Café Hon diner and Honfest, and annual celebration of the city’s working-class women.
Eating out in Baltimore
As you might expect, thanks to its port status and seafaring history, fish and seafood are popular in Baltimore (crabs in particular) but the city is also famous for a few signature sweet treats and you’ll find local, national and international dishes in street markets, cafes and restaurant citywide, as well as a super selection of fine dining emporiums where you can treat yourself for a special occasion, or simply because you feel like it!
If you’re a foodie about to visit Charm City, unbuckle your belt a few notches and tuck into our tips on eating out.
The Maryland blue crab is so called thanks to its distinctive blue claws (although the entire creature turns a burnt orange when cooked), it’s an iconic dish from this region and almost 50% of the US stock of blue crab is sourced from Chesapeake Bay, which spans Maryland and Virginia. When they’re at their most plentiful (in the summer) nothing beats a steamed crab feast with melted butter, corn on the cob and Old Bay seasoning (which Baltimoreans lather on almost anything edible), all washed down with delicious ice cold beer. Bo Brooks, Captain James Landing and L.P. Steamers are some of the best places to sample authentic Maryland crabs and soak up this slice of local life.
B’more is also a hotspot for traditional street food, particularly of the sugary-sweet variety, and Lexington Market is one of the best places to tempt your taste buds. Here you can try an egg custard snowball (cup of shaved ice) with marshmallows, a lemon stick, which is a peppermint candy pole pushed into a lemon wedge, and famous Berger cookies with extra thick chocolate frosting. You’ll also find premium pastries, muffins and all manner of lip-smacking snacks served with artisan coffee at popular cafes like Charmington’s, High Grounds Coffee Roasters, Patterson Perk and Taps Fill Station.
Want to treat yourself (and perhaps your significant other) to some haute cuisine while you’re in town? There are several eateries in Baltimore where there’s something special on the menu every night of the week. For instance, at 1157 Bar + Kitchen in Locust Point, top chef Jason Ambrose satisfies gourmets with terrific dishes like wild boar ravioli, Korean fried chicken wings, and beer-steamed mussels, while Ananda in Fulton is an inspirational Indian-fusion emporium where you can lose yourself in a kaleidoscope of flavours which infuse dishes like pulled Berksrent pork with cumin and cardamon or pan-fried Goa fish with tamarind and roasted garlic – wash it all down with a selection from the carefully curated wine list or a classic cocktail from the resident mixologists. Alternatively, at Chez Hugo Bistro in the Downtown area, elite chef Steve Monnier creates exquisite dishes like white truffles with bacon spiked celeriac and divine desserts like habanada pepper ice cream with pumpkin syrup, while at Bygone, the swish rooftop restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, you’ll love sizzling steaks with cheese-loaded dauphinoise potatoes, lobster Newburg and a blockbuster Baked Alaska that you’ll rave about for years! Finally, if you fancy something special at the waterfront neighbourhood, try the Charleston Restaurant, which serves sumptuous fare like pan-roasted sea scallop, Scottish salmon and Maine lobster cake and lovely desserts like lemon coconut cake and sticky toffee pudding.
Transport in Baltimore
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) is around 14km from the city and Enjoy Travel works with top car rental providers at BWI like Dollar, in order to provide you with a wide choice of vehicles ready for you to hop in and roll out.
The Baltimore public transport system is served by four modes ̶ the bus network, MARC train, light rail and Metro underground. However, the subway only runs from east to west and in general the entire system has mixed reviews, often rated as less efficient than you might expect from a major American city. Therefore, if you want to explore some of the attractions outwith the city centre and further afield in Maryland, renting a reliable car in Baltimore is certainly recommended.
Always drive on the right side of the road in Baltimore and observe the speed limits, which are 55mph, 60mph or 65 mph on urban freeways, 35mph and 30 mph in different business and residential areas and as low as 15mph in the smallest, narrowest streets, referred to as alleys.
Always wear a seatbelt, don’t drink and drive and pay close attention to stop signs, caution signs and yield signs, as well as overhead traffic lights.
There are plenty of delightful road trip destinations in easy reach of Baltimore, so if you want a brief break from the urban attractions, you’re spoiled for choice.
For instance, Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland is the biggest lake and an idyllic haven for boating, fishing, swimming and jet-skiing (although perhaps not all in the same trip!), Harpers Ferry is a charming scenic settlement just over an hour from the city, Solomons Island is just under two hours away and has some of the most sublime sunsets on the east coast, and at Assateague Island, which is just under three hours away (depending on traffic), you can even see wild horses strolling sedately along the beach!
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