The Inner Harbor is the heart of Baltimore, and the standard-bearer of its industrial and maritime heritage. In the 1950s, the area became an industrial wasteland and the buildings were eventually replaced with parkland for public uses and events. In the decades that followed continued investment in the area has renewed the harbor. It now contains the lion's share of Baltimore's tourist attractions, and accordingly, its tourists.
The Inner Harbor's relatively shallow waters have long played second fiddle to Baltimore's deep water harbors in the south of the city. Unable to accommodate large freighters, the port received light freight and passenger traffic, but even in these categories, the Inner Harbor lagged behind the busier docks at Fell's Point. Consequently, despite its central location, the Inner Harbor always remained underdeveloped, and more than a little seedy.
In the 1960s, particularly after the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr that devastated the city, the Inner Harbor sunk into decline with the rest of the city, leaving the waterfront dominated by abandoned warehouses, deteriorating industrial buildings, and open grassy areas for the occasional festival. In 1980, in what was considered nothing but hopeless folly, Mayor D'Alesandro Jr. came up with an expensive plan to revitalize the Inner Harbor, starting with the construction of the waterfront Harborplace, a big, attractive, indoor mall filled with shops and cafeteria dining. Shortly thereafter the city built the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center, and lo' and behold, the plan was a spectacular success, and the Inner Harbor took off and hasn't looked back.
Today, the Inner Harbor is the city centerpiece, Maryland's number one tourist destination, and the single biggest economic boon for the city. The views across the harbor and its ships towards the old Domino Sugar Factory in the south and the skyscrapers, including the Maryland World Trade Center, in the north are the icons of the city. Restaurants and big hotels line the waterfront, and tourists fill the streets, promenade, and piers. The Inner Harbor is less popular with locals, however, so you would do well to get out a bit to other neighborhoods like Fell's Point and Midtown to get a better feel for the local culture!
The most direct route to the Inner Harbor area from outside the city would be from I-95. Take exit 53, which dumps you on to Howard St. Parking can be messy and/or expensive, and garages will be the only option available. If you want to park on-street, you could try Fells Point to the east, which will leave you with about a 15-20 minute walk to the Aquarium.
By light rail
By Circulator bus
The Circulator has two relevant routes. The orange line will take you east on Pratt almost to the edge of Fells Point, with a quick stop in Little Italy, before returning west on Lombard and running to the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The purple line runs south on Light St to Federal Hill and north on Calvert St to reach Charles St through Mt Vernon and Midtown.
By water taxi
Ed Kane's Water Taxi, +1 410 563-3901, stops at the Rusty Scupper, the Science Center, Harbor Place, the Aquarium, Pier 5, and Harbor East, with connections to popular tourist stops in South Baltimore, like Fort McHenry, as wells piers in Fells Point and Canton to the east. Day passes, adults: $9.00, kids under 10: $4.00. May–December only.
Visitors to the city don't really use the bus system, but if you are feeling intrepid, there are a handful of useful routes.
#11, if you pick it up on Pratt St on the harbor, will take you east to the heart of Fells Point, and then on to Canton. If you take it from Lombard St (one block north of the harbor), it will take you north up Charles St through the heart of Midtown and on to Johns Hopkins' main campus. The northern route returns to the Inner Harbor from Midtown via Cathedral Ave. #1 runs south on Light St through Federal Hill and on to Fort McHenry via Fort Ave.
The Inner Harbor is packed full of attractions, and is Maryland's destination number one for sightseeing. The most popular is without question the National Aquarium, which is almost an obligatory stop, but the ships and the Maritime Museum are a close second. The Maryland Science Center is a fantastic place to spend a half day with children, and the American Visionary Art Museum is an intriguing and unique gallery for anyone with the remotest interest in the arts.
- American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway, ☎ . Tu-Su 10AM-6PM. The most eclectic and interesting collection of contemporary art from non-professional artists, with many works of beauty, some of paranoia, and a fair share of sheer obsessive personality disorder! Adults $15.95, discounts available for seniors, children and large groups.
