Romantic Baltimore Art Museums and Neighborhoods Getaway

WHY GO: Baltimore County encompasses a bounty of cultural opportunities – mostly in the City itself. Incredibly, there are several World Class Baltimore Art Museums that stand out: Baltimore Museum of Art and The Walters Art Museum. Even more incredibly, both are free to visit.

Sketching Baltimore Museum of Art

As a departure from spotlighting the typical “Inner Harbor” attractions, this Getaway focuses on the artsy institutions and Baltimore neighborhoods that make this city so compelling and fun – from the most outrageous art museum in the country, to the streets where filmmaker John Waters lives.

With countless independent shops, trippy art, and artsy hotels to boot.

Combine this with our Baltimore MD Historical Getaway, and you’ve got yourself a week’s worth of exploring to do.

Baltimore is on our list of 17 Best Romantic Getaways in Maryland. Check it out for more adventures with your loved one.

This was chosen as one of the Best Places in Maryland to Pop the Question

Coolest Baltimore Neighborhoods With World Class Baltimore Art Museums

Visionary Art Museum Baltimore MD

VISIT: American Visionary Art Museum, Federal Hill Neighborhood

Students, laborers, dyslexics, misfits, recluses, mental health patients – and the rest of the unwashed, self-taught intuitive artists ignored by mainstream art world have finally found recognition at the unbelievably eccentric American Visionary Art Museum.

My absolute favorite institution in Baltimore, The American Visionary Art Museum is filled with works produced from found objects, matchsticks, bottle caps, yarn, and lots of what other people would call “junk.” Galleries team with madcap creations.

War, workers, whackos, technology, terror, tchothkes –  all here in this highly entertaining fun house of an art museum. Plus, the storage-shed of a gift shop will consume your attention for hours. Check website for hours and admission cost.

Lobby Baltimore Museum of Art

VISIT: Baltimore Museum of Art

Modeled after the Neo-Classic Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), abutting the Johns Hopkins University campus, is another powerhouse in the art world. BMA boasts the world’s largest collection (over 1,000) of the works of Henri Mattise among its massive holdings of mid-century modern and 20th century Colorists.

Juxtapositions Baltimore Museum of Art

The BMA is, by all measures, a stunning place. It’s made even more interesting by juxtaposing the contemporary with the classic in the great entry hall illuminated by a thicket of hanging lights. Anchored by the Cone Collection of modern art, which includes Matisse, Picasso, and Cezanne among many others, the BMA is also known for its prints, drawings, photographs, textiles, and English Sporting Art.

Contemporary Wing Baltimore Museum of Art

The cement-silo Contemporary Art wing is as much a work of art as any strange and mystifying installation within its curvy walls. On any given day, the BMA thrums with activity. Free admission. Check website for days and hours open

Gallery Walters Art Museum Baltimore MD

VISIT: The Walters Art Museum in the Mount Vernon Cultural District

What makes the Walters Art Museum so compelling, besides its grandeur? (And the fact that admission is always FREE?) Well, this venerable institution actually originated in the home of railway and steamship mogul, William Walters, who, in the mid 1800’s, had a thing for European Art and Chinese Snuff bottles.

William’s son, Henry, inherited and then added to his father’s collection. He purchased objects from World’s Fairs and other important art that only vast amounts of money could buy.

When Henry Walters died childless in 1931, he bequeathed 22,000 works of art, along with funds to build a grand Italian marble Palazzo-style museum, to the city of Baltimore.

Curio Gallery Walters Art Museum Baltimore MD

The result is a crazy quilt of a museum, encompassing airplane-hanger-sized arched Victorian galleries and a separate renovated mansion adorned with clever contemporary art.

School visit, The Walters Art Museum Baltimore MD

Start on the 4th floor to see William Walter’s original collection. You’ll find all the greats in Impressionist Art – Monet, Manet, Pissaro, etc. – presumably purchased “when wet” by the older Walters. On lower floors, find Religious art, portraiture, 17th century Italian, Spanish, French, Islamic, Medieval, Iconic, Buddhist, and more.

