You can visit Baltimore without visiting Midtown, but you will be missing out. Midtown is arguably Baltimore's most beautiful section of town, having housed the city's wealthy and fashionable starting centuries ago. The Mount Vernon neighborhood, especially Mount Vernon Square, is the principal destination for visitors, as it is the lovely setting for the city's Washington Monument, predating the larger obelisk in D.C., as well as the Walters Art Museum and Contemporary Art Museum.
Just north of Mount Vernon is what has become known as Baltimore's Station North Arts District, often known simply as Charles North, which is simply put, the hippest part of town. Great restaurants, great bars and clubs both sophisticated and offbeat, tons of local artists including those at the eccentric Maryland Institute College of the Arts, as well as the prestigious Peabody School of Music, the Lyric Opera House, art galleries, and the beloved art-house film Charles Theatre. This area is also home to Penn Station and the light rail cuts right through it, so you don't have much of an excuse to skip a trip here!
Bolton Hill, to the northwest of Howard St and Martin Luther King Blvd, has far less as far as tourist sights go, but is an absolutely beautiful place for a stroll or drive—stately tall nineteenth century rowhouses and mansions, gilded statues, huge old churches, and so on. It sports a couple nice restaurants as well, and a few houses (not open for visitors) of famous former residents such as F Scott Fitzgerald.
It's easy enough to find the neighborhood by car—you can take Martin Luther King Blvd straight from Exit 53 off I-95N, or simply go straight up Charles St from Downtown. I-83, the Jones Falls Expressway, leads right into the district and has exits at North Ave and Maryland Ave/Charles St/St. Paul.
Parking is another matter, with often limited metered parking in the busy sections around Charles St, and two hour zone restrictions in residential areas. The zone restrictions are pretty poorly enforced, but the ticket prices can be high.
Amtrak  as well as the MARC commuter rail Penn Line [mta.maryland.gov/services/marc/schedulesSystemMaps/penn.cfm] from D.C. serve Penn Station, which is a fairly easy walk from virtually anywhere in the district.
By light rail
The light rail  leads through Mount Vernon and Station North, stopping at Centre St for Mt Vernon Square, Cultural Centre for the Opera House, Penn Station, and North Ave for the eccentric bars, clubs, and pizza places at the northern edge of the district.
The metro  has a convenient stop at State Center (near the Cultural Centre light rail stop), but it's not terribly clear whether anyone uses the Baltimore metro, nor whether you should either.
Bus #11 has a remarkably useful route leading north on Charles St from Downtown and the Inner Harbor, and on to the Baltimore Museum of Art and Johns Hopkins' main campus in North Baltimore. On the way south back to the Inner Harbor, it follows Maryland Ave to Cathedral St, before heading east all the way to Fells Point and Canton.
The Charm City Circulator'spurple route is a really useful loop for any visitors. It runs a loop from Penn Station through the district, Downtown, the Inner Harbor, and even on to Federal Hill. Just remember that it doesn't run that late!
Francis Scott Key Monument, 1300 Eutaw Pl, . Bolton Hill is a beautiful neighborhood, but probably the single most impressionable and beautiful section is the square immediately around this huge memorial of the composer of the U.S. National Anthem. Key, cast in bronze, stands in a boat returning from captivity on an English ship along with a soldier, presenting a manuscript of what would become the Star Spangled Banner to a figure of "Columbia," who stands tall atop a marble temple, raising the flag to the sky. The enormous domed church on the square is a Masonic building, home to the "Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland," and is not open to the public.
Washington Monument, Intersection of Monument Pl and Mt Vernon Pl (four blocks east of Centre St light rail stop). At the turn of the 19th century Baltimorians lobbied for a monument dedicated to the United States' first president, and in 1829 Washington's first monument finished construction. It was designed by architect Robert Mills who later went on to design that other Washington Monument in D.C. It is now a focal point in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood.
