All parents know that visiting a historical site makes history relevant in a way that no textbook or classroom activity can. Plan a trip to Baltimore to raise a flag at Fort McHenry and see the inspiration for the US national anthem firsthand. Then imagine what life would have been like working in an oyster cannery at the Baltimore Museum of Industry or ride a train at the historic B & O Railroad Museum. You’ll be surprised at how much history there is to experience in Baltimore! But it’s not all about the past: learn how to protect the wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay at the National Aquarium and how electricity powers our cities at the Maryland Science Center’s Power-Up exhibit. Don’t forget to crack open a few crabs spiced with Old Bay seasoning while you’re in town. Explore our Top 10 Things to Do in Baltimore with Kids!
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Things to Do in Baltimore with Kids
10. Walk Through an Aviary at the Maryland Zoo
Some visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo are disappointed to see that there are no giraffes, zebras, rhinos, or penguins at this iconic Washington DC zoo. Yet, forty miles to the north in Baltimore at the Maryland Zoo, families can find all of their favorites from polar bears and penguins to giraffes and zebras. While the Smithsonian has the responsibility of maintaining populations of rare and endangered animals like pandas, the Maryland Zoo in Druid Hill Park has the space to offer multiple play areas for young children and house the penguins and giraffes that are almost guaranteed to make your toddler squeal in delight.
9. Learn about Baseball, the Babe, and Batman
Any article about Baltimore would be incomplete without a mention of the Baltimore Orioles’ home stadium at Camden Yards which overlooks Baltimore’s scenic Inner Harbor, and the baseball legend Babe Ruth, who was born less than a half mile from the current site of the stadium. For a full day of baseball fun, walk through the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum before enjoying a game at Oriole Park.
Also located just a short walk from Camden Yards is Geppi’s Entertainment Museum. From the Flintstones to Star Wars, every generation in the family can feel nostalgic as they view memorabilia from the pop culture of their childhood or teen years. Kids can read through digital versions of the comic books that their grandparents might have enjoyed 50-60 years ago; that’s pretty awesome!
8. Take a Tour of the City’s Diverse Neighborhoods
Baltimore, once the second leading port of entry for European immigrants, is known as a city of neighborhoods. And while the neighborhoods aren’t as distinct as they once were, the city’s best pasta is still served up in Little Italy. A good way for families with older children to get a feel for the history of some of the neighborhoods is to take a food tour with Charm City Food Tours or a trolley ride with Baltimore Trolley Tour. Or, to simply visit a different part of the city, families can take a short, uphill walk from the Inner Harbor through Downtown to Mount Vernon to see Baltimore’s Washington Monument, the grand Peabody Library and the Walters Art Museum. You may also want to visit Hampden with its quaint shops and interesting restaurant scene. Another worthwhile walk is from the Inner Harbor to Edgar Allan Poe’s Gravesite at Westminster Hall by the University of Maryland’s Medical Center.
7. Discover the History of Industry and the B & O Railroad
Industry and immigration shaped early 19th century Baltimore into one of the nation’s largest cities and key location for people and merchandise traveling to the Midwest on the National Road through western Maryland, Pittsburgh, and Ohio. Later, when the opening of the Erie Canal threatened Baltimore’s businesses, the first chartered railroad, the B & O Railroad, was successfully formed to continue trade to the rest of the county and maintain Baltimore’s strategic position through the Civil War. Families visiting Baltimore should take some time to learn about the city’s rich history at either the Baltimore Museum of Industry or the B & O Railroad Museum.
At the Baltimore Museum of Industry families can learn about Baltimore’s oyster canning industry firsthand at the actual location of the 1865 Platt and Company oyster cannery, step into an early 20th Century pharmacy and soda fountain, and smell the ink in a room full of type-set and printing equipment that’s nearly a century old. Looking east from the museum out onto the harbor, the dominating Under Armour complex and Domino Sugar sign leave no doubt that Baltimore is still home to some well-known businesses; some days visitors can even smell the sugar from the Domino Sugar Plant wafting through the air.
