Do not let Maryland’s tiny stature fool you. With wide variety of terrain, environments, and a near even mix of rural, suburban and urban regions, this state does an excellent job living up to one of its nicknames, America In Miniature.
Moderately high peaks in the Appalachians define the western panhandle, its coastal plains contain some of America’s most significant cities (Baltimore and Washington DC), and the sandy shores of the Atlantic that lie beyond Chesapeake Bay on the Delmarva Peninsula are home to some of the Eastern Seaboard’s best beach resorts, making Maryland an easy place to see a wide variety of tourist attractions within a relatively short time frame.
Whether it is Civil War history, Southern-style mansions and plantations, or abundant opportunities for outdoor exploration you seek, you can find it all within the borders of this seminal American state.
What To Do – Culture & History
Start your cultural journey in Maryland within Baltimore, its largest city. Fort McHenry found its way into the consciousness of Americans by way of its role in defending Baltimore Harbor from an attack by Great Britain in the War of 1812. The events of that night were rhapsodized by Francis Scott Key, writer of what was to become the national anthem of the United States, The Star Spangled Banner.
Easily accessed by water taxi from the popular Inner Harbor district of Baltimore, the large ramparts of this coastal fortress are still adorned by the very cannons that kept British ships at bay for over 25 hours, denying them the opportunity to capture Baltimore back from the Americans.
Annapolis, situated further down the western shore of Chesapeake Bay, was once the capital of the United States, an honor which it held for two years on a temporary basis from 1783 to 1784. It is the state capital though, with the historic Maryland State House being located here.
Completed in 1797, this house of laws has the distinction of being topped by the largest wooden dome that is not held together by nails, but visitors will enjoy this place more for the atmosphere within its walls, as the Georgian architecture within will impress them with its elegant pillars, balconies, and even its carpeting.
Shortly after the Confederacy of the South had seceded from the Union, triggering the American Civil War, its lead general led an attempt to claim territory for his new country, invading Maryland from the Appalachian foothills of the west. The Union countered this surge near where Sharpsburg sits today, resulting in the battle of Antietam.
Antietam National Battlefield commemorates that bloody day that ended with the retreat of Confederate forces back to their home territory, holding a visitor’s center, military cemetery, and a field hospital museum in addition to the battlefield itself.
When Mount Olivet Cemetery was conceived in 1852, it was merely your standard burial ground for people and families in the immediate area. Within the next couple of decades however, the tragedy of the Civil War, its proximity to Washington DC and several key battles in the Civil War had given rise to several prominent monuments and memorials on its turf.
The Monument to the Unknown Confederate Soldiers and The United States Civil War Children’s Memorial (5% of war dead were children under the age of 18) are located here, as is the grave of Francis Scott Key (author of The Star Spangled Banner).
Located behind the Mason-Dixon Line, a geographical demarcation that forms the border between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware, Maryland is also thought of as the point on the Eastern Seaboard where the local culture begins to shift towards what is commonly found in the heart of the American South. True to form, Hampton National Historic Site tells the story of the largest private home in the United States when it was constructed in 1790, a place which not only contains the personal effects of excessive wealth of rural landowners at that time, but also signs of the ownership of the very thing that triggered the American Civil War: slaves.
Indeed, you will find old slave’s quarters among the artwork, farm implements, and gardens of this lavish property, granting you an opportunity to see the spartan, imprisoned reality in which they were trapped, while their privileged owners enjoyed the spoils of wealth just steps away.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
The Inner Harbor of Baltimore contains many attractions worthy of discussion; most of which will be discussed in more intimate detail within the city article for Baltimore. There is one standout attraction we will mention though, as the National Aquarium is one of the finest aquatic zoological centers of its kind in the United States.
Containing 17,000 animals spanning 750 species, it is an ideal place to learn about the creatures of the sea without having to jump in it yourself, unflattering wetsuit and all. In addition to its aqueous holdings, which include dolphins, jellyfish, sharks, turtles, and many others, there is also a tropical rainforest environment on site, which contains various reptiles, amphibians, and birds, including the Amazon yellow-headed parrot.
When you are ready to set your course for the countryside, make your first stop at the Great Falls of the Potomac. Located 14 miles (23 kilometers) north of Washington DC, this site, while it drops a total of 76 feet over the course of a mile, can be better described as an intense series of rapids, broken up by a series of 20 foot falls.
If you are a pro at whitewater kayaking, this rapid will give you the wild ride that you’ve been looking for. The grade of difficulty at Great Falls is Class V at the best of times, so don’t attempt these rapids if you have any doubt in your abilities whatsoever.
If an engaging weekend at a beach resort is more along the lines of what you are seeking, then absconding to Ocean City will satisfy this desire amiably. The Boardwalk contains a wide variety of amusement options, from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not to countless bars, restaurants and shops, while the beach is a hive of social activity throughout the daylight hours, with kite surfing, jet skiing and beach volleyball matches being the top preoccupations for those not content to simply lie in a sun lounger.
If a quieter, more nature-oriented outing is what you had in mind, then skip Ocean City and head to Assateague Island National Seashore instead. While more peaceful beaches are the obvious attraction here, wild ponies also roam the sands of this coastal national park, and those seeking to do some saltwater angling can do so here (make sure you are well away from swimming areas though … a barbed hook catching on human skin = not cool).