Downtown Baltimore is Baltimore's central business district and seat of the city government. While home to some iconic Baltimore architecture, and the city's economic heart, visitors, and even locals, tend to keep their distance from this often seedy and decidedly unloved city center, unless they are going to the Baltimore Arena, the Hippodrome Theatre, or visiting Poe's grave at Westminster Hall. Don't make the all-too-frequent mistake of skipping (or fearing) Lexington Market, though, which can be an easy highlight of a visit to the city—on a hungry stomach!
Downtown is nothing if not easy to get to, being just north of the Inner Harbor, off I-395, and on all major public transportation routes.
There are many parking garages downtown, with an especially convenient one just north of Lexington Market on N Paca St. Coming in from I-95, take exit #53 for I-395, which will dump you on northbound Howard St, straight through Downtown. The B-W Pkwy will terminate on the even more useful Paca St. If coming from the north on I-83, take the right turn for Fayette St.
By light railEdit
The light rail has two very handy stops at Lexington St (for Lexington Market), and Baltimore St (for the Baltimore Arena and Hippodrome Theatre).
Yes, even the rarely used Metro has a few good stops downtown: Lexington Market, Charles Center, and Shot Tower Station.
With the convenience of the light rail, it's unlikely that you would want to catch a slow, semi-reliable local bus, but #7 would take you down Greene St from Lexington Market through the Inner Harbor, on to Fells Point and then on to Canton. If you are going to Federal Hill, or further to Fort McHenry, Bus #1 picks up at Baltimore St and Paca St. The Circulator's Orange route will also traverse Baltimore St eastbound to Fells Point, and its Purple route runs up Charles St through Midtown to Penn Station.
Cognac, roses, and shadowy figures
For 75 years, the famous Poe Toaster, hooded and clothed in black, would slip into the Westminster graveyard on 19 January to leave Edgar Allen Poe a birthday toast of a half-bottle of cognac, three roses arranged in a still secret pattern, left at the original grave. Starting in the 1930s, the tradition continued unbroken until 2009, the bicentennial of America's most famous horror writer's birth, when the toasts ended as mysteriously and quietly as they had always been. Several impostors have attempted to revive the tradition, but their clumsy attempts at stealth and ignorance of the signature floral arrangement have given them away. The legend lives on, though, in current works of crime and occult fiction, such as crime novel In a Strange City by Laura Lippman, and the Washington Audio Theater audio play The Poe Toaster Not Cometh.
- 1 Battle Monument, 112 Calvert St (approximately). Far less known than the Monumental City's other memorials, but no lesser in size, is the Battle Monument in the median across from the Baltimore Circuit Courts. Dedicated to the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812, it stands on an Egyptian tomb-like base, with Baltimore's fallen soldiers' names engraved. Lady Baltimore stands atop the column, bearing a wreath of victory. It is the oldest structure in this part of the city.
- 2 Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, 21 S Eutaw St, ☏ . This beautiful old landmark clocktower dates to 1911. The city converted the building to artist studios in 2007, and installed a fire station at the bottom. Visitors can come in during the monthly open house, usually held on the first Saturday of March (check ahead to be sure). The Bromo Shop is closed indefinitely.
- 3 City Hall, 100 N Holliday St, ☏ . M-F 8AM-4:30PM. A beautiful, huge post-Civil War Baroque Revival building and major city landmark, the seat of the city government is partially open for visitors, who can stop by to see exhibits on Baltimore art and history (but mostly to gawk at the architecture). Free.
- 4 Enoch Pratt Central Library, 400 Cathedral St, ☏ , SLRC@prattlibrary.org. M-W 10AM-8PM, Th 10AM-5:30PM, F Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 1PM-5PM. An excellent free library with a one-of-a-kind archive of rare books and documents, including many related to Edgar Allan Poe and H.L. Mencken, and an extensive 16mm film collection including many avant garde rarities. The children's department has a goldfish pond.
- 5 Mother Seton House, 600 N Paca St, ☏ . M-F noon-3:30PM, Sa Su 1PM-3PM (calling ahead is recommended). A small house museum of America's first native-born saint, beatified by the Vatican for her relief work and founding of Catholic schools, and for three miraculous cures performed towards the end of her life.
