Fittingly described as ‘America in Miniature’, the Mid-Atlantic state of Maryland has something for everyone to enjoy. Whether it is quaint historic towns or lively seaside resorts that you are after or secluded barrier islands and soaring mountains; it definitely won’t disappoint with all that it has to offer.
Centered around the colossal Chesapeake Bay which almost divides it in half, the state’s rich history and culture have long been defined by its abundant waterways. In its largest city Baltimore, you can find a boatload of attractions around its Inner Harbor that delve more into its maritime heritage.
While most of the state’s best museums and cultural institutes can be found in B’more, cities such as Annapolis and Frederick also have delightful historical downtowns to wander around. Besides these things to do in Maryland there are also forested mountains full of waterfalls in the west and an idyllic yet isolated Eastern Shore, for visitors to explore.
27. Billy Goat Trail
A wonderful way to see more of the state’s spellbinding scenery and bask in its beautiful nature is to hike along the Billy Goat Trail. One of the most popular and picturesque in the D.C. area, it takes you through rocky terrain by the Potomac River with stunning views guaranteed all the way along.
Stretching 4.7 miles in total, it is actually made up of three separate sections A, B and C that all start and finish at the C&O Canal. While A is undoubtedly the most challenging yet rewarding due to its steep climbs and jagged rocks, C is much less strenuous though still passes some rock outcroppings and a small, sparkling waterfall. Section B is currently closed due to trail damage.
Since the 1800s, hikers have come to enjoy its meandering route which now lies entirely within the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
26. Historic St. Mary’s City
A fascinating place to explore, the Historic St. Mary’s City was remarkably the Old Line State’s first settlement and capital. Now a living history museum, it has interesting exhibits and reconstructions of old houses for you to amble around while costumed docents demonstrate traditional skills.
One of the most important and intact archaeological sites in the country, it protects the ruins of what is impressively the fourth oldest settlement in British North America. Established back in 1632, St. Mary’s is considered the birthplace of religious freedom in the US as both Catholics and Protestants could openly practice their faith.
Nowadays, you can learn all about its past by wandering about the replicas of colonial buildings and The Dove sailing ship. Exciting historical reenactments are often held with its pretty waterfront site near the mouth of the Potomac River also containing St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
25. Fort McHenry National Monument
Perched right at the tip of the Locust Point peninsula is the Fort McHenry National Monument. Also a Historic Shrine, it has a captivating past for you to uncover while its weathered ramparts offer up staggering views over the surrounding waters.
Lying at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, the pentagonal bastion fort was erected in 1798 and used up until the end of WWII as a US Coast Guard base. It is mostly known for successfully defending the city and harbour from a British navy attack during the War of 1812. It was this heroic event that later served as the inspiration for the writing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’.
Asides from strolling around the complex and taking part in its twice-daily flag-raising ceremonies, you can also see exhibits, photos and short video clips on its enthralling history.
24. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Not all too far away in the Mount Vernon Cultural District is another of B’more’s best-loved tourist attractions: the outstanding Walters Art Museum. Located just a stone’s throw from the Washington Monument, it boasts an incredible collection of unique artworks from all around the world.
Since being founded in 1934, the museum’s holdings have grown considerably with its 36,000 or so paintings, ceramics and sculptures now spanning more than seven millennia. On show across its two historic old townhouses and big Brutalist-style building is everything from ancient Ethiopian icons and Roman sarcophagi to intricately detailed Qur’ans and Renaissance bronzes. Masterpieces by El Greco, Raphael and Monet are also on display in its galleries.
This diverse array of artistic treasures makes the museum a treat to explore with talks, lectures and workshops also regularly taking place.
23. Swallow Falls State Park
If instead of art and history it is some more spectacular nature that you are after, then Swallow Falls State Park is another scenic spot to hit up. Tucked away in the very west of Maryland just outside of Oakland, its pristine woods and twinkling waterfalls make for some fantastic photos and viewing.
Home to lots of atmospheric old-growth forest, its many miles of hiking paths and mountain biking trails meander their way about the west bank of the Youghiogheny River. A playground, picnic areas and campsites are also dotted about with the Civilian Conservation Corps having constructed many of its features back in the thirties.
