Maryland Holiday Planning Guide
Perhaps best known as the birthplace of religious and political freedom in the United States, Maryland retains the spirit of colonial America, with stately 18th-century villages and historical landmarks. Although it's one of the nation's smallest states, there is no shortage of things to do in Maryland and you may find your itinerary fills up quickly. Make time in your vacation to tour Maryland's diverse landscape, which includes mountain peaks, picturesque Atlantic coastline, and the bustling city of Baltimore. Military buffs will enjoy touring the state's four Civil War trails, where you can follow the footsteps of U.S. soldiers, or visiting the port city of Annapolis, home to the United States Naval Academy.
Places to Visit in MarylandBaltimore
: Birthplace of the American national anthem, this bustling port displays diverse character thanks to a history of immigration and over 300 distinct neighborhoods. The famously charming locals draw tourism to Maryland as much as the world-class museums, picturesque waterfront, and gigantic aquarium.Ocean City
: One of the most popular Maryland holiday destinations, "OC" boasts clean beaches, a 4 km (2.5 mi) boardwalk, thrilling amusement parks, and a pulsing year-round nightlife.Annapolis
: Once the temporary capital of the United States, this state capital exudes a rich and storied heritage, from the attractive colonial architecture and museums converted from red brick houses, to the white starched students of the U.S. Naval Academy.St. Michaels
: This charming little town on Chesapeake Bay features old Victorian houses, cozy bed and breakfasts, and delicious seafood restaurants, but the biggest St. Michaels' attraction is its maritime museum featuring a 19th-century lighthouse.Frederick
: Tucked between two Civil War battlefields, this mid-sized crossroads city comes steeped in heritage, including a 50-block historical district, skyline of old church spires, and National Museum of Civil War Medicine.Aberdeen
: Sightseeing in Aberdeen, home to the U.S. Army's oldest proving ground, centers on the United States Army Ordnance Museum and the Minor League stadium and museum dedicated to local baseball legends the Ripken family.
Things to Do in Maryland
Popular Maryland Tourist AttractionsNational Aquarium
: Widely considered the best aquarium in America, this seven-story aquatic wonderland ranks right at the top of things to do in Maryland.Ocean City Boardwalk
: Lined with boutiques, bars, and souvenir shops, this beachfront promenade boasts a lively atmosphere and ocean views, with an amusement arcade and Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum providing rainy day entertainment, plus plenty of freshly caught seafood.Inner Harbor
: The lively heart of sightseeing in Baltimore, this attractive waterfront holds shops, restaurants, and many famous Maryland attractions, including a 19th-century warship, the National Aquarium, and the Maryland Science Center.Ocean City Beach
: This 16 km (10 mi) stretch of clean sand and inviting water, with a lively boardwalk lined with restaurants, bars, and boutiques, makes Ocean City the ideal location for a beach holiday in Maryland.Fort McHenry National Monument
: The fortress that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner" today holds a museum with artifacts from its long history as a military stronghold, World War I army hospital, and World War II Coast Guard base.Fell's Point
: Established around 1763, this historical waterfront neighborhood contains an attractive mix of old European architectural styles, with cobblestone streets full of antique stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and over 120 pubs. US Naval Academy Foundation
: Covering an area of 137 hectares (340 acres), the scenic Naval Academy campus, known as "The Yard," includes a museum, multiple war memorials, and some striking examples of American neoclassical architecture.Encantada at The American Visionary Art Museum
: An eclectic treasure trove of pieces from the "outsider art" movement, this colorful, community-led museum displays unorthodox works by self-taught and visionary artists.Harborfront Area
: This luxury waterfront development on the Potomac River features six hotels, more than 150 shops and boutiques, over 30 eateries, a farmers market, and a raft of leisure and entertainment activities. Urban Pirates
: This unique themed cruise will take you on a swashbuckling voyage up and down the Baltimore coastline aboard "The Fearless," crewed by a gang of salty pirates, with sword fights, mermaids, and treasure hunts along the way.
Planning a Maryland Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Maryland with Kids
Often called "America in Miniature," Maryland's diverse landscape makes for a fantastic place to visit with your family, full of kid-friendly destinations. At the heart of the state lies Baltimore
, where you can visit excellent museums, a world-class aquarium, and many other attractions centered round the sleek waterfront, and then wander the cobblestoned streets of the neighboring historical quarter. At Ocean City
, experience a classic beach holiday on clean yellow sands, with many nearby amusement parks and arcades in case the water gets nippy. For a more active Maryland vacation, head north to Catoctin Mountain Park
and explore winding hiking trails in the forests of the Appalachian Mountains.
