A Maritime Hat Trick: Inner Harbor, Fells Point, and Canton
Are you in love with history? Do you crave big-city nightlife? Is good food your go-to activity? Looking for activities that the kids will love? Well, then, of course Baltimore is the place for you. You will find all of these in any one of the Baltimore waterfront neighborhoods we’re focusing on here, but you’ll also find that each has its own special personality.
At the Inner Harbor, for example, you’ll find yourself in the very center of things, with a battery of historic ships to tour, the National Aquarium to visit, and restaurants and shops galore. Shoot, you can even walk over to an Orioles game at Camden Yards. Who wouldn’t want to go there? And if you come by boat, you can stay in any of several very nice marinas and not even have to worry about finding a place to park.
On the other hand, a visit to Fells Point will introduce you to one of the oldest and most charming—as well as lively—parts of the city. Here you can wander historic cobblestone streets and spend the day drifting in and out of shops, while stopping frequently to refresh yourself at some of Baltimore’s best (and oldest) bars and restaurants.
And what about Canton? The waterfront and nearby O’Donnell Square combine to create Baltimore’s trendiest neighborhood with a feel all its own. And if you come by boat, you’ll find the marinas to make it all easy. When you spot the Natty Boh sign, you’ll know you are there.
If you are coming by boat—and that’s an excellent way to come—you simply cruise up (or down) the Bay to the Patapsco River. About 10 miles upriver, you’ll see Fort McHenry to starboard and the entrance to the Northwest Harbor. Put Fort McHenry to port. A mile in, you’ll pass the Canton neighborhood. Three miles in and you will be in the Inner Harbor. You may want to go ahead and cruise all the way into the Inner Harbor basin before you go to your marina, just to get a feel for what’s where. Finding your chosen marina is entirely straightforward since all of them are directly on this branch. We’ll talk about which ones are where in a moment.
Your best plan is to put your destination into your favorite map app and go from there. You’ll find quite a few parking garages, especially in the Fells Point area, that are only a short walk to the waterfront. From there you can walk or take a water taxi wherever you want to go.
If you are towing your boat, you will find a good launch site in Canton at the Canton Waterfront Park. This is also a stop for the water taxis for further exploration. If you do launch here, remember there is a six-knot speed limit throughout the Northwest Harbor. It’s a great way to see the Inner Harbor as well as Fells Point and Canton. You can also launch paddle craft here to explore these well-protected waters.
There are enough things in Baltimore to keep anyone busy for years, but we’re going to concentrate on the waterfront (naturally) and the immediately adjacent neighborhoods. This includes impressive Fort McHenry, located at the approach to the Inner Harbor, and then moves along to sections including the Inner Harbor and adjacent Harbor East; the Belgian block streets of maritime Fells Point; and the waterfront section of Canton. Along the way, we’ll hit the high spots, including activities for the whole family, and we’ll mention just a few of the dozens of restaurants all jammed into this seven-mile stretch of water.
Once you choose a marina, hotel, or parking garage, you’ll be able to walk to the sights you want to see in the immediate area. If the distance is too far to walk, the best way to get around is to hop on a water taxi. During the week, you can use the free commuter water taxi to go from one spot to another. On the weekends, you can use the loop water taxi for a modest charge. You can buy by the trip, by the day, or by the month for yourself and your party. For a map, schedule, and pricing, check out the website baltimorewatertaxi.com.
We’ll begin our trek with Fort McHenry, at the entrance of Northwest Harbor Inlet, and work our way clockwise upstream into the Inner Harbor and then around past Harbor East to Fells Point and finally to Canton. This way you can get an idea of where things are in relation to each other, so you can plan your trip more easily. And you’ll be able to see what marinas and hotels are closest at hand. Of course, we’ll also point out all the water-taxi stops along the way so you can get easily from one location to another. All set? Let’s begin.
Fort McHenry to Federal Hill
Harborview Marina & Yacht Club
This is the first marina along our route. It features a boater’s lounge, restaurants nearby, and floating docks. The popular Little Havana restaurant is located nearby and the Rusty Scupper on the Inner Harbor is a short walk away. There are many more restaurants in the nearby Federal Hill area.
