Author: Ben Szweda
Date of Trip: October 2013
When I heard that Southwest Airlines was devaluing their Wanna Get Away awards come 31 March 2014, I planned a last minute trip to visit Baltimore, MD, and Washington, D.C., to use up the Southwest Rapid Reward Points I had accumulated this year. Since I was booking an award ticket and only had so many points to use, the dates of my trip were somewhat dictated by Southwest. I decided to travel on 28-31 October 2013 spending the 28th in Baltimore, since I was flying into BWI, and the rest of my trip in Washington.
Planning a trip for me is always part of the fun, but Baltimore made it challenging fun. Apparently Mondays – especially fall Mondays – are days that Baltimore business owners would rather spend by their lonesome. Many tourist attractions were shuttered for day (see a non-exhaustive listing at the bottom of my report).
Not to fear however, with just one day in town there was still plenty to be done. I arrived at BWI at 0725 on the day’s first direct flight from CLE and headed into the city on the Light Rail ($1.60). After dropping my bag in my hotel, the Marriott Waterfront, where I was able to check-in despite it being 0830, I headed out to the city streets.
There was no hop-on, hop-off style trolley tour in town, but this did not disappoint me for long. The city operates free, clean, newer looking busses called the Charm City Circulator, which run an extensive route! I rode the Banner (blue) Route to Fort McHenry (museum and grounds free; fort $7; 0900-1645). The Fort, like other National Park Service locations I have visited, was staffed with helpful and informed rangers.
I got back on the free Charm City Circulator and headed out to see the daytime view from Federal Hill, take a tour of the Baltimore Basilica (0700-1600), briefly look in the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and finally visit the original Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. Returning back towards the city I stopped off at Lexington Market, a place I do not recommend as I doubt it resembles much of what Ralph Waldo Emerson saw when he called it the “Gastronomic Capital of the world.” Just across the way is the clock tower from the old Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Company, a worthy photo-op if you know the history.
My selection for lunch in Baltimore followed the guidance of the May 2013 Travel & Leisure magazine: Wit & Wisdom inside the Starwood Four Seasons Hotel. Dinner followed a friend’s advice: the lively Thames Street Oyster House in the charming waterfront Fell’s Point area.
Do not call a one-day tour of the city complete without climbing back up Federal Hill. All those steps along Battery Ave will be worth it! The night view to the north is spectacular and to the east is the Domino Sugar sign. Maybe make like the local exercisers and work off your dinner with a few up hill sprints. To really finish the day strong, include a Water Taxi ride in your night journey – the views of the Inner Harbor are definitely unique from this perspective.
Following a fast paced day in Baltimore I was up early and headed for Washington, D.C. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) operates the MARC Train between several areas, including Baltimore and Washington. The Penn and Camden lines directly service this route ($7); buy your tickets online in advance or at the terminal kiosks to avoid the long Amtrak ticket agent queues.
Once at Union Station I transferred to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit (WMTA) Authority using the SmarTrip, a reloadable card that grants a $1 discount on all fares (minimum initial purchase $10 online or in-person). The SmarTrip is usable on both the MTA and WMTA. My transfer was smooth as I had purchased the card online in advance and I was checked into my hotel shortly thereafter.
Aside from the WMAT, my main intention for getting around Washington was the hop-on, hop-off tour offered by Old Town Trolley. I have used this company now in three different cities and have had great experiences all three times – both from a logistical and educational perspective. Old Town Trolley tour offers a larger route in Washington compared to what I am used to; their system is divided into three separate routes, but your ticket is good for rides on all of them. Buy your ticket online from some serious savings (1 day at $35.10; 2 days at $54.95). The non-narrated red line takes you between Arlington Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial; the Green Line to the National Cathedral, Georgetown, and down Embassy Row; and the Orange Line by all the monuments and museums.
You can turn to the guide books for lists of all the monuments worth checking out, but if you want to wander from the typical tourist itinerary be sure to visit the Newseum ($22 for a 2-day ticket), the free Postal Museum, the National Cathedral, and the Catholic University of America’s National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
I also recommend branching out from Washington, D.C. proper. Take the metro to Alexandria, VA, and enjoy the historic charm of King St. There I suggest a visit to Christ Church (free), the George Washington Masonic Memorial ($5 self-guided, $8 guided) just behind the metro station, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center all the way down on the waterfront. If you are not up for the walk take the free trolley that runs from the metro to the waterfront.
On the morning of my departure I woke up in Washington, then via Uber, and again the MARC train I arrived back at BWI with plenty of time to spare before Southwest’s last flight of the day to CLE. While I waited for my flight I enjoyed the peace and views from the Airspace lounge (free for AMEX Platinum members or $22). The only annoyance is that this lounge is in Terminal D; a separate security checkpoint from Terminals A, B, & C
Baltimore attractions closed on Mondays…
…in the fall:
– Top of the World (also no Tuesdays)
– Cruises on the Bay
– Charm City Food Tours (only open Friday and weekends)
– Seadog (only open for private parties)
…all year round:
– Flag House & Museum (also no Sunday)
– The Walters Art Museum (also no Tuesday)
– The Library Peabody (also no Saturday or Sunday)