Things to Do in Maryland with Kids
Chief among children's attractions in Maryland is the world-class National Aquarium
, home to fascinating underwater creatures big and small, including the denizens of the humongous and ever-popular shark tank. In close proximity to the aquarium (along with almost every other Baltimore tourist attraction!) you will find Maryland Science Center
, where kids can interact with exhibits on dinosaurs, outer space, and other wondrous topics. For something a little different, take a trip on the pirate ship "The Fearless" with Urban Pirates
--part cruise, part live show, all adventure. The sandy beaches of Ocean City are a favorite Maryland vacation spot, thanks in no small part to the many nearby amusement parks, such as Wild West-themed Frontier Town
, where you can camp, make a splash in the water park, conquer the treetop adventure course, and explore a replica western town complete with regular shows. Thrill-seeking families with teens will enjoy white water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, and more at Adventure Sports Center International
Tips for a Family Vacation in Maryland
Maryland wears its rich heritage proudly, with interesting museums, period architecture, Civil War battlefields, and other sights of historical importance scattered throughout the state. This makes it an ideal place for your kids to learn about American history, but all that education can get wearisome. Leaven your Maryland itinerary with fun diversions, such as a trip to the beach, an amusement park, or the forested parks in the Appalachians. If you're traveling with small children, and especially if you don't have your own vehicle, Baltimore makes an excellent base for your Maryland trip. You will find the main tourist attractions cluster around one area, well serviced by restaurants, hotels, and shops, and the city's central location, good transport connections, and busy docks provide plenty of opportunities for day trips elsewhere in the state.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Maryland
Cuisine of Maryland
With Chesapeake Bay penetrating right into the heart of the state, seafood plays a major role in traditional Maryland cuisine. You will see shellfish of all kinds on your trip to Maryland--from steamed mussels to raw oysters on the half shell--but the most famous of all Maryland dishes is the blue crab, which has become a state symbol. Traditionally the crabs come served in heaping portions, steamed and liberally seasoned with Old Bay (a peppery mix of herbs and spices). It can be tricky these days finding crabs that haven't been shipped in from the Gulf of Mexico, but at the Crab Claw in St. Michaels
, you can sit and watch the fishermen deliver their haul while tucking into a pile of delicious shellfish, straight from the waters of Chesapeake Bay.
Crab cakes, also made using the state crustacean, are another Maryland staple. They can be found all over the state, but for some of the very best, add Baltimore's Lexington Market
to your Maryland itinerary, and try Faidley's notorious Jumbo Lumps. It's a short walk outside of the main tourist district and the area is a little rough around the edges, but the enormous, tasty crab cakes justify the extra effort.
One classic dish unrelated to Chesapeake's bountiful waters is Chicken Maryland. Similar to Kentucky Fried Chicken, but pan-fried rather than deep fat-fried, and served with gravy, this regional specialty pops up most commonly in eateries along the Eastern Shore. Look out for unassuming chicken diners by the highway around Ocean City
Shopping in Maryland
Shopping in Maryland is much as it is in the rest of America. As the largest population center, Baltimore boasts the widest variety of shops. Find many local specialities at Harborplace
, a mall right in the center of the main tourist area. The more adventurous may want to try Lexington Market
. Although a little off the beaten tourist track, and in a slightly rundown area, the market boasts some of the best fresh local produce and food vendors in Baltimore there. For some upmarket retail therapy while sightseeing in Maryland, try Harborfront Area
, which holds more than 150 shops and boutiques, plus a farmers' market and 30 restaurants.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Maryland
History of Maryland
Prior to the arrival of European settlers, around 8,000 Algonquian-speaking Native Americans inhabited the area now known as Maryland. Europeans first sailed along Maryland's eastern shore in 1498, but it wasn't until 1608 that Chesapeake Bay was explored and mapped in its entirety, by renowned explorer Captain John Smith.
In 1632, Charles I granted Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Lord Baltimore, a royal charter to establish what would become the Province of Maryland--named in honor of Charles' wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. A year later, Cecilius' younger brother set off with the colony's first settlers, aboard two small ships called the Ark and the Dove. On arrival, the settlers established St. Mary's City, the colony's capital until it was abandoned in favor of Annapolis in 1708. To learn more about this early colonial period on your Maryland holiday, be sure to visit Historic St. Mary's City
, a public archeological site and living museum, where you can explore reconstructed settlements, board a working replica of the Dove, and watch reenactments by members of the Piscataway Indian Nation.
Although initially reluctant to gain independence from Great Britain, Maryland played an active role in the Revolutionary War. According to some historians, the state's troops--known as the Maryland Line--so impressed George Washington that he bestowed Maryland with its nickname "The Old Line State." From 1783 to 1784, Annapolis even served as the capital of the United States. The Paris Treaty, which ended the Revolutionary War, was ratified by Congress in the old senate chamber of Maryland State House
. Include a walking tour of the historical building in your Maryland sightseeing to learn about the state's role in the events of the revolutionary period.
After the revolution, Baltimore's shipyards constructed the first official ship of the United States Navy, named the USS Constellation. Sent almost immediately to protect U.S. interests in the Caribbean, the boat's speed and power earned it the nickname "Yankee Racehorse." In 1854 it was disassembled, and a second USS Constellation was constructed using material salvaged from the first. This second ship has been preserved and restored, and now sits in Baltimore's Inner Harbor
, where you can take a tour and watch the daily cannon-firing demonstration.
