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As Maryland's biggest city and one of the USA's busiest ports, Baltimore's position at the end of the Patapsco River that feeds into Chesapeake Bay gives the city easy access to the Atlantic Ocean and it became an important port and shipbuilding centre.
It was home to a large number of US Navy vessels as well as the famously swift Baltimore clipper ships that destroyed or captured many of the British merchant ships during the war of 1812. Unlike Washington, D.C., Baltimore survived the vengeful attack by Britain, and with the triumphant flying of the American flag over Fort McHenry the country's national anthem was born.
Since its important role in the Revolution, Baltimore has experienced a turbulent history. Its fortunes have seesawed from post-Revolution prosperity to a city crippled by the violence of divided loyalties during the Civil War; from a railroad-rich 19th century to the devastation caused by the fire of 1904.
Nicknamed 'Charm City' for its fusion of small-town hospitality and city finesse, Baltimore combines an interesting mix of neighbourhoods, a diverse range of attractions, and delicious seafood specialities of the Inner Harbor that includes the abundant Maryland steamed blue crabs.
The distinct neighbourhoods are an attractive feature of Baltimore, among them the historic maritime district of Fells Point, the broad avenues of wealthy Mount Vernon, the village ambiance of Little Italy, and the Bohemian area of SoWeBo, or Southwest Baltimore.
Fells Point is the most popular district for entertainment, with a large selection of restaurants, cafes, bars, and nightclubs. The Power Plant Live! area near the Inner Harbor has several restaurants, bars, and clubs. Other neighbourhoods in Baltimore with good nightlife include Canton Square, Mount Vernon, Hampden, Federal Hill, and the Station North Arts and Entertainment District.
The waterfront and Inner Harbor are the hearts of this vibrant and growing city, making it a major tourist destination. It features the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, the Port Discovery Children's Museum, and the World Trade Center with its 27-storey high Top of the World Observation Level.
Offerings cover everything from art to archaeology to black history. The water taxi service, besides providing an efficient means of harbour transport, is an excellent way to experience the waterfront and affords fantastic views of the city's skylines.
Housed within the striking glass, steel, and concrete structure on Inner Harbor, the Maryland Science Center contains five storeys of interactive exhibits, an IMAX, the world-famous Davis Planetarium, and an observatory. Dating back to 1797, the Maryland Academy of Sciences is one of the USA's oldest scientific institutions and remains focused on education. There are imaginative and hands-on displays ranging from astronomy and space travel, to dinosaurs and general science experiments. The planetarium runs programs with stargazing at night and studying the sun during the day through the observatory telescope. Other popular attractions include The Kids Room and the National Touring Exhibit.
The National Aquarium is Maryland's leading tourist attraction and one of the best aquariums in the world. Recently voted as one of the top ten family destinations in the USA, visitors can tour the tidewaters of Maryland, the Pacific coastland, or a tropical rainforest without leaving Baltimore. The aquarium offers more than just marine life. There are several special exhibits like the Amazon Rainforest display with poison dart frogs, dwarf caiman, anacondas, sloths, colourful birds, and conehead lizards, as well as plants and fish. A sea cliffs habitat features puffins and other sea birds, while the Coral Reefs and Open Ocean tanks are walkthrough displays bringing visitors face to face with sharks and exotic fish. Permanent residents include seahorses, turtles, stingrays, and octopuses. In addition to the permanent exhibits, dolphins jump, wave, and flip in regularly scheduled shows at Dolphin Discovery. People can catch an underwater view from an atrium below the pool or watch the tricks from the stands. The aquarium also offers 4D films to immerse viewers in fascinating marine worlds. These shows have additional in-theatre sensory effects, such as smell, water spray, and moving seats. Films shown range from popular cartoons to documentaries, usually lasting for 15 minutes.