- 6 National Museum of Dentistry, 31 S Greene St, ☏ . W-Sa 10AM-4PM, Su 1PM-4PM. Almost humorously clean, this is an unusual tourist destination, even by Baltimore standards. The collection is decidedly weird, including the first toothbrush in space, historical dental equipment and exhibits on old (and unpleasant!) procedures, and even George Washington's not-exactly-wooden dentures! Best for those who have a professional interest in dentistry, parents who want to get their kids to see (or be scared into seeing) just how good they actually have it in modern dentistry, or for grizzled veteran tourists who have lost all interest in traditional attractions. $7 adults, $5 seniors, $3 children under 13.
- 7 Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, 519 W Fayette St, ☏ . 8AM-dusk. This early 19th century church is a most atmospheric and tortuous place of famous Baltimore residents including, most famously, Edgar Allan Poe, as well as James McHenry (signer of the U.S. Constitution), Samuel Smith, former city mayors, and others. Halloween is the city's favorite time to visit, but any midnight dreary would be most appropriate (although this would involve an attempt of questionable legality to slip past the gates). It is custom to leave a penny behind his grave marker, which in turn pays for its upkeep! There are tours, but they are subect to availability April–November: F 6:30PM, Sa 10AM, minimum fifteen people, with reservations required, $5. Private tours are always an option, but must be set up at least two weeks in advance, and fees will vary. Free.
- 8 The Baltimore Basilica (Basilica of the Assumption), 409 Cathedral St, ☏ , email@example.com.
The big downtown performance venues are the Baltimore Arena and the Hippodrome, but check Current Gallery's website (see #Buy) for some more off-the-wall DIY-ish performances too.
- 1 CFG Bank Arena (Baltimore Arena or Royal Farms Arena), 201 W Baltimore St, ☏ . Baltimore city's largest indoor venue is host to frequent sporting and other major performances. It's an old clunker, and they're looking to replace it, but it's still fine to bring your family here.
- 2 Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N Eutaw St, ☏ . This is a beautiful 1914, former vaudeville and early movie theater. It is the biggest performing arts venue downtown, and hosts frequent Broadway productions.
Baltimore's Downtown business and government district is honestly kind of run down. Crime at night is higher than it should be. Accordingly, high end restaurants are completely missing, and the options are dominated by cheap, quick lunch-focused cafes—you'll need to go north to Midtown or south to the Inner Harbor for a nicer meal. Alewife would be the closest thing to a more fancy spot, and is a great choice for a night at the Hippodrome.
Lexington Market, on the other hand, is honestly a can't miss for anyone with a real interest in Baltimore, as it has several of the best places in the city for some true Baltimore cuisine, as well as history and local color. Don't let the seedy looking surroundings scare you, as you'll be perfectly safe during the day.
- 1 Lexington Market, 400 W Lexington St (entrances at intersection of Lexington and Paca or Lexington and Eutaw; within a couple blocks of Lexington Market light rail or metro stops), ☏ . M-Sa 8:30AM-6PM, Su closed. Lexington Market is the world's largest and longest running market, operating in the same spot since 1782. It has many eateries and countless stands selling produce, meat, fish, snacks and everything else imaginable. It is a popular lunchtime destination and is considered to be part of the "real" Baltimore rather than the more tourist-oriented places at Inner Harbor. There are standing tables in an open area on the ground floor, as well as a large seating area on the upper level above that
- If you are looking for a deep Baltimore culinary experience, head to standing-room-only Faidley's, where you can get your coddies, some of the world's most acclaimed jumbo lump crab cakes, and even local artifacts like terrapin, raccoon, and muskrat! (Those artifacts are available only seasonally, and only to take home to cook.)
- The best dessert in Lexington Market, if not all of Baltimore, are Bergers Cookies. These sugar cookies hidden under a ridiculous amount of chocolate fudge frosting are sold by the pound from the Berger Bakery stall.