During the War of 1812 the British raided cities all along Chesapeake Bay. The overrunning of Bladensburg in Maryland allowed British troops to burn and loot major public buildings of the nearby national capital, Washington, D.C. Turning next towards Baltimore, the British fleet bombarded Fort McHenry
continuously for 25 hours from outside the range of the Americans' guns. At dawn, after the bombardment ceased, the Americans raised their flag over the relatively unscathed fort, the sight of which inspired Francis Scott Key to pen "The Star-Spangled Banner," a poem that would eventually become the U.S. national anthem.
As one of the border states between North and South, Maryland was deeply divided over the Civil War. Many plantation owners had freed their slaves following the Revolution, and half the state's black population was free by 1860. Despite this, and despite the fact that Maryland remained in the Union, widespread support for the Confederacy endured in the state. Of a population of 687,000, about 60,000 men joined the Union and about 25,000 fought for the Confederacy. Thanks to President Abraham Lincoln's firm intervention, internal violence was mostly suppressed. Several battles were fought on Maryland soil, the largest of which was the Battle of Antietam at Sharpsburg, a tactical stalemate that nevertheless marked a turning point in the Union's favor. Located close to Sharpsburg and several other sites of battle, the city of Fort McHenry
makes an ideal base for a tour of Maryland's Civil War battlefields, and also includes the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
In the wake of the Civil War, Maryland experienced an immigration boom. After New York and Boston, Baltimore became the third most common point of entry for European immigrants. The multicultural legacy of this period is one of the reasons why the city today has 300 separate neighborhoods. Wandering the cobblestone streets of Fell's Point
, with its eclectic mix of old European architectural styles, you can still get a strong sense of the Baltimore of this period.
Landscape of Maryland
The ninth-smallest state, Maryland covers an area of 32,133 sq km (12,406.7 sq mi), roughly the same size as the country of Belgium. Despite its relatively diminutive size, the state contains a diverse topography, contributing to its nickname "America in Miniature."
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland's most distinctive feature, nearly cuts the state in half vertically. Many tributary rivers feed it, making it the largest estuary in the United States. Dozens of companies up and down the estuary will take you on a tour of its many jagged bays. The town of St. Michaels
offers several excellent tours and boat charters, including water connections to and from Annapolis, and its attractive Victorian houses and old lighthouse make a pretty location to enjoy the Bay scenery from dry land as well.
All the land to the east of Chesapeake Bay, occupying the central chunk of the Delmarva Peninsula, is known as the Eastern Shore. Flat and low-lying, the land gives way to marshes and wetland in the south, much of which forms Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
, one of the best places to visit in Maryland to see eagles, osprey, herons, turtles, and more. A long sand spit runs down the Atlantic coast, including the extensive golden beaches of Ocean City
In contrast to the Eastern Shore, the western half of Maryland is rocky and mountainous. Jutting westward, between the ramrod Mason-Dixon line to the north and the meandering Potomac River to the south, the state crosses over the densely forested Appalachian Mountains, home to a great many white-tailed deer, along with black bears, bobcats, foxes, coyote, raccoons, and otters. A great way to experience this part of the Maryland landscape is to travel along Western Maryland Scenic Railroad
Holidays & Festivals in Maryland
In addition to the usual U.S. public holidays, such as Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, the state also celebrates Maryland Day on March 25--the anniversary of the landing of the first European settlers in the Province of Maryland. Festivities are organized throughout the state, but some of the most elaborate happen in Historic St. Mary's City
, site of the first colonial capital of the province and home to several reconstructed provincial and colonial structures. Throughout the year, various local festivals and events can be found throughout Maryland. Every July, Baltimore
hosts Artscape, America's largest free arts festival.
Maryland Travel Tips
Climate of Maryland
Maryland has two distinct climates, divided by a geographical line that runs roughly from the northeastern corner to Washington, D.C. in the southwest, passing through Baltimore. To the east of this line, Marylanders experience hot, humid summers, and short, mild winters. Summer calms can produce high temperatures up to 42 C (107 F), with nearly 100-percent relative humidity, although the average in July is only about 24 C (75 F). North and west of the line, climbing into the highlands, the climate is much more changeable, with mild summers and often heavy snowfall in winter. The north end of Chesapeake Bay sees ice formation almost every year. In late summer, the edges of passing hurricanes often drench Maryland from the east; if your Maryland vacation falls during this season, check forecasts and stay updated about any potential inclement weather.
Transportation in Maryland
As home of the first charter railway in the U.S., and sitting in such close proximity to the national capital, Maryland has excellent rail and road connections throughout the state (Baltimore's Penn Station is one of the busiest in the country). If you're driving during your Maryland trip, keep in mind that the road network around Washington, D.C. can get very congested. Baltimore, by far the biggest population center, has a light rail network and comprehensive bus system, but the tourist attractions are so conveniently clustered you will likely not have much use for it.