Beware getting too attached to Baltimore, as doing so may ruin your love of anyplace else. It happened famously to the late poet Ogden Nash, who, in explaining why he and his wife cut short their Manhattan residency to return to her hometown, wrote, "I could have loved New York had I not loved Baltimore." This syndrome may have hindered some promising careers, while helping others, like David Simon's and John Waters', but it makes moving to or visiting Mobtown akin to flirting with sirens—you may never want to leave. More often than not, it all starts with the tourist spots, which even locals and transplants—though often loathe to admit it—return to on occasion.
From Fort McHenry (2400 E. Fort Ave.,  962-4290, nps.gov/fomc, $7) to Canton Waterfront Park (3001 Boston St., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), Baltimore's Inner Harbor features the city's most-famous draws. The $12 all-day adult ticket ($6 for children aged 3 to 10) for the 17-stop Baltimore Water Taxi (baltimorewatertaxi.com) will get you to most of them, as will the free Charm City Circulator bus system (charmcitycirculator.com) and its free Harbor Connector water-taxi service.
Places to visit along the way include the Baltimore Museum of Industry (1415 Key Highway,  727-4808, thebmi.org, $7-$12), the American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Highway,  244-1900, avam.org), Federal Hill Park (300 Warren Ave., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), Maryland Science Center (601 Light St.,  685-2370, mdsci.org, $15.95-$22.95), Harborplace (201 E. Pratt St.,  323-1000), Baltimore's World Trade Center Observation Level (401 E. Pratt St.,  837-8439, viewbaltimore.org, $3-$5), Historic Ships in Baltimore (301 E. Pratt St.,  539-1797, historicships.org, $5-$18), National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.,  576-3800, aqua.org, $21.95-$34.95), Baltimore Public Works Museum (751 Eastern Ave.,  396-5565, reservations needed), Baltimore Civil War Museum (601 President St.,  220-0290), Harbor East (harboreast.org), Frederick Douglas-Isaac Myers Maritime Park (1417 Thames St.,  685-0295, douglassmyers.org), and Fells Point Visitor Center (1724 Thames St.,  675-6751, preservationsociety.com).
Starting from the restaurants of Little Italy (littleitalymd.com) eastward to Baltimore's boundary, Eastern Avenue takes visitors through genuine East Baltimore neighborhoods and local attractions. Among them: Douglass Place (516-524 S. Dallas St.), a group of five houses constructed by Frederick Douglass; the new National Slavic Museum (1735 Fleet St.); expansive Patterson Park (Eastern Avenue, north side, between South Patterson Park Avenue and South Ellwood Street, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), with its distinctive pagoda and history as a key War of 1812 site; Highlandtown, one of Baltimore's three arts and entertainment districts (highlandtownarts.com), home to a statue of Frank Zappa; and Greektown, famous for its restaurants and bakeries.
The Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail (pennsylvaniaavenuebaltimore.org) takes visitors on a path between two Baltimore Metro Subway (mta.maryland.gov/metro-subway) stops—State Center and Upton—through an important slice of Baltimore's African-American cultural, civil rights, religious, and entertainment history. Call (443) 984-2369 to book a tour that passes by Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland, Billie Holiday Plaza, the homes of Thurgood Marshall and Lillie Carroll Jackson, a monument to the Royal Theatre, and numerous important churches, taking a break in the middle to catch a bite at Avenue Market (1700 Pennsylvania Ave.,  225-9448, bpmarkets.com). The Edgar Allan Poe House (203 N. Amity St., poeinbaltimore.org, $4-$5) has reopened for self-guided tours on weekends.
Baltimore's north-south spine between Cross Street Market (1065 S. Charles St.,  685-6169), bpmarkets.com) and the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood Campus (3400 N. Charles St.,  516-8000, jhu.edu) is lined with attractions on or near Charles Street: St. Paul's Episcopal Church (233 N. Charles St.,  685-3404, stpaulsbaltimore.org), Baltimore Basilica (409 Cathedral St.,  727-3565, baltimorebasilica.org), Enoch Pratt Central Library (400 Cathedral St.,  396-5430, prattlibrary.org), Walters Art Museum (600 N. Charles St.,  547-9000, thewalters.org), Washington Monument (699 N. Charles St.,  396-0929), George Peabody Library (17 E. Mount Vernon Place,  234-4943), and Baltimore Museum of Art (10 Art Museum Drive,  573-1700, artbma.org).
