Baltimore is a traveler's haven, thanks to its rich history, its eclectic entertainment options and overall feel-good vibe. This city is also easily accessible -- planes, trains or automobiles, take your pick. The image of that thriving Inner Harbor, with its open-air concerts, buzzing restaurants and parades, is famous. But that's just the beginning. Read on.
Visit the Vessels, Skip the Shopping
The Inner Harbor's draw is defined by its thriving entertainment, shopping included. But it's also at the heart of Baltimore's wonderful maritime history. Four historic vessels, including a submarine, are docked here, and all have become veritable museums, so visitors can climb aboard and step back in time. The U.S.S. Constellation, for one, was built in the mid 1850s and was the last of the Navy's all-sail ships; a canon is fired off this ship daily.
Hike the Hill, Skip the Gym
Your hotel might feature a gym with fancy equipment. But not this view. Federal Hill Park is historic, a critical lookout point during the Civil War, and located in one of the hottest neighborhoods in Baltimore. But that elevation gives you plenty of chance to break a sweat; hike the grass or climb the stairs off Battery or Warren Avenues. The huffing and puffing will be worth it: The birds-eye views of downtown and Inner Harbor are spectacular (think sunrise hike). Joggers will like the trails throughout the park, too.
See the 'Hood, Skip Downtown
The shopping and dining opps will tempt you to stay downtown. But much of Baltimore's charm also stems from its many historic, eclectic neighborhoods, so it's worth taking time to pay them a visit. Fells Points, for example, resembles an English village; its cobblestone streets will remind you that this is one of Baltimore's oldest zones and its pubs will quench your thirst. And Otterbein, just west of Inner Harbor and with its historic row houses that date back to the mid 1800s, is ideal for a relaxing morning stroll.
Watch Outdoors, Skip the Cinema
In the mood to catch the latest rom-com at the local cinema? Why watch it indoors when you can enjoy a flick al fresco? The neighborhood of Little Italy hosts an Open Air Film Fest every summer, on Friday nights throughout July and August. Movies are projected from a resident's third floor window onto the wall of a popular Ciao Bella Restaurant. Bring your own dinner -- Little Italy is home to more than 30 restaurants, so you won't lack take-out options -- and lawn chair. Popcorn is provided. The festival always opens with "Moonstruck" and closes with the classic "Cinema Paradiso."
Explore the Tattoo, Even If You Don't Get One
Among Baltimore's more intriguing museums is one dedicated to electric tattooing. America's fascination with this unique form of body art dates back to the late 1800s and was rooted in its popular carnival culture. Several prominent tattoo artists are on exhibit and, even if you're not game to get your own tattoo, there's a wide array of designs, portraits and historic photos. Then again, if you are game, there's a tattoo studio here, too.
Take the Kids Exploring, Skip the Playground
Need to keep the little ones busy? Head straight to the third floor of the Maryland Science Center, where the Kids Room offers plenty for children (8 and younger) to touch, feel and do. They can explore a colorful Baltimore streetscape or meander through deep sea coves in the undersea world. There's even a dedicated zone for kids younger than 2, complete with bog blocks and crawl-friendly waterbeds. Once they've spent some energy, take time to marvel at the dozen-plus life-size dinosaurs on exhibit.
Go Ghost Hunting, If You Dare
Buffs of the supernatural will tell you that a historic city like Baltimore is bound to have residents who have been around for a long time, even after they've passed on. Baltimore Ghost Tours leads several spirit-themed tours under the cover of night. Their evening "Original Fells Points GhostWalk" takes small groups to homes, pubs and shops of this once-raucous harbor town where things purportedly go bump in the night. Tickets for these summer and fall tours are $15 (a bit cheaper if you buy them online). There's also a 21-and-older ghost pub crawl that sells out early.
See the Garden, Skip the Water
Those harbor views are spectacular. But don't miss the visuals at Sherwood Gardens, too, one of the great free things to do in this city. The 6-acre property is a haven for flower buffs, featuring some plants that date back to the 1700s. Dogwood and cherry trees abound. But the biggest draw here is the tulip; some 80,000 blubs are planted here annually to create a breathtaking scene.
Take a Tour, Bring Your Appetite
Blue crabs are a culinary staple in Baltimore, of course. But chefs are serving up plenty more, and driving a burgeoning foodie movement here. Charm City Food Tours offer several culinary excursions aimed not only at showcasing what's on the plate but the city's architecture and culture, too. They take hungry travelers through historic neighborhoods, like Mt. Vernon and Federal Hill, and partner with restaurants to serve up specialty dishes and signature drinks throughout. Tours cost about $55 and last about 3-1/2 hours.
Gabe Saglie is senior editor for Travelzoo, which features hotel, airfare and a bevy of local deals in Baltimore.