Difference between revisions of "Baltimore"
Revision as of 22:06, 17 November 2011
Baltimore is a popular tourist destination in Maryland, in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States of America, near Washington, D.C. It is perhaps most famously known as the city where Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner, and today has become a major center for tourism and travel.
It lies on the juncture of the Chesapeake Bay. With continuous nightlife, temperate climate, and plenty of hospitality, any time of the year is a great time to visit.
Baltimore has an absolutely staggering number of officially designated neighborhoods, some just several blocks large, and each with its own character . They are administratively separated into nine larger regions. The following list is further simplified for the traveler and contains some of the neighborhoods you are most likely to visit.
Baltimore has a very long and rich history. It is perhaps most well-known for being the site of the historic Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. Over the course of the battle, British invaders bombed Fort McHenry with rockets as Francis Scott Key wrote what would become the American national anthem. Baltimore was also the site of the first casualty of the American Civil War.
It also has a large African-American population that has played an important role in its history. African Americans have had a major presence in Baltimore since the Revolutionary War. During that time they were brought to Baltimore as slaves from Africa. Baltimore was also one of the hotbeds during the American Civil Rights movement and famous African-Americans such as Thurgood Marshall and Kweisi Mfume have made Baltimore their hometown. R&B artists such as Tupac, Dru Hill and Mario have also emerged from Baltimore. Currently, African-Americans form a majority (within the city limits) at 64%.
Baltimore lies in an arm of the Chesapeake Bay, the third largest estuary in the world. The eastern two-thirds of the metropolitan area lie on the Atlantic Coastal Plain, between 15 and 50 feet above sea level, and contain many peninsulas jutting out into the bay. The western third of the city slowly rises into rolling hills, and leads to the piedmont region. It is located about 40 miles from Washington, D.C., and approximately 100 miles from Philadelphia. The Atlantic Ocean lies about 2 hours to the southeast.
Baltimore lies within the humid subtropical climate zone, and weather is primarily affected by three factors: its proximity to a warm marine estuary, its low elevation, and the wall of mountains to the west and northwest. These factor's make the area's climate milder and less extreme than other U.S. cities at this latitude. Summers are humid and hot, but not extremely so, with highs reaching the high 80s to low 90s Fahrenheit and lows in the 60s to low 70s. Winters are cool to mild and moist, with highs in the upper 40s to low 50s, and lows in the 30s and 40s. It is almost never below 10°F in the city proper. Light snow can sometimes fall in winter, although some years there is no significant accumulation and once every 4 or 5 years a coastal storm can dump over 8 inches on the city. Spring and fall bring pleasant temperatures in the 50s-70s(°F), and southern breezes.
While weather in the region can vary, Baltimore does not experience the extremes of weather change that occur further north and inland. Visitors will be able to venture outdoors without a jacket from approximately mid-March to late November. The hot humid summers invite the wearing of shorts on many days. The Baltimore area experiences pleasant fall foliage, usually beginning in mid November and ending in early December. The long warm weather season means that swimming pools are very popular for much of the year as well.
Baltimore boasts a surprisingly influential, albeit small-scale, film industry. Self-dubbed the "grandfather of filth" native John Waters is the Baltimore equivalent of New York's Woody Allen—he has directed movie after movie, set and filmed on location in Baltimore, drawing heavily for inspiration from Baltimore's most bizarre subcultures and its strangest neighborhoods. He became famous for his "gore" flicks in the 1970s, which combine the single-minded purpose of grossing-out (or perhaps scarring-for-life) the viewers along with intensely bad acting, outrageous Baltimore accents, subversive humor, general trashy perversion and violence, and one enormous Baltimore drag queen named Divine. Of this era, Pink Flamingos achieved a certain cult-classic status, although it is absolutely not for the faint of heart (or the pure of spirit).
Waters' films post-1970s mellowed out dramatically, albeit still maintaining his signature interest in subversive campiness, culminating in his most famous work, Hairspray, a 1962-fabulous story of a plus-size girl with plus-size hair who wanted to bring a black boy to the locally-televised dance show against the forces of racial segregation and bigotry. He has gained considerable success within the Manhattan art world for his more recent work across all sorts of mediums—but he rails against that same art world in Pecker, a movie soaked in the local colors of Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood. His dogged loyalty to his city has earned him a lot of goodwill here. A recent mayor proposed creating a local John Waters holiday, and the Hampden neighborhood erected a giant pink flamingo statue up on the main street. But don't let all this lull you into a sense of complacency—unless it's Hairspray or perhaps Crybaby and maybe Serial Mom, don't show his films to your kids!
