With world-class museums, busy seafood restaurants and markets, and an international harbor loaded with attractions, Baltimore, Maryland,
is welcoming tour groups in ever-increasing numbers.
While the city embraces many kinds of tours, groups composed of seniors, students and family reunions are among the most numerous, said Eric Masterton, director of tourism for Visit Baltimore.
“Baltimore is growing in a big way, and there’s a lot of development occurring along the waterfront and in our neighborhoods,” he said. “Baltimore’s food scene is really growing, and the waterfront is becoming more accessible.”
Oh say, can you see
The most iconic attraction in town may well be Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, operated by the National Park Service. Famous for its successful defense of the city during the Battle of Baltimore, it inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The fort’s green grounds are open to the public free of charge and host a slate of events, including re-enactments. There is a charge for entry to the fort, where exhibits document soldierly life in 1814, the bombardment of Fort McHenry, and other interesting elements of the fort’s history, including hospitals and taverns.
“It’s a jewel of the East Coast, an amazing symbol of hardship and triumph, and a cornerstone of U.S. history,” Masterton said.
On the waterfront
Food, especially seafood, has been another draw in Baltimore, literally for centuries. Lexington Market, which opened in 1782, has undergone recent renovations. It is a top choice for sampling Maryland’s famous crab cakes and steamed blue crab at Faidley’s Seafood, one of nearly 40 food stalls.
“Blue crabs are beautiful animals, but you have to get a local to show you how to open them like puzzle boxes,” Masterton said.
In or near the Inner Harbor, boats ranging from mega-ships to water taxis show visitors the city waterfront’s transformation. Cruise ship passengers from Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises also take day tours in Baltimore before departing to locations including the Canadian Maritimes, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the wider Caribbean.
Tour groups frequently take in games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, one of the most beautiful stadiums in the country, where behind-the-scenes group tours are offered during the off-season.
Masterton said tour groups frequently use Baltimore as a base for visiting the many museums of Washington, D.C., about 50 miles away. Family reunion groups use less expensive accommodations in Baltimore, “and they can get on Amtrak and be at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in 30 minutes,” he added.
Tour groups visiting Baltimore often target the city’s many famous museums, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, which houses the largest collection in the world of artworks by Henri Matisse.
At the Maryland Zoo, groups find dozens of photogenic animals, but the South African penguins may be the most distinctive. At Penguin Coast, the endangered animals waddle and dive in North America’s largest African penguin colony. Masterton said the fairly new exhibit is a really cool way for groups to see the penguins underwater and above ground.
There’s also the B&O Railroad Museum, with the world’s largest collection of 19th-century locomotives, and the wildly eclectic American Visionary Art Museum, filled with unique artworks by self-taught artists.
“There’s no other place like it,” Masterton said. “Where else can you find a model of the ship Lusitania made entirely of toothpicks or the world’s largest ball made entirely of bras?”
Nowhere else, indeed.
“We’re a town that’s authentic and shows its skin to visitors,” Masterton said. “When you get here and really experience it, you will never forget it, and Baltimoreans are the first people in the world who’d like to show you ‘their town.’”
For more information, call 410-659-7090 or visit baltimore.org.
Main photo: Baltimore Inner Harbor; Credit: Visit Baltimore
Article by Mark Shuman