While its roaring river and towering hemlock trees already make for a striking sight, the undoubted highlight has to be the massive Muddy Creek Falls. The tallest waterfall in all the state, its jet-white waters tumble their way 53 feet down to the frothing pool at its foot.
22. Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt
For people interested in space exploration and the solar system, the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt is an absolute must. At its educational facility, guests can see shiny satellites, rockets and models with exhibits also highlighting the important scientific advances developed there.
The largest combined organization of scientists and engineers in the US, NASA’s first space flight center was established in 1959. Since then, they have worked on unveiling the secrets of both Earth and the universe by tracking satellites and developing and operating unmanned spacecraft.
Well-done displays and deep space images from recent missions are shown in its visitors center with other exhibits focusing on the organization’s history and achievements. Friendly staff members are also on-hand to answer questions while its little gift shop sells some cool NASA souvenirs.
21. Antietam National Battlefield
Another hugely interesting place to visit in Maryland is the Antietam National Battlefield in the northwest of the state. Nestled amongst the Appalachian foothills near the Potomac River, its cemetery, visitor center and Civil War sites commemorate what was the ‘Bloodiest Day in American History’.
On September 17, 1862, Union soldiers and Confederate forces clashed all along Antietam Creek in what ended up being an important battle in the eastern theater. At the end of the day, 23,000 soldiers were wounded, dead or missing with the rows of graves in its cemetery now making a sombre sight.
While wandering about the site’s rolling fields, you’ll see landmarks like Burnside’s Bridge and the Pry House Field Hospital with informative plaques dotted here and there. Along with the museum’s exhibits and film clips, they provide more insight into the bloody battle that marked a major turning point for the North.
20. Annapolis Historic District
The state capital since 1694, Annapolis boasts a lovely historic district full of charming old colonial buildings and scenic little streets. Lying down by the harbor, next to the US Naval Academy, it has loads of impressive landmarks and a couple of great museums for visitors to check out.
As an important port and political capital, the town grew rapidly for much of the eighteenth-century with many of the well-preserved buildings still standing today. These include the attractive St. Ann’s Church and wonderful William Paca House which was once home to the signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Possibly its most arresting sight though is the magnificent Maryland State House which has been in continuous use since 1772 and even served as the United State Capitol for a brief period. Other than delving into its rich history and heritage, you can also stop by some of the countless cute shops and restaurants that dot the district.
19. Awakening Sculpture, National Harbor
Rather an unusual art piece, The Awakening depicts a distressed giant embedded in the earth, trying to free himself. Located right by the waterfront in National Harbor, the intriguing installation makes for some fabulous photos with the river’s waters shimmering in the background.
Created back in 1980 by sculptor J. Seward Johnson, Jr., the sparkling aluminium statue consists of five separate parts buried in the ground. While the figure’s left hand and right foot barely protrude, its bent left leg and knee jut a bit higher into the air.
Its main focus, therefore, is the seventeen-foot-high right arm and hand that dramatically clutch at the sky and the giant’s bearded face depicted mid-scream. While the sculpture does look cool, it can be tough to get a good photo as kids usually use the sand around it as a play pit and clamber all over it.
18. Strathmore, North Bethesda
An amazing cultural and artistic venue, the Strathmore can be found in North Bethesda, just half an hour from the center of Washington, DC. Each year, it puts on hundreds of top-class performances presented by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and National Philharmonic among others.
Established in the early eighties, it now consists of two delightfully different venues: the historic old Mansion and ultra-modern Music Center. Both provide absolutely unforgettable listening and visual experiences with operas, plays, concerts and dance shows taking place all the time alongside classes and workshops for the community.
While the Colonial Revival mansion offers a more intimate setting in its acoustically superb Music Room and has a gorgeous sculpture garden, the Music Center is no less stunning. Built in 2005, its state-of-the-art concert hall is decked with warm wood tones and acrylic panels that can actually be adjusted for each performance.
17. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
Now protected as part of a National Historical Park, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was once key to the country’s economic growth and development. Ambling along its old towpath not only offers up a fascinating look into the past but also takes you by loads of pretty nature spots and viewpoints.
