The nickname 'America in Miniature' perfectly captures Maryland: this small state possesses all of the best bits of the country, from the Appalachian Mountains in the west to sandy white beaches in the east. A blend of northern street smarts and Southern down-home appeal gives this border state an appealing identity crisis. Its main city, Baltimore, is a sharp, demanding port town; the Eastern Shore jumbles art-and-antique-minded city escapees and working fishermen; and the DC suburbs are packed with government and office workers seeking green space, and those seeking more affordable rents. Yet it all somehow works – scrumptious blue crabs, Natty Boh beer and lovely Chesapeake country being the glue that binds it all. This is also an extremely diverse and progressive state, and was one of the first in the USA to legalize gay marriage.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Maryland.
Standing seven stories high and capped by a glass pyramid, this is widely considered to be America's best aquarium, with almost 20,000 creatures from more than 700 species, a rooftop rainforest, a multistory shark tank and a vast re-creation of an Indo-Pacific reef that is home to blacktip reef sharks, a green sea turtle and stingrays. There's also a reconstruction of the Umbrawarra Gorge in Australia's Northern Territory, complete with 35ft waterfall, rocky cliffs and free-roaming birds and lizards. The largest exhibit does see seven bottlenose dolphins kept in captivity. However, the aquarium is planning to retire them to an oceanside sanctuary as soon as it is safe to do so (freeing them to the wild is not an option, since they lack survival skills). Pollution and climate change challenges need to be worked through before the move. You'll be glad to read that the dolphins no longer perform in shows here. Inner Harbor is where many Baltimore tourists start and, unfortunately, end their sightseeing. This waterfront-renewal project of shiny glass, air-conditioned malls and flashy bars has managed to capture the maritime heart of this city. There are also several impressive historic ships moored here. Parking There are two private parking garages near the National Aquarium, with around 2000 spots all told. You can pre-book your spot online. For more information including how to get a discount on parking at the National Aquarium go to their website. The nearest free parking is about half a mile away. Tickets As well as general admission tickets, there are add-ons tours available to learn more or get behind-the-scenes at various exhibits be that with the reptiles, sharks of dolphins. Kids will love the 4-D Immersion Theater (admission costs extra) as well as aquarium sleepovers. Go on weekdays (right at opening time) to beat the crowds. Hotels Located in downtown Baltimore there is plenty of accommodation nearby. Our top picks include Sagamore Pendry HI Baltimore Hostel Inn at Henderson’s Wharf
MuseumEvergreen Museum & Library
Well worth the 7-mile drive north from the Inner Harbor, this grand 19th-century mansion provides a fascinating glimpse into upper-class Baltimore life of the 1800s. The house is packed with fine art and masterpieces of the decorative arts – including paintings by Modigliani, glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany and exquisite Asian porcelain – not to mention the astounding rare book collection, numbering some 32,000 volumes. Johns Hopkins University caretakes this and another historic house museum, the more contemporary Homewood Museum. Both are in Baltimore’s historic Charles Street corridor. Located between the campuses of the Notre Dame of Maryland University and Loyola University Maryland and surrounded by 26 acres of gardens and woods, it is also a popular venue for private weddings. Visits here are by guided tour, offered on the hour until 3pm. Garrett family history Even more impressive than the collection is the compelling story of the Garrett family. Patriarch John W Garrett was president of the B&O Railroad and he purchased the home in 1878 for his son T Harrison. The Garretts were world travelers – T Harrison's son John W, who inherited the house in 1920, was an active diplomat for some years. They were also astute philanthropists, as well as lovers of the arts, if not always successful performers in their own right – though that didn't stop the younger John W's wife, Alice, from taking the stage (her own, which you'll see in the intimate theater below the house).