The B&O Railroad Museum's roster of rolling stock, historic railway buildings, and assortment of memorabilia from stations and trains makes it a must-visit for train enthusiasts. But even for those who are not railroad fanatics, this is one of the best sights in Baltimore and a fascinating place for the whole family. Housed in the huge Roundhouse is an enormous collection of locomotives, passenger cars, classic heritage trains, mail cars, and Pullman sleepers. A full-scale model of the first locomotive, Tom Thumb, is on display along with a red caboose from 1907. Other exhibits include posters, historic photographs, and newspaper cuttings, as well as a superb model railway and numerous interactive and entertaining exhibits. Some recreate experiments from the 1830s such as sail-powered carriages, hand cranks, and propulsion using dogs or horses. The B&O was the first railroad in the US, dating from 1827, and the museum is located on the site of the first station in America.
The Fort McHenry National Monument is forever associated with the US national anthem, written by poet Francis Scott Key while watching the British attack Baltimore during the War of 1812. After more than 25 hours of constant bombing by British naval forces, the fort stood with the flag flying high. Interestingly, it was the only action the brick fort had seen in more than 100 years of guarding the waters approach to Baltimore. A visit includes a short historical film and a guided tour, with exhibits recalling the siege as well as the fort's Civil War service. On summer weekends there are military ceremonies and drills, as well as a living history program simulating the daily activities during the battle. There is also a daily changing of the flag ceremony, with about 20 people required to fold the enormous Star-Spangled Banner. A short talk about the fort, flag, and anthem concludes the ceremony. The monument and its grounds are a national park and visits to the parklands are free. From the fort, there are fine views down the Patapsco River to Inner Harbor and towards Chesapeake Bay.
The origins of lacrosse lie within multiple Native American tribes, for whom the game had great significance in both religious observance and preparing men for war. The Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame showcases the history of this, America's oldest sport. It also displays the top male and female players of today's game, alongside coaches and contributors. More than 400,000 people in the eastern United States and Canada play the unique sport of lacrosse. Nowhere is it more popular than in Maryland, where 'LAX' stickers sit beside decals for posh private schools on fancy cars, furthering the sport's elite reputation. Since September 2016, the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame relocated to a new location in Sparks, Maryland.
Founded in 1914 with a single painting, the Baltimore Museum of Art sits in the leafy neighbourhood of Charles Village. Today, the BMA is home to an internationally renowned collection of European and American fine and decorative art pieces. These range from 15th through to 19th-century prints and drawings, works by established and emerging contemporary artists as well as objects from Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. Its 90,000 works include the world's largest holding of pieces by Henri Matisse. Two beautifully landscaped gardens surround a grand museum building, designed by famous American architect John Russell Pope. Yoga classes and jazz concerts often take place upon the lawns in the early evening. Visitors can sample signature Chesapeake Bay cuisine on the lovely outdoor terrace of Gertrude's, the BMA's restaurant.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, two Baltimore men, William Walters and his son, Henry, amassed a diverse range of artwork. Drawn from all around the world, they then bequeathed it to their hometown. The 22,000 pieces they collected span 55 centuries, including ancient Egyptian art as well as late 19th-century European pieces and decorative objects. Some favourite works on display at the Walters include seven ancient Roman sarcophagi, judged to be among the finest in the world; a collection of Japanese arms and armour; a medieval ivory casket covered with scenes of jousting knights, one of only a dozen such items remaining; and 900 illuminated manuscripts as well as the letters of Catherine the Great and the diary of Napoleon.
Baltimore's climate is classified as humid subtropical, with high annual rainfall spread throughout the year. The city experiences hot, humid summers and cold, damp winters. In the height of summer, temperatures in downtown Baltimore can rise to 91°F (33°C) and fall to 60°F (15°C), while during January, the coldest month, temperatures range between 23°F (-5°C) and 41°F (5°C).
The ocean moderates the weather, so it is not as cold in winter or as hot in summer in Baltimore as it is in eastern cities that are further inland. Snow does fall in winter, though, usually in the form of snowstorms that deposit a few inches on the city streets. The best time to visit Baltimore is in the summer (June to August), when the weather is sunny and warm, and the city hosts a number of events and festivals.
