Pier 1, 301 E. Pratt St., 410/539-1797,
HOURS: Daily 