Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland, has strong nautical ties since being founded as a port town in 1729. Now a vibrant metropolis full of charming neighborhoods and landmarks of historical significance, its museums are first-rate, and the Orioles and the Ravens bring pride and excitement to the city's many sports fans. With a whole harbor playing host to many attractions, Baltimore is a place ready to enlighten guests on its rich history, rapid development and maritime culture.
In September 1814, Fort McHenry stood in the way of British troops trying to conquer Baltimore Harbor. At last, the Americans repelled the British after a two-day battle, which inspired eyewitness Francis Scott Key to compose the poem that would lend "The Star-Spangled Banner" its lyrics. Nowadays, when you visit Fort McHenry, which also served as a prison during the Civil War, you can watch a brief introductory film, view military artifacts and take a self-guided tour.
If you'd like to stroll through some of the oldest and most beautiful parts of Baltimore, you might let a guide from the Baltimore National Heritage Area lead the way. Several tour options are available, with one of them winding its way through Jonestown, Little Italy and the Inner Harbor, and another taking you to Pennsylvania Avenue. All of these tours start at the Baltimore Visitor Center, available between April and the beginning of November.
The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, a separate facility, operates this haven of local sports memorabilia. It's located inside the grand building that was once Camden Station, and comprises 22,000-square-feet in size. The museum includes exhibits dedicated to such subjects as Johnny Unitas, college sports and amateur Maryland baseball. Visitors can even attempt virtual soccer during a visit.
Once a center of manufacturing, Baltimore has transformed itself into a powerhouse of engineering and technology. Contributing to its scientific pedigree are the distinguished Johns Hopkins University and the equally revered Johns Hopkins Hospital.
You could make a convincing case that there's no single best time to visit Baltimore. Certainly, every season has its rewards. Spring days often bring ideal weather and lively outdoor concerts. During the winter, the sparkling, snow-covered streets are dreamy and uncrowded, and the fall foliage is gorgeous at the many area farms. Despite the heat and humidity, summer in Baltimore is thrilling. Many parks screen movies for guests free of charge. Families go rafting and tubing in local streams, the Orioles play some serious baseball, and warm nights are simply perfect for stargazing with friends and loved ones.
Baltimore hotels range from the comfortable to the sophisticated, harbor-side to inner-city. The European inspired Royal Sonesta sits on the Inner Harbor and exudes timeless glamor, complete with a rooftop health club. Renaissance Baltimore Harborside Hotel offers its four diamond services for a more modest budget, with the Harborplace Mall adjacent to your lodgings.
Every Valentine's Day at noon, married couples on skates gather at the Inner Harbor Ice Rink to renew their vows in an official ceremony, and a reception follows. It turns out that romance and figure eights make a winning combination.
In March, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus comes to town. To celebrate, circus officials march a group of elephants from the Baltimore Arena to Lexington Market. In one of the parking lots, these massive pachyderms are treated to fruits and vegetables galore. Meanwhile, bands play, and clowns caper and dance.
The Preakness Stakes is one of the most famous thoroughbred races on Earth. In the United States, the only horse race to attract more spectators is the Kentucky Derby. The second of the American Triple Crown competitions, the Preakness takes place at Pimlico Race Course on the third Saturday of May. Potential visitors should bear in mind that, during race weekend, many Baltimore hotels are filled to capacity.