Baltimore is rich in history and visiting the city’s historical sites is a pleasure not to be missed. From the homes of famous people no less influential than George Washington himself, to museums featuring working historic ships and preserved Forts that played key roles in American history, there are sites to attract visitors of every taste and interest.
Even better, most of the city’s best historic sites are easy to reach by public transportation or water taxi, making them easy to squeeze in to even the most hurried visit. Most are affordable, as well, meaning that visitors can indulge their curiosity and take in the sights without breaking the bank.
For many visitors, deciding which of the city’s appealing historical attractions to start with is the biggest challenge. Perhaps the three largest and most famous options, and therefore the best for those with limited time, are the Fort McHenry National Monument, Historic Ships of Baltimore and Mount Vernon.
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
Fort McHenry has been a centerpiece of Baltimore Harbor since 1798. While it was in constant use through World War II, it is most famous for the key role it played in the War of 1812. It is at this historic point that Francis Scott Key composed the national anthem, which he originally named “Defense of Fort McHenry.”
Today, the Fort is open every day but Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer season. While visitors should generally expect to take self-guided tours, Park Rangers host daily flag ceremonies and regular educational programs appropriate for all ages.
Visitors can reach the park by car, MTA bus, the free Charm City Circulator or via the Baltimore Water Taxi.
Historic Ships of Baltimore
Historic Ships in Baltimore is a living-history-style museum comprised of four historic military vessels and a lighthouse. Its exhibits, events and programs focus on the period between the mid-1800s and 1980, and revolve around the:
- US Sloop-of-War Constellation
- US Submarine Torsk
- US Coast Guard Cutter Taney
- Lightship Chesapeake
- Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse
Visitors can purchase passes to see all four ships or, for a slightly discounted rate, those with limited time to spare can purchase tickets that entitle them to explore any two ships of their choosing. Although the site is typically open every day, limited hours apply between January and March due to the likelihood of adverse weather conditions.
Located right at the harbor, the site is easy to reach, but visitors with mobility issues may wish to review the information on the museum’s website before going as not all ships are accessible to those with certain disabilities due to their historic nature.
Mount Vernon was the beloved home of President George Washington and his wife, Martha. The historic estate now serves as a museum and education center. Located only an hour from the Inner Harbor, the site has largely been adopted by the residents of Baltimore who regularly attend festivals and other events there.
Visitors can enjoy the:
- Historic Area.
- Pioneer Farm.
- Distillery and Gristmill.
Displays, events and interactive re-enactors bring to life not only the day-to-day aspects of President Washington and his family, but also the lives of the multitude of slaves and other persons who lived on the estate and were essential to its operations.
Frederick Douglass – Isaac Myers Maritime Park
The Frederick Douglass- Isaac Myers Maritime Park is a national heritage site that recognizes and lauds the role of African Americans in Baltimore’s maritime history. Since the city’s founding, its harbor has been central to life. For nearly all of that time, African Americans have played vital roles in the harbor’s many industries.
A Living Classroom, the Park invites visitors to explore the lives of Fredrick Douglass and Isaac Myers and, through them, the larger African American community in Baltimore throughout the city’s history. The park is open every day, and visitors can take self-guided tours or pre-arrange one to enjoy a guided tour hosted by Baltimore National Heritage Area Urban Rangers.
Edgar Allen Poe House
Technically, famous author Edgar Allen Poe was a Virginian born in Boston. Baltimore, however, was the defining city in his life and the one he claimed as his home. Today, the city proudly carries on its legacy as Poe’s chosen home with festivals, events and tributes. The focal point of all this, of course, is Poe’s home on Amity Street where the great poet once lived.
Now a museum, the home is open to the public Thursdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. All tours are self-guided, though guided tours are available by request in advance. The museum opens for additional hours during festivals and events, which are cataloged on its website.
Due to the historic nature of the home, visitors should be aware that it is not accessibility-friendly, has no restrooms on site and cannot allow service animals. Visitors with questions should contact the museum before putting it on their itineraries.
Other popular historic attractions in Baltimore include the:
- Star Spangled Banner Flag House.
- B&O Railroad Museum.
- Babe Ruth Birthplace Muse
- Mother Seton House.
- Pride of Baltimore.
One of the lesser known but uniquely wonderful spots in the city for lovers of history is The Peale Center. Located in one of the city’s oldest buildings, the Center is dedicated to collecting, preserving, sharing and facilitating Baltimore’s history and culture. Working with artists, writers, performers, historians, educators and others, the Center hosts events, workshops, exhibits and film screenings with the goal of celebrating and safeguarding the city’s culture in all its forms.
Guided tours of the historic Peale Museum building and its beautiful gardens are available, and a full listing of upcoming events is posted on the website. Admission is free, making this beautiful and central historical point a perfect place to stop during a trip to Baltimore for any lover of history.