The Walters Art Museum, 600 N Charles St (at Centre St, three blocks east of Centre St light rail stop), ☎ +1 410 547 9000, . W-Su 10AM-5PM, M-Tu closed. An excellent museum donated to the city by father-and-son railroad tycoons William and Henry Walter, fervent collectors who purchased much of its massive and diverse collection as well as the buildings that host it. It is best known for its collection of 19th century European masterpieces. Be sure to enter or exit from its Charles Street entrance, where you'll pass through a magnificent indoor courtyard modeled after the Palazzo Baldi in Genoa.Free.
Hackerman House, W Mt Vernon Place (kitty-corner from the Washington Monument, accessible from the Walters Art Museum). Sa-Su 10AM-5PM, M-F closed. An elegant late-classical-era home built in 1850, it was donated to the city of Baltimore by its last owners, Willard and Lillian Hackerman, in 1984. The city renamed the house in their honor and took advantage of its location to expand the adjacent Walters Art Museum. It now hosts the Walters' collection of Asian Art, but is open only on the weekend, and can only be accessed from within the museum. From the front rooms on the third floors you can sneak a bird's-eye view of the monument plaza.
Maryland Film Festival, ☎ +1 410 752 8083, . Takes place during May of each year, three days of film screenings in the Midtown/Belvedere and Charles North neighborhoods.
Artscape, Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street to Charles Street, . The largest free public arts festival in America, over 350,000 visitors spend three days in the Midtown and Bolton Hill neighborhoods to take in arts and crafts, live concerts, performing arts, and much more. Takes place during one weekend every July.
Baltimore Book Festival, Mt Vernon Place (at the Washington Monument), ☎ +1 410 752 8632, . Over a three day weekend in September, meet over 200 authors.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St (at W Preston St, two blocks from Cultural Center light rail station), ☎ +1 410 783 8000, .
CenterStage, 700 N Calvert St (between W Monument and W Madison Sts, Mt. Vernon neighborhood), ☎ +1 410 332 0033, .
Lyric Opera House, 140 W Mount Royal Ave (at Cathedral St, one block south of Mt Royal light rail station and three blocks from MARC Penn Station), ☎ +1 410 547 7328, .
Midtown a shopping district is not, unless you're looking for art supply stores, of which there are plenty, serving mainly the MICA students.
The Bump Start, 1010 Morton St, ☎ +1 410 244-8961, . Tu-Sa 11AM-7PM, Su noon-5PM. Formerly Shop Gentei, a men's streetwear boutique specializing in biker looks. It's tiny and easy to miss, but it's a good place to stop by and check out some offbeat clothing.
Salamander Books, 519 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 209-2323, . Tu-Sa 11AM-6PM, Su noon-4PM. A well-curated, well-maintained used bookstore, with a focus on non-fiction, particularly the arts, but also humanities.
Utrecht Art Supplies, 229 W Chase St, ☎ +1 410 727-7004, . M-F 10AM-7PM, Sa 10AM-6PM, Su 11AM-5PM. This is the best known and arguably best stocked of the Midtown art supply stores. It may not be the type of store to attract visitors, but it does show off what this artsy neighborhood is about. Very knowledgeable staff, unsurprisingly.
Iggie's Pizza, 818 N Calvert St, ☎ +1 410 528-0818, . Tu-Th noon-9PM, F-Sa noon-10PM. Gourmet, creative, thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas here are easily right up there with the best in the city. The atmosphere is extremely casual, where you will take care of getting your pizza and extra water yourself. Likewise, BYOB.$10-18.
Land of Kush, 840 N Eutaw St, ☎ +1 410 225-5877, . M-Sa 11AM-8PM. Vegan soul food in the rough model of Soul Vegetarian, but with extremely friendly service and a convenient location. Regardless of your dietary needs, they will likely be able to accommodate you. Big portions.$10-20, $8 lunch buffet.
