Stand on the sleek, brick promenade of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and look out over the calm water. Seagulls hover and float above, an air horn bleats from a docking sightseeing boat, kids plead with their parents to go back to the aquarium. There are gleaming office buildings and condo towers and luxury yachts, but also historic sailing ships and redbrick row houses tucked into the landscape, up near the green oasis of Federal Hill.
From this vantage point, it might seem that Baltimore is an easy place to figure out. But Baltimore is a wise survivor; it withstood challenges and took risks, and that’s why it has managed to not only keep its footing but to reinvent itself.
This city is a far more complex place than this picture-postcard image reveals. You’ll need to wander along Fell’s Point’s bumpy, ballast-stone streets (the stones arrived as ballast in the holds of sailing cargo ships), through Hampden’s independent shops, and among the magnificent architecture of Mount Vernon to start to understand it.
A southern city in character, but a northern one in geography, Baltimore is a small metropolis; the Greater Baltimore area is home to some 2.2 million people, but Baltimore City has only about 650,000 residents. It’s a town of society teas and horse races, raucous street festivals and experimental music, and oddball characters and living legends.
Started as a former colonial trading outpost that grew into a boomtown, Baltimore was one of the biggest cities in early America. A British invasion fleet was repelled at Fort McHenry  in 1814, and the U.S. national anthem was born here. Built up by immigration and industry during World War II, the city fell on hard times in the 1970s that are still evident in many places. Yet Baltimore set the standard for successful urban renewal in the early 1980s, with Harborplace  and the Inner Harbor. A new phase of development in the early 21st century led to further growth all around the waterfront.
Baltimore has been showing up on a lot of national lists that use words like “underrated” and “hidden treasure.” Why is that? Ask one of the many people who call Baltimore home. They’ll tell you that they wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else to pursue their lives, their art, and their dreams. They chose to be themselves, beholden to no one, here in the town by the water that they call home.