Baltimore skyline

Baltimore: The US Harborside City Where Crab is King

Briona Lamback

Briona Lamback

October 26, 2023

7 min read

The most populous city in Maryland, Baltimore is known as Charm City—and while the initial nickname was a branding ploy, the city now more than earns the moniker. 

From artists to abolitionists, many iconic figures have called this harborside city home, and it's reflected in all the literary and art experiences worth planning a trip around. Seafood is king here, and knowing how to devour a crab is as much an art form as anything found in the city's four unique cultural arts districts. 

More than The Wire

In the years since HBO’s hit crime series, The Wire, was filmed in Baltimore, the city has become a punchline for outsiders who write it off as a dangerous place to visit based on the show and other media stereotypes. 

But Baltimore has comparable crime rates to neighboring places like Philadelphia and Richmond. And like those places, Baltimore has also been historically and systemically impacted by redlining, policing, inadequate housing, and other policies that directly influence crime and poverty.

As a tourist, it’s a relatively safe destination to visit. Just follow common sense norms like pre-planning your activities and tours and exploring areas that are well-maintained and traveler-friendly. 

With that said, Baltimore is much more than its famous Inner Harbor. There are over 250 neighborhoods in the city worth planning a trip around, like Station North, a haven for the arts, and Mount Vernon, a historically LGBTQ community. 

Locals love quirky Hampden for its coffee joints (try Good Neighbor), cocktail bars like The Bluebird, and not-so-typical antique shopping at Bazaar. Restaurant lovers should plan to visit Harbor East, a walkable enclave of great bites and shopping not too far from the Inner Harbor. In Federal Hill and Fells Point, blocks of bars, restaurants, boutique hotels, and small shops exist. 

Crab cracking 

Maryland crab

For Baltimoreans, crabs are a part of the culture. Maryland’s meat, usually caught and consumed between May through November, is known for its freshness and being unpasteurized, unlike in other regions. Locals learn how to crack, eat, and enjoy the beloved crustacean from a young age—it’s a right of passage. Eating steamed crabs is a communal, warm-weather ritual and a quintessentially Baltimore experience (try Conrad’s or Nick’s Fish House). 

Many seafood festivals and feasts happen in the summer through early fall when Maryland Blue Crabs are most abundant. Practice cracking crabs, and enjoy other Charm City favorites necessary for any crab-eating experience, like Old Bay seasoning (a mix of celery salt, red and black pepper, and paprika originally created in Baltimore), melted butter, and corn on the cob at Baltimore Magazine’s Crab Fest in July

If you’d prefer a dine-in restaurant experience, try L.P. Steamers, a locally loved spot with a rooftop patio and a full menu featuring other famous Baltimore foods like crab soup. But if picking crabs sounds like too much work, the next best thing is to try a crab cake, a fried or broiled patty made with jumbo lump crab meat. Faidley’s Seafood and Koco’s Pub both serve delicious crab cakes. 

It’s worth noting that in recent years, Chesapeake Bay experts like the Maryland Department of Natural Resources have raised concerns following a record low year in 2022 for the young crab population. A 2023 official survey shows that the number of blue crabs in the bay rose to 323 million, significantly better than the previous year’s 227 million. We should consume crabs with caution. One way to help is to eat blue catfish instead, an invasive species contributing to the depletion of baby blue crabs. 

A POEt's Paradise 

Edgar Allan Poe and Baltimore are closely associated. The famous 19th-century poet lived nearly half his life, wrote some of his best work, and died in the city, and Baltimore loves a good Poe-themed experience. 

Annabel Lee Tavern pays homage with a themed cocktail list. You can read the collection of rare books and personal letters Poe wrote at the stunning George Peabody Library. Or, spend an afternoon in The Poe Room at Enoch Pratt Free Library for another collection of books, manuscripts, and, oddly enough, a lock of Poe’s raven-colored hair. For an intimate peek into Poe’s life, plan to visit his former home turned museum

Beyond its historical legacy, Baltimore is a modern hub city of artists, writers, and poets. Some of the country’s top-rated poets, spoken word artists, and authors call the city home and regularly produce events like APoetNamedNate’s Charm City Slam. At Busboys And Poets, a restaurant and bookstore, Wednesday nights are for poetry, with weekly open mic nights hosted by some of the city's most accomplished wordsmiths. 

Charm City’s Black history and present 

To know Baltimore is to understand the century’s worth of Black history inextricably woven into the city’s fabric, which continues today. The Reginald F. Lewis Museum and Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum (LCJ) are staples for history buffs. A permanent collection featuring over four hundred years of African American history in Maryland lives at the Lewis Museum. From original documents to photographs, over ten thousand objects are on display. Experiential exhibitions and events include hip-hop writers’ workshops and Afro-Futurist art. 

Visit the LCJ museum for six permanent galleries dedicated to the city’s youth leadership history and the NAACP’s local Civil Rights heroes like Thurgood Marshall. It’s also the perfect place to learn about the museum’s namesake, Lillie Jackson, the “Mother of Freedom,” known for her Jim Crow-era work fighting against anti-Blackness. 