Barry Levinson, is perhaps the most well-known film maker to come out of and make films about Baltimore. His directing career began with Diner, a movie set in the Baltimore of his youth, and a movie that would begin the famous four-movie series of "Baltimore films" along with Tin Men, Avalon, and Liberty Heights.
Another big name in Baltimore film-making is undoubtedly David Simon, famous for his Baltimore-centric crime dramas Homicide: Life on the Street (which he co-produced with Barry Levinson), and, of course, The Wire, which has been called by nearly every major journalistic publication in the English language "the best show on television"—although several have contended this doesn't go far enough, calling it the best TV series of all time. The Wire is set principally in the most blighted neighborhoods of West Baltimore, dealing with startlingly realistic, cliché-less portrayals of the life of the city's (and America's) underclass and the drug crime that pervades the neighborhoods and housing projects that underclass lives in. A veteran reporter for the Baltimore Sun and a novelist in his own right, Simon also turns his camera on the city government, the police department, and the public schools, and never in too favorable of a light. (If you are a fan of the series, check out The Wire Tour!) For an even starker portrayal of life and drugs in Baltimore's most blighted neighborhoods, check out his documentary-style miniseries, The Corner.
Don't let these crime dramas get you down, though, most city visitors are unlikely to have any encounters with the drug trade or really much anything to do with Baltimore culture for that matter. All the more reason why The Wire is practically required reading for a serious visitor—the show is filmed on location throughout the whole city, and nowhere else will you be so quickly and delightfully introduced to Baltimore in all its local character and sense of place: Baltimore club music, beautiful and dilapidated old row houses with marble stoops, the legendary horse-cart fruit vendor, coddies and pit beef, bottles of rye by the docks, the East-West rivalry, all sorts of local hip hop, a few good corrupt Polish cops, some angry young boys in the projects, and above all that sense of restlessness that keeps this city alive.
Buses are an affordable way to to get in to Baltimore if you are already in the Eastern Seaboard, especially if you are coming from New York or Philadelphia.
Car parking is expensive in the inner city, roughly $5/hr around the harbor area. The I-395 turn-off from I-95 will take you right into the harbor area, but traffic can be slow in the center of the city at rush hour and especially on game days.
Amtrak offers frequent services into Baltimore. The Penn Station is on Charles Street in Midtown—a considerable distance from the harbor area. However, a spur of the light rail system connects to the train station, and you can ride it to the convention center, three blocks from the harbor. Some Amtrak trains also stop at the BWI (airport) station which is a few miles south of the main Penn Station.
The MARC  train system provides inexpensive service between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. (and from Washington to Frederick, Maryland and Martinsburg, West Virginia). It is, however, meant to be a commuter system, and runs only during work days/hours (Monday - Friday). Check to be sure it is available when you need it. MARC trains operate through the Penn Station (designated the "Penn line" on MARC schedules) and through a station at Camden Yards (the "Camden line"), near the Inner Harbor.
The Baltimore-Washington International Airport (IATA: BWI)  is located a few miles outside of the city and is accessible by car or light rail. Shuttles connect BWI to an Amtrak train station just off the airport grounds.
There are non-stop flights to BWI from just about every major airport in the country, though some cities may be seasonal or only offer service certain days of the week. A full list can be found here: .
BWI has a somewhat unique car rental system. Car rental facilities are located in a centralized facility located away from the airport. Airport shuttle buses must take travelers to and from the facility and it is advisable to plan an extra 10 to 15 minutes to get out of the airport. Also, if heading to Washington D.C., the signage from the airport's car rental facility is very poor and confusing, especially to Route 495. However, all roads ultimately lead to highway access in either direction (North or South).
Public transportation in Baltimore is nothing spectacular. Fares to ride light rail, buses and subway are $1.60 each way, and $3.50 buys you a day pass that gets you unlimited rides on all three. You can buy the pass from any bus operator or vending machine at subway/light rail stations.
As a general rule, the light rail  system is far more useful for getting into the city than getting around it. You may wish to park outside the city (for free!) and take the light rail in. The one useful section runs from Camden Yards up past Lexington Market to the Station North Arts District.
