Baltimore takes full advantage of its magnificent harbor, filling its waters with ships to explore and surrounding the Inner Harbor attractions to please the whole family, especially kids. Arrayed around the inner harbor are landscaped public spaces edged by modern plazas with shops and places to eat.
The first thing you’ll notice is the fleet of historic ships; all of them welcome visitors. The great age of sail, when this harbor was at its peak, is brought to life by the fully restored USS Constellation, the last full-sail naval vessel built by the U.S. Navy. Launched in 1854, she remained in service until 1954. Onboard, kids can explore the tight quarters below deck and get a sense of what it was like to sail and work onboard.
Part of Historic Ships in Baltimore, several historic vessels docked at various piers comprise one of the world’s most impressive collections of military vessels. At pier 3, LV116 Chesapeake served as a lightship at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay until 1965. Onboard you can learn about these floating lighthouses. At a nearby pier floats the USCGC Taney, a cutter built in 1935 and the last ship afloat that saw service at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In front of the aquarium is USS Torsk, a submarine launched in September of 1944. It served in the Pacific during World War II and elsewhere around the world until acquired by the State of Maryland in 1972 for the museum. Kids are fascinated by the interior, where they can explore the living quarters, as well as the workings, of the ship.
Two piers jut into the harbor, housing the three buildings of the National Aquarium. This is an immense place with 16,000 animals beautifully displayed to show them in their native environments. One building contains specially constructed differing ecologies to provide good viewing of — and comfortable accommodations for — birds, amphibians and even mammals. Another, accessed by a long glass walkway over a part of the harbor, houses a special area for large sea animals, including a special pool where dolphins cavort.
Tanks elsewhere send kids squealing with delight at the sight of jellyfish and sharks. The aquarium has begun immersion programs that allow visitors to go behind the scenes and see how the food for the various animals is prepared and learn about the science of their care. One program even allows visitors to walk the narrow catwalk above the tank as huge sharks swim by only feet below.
At the far corner of the Inner Harbor, opposite the National Aquarium, is the modern Maryland Science Center and its planetarium. Three floors of exhibits, many interactive, include scientific displays with a special emphasis on space travel and physics. There are lots of hands-on experiences and scientific experiments that keep kids entertained while they are learning about the world around them.