Despite the tasty crabs and picturesque waterfront, Baltimore often gets overlooked in favor of its larger neighbors Philadelphia and Washington, DC. But this revitalized former industrial city offers endless historic and cultural attractions that compete with the bigger cities with one major advantage – it’s easy on the wallet. 

Baltimore's two major museums, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum scrapped admission fees in 2006 while many of the historic attractions are partially free. The city is filled with stunning 18th- and 19th-century architecture and miles of waterfront walkways that visitors can leisurely explore. Here’s our guide to Baltimore’s 10 best free attractions.

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Climb up Federal Hill Park's 99 steps 

Locals know that the best view of the Inner Harbor can be found by crossing Key Highway and heading south to the expansive green hill known as Federal Hill Park.

Tourists, dog walkers and fitness fans who climb the 99 steps to get to the top are rewarded with a phenomenal view of Baltimore skyscrapers and the attractions that dot the Inner Harbor, including the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Harborplace Mall and the Maryland Science Center.

Visitors will find monuments that commemorate the War of 1812 and The Battle of Baltimore in 1814, during which the park served as a lookout point due to its strategically high elevation. 

Ancient art of sculptures at Walters Art Museum in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore.
Walters Art Museum offers everything from ancient sculptures to Islamic art © Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

Peruse Walters Art Museum's vast collection  

The Walters Art Museum’s vast art collection spans seven millennia — from ancient times to the 21st century — and five buildings. The best part is that visitors can enjoy Islamic art and manuscripts, archaeological finds from Egypt and two Fabergé eggs completely free.

Most of the museum remains open except for the Family Art Center (closed due to Covid-19) and the Hackerman House, which recently underwent a $10.4 million renovation is now getting a new exhibition. 

Baltimore's top neighborhoods 

Grab a bite to eat on The Waterfront 

While Baltimore’s waterfront has added swanky restaurants, apartments and hotels in recent years, city planners have kept the path open to the public so pedestrians can enjoy miles of uninterrupted views of the Patapsco River.

Start at the Inner Harbor and make your way to the newer neighborhoods of Harbor East and Harbor Point, where you can stop at the beachy hangout Sandlot. Or pop in one of the many excellent restaurants like Cindy Lou’s Fish House and Lebanese Taverna, before you make your way to the cobblestone-lined streets of Fells Point.

There you’ll pass by the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, where you can read the outdoor placards highlighting the story of Black Americans' role in Baltimore’s maritime trade. Indoor admission is just $5.

Visit Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Sitting on the eastern edge of the industrial Locust Point neighborhood lies one of Baltimore’s most important historic treasures. Fort McHenry defended the city in many wars and inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the USA's national anthem. While there’s a fee to enter The Star Fort, the entrance to the grounds offers one of the city’s best waterfront views and plenty of green space where you can enjoy a bench picnic or a game of your choice with friends.  

Colorful mural dedicated to Freddie Gray and others who have died in police custody.
Baltimore's murals often depict real city life © Larry French / Getty Images

Scope out the city's art scene 

Baltimore’s artsy edge is on display everywhere you turn. Local artists have painted more than 250 colorful murals scattered throughout the city depicting everything from the Chesapeake Bay watershed to impactful female leaders and John Waters’ iconic drag queen and actor Divine.

A dazzling courtyard where every inch is filled with bright scribbles from street artists, Graffiti Alley in the Station North Arts and Entertainment neighborhood attracts selfie snappers.

Best day trips from Baltimore 

Meet authors at Enoch Pratt Free Library 

Baltimore’s central library completed a $115 million renovation in 2019 that updated its structure while preserving its resplendent Neoclassical-meets-Art Deco design. Its vast collections include ancient maps, sheet music for Broadway shows and photographs, paintings and drawings. Check the library’s calendar to attend one of the free live and virtual author events.

Hike the Gwynn Falls Trail 

The 15-mile trail covers 30 Baltimore neighborhoods and passes through 10 parks, including its namesake Gwynn Falls, making it the perfect green urban escape. Start at one of the nine trailheads and make your way past the Patapsco River, streams, wooded paths or the Inner Harbor. Also known as Leakin Park, the green space offers a mix of gravel and paved trails of varying difficulty.

A visitor to the Baltimore Museum of Art stands in front of a blue, yellow, green and orange piece of vertical art hanging on a wall.
Admission is free to The Baltimore Museum© Eric Baradat /AFP via Getty Images

Tour the Baltimore Museum of Art 

Located in the Charles Village neighborhood a few miles north of the Inner Harbor, the admission-free Baltimore Museum of Art makes a great first impression with its column-lined neoclassical facade. Inside, visitors will find a staggering collection of 19th-century, contemporary and modern art, including the world’s largest public collection of works by Henri Matisse.

The ever-expanding museum also recently received 90 works of art by nearly 70 artists that encompass photography, prints, drawings and paintings. Don’t leave before experiencing the serene sculpture garden, where you’ll sometimes be entertained by jazz musicians or other events. 

Marvel at The Washington Monument

The Washington Monument towers 178ft above the mansion townhomes in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, like a beacon welcoming visitors to Baltimore’s cultural epicenter.

Not to be confused with the statue in DC, the 206-year-old monument underwent a $7 million restoration in 2015, which enhanced the indoor gallery space at the base of the monument with interactive touch screens that offer a virtual tour of the attraction.

It stands at the center of the Mount Vernon neighborhood as the crowning jewel of a neighborhood whose eclectic historic buildings give it a European feel. Entrance to the gallery is free. 

Best time to visit Baltimore 

Watch Mr. Trash Wheel work 

In a mission to clean up the Inner Harbor water of cigarette butts, plastic bottles and other debris, Baltimore officials installed the first Mr. Trash Wheel in 2014. Shaped like a face with eyes and a mouth, the contraption sucks up the litter with a conveyor belt powered by a water wheel and sunlight. 

Watching Baltimore’s trash wheels in action offers a great activity with kids who will enjoy seeing them in action while getting a lesson on the environment. You can find the current location of the whole trash wheel family on social media.

You might also like:
Spending diary: what I spent on a three-day road trip to Baltimore
The best things to do in Howard County, Maryland
48 hours in Baltimore

This article was first published July 2021 and updated September 2021

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