- Distance from Washington, D.C.: 101 miles
- Best time: Year Round; June to August
- Best for: Girl's GetawayRomanticArts and Culture
First-time visitors to Baltimore may think of it as a gritty, industrial hub, but this city on the Chesapeake Bay is actually an up-and-coming arts capital in its own right. Just ask the 100-plus artists every July for the Artscape street festival or the thousands of tourists who throng to its museums, independent boutiques, and hip galleries—throughout many diverse neighborhoods. Take a break from the usual to experience the sometimes kitschy, delightfully quirky, and frequently mind-blowing cultural offerings of Charm City. –By Elana Schor
Baltimore Cheat Sheet
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1.Dive into the pleasures of the revitalized waterfront with a stop at Inner Harbor's eye-popping National Aquarium, which stays open late on Fridays. The 16,000 sea animals on view include bright coral reefs and a crew of menacing sharks, with a new 4-D "immersion" film available to learn about them while feeling like part of their world.
2.Hop in a taxi to the Mount Vernon neighborhood for Red Maple, where small plates with global pizzazz—from crab dip to plantain chips—pair well with decadent, fruit-based cocktails. The romantic venue turns into a hopping club after the dinner hour, if you'd prefer to end your night of culture here.
3.But you'd be remiss to miss the similarly world-spanning whizzes at the nearby Baltimore Theatre Project, where the programming ranges from rapid-fire comedy to lyrical reinterpretations of classic Japanese plays.
1.Get a dose of modern art with your eggs Benedict at XS, a gallery-restaurant-lounge that will serve your stack of old-fashioned pancakes with toppings that include cinnamon apples, fresh blueberries, or coconut cream.
2.Anyone who has had fun trying to digest the human history-long museum collections will thrill to the copious treasures at the Walters Art Museum. Masterworks stretch as far back as 10,000 B.C. and culminate in enticing Asian paintings from the 20th century.
3.Baltimore's open-air markets offer a slice of local culture off the beaten path, much of it in the form of delicious staple foods from the Eastern European communities that settled in the city. Pay homage with a Polish sausage and cold drink for lunch from Broadway Market, near the waterfront.
4.Of course, culture is not always high-class—as you'll learn firsthand at the Baltimore Museum of Industry a little further down along the water. There, visitors can operate early-20th century machines and learn about the city's history as the mechanization mecca that brought America its first traffic light. It's this blue-collar past that has actually created so many opportunities for today's artists.
5.A detailed model of the doomed ship Lusitania, a psychedelic arrangement of 100,000 toothpicks, and a forlorn figure whittled by an anonymous sculptor from a tree trunk. All of these unlikely masterworks and more are on view at the American Visionary Art Museum, where the Sideshow Shop offers a taste of the whimsical vibe to take home.
6.Critique the day's exhibits over house-made pasta at Cinghiale, where the two levels of prix fixe menus offer excellent value. You won't find the typical Bolognese-type standards here, but you will find incredible service and fresh fish that locals adore.
7.Industrial culture is among the inspirations behind 2011-opened Rye, a Fells Point cocktail temple that requires reservations to watch its mixologists work their magic with whiskey and fresh juices. Take a seat, ask about the history of your cocktail, and be transported to the Prohibition era.
1.Head over to a modern American hotspot in the artsy Hampden neighborhood. The Food Market is where you'll find sophisticated (and mouthwatering) comfort fare like pulled pork Benedicts, chili-rubbed steak & egg tacos, and fried chicken with biscuits.
2.Stay ensconced in Hampden, known for its lack of big-box chains and its proliferation of artsy, indie shops. Shop for a piece of wearable art from Doubledutch Boutique or readable art from the renowned independent shop Atomic Books.
3.End on a high note with (more than) 15 minutes of fame at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where one of the world's biggest Andy Warhol collections vies for space with immortal works from Matisse and Monet. Don't forget to check out the sculpture garden, where the Calder sculptures have inspired many a yoga pose.
Where to Stay
For a night as memorable as any of the masterpieces you'll view, try the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court (rates from $209/night) overlooking the harbor. Every appliance is brand-new, every furnishing is perfectly tailored, and it all gets cleaned by housekeeping twice a day.
Off the beaten path is the funkier Inn at 2920 (rates from $175/night), a bed and breakfast where each room boasts its own unique design and eco-friendly amenities. Limestone bathrooms and a walk-in rain shower are just a few of the chic touches.
When to Go
Being mostly indoors, Baltimore's cultural pleasures are in their prime 12 months a year. But be aware that the city's seaside location makes winter winds harsher than they might otherwise be given its latitude.
In the summer, check out the schedule for the annual Harborplace Live Festival, located in the city's heart of Fells Point-Inner Harbor. The array of free concerts can easily supplant your previous cultural plans. For fans of the Baltimore movie bard John Waters (creator of Hairspray), the Hon Festival every June immerses you in the big-haired, gum-snapping, vowel-elongating culture of Charm City natives.
How to Get There
By car from Washington DC: Baltimore is about 1 hour, 30 minutes from Washington DC. Take I-295 to the Capital Beltway, I-495, until you reach I-95 North. Continue until you reach I-395 North, which takes you into town from the south.
By car from Philadelphia: Baltimore is about 2 hours from Philadelphia. Take 676 East to I-95 South until you reach I-895 South. Exit at Route 40 West, which cuts through the center of downtown.
By train from Washington DC or Philadelphia: Baltimore's Penn Station, centrally located, is a stop on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line that connects Washington DC with Philadelphia and points north. Book your ticket in advance online, and be prepared to pay more for a short-notice purchase.
Getting around town: While our favorite areas mentioned above are great for strolling, taxis are the best way to get between most neighborhoods, especially after dark. Call ahead for Arrow Taxicab (410/358-9696).