- Baltimore Civil War Museum, 601 President St (cross street Fleet, east of Pier 6 Concert Pavilion), ☎ . Sa-Su, 10AM-5PM. Housed in the historic President Street Station, the Civil War Museum is a look at Baltimore's vibrant and important role in the mid-19th century American Civil War. Formerly run by the Maryland Historical Society, the museum is now staffed solely by volunteers and open only on weekends. Free.
- Historic Ships in Baltimore (Piers 1, 3, and 5 at the Inner Harbor), ☎ . 10AM-5PM daily, seasonal hours vary. At the piers of Inner Harbor are a collection of four different historic ships from Baltimore's maritime legacy, which have been decommissioned and converted into museums that you can tour on your own. Ticket prices range from $8-$16 and are based on how many ships you want to tour (one, two or four), with discounts available for seniors and children. Admission to the lighthouse is always free.
- USS Constellation (Pier 1), ☎ . The last all-sail warship built by the U.S. Navy and the only Civil War-era vessel still afloat. Pay attention to the ship's schedule for the day; Civil War reenactors may be on hand to demonstrate shooting a cannon!
- USS Torsk (Pier 3). A World War II era submarine.
- Lightship Chesapeake (Pier 3). A floating, mobile lighthouse painted in a vibrant red color; it was refitted for combat duty during World War II before returning to lighthouse purposes.
- USCGC Taney (Pier 5). A coast guard cutter that survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
- Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse (Pier 5). The oldest surviving screw-pile lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay.
- Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St (south end of Inner Harbor promenade), ☎ . Mon - Fri 10a - 5p; Sa 10a - 6p; Su 11a - 5p. Great family outing, full of hands-on, interactive science exhibits for kids of all ages. General admission $16.70, discounts available for seniors, children and military.
- National Aquarium, 501 E Pratt St, ☎ . Daily 9AM-5PM, seasonal hours vary. One of the best aquariums in the nation, the Baltimore Aquarium is famous for its tropical rain forest exhibit, its efforts to saving marine mammals, and its large shark tanks. Well worth the price of admission, it's a draw for marine scientists and civilians alike. Due to its popularity, expect to be in long lines to purchase tickets and then have to wait to enter several hours later, especially during weekends or vacation times; to avoid this, plan ahead and purchase tickets early or online. General admission $22-$35, discounts for seniors and children available. $11-$18 after 5pm.
- Top of the World, 401 E Pratt St, ☎ . Summer hours: M-Th 10AM-6PM, F-Sa 10AM-7PM, Su Noon-6PM; non-summer hours: W-Su 10AM-6PM; last admission one half hour before closing. An observation deck on the 27th floor of the I. M. Pei-designed 31-story "World Trade Center," the tallest pentagonal building in the world and located directly on the waterfront. It provides amazing views of downtown, the inner harbor and bay, and all of the surrounding neighborhoods. Admission $5, discounts available for seniors, children and military.
- Ice Rink at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, McKeldin Plaza- 101 Pratt St (directly across from Harborplace at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor), ☎ . Ice skating rink at the Inner Harbor open during the holidays from late November to early/mid January (check website for exact hours and dates)-Locker rental available for 4$. 9$ -adults, 7$ - kids, miltary, seniors, 3$ additional for skate rental.
- Baltimore Heritage Walk, ☎ . Guided and self-guided three-mile tours departing from the city's Visitor Center, and covering territory through Downtown, and historic Jonestown, Little Italy, and Fells Point. Free guided tours, 1 May-2 November, departing 10AM.
- Urban Pirates, S Ann St, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A swashbuckling adventure on a pirate ship in the Inner Harbor! As you might expect, this is very popular with younger kids.
- Otakon. Held over a three-day weekend in July or August (varies depending on the year). One of the largest and longest-running anime conventions in the United States. Even if you are not into anime, you'll get to see throngs of Japanese cartoon-inspired costumed attendees (cosplayers) take over the Baltimore Convention Center and Inner Harbor during the convention. You need a badge to enter the convention, which costs $75 at the door (discounts are available online in the months leading up to the con), but you can just stand on the street and ogle the costumes for free. The best times for this are Thursday evening (a long line often forms for picking up badges) and Saturday, the day when the most people are in costume..
