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Mt Vernon Place, Baltimore
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The 15 best things to do in Baltimore

Check out Charm City with our guide to the best things to do in Baltimore, from festivals to museums and parks

Written by
Sarah Medina
&
Julekha Dash
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When you think of Baltimore, what comes to mind is probably the picturesque Inner Harbor and delicious steamed crabs dusted with Old Bay spice (and a wooden mallet for smashing). Those in the know may also think of John Waters, The Wire and "hon", a term of endearment. Want to know more? Get a good overview of the city's diverse offerings with these top things to do in Baltimore.

Charm City offers lessons in American History alongside boutique hotels and trendy restaurants as well as quirky festivals and street markets. The city remains unpretentious, offering an urban experience perhaps more authentic than some of its neighbors to the north and south. While it can take years to truly know this town, start with this list of the best things to do in Baltimore.

Best things to do in Baltimore

Baltimore is home to many great breweries and brewpubs, but this should be your first stop. Located in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, The Brewer's Art crafts its Belgian-style beers in house and offers several destinations under one roof—a turn of the century mansion, a low-lit cavernous basement and wood-paneled formal dining room. It's also a prime example of how developers have converted elegant rowhomes into one-of-a-kind eating and drinking establishments. 

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The quirky neighborhood that had a starring role in John Waters’ films remains a favorite hangout spot, especially along The Avenue. It’s also famous for its annual festivals: Honfest, which celebrates women who sport beehive hairdos, and The Miracle of Lights on 34th St., an extravagant, kitschy holiday light display held on one city block every December. The street is also home to some of the city’s best restaurants and bars, including Dylan’s Oyster Cellar, The Food Market, Avenue Kitchen & Bar and The Bluebird. Afterwards, stop by the Charmery for Old Bay caramel ice cream.

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Built in the shape of a five-pointed star, Fort McHenry defended the city during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814, which inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the Star-Spangled Banner. The informative and entertaining exhibits and ranger programs offer a great history lesson, while the 42-acre park, which juts into the harbor, presents great opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Walk along the sea wall trail or lounge on a picnic bench next to the water.

Sagamore Spirit distillery offers tours and interactive exhibits that highlight Maryland’s history of rye whiskey production. The massive waterfront complex shows how whiskey is made, showcasing the fermenters, bottling process and 40-foot tall mirrored copper whiskey still. With outdoor concerts and other events, the distillery has become a must-stop destination. After an hour-long tour of the distillery, enjoy whiskey cocktails during a 30-minute sunset tour with Baltimore Water Taxi.

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The central plaza in Baltimore’s cultural center, Mount Vernon Place is home to the Washington Monument. Climb the 227 marble steps to be rewarded with a stunning view of the neighborhood’s elegant 19th and 20th century rowhomes built in Beaux Arts, Greek Revival and Italianate styles. The square also makes a good launching point for exploring the Mount Vernon neighborhood, which contains many architectural marvels: a Norman-Gothic church, the Palazzo-style Walters Art Museum and the George Peabody Library. In the summer, the surrounding parks hold outdoor events for the whole family to enjoy. 

Sandlot is the perfect spot to lounge around on the beach with friends (just don't jump in the water). But do grab a boozy slushie or a local beer or cocktail from the airstream trailer and some locally sourced munchies from James Beard Award-winning Spike Gjerde’s restaurant group. It’s also a great spot to snag a pic of Baltimore’s iconic neon Domino Sugar sign. Note: Sandlot is seasonal.

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Baltimore is home to several noteworthy museums, but AVAM is the only spot that displays a 14-foot- tall pink poodle, Fifi. The mascot makes her public entrance during the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race, where contestants power works of art to race them over 14 miles, on land and water. Among the museum’s quirky exhibits include a statue made from 5,000 tombstone-shaped marshmallows, titled “Edgar Allan Peep.”

Let's be honest: if you go to Baltimore and don’t eat crabs, did even really visit? This crab shack in a Locust Point row house is the spot to pound a mallet into an Old Bay-slathered crustacean. Enjoy crab, steamed shrimp and other seafood delights on the deck, where you’ll enjoy a view of the harbor. For a perfect pairing, wash it down with a pitcher of Baltimore’s favorite beer, Natty Boh.

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Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and museum honors the legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass and other African Americans who contributed to Baltimore’s shipbuilding industry. The interactive exhibits recount the life of Douglass and Myers, who founded America’s first African American-owned shipyard. The lovely waterfront setting also makes a good starting point to begin your exploration of the historic Fells Point neighborhood.

It may surprise you, but the world’s largest Matisse collection isn’t in Paris or Nice. (Can you see where we're going with this?) Yep, it's in the Baltimore Museum of Art. The museum boasts more than 1,000 works by the French Fauvist painter and sculptor. With six Doric columns gracing the front, the elegant building designed by John Russell Pope is also a work of art. Stop in the sculpture garden, which sometimes hosts jazz concerts, after brunching in the museum restaurant.

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With a long legacy of treating the nation, you can be sure to find a dessert at Vaccaro’s that'll satisfy your sweet tooth. Yep, we're talking indulgent snickers volcanos, death by chocolate, mouthwatering slices of cannoli cake and even cheesecake topped with gelato, hot fudge and whipped topping. Looking for a signature? Well if you only try one thing, put on your roomyest trousers and make a beeline for the pastry shells stuffed with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips. 

Artscape, an annual outdoor summer arts extravaganza, held the third weekend in July, features dance, theater and concerts held on three stages. Billed as the largest free arts festival in the U.S., the jam-packed weekend has featured well known musical headliners, including Wyclef Jean, Sheila E and Common. Purchase jewelry, crafts and one-of-a kind objet d’arts for your abode from more than 150 artists and food and drink from local vendors. It attracts more than 350,000 attendees. 

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