Things to Do in Downtown Baltimore: Inner Harbor and Beyond

Judy Antell Avatar

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has tourist attractions like the National Aquarium, historic ships, and water taxis

On a recent trip to Baltimore, I was excited about two things. It was National Public Lands Day, so historic sites like the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine would be free. And it was the weekend of Artscape, America’s largest free outdoor arts festival.

Unfortunately, it was also hurricane season, and tropical storm Ophelia put the kibosh on outdoor activities.

But Baltimore, also known as Charm City, has so many fun things to do that we quickly pivoted and filled a weekend.

With great indoor and outdoor activities, Baltimore is a popular destination for families. My daughter’s boyfriend, a Washington DC native, said he took school field trips to the National Aquarium and visited with his parents to run around Port Discovery Children’s Museum. And Baltimore even has the original Washington Monument.

Downtown Baltimore, with the Inner Harbor tourist attractions bordered by Oriole Park at Camden Yards at one end, and Fell’s Point at the other, is the center of most day trips. Or weekend getaways.

Read More: Best Hotels in Baltimore for Exploring Charm City

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - Pirate ships on the Inner Harbor.
Pirate ships on the Inner Harbor. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Start with the Inner Harbor

You can stroll around the Inner Harbor, take a scenic ride on Baltimore’s water taxi, or rent a pirate ship. There are also sightseeing tours on the Chesapeake Bay. Or, with a tropical storm, run from one tourist attraction to the next. There is also shopping and places to eat.

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - Adventure play area with a trampoline on the Inner Harbor.
Adventure play area with a trampoline on the Inner Harbor. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Outdoors, the Inner Harbor also has a nature playground for kids ages 2-7, an adventure play area for ages 7-15, and a skate park.

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - We stopped by the Maryland Science Center right when it opened.
We stopped by the Maryland Science Center right when it opened. It’s usually teeming with activity. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Maryland Science Center

The Maryland Science Center, with its interactive exhibits and planetarium, is one of the must-see Baltimore attractions. There are exhibits on space, math, electricity, and the human body – and they are all fun. You can also enjoy an immersive show at the IMAX theater, perfect for a rainy weekend.

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - The National Aquarium is a centerpiece of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
The National Aquarium is a centerpiece of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Photo credit: Judy Antell

National Aquarium

Too much water outside didn’t mean we couldn’t go to the wettest place in Baltimore, the National Aquarium. There are recreations of the Amazon River, a coral reef, an Australian river gorge, and the local seashore. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: The aquarium is incredibly popular and crowded. Splurge on the early access tour and get to see much of the aquarium before the hordes arrive.

Must-See Baltimore Attractions in the Inner Harbor

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - American Visionary Art Museum
Just some of the whimsical creations at the American Visionary Art Museum: a bike bus, a glass-covered art car, and a giant pink poodle. Photo credit: Judy Antell

The American Visionary Art Museum

The American Visionary Art Museum is unlike almost any other art museum. The whimsical sculptures outside alert you that this is a unique experience.

Inside, you find things like an art car covered with colored glass, and wooden contraptions that spring to life when you press a button, all created by self-taught artists.

The AVAM sponsors an annual Kinetic Sculpture Race. Local residents make unusual human-powered sculptures that could one day find their way inside these walls.

There is a fart machine next to one bathroom, and fun house mirrors next to another. Even the gift shop is unique. It is filled with novelty items like giant plastic sunglasses and other costume accessories. You might think an Oriental Trading Company exploded in here. But then you find hand-stitched backpacks for kids from Nepal, and gloves in every color for a dollar.

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - Divine, Baltimore native John Water’s muse, depicted at the American Museum of Visionary Arts.
Divine, Baltimore native John Water’s muse, depicted at the American Museum of Visionary Arts. Photo credit: Judy Antell

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture

Not only did Baltimore scoop Washington DC with the Washington Monument, but it also scooped DC with an earlier African American History Museum.

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum has First Friday concerts, with live music. I saw a different nighttime event, Wordsmith. It combined music, poetry, and a performance by the Baltimore Slam team.

Port Discovery

A children’s museum on steroids, Port Discovery has a great climbing structure, the Sky Climber. Tons of interactive exhibits and a warehouse aesthetic that could consign your kids to a life in Williamsburg (Brooklyn).

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - The Power Plant entertainment complex.
The Power Plant entertainment complex. Photo Credit: Judy Antell

Power Plant

This former electric plant houses restaurants, bars, an axe-throwing venue, and an escape room. There is a Hard Rock Cafe too. Power Plant is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Outside the Inner Harbor

Fells Point

Further along the Chesapeake Bay, Fells Point has lots of waterfront dining and the Frederick Douglass – Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum. You can take a walking tour to learn about the history of Fells Point.

Baltimore Museum of Art

The gigantic Baltimore Museum of Art is one of the best free things to do in Baltimore. It has the largest public collection of Matisse in its permanent collection. It also has a beautiful sculpture garden, best visited when tropical storms aren’t in the area.

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

This fort, which played a big role in the War of 1812, led to our national anthem. Francis Scott Key watched how soldiers at the fort held the British army and navy at bay, and he wrote a poem “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” Set to music, this became “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Fort McHenry also had a prominent role as a prison in the Civil War and served as a hospital in World War 1. When the National Parks Department took over, it restored the fort to how it looked in the 19th century.

You can learn about the battle that inspired the “Star-Spangled Banner,” tour the original fort, and see costumed interpreters march, play period music, and demonstrate powder firing.

