Tour Baltimore’s B-Side

Best time to go: 11/01 - 12/31

Baltimore is a world apart from DC. The touristy waterfront is just the beginning. Here are some of my favorite, off-the-beaten-path destinations in Charm City, USA.

American Visionary Art Museum | The Walters Art Gallery | Fort McHenry | Baltimore Museum of Art | Museum of Industry | Port Discovery Museum

American Visionary Art Museum and Federal Hill

Exhibits at the American Visionary Art Museum sometimes require you to adopt a new perspective.

Many of the world’s best artists were insane, and their madness made it hard for them to market themselves. Although Van Gogh had the physical discipline to cut off his own ear, he lacked the mental discipline to sell more than a few paintings in his lifetime [1][2]. To celebrate the breathtaking beauty that sometimes emerges from mental illness, the American Visionary Art Museum has assembled a collection of paintings and sculptures that is far more inclusive than the traditional art gallery.

Be sure to roam the outbuildings beyond the main gallery, especially the wooden kinetic models in the Barn.

AVAM sits at the foot of Federal Hill, and the sweeping vistas of Baltimore make it well-worth the short hike to the top.

The American Visionary Art Museum sits at the foot of Federal Hill, which offers the best view of the Baltimore Harbor.

The Walters Art Museum

One Mount Vernon Place, William Walter’s original gallery in Baltimore, is once again open to the public.

When America was in the depths of the Civil War, liquor baron William Walters spent his days wandering Europe collecting art. After the war, he returned to the US, investing much of his money in banking stocks and founding the Atlantic Railroad. In his spare time, he filled his house at Mount Vernon Place with his growing collection, and opened it to the public for a 50c entry fee [3].

His son Henry carried on the tradition and eventually donated the entire collection to the public, with a sizable enough endowment to ensure that entry would always be free.

This is, beyond measure, the most kid-friendly art gallery I’ve ever encountered. Children love the maze of secret staircases and hidden rooms, and One Mount Vernon Place has a lovely kids art room, with plenty of cool supplies.

The collection at the Walter’s Art Museum is surrounded by the beauty of William Walter’s Baltimore Mansion

Fort McHenry

The flag over Fort McHenry was the original ‘Star Spangled Banner’

When this old Baltimore fort came under siege in the war of 1812, it inspired a young lawyer named Frances Scott Key to pen the Star Spangled Banner. A replica of the gigantic flag flies over the fort by day, and visitors are invited to climb over the battlements.

Baltimore Museum of Art

Because it’s so far from the Harbor, most folks miss the chance to tour one of the country’s preeminent art institutions.

The Baltimore Museum of Art is one of the top art museums in the US
The Baltimore Museum of Art includes both traditional and modern works of art
A cast of Rodin’s Thinker sits in the Baltimore Museum of Art
Detail of The Thinker. Auguste Rodin originally intended the sculpture to represent Dante sitting at the gates of hell.
There is a small kids’ room at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The Baltimore Museum of Art incorporates modern art flourishes into the architecture.

The Baltimore Museum of Industry

I traded my car for this old tractor at the Baltimore Museum of Industry

Just around the bay from the historic waterfront is the weirdly popular BMI. With its gigantic equipment and industrial sculptures, it’s hard to tell sometimes which is art and which is functional.

This sculpture outside the Baltimore Museum of Industry represents the sometimes haphazard smooshmorshin of progress. (I totally made that up)

Inside, a number of exhibits celebrate the long industrial history of Baltimore, from its early days as a shipping town, to the burgeoning technology companies of today.

After a long week of managing QA at the office, you can take your kids to a fun museum where they can do pretend QA at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

The Port Discovery Museum

The Port Discovery Museum is a children’s museum in the heart of Baltimore’s harbor district. Expect to pay over $70 for a family of 4, but once inside, your children will thank you. Amy says she would happily pay $20 not to go to the Port Discovery Museum again, but you owe it to your kids to take them there once in their lives.

James X-rays a mummy at the Port Discovery Museum in Baltimore
Julia hops inside a bubble at the Port Discovery Museum in Baltimore,

Explore More

  1. The Real Story of Vincent Van Gogh’s Severed Ear, 2019.
  2. Dorsey, John, The van Gogh legend … The Baltimore Sun, 1998.
  3. William Thompson Walters, Wikipedia, 2019.

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