Any little train-lover will want to spend hours exploring the roundhouse at the B & O Railroad Museum. Kids can dress up and play with one of many train tables inside the beautifully maintained roundhouse building. History buffs are sure to enjoy reading about the role that the B & O Railroad played in the Civil War.
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6. Go Aboard a Historic Ship in the Inner Harbor
It seems appropriate that Baltimore, an important shipbuilding and supply-shipping center as recently as World War II, is home to four historic military vessels spanning US history from the Civil War through the battle of Pearl Harbor and finally the Vietnam War. Most notably, kids ages 6 and up can participate in the USS Constellation’s Powder Monkey Tour which will teach them how the ship sailed the Atlantic in the 1860s on a mission to stop slave traders in route to America as part of the Africa Squadron.
5. Experience Science Hands-on at the Maryland Science Center and Port Discovery
Kids from infants to teens can find opportunities for hands-on learning in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Port Discovery, Baltimore’s children’s museum, is named as one of Trekaroo’s top children’s museums. My kids have enjoyed making their own bubble gum in the museum’s lab and playing in the kid-sized grocery store. For those who have outgrown Port Discovery’s massive three-story play structure, kids can tinker and experiment with circuits in The Shed or extract DNA in the SciLab at the Maryland Science Center. From hands-on exhibits that show how electric generators work to a bed of nails that visitors can test out, every visit to the Maryland Science Center is a memorable learning experience.
4. Set Sail with the Urban Pirates from Fell’s Point
Fell’s Point, a National Historic District complete with almost 300 year old cobblestone streets, is best known as the place where Fredrick Douglas was enslaved as a shipbuilder prior to becoming an abolitionist leader and for its high concentration of bars and restaurants. With over one hundred pubs packed into this neighborhood, it’s best for families to explore during the daytime. Fortunately, Fell’s Point is on Baltimore’s Water Taxi route so it is convenient to combine a ride out on the harbor with a visit to this historic ship-building neighborhood.
One of my children’s favorite Baltimore attractions, a family-friendly Urban Pirates Cruise, leaves from the Fell’s Point waterfront. Kids hear stories, play games, and even rescue a treasure chest from a pirate on this entertaining one-hour tour of the Inner Harbor.
3. Appreciate Some Art – For Free
From stately rooms filled with medieval armor in the Walters Art Museum to the largest collection of Henry Matisse in the world housed at the Baltimore Museum of Art, there’s a great variety of art that can be seen for free in Baltimore. Families will especially enjoy the special family guides that are available for the Baltimore Museum of Art’s new American Wing which features furniture, silver, and paintings installed together to mirror the great mansions where many of these pieces were once housed. Once you’ve fully explored art from ancient Egypt to European surrealists at the city’s two traditional art museums, consider purchasing a ticket to the American Visionary Art Museum. This museum is different; it is home to a few of the kinetic sculptures that have raced through Baltimore during the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race and a family of recycled robot sculptures.
2. Touch the Jellyfish at the National Aquarium
See dolphins play, touch a jellyfish, and learn about conservation efforts in the nearby Chesapeake Bay at the Inner Harbor’s National Aquarium. The Inner Harbor is home to a few museums, lots of restaurants, and dozens of stores, but Trekaroo’s favorite attraction for families is the National Aquarium. Consistently listed as one of the top aquariums on the East Coast, it is certainly one of the best places to observe moon jellies, horseshoe crabs, and other Mid-Atlantic Coast sea creatures up close.
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1. Hear the Story of the US National Anthem
Photo by: Melissa Moore
Most importantly, Baltimore is the place to learn about the US national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The words were written by Francis Scott Key from a British-occupied ship just within sight of Fort McHenry in the Patapsco River. One morning after a night of fighting in the Battle of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key looked through the haze and smoke to see the large American flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes still flying, and he penned the poem that later became the national anthem. The huge 30 foot by 42 foot flag, made by Baltimore’s premier flag-maker Mary Pickersgill, was designed so that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance. If not for its large size, Francis Scott Key would have never been able to spot the flag and write the anthem that we sing today.
