When it comes to entertaining kids—big and small—few places rival Baltimore. Charm City boasts educational museums, historic sites, an aquarium, a zoo and even sightseeing by pirate ship, all located either at the Inner Harbor or a short drive from it.
Among the newest family-friendly attractions? A remodeled home for African penguins at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and the “Living Seashore” exhibit at the National Aquarium.
At the zoo’s “Penguin Coast,” glass-covered viewing areas let visitors get up close with its 63 birds. Here’s a tip from zoo spokeswoman Jane Ballentine: The penguins are attracted to bright colors.
The aquarium’s newest exhibit re-creates the habitat of the nearby mid-Atlantic beaches. “You’ll look at your next visit to the beach in a different way,” says Jack Cover, the aquarium’s general curator. “When you go on summer vacation, you don’t see much life under the sand. We want to help families discover that life.”
And, of course, discovery is what it’s all about. Here’s a rundown of 10 best bets for family fun in Baltimore.
B&O Railroad Museum
Railroad enthusiasts enjoy the collection of vintage trains, Civil War memorabilia and historic artifacts. The museum also offers several rides, including a carousel, kiddie train Choo Choo Blueville and a 20-minute journey along the first commercial railroad track in the country. 901 W. Pratt St., Baltimore, MD. 410.752.2490
Baltimore Museum of Industry
Sure your child may know how to play video games, but what about creating one? The Baltimore Museum of Industry’s “Video Game Wizards” allows kids (and adults!) to make their own video game and share it on the exhibit’s website. Permanent displays pay homage to Baltimore’s industrial and maritime past. 1415 Key Hwy., Baltimore, MD. 410.727.4808
This is the fort that defended Baltimore against British attack during the War of 1812, inspiring Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At the visitor center, an introductory film sets the scene. Inside the fort, park rangers and re-enactors in 19th-century garb bring history to life through talks, tours and cannon-firing demos. 2400 E. Fort Ave., Baltimore, MD. 410.962.4290
Maryland Science Center
Highlights at this museum include an IMAX theater, a planetarium and a rooftop observatory where star gazers inspect the night sky through a telescope. In “Dinosaur Mysteries,” youngsters dig for fossils or perch in a nest of eggs, as life-size models of Astrodon and T.rex loom nearby. “Newton’s Alley” explores matter, energy and force with interactive displays. 601 Light St., Baltimore, MD. 410.685.5225
Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
The largest outdoor penguin exhibit in North America, “Penguin Coast” offers visitors a 360-degree view of the African birds, and a window into the 1,000-gallon tidal pool gives underwater glimpses of the swift swimmers. The zoo's 160 acres are also home to elephants, lions, giraffes and NFL Ravens mascots “Rise” and “Conquer.” 1876 Mansion House Drive, Baltimore, MD. 410.396.7102
The new “Living Seashore” exhibit brings the magic of mid-Atlantic beaches to the renowned aquarium. Curious visitors get to touch moon jellyfish, the spines of a sea urchin and the wings of an Atlantic stingray. Blacktip reef sharks, dolphins and a rooftop rain forest are among the aquarium’s other highlights. There’s also a 4-D theater with rotating films. 501 E. Pratt St., Baltimore, MD. 410.576.3800
National Museum of Dentistry
At the official museum of the dental profession, much of the collection originated with the world’s first college of dentistry, located in Baltimore. Displays include George Washington’s ivory denture and Queen Victoria’s personal dental instruments. Kids also learn the importance of good oral hygiene. 31 S. Greene St., Baltimore, MD. 410.706.0600
Forbes named it one of the 10 best children’s museums in the U.S., as it “combines play with serious learning.” In the new “LEGO Castle Adventure,” Port Discovery visitors of all ages build fortresses and learn about their defense secrets (through Sept. 20). Permanent exhibits include “Adventure Expeditions,” which transports kids back to ancient Egypt to search for a pharaoh’s tomb and decipher hieroglyphics. 35 Market Place, Baltimore, MD. 410.727.8120
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
With a long, green tail entwined around the entrance, "Chessie" the sea monster greets Ripley's visitors in search of the eccentric. And the “Odditorium” doesn't disappoint. See a 12-foot-tall Transformer made of scrap car parts, a Hogwarts Castle built with 600,000 wooden matchsticks and a delightfully disorienting mirror maze. 301 Light St., Baltimore, MD. 443.615.7878
What kid doesn’t want to don an eye patch and spray landlubbers with a water cannon? In Fells Point, the 3-to-10 set boards “Fearless” for a 90-minute tour of the Inner Harbor, as the Urban Pirates crew leads games and dispenses pirate lore. June through August, a free story time Wednesday and Friday at 9 a.m. thrills marauders in the making (8 and younger). 911 S. Ann St., Baltimore, MD. 410.327.8378