Baltimore National Heritage Area

Since its founding in 1729, Baltimore has played a key role in creating the American identity. Explore its inspiring history shaped by centuries of innovation, extraordinary sights, and a truly diverse culture. Discover the people and places that make Baltimore an unforgettable American city. With outstanding architecture, scenic parks, fascinating historic sites, and world-class museums, Baltimore has everything to offer visitors. Urban heritage trails wind through historic neighborhoods and make a pleasant afternoon excursion. Museums cater to every whim, from Civil War history buffs to kids who want to explore the wonders of science. The collection of virtual itineraries provides a great way to begin your Baltimore journey. Expand your visit with a drive along one of several scenic byways and national historic trails that wind through the city, or take a break and wind down in one of the city’s great parks.  

It is without question that the City of Baltimore was built by generations of African Americans. From Baltimore’s earliest days as a small port in Colonial Maryland, black hands—free and enslaved—laid the building foundations and built the ship keels that would make the city a center of commerce and culture on the Chesapeake Bay. Subsequent generations endured the horrors of war, celebrated the establishment of churches and esteemed civic organizations, created wondrous works of art, and fought for equality and freedom for all. Today these contributions to the city and the nation are commemorated by a constellation of world-class museums, renowned institutions, and thoughtful and moving monuments, statues, and sculptures.

For a brief few days in September 1814, the fate of the young United States hung in the balance. With the U.S. capital still smoldering from attack, British forces focused on Baltimore to complete their campaign to end the War of 1812. In three weeks, Baltimore readied for the attack – building defensive lines and readying the chain of forts protecting the city.

The British launched two attacks. Ground forces landed at nearby North Point to assault the city from the east while the navy moved to engage Fort McHenry protecting the heart of the city. After two days of fighting, it was clear the defenders of Baltimore proved victorious. As the British forces retreated, the Star-Spangled Banner rose above Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key to put to words the emotions and passions of a triumphant young nation.

While much has changed in the 200 years since the perilous battle, the Baltimore region proudly boasts of a wealth of historic sites and neighborhoods that tell the story of the War of 1812 and the national icons now woven into our shared history.

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Numerous historic sites, cultural institutions, performing arts venues, parks and greenways are located within the heritage area's boundaries. Each of these attractions has its own hours of operation.

(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)


Baltimore offers a variety of attractions, some of which charge fees.


Baltimore is a big city, and chances are that each day there's a gallery opening, sports event, museum exhibition, or outdoor festival to enjoy. See the Visit Baltimore website ( for a calendar of events and information on many of the city's attractions.


Baltimore has been described as a sleepy southern town and a commercial-industrial center. Its many nicknames include “Charm City” and “Mob Town.” With cities to the south, it shares longstanding trade routes, a relaxed pace of life, and a history deeply informed by slavery, Jim Crow, and the cultural influence of a centuries-old African American population. With cities to the north, it shares a history of industrialization (and deindustrialization) along with the ethnic diversity that comes from being a major port of immigration.

In other words, Baltimore is a city of contradictions—contradictions that mirror those of the nation at large. As a border city Baltimore has reflected the dynamics of both the North and the South, while also holding fast to a special character all its own. Its waterfront, its industries, its neighborhoods, and its unique customs all evoke a strong sense of place, rooted in its history as the commercial hub of the Chesapeake Bay.

Baltimore’s prime location on the Chesapeake Bay was key to its emergence as an important American city. After a slow beginning, the city rose as a commercial center in the late 1700s, exporting grain and tobacco to the Caribbean and Europe while importing sugar and other foreign goods. At the bustling shipyards at Fell’s Point, free blacks, slaves, and white journeymen worked side by side—albeit sometimes uneasily—building the famous Baltimore clippers and other vessels that enabled trade during times of war as well as peace. During the War of 1812, the success of the clipper ships in defeating the British blockade, along with the ability of Baltimore’s diverse citizenry to mobilize against British attacks by land and sea, led the city to play a key role in winning America’s “second war of independence.”

As the nation’s farthest inland East Coast port, Baltimore was well situated to become a gateway to the west. In 1824 it became the terminus of the first transportation corridor to cross the Appalachian mountains, the National Road. Baltimore entrepreneurs chartered the nation’s first railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio. It began operations in 1830 and reached the Ohio River in 1852, proving a boon to the city’s increasingly vital harbor. The railroad linked Baltimore to the nation’s growing markets in a multitude of ways: carrying agricultural goods from the south and the west, transporting manufactured products from the north, and taking European immigrants into the American interior.

While the nation became more polarized in the years before the Civil War, the North and the South intermingled in Baltimore. The booming city’s commercial and industrial activity was carried out by a multicultural workforce of native born whites and immigrants, slaves and free blacks—in fact, the largest population of free blacks of any American city. But even as diverse Baltimoreans cooperated in building up their lively port city,  conflict sometimes flared. Anti-Catholic riots erupted in the 1830s and 1840s in response to an influx of Irish and German Catholics. As sectional tensions rose, pro-slavery mobs attacked local abolitionists. The first bloodshed of the Civil War occurred on city streets when Confederate sympathizers clashed with Union soldiers en route to Washington, D.C.

After the Civil War, Baltimore continued to be a place of convergence and occasional conflict: an ethnically diverse, industrial, East Coast seaport with a recognizably southern disposition. Newcomers from the surrounding region as well as from overseas found opportunity in the shipyards, canneries, garment factories, and steel mills. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city’s immigration terminal at Locust Point expanded and a flood of immigrants arrived from Eastern and Southern Europe. The city become an even more diverse mosaic of cultures, with the new arrivals settling in ethnic neighborhoods that reflected their old world customs, religious institutions, and foods. Yet the pace of life remained slower than other industrial cities, and the city retained a small-town feel—giving rise to a third nickname, “Smalltimore.”

Baltimore faced the challenges of the 20th century head on.  The city’s black residents fought for full equality and, with white allies, succeeded in overturning local Jim Crow laws, integrating city schools and public places, and winning other civil rights victories. Preservationists and neighborhood activists partially defeated a massive highway plan, saving Fell’s Point and other historic neighborhoods from destruction. Civic leaders fought urban decline with the ambitious Charles Center development in the 1960s and led the nation in waterfront revitalization with the development of the Inner Harbor in the 1970s and 1980s. With the decline of manufacturing in recent decades, the city built on institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and Hospital to reinvent itself as a center for healthcare, education, and the arts.

Baltimore’s heritage continues to be reflected in the built environment: in its traditional rowhouse neighborhoods, its parks and cemeteries, its museums, and historic homes. Along the waterfront, longstanding industries mix with new residential, retail, and entertainment complexes. Some are housed in repurposed industrial buildings, others—most notably Oriole Park at Camden Yards—feature a mix of old and new. Back in the 19th century, Baltimore earned yet another nickname, “The Monumental City,” for civic memorials such as the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Square. Today, its historic structures serve as monumental reminders of a rich past.


Last updated: May 31, 2015
Star Spangled Banner Trail