Stretching from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, the 184.5-mile-long canal runs right alongside the winding Potomac River. Nicknamed ‘The Grand Old Ditch’, it served as an important lifeline and transportation system for countless communities between its completion back in 1831 and closure due to flooding in 1924.
Nowadays, you can walk, cycle or horseback ride along the canal’s wide sandy paths while basking in its beautiful nature. As well as seeing old boats, locks and lockhouses, visitor centers cover more of its history. Quaint canal towns also border the route as does the striking seven-arched Monocacy Aqueduct which is one of its most iconic sights.
16. Historic Downtown Frederick
Another very attractive and atmospheric historic downtown for you to explore is that of Frederick in the west of Maryland. Known as ‘The City of Clustered Spires’ due to all its soaring churches, it lies not far from both the historic Harpers Ferry and part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.
As it is situated at an important crossroads, the city first flourished as a bustling market town before briefly serving as the state capital. It later saw a considerable amount of action during the Civil War with several monuments and museums now shining a light on this part of its past.
Thanks to its long-standing tradition of religious pluralism, dozens of charming colonial churches rise all around downtown. Aside from taking in all their diverse architectural styles and strolling through Carroll Creek Park, there are also over 200 local shops and restaurants for you to try out.
15. Maryland’s Covered Bridges
While they once numbered over 120 in total, nowadays only six of Maryland’s Covered Bridges still remain. Although they are scattered far and wide across the state, it is well worth driving out to see some as they usually lie in picture-perfect spots and exhibit some exquisite architecture.
Frederick County is perhaps the best place to go as three lovely old bridges from the 1830s, 40s and 50s cross its tiny creeks. The oldest of these, the 1834 Utica Covered Bridge, features some brilliant Burr Truss arches and stretches 100 feet across Fishing Creek. In contrast, Roddy Road and Loys Station are a bit shorter and instead use a kingpost design to prop them up over Owens Creek.
On the other side of the state in Cecil County are the Foxcatcher Farm and Gilpin’s Falls uncovered bridges, both of which are set in bucolic spots amidst the countryside. The 1865 Jericho Uncovered Bridge across Little Gunpowder Falls also makes for some fine photos although local legends say it is ‘haunted’ by the ghosts of Civil War soldiers.
14. Six Flags America
A firm favorite with families, Six Flags America is packed with fun rides and rollercoasters that all ages will enjoy. Lying on the eastern outskirts of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the ever-popular amusement park also has some great circus acts and magician shows for visitors to see.
Initially opened as a wildlife center in 1973, the park has undergone numerous metamorphoses with it now boasting around sixty thrilling attractions. These are divided between its six themed sections that include the frontier town of Coyote Creek and a year-round Mardi Gras celebration.
Besides shooting down the Ragin’ Cajun coaster or braving the wild and wet Shipwreck Falls water chute, there is also Looney Tunes Movie Town for younger ones to explore. With concession stands and souvenir stalls dotted about, you can easily spend all day in the expansive park.
13. Western Maryland Scenic Railroad
If you want to travel back in time and ride around the state in style, then make sure to book a trip on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. One of Cumberland’s main tourist attractions, the landmark railway has a number of unique excursions aboard its elegant old trains to choose from.
From 1852 up to 1983, it mainly transported coal and freight between the city, Frostburg and other small towns in the Maryland mountains. In the late eighties, it was opened up to excursion trains and vintage locomotives with romantic evening dining rides now on offer alongside magical Polar Express trips during the Christmas season.
The relaxing ride in its antique carriages also includes a stop in Frostburg where you see a creaking old turntable actually turn the hulking great engine around. Train aficionados can also book a ‘Hand on the Throttle Experience’ which sees you drive the world’s largest coal-fired steam locomotive.
12. American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore
An absolute must for art lovers, the American Visionary Art Museum can be found just off the Inner Harbor, right in the center of Baltimore. Dedicated to ‘outsider’ or ‘intuitive’ art, its galleries are full of colourful and creative works by self-taught artists from all around the world.