CemeteryEdgar Allan Poe's Gravesite
Horror writer and poet, Edgar Allan Poe was buried (twice) on the grounds of Westminster Hall. His body was first deposited in an unmarked grave behind the church after his unfortunate death in 1849. In 1875, his remains were moved to the northwest corner of the property, where they are now marked by a sturdy four-sided monument. The unveiling of the new site was attended by Walt Whitman and letters from Lord Alfred Tennyson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were read out. Later the remains of Poe’s wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe who died of tuberculosis two years prior to Poe, were exhumed and buried with him. Tombstone inscription The tombstone is inscribed with a quotation from “The Raven”, but as with everything about Poe, the placement and content of his tombstone has not been without controversy. Even the engraved birthday on the tombstone is incorrect. Poe was born on January 19, not January 20. But how did Edgar Allan Poe die? There are many theories on what was the cause of Edgar Allan Poe’s death at the age of 40 in October 1849: murder, flu, alcoholicism, mercury poisoning.... The official cause listed on his death certificate is phrenitis or swelling of the brain. The reason he was suffering from it, plus the delirium tremors and hallucinations in the days leading up to his passing, remain the source of continued speculation.
MuseumAmerican Visionary Art Museum
Housing a jaw-dropping collection of self-taught (or 'outsider' art), American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is a celebration of unbridled creativity utterly free of arts-scene pretension. Across two buildings and two sculpture parks, you'll find broken-mirror collages, homemade robots and flying apparatuses, elaborate sculptural works made of needlepoint, and gigantic model ships painstakingly created from matchsticks. The whimsical automatons in the Cabaret Mechanical Theater are worth a closer look. And don't miss the famous Flatulence Post and its, er, 'fart art' in the Basement Gallery. Leave time to explore the gift store (reportedly described by filmmaker John Waters as “the best museum gift shop you’ve ever been to in your life”) to pick up a souvenir. Exhibitions As well as a permanent exhibition of intuitive and self-taught art works, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions. Tickets Prebook tickets online with your timed arrival slot. Members and children 6 and under go free.
Historic SiteFort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine
On September 13 and 14, 1814, this star-shaped fort successfully repelled a British navy attack during the Battle of Baltimore. After a long night of bombs bursting in the air, shipbound prisoner Francis Scott Key saw, 'by dawn's early light,' the tattered flag still waving. Inspired, he penned 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' which was set to the tune of a popular drinking song. Now, of course, it’s the US national anthem. Plan your visit The site is open daily from 9am-5pm ($15 for over-16s, children visit free). Tickets are good for a week, and can be pre-purchased online or at the on-site gift store. There is parking (free for site visitors) and toilets available here too. Before visiting you can also download an app from the website and start learning more via a virtual tour. Recommended while the indoor visitor center area of the site is closed. Learn more about the men and women of all backgrounds: the enslaved and the free Americans who lived, worked, and fought here.
State ParkCalvert Cliffs State Park
In Southern Maryland, skinny Calvert County scratches at the Chesapeake Bay and the Patuxent River. This is a gentle landscape ('user-friendly' as a local ranger puts it) of low-lying forests, estuarine marshes and placid waters, but there is one rugged feature: the 10- to 20-million-year-old Calvert cliffs. These burnt-umber pillars stretch along the coast for some 24 miles, and form the seminal landscape feature of Calvert Cliffs State Park, where they front the water and a pebbly, honey-sand beach scattered with driftwood and drying beds of kelp.
Wildlife ReserveBlackwater National Wildlife Refuge
The Atlantic Flyway is the main route birds take between northern and southern migratory trips, and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was established to give our feathered friends a rest stop. This enormous expanse of marsh and pine forest contains a third of Maryland's wetland habitat. Thousands upon thousands of birds call the refuge home, or stop there on their migratory routes. Driving or cycling the paved 4.5-mile wildlife drive is perhaps the seminal wildlife experience on the Eastern Shore.
Historic SiteAntietam National Battlefield
The site of the bloodiest day in American history is now, ironically, supremely peaceful, quiet and haunting – and uncluttered, save for plaques and statues. On September 17, 1862, General Robert E Lee's first invasion of the north was stalled here in a tactical stalemate that left more than 23,000 dead, wounded or missing – more casualties than America had suffered in all its previous wars combined. Check out the exhibits in the visitor center then walk or drive the grounds.
MonumentHarriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park & Visitor Center
This new visitor center and historic site honors Harriet Tubman, 'the Moses of her people' who led black slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, the pipeline that sent escaped slaves north. She was born on nearby Greenbrier Rd. The visitor center is a helpful orientation point for exploring the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which stops here and at 35 other related sites on the Eastern Shore. It's co-managed by the National Park Service and Maryland state parks.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Maryland.