Today it’s known as a city of offbeat neighborhoods well worth exploring, but the busy Chesapeake Bay seaport that we call Baltimore — or Bawlmer, as the locals cheerfully say — first came of age after the Revolutionary War.
The city reigns over the Chesapeake’s northern end from the legendary Baltimore Harbor on the Patapsco River. About an hour north, the Susquehanna River flows into the Bay, bringing fresh water from as far away as New York. Towns and cities—including Annapolis, the Colonial-era Maryland capital—line the bay’s shores and offer abundant opportunities to enjoy museums, shopping, arts, restaurants, and history. There’s also plenty of opportunity to get out on the water.
And, indeed, one of the best ways to transit between some of Baltimore’s favorite neighborhoods is via the Baltimore Water Taxis that crisscross the city’s inner and outer harbors.
Perhaps the best-known neighborhood is the Inner Harbor, a magnet for visitors and home to the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Ravens’ home at M&T Bank Stadium, and even the USS Constellation, a docked 1854 frigate that’s now a museum.
Nearby lies Federal Hill, a neighborhood of bars, bistros, shops, and the Cross Street Market, with vendors selling meats, flowers or seafood. It’s one of six city markets, the nation’s oldest continuously operating public market system, which traces its history back to 1763.
The offbeat Kinetic Sculpture Race—in which human-powered craft engineered to move over water or land compete—hits the city’s streets and waterways each May. The race is sponsored by the American Visionary Arts Museum, a shining repository of outsider art that’s located at the edge of Federal Hill. Not far away is Fort McHenry, where the rockets’ red glare inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner during the War of 1812. The fort itself, located on a peninsula, is shaped like a star. Apart from the intriguing history, it’s also a great place for a waterside walk.
The Harbor East area has developed over the past decade or so, drawing high-end boutiques, restaurants and hotels. Nearby is Little Italy, with its epic restaurants, as well as Fell’s Point, a must-see neighborhood. This is the heart of the old port, where pubs, shops and history line the cobblestone streets. The fast ships called Baltimore Clippers that helped defeat the British in the War of 1812 were built here. Today, The Fell’s Point Privateer Festival in spring brings costumed seamen to town in full regalia. Adjacent is Canton, a formerly industrial area that now draws young professionals to its waterside marinas and condos. Pubs and bistros line O’Donnell Square, Canton’s old section.
Mount Vernon is the fashionable old arts neighborhood where the Walters Art Museum, Myerhoff Symphony Hall, and the Peabody Institute—the nation’s first conservatory, which holds wonderful recitals—beckon. This is also home to the FlowerMart, a staple of the May event calendar that dates back decades.
A little farther north is Johns Hopkins University’s home, the Charles Village area. The Homewood Museum, once the residence of one of Maryland’s early leading families, the Carrolls, provides a beautiful example of an early 19th century upper-class home.
Also nearby is the nation’s largest collection of Matisses, at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Along with works by such artists as Picasso, Gauguin and Cezanne, they were collected by the local Cone sisters on visits to their friend Gertrude Stein in Paris (after she left her medical studies at Johns Hopkins). A noted regional chef even named his restaurant at the museum Gertrude’s, and a better weekend brunch you cannot find.
Hampden has some of the city’s best boutique shopping, but this blue-collar neighborhood was once home to the type of waitress who called you “Hon.” Cue the “Honfest,” a unique June gathering that celebrates the beehive hairdo and cat’s-eye glasses. The neighborhood also boasts some great restaurants and bars, and isn’t far from Baltimore’s first James Beard Award-winning restaurant, Woodberry Kitchen.
January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February (third Monday): Presidents Day
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July (4th): Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day
(not the same as Native American Day, which is only celebrated officially in two states, on September 25th)
November (11th): Veterans Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December (25th): Christmas
Baltimore is located in the Eastern time zone.
Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (on the second Sunday morning of March at 2 a.m.). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (on the first Sunday morning in November at 2 a.m.), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except Hawaii and most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Open the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. You need to apply for membership and download the app in advance. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8 to10 per hour; gas and insurance are included. Foreign drivers can apply and you don’t need to pay a monthly fee if you’re an occasional driver (from $25 per year for a membership).
Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)
Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day. By the way, when renting in California, there are no additional driver fees by law.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation: About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical: Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption: For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay: Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage: Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.
Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework; check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance: If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.
Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (ten cents) and quarter (25 cents). The 50-cent and one-dollar coins are seen occasionally.
Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so have twenties or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 bills.