More than 200,000 people have toured the USS Constellation since 1999.

Family Vacations: Baltimore's Inner Harbor

While Baltimore's Inner Harbor still operates as a working port, most of the big freighter shipping activity is in its Outer Harbor. Water taxis are now the most common boat you'll see in the Inner Harbor, as they zip tourists and locals from one terrific attraction to the next. The Inner Harbor has become Baltimore's top tourist destination, and you'll need at least a day to enjoy the museums, entertainment, and eateries at this lively, family-friendly seaport.

Several attractions are related to Baltimore's 300-year history as a maritime powerhouse. The USS Constellation, a restored 1854 wooden naval warship, is docked in the harbor and is open for tours. Children ages 10 and older can participate in a special program to learn about the lives of the youngest sailors -- some were only 11 at the time -- who spent months at sea working on the ship. Nearby at the Baltimore Maritime Museum, three docked historic ships and a restored lighthouse can be explored.

The National Aquarium features marine life from Maryland's tidal marshes, as well as creatures of the deep from all over the planet. A steamy tropical rainforest has poisonous dart frogs, piranhas, and sloths contained in an enormous greenhouse enclosure on the top level. Underwater cameras at the dolphin show let the audience see the trained mammals dive and accelerate as they prepare to leap out of the water. More than 10,000 creatures call the aquarium home.

Baltimore has a fantastic children's museum, Port Discovery, which is located one block northeast of the Inner Harbor. Disney's Imagineers designed most of the museum's exhibits. Its three floors of fun include a three-story urban tree house that has rope ladders, bridges, slides, tunnels, and even zip lines.

Everything in the museum is hands-on, and kids can produce movies, create all kinds of art, and make crafts with real tools. Miss Perception's Mystery House is a particularly popular stop, where youngsters help a detective solve the mystery of the disappearing Baffeld family by sifting through clues and bits of evidence -- they even get to crawl through a kitchen sink as they search.

The Maryland Science Center has an IMAX movie theater and hundreds of hands-on exhibits that engage both children and adults. Its Kids Room is full of fun -- children can construct waterways and dams in the popular water play area and operate the fish cam in a submarine. In other parts of the museum you'll see fossils from Maryland's past, compare your footprint to that of a dinosaur, race soap bubbles, and touch a cloud. The planetarium and IMAX theater both offer regular programs for kids.

For a great view of Baltimore, the Top of the World is located on the 27th floor of the city's World Trade Center near the Maritime Museum. The attraction has large windows and photos that are labeled to help identify the sites below.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor Information

Address: E. Pratt St. and S. Calvett St., Baltimore, MD

Telephone: 877/Baltimore

Hours of Operation: Times vary

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Maryland State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Maryland, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laura Sutherland is a widely acknowledged authority on family travel and has published several books on the topic, including Best Family Ski Vacations In North America and Tropical Family Vacations.