Baltimore used to be the kind of city you couldn't get out of fast enough. Today, it's a destination in itself, and then some. This remarkably vibrant city has so much to do you could get tired just figuring out the list of priorities. What's even more remarkable is that some twenty years ago, Baltimore was a place you just passed through (some would say quickly) on the way to Washington, DC, or points south. In those days its now pulsating Inner Harbor area was a shabby eyesore. But luckily a lot of creative thinking in both the government and private sectors has given Baltimore an "extreme makeover," and it's become one of the most tourist-friendly cities in the country.
For a tour of highlights of this easy-to-navigate city, start at the centerpiece of the "new Baltimore," the Inner Harbor, where the city's modern resurgence began. The downtown waterfront has boat rides, restaurants, clubs, trendy shops, historic ships, museums, and more. The most popular attraction here is the National Aquarium, with over 11,000 marine animals and a stunning exhibit on Australia's wildlife, "Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes." Nearby is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the first of the today's "luxury ballparks," worth seeing even if you're not particularly a baseball fan. Daily tours of the spectacular ballpark are available. Across from Camden Yards is Geppi's Entertainment Museum, a surprising collection of American cultural icons from many eras, including toys, posters, souvenirs, and other collectibles. It's worth a visit for the comic book collection alone. Also in the same complex is Sports Legends at Camden Yards, with exhibits devoted to the Baltimore Orioles, the Baltimore Ravens and the former Baltimore Colts, including Johnny Unitas, arguably football's greatest quarterback. Nearby is the Babe Ruth Museum, devoted exclusively to the legendary "Sultan of Swat."
One of the key contributors to Baltimore's renewal has been its embrace of the arts. A stop at the American Museum of Visionary Arts shows why it's been voted one of the top art museums in the country. The museum has sometimes funny, sometimes startling works by folk or "untrained:" artists, in addition to more conventional sculptures and paintings. Baltimore also has plenty of sites that make it a magnet for history buffs as well. Most famous is the Fort McHenry National Monument, so you can see where the "Star Spangled Banner" continued to wave after a British attack during the War of 1812. At the Frederick Douglass - Isaac Myers Maritime Park there's a "living history" museum that chronicles the first African American - operated shipyard in the United States. For a fun activity, take one of the Fells Point Ghost Tours to learn about haunted houses, and pirates, sailors, barkeeps and ladies of the evening who lived in Baltimore's old seafaring neighborhood - and some say still do! You can also visit the St. Jude Shrine, a modest but moving pilgrimage site dedicated to the "saint of hopeless cases," and see the final resting place of the "poet of the macabre," Edgar Allan Poe.
Contributing mightily to the enjoyment of Baltimore are a number of great restaurants, including the Brass Elephant, which recreates the dining experience of the gilded Victorian era,
and Pazo, which offers a Spanish tapas-style menu in a stunningly refurbished factory building.
A comforting thing about Baltimore in today's depressing gas-price situation is that it's easily accessible via rail, with frequent daily service from Amtrak. Since most attractions are in a compact area near the harbor, and there's a good city bus system to other neighborhoods, it's not necessary to take the car to be able to get around. The bad news here is that there's just too much too see in Baltimore to take it all in on one weekend trip. But the good news is, you'll have to go back.
For additional information on attractions in Baltimore, contact the Baltimore Tourism website, www.baltimore.org.