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Beyond Baltimore's tourist heavy Inner Harbor

The USS Constellation saw service in the War of 1812.
The USS Constellation saw service in the War of 1812.
Thomas Scheidel

The Inner Harbor area of Baltimore is very nice. It has an almost Disney-like feel with the wide walkways, street performers and national chain restaurants. However, for the traveler looking to get away from the hordes of tourists, one only needs to walk a few blocks from the harbor to find a more authentic experience.

The Inner Harbor has its share of significant attractions. It is home to the National Aquarium, one of the best places to see fish in a natural looking habitat. There is the USS Constellation, a frigate from the War of 1812. There’s even a pirate ship that takes families out for excursions on the harbor.

Just a couple of blocks to the east sits Little Italy. The area is peppered with Italian restaurants and bars. Small attractions include a statue of Christopher Columbus, the house where the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner was made, and Bocce courts. Bocce is Italian lawn bowling and the two courts reside in a glorified alley lined with trees. It is a favorite local hangout. Stop by to watch the matches and take in the residents sipping their wine and eating pizzelles. Finish your evening with gelato from Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop.

On the south side of the harbor is the flat topped Federal Hill. This was used for cannon placement to protect the harbor during the Civil War. Just down the hill sits a delightful little museum, the American Visionary Art Museum. It features unusual rotating exhibits by self-taught artists, two sculpture plazas and a garden. Even the outside of the buildings are covered with art pieces.

Travel to the end of the spit of land that defines the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry. The fort was built just prior to the War of 1812. From a ship in the outer harbor Francis Scott Key watched the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, which inspired him to write the Star Spangled Banner. The actual 15 star and 15 stripe flag flown that day is now in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., but a replica flag flies over the fort daily. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the battle and the writing of the song. Special demonstrations and exhibits will be featured throughout this bicentennial year.