- Baltimore Comic-Con, Baltimore Convention Center. Fall weekend, every year. Not quite as big as the Comic-Con held in San Diego, this comic book convention has grown since its humbler beginnings in 2000. It currently hosts the Harvey Awards presentation ceremony, honoring the best comic book professionals as voted by their peers.
- Rams Head Live!, 20 Market Pl (located in Power Plant Live!). Concert venue for rock bands, comedians, and many more.
- Landmark Theatre, 645 S President St, ☎ . This is a really nice movie theater for independent and foreign films, with things like comfy leather seats, no cell phone reception in the theater, wine, cocktails, crab cakes. Since they are serving liquor, they are able to keep the ticket prices down: $10.50, matinee: $8.
Harborplace offers a ton of shopping right by the main hotels, but outside of the mall, you won't find a lot of shopping here. If you are interested in more local shopping—boutiques, local flavor, etc.—a good bet are the many shops to the east in Fell's Point
- Harborplace & The Gallery, 200 E Pratt St. Broken up into 3 different nearby buildings. Essentially the same stuff that you would find in a normal big mall, but still decent. Expects chain shops and the occasional restaurant such as: Ann Taylor, Aldo Shoes, Levi's, Banana Republic, Bath & Body Works, Brooks Brothers, Cheesecake Factory, Nine West, Coach, Five Guys Burgers, Foot Locker, Gamestop, Gap and Gap Kids, Godiva, H&M, Urban Outfitters, Victoria Secret, etc. Nice view of the harbor from some of the restaurants.
- The Flag Shop, 301 Light St, ☎ . M-Sa 10AM-9PM, Su 11AM-6PM. Flags, flag poles, and flag accessories. Yes, this is a flag shop, and it has flags both modern and historical from virtually every country in the world, as well as military flags, state flags, sports pennants, etc. A really fun place to stop and browse.
You'll find many chain restaurants in Inner Harbor, ranging from the cheap like Potbelly or Chipotle to the more expensive McCormick & Schmick's or The Capital Grille; American and Canadian tourists will pretty much know what to expect. Don't bother with the food at Power Plant Live! just north of the harbor, as it's more overpriced for the quality of food you get. The majority of the really good options will be east of the Aquarium in the burgeoning and uber-yuppie neighborhood of "Harbor East." Further north in the Downtown district, you'll find more local fare at Lexington Market, as well as one terrific local steakhouse. Going east to Fells Point and Little Italy is without a doubt the best option for dinner if you don't fancy the options here.
- Bagby Pizza, 1006 Fleet St, ☎ . M-Th 11:30AM-9PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-10PM, Su 11:30AM-8PM. A small, brick-walled, local pizza place, serving extra thin crust gourmet pizzas and pastas that could rival most anything you would find in Little Italy proper! $12-20.
- Boheme Cafe, 400 E Pratt St, ☎ . M-Th 6:45AM-4PM, F 6:45PM-3PM, Sa 8AM-1PM. A little breakfast and lunch spot, which gets a little edge over its competitors just north of the harbor (which often have better food) from its extremely convenient location on Pratt St by the hotels. $5-9.
- Miss Shirley's Cafe, 750 E Pratt St, ☎ . M-F 7AM-3PM, Sa-Su 7AM-3:30PM. A sunny little diner-esque eatery where you won't have trouble filling up on hearty Southern/Mid-Atlantic breakfasts and lunches. The menu is quite long, so anyone will find something they like. $5-20.
- Rosina Gourmet, 300 E Lombard St (inside the office building), ☎ . M-F 7:30AM-3:30PM. Smack dab in the most touristy section of town, this sandwich shop is all-local--geared towards people who work in the area, with really high quality ingredients at low prices. Great cheap, quick breakfast or lunch option. $8-12.