Today families can visit both Fort McHenry where the famous flag flew and the Star Spangled Banner Flag House where Mary Pickersgill lived and worked on the flag. At the fort, visitors see sweeping views of the Baltimore Harbor, learn the story of the Battle of Baltimore and have the opportunity to raise/lower a reproduction of the flag. My little boy especially loved seeing all the cannons around the star-shaped fort.
As amazing as Fort McHenry is, one of the most remarkable stories in Baltimore is told at the small row house of Mary Pickersgill. At the Star Spangled Banner Flag House, families hear the story of a successful 19th Century business woman living with her mother and daughter. It is so fortunate that 200 years later we can still see their house, learn about their lives, and hear about their contribution to American history.
Light City Baltimore
A Seasonal Event Worth Mentioning: Should you happen to be in Baltimore during the early Spring, be sure to check out Light City, one of the city’s great family-friendly festivals. This one runs just over a week and consists of all kinds of light displays and interactive artwork thought the city. There’s music and food and drink to enjoy, and families can walk around and see the displays free of charge. Since it spans so many days, you can go back to sculptures you really liked, or check out new ones that intrigue you. One year, there were see-saws that were lit up that you could actually ride on!
Where to Eat
Photo by: Melissa Moore
As the former home of McCormick & Company, visitors to Baltimore are unlikely to leave without eating something flavored with Old Bay Seasoning. For a unique Chesapeake Bay experience, head to Bo Brooks to crack your own crabs by the edge of the harbor in Canton. They’re sold by the dozen and covered in Old Bay Seasoning. If you’re looking for crab in the Inner Harbor, plan for a meal at Phillips Seafood Restaurant.
Whether you’d like crab cakes for breakfast or not, Miss Shirley’s Cafe is the place to go in Baltimore for brunch. Serving some of the best kid’s meals that I’ve ever seen in a bento box with fresh fruit, my kids always eat well at Miss Shirley’s.
Twist, in Fell’s Point is also a great place to grab breakfast in a cozy and cute environment. The staff will set you up with delicious homemade treats that will make you want to come back again soon.
Should you be looking for an enjoyable dinner venue, Encantada in the American Visionary Museum is perfect for folks interested in a more vegetarian focus. It’s nicely upscale so you’ll feel like you’ve treated yourself, and the food is simply delicious. Try the buffalo cauliflower bites for a tasty twist on wings. Cosima is also worth visiting for a special meal. This restaurant is located in a beautifully renovated old mill by the water and serves authentic Sicilian dishes with fresh ingredients and great service. Their cocktails are a step above, so be sure to try one when you’re there.
Where to Stay
Photo by: Melissa Moore
Families visiting Baltimore will want to stay in one of the many hotels in the Inner Harbor neighborhood. For something more casual and laidback try out the new Hotel RL. With a stage for live music performances where travelers typically find a reception desk and coffee straight out of the Pacific Northwest, your teen will love the vibe of this unconventional hotel. Also, the convenient pull down Murphy bed in each king deluxe room is perfect for bringing a child or tot along on a quick weekend getaway.
Trekaroo families also recommend the Pier 5 Hotel, overlooking the National Aquarium, and the Hyatt Regency Baltimore, located between the Inner Harbor and Oriole Park at Camden Yards for their location and family-friendly amenities. The Baltimore Marriott Waterfront is also a great choice for families looking to stay near the harbor. With so many area sights within easy walking distance (or biking via Baltimore Bike Share), this hotel is an easy, affordable choice with pleasant rooms and space to relax.
Thanks to Sharon Rigney who also contributed to this article.
Lead Photo by: Shutterstock.com
Disclosure: The authors were hosted on press trips by Hotel RL Baltimore and Visit Baltimore. All opinions are their own.