Baltimore has come a long way from the days of early 2000s HBO crime drama The Wire. This bustling port town has cleaned up its image — and upped its hotel and activity game — in recent years. While it was once easy to forget Charm City, tucked between bigger cities like Philadelphia and D.C., the town has come into its own as an enticing weekend escape.
Offering easy air travel from most cities thanks to busy Baltimore/Washington International Airport and convenient East Coast Amtrak access, it’s simple to get into town.
Arrive early to beat the crowds at the National Aquarium, one of the largest in the U.S. and home to more than 20,000 fish, birds, mammals and reptiles. Get up close and personal with some of the venue’s more notorious residents during a behind-the-scenes tour of the 225,000-gallon Shark Alley.
From here, stroll through the seven-mile Inner Harbor waterfront promenade, where you’ll likely spot iconic Fort McHenry (of “Star-Spangled Banner” fame) and pre-Civil War-era warship USS Constellation. Browse the boutiques and savor a Maryland staple: a crab cake lunch at the iconic Miss Shirley’s café. Wash it down with a Baltimore beer. There are plenty of great brews in this town, but you can’t go wrong with an old-school National Bohemian, which got its start in Baltimore in 1885.
If it’s shopping you’re after, head to posh Harbor East. Peruse the racks at Only Betty, an upscale resale designer boutique where you can pick up a vintage Chanel bag or Louboutin pumps. You can also visit chain stores like Bonobos and Lululemon.
Don’t want to shop? Pop into the stunningly sleek Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore for a well-deserved afternoon of massages or body scrubs at the Four-Star spa. Come early to sip a glass of tea in a relaxation room overlooking the harbor.
Since the day is still young, take the water taxi over to Fell’s Point, where you’ll disembark right in front of the chic Sagamore Pendry Baltimore. This waterfront gem is owned by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, who transformed a historic recreation center and dance hall into one of the city’s buzziest hotels.
Order a drink at onsite The Cannon Room, which features (you guessed it) a historic cannon found buried beneath the floorboards. Have a glass of the bar’s Sagamore Spirit, a rye whiskey that Plank developed at his nearby Sagamore Distillery, which is also open for tours, if you feel so inclined.
Then, drive 12 minutes over to The Ivy Hotel, a Four-Star Baltimore brownstone where you’ll spend the night. This 1889 townhouse-turned-boutique-property boasts 18 uniquely designed rooms, each outfitted with thoughtful touches like Natura Bissé amenities and well-stocked minibars with locally inspired treats (Old Bay chips, kombucha) included in your room rate. Suite Seventeen, with its freestanding tub and oversized skylight-clad bathroom, is one of our favorites.
Before turning in for the evening, though, head to Woodbury Kitchen, a local institution for more than a decade where ingredients are sourced as locally and organically as possible. The new American menu draws heavily on popular Maryland dishes. Dig into plates of pan-fried softshell crab and a rotating selection of Chesapeake oysters on the half shell beneath the twinkling lights.
Rise early to take advantage of complimentary breakfast at The Ivy (get the lemon soufflé pancakes). After your meal, venture over to Hampden, one of our choice neighborhoods for a dose of old-fashioned “Bawlmer” (“Baltimore” in the region’s unique dialect).
If you’re visiting in June and want to try something offbeat, there’s HonFest, an annual celebration of Baltimore’s working women who built the city. The summer festival is like the musical Hairspray brought to life. Even if you miss the festivities, you still can while away the morning in vintage boutiques and the iconic Café Hon.
Make your way back downtown and stop by the American Visionary Art Museum for more local spirit. Our go-to spot is Visionary Village, a massive exhibition area where you’ll find pieces like giant poodle sculpture Fifi, a staple of the city’s annual Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race. If you’re in town in May, don’t miss this spectacle of human-powered amphibious pieces of artwork racing through the streets.
Keep the oddities going with a visit to Baltimore native Edgar Allan Poe’s house, or his grave at Westminster Burial Ground.
After a nonstop morning, you’ve earned a drink. Grab a beer and snack at The Brewer’s Art, a brewpub and restaurant in a refurbished Mt. Vernon townhouse. Sample the venue’s Resurrection ale, a signature sip made with five types of barley malt.
For your last afternoon, catch a baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards or, weather permitting, aim for a sunset sail to Fort McHenry. Pair your harbor cruise with a side of history by booking with American Sailing Tours. The 90-minute tour (available April through October) is great for getting out on the water without too much commitment.
Plan for a special dinner at The Ivy’s Four-Star Magdalena. It’s a bit of a choose-your-adventure here. You can dine in one of five spaces, including the courtyard-facing Garden Room and the romantic Treasury, where the former manor’s sterling and crystal were once kept under lock and key.
Enjoy a menu inspired by the restaurant’s Mid-Atlantic heritage and the chef’s English roots. The result is a melding of flavors — dishes range from summer corn and tarragon soup with Maine lobster to dry-aged Rohan duck breast in a coffee and hazelnut vinaigrette — that feels both authentically local and unexpectedly elevated.
Toast to your successful weekend with a glass of wine — the cellar boasts more than 1,000 bottles.