Relive the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry
This national park is certainly one of the highlights of a trip to Baltimore. You’ll remember, of course, that this fort was under siege by the British during the War of 1812. The British had already burned Washington D.C. and this battle was meant to be a kind of final blow. Francis Scott Key observed the bombardment from a ship out in the river and afterward wrote a poem expressing his joy that the fort had held. Later, the poem was set to the tune of an old ballad and became our National Anthem. The best way to visit Fort McHenry is by water taxi, though you can drive in as well.
Explore The Baltimore Museum of Industry
The next fun thing to do on our route is to visit the Baltimore Museum of Industry, which is located just past Locust Point near Tide Point, which conveniently has a water-taxi stop. Here you can get a fascinating look at how some of Baltimore’s most important early industries worked. There’s an oyster cannery from the 1860s, a 1920s garment loft, and a 1930s print shop, for example. There are plenty of hands-on activities for kids as well. Trust us, it’s fun!
Discover immigrant history at Locust Point
The Baltimore Immigration Museum is housed in the circa-1904 Immigrant House, owned by the Locust Point Community United Church of Christ. During the 1800s and early 1900s, more than a million immigrants entered the country here in Baltimore, and the House provided lodging for people from 1904 to 1915. Exhibits tell the story from the past through the 1960s. It’s open weekends in season, and other times by appointment.
Stroll Federal Hill Park
Take an invigorating stroll over to Federal Hill Park and climb up to the top for a great view. Nearby you’ll find restaurants and a farmer’s market in season. The Hill was used as a lookout by the military during wartime and by merchants awaiting trading ships in peacetime. Beneath the hill are a series of tunnels and walkways where beer was once stored by local breweries.
Points of Interest
Inner Harbor and Harbor East
Inner Harbor Marina
Managed by Oasis, Inner Harbor Marina is located on the south side of the Inner Harbor itself. It is also home to the perennially popular Rusty Scupper Restaurant. Like Harborview earlier, it has floating docks, though maneuvering room is a little tight. It also has fuel and a water-taxi dock. From here you can walk to just about everything in the Inner Harbor, as well as nearby Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home to the Orioles.
Baltimore City Docks and Dockmaster at Inner Harbor
Here’s another choice for Inner Harbor dockage. The city has three long piers to accommodate either single megayachts or several cruising-sized boats. Power and water are available. There may also be some room against the bulkhead. The outside of several of the piers is used by tour boats. Dockage is first-come, first-served. Dock fee will be collected by the dockmaster.
Harbor East Marina
We suppose that if you were to pick one location, central to practically everything from the Inner Harbor ships and museums to Little Italy’s myriad restaurants and Fells Point’s nightlife and historic charm, it would have to be Harbor East. We consider a slip at Harbor East Marina to offer the best of both worlds. Harbor East Marina, managed by Oasis, has nice wood floating docks with full-length finger piers—a luxury in itself! The marina has all the usual amenities and a great view. Bonus: Harbor East is a water-taxi stop.
Inner Harbor Hotels
Within walking distance of the Inner Harbor you’ll find a number of big hotels, including the Royal Sonesta Harbour Court, Sheraton Inner Harbor, and Hyatt Regency Baltimore Hotel. This trio is all located on the east side of the Inner Harbor, near or on Light Street.
On the opposite side, Pier 5 Hotel Baltimore, part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, is located, fittingly enough, on Pier 5, right next to the Aquarium.
Harbor East Hotels
East yet of Pier 5 you’ll find one of the city’s top waterfront stays, The Four Seasons Baltimore, and Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, basically next door. Also nearby, though not waterfront, are the Hilton Garden Inn Baltimore Inner Harbor and Homewood Suites by Hilton Baltimore.
Delve into the Maryland Science Center
Everything science and more. Exhibits. Fun and educational activities for the children. Crazy experiments. Field trips. IMAX theater for everyone. And the planetarium. There are plenty of nearby parking garages, and it’s a water-taxi stop.
Cruise the harbor
You can choose from one of several Baltimore Harbor cruises available from companies like City Cruises and Watermark Cruises. It’s a great and relaxing way to see the sights, even if you came by water in the first place.