Listen to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper recite her poetry and a powerful speech from Baltimorean Frederick Douglass in the Early Freedom Fighters gallery. To trace the footsteps of Frederick Douglass, check out the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum

Today, the city’s population is more than 60% African American, and there are many offerings, from museums to festivals, to experience the best of Black Baltimorean culture. To support local Black-owned businesses and get in with the local community, plan to attend one of Black A** Flea Market’s many events, from block parties to an annual flea market featuring dozens of unique vendors. 

Every Juneteenth weekend, the AFRAM festival, a celebration of African-American culture and history, happens at the city’s beloved Druid Hill Park. It’s one of the largest Black cultural festivals on the East Coast and sees thousands of visitors. There are small businesses, pop-up experiences, and star-studded entertainment lineups with artists like The Isley Brothers, Ty Dolla $ign, and Ne-yo. The event also highlights local artists and the unique sound of Baltimore club music, a fusion of house, breakbeat, and hip-hop music created in the ’90s and still loved and celebrated today. 

For the love of art

Baltimore landmarks

Baltimore has not one but four distinct arts and entertainment districts and a thriving arts scene.

The Bromo Arts District near Downtown is where many visual and performing arts centers live, like the Arena Players, Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, and Current Space. The community is full of creatives and regularly hosts the Bromo Art Walk, an evening series where travelers can hop from gallery to gallery for art and live music. 

Along Pennsylvania Avenue is Baltimore’s Black Arts District, once considered home to the heart of Black culture where legendary jazz artists, including Billie Holiday and Miles Davis, performed. From artist fairs to an annual hip-hop week and networking happy hours, the Black Arts District is a must-visit. 

A multicultural, eclectic art culture lives in Highlandtown Arts District, a neighborhood first settled by European immigrants. Their Main Street is full of public art, parades, and artisans who craft furniture and jewelry. Station North is home to many artist live-work spaces, the photogenic Graffiti Alley, and several galleries. Their art walk event is a mix of exhibitions, performances, and restaurants, each offering specials throughout the night. 

This city is home to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), which always hosts events and exhibitions and is considered one of the best art colleges in the country. And, the Baltimore Museum of Art has the largest collection of Matisse works in any public institution in the world. 

Food hall haven 

Baltimore was an epicenter of food markets before food markets became a culinary trend across the country. The city has the longest continuously operating public market system in the US, and they serve some of the best eats you can find in Charm City. 

Founded in 1782, Lexington Market is a Baltimore institution. With more than three dozen vendors, from seafood purveyors to fresh produce farmers, Lexington Market has been a go-to place for locals and their taste buds for generations. The market recently underwent a renovation and now includes a second building, green space, and an entertainment area for live performances. Don’t leave without a crab cake from Faidley’s, or try chicken and waffles at Connie’s. 

Other food hall favorites across the city include Mt. Vernon Marketplace in Mt. Vernon, Remington’s R. House, Broadway Market in Fells Point, and Hollins Market, once a supply shop for soldiers during the Civil War, in the southwest part of the city. 

Water wandering 

baltimore harbor

The city is well known for its Inner Harbor, a waterside cluster of shops and restaurants in the heart of Downtown that lines the harbor of the Patapsco River. No first-time visit to the city is complete without a stop for beautiful views, waterfront dining, and perhaps a visit to the National Aquarium (one of the most-visited in the US). 

To go beyond the usual at the Inner Harbor, head up to the 10-acre Federal Hill Park for beautiful views overlooking the water, or take a 45-minute harbor cruise to see some of the city’s most famous landmarks like the Domino Sugar sign, Key Bridge, and the cobblestone-clad streets of Fell’s Point. If you want to get out on the water, join B’more SUP for a guided stand-up paddle board tour. 

Bird city 

Baltimore is a bona fide sports city. It has two major national sports teams and hosts a popular annual marathon and the famous Preakness horse race. This nearly 150-year-old tradition is held annually every third Saturday in May and includes live performances, premium lounges, and local pop-up restaurants. College basketball fans should plan to attend CIAA, a weeklong men’s and women’s basketball tournament and series of events held annually in February. 

For visits during the baseball season (typically March to October), plan to attend an Orioles game at Camden Yards. In the fall, the Baltimore Ravens football team (yes, the name was inspired by the city’s favorite hometown poet) takes over Downtown at M&T Bank Stadium. 

Sports fans who don’t attend a game can still get a feel for the city’s love of sports with experiences like boxing at Upton Boxing Center, a ropes course at Terrapin Adventures, or visiting Under Armour’s flagship Performance Center. 

To dive into history, head to the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum to learn more about the Baltimore native considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. With lacrosse being the official team sport of Maryland and the Baltimore area home to USA Lacrosse and the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum, it's the perfect place to learn more about the game.  

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Briona Lamback

Briona Lamback

Freelance Writer

Briona Lamback is an award-winning travel journalist and entrepreneur. Through her company, Buoyant, she helps Black travelers connect with cool people, places, and businesses across the African diaspora through group trips, meetups, and a members-only club. Briona has been featured in BBC Africa, Buzzfeed, and HuffPost and has written stories for Condé Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, and more.

Published October 26, 2023

Last updated December 19, 2023

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