There is also a single line subway  which runs from Johns Hopkins hospital, through downtown, and out to the northwest suburbs of Pikesville and Owings Mills. The subway does not pass many tourist destinations and is mostly used by commuters.
To get around Baltimore on the cheap by public transport, especially outside of the harbor area, you will sacrifice convenience, but the MTA buses are the way to go. MTA puts out very handy interactive maps of the downtown and regional bus routes,  so you can plan ahead. Buses, like all of Baltimore's public transit, are well patrolled and safe.
By Charm City Circulator
Unlike the MTA, the recently-launched Charm City Circulator  is a city-run service. And unlike the MTA, the Circulator is free.
Funded by parking taxes, two of its planned routes are now online. The Orange Route runs east to west from Hollins Market to Harbor East. The Purple Route runs north to south between Penn Station and Federal Hill. A third route not yet in service would run mostly east of downtown, serving Power Plant Live, Fells Point, and the Johns Hopkins medical complex. The buses, smaller and quieter than the MTA, are ideal for people staying downtown looking for a way to get out towards Fells Point, Federal Hill, Mount Vernon and other areas underserved by the MTA.
If staying outside the city and taking Light Rail or Metro Subway in, the routes were thankfully designed to run near key stops like Baltimore Street, Charles Center and the Convention Center.
Pay parking garages and lots are easy to find near all major sights in the city center, usually charging parking rates commensurate with proximity to the Inner Harbor. For exploring Baltimore beyond the central neighborhoods a car becomes essential, and on-street parking is widely available beyond Downtown and the Inner Harbor. If you don't have a car, taxi cabs are an excellent way to get from point to point, albeit a rather expensive one. Don't expect to be able to hail a cab outside any except the most central neighborhoods.
By water taxi
One of the most popular (and unique!) modes of transportation in Baltimore is the water taxi system  +1 410 563-3901. Rarely a useful mode of transport for everyday life, it is an especially nice way of touring the city's main sights for a day (and admiring the skyline from the water). From May-September, it stops throughout the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Fort McHenry, and even Canton, at intervals of about 15-20 minutes. Day passes, adults: $9.00, kids under 10: $4.00.
As Baltimore is a predominantly black city. There are many opportunities to experience Black history in this town. The most prominent is the Great Blacks in Wax Museum located on East North Avenue in East Baltimore close to Johns Hopkins University. This museum showcases Black History through art. Another site of interest may be the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Black History located close to the Harbor Area.
The Baltimore Harbor is the busy center to the city, a major tourist attraction, a must-see, often featuring live music by jazz groups and crooners and plenty of eating and shopping. While locals scorn the Inner Harbor as a pre-fabricated tourist mecca devoid of true Baltimore culture, visitors should see the harbor, and especially should visit some of its excellent museums and other attractions. Highlights range from the Historic Ships in Baltimore (including the USS Constellation), the kid-mesmerizing Maryland Science Center, to the crowded and enormous National Aquarium, to the radically eccentric American Visionary Arts Museum.
The tourist district of the Inner Harbor is a great destination, where you will have a great time. But it is oddly ahistoric in one of America's most historic cities. The most prominent historical attraction is Fort McHenry across the harbor at the tip of Locust Point. It gained an iconic status in American revolutionary history by successfully defending the Baltimore harbor from the British naval bombardment in the War of 1812, at which time Sir Francis Scott Key was inspired by the tattered but still waving American flag on the fort to write the poem that would later become the national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.
The other very rewarding historical destination in Baltimore is just east of the Inner Harbor in Fells Point, once a separate town founded in 1730, which became wealthy throughout the 18th and 19th centuries on shipbuilding and the maritime trade (and anti-British privateering). Architecturally, little has changed for more than a century, and the cobblestone streets, old pubs, and quaint harbor area are more than enough to lure visitors.
While you won't run out of attractions to visit in the Inner Harbor, there are a bunch of big attractions throughout the city that you should not miss. Look especially for Westminster Hall and Burying Ground Downtown, the Maryland Zoo in Druid Hill Park, the original Washington Monument and the Walters Art Museum in Mount Vernon, and the Baltimore Museum of Art up by Johns Hopkins University.
Baltimore has several professional sports teams.
The Baltimore Orioles  are the city's Major League Baseball team, playing their home games at the lovely Camden Yards.