1 West Mount Vernon Place

Tiffany Dome The Walters Art Museum Baltimore MD

Do not leave before visiting a recent addition called 1 West Mount Vernon Place – the renovated Hackerman mansion. It’s been subsumed by the Walters Museum and connected to it in a convoluted way. Ask museum staff to direct you – it’s definitely worth locating.

The historic home’s piece de resistance is a grand spiral staircase crowned with a Tiffany glass dome. Climb up and you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic ceramics exhibit (my favorite, the Laughing Buddha), and other contemporary installations in an unlikely setting. Check website for days and hours open. Always free admission.

VISIT: Maryland Center for History and Culture

If you’ve got more time, the Maryland Center for History and Culture – a block from Walters Art museum – could be confused with one of Baltimore’s world-class art museums. Among a treasure trove of works of artists of every color, it’s got the world’s largest collection of paintings by members of the Peale Family. This powerhouse of an institution is often overlooked in the hoopla of BMA.

George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore MD

STOP IN: Johns Hopkins, George Peabody Library, Mount Vernon

Find the impressive Johns Hopkins U’s George Peabody Library just steps from the Washington Monument in the Mount Vernon District. (Johns Hopkins University campus lies two miles north in Charles Village).

With a Visitor’s Center that features rotating exhibits, from rare books to ancient maps (when I stopped in, there was an original copy of the 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave, a 1533 Math Manual, among others), the main event is the gorgeous library room itself. Step across the threshold, breath it in, take a snap, and shhhhh. Let the students work.

Mount Vernon Neighborhood Baltimore MD

EXPLORE/SHOP: Mount Vernon Cultural District

Small independent shops, owned by Black entrepreneurs, have opened in the shadow of the Washington Monument in the Mount Vernon Cultural District. While here, plan a splurgy overnight at The Ivy HotelHow luxurious is it? Well, you can call downstairs at any time to “summon a pot of tea, a glass of wine, a midnight snack – whatever strikes your fancy”. Now, THAT’s a romantic getaway.

Pink Flamingo Hampden Village Baltimore MD

EXPLORE/SHOP: Hampden Village

This is John Water’s neighborhood. That’s pretty apparent by the big Pink Flamingo propped up on the façade of Café Hon (closed in 2022) and apartments above.

Hampden is certainly a draw for locals and visitors with Inner Harbor fatigue. Or those looking for the next cool thing in Baltimore. I loved the indie shops here: one in particular.

Atomic Books Baltimore MD

Atomic Books – for out of the norm publications.

Pendry Hotel Baltimore MD

EXPLORE/SHOP: Fells Point

The narrow cobblestone streets and Federalist row houses are reminiscent of a much smaller colonial town. So it’s no surprise that tourists are drawn here for myriad boutique shops, art galleries, historic pubs and the high end Sagamore Pendry – a swank hotel situated on the 1914 Recreational Pier. Of course, we’ve got our favorites. Stop in to the following indie stores for unique gifts and a friendly experience.

Emporium Collagia Baltimore MD

Emporium Collagia

Luana Kaufmann is a collage artist. Of course you can purchase her intricate conversation pieces at her shop, Emporium Collagia.  But she also curates a “collage of stuff” within a view of the harbor. Find funky jewelry, house-wares, prints, and mysterious “levitating stone worlds” Emporium Collagia is a world unto itself, and you can definitely get lost in it.

Sheep’s Clothing

Visitors and locals have been finding this lovingly stocked gift and clothing store, owned by Charles and Darcy Norton, on a side street off the beaten track, for over 40 years,. The very upbeat Darcy has an apparent blast “putting things together.”

So, you’ll find woolens, leather goods, hats, caps, knitted kids sweaters, jewelry, trivets, cotton, silk and linen scarves, and even stationary at reasonable prices.

Clueless though you may be when it comes to finding that perfect present, you will definitely leave with the proper one after consulting Darcy – the queen of thoughtful gift ideas.

