Baltimore’s hub of colorful activity pivots around its bustling waterfront. The Inner Harbor is the place to gather for spectacular crab feasts (and lots of other culinary treats), shopping, live entertainment, visits to the National Aquarium or the Maryland Science Center, or to catch water taxi rides that drop tourists off at citywide waterfront attractions.
For a rare glimpse into naval history, The USS Constellation, the last Civil War era vessel afloat, is docked as a museum in the Inner Harbor. Self-guided tours are a fun way to kill an hour of free time—and the ship’s cannon is fired every day.
Baltimore is a very walkable city. The waterfront—and 11 major convention properties—are all within easy pedestrian distance of the Baltimore Convention Center. The center has 300,000 square feet of pleasantly unobstructed exhibition space and 50 meeting rooms that total another 85,000 square feet. Its ballroom can accommodate a 2,500-seat banquet.
Across the street from the center, Oriole Park at Camden Yards lures crowds in to see the Baltimore Orioles play, and right next door is Ravens Stadium, home of the NFL champion Baltimore Ravens.
Exploring on foot is fun, but another great way to experience Baltimore is a wacky 90-minute land/water tour on a military amphibious "duck" vehicle. It totes tourists through the city, winding through historic neighborhoods, (including Little Italy with its 20 Italian eateries) and past famous Baltimore landmarks, including Edgar Allen Poe’s gravesite at Westminster Hall. Poe is accompanied in Baltimore’s oldest cemetery by 15 generals from the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The "duck" wraps up its tour by splashing into the harbor for a panoramic view of the city from the water. Several tours operate simultaneously all day long, each piloted by an entertaining captain.
Where to stay? More than 6,600 hotel rooms mean that every group’s budget is doable in downtown Baltimore. In the mood for pampering? Baltimore’s Harbor Court is an elegant 195-room boutique property furnished with priceless antiques and with a complimentary sweeping city view. High tea and champagne brunches are served daily and a fitness center is available. Hand-painted wallpaper and polished marble vanities characterize Harbor Court’s lavish staterooms—more than $2 million is poured into this property annually. The Harbor Court is the place where many local insurance companies send their incentive winners on retreat for a rewarding taste of life’s finer side.
Medical groups are a huge boon to group business, according to Debra Dignan, vice president of convention sales at the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitor’s Association, because of Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Hospital (a teaching institution) being so close to the convention center. "Medical groups have access to a network of speakers from these institutions, so this is a very popular city for their conventions," Dignan said. —Kelle L. Larkin