On the Hill Cafe, 1431 John St, ☎ +1 410 225-9667, . M-F 7AM-9PM, Sa 8AM-9PM, Su 9AM-9PM. Bolton Hill, with its critical shortage of places to eat in the neighborhood itself, is well served by this little cafe. The pastries and coffee are good, but the specialty burgers and sandwiches are what really shine. Nice outdoor seating in the summer.$5-10.
Shapiro's Cafe, 7 W Preston St, ☎ +1 410 220-0050, . M-F 8AM-7PM, Sa noon-9PM. This is the undisputed shawarma/falafel king of Baltimore west of Charles St (there are some pretty good ones in the southeast of the city too). If Mediterranean isn't what you want at the moment, they also do a mean pastrami or corned beef, and even a brisket sandwich. Cheap, quick, hot, and good.$6-10.
Sofi's Crepes, 1723 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 727-7732, . M-W 5PM-9PM, Th-Sa 11:30AM-11PM, Su 11:30AM-8PM. Sofi's does an easy trade on being the one truly tasty spot right by the Charles Theatre. The crepes come with cutsy, often theater-related names (like the "Kevin Bacon"), and are designed strictly for take out, to be eaten like a sandwich.$8-15.
Soup's On, 11 W Preston, ☎ +1 410 M-W 5PM-9PM, Th-Sa 11:30AM-11PM, Su 11:30AM-8PM, . M-Sa 11AM-8PM, Su noon-6PM. The only real downside to this place is the danger that that awful Heat is on song might get stuck in your head (sorry). There are meat, veggie, and vegan soups available—the menu is actually huge, with options ranging from borscht to Maryland crab to curried persimmon!$8-14.
Station North Arts Cafe Gallery, 1816 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 625-6440, . M-F 8AM-3PM, Sa 11AM-3PM. This cafe keeps in with the general trend of art galleries residing in bars, restaurants, and cafes. This is one of the cafes. It's a real cheerful sort of place, with an especially great breakfast. Dirt cheap.$3.50-7.
Aloha Sushi, 1218 N Charles St, ☎ +1 443 759-8531, . M-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 1PM-11PM. Baltimore is a little short on good sushi restaurants, but this is very much a good place for fresh sushi at reasonable prices with a casual atmosphere. Both lunch and happy hour see great deals both on the sushi, including a dollar sushi menu, and the drinks. The cheap BBQ wings are also surprisingly well done. Karaoke in the lounge downstairs F-Sa nights.$12-20.
Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant, 1100 Maryland Ave, ☎ +1 410 385-0318, . 11AM-11PM daily. D.C.'s U Street mainstay for Ethiopian food has opened a new location in Baltimore, and it easily surpasses the original: prices are a bit lower, the atmosphere is more relaxed and friendly, and some would even say the food is a notch higher! As in D.C., Dukem excels in the meat category, with wonderful beef tibs especially, as well as great raw dishes. If you haven't had Ethiopian food before, this is a great place to start—just remember that you'll be eating with your hands, and that you can wind up with some spicy dishes! They roast their own coffee beans daily in an elaborate, traditional, and very elaborate Ethiopian coffee ceremony, down to the white dresses, scented grasses, frankincense, etc. It's incredible.$10-20.
Feast @ 4 East, (inside the 4 East Madison Inn), ☎ +1 410 605-2020, . Th-Sa 5:30PM-9PM. This is a secret gem of a restaurant housed in an elegant nineteenth Century mansion, now a B&B. The romantic atmosphere in the dining room and the garden, plus outstanding service are the biggest draws, but the crowd-pleasing rustic French-American-Mediterranean cooking keeps pace.$19-30.
Indigma, 801 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 605-1212, . Lunch: Tu-F 11:30AM-3:30PM, Sa-Su noon-3PM; dinner: Su,Tu-Th 5PM-9:30PM, F-Sa 5PM-10:30PM. Currently closed for renovation following a late 2010 fire, but hopefully it will reopen soon.$19-30.