Cheer the Os at Camden Yards
Walk or Uber over to Camden Yards for an Orioles game; just take Conway Street to Camden Street. No game? You can still take a tour.
Cool off at West Shore Park
The kids will love the splash pad at West Shore Park off the Waterfront Promenade.
Say thanks to Harborplace
This is where the famous Inner Harbor renaissance got started. But now, 40 years in, after changing shopping habits and the pandemic, Harborplace is a shadow of its former self, with only a couple of shops and a handful of chain restaurants. Tip your hat as you walk by, because without Harborplace, nearly everything else we’re going to visit in the Inner Harbor might not have happened.
Climb aboard the Historic Ships of Baltimore
Docked at the piers and usually open to visitors lie four historic ships and one of the Bay’s earliest lighthouses. The star of the collection is the U.S.S. Constellation, the last sailing ship of war built that saw active military service. And she saw a lot of it, spanning 100 years from 1854 to 1955. Also at the Inner Harbor piers you’ll find the submarine U.S.S. Torsk, which served from 1944 to 1968; the Treasury-Class Coast Guard cutter U.S.C.G. Cutter 37, in use from 1935 to 1986; and the lightship Chesapeake, built in 1930. On Pier 5, you’ll spot the distinctive red Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse, a screw-pile design built in 1855. You can check which ships are open for tours at historicships.org.
Take in the views from the Baltimore World Trade Center
At 30 stories, this is the tallest regular pentagonal shaped-building in the world. It is also headquarters to the Port of Baltimore. Ride to the top for a far-reaching view of Baltimore and the Patapsco River at the Top of the World Observation Level.
Dive into the National Aquarium
This is one of the most visited sights in Baltimore, and frankly, it’s just spectacular. Approximately 800 different species are represented in its many exhibit tanks. You’ll find it located on Pier 5.
Get hands on at Port Discovery
This mecca for the very young (and very active) is two blocks up Market Place across E. Pratt Street. It’s located inside the old fish market building. Inside are three floors and 80,000 square feet of nonstop fun and activities. The Sky Climber. The Wonder Widgets. Play gas station. Weaving Wall. Crazy!
Peer up at the Old Baltimore Shot Tower
You can’t miss this big red tower looming over, and if you get a chance, take a look. Also known as the Phoenix Shot Tower, it was built in 1825 and for a few years was the tallest structure in the United States. Shot was made by pouring melted lead from the top through a sieve. The little balls formed as the lead cooled on the way down and landed in giant vats of water at the bottom. Baltimore once had four shot towers, and this is the last remaining.
It’s impossible to go hungry in Baltimore. The Inner Harbor and Harbor East have too many restaurants to count, but we’ll name two of our favorites, both in Harbor East: seafood-centric Ouzo Bay and the Bygone, high atop the Four
It’s time to get into Fells Point proper. To get there, walk up Thames Street to Broadway, or take the water taxi to the bottom of Broadway Pier.
Fells Point is one of the oldest parts of Baltimore. It started as its own town in 1730, but joined up with Baltimore in 1797. It prospered as a shipbuilding center, producing war ships and privateers for the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The privateers were built using the design of the famously fast Baltimore Clippers. Later, Fells Point continued to prosper with the canning of oysters and produce. It was also fortunate that it escaped the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, leaving a great many of its 17th- and 18th-century homes to survive today. That makes the biggest attraction in Fells Point the neighborhood itself.
Henderson’s Wharf Inn & Marina
A few blocks beyond Broadway on Thames Street you’ll find Henderson’s Wharf, which is both a marina and an inn. The marina offers floating docks and amenities such as cable-TV. The inn offers views of the harbor or the Fells Point neighborhood.
The two docks just beyond Henderson’s Wharf belong to Crescent Marina. Unlike most marinas in the area, Crescent has fixed docks, though the two-foot tidal range doesn’t make this much of an issue. What Crescent lacks in amenities, it makes up for with its quiet and convenient location. It’s a short walk to all the excitement that Fells Point has to offer.
Admiral Fell Inn
This charming 80-room hotel began life in 1900 as a church-run rescue lodging for down-and-out sailors. It is now a boutique hotel, located at the corner of Thames and Broadway, and thus right in the middle of Fells Point. This is also where you’ll find Duck Duck Goose, which I’ll mention later.
