Reporting Jay Lloyd
Two-hundred years ago this coming September, the National Anthem was penned in Baltimore by Francis Scott Key, who saw that “our flag was still there” as the British were bombarding the city.
Of course, if I waited till then, we’d lose a whole summer to visit this dynamic city off the Chesapeake Bay, where you can slurp oysters, crack crabs and go for boat rides. So, let’s get to it now! – Jay Lloyd
It was the War of 1812 that propelled Fort McHenry into the history books as its guns stopped the British fleet during the Battle of Baltimore. Visitors can tour the strategically designed, star shaped battlements that gave full defensive coverage over water and land. Walk the grounds, share the view of American gunners and commanders, listen to the history and watch costumed re-enactors carry us back to the decisive battle that saved Baltimore from the torch and gave us our National Anthem. Sadly, you will not see the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key — it resides at the Smithsonian in nearby Washington.
You can drive to Fort McHenry, but you don’t want to do that. See it the way Francis Scott Key and the British saw it – from an approach on the Patapsco River. The fort’s low profile and enormous flag give it a look of bulldog tenacity — tough enough to turn back the Royal Navy. So, what if you don’t have a boat? Baltimore moves by water taxi. The peppy little craft dart from point to point on and around the harbor carrying passenger to hot spots, scenic ones and to historic landfalls. Fort McHenry is among the most popular attractions. All-day tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for children. The water taxis stop at all the major locations in and around the Inner Harbor. Find the schedule at, stops and ticket information here.
NEARBY 1812 RELATED ATTRACTIONS
For a dynamic view of the bustling harbor and downtown Baltimore, head for Federal Hill above the Maryland Science Center. It was the vantage point where Baltimore’s besieged civilians watched the battle that was raging below them.
Later, meander over to the Inner Harbor. Go aboard a rebuilt version of the 18th century frigate, the U.S.S. Constellation. One of the six original U.S. Navy frigates, it saw service on the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. Over several incarnations, Constellation sailed into history during action against the Barbary pirates and through a succession of wars until a more quiet assignment as a prominent display on the Philadelphia waterfront, before finally settling in Baltimore.
SIPPING AND SUPPING
There’s a seemingly endless number of restaurants and pubs in and around the Inner Harbor. My favorite is the RUSTY SCUPPER, right around the corner from Fort McHenry. Great crab soup, oysters from the bay and a dynamic harbor view.
Across the harbor and right behind the Constellation you’ll find PHILLIPS SEAFOOD. Run by the people that seem to have cornered the canned crab market for home recipes, they have a long history in the eastern seaboard fisheries. It’s a good spot if you have a craving for a crab cocktail or those famous Chesapeake crab cakes.
WHERE TO STAY
From Marriott and Sheraton to Hyatt Regency at the top of the price scale and Days Inn or Holiday Inn at the moderate end, there are many hotels right on the harbor and within a short stroll. Those I’ve stayed at have delivered on room quality, service and views. If you arrive by boat, the prime location is the Inner Harbor Marina to your port as you enter the harbor.
Notes: Camden Yards and Baltimore Orioles baseball are just a few blocks from the harbor. Hotels frequently offer room and game packages.
If you want to immerse yourself in War of 1812 history before you go, pick up a copy or Kindle edition of Dawn’s Early Light, by Walter Lord. For a unique British view of the conflict, try to find a copy of The Man Who Burned the White House. It’s the riveting yarn of Admiral Sir George Cockburn, who commanded the fleet that failed in Baltimore but succeeded in sacking and burning the White House when he attacked Washington.
For navigation purposes, the Coast Guard has already planted a red, white and blue buoy in the channel approaching the Francis Scott Key Bridge and Fort McHenry.
Go and enjoy!