- 2 Tabor Ethiopian Restaurant, 225 W Mullberry St, ☏ . 11AM-9PM daily. Nice atmosphere, great prices, and tasty Ethiopian food downtown. For Ethiopian in Baltimore, it's a toss up between this place and Dukem in Midtown. $7-11.
- 3 Trinacria Macaroni Works, 406 N Paca St, ☏ . Tu-Sa 8AM-4PM. An excellent and easily overlooked Italian grocer and deli, passionately beloved by locals for the high quality meats, cheeses, olive oil, pastas, and wine selection—all with very reasonable prices. While the store might not be of much interest to travelers, the sandwiches at the deli most certainly are. Try the prosciutto, mozzarella and pesto, the Italian roast beef, the muffaletta, or really anything. This easily belongs on any Best of Baltimore survey. $4-7.
- 4 Mekong Delta Cafe, 222 N Charles St., ☏ . M-F 11AM-9PM, Sa Su noon-8PM. Delicious Vietnamese food in one of Downtown's best reasons for a foodie visit. Mekong Delta is a bit more upscale than most Vietnamese restaurants in the D.C.-Baltimore metro area (but still very much casual), and the portions are a bit smaller and more thoughtful. The pho, in particular, is absolutely delicious, and an interesting change of pace from the endless sea of numbered pho places in Maryland. The small staff is exceptionally friendly and enthusiastic in answering questions, providing recommendations, and generally making sure you leave with a great impression. $10-18.
Downtown nightlife suffers from the same plight of nice restaurants—no one really likes being downtown after dark, unless for a performance or game at the Hippodrome or Baltimore Arena. Options are few, unless you are looking for the packed, neon-soaked row of strip clubs on The Block: E Baltimore St between Holliday/Commerce St and Gay St. The infamous block began as a premiere destination for burlesque shows in the early 20th century, but by the mid-century had transformed into a seedy stretch of low-rent strip clubs and sex shops. This, ah, turned on the criminal element to the locale, introducing drugs and violence. The city has never succeeded in shutting down the craziness, but instead put the new Baltimore Police Department Headquarters right next door, which has helped reduce violent crime on The Block in a big way. The strip clubs are getting a little less seedy too. If this is your thing, Norma Jean's would be the most upscale.
- 1 Select Lounge, 415 N Paca St, ☏ . Th-Sa 5PM-2AM. One of Baltimore's classier and sexier clubs (more of a lounge, really), despite the somewhat worrisome neighborhood surrounding. The dress code is fairly strict, so leave sneakers at home, and come looking nice. DJs mostly spin hip-hop. Covers up to $20.
- 1 Home2 Suites, 8 E Pleasant St, ☏ . A modern, extended stay hotel near Mercy Hospital and the Inner Harbor. $110-180.
- 2 SpringHill Suites, 120 E Redwood St, ☏ . Suites with microwave, mini-fridge, large work area, free internet, flat screen TV. Guests have access to lobby bar, self-coin-operated laundry, free hot breakfast, and fitness center. $170-230.
Short on coffeeshops, you'll want to head to Enoch Pratt Library, dodging the crowds of homeless inside, to either use the public terminals or free Wi-Fi.
Sadly, Downtown is one of those parts of Baltimore that is not safe by any standards. Sandwiched between pleasant Midtown and the tourist hub of the Inner Harbor, housing the principal businesses in the city and a major university, this should not be the case, but it's Baltimore, folks. Don't run in fear and cowardice—definitely check out Lexington Market, see Poe's Grave, attend a performance at the Hippodrome, or a game at the Baltimore Arena, and bring your family, but be safe. Minimize walking, avoid lonely streets, and park in a well lit area, with no valuables (or really anything) visible.
|Routes through Downtown|
|Owings Mills ← Midtown ←||NW SE||→ Fells Point → East Baltimore|
|Hunt Valley ← Midtown ←||N S||→ Inner Harbor → Linthicum|
|END ← Midtown ←||N S||→ Inner Harbor → South Baltimore|
|Timonium ← Midtown ←||N S||→ Inner Harbor → Glen Burnie|