Founded in 1995, the unique museum’s collection now includes over 4,000 objects and installations; from farmers and mechanics to housewives and the homeless. Its subjects and artistic styles are just as diverse as strange sculptures and intricately embroidered rags are on display beside the 35-foot-long Tick Tock the Croc and the world’s first family of robots.
Its range of eclectic and often thought-provoking artworks makes the museum enthralling to explore with its historical buildings being just as special. Clad in swirling mosaics, the copper paint factory and whiskey warehouse lie amidst sculpture gardens and plazas by the Patapsco River.
11. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Home to lots of lovely nature, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge covers an enormous area just south of Cambridge. Established in 1933 as a waterfowl sanctuary, its endless marshes, ponds and forests offer up all kinds of awesome outdoor activities.
Inhabiting its vast wetlands are over 250 bird species with thousands upon thousands of geese and ducks migrating here during winter. As such, many avid birdwatchers come here to spot bald eagles and peregrine falcons with the formerly endangered Delmarva fox squirrel also sometimes sighted.
At its visitor centre, guests can learn about the refuge’s ecosystems and animals and pick up maps of all its meandering trails. Other than hiking and biking about its woods and wetlands, you can kayak around its snaking waterways.
10. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore
If you’re instead after a thrilling sporting spectacle, then you can’t beat watching Charm City’s MLB team the Baltimore Orioles play. Their home pitch at Camden Yards has a wonderful retro look with the birthplace of Babe Ruth – one of the league’s all-time greats – also lying just around the corner.
Thanks to all the old-school-style signs and illustrations yet state-of-the-art facilities, it is one of the most popular ballparks in Major League Baseball. Only built in 1992, its seats and suites all provide perfect views of the pitch with concession stands, a hall of fame and museum also located on-site.
Its intoxicating atmosphere and thousands of fervent fans make Oriole Park a very memorable place to catch an action-packed game.
9. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park
Also situated just south of Cambridge is the excellent Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. It shines a light on the incredible abolitionist’s inspiring life and legacy with exhibits covering her early childhood and fight for freedom and women’s suffrage.
Lying right next to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, it is here along the state’s isolated eastern shore that Harriet Tubman lived and worked as a poor enslaved child. The well-done displays in the state park’s visitor center look at these harsh early years, her strong Christian faith and how she later became a leading antislavery activist.
After walking around her former home and watching an engaging movie on her life, you can always drive along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. This links up roughly thirty historic sites related to the heroic freedom fighter.
8. Assateague State Park
Known for its sandy beaches and cute and charismatic wild ponies, Assateague State Park lies at the north end of the long, narrow barrier island of the same name. Perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in nature, it has loads of fantastic fishing, kayaking and camping for you to enjoy.
Bordered by Sinepuxent Bay on one side and the endless Atlantic Ocean to the other, Assateague Island stretches down into Virginia. Permanently uninhabited, its pristine marshes and woods are a haven for local wildlife with graceful deer and waddling waterfowl often spied near its herds of feral ponies.
Besides hiking about its untouched landscapes and birdwatching amidst the bush, you can sunbathe, swim or splash about in its shallows.
7. Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
As it is home to dozens of exhibition buildings and historic old boats, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is definitely well worth visiting if you have the chance. At its sprawling waterfront campus in St. Michael’s, you’ll learn not just about the ginormous bay’s geography and wildlife but its social history and economic importance too.
Once the site of seafood packing houses and docks, the area was turned into an interactive museum in 1965. While Waterman’s Wharf focuses on the work of oystermen and crabbers, the Small Boat Shed looks at all the kinds of watercraft used in the bay over its history. A particular highlight is the Hooper Strait Lighthouse which was built in 1879 and exhibits some exquisite architecture.
Its floating fleet also attracts a lot of attention as the sparkling collection of canoes, ships and yachts make for some brilliant photos as they bob about the bay. You can even take a scenic trip around the surrounding waters on some of them.
6. Catoctin Mountain Park
A very popular weekend destination, Catoctin Mountain Park has more than 25 miles of picturesque hiking trails for you to explore. Part of the rugged ridge range of the same name, its forested slopes also contain numerous campsites and the exclusive, off-limits Presidential retreat of Camp David.
