ABC Travel Guides for kids

Harboring Thoughts About a Great Overnight Trip? THINK BALTIMORE

Charm City, Monumental City, the City of Firsts, Crabtown, Tiny Town: Baltimore has so many nicknames it's hard to keep track. Baltimore's bustling Inner Harbor keeps the youngsters entertained for hours, and water taxis run virtually around the clock to Fells Point and Fort McHenry where the family can learn first hand about the historical relevance of this great city.

Start your trip at the The Baltimore Visitor Center, located on the west shore of the Inner Harbor. This 8,000-square foot, state-of-the art facility offers an array of maps, brochures, resources and services. Get instant info about special events at the touch-screen kiosks, purchase tickets for events and attractions or make reservations for dining and lodging.

Inner Harbor

Besides the ever-present Domino Sugars sign (which is best viewed in neon red at night) there are several other iconic symbols of the Inner Harbor. The Top of the World Observation Level is located on the 27th floor in the Baltimore World Trade Center, which is the world's tallest pentagonal building. The views are the best in Baltimore. The glass pyramid-topped National Aquarium in Baltimore features child-level windows so your kids can go head-to-head with an awesome assortment of underwater creatures. At the Baltimore Maritime Museum the kids can board the World War II submarine Torsk and the bright red lightship Chesapeake. For a trip further back in time, board the Civil War era 19th-century warship Constellation at Pier 1.

The Inner Harbor also has dragon-shaped pedal boats and two-seater electric boats. Your family could even take a harbor sail on one of Ed Kane's Water Taxis, that provide all the transportation necessary to 12 adjoining points of interest. The blue-and-white-boats stop at two of our favorite spots, historic Fells Point, Baltimore's first seaport, and the Fort McHenry National Monument, where in 1814 during the Battle of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key composed the "Star-Spangled Banner" while observing the Fort's defenders stop the British advance on Baltimore. The whole family will enjoy 17,000 square feet of exhibits at the Maryland Science Center; my kids love Newton's Alley, a permanent exhibit filled with highly interactive discovery areas that reveal the marvelous phenomena of matter, energy, force and motion.

Must See Museums

Consistently one of the top rated children's museums in the country, the Port Discovery Children's Museum offers three floors of interactive, educational exhibits and programs for children ages 2-to 10-years-old.

At the Baltimore Museum of Industry the kids relive the Industrial Revolution and step back in time to the early days of a Port City. It should be your first stop if the kids (or you) are train enthusiasts. The museum possesses the oldest, most historic and comprehensive American railroad collection in the world.

For black history, visit The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. The museum is dedicated to sharing the courageous journeys toward freedom and self-determination made by African American Marylanders.

Let's Play Ball

If the Orioles are in town, tickets are tough to come by on game day so advanced purchase is strongly recommended. If the Orioles are not in town the park offers a daily tour of Camden Yards, including the Orioles dugout.

Baltimore is also the birthplace of the Babe, and, of course, there's a Babe Ruth Museum. The city's other sports greats and their accomplishments are celebrated at Sports Legends Museum at Camden Station.

Where to Eat

Lexington Market, full of food stands and restaurants, is world famous and great for kids. Lots of other options are available in Harborplace and the Inner Harbor area, including a Hard Rock Cafe and ESPN Zone with an entire floor of interactive sports games. Phillips in Harborplace offers an excellent seafood buffet, popular among both visitors and locals. For breakfast, my family's favorite spot is Spoons Coffee House and Roastery in the Federal Hill neighborhood. After breakfast head up to Federal Hill for a little playtime where there is a playground and sandbox-not to mention a great view of the harbor. Our favorite dinner spot is the Spanish restaurant Tio Pepe. The kids love the cave like atmosphere; but, the place is very popular and not really a kid friendly spot, so head there for an early dinner before the crowds come.

Where to Stay

The Inner Harbor is the prime launching pad for any family visit to Baltimore. The Renaissance Harborplace Hotel is connected to the Harborplace mall. The Hyatt Regency has an outdoor pool deck and a great location as well. The Marriot Inner Harbor at Camden Yards and the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel. 300 South Charles Street are other reliable family-oriented hotels just a short walk to the Harbor.

Benches throughout Baltimore proclaim that Baltimore is "The Greatest City in America" and if you ask my kids, they couldn't agree more.

Matthew G. Rosenberger is publisher of ABC Travel Guides for Kids.

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