- Little Havana, 1325 Key Hwy, ☎ . M-Th 4PM-2AM, F-Sa 11:30AM-2AM, Su 11AM-2AM. This is the place in the Inner Harbor to partake of the Baltimore tradition of bottomless mimosas and bloody marys at Sunday brunch ($17). The nuevo Cubano style dinner menu (which is new--the older, more boring menu is gone) is intriguing as well, if a bit hit or miss, but this is always a fun place to dine, with great atmosphere and Inner Harbor views. $11-28.
- Talara, 615 S President St, ☎ . M-Th 11AM-midnight, F-Sa 11AM-1AM, Su 11AM-10PM. Best known for its ceviche bar, with a good 100 possible combinations of sushi, Talara is an all-around great Nuevo Latino restaurant, with a fun, energetic atmosphere, tapas, and good mojitos. Monday nights see free salsa lessons! $18-30.
- Charleston Restaurant, 1000 Lancaster St, ☎ . M-Sa 5PM-10PM. An elegant Charleston-style restaurant serving a seafood-heavy menu of Southern fine dining. Dressy, traditional, and impeccable service. Prix fixe menus run from three to eight courses. $30-60.
- Chiu's Sushi, 608 S Exeter St, ☎ . M-Th 11AM-3PM, 4:30PM-10PM; F 11AM-3PM, 4:30PM-11PM; Sa noon-11PM; Su 3PM-10PM. This sushi house has stylish atmosphere, high quality sushi by the touristy part of town, and inventive sushi rolls. For a bit of local flavor, look to the crab, lobster, and shrimp roll, which packs in a bit of spicy Maryland Old Bay seasoning! $20-40.
- Fogo de Chao, 600 E Pratt St, ☎ . M-F 11:30AM-2PM,5PM-10PM, F 5PM-10:30PM, Sa 4:30PM-10:30PM, Su 3:30PM-9PM. The Baltimore location of the national chain of Brazilian Charcuterie restaurants is big, and will serve you copious quantities of high-quality Brazilian meat. The gimmick consists of an all-you-can-eat fixed price dinner, where you raise a flag at your table to invite the server to come bring more meat, and lower it when you want to simply eat in peace. Knowing full well that not everyone in a group is going to want meat, Fogo also has an excellent salad bar at a reduced price. Lunch: $31.50 (salad bar only: $19.50), dinner: $48.50 (salad bar only: $24.50).
- Roy's Restaurant, 720B Aliceanna St, ☎ . M-Th 5PM-10PM, F-Sa 5PM-10:30PM, Su 5PM-9PM. Roy's is a trendy Hawaiian fusion restaurant, with a focus on seafood and local ingredients. Yes, it is a chain, but the food is too excellent to ignore. $30-60.
- Rusty Scupper, 401 Key Hwy, ☎ . M-Th 11:30AM-10PM, F 11:30PM-11PM, Sa 3PM-11PM, Su 11AM-10PM (Sunday brunch until 2PM). This seafood restaurant is easily one of Baltimore's most high-profile dining establishments, with heavy tourist traffic, and regarded highly for its seafood, but most of all for the magnificent views of the Baltimore skyline—the best views are indeed from this angle. The seafood is very good, but not on the level you will find at other top-notch Baltimore seafood restaurants, be they upscale or on a picnic bench. The service is another step down, occasionally quite bad. But, that's not to say that you shouldn't come here—the seafood is indeed some of the best you will find right on the Inner Harbor, and, again, the views are easily up there with the best in the city. And no one would deny that the Sunday brunch is a great time. $28-50.
- Vino Rosina, 507 S Exeter St, ☎ . M-Th 11:30AM-10:30PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-1AM. A new, fashionable entrant to Harbor East's scene, this is a small restaurant and wine bar (12 tables), with great Contemporary American cuisine, but even greater atmosphere. A great place for a date, or even just a few drinks after dinner elsewhere. Reservations are a must. $20-35.