Maryland's major celebration of the visual, literary, and performing arts has been making headlines for nearly a quarter of a century. Artscape in Baltimore involves local, regional, and national acts in a first-class schedule of dance, theatre, opera, street performers, and family fun, most of which is free of charge. In addition a huge array of visual arts is on offer from more than 200 artisans, craftspeople, and cultural exhibitors. The range covers everything from sculpture to 'art cars' and books to ballet.
The United States horseracing circuit features three main events, known collectively as the Triple Crown. Baltimore's Preakness Stakes is one of these, and the others are the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. So important is this race on the city's annual calendar that the event has now become the culmination of a week or more of festivities which make up Preakness Celebration in May each year. Events include hot air ascensions, block parties, parades, fun runs, and a sailpast of tall ships. The actual race is the grand finale, when top three-year-old thoroughbreds compete for a million-dollar prize.
Cultural Mount Vernon Place, the heart of Baltimore, becomes a bibliophile's paradise each September with the staging of the Baltimore Book Festival, a celebration of the literary arts. Famous authors are on hand for book signings and there are poetry readings, cookbook and home and garden demonstrations, live music, and bookstalls of more than 125 exhibitors. Other fun family attractions include storytellers, street theatre, live music, and hands-on projects for children.
Baltimore's renowned Marathon is a qualifying race for the famous Boston Marathon, but the field is limited to 4,000 strongly competitive runners. The marathon is run each year as part of a one-day running festival, including the marathon itself, a half-marathon, relay race, and kid's fun run. Part of the reason for the Baltimore marathon's popularity is probably the fact that the contestants run through the scenic part of this pretty city, along the inner harbour waterfront area, through charming Fells Point and historic Federal Hill.
For more than 20 years, the Sowebo Arts and Music Festival has been held every Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend. Coined a 'topsy turvy excursion into art and music', the festival presents Baltimore's largest music venue (over 40 bands), a sizeable non-juried art exhibit, puppet shows, glass blowing demos, outdoor sculpture, kid's art, and fun. The aim is to 'foster community development through the promotion of art and music' by showcasing the talents of neighborhood artists, musicians, and working professionals. The festival has grown to incorporate various arts events throughout the year, with concerts and exhibitions held at galleries and other venues around Baltimore. But the flagship Sowebo Arts and Music Festival is still held in May.
Most visitors to Baltimore will head for the compact Inner Harbour and downtown areas, which are easy to navigate on foot or by public transport. Water taxis act like a bus service and are a cheap and convenient way to get around the Inner Harbour, connecting many attractions as well as other districts.
The inexpensive bus network connects all parts of the city and provides an easy way of getting around, although transfers are often necessary. The metro and light rail systems provide limited coverage, mainly aimed at commuters. Taxis are usually ordered by phone, but they can be found at taxi ranks or hailed on the street.
Driving in central Baltimore is unnecessary and not recommended due to difficult and expensive parking, but the layout is fairly easy and congestion limited to rush hour. The recommended option for visitors is the Charm City Circulator, which provides a free daily bus service to Baltimore's most popular areas.
Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland, with a vast and important seaport history. It draws in visitors with a range of attractions and is home to many famed places of learning, most notably the Johns Hopkins University.
There are many museums and some wonderful cultural institutions such as an eminent symphony orchestra. The Baltimore Inner Harbour is a superb place to visit, where tourists find themselves enjoying the newly renovated area and old town centre.
Surrounding the popular waterfront are several entertainment hubs suitable for the whole family. Home to more than 16,000 marine animals, the National Aquarium is a sought-after attraction, and the Maryland Science Center makes for a one of a kind educational experience for both young and old.
Great family activities include the Maryland Zoo and the Port Discovery Children's Museum. For those interested a little less in the past and culture, a potential temptation may be the outlandish exhibitions found at Ripley's Believe It or Not!
There are also a lot of vibrant restaurants and lively nightlife spots from which to choose when the children are in bed. Fells Point is the most popular district for entertainment, offering lots of nice restaurants as well as cafes, bars, and nightclubs.
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