Free Family Fun in Baltimore? No Problem!
A major seaport, Baltimore physically—and to a great extent socially—centers around its Inner Harbor district on the Patapsco River. It's definitely an area you'll want to explore to get a strong sense of the city's character. And, conveniently enough, there are plenty of free family-friendly things to do right around the harbor, as well as elsewhere in Maryland's largest and most populous city.
Let the Kids—and Your Imaginations—Run Wild at Pierce's Park
Billing itself as a park for the imagination, Pierce's Park (701 E. Pratt St., Baltimore, MD) is a unique, free waterfront attraction with an emphasis on environmental education. Tucked behind the Columbus Center on Pier 5, it's a popular family destination for locals and tourists alike. Enjoy the interesting sculptures, including a large stainless steel horn-shaped sculpture that kids can enter and use as a slide. There's also a playground, a musical fence that's similar to a vertical xylophone, a living willow tunnel and other neat stuff.
Pierce's Park is an outdoor destination right along the water, so it can be chilly to downright cold, particularly in the fall and winter. It's still worth the trip while you're touring the Inner Harbor area though, so dress accordingly and check it out.
Hit Up Harborplace
Just a few blocks from Pierce's Park, Harborplace (201 E. Pratt St., Baltimore, MD) is also right on the water and an epicenter of family entertainment in the city. There are about two dozen restaurants and shops here, but the Harborplace Amphitheater is a draw on its own for the waterfront atmosphere and daily free public entertainment.
In addition to being a pleasant place to hang out for a while on a nice day, the site regularly hosts free special events and performances. These include daily shows by street performance artists year-round, weather permitting. And at any given time throughout the afternoon and evening, your family will be entertained by comedy and variety acts, magicians, jugglers, singers, musicians, balloon artists and other talented performers.
Set Sail on the Harbor Connector
A trip to Baltimore's Inner Harbor isn't complete without taking the kids on at least one ferry ride. Harbor Connector boats shuttle passengers between five different landings: Maritime Park, Tide Point, Canton Waterfront Park, Harbor View and Harbor East.
Ferries are a great way to get from place to place in the area—far more fun and less stress than driving around an unfamiliar downtown—and rides are free from the first launch at 6 a.m. up to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Fares are charged from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. The boats depart approximately every 15 to 30 minutes; get more schedule information at charmcitycirculator.com/content/harbor-connector.
Get Your Culture Fix at the Walters Art Museum
An art museum? With kids?
Sure, it's a gamble, but the odds of success are better at the Walters Art Museum (600 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD) than at most others. With collections spanning the globe and most of human history, you won't want to miss this institution while visiting Baltimore. Admission is free for all, so if it ends up being a short visit, you haven't wasted any cash.
Certain exhibits, such as the Japanese military armor and the jewelry collections, are bound to stimulate some interest from the kids. Various sculptures and other carved pieces in exhibits like Ancient Americas and India, Nepal and Tibet might seem pretty cool to the young ones too.
But you don't have to win the children over entirely with art exhibits. The museum's Family Art Center is a playroom that provides relief for bored kids and dwindling parental patience. Plus, on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Family Art Center hosts free drop-in activities for the kids, where they can make a fun creative project to take home.
Get Your Nature Fix at Druid Hill Park
Baltimore's beautiful, historic 745-acre Druid Hill Park (900 Druid Park Lake Dr., Baltimore, MD) is the third-oldest established park in the U.S. Although the Maryland Zoo is here, it's not free. There is, however, ample opportunity for everyone to enjoy themselves without spending anything. Stroll the grounds and check out the scenic woodland area via the Jones Falls trail, a 10-mile trail that runs along the Jones Fall stream; only a small section is within the park. The park's segment of this trail is paved and easy to walk for the whole family. Enjoy the water views and natural scenery at the Druid Hill Reservoir, take the kids to one of the playgrounds and have a picnic.
Then, head over to the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens (3100 Swann Dr., Baltimore, MD). It's free, although a $5 donation is suggested, and open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Opened in 1888, this stunning historic structure houses plants from all around the world, with primary displays in five greenhouse rooms and a variety of outdoor gardens. What's in bloom changes seasonally, but there are always impressive displays year-round.
- Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore: Pierce's Park
- Waterfront Parnership of Baltimore: Waterfront Street Performers
- Charm City Circulator: Harbor Connector
- The Walters Art Museum
- Baltimore Department of Recreation & Parks: Druid Hill Park
- Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.