- Watertable (Inside the Renaissance Hotel), ☎ . 6:30AM-11AM, 11:30AM-2PM, 6PM-10PM daily. The service and food are both excellent, if not the best in downtown Baltimore, but the clear reason to come is the magnificent view over the Inner Harbor. Great cheap deal on the lunch buffet! $22-40.
The Inner Harbor is the worst place in Baltimore for nightlife, barring the barren and dangerous neighborhoods of East and West Baltimore. It's safe here, and within easy striking distance of the big hotels, but the nightlife is almost completely manufactured for tourism, and is accordingly overpriced, plagued by poor service, and won't give you much any idea of what local nightlife is actually about. Nonetheless there are a handful of decent options, and while a tourist trap, Power Plant Live can still be a good time if you know what to expect, and don't mind it being a bit touristy. The one real standout option that does bring in locals from other parts of the city is the wine bar in Harbor East, listed above, Vino Rosina.
If the nightlife here is not to your liking, it is easy enough to go local and leave the Harbor. Just east is Fell's Point, which is arguably the city's party central, absolutely full of bars and locals out for a good time. From the west end of the Inner Harbor, it's a short walk to Federal Hill, with another big concentration of bars.
- Houlihan's, 621 E Pratt St, ☎ . Su-Th 11AM-1AM, F-Sa 11AM-2AM. There is a lot to dislike about Houlihan's, which is a very much touristy spot right on the water, but it's a great stop for a weekday happy hour (M-F 4PM-7PM), when the bar offers stiff Long Island-style cocktails for $5 a pop.
- James Joyce Irish Bar, 616 President St, ☎ . 11AM-2AM daily. A fairly typical and large Irish pub, but a particularly nice one, and just off the Inner Harbor. The beer list is standard, but the Irish food menu is surprisingly good. Frequent live music.
- Tiki Barge, 500 Harborview Dr (At the pier, take the golf cart shuttle to the boat.), ☎ . Su-Th 10AM-11PM, F-Sa 10AM-midnight. On a nice summer day, this is one of the most fun options in Baltimore. A Tiki bar on a barge floating in the Inner Harbor, with a swimming pool! Easily the best overall view of Baltimore's downtown skyscrapers and the famous Domino Sugar neon sign to boot.
Power Plant Live
Power Plant Live, 34 Market Pl, ☎ . A collection of bars, clubs, music venues, and restaurants (the most notable being the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse), manufactured to keep the Inner Harbor tourist machine rolling! As such, it is not representative of Baltimore culture, is a good deal cheesy (beware the suburban bachelorettes), and has pretty rotten service, but is nonetheless a good time with the right mindset. They have a large self contained outdoor square where you can escape the usual U.S. rules on open containers and drink outside to your heart's content. The outdoor Power Plant stage is host to an unending string of live music performances in the summer.
Watch your dress code here—panicky about Baltimore's more dangerous side spilling into tourist areas, the staff rigidly enforce the general no baggy clothing rules, and even sports apparel can cause problems here and there. Women can wear whatever they want. Men, aim for something preppy/classic.
- Angel's Rock Bar, 10 Market Pl, ☎ . Th-Sa 9PM-2:30AM. Don't Stop Believing that the set list will be a little cheesy, but this rock club is regardless one of the better stops within the complex. The clientele is a little skewed towards the male gender, though (because they are sick of the house music at the other clubs). $5-10, free for ladies.
- Baltimore Comedy Factory, 6 Market Pl, ☎ . Shows start anywhere between 7PM and 10:15PM. The Comedy Factory transcends its plastic surroundings—it has a 30 year history (at a former location) and is the city's main, and only, comedy venue. Big names are commonplace. $17-22, often with a two drink minimum.
- Havana Club, 600 Water St, ☎ . W-Sa 6PM-2AM. This is the one cigar bar anywhere in the area. It's actually kind of horrible, charging patrons a $10, only to deny them a seat on which to smoke their expensive cigars, unless they are willing to fork over a considerable sum more for VIP seating. But if you are up for a big splurge, book yourself a private room with friends and sit down for a fine smoking session.