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - Baltimore lays claim to the original Washington Monument, in Mount Vernon.
Baltimore lays claim to the original Washington Monument, in Mount Vernon. Photo Credit: Judy Antell

Mount Vernon

We stayed in Mount Vernon, where the original monument honoring George Washington stands. It’s 337 feet shorter and 19 years older than the Washington Monument in DC. You can climb 227 steps inside that lead to a balcony, for a city view. With zero visibility on the weekend we were there we skipped this step (and step and step).

The neighborhood, a National Historic Landmark District, is filled with elegant 19th-century and early 20th-century buildings.

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - The Walters Art Museum building is as impressive as the artwork.
The Walters Art Museum building is as impressive as the artwork. Photo credit: Judy Antell

The Walters Art Museum

This large, free museum, in Mount Vernon, has mummies, medieval armor, paintings, and Faberge eggs in its gorgeous building. It includes the 1850 Hackerman House at One West Mount Vernon Place. This gloriously restored house, attached to the main building, is filled with bronze and ceramic pieces.

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - The friendly Mt. Vernon Marketplace.
The friendly Mt. Vernon Marketplace. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Mt Vernon Marketplace

The vibe at this new indoor food hall fits with Charm City. A sign says “We’re all friends here.” We got sandwiches and baked goods from Sbread, a local bakery with delicious food.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

I’m so, ahem, mature, that I remember when Camden Yards opened. This was one of the first new downtown stadiums that enhanced the fan experience. Instead of the usual ballpark fare, you could get seafood specialties like local crab chowder.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is also part of the downtown scene, instead of being cut off from it by highways. You can walk to the stadium from the Inner Harbor. People drive there, too, but the stadium feels like it’s part of the city instead of a separate entity.

This season, the Baltimore Orioles are heavily in the pennant race, but even when the team plays poorly, Camden Yards is popular.

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - The seating area at Lexington Market reflects the city’s love for the Baltimore Orioles.
The seating area at Lexington Market reflects the city’s love for the Baltimore Orioles. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Lexington Market

Lexington Market has prepared food at different kiosks, along with fresh seafood and meat that you can bring home to cook. The market moved into a new building in 2022, next to old wooden stalls that had been in operation since 1782.

Things to do in Downtown Baltimore - Sunny Side Cafe
Get food from Sunny Side Cafe and grab a seat on the stairs or head outside to eat. Photo Credit: Judy Antell

You can get chicken and waffles, sourdough bread and sandwiches from Ovenbird, spices, and coffee drinks. We had vegan sausages from Sausage Master and vegan smoky grits from Sunny Side Cafe.  A new all-vegan place is opening soon.

Other Things to Do in Baltimore

With only a weekend, we had trouble fitting in everything we wanted to do. Here are some of the places we’ve visited on previous trips that are worth a visit.

B&O Railroad Museum

The B&O Railroad Museum, where the first mile of commercial track in the United States was laid, is housed in a historic roundhouse. It is brimming with vintage locomotives and children and adult transit lovers will love it. You can even ride on the Mile One Express, along the route of that early commercial train.

Maryland Center for History and Culture

The Maryland Center for History and Culture, founded in 1844, celebrates everything in Maryland. You can see Native American artifacts from 5,000 B.C., 19th-century furniture from the Golden Age of Baltimore furniture production, and artifacts from the Maryland Civil Rights movement. The museum is in Mount Vernon.

Peabody Library

Peabody Library, also in Mount Vernon, opened in 1878. The library, part of Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute campus, has more than 300,000 volumes, many from the 19th century.

Baltimore Museum of Industry

The interactive and fun Baltimore Museum of Industry, on the Inner Harbor, is housed in a former cannery.

Maryland Zoo

The country’s third-largest zoo has a wide range of animals.

Where to Stay in Downtown Baltimore

I stayed at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel once. It’s the place to stay if you want to stick to Inner Harbor tourist attractions. Rooms have refrigerators, great for families, and there is an indoor pool and large gym.

But if you want to get more of a neighborhood feel, and eat at local restaurants, stay nearby, in Mount Vernon.

The Hotel Ulysses is owned by Ash, which has small boutique hotels in Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence, emphasizing a community and cozy feel. I got a bordello vibe from the small lobby, though the design references are supposed to be from Art Deco movie theaters.

The relatively inexpensive rooms are tiny and dimly lit, but the beds are comfortable and the compact bathroom has a shower with great water pressure. There is a restaurant where I had a lovely green Goddess salad with soft lettuces and colorful carrots and radishes and vegetarian linguine with fresh tomatoes.

The batched martini was icy cold, and if you are only looking for drinks, the bar across the lobby is a popular late-night spot. Just be careful if you’re on the second floor; we could hear the music until 2 am.

Since the hotel doesn’t have a gym, you can use the one 2 blocks away, MV Fitness. The gym, in a 19th-century house, has a series of small rooms with all the equipment we needed for a great workout. The spin studio is in the former dining room, with a large chandelier and gorgeous mantle. It’s definitely an interesting place to sweat.

At a higher price point, The Hotel Revival, a block from the Washington Monument, has a rooftop restaurant, a speakeasy, and a cool collaboration with Lor Tush, a local Black and woman-owned company that makes the environmentally conscious tree-free bamboo toilet paper used in the guest rooms. 

Rooms here are much larger (and brighter). There is also a  small gym. The Hotel Revival is pet-friendly.

Judy Antell Avatar
Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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