Walk, wander and pub hop
Revel in the old cobblestone streets (as long as you are not wearing high heels!), take a deep breath, and tackle block after block of shops, restaurants, and bars, each one more intriguing than the last. The Horse You Came In On Saloon, for example, operates in a building that has housed a tavern since the 18th century. But it doesn’t stop there. “The Horse” was also maybe-possibly-conceivably-but-probably-not where Edgar Allen Poe took his last drink before dying under mysterious circumstances several days later at Washington Medical College.
Want to make it more of a pub crawl? You have a plethora to choose from. Try One-Eyed Mike’s, a gastropub set in an historic tavern, or Bertha’s Mussels, which has been serving steamed bivalves since 1972. How about the DogWatch Tavern, which has pub fare alongside pool, Skee-Ball and pinball? Or Duck Duck Goose for French-inspired plates and creative cocktails?
Discover Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park
From Harbor East, walk along either Aliceanna or Lancaster Street to Caroline Street, then south. At the end you’ll find Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, a Living Classrooms Foundation classroom and national heritage site.
The park honors both Isaac Myers, a leader in the African American community and one of the founders in 1866 of the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company, and renowned American political leader, thinker, and writer Frederick Douglass. Douglass, who was born in Easton, Md., lived and worked for a number of years in Baltimore before escaping north to freedom. The site delves into Black maritime history, and when you arrive, it’s very likely you’ll find some interesting boat pulled up for repair or restoration. The water taxi also stops here.
Again, there are choices galore for a great meal. Captain James Seafood Palace is a Fells Point sight you cannot possibly overlook, because it’s a restaurant in the shape of an ocean-going commercial vessel—definitely the only one in Baltimore. This popular waterfront crabhouse has its own water-taxi stop and you can get crabs, as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Thames Street Oyster House has a fantastic raw bar, and regional dishes showcasing Kent Island rockfish, Block Island scallops, Maine lobster, and more.
Point of Interest
If you consider Chester Street as the western border between Fells Point and Canton, then the Captain James ship-shaped restaurant straddles the border between the two. And having passed that, we enter our third and final Baltimore waterfront neighborhood, Canton. This is an ideal place to end the day, possibly with an ice-cold beer on O’Donnell Square at Claddagh Pub or Mama’s on the Half Shell or Speakeasy Saloon or, well … you get the idea. There’s plenty to choose from.
If you have a little bit of energy left, we recommend a late-afternoon stroll through O’Donnell’s neighboring streets. Here you’ll find largely early 20th-century homes and rowhouses, with classic Baltimore features like scrubbed marble steps and painted screens.
This is the first of Canton’s two large marinas, and, like most of the Baltimore Harbor’s marinas, it has floating docks and full-length finger piers. The anchorage is easy to navigate and convenient to just about everything in Canton, including a Safeway market and West Marine store.
Lighthouse Point Marina
Canton’s second large marina is Lighthouse Point. This one, like many marinas in this part of Baltimore, is managed by Oasis Marinas. Lighthouse has a whopping 500 slips on gated, floating, concrete piers. It is also close to the West Marine, Safeway, and hardware store.
Canton Waterfront Park
We are going to end our tour along the Baltimore waterfront here at Canton Waterfront Park, a lovely bit of greenery that includes Baltimore’s Korean War Memorial. It also includes the West Harbor’s only boat ramp and its final water-taxi stop. Fittingly, it also has a lovely view of Fort McHenry, which is where we started our journey.
As night falls, choose a restaurant on O’Donnell Street or perhaps in the converted Can Company on Boston Street. The Can Company was once home to Norton Tin Can and Plate and then American Can Company, the largest can makers in the country, and once employed 800 workers.
If you want to eat on the waterfront, settle into a chair at Bo Brooks, a Canton landmark since 1964. You’ll find Bo Brooks Restaurant and Tiki Bar (and Bo Brooks beer, wine, and liquor store, for that matter) and other restaurants at and around the Lighthouse Point complex next to Lighthouse Point Marina.
Happy weekend! ⚓︎