Joe Squared, 133 W North Ave, ☎ +1 410 545-0444, . 11AM-2AM daily. Iggy's rival to the north has gourmet-ish pizza just as good. And, unsurprisingly, given its location on the hippest strip in town, has really cool atmosphere with local artists exhibiting on the walls and regular live jazz even on weeknights. It's more of a restaurant than its southern rival, with table service and a full bar. Outdoor patio seating is great in nice weather.$12-24.
Kumari Restaurant, 911 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 Lunch: Tu-F 11:30AM-3:30PM, Sa-Su noon-3PM; dinner: Su,Tu-Th 5PM-9:30PM, F-Sa 5PM-10:30P. Lunch: M 11:30AM-2:30PM, Tu-F 11AM-2:30PM, Sa-Su 11:30AM-3PM; dinner: Su-Th 5PM-10PM, F-Sa 5PM-10:30PM. Nepalese finds its home on the eclectic jumble of Charles St, with a tasty lunch buffet, and a nice but casual dinner.$15-28.
Marie Louise Bistro, 904 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 385-9946, . M-Th 7AM-10PM, F 7AM-11PM, Sa 8AM-11PM, Su 8AM-10PM. A somewhat upscale French bistro with typical bistro fare plus a few Maryland/American favorites. But the standout is the sybaritic dessert menu, making this a great nighttime spot for a fancy drink and slice of chocolate cake or a tart.$15-35.
Minato, 1013 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 332-0332, . Lunch: M-F 11:30AM-2:30PM; dinner: M-Th 5PM-10PM, F-Sa 5PM-11PM. While there isn't anything terribly special about the sushi at this college student-friendly place, it's a fun, casual restaurant with good prices and great happy hour specials.$10-24.
Waterstone Bar & Grill, 311 W Madison St, ☎ +1 410 225-7475, . Su,Tu-Th 4PM-10PM, F-Sa 4PM-10:30PM. Upscale contemporary Mediterranean/international cuisine at non-upscale prices. Their wine list is excellent and moderately priced, but BYOB with $10 corkage is also an option. The atmosphere is classy, but not formal.$15-25.
b Bistro, 1501 Bolton St, ☎ +1 410 383-8600, . Tu-Sa 5PM-10PM, Su 10AM-2PM,5PM-9PM. The local, organic, seasonal, contemporary American cuisine ranks with the best of what Baltimore has to offer. The atmosphere is simple and casual, and the setting in beautiful old Bolton Hill is wonderful. b Bistro is indeed a good excuse to drive over to the neighborhood, as it is an easy neighborhood for a visitor to overlook. Nice patio dining on Bolton St is a big plus, and the Sunday brunch is rightly wildly popular.$28-50.
City Cafe, 1001 Cathedral St, ☎ +1 410 539-4252, . M-F 11AM-10PM, Sa 10AM-10:30PM, Su 10AM-8PM. Once a modest coffee shop, this is now a very chic small restaurant is now award-winning chef Chad Gauss' residence, where he serves up contemporary American cuisine with ingredients fresh off local farms. Excellent brunch spot. One downside to watch out for, though, is that the bar can have DJs spinning some loud music F-Sa nights that can distract from a top-notch dinner. The coffee shop remains at the side if you just want to stop by for some Zeke's Coffee and a bite of chocolate cake.$20-40.
Helmand, 806 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 752-0311, . Su-Th 5PM-10PM, F-Sa 5PM-11PM. The city papers love it, the locals love it, even the Karzai family loves it—this truly may be Baltimore's favorite restaurant. The decor is urbane and fairly upscale, but it's fine to wear jeans. The food, despite the restaurant's popularity, is remarkably well-priced. Focus on the appetizers; it's not a bad idea to order a bunch of them, and only one entree to share. Aushak is a specialty here, but if you haven't had kaddo (sauteed pumpkin with a garlic yogurt sauce), order it.$18-30.