The Baltimore Ravens , the city's National Football League team, play their games at M&T Bank Stadium. Consistently one of the best teams in the NFL, they have been known for their ferocious defense.
A wide variety of dining options can be found in Baltimore, but no visit to Maryland is complete without a sampling of the local favorite: steamed crabs! Though by and large the crabs no longer come from the Chesapeake Bay (they are shipped from North Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas due to overfishing of the Bay), it remains a popular summertime activity to spend the afternoon with family and friends at a crab feast. Often crabs are accompanied by steamed shrimp, corn on the cob, and beer.
If steamed crabs are too adventurous, you should at least sample a crab cake, crab bisque, or vegetable crab soup.
Then again, if crabs aren't adventurous enough, there is an impressive range of strange local foods that most visitors never hear about. The preeminent among which is the Baltimore pit beef sandwich. An odd tradition born of the meeting of the American barbecue world with the culinary tastes of Baltimore's Polish immigrants, the pit beef is slowly barbecued all day and night in a deep pit, then put on a kaiser roll, plus onions and horseradish to your liking (don't wuss out on the horseradish—it's an integral part of the experience). It's best served very rare. Unfortunately, pit beef can be hard to come by within the city limits. The favorite pit beefery is probably Chaps, located next to an industrial area on the extreme east of the city.
Vying for local fast food preeminence is Baltimore Lake Trout. It's not trout (rather, whitefish), and it doesn't come from a lake. But it is impressively fresh, lightly breaded, surprisingly not so greasy, and just all around finger-licking good. It is sort-of served in a sandwich, but you get such a huge quantity of fish in there (for chicken-feed), it's not possible to eat it like a sandwich. Lake Trout takes you far from East Baltimore's pit beef into the west side, but where to get the best fish is a matter of contention. The most accessible, and visitor friendly, is a regular contender for the crown—The Roost.
Coddies represent the final major player in local fast food lore. Nothing fancy here—it's a thick, satisfying codcake served in a sandwich of two saltine crackers, and the coddie should be topped with simple yellow mustard. They can be hard to find, but you'll get great ones at Faidley's for absurdly low prices.
The market place, near the harbor, is full of fresh seafood and food bars. But for a more local experience, head to the neighborhoods surrounding it: Little Italy, Fells Point, Federal Hill, Canton, Mount Washington, etc. all feature both local and international cuisine.
Lexington Market is an especially popular lunchtime destination, with countless vendors selling all kinds of food imaginable. There are standing tables in an open area on the ground floor, as well as a large seating area on the upper level above that. If you are looking for a deep Baltimore culinary experience, head to standing room only Faidley's, where you can get your coddies, some of the world's most acclaimed jumbo lump crab cakes, and even local artifacts like terrapin, raccoon, and muskrat! (Those artifacts are available only seasonally, and only to take home to cook.)
Canton Square offers a diverse selection of good restaurants, but one of the standouts is Nacho Mama's (2907 O'Donnell St). Fun atmosphere, good Mexican food, and many "priceless artifacts" representing everything Baltimore. There also the must-see Greektown, which hosts a wealth of authentic Greek restaurants and coffeehouses.
Vaccaro's in Baltimore's Little Italy is a place to die for when it comes to desserts. This intimate Italian bakery is a little on the high side but features a wide variety of traditional Italian pastries. Located two blocks from the inner harbor area at the corner of Albemarle and Stiles street. They also have a location in Canton Square.
Don't miss the Helmand Restaurant in Mt. Vernon. The cuisine here is from Afghanistan and delicious! The prices are inexpensive (around $15.00 for an entree), and they boast 4 star quality service. Try the pumpkin appetizer.
In Hampden, there are several (quirky) dining options, including Suzie's Soba (Asian fusion), Cafe Hon (featuring kitschy retro decor and a blue plate special menu), Holy Frijoles (a dark, hip margarita-and-burritos place), Rocket To Venus (eclectic rock-n-roll bar/restaurant) and Golden West (featuring eclectic Southwestern cuisine in equally eclectic surroundings, known for excellent food, a laid-back bar scene, and family-friendly seating. Be warned: it's nicknamed "Golden Wait" by locals for the lackadaisical service.)
Baltimore recently passed a smoke-free ordinance, so be aware that all restaurants and bars are completely non-smoking.
