There are many images that may come to mind when you hear the word, Baltimore, including iconic scenes from the The Wire, Old Bay seasoning, good old Maryland blue crabs, and Johns Hopkins University. But Baltimore is much more than the city you pass through on the way to D.C., or a place riddled with oversimplified stereotypes. Baltimore is brimming with history and culture worth exploring next time you find yourself in the DMV area. It is America at its core: a mixture of the haves and have nots, with a culture and arts scene that thrives despite disparities.
Baltimore is beautiful because of its people, and like all American cities, it will remain that way as long as gentrification does not take complete hold of its core. Though the city is changing, it still maintains much of its authentic roots, as seen in its cuisine, neighborhoods and proud Baltimoreans who are eager to share their family’s history and cultural pride. If you’ve never been to Charm City, here are a few suggestions on how to spend your time.
If you live for a good bed and breakfast with intimate service, look no further than The Ivy Hotel. This Black-owned, 19th-century mansion turned boutique hotel is located in Baltimore’s historic Mt. Vernon neighborhood. Behind its red brick walls sit welcoming communal rooms with impressive decor and 18 spacious guest rooms with their own fireplace. Common spaces include the conservatory (a social space for gathering and drinking the always flowing champagne), a tea room to read one of the many books lined on the wall, play board games, or enjoy afternoon tea, a library with an extensive collection of books, and the self-serve, fully stocked mansion bar, where guests are free to make their own cocktails.
Downstairs, Magdalena restaurant offers breakfast and dinner, helmed by chef Mark Levy. Confession: the Maryland crab cake benedict here is worth the stay at The Ivy alone. Tangy, spicy and full of crab meat, it’s a breakfast dish I will think about for years to come. The service at The Ivy is icing on an already impressive cake. From check-in to afternoon tea, the staff is readily available to help and recommend any suggestions around the city that you need.
No, you aren’t going to get better crab anywhere in the U.S. Maryland’s steamed blue crabs topped with Old Bay seasoning is a Baltimore tradition, so much so, that you can even buy potato chips and beer seasoned with the flavor around the city. There are a number of places to enjoy this messy rite of passage, but the best location is someone’s home. If you’re not able to snag a house invite to a crab feast, head to restaurants like Obrycki’s and a true local hangout, Windsor Inn.
Baltimore also has a number of food markets worth visiting. Fell’s Point’s Broadway Market is the city’s oldest existing market building. In 2019, it underwent a $3 million dollar redevelopment that houses Black-owned vendors like Taharka Brothers Ice Cream and Connie’s Chicken & Waffles. If you’re a fan of Thai food, the incredibly flavored Khao Soi curry soup I had at Thai Town gave the dish I had in Thailand a run for its money.
Fell’s Point is actually older than the city itself and home to a number of locally owned boutiques, bars, restaurants and nightclubs on easily walkable streets. Shellfish lovers should head to Thames Street Oyster House for al fresco dining and fried oysters.
Dovecote is a Black-owned cafe popular among Baltimore residents for its upside-down peach cake, grown-up grilled cheese sandwich and coffee.
The Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum is an African American heritage site that explores the history of Frederick Douglass, Isaac Myers and the first black-owned shipyard in the United States. Baltimore is the birthplace of Billie Holiday and Thurgood Marshall, and you can learn about the city’s history at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. The 82,000 square foot space includes exhibitions, permanent collection and programs and events dedicated to Maryland’s 400 years of African American history.
Mt. Vernon is a popular hangout neighborhood for LGBTQ community. There are also a number of LGBT-friendly hotels and B&Bs. The Pride Center of Maryland is a great online resource for events and services around the city.
Inner Harbor is one of the main tourist attractions in Baltimore and offers incredible views, restaurants, The National Aquarium, and the Maryland Science Center.
Rooftop bar Topside is one of the many city’s popular hangouts. If you’re a fan of beer, Baltimore has a lot of great local craft breweries including Heavy Seas, Black Flag Brewing Company, and Peabody Heights.
Have you visited Baltimore? What are some of your favorite things to do in the city?
Kristin Braswell is a travel journalist and creator of CrushGlobal Travel, a travel company that curates trips to locations around the world, including Tokyo, Marrakech, Los Angeles and Thailand.