The civic revitalization movement started in 1980 with Harborplace, the lively downtown marketplace jammed with foods to eat and souvenirs to snap up. Eventually, other developments began to crop up along the Inner Harbor's waterfront, from the National Aquarium and the American Visionary Art Museum to the Power Plant (a dining and entertainment complex anchored by the Hard Rock Cafe) and Port Discovery Children's Museum.
The adventures, of course, don't dead-end at the Inner Harbor. The city is a mecca for baseball aficionados. Any stroll through America's favorite pastime should include Oriole Park at Camden Yards, one of the most fabled ballparks in the country, as well as the adjacent Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards and the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, which pays homage to the Sultan of Swat.
To really understand Charm City, you need to wander its many distinctive neighborhoods, which resemble a collection of quaint villages within the larger borders of the metropolis. Such areas as Fell's Point, Canton, Federal Hill, Little Italy, Harbor East and Mount Vernon contain treasures -- historic, culinary and otherwise -- that are ripe for discovery. Most of the neighborhoods are within walking distance of the Inner Harbor. However, if your feet are complaining, take a 90-minute spin through the 'hoods aboard the new purple Trolley Tours, the only tourmobiles to depart from the Baltimore Visitor Center. The city also provides free transportation on the Charm City Circulator (three routes) and the Water Taxi Harbor Connector (two), both apropos forms of travel in this major seaport town with landlubber appeal.
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You can spend an entire day and then some around the Inner Harbor. Start with Harborplace & the Gallery, a waterfront complex connected by a public plaza that hosts street performers and concerts on weekends. In addition to shopping (more than 100 stores) and eating (dozens of restaurants and food stands), visitors can test their sea legs, and maritime knowledge, aboard a trio of warships now at peace.
Alongside Harborplace, the National Aquarium is a splashy institute with dolphin shows, a large ray exhibit, a multi-story shark tank and a spooky jellyfish exhibit. Also nearby: Port Discovery, a hands-on children's museum for ages 2 to 10 that was designed in part by Walt Disney Imagineering, and Power Plant Live!, a vibrant entertainment and dining compound that recently received an $11 million facelift. The renovation amped up the good times, adding to the already packed roster the Baltimore Comedy Factory; PBR Baltimore, a country-western bar; and Luckie's Liquors, a club with live music and the city's largest canned beer selection.
Flanking Harborplace's other side is the Maryland Science Center, which causes mouths to drop with full-size dinos, an IMAX theater and a planetarium. Farther along the harbor, the American Visionary Art Museum celebrates the extraordinary creations of self-trained artists who follow their own wacky muses. Innovation also seeps into the museum's restaurant, Mr. Rain's Fun House, which serves artful cocktails and modern American cuisine.
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When it's time to play ball, take in a game at the new-but-looks-old Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which recently replaced the old seats, installed viewing platforms on the club level and improved sightlines. Between innings, swing by the new concessions to sample such home-town treats as Berger cookies (vanilla wafers coated in chocolate ganache) and bratwurst cooked in Natty Boh, the local brew. For a triple play of sports attractions, stop by the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum and the Sports Legend Museum, whose equal opportunity exhibits cover baseball, football, college teams and soccer. While you're in the neighborhood, hop on pop culture at Geppi's Entertainment Museum, where toys and comic book characters, such as Batman and Spiderman, illustrate the history.
The waterfront neighborhood of Fell's Point, Baltimore's original downtown, oozes ambience with streets paved in Belgian blocks, colorfully named pubs (i.e., One-Eyed Mike's, Ale Mary's), indie boutiques, and restored 18th- and 19th-century rowhouses.
The once-blue-collar neighborhood of Canton, which abuts Fell's Point, showcases rowhouses, marble stoops and a waterfront park with a Korean War memorial. Much of the action centers on O'Donnell Square and the repurposed Can Company, a repository of restaurants and shops.
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Wedged between Fell's Point and the Inner Harbor, the neighborhood of Harbor East is in the midst of a renaissance. Dilapidated warehouses from the early 1900's have been spruced up and are attracting swanky shops and restaurants to roost inside. Leisure takes all forms here, from jogging on wide sidewalks to window shopping at upscale boutiques and eating up the burgeoning foodie scene.
Baltimore's cultural heart beats in Mount Vernon. Less than a mile north of the Inner Harbor, the neighborhood is home to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University (a music conservatory) and the Walters Art Museum, whose diverse holdings span 55 centuries. Museum highlights include Egyptian sarcophagi, Faberge eggs, Monet paintings and an impressive body of works from the European Old Masters, including Raphael and El Greco. If you are inspired to build your own museum-quality collection, stroll Antique Row on North Howard Street (see Where to Shop, below).
The War of 1812's Battle of Baltimore -- fought September 13 and 14, 1814, at Fort McHenry -- inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poetic words that now stand as America's national anthem. Detained aboard a British troopship, the attorney witnessed the foreign power's fierce 25-hour bombardment of McHenry. In the morning's pale light, he was relieved to find "that our flag was still there." (The "there" refers to the battered fort.) In March 2011, the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine unveiled its new Visitor and Education Center, an $11 million facility timed for the bicentennial of the War of 1812. At select times in the summer, the park organizes living history programs.
Tucked behind the Maryland Science Center, Federal Hill is another delightful historic neighborhood of refurbished rowhouses, some adorned with unique marble steps. It's a great destination for dining and bar hopping; don't miss the charming Cross Street Market, a more modest and less frenzied version of Lexington Market (see Where to Eat, below).
Just 45 minutes from Baltimore, the enchanting city of Annapolis once served as America's capital and still hangs onto its glory as the state's -- and sailing world's -- capital. The Chesapeake Bay destination is steeped in colonial history and maritime attractions. The Maryland State House, whose construction began in 1772 and spanned 25 years, is the oldest state capitol in continuous operation in the country. The U.S. Naval Academy, established in 1845, offers public walking tours (ID required). One stop, when open: the fetching chapel, which features elaborate stained-glass windows, including one designed by Tiffany, and the Beaux Arts crypt of naval hero John Paul Jones. When your head is overstuffed with history, start working on your appetite. Noshing is encouraged at a wide array of establishments, including seedy taverns, waterfront restaurants and chic cafes. Note: You'll need a car to make this trip.
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The nation's capital, Washington D.C., is about an hour away from Baltimore by car or train. Amtrak and MARC, Maryland's weekday commuter rail, offer service between the cities.