The two neighborhoods with the largest concentrations of drinking establishments and clubs are Fells Point and Powerplant Live!. Other fine wining (or boozing) and dining neighborhoods include Canton Square, Mt. Vernon, Federal Hill, Hampden, and the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Baltimore is also the home of the oldest Irish pub in the United States, Patrick's of Pratt Street, established in 1847.
Fells Point is the city's most popular district for both eating and drinking, it is located about a 15 min walk from downtown, or a short cab ride. Many bars in this area feature live music and most have excellent selections of Maryland and imported craft beers. The Full Moon Saloon on Aliceanna Street brings outstanding blues artists to the stage, while the Cat's Eye pub on Thames has jazz and blues. Also be sure to visit Bertha's on Broadway, John Steven Ltd. on Thames, and Max's Taphouse for the widest beer and shooter selection plus Quiz-a-ma-jig trivia every Thursday night.
Max's on Broadway is Baltimore's veritable beer museum, with a long list of hard-to-find beers from around the world.
Powerplant Live! is an area just off of the Inner Harbor that has two blocks of nothing but bars, clubs and restaurants. It has an outdoor area that has music and other events during good weather. Drinks and food are low quality and overpriced (since there is an unending stream of tourists unfamiliar with the city strolling in), but even the most hip Baltimore hipsters will find themselves here every now and then for the free live performances.
National Bohemian (affectionately known as 'Natty Boh') is the popular local cheap beer. They are generally no more than $2-3 anywhere in Baltimore, and most places serve them in cans.
Please note that all bars in Baltimore (and the state of Maryland) are completely non-smoking.
The vast majority of visitors stay in the Inner Harbor, right by the main attractions. Few cities have such a well-defined tourist district, and it is therefore no surprise that nearly all the major hotels in the city are located there.
Business travelers can certainly stay in the Inner Harbor and remain close to the central business district, and this way get better views from their rooms. But the most convenient business hotels, chain hotels all, are located Downtown. Bear in mind that Downtown is not a very good location if you are looking for nightlife—you would always wind up going somewhere else, and the empty streets in the business district can be creepy after dark.
Now if you prefer to stay in a quieter area, with more local character, and better dining and nightlife options, you should look to Fells Point as the natural option, but even further off the beaten path you can find lovely bed and breakfasts and other small hotels in Federal Hill, Midtown, or Canton. The Midtown hotels particularly benefit from good public transportation (a rarity in the city) to Downtown and the Inner Harbor.
Baltimore's reputation as a dangerous city was cemented internationally by the HBO series The Wire, and this is not far from the truth. Its nickname, the "Charm City", has been updated by local cynics as the "Harm City," and you can probably find an I *heart* Baltimore t-shirt for sale in which the heart is made of guns and knives. An even less inviting nickname of recent years is the grisly "Bodymore." This reputation is in no small part due to its very high murder rate and its status as a major transit point for drugs. The reputation is warranted, but the average traveler should not get overly concerned. The high murder rate needs to be informed by the awful context that nearly all the homicides in the city are of young black men—most of them just in their teens—located in parts of the city that few travelers have ever laid eyes upon. Most crime occurs between individuals that know each other. Few if any travelers will have any experience with the isolated culture, drug and gang-related, where the murders are occurring. Muggings are the violent crime to be concerned with for tourists.
Those areas of Baltimore that attract tourists are safe. You shouldn't worry when going to the opera, museums, aquarium, etc. The popular Inner Harbor area in particular is saturated with police day and night, as the city government relies heavily on this area to generate much needed tax revenues. Some areas just north of the waterfront (downtown above the Inner Harbor around Lexington Market, and around the big public housing projects just northeast of Little Italy) can get a little dodgy after dark, and even during the day sometimes. If you're parking your car on street in the Charles Street entertainment district or even in Fells Point, don't leave anything (even trash) visible in your car, in order to deter smash-and-grab robberies. Generally, the worst annoyance for tourists and residents around downtown are the homeless and/or drug addicts, who ask for money and sometimes become aggressive by yelling or starting to follow people; the best advice is to ignore them, and keep walking, as they almost always give up after a few seconds. Avoid confrontations or yelling back.
Above all, though, just exercise the usual precautions for urban America: know where you are going and how you are getting there, at night walk in groups and do not carry large amounts of money, avoid poorly lit streets, and call a cab if the trip back at night seems beyond your comfort zone.