Greedy Reads Baltimore MD

More great stores include Hats in the Belfry (all manner of chapeaus). Greedy Reads (fantastic new indie bookstore). And The Sound Garden (for all your vinyl recordings).

EXPLORE: New Neighborhoods

Harbor East

Considered a trendy extension of the Inner Harbor, Harbor East is so ritzy, the Four Seasons Baltimore is located there. Easy to wander over and see what’s shaking in this part of the waterfrton.

Station North

Designated Baltimore’s Arts and Entertainment District, this “cluster of neighborhoods” in the center of the city is edgy, wild, and the “center of the city’s creative community”.

Baltimore City Restaurants

R-House Food Hall Baltimore MD

EAT: R House

A “launch pad for Baltimore’s most exciting chefs,” in the Remington Neighborhood, R House, a 10-eatery-plus-bar food court is one of the hippest spots in Baltimore.

Like any upscale Food Hall worth its stars, this one offers trends that foodies love: poke bowls, vegan, Arapas, Pizza, Mediterranean, tacos, and more. It’s a veritable United Nations of affordable bites. Not to mention, a fun way to dine.

The Papermoon Diner Baltimore MD

EAT: The Papermoon Diner

Imagine that the characters in Toy Story – in all their candy colored glory – mutated and regenerated exponentially like Tribbles and then were marched into a restaurant to take up residence on the walls, and you’ll have a good idea of what this iconic Remington Neighborhood eatery, The Papermoon Diner, is like inside. To see it all, plan breakfast or a comfort food meal here. And prepare to be fantastically distracted.

Bird in Hand Cafe Baltimore MD

EAT: Bird In Hand Coffee and Books, adjacent to Johns Hopkins U.

From the chef that brought you Woodbury Kitchen – Spike Gjerde – comes this student-friendly Café in partnership with the Ivy Bookstore, Bird in Hand Coffee and Books. Gjerde sources every ingredient from the Mid-Atlantic region. Plus, his efforts in sustainability go beyond most chefs – to the point where, because olives don’t grow here, he does not use olive oil in his recipes, and must “get creative.”

Come in for Tofu Banh Mi, or other healthy breakfast or lunch items. As an added bonus, this being a college workspace, you won’t be out of place if you bring your laptop.

Dooby’s Baltimore MD

EAT: Dooby’s

In the Mount Vernon section of Baltimore, the Asian-flair fast “slow food” eatery, Dooby’s, is very popular for quick meetings or take-your-time gatherings. Order the likes of Korean BBQ Hot Wings, Veggie or Pork Dumplings, or other trendy vittles at the counter, take a number, and your food is brought right to your table. Easy peasy. And yummy.

EAT: The Food Market, Hampden Neighborhood

Set inside a renovated old food market in filmmaker John Water’s old stomping grounds, The Food Market Hampden has staying power, thanks to Chef Chad Gauss.

The menu is a witty mix of comfort foods, molecular gastronomy, and unusual combinations of flavors, divided into “Little,” “Small,” “Big” and “In Between” categories. The Food Market elevates grazing to high art, compelling you to return to try everything you missed.

Artsy Baltimore Hotels

The Ivy Hotel, Mount Vernon

All eight sunlit rooms in this former Mount Vernon district mansion are elegant, romantic, and designed to sooth. Black owned in an upscale Black district of Baltimore, The Ivy Hotel  is as splurgy a stay you’ll find anywhere on earth, right down to cocktail service to your room

Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, Fells Point

First built in 1914, the luxury Sagamore Pendry, on Recreation – Rec – Pier overlooking Baltimore’s Inner Harbor – was reimagined for the well-heeled traveler. If you love your drinks – or breakfast in bed – with a side of harbor activity, book here.

Guest Room Royal Sonesta Baltimore MD

Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore, Inner Harbor

In all the frenzy about the new boutique hotels cropping up around town, some might forget that there are others in Baltimore, grand in their day, newly renovated, that have stood the test of time. One is the understated Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore, right across the street from the Baltimore Science Center

Baltimore MD Art Shopping Pin

Author

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  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine, Shape.com, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.