The Prime Rib, 1101 N Calvert St, ☎ +1 410 539-1804, . This is the original of the three Mid-Atlantic locations, with what is regularly trumpeted as some of the best steak in the country. The restaurant is a beautiful traditional steakhouse, with high backed black leather chairs, black laquered walls, white tablecloths, and a bar that looks ready for Frank Sinatra to come in and have a martini. The signature dish is as good a prime rib as you'll find anywhere (and this is the only place you will find it every day on the menu in the city). If you are not a carnivore, the seafood is The restaurant is also renowned for its excellent service—this is a great upscale option in Baltimore. Suit jackets not required, but... wear a jacket.$23-65.
Sascha 527 Cafe, 527 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 539-8880, . Lunch: M-F 11AM-3PM; dinner: M-Th 5:30PM-10PM, F-Sa 5:30PM-11PM. Sascha is upscale, romantic, visually stunning, and has just enough of that local aesthetic eccentricity to make it a real Baltimore favorite (the venerable John Waters agrees). The cuisine is quite inventive and playful, and the tastes ($2-9) make for a scrumptious and entertaining ride throughout the evening, if you prefer to stray away from the entrées. The desserts, prepared by the restaurant's own in-house pastry chef, are arguably unparalleled in the city. Live jazz Th-F nights 8PM-10PM.$28-40.
The Brewer's Art, 1106 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 547-6925, . M-Sa 4PM-2AM, Su 5PM-2AM; dinner: Su-W 5:30PM-9PM, Th-Sa 5:30PM-10:30PM. The Brewer's Art implausibly won not just the reader's poll in Baltimore Magazine and the City Paper for best bar in the city, but also Esquire's pick for best bar in the United States! No one is too sure what to make of that wild superlative, but it is clearly a good bar. Their house brews are almost always great and offered at ridiculously low prices, and they have an excellent selection of liquors (especially scotch and brandies) and wines by the glass. The old Mt Vernon townhouse it is housed in is beautiful, with a swanky upscale seating area upstairs and a perfect dark brick dive ambiance downstairs. And even the food, upscale American, is outstanding, making the place a worthy dinner choice, or just an extra good place to get some bar food. Mains run in the $20s, light fare: $8-14.
Club 1722, 1722 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 727-7431, . F 1:45AM-5AM, Sa 1:45AM-6AM. Check out those hours! What the heck sort of club is open from 2AM-6AM? And BYOB? This is a wild sort of place.
Dionysus Restaurant, 8 E Preston ST, ☎ +1 410 244-1020, . M-Sa 4PM-2AM, Su 10AM-2AM. A great, small, laid back bar with quite good Greek-ish bar food. At the two bars inside, they have a couple expert bartenders who will whip you up some craft cocktails that you wouldn't expect to find in a dive like this. Crowded on weekend late nights.
Grand Central, 1001/1003 N Charles St (cross street E Eager St), ☎ +1 410 752 7133, . M-Sa 4PM-2AM, Su 3PM-2AM. Mt Vernon pub catering to the GLBT community, and winner of the "Best Gay Bar" award from Baltimore City Paper every year since 2004.
The Hippo, 1 W Eager St (cross street N Charles St), ☎ +1 410 547-0069, . 4PM-2AM. Another highly regarded gay bar in the Mt Vernon neighborhood, welcoming to and popular with just about everyone of any sexual orientation for a night of dancing.
iBar, 2118 Maryland Ave, ☎ +1 410 637-3089, . M-F 11AM-1AM, Sa 1PM-1:45AM, Su 5PM-1AM. This is basically a run-of-the-mill dive bar in North Charles, but, and it's a big but, the Buffalo born-and-bred owner has brought his special recipe to Baltimore, offering the city's best wings hands down.
Metro Gallery, 1700 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 244-0899, . Open for gallery events--check website or call. An art gallery, club/lounge, live performance venue, and bar, this is one of the cooler places in a very cool city for a night out. Not open every night, you will have to settle for waiting for an event night.