- Howl at the Moon, 22 Market Pl, ☎ . W-Th 7PM-2AM, F 5PM-2AM, Sa 5:30PM-2AM. A "dueling piano bar" is apparently a kind of corny, but raucous experience where two piano players do requests all night (for $), while the drunk crowd (trying hard with the weak drinks) dances and sings along loudly. As with much of the entertainment in these parts, this can be a lot of fun with the right attitude (and especially with a large group). Pre-gaming at a cheaper place is suggested!
- Ram's Head Live, 20 Market Pl, ☎ . M-Sa 10AM-10:30PM, Su 2 hours prior to doors until 10:30PM. A two level indoor music venue, which is a nice clean, accessible place to see live music.
Rates are understandably on the high side in the Inner Harbor, and the cheaper rooms at hotels lack harbor views. Prices also vary widely depending on the season and rooms availability. If you find yourself priced out, consider a spot in Fells Point, or even up the light rail in Midtown. While the Downtown hotels are very close, keep in mind that the area is less safe to walk back to at night, and decidedly less family-friendly.
- Brookshire Suites, 120 E Lombard St, ☎ . All suites, and aimed at business travelers. $90-160.
- Courtyard Inner Harbor, 1000 Aliceanna St, ☎ . One block from the waterfront and right between the National Aquarium, Fells Point, and Little Italy. $130-230.
- Hilton Garden Inn, 625 S President St, ☎ , fax: +1 410 234-0299. Right by the Courtyard. It's in the extreme east of the district, but that does make it convenient for the same attractions listed for the Courtyard. $150-260.
- Homewood Suites Inn, 625 S President St, ☎ . Pet-friendly, all-suite hotel at the same address as the Hilton. $170-260.
- Hyatt Regency, 300 Light St, ☎ , fax: +1 410 685-3362. Some great deals to be had at the big Hyatt, especially if you book far in advance, and even more especially if you forgo the harbor views. $130-200.
- Pier 5 Hotel, 711 Eastern Ave, ☎ . Pier 5 Hotel has a fabulous pier location with impressive harbor views (if facing west/southwest), and modern decor. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on site. $170-280.
- Sheraton Inner Harbor, 300 S Charles St, ☎ . Connected to the Convention Center and two blocks east of the Inner Harbor and west of Camden Yards. $130-180.
- Royal Sonesta Harbor Court, 550 Light St, ☎ . Great views over the harbor (on the east side). $190-330.
- Marriott Waterfront, 700 Aliceanna St, ☎ . Has the largest meeting room in Baltimore and located in Harbor East. $260-310.
- Renaissance Harborplace, 202 East Pratt St, ☎ , fax: +1 410 539-5780. Arguably the most luxurious big hotel in the city, and about as centrally located as a hotel can get in Baltimore.
The one option for internet (outside of your hotel) will be the giant Barnes and Noble in the historic Power Plant Building, 601 E Pratt St, ☎ +1 410 385-1709, M-Sa 9AM-10PM, Su 10AM-9PM. Free public WiFi. If you need a terminal, though, you are out of luck.
- Fort McHenry, in South Baltimore, is the city's most important attraction outside the Inner Harbor, and is not to be missed. The best way to go is to either take a taxi, be it by land or by sea, or for the more intrepid to take Bus #1.
- Little Italy and Fell's Point are just east of the Inner Harbor, and no trip to Baltimore would be complete without a visit to walk the neighborhood's historic harbor and to get a nice dinner at a Maryland seafood house or Italian restaurant.
- Lexington Market is just north of the Inner Harbor Downtown, and is the most efficient way to plunge yourself into the real culture of the city. Ignore people who tell you the market is unsafe (that's nonsense), and start browsing the food stalls and be sure to try some incredible crab cakes or soul food.
- Charles Street and Mount Vernon are north of Downtown in Midtown, an area very often overlooked by visitors, but are great for at least a half day visit to see the Washington Monument, the excellent Walters Art Museum, to see the opera, and to spend an evening at a great restaurant or bar, mixing it up with the locals in one of the coolest parts of the city.