Explore Washington D.C.

From Animals to Art: Baltimore for the Busy Traveler

We show you how to make the most of your trip when time is of the essence.

Travel doesn’t always entail two weeks of backpacking across Europe. Sometimes business or personal commitments bring visitors to a city for a short period of time. Even if your travel plans have you passing through Baltimore for a few days or just a few hours, you can make the most of your precious time with a targeted approach. Follow our picks below for a highlights tour of Charm City.


American Visionary Art Museum

The American Visionary Art Museum is devoted to self-taught “outsider” artists, showcased in three buildings located next to each other. With smile-inducing displays all over (even in the bathrooms!), it’s easy to get distracted. Start in the main building to view Wayne Kusey’s “Lusitania.” At first, Kusey’s work looks like an ordinary scale model of the famous ocean liner. But a closer examination reveals that the 16-foot reproduction is constructed entirely of toothpicks—194,000 in fact. It also took the folk artist five gallons of glue and two and a half years to build.

Outside, head over to the Jim Rouse Visionary Center, which houses “kinetic” sculptures (large scale moveable creations), intricately decorated “art cars” and whimsical handmade characters from the London Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, which you can move with buttons and cranks.

Lastly, stop by the Sideshow shop for gag gifts, party masks, even a glimpse into the future from “Zoltar,” the fortune-telling carnival machine, just like the one in the movie “Big.”

Egg sculpture at AVAM, Baltimore, Maryland
The American Visionary Art Museum holds wonders of “outsider” art like Andrew Logan’s Cosmic Galaxy Egg. (©Jack Hoffberger)


The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

The third-oldest zoo in America, The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore was founded in 1876 with 52 deer and a donated flock of sheep. Today, the Druid Hill Park menagerie counts 1,500 animals (nearly 200 species). Start your visit at Penguin Coast, which opens at 10:30 am and offers up-close views of North America’s largest colony of African penguins from above and below a 175,000-gallon pool. 

Next door at Polar Bear Watch, hop on a stationary Tundra Buggy, an authentic vehicle that provides an immersive experience of these Arctic mammals. 

Stroll through the Maryland Wilderness and get to know the state’s native wildlife. Start at the Marsh Aviary for a quick peek at local birds, then spend a few minutes with playful river otters in the Stream Habitat. 

Finally, make a beeline to African Journey, where visitors offer up acacia branches ($2) at the Giraffe Feeding Station from 11 am until 2 pm, weather permitting.

Feeding giraffes at the Giraffe Feeding Station at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
Feeding giraffes is one experience visitors shouldn’t miss at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. (Courtesy The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore)


The Baltimore Museum of Art

Offering free admission, The Baltimore Museum of Art began with a single painting in 1914 and has grown to more than 95,000 works, including the largest holding of Henri Matisse in the world.

But if you’re short on time, start in the Cone Wing. Sisters Etta and Claribel began amassing their considerable collection of modern art in the early-to-mid 20th century and left it all to the museum in 1949. The assemblage includes iconic Matisse works like “Blue Nude” and “Reclining Blue Nude,” both below.

In mild weather, the sculpture garden sets a calming stage for reflection. Among the 34 impressive pieces dotting the outdoor space, find Alexander Calder’s bold “100 Yard Dash.” In August, the garden comes alive with jazz, featuring top area musicians (buy tickets on the museum website).

Finally, stop into the sunny Maryland Salon in the Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing. Here, paintings and sculptures proudly show off their connection to the “Old Line State.”

The Cone Wing at Baltimore Museum of Art
The Cone Wing at The Baltimore Museum of Art holds one of the largest collections of Henri Matisse in the world. (©Erik Kvalsvik/Baltimore Museum of Art)


National Aquarium

The city’s aquarium broke ground in 1978 and Congress granted it national status a year later. Today, the sprawling complex that makes up the National Aquarium is the crown jewel of the Inner Harbor and home to nearly 20,000 species. For a quick visit, stick to the Peter Chermayeff-designed Glass Pavilion and adjacent Pier 3.

Start at Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes, and seek out the Archerfish, an unassuming swimmer that captures bugs by spitting a jet of water at them, knocking them off their perch. After, cross over to Pier 3. On the first floor, find Blacktip Reef, where the 500-pound green sea turtle Calypso cruises with the display’s namesake sharks among 3,000 pieces of handcrafted coral.

At Living Seashore on the third floor, visitors touch Atlantic stingrays and even luminous moon jellies. If time allows, ascend to the Rain Forest at the very top level for a glimpse of Golden Lion Tamarin monkeys scampering among the treetops.

Green sea turtle Calypso with divers in Blacktip Reef, Baltimore, Maryland
Green sea turtle Calypso swims with divers in Blacktip Reef. (Courtesy National Aquarium)