Mount Royal Tavern, 1204 W Mt Royal Ave, ☎ +1 410 669-6686. 10AM-2AM daily. MICA students know this "Dirt Church"--that should give you a basic idea of what to expect. Some artist painted a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling if you look up, the bathrooms reek with the stench of death, dirts are mind-bogglingly cheap, you would probably be thrown out the door if you request a martini, etc. There is a good mix of neighborhood folks, heavily tatooed drug abusers, and art school students. This is real Baltimore, and while the masses might hate this sort of place, a true lover of the city will be in a special sort of heaven. Order a shot of rye and a Natty Boh, and you'll find yourself in good company.
The Windup Space, 12 W North Ave, ☎ +1 410 244-8855, . Tu-Sa 5PM-1AM. Within about a month of its opening, this became one of Baltimore's favorite bars. Unquestionably cool, you'll find an unpretentious vibe (and bar with $2 Natty Boh), an industrial-style art gallery space, and all sorts of weird music on the stage.
The Empire House, 9 East Chase St., . This stunning, historic Victorian mansion as been newly opened as a B&B. I'ts owner occupied and currently offers a 1000 sq. ft. 1 bedroom corporate apartment for extended stays, a two bedroom, one bath suite and two bedrooms with private baths. The rooms are large and decorated nicely without the usual B & B clutter. Wifi and off street parking is included. Not yet serving breakfast.$100-150.
North Ave Motel, 110 W North Ave, ☎ +1 410 752-2000. Really under no circumstances should a traveler pick this place—there are classier places to take a prostitute at lower prices... To be clear, the place is filthy and unsafe. It's worth walking by, though, as it is really a cool looking mid-twentieth century motel, and was featured prominently in a plotline in the TV series The Wire.$40-60.
Hotel Brexton, 868 Park Ave, ☎ +1 410 478-2100, . Perhaps the most popular hotel in Midtown, this narrow triangular building is close by the Opera House. For a historic property, the rooms are fairly modern post-renovation, and large. Staff garner near universal positive reviews.$150-250.
The Mount Vernon Hotel, 24 W Franklin St, ☎ +1 410 727-2000, . A very attractive, large historic building just south of the monument. Open since 1907.$140.
4 East Madison Inn, 4 E Madison St, ☎ +1 410 783-2969, . Staying at a pretty Victorian B&B in a gorgeous and hip, but lesser known neighborhood like Mount Vernon indicates pretty clearly that you are a savvy and refined visitor to this fair city. Free parking. The inn's restaurant, described above, is one of the best in the area.$175-250.
Peabody Court Hotel, 612 Cathedral St, ☎ +1 410 727-7101, . A really pretty old hotel, not-long-ago converted from apartments, right on beautiful Mount Vernon Square. The rooftop bar has a great view over the city. This is pretty straightforwardly the nicest large hotel in Midtown.$150-220.
There are two very cool, funky little coffeehouses in the neighborhood, both with free WiFi:
Gigi's, 1005 N Charles St, ☎ +1 410 685-1554.
Koffee House Therapy, 6 E Franlin St, ☎ +1 877 764-5241, . M 8AM-11AM, Tu-Sa 8AM-5PM. Occasional live music.
The areas north of Penn Station can be legitimately rough, but the main roads, especially Charles St and North Ave, are well traveled and fine. If you have your car on the street anywhere in Midtown, make sure there is nothing lying in plain view, lest someone smash your window and take it.
While the obvious direction from here is back south through Downtown to the Inner Harbor, some creativity and preferably a car can make for some interesting jaunts farther afield.
If you are enjoying the slightly gritty, but very eccentric areas around North Ave, head a little further north and watch the grit factor soar! Also that way is Baltimore's Korean neighborhood, with some great little BBQ places and the odd karaoke bar, and a couple famous punk bars/venues.
Now you'll definitely need a car in this direction, but heading west will bring you to the Baltimore Zoo and the original location of "The Roost" for some fine fish fry.
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