Centered around the massive mountain of the same name, its endless woods lie in the north-center of Maryland, not far from the border with Pennsylvania. Crisscrossing its steep slopes are twinkling streams and merry waterfalls with phenomenal viewpoints to be found here and there.
As the park is located just over an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C., plenty of people head out to its wild reaches to hike, fly-fish and cross-country ski in winter.
5. Brookside Gardens, Wheaton
Another very pretty and peaceful place to hit up are the beautiful Brookside Gardens in Wheaton on the northern outskirts of Washington, DC. Full of colourful, plants, flowers, trees and shrubs, all its lovingly landscaped grounds really are a treat to amble around.
Tucked away within Wheaton Regional Park, its conservatory and gardens were first opened to the public in 1969. Since then, they have grown considerably with distinct areas like its Japanese-style Gude garden and Reflection Terrace lying next to blooming flowerbeds full of roses, rhododendrons and perennials.
At any time of year, something is in season with its butterfly pavilion brimming with life in summer and the grounds lit up magically around Christmas thanks to its ‘Garden of Lights’ exhibit.
4. Fell’s Point, Baltimore
One of the best areas to shop, dine and go out in Baltimore, the historic Fell’s Point is set right down by the waterfront alongside the Inner Harbor area. As well as being home to hundreds of trendy bars and top-class restaurants, its atmospheric cobbled streets have countless cool shops to check out.
Established around 1763, it initially served as a center of shipbuilding up until the Civil War before moving into manufacturing instead. After suffering decades of decay, its industrial-era buildings and quaint ship captains’ cottages were thankfully restored in the seventies.
Nowadays, the whole waterfront area is dotted with cozy cafes and seafood restaurants with several historic sites and museums also featuring. It is mostly known however for its bustling pubs and bars which lend the small neighborhood its vibrant feel.
3. Deep Creek Lake
In contrast to the lively nightlife scene in Fell’s Point, Deep Creek Lake is the perfect place to relax, unwind or enjoy some outdoor activities amidst its spellbinding nature. Nestled in Maryland’s mountain region in the far west of the state, its tranquil waters and shores make it a popular holiday destination.
Formed in 1925 following the damming of Deep Creek, the large freshwater lake’s shores stretch 65 miles in total with verdant forests surrounding much of it. Studding its shoreline are resorts, marinas and even spas with some great waterside restaurants also being on offer.
Thanks to its wealth of pristine nature spots, many people come to hike and bike alongside the lake or swim, sail and kayak about its surface. Fun water parks and a ski resort can also be found nearby.
2. Ocean City Boardwalk
The main hub of activity in Ocean City has to be its brilliant boardwalk which hums with life at any time of day. All along the hallowed wooden walkway, you can find bars and boutiques with exciting attractions like Ripley’s odditorium and the Jolly Roger Amusement Park also lining it.
For well over a century now, tourists have flocked to the oceanfront resort city to either relax on the beach or experience the entertainment along its boardwalk. Pulsating with energy, the two-mile-long landmark has everything from arcades and ice cream stalls to seafood restaurants and rollercoasters to try out.
Although it is definitely a bit kitschy and touristy, no trip to the city can be complete without hitting up what has long been one of the state’s most famous attractions.
1. Baltimore Inner Harbor
Home to many of Baltimore’s main tourist attractions and museums, the lovely Inner Harbor lies right in the heart of the city. Besides interesting historic sites and sleek ships, it has lots of chic shops, seafood restaurants and happening nightlife spots to hit up.
Long one of the country’s most important seaports, it is set in a secluded spot, just inland from the huge Chesapeake Bay. For centuries now, the harbor has welcomed sailors to town with some of the historic vessels now being open to the public. These include not just a coast guard cutter and WWII submarine but the USS Constellation too; the only ship from the Civil War-era still afloat.
Aside from boarding the boats and taking pictures of them bobbing in the bay, you can also visit the Maryland Science Center’s planetarium or see dolphins and turtles in the National Aquarium. All its splendid street performers and views over the harbor’s sparkling waters and skyline only add to the area’s undoubted appeal.