This is the bicentennial year of War of 1812 action in these parts, including the bombardment of Fort McHenry, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem adapted for 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' and the simultaneous Battle of North Point which ended after British forces decided against taking on Baltimore militia amassed in what is now Patterson Park. Aside from Fort McHenry and Patterson Park, Baltimore is rich with of War of 1812 destinations.
The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House (844 E. Pratt St.,  837-1793, flaghouse.org, $6-$8) is where seamstress Mary Pickersgill and her family and servants worked together to make the banner that Key beheld during the Fort McHenry bombardment. The flag was so large that it had to be completed at the malt house of an adjacent brewery. Today, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum (830 E. Pratt St.,  263-1800, rflewismuseum.org, $6-$8) is next to the Flag House, and this year is featuring two flag-related exhibits, one displaying flag-inspired art and another commemorating Grace Wisher, an indentured servant who helped Pickersgill make the flag.
After the war, the flag was kept at the Mount Vernon home of Fort McHenry commander Lt. Col. George Armistead's son, Christopher Hughes Armistead, which was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Maryland Historical Society (201 W. Monument St.,  685-3750, mdhs.org, $6-$9). It houses a rich collection of War of 1812 art and memorabilia, including an early draft of Key's poem, likely written at a local tavern the day after the bombardment.
A tour of monuments to several War of 1812 figures will give visitors a selected taste of Baltimore's neighborhoods. The Francis Scott Key Monument (Eutaw Place and West Lanvale Street) in Bolton Hill depicts Key standing up in a small boat manned by an oarsman, holding up his poem as he regards Columbia, the allegorical female figure that long represented America. In Old Town is the Wells and McComas Monument (East Monument and North Asquith streets), an obelisk commemorating two young men—both buried beneath the monument—who were credited with felling British Maj. Gen. Robert Ross during a skirmish just before the battle of North Point. Monuments to Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith, who commanded the American forces in Baltimore during the war, and George Armistead are in Federal Hill Park, overlooking the Inner Harbor. The Battle Monument, which sits downtown in the middle of Calvert Street between Fayette and Lexington streets, was constructed in the years immediately after the war.
Visiting the gravesites of War of 1812 heroes takes history buffs to two key burying grounds: Westminster Hall and Burying Ground (519 W. Fayette St.,  706-2072, westminsterhall.org) and Old Saint Paul's Cemetery (Redwood Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). Westminster's graveyard is most famous as the final resting place for Edgar Allan Poe, but Major Gen. Samuel Smith also lies here. Key's body was initially buried at Old Saint Paul's, in the Howard family vault, but it was later moved to Frederick's Mount Olivet Cemetery. Still buried here are Lt. Col. George Armistead and Jacob Small Jr., a Battle of North Point veteran and Baltimore mayor who designed the monument to Aquila Randall, the third man credited with fatally injuring British Maj. Gen. Robert Ross.
To get a taste of War of 1812-era naval technology, visit Pride of Baltimore II (2700 Lighthouse Point East, Suite 330,  539-1151, pride2.org)—if it happens to be in Baltimore, since the state of Maryland's globe-trotting goodwill ambassador is often away for lengthy periods. It was commissioned in 1988, replacing the original Pride of Baltimore, which sank in 1986 off Puerto Rico. The Pride II is a modern replica of the schooners known as Baltimore Clippers, such as the Chausseur, dubbed the "Pride of Baltimore" during the War of 1812 after its remarkable streak of sinking or capturing British ships.
In the 1920s, the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects suggested linking Baltimore's three watersheds—Gwynns Falls in the west, Jones Falls running south into the harbor, and Herring Run in the east—with parks and other public spaces (olmstedmaryland.org/history), and some of their proposals—Carroll Park (1500 Washington Blvd., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov) and Clifton Park (2701 Saint Lo Drive, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov)—came to be. Their concepts have been picked up in recent times, such as trails along the Gwynns Falls, including a stretch through Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park (1920 Eagle Drive, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov) to the Carrie Murray Nature Center (1901 Ridgetop Road,  396-0808, carriemurraynaturecenter.org), and the Jones Falls, giving access to Druid Hill Park (2600 Madison Ave.,  396-6106, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), the Maryland Zoo (1876 Mansion House Drive, Druid Hill Park,  396-7102, marylandzoo.org, $12.50-$17.50), the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens (3100 Swan Drive,  396-0008, rawlingsconservatory.org), and Cylburn Arboretum (4915 Greenspring Ave.,  367-2217, cylburnassociation.org). On the east side are Herring Run Park (3900 Belair Road), adjacent to Lake Montebello (Hillen Road and 33rd Street), and Chinquapin Run Park (6000 Chinquapin Parkway, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), which together offer opportunities for recreation and exploring nature.