Learn about the history behind The Star-Spangled Banner at Fort McHenry and enjoy scenic Baltimore in this one-day tour.
As we continued the college tour road trip in the northeastern US, we spent a day in Baltimore before we headed to Washington DC. Baltimore is located on the Patapsco River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. It is the largest city in Maryland and is known for its inner harbor, seafood, and historic Fort McHenry.
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Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
Our first stop in Baltimore was Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, a US national park and one of the most popular sites in the city. We didn’t know much about the fort prior to our visit and were curious why it’s so well known. It was a pleasant surprise to learn it is the birthplace of the US national anthem and the story behind the lyrics.
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine are made up of an education center and the pentagonal bastion fort that looks like a ninja star. In the education center, there are exhibits about the history of the fort and a theater that plays a short movie (watch the movie here).
We watched the recount of the war of 1812 and at the end of the movie the screen rolled up and revealed the actual fort behind the tall window. It was incredibly surreal.
Francis Scott Key’s lyrics to the national anthem were actually from him witnessing the bombardment of Baltimore on Sept 14, 1814 by the British. After the fort defended itself through the night and raised the “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the morning, he wrote about seeing the victorious US flag in the dawn’s early light after surviving bombs and rockets all night.
After the education center, we walked to Fort McHenry where there are volunteers who perform weapons and music demonstrations. It was super cool to see the cannon being fired.
Lastly, we walked through the fort and learned about the various rooms inside the structure and how they were used until the end of its history.
After visiting Fort McHenry, we made a quick stop at the nearby Federal Hill. It’s a great location to take in panoramic views of Baltimore’s downtown and harbor. During the war of 1812, Baltimore residents watched from Federal Hill as Fort McHenry was bombarded. Throughout history, it served as a defensive stronghold during wars due to its strategic location and height.
The city of Baltimore wraps around part of the Patapsco River. This creates a large harbor area with many popular places to visit. Right across from Federal hill is the Inner Harbor. Home to the National Aquarium, USS Constellation and other historic ships, and the Maryland Science Center.
To the right of the Federal Hill along the river are the American Visionary Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Across the river to the right is Fells Point, a restored historic area with plenty of restaurants, shops, and hotels.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Grave
While researching for places to visit in Baltimore, we also discovered that Edgar Allen Poe had spent some time in the city and actually passed away there. His grave is at Westminster Hall & Burying Ground and marked with a headstone. Besides Edgar Allan Poe, other notable individuals buried there include General Sam Smith and other war heroes.
Visitors can also visit The Poe House where the poet and writer lived between 1833-1835. There are several artifacts used by Edgar in the house.
For the next stop, we head over to the Baltimore Basilica (the formal name is Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary). It is the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in the US in 1821.
The Basilica was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, America’s first architect whose iconic works include the White House and the US Capitol.
The building is beautiful and grand and the interior is stunning. The Basilica underwent a large restoration effort in 2006. During the restoration, the crypt and the undercroft were cleared and Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel was created. The chapel was part of the vision by Bishop Carroll and Latrobe. Visitors can join scheduled guided tours or self-tours.
Baltimore Mount Vernon
Not far from Baltimore Basilica is the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood. We wanted to see the splendid George Peabody library but it’s closed on Saturdays! Fortunately, we still got to see the Washington Monument but we had to skip the 227-stair climb to the top. The Washington Monument was built in 1829 by the same architect (Robert Mills) as the Washington Monument in DC.
The base of the monument holds a gallery with information on the history and its restoration.
Captain James Seafood Palace
You can’t visit Baltimore without eating the famed Maryland Blue Crab. After searching reviews online and getting recommendations from JOC readers, we decided on the ship-shaped restaurant Captain James Seafood Palace.
The crabs are ordered in packs of 6, and the price varies depending on the size of the crab. The blue crabs are steamed and flavored with Old Bay seasoning. It was messy to eat but a delicious affair. The meat was silky tender and flavorful from the seasoning. We feasted on various seafood and crabs at the restaurant and highly recommend it.
Alma Cocina Latina
For dinner in Baltimore, we had innovative Venezuelan food at Alma Cocina Latina. The dishes were all super creative and delicious. Sautéed wild mushroom with spiced coconut milk sauce, Latin gyoza, and seafood paella with squid and chorizo just to mention a few.
Our family really enjoyed the dinner as we got to try many dishes we’d never had before.
It was a short visit to Baltimore but our family had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit about its history. We stayed at the Sagamore Pendry and were able to enjoy the beautiful harbor views both at night and during the day. One last note, there are some areas of Baltimore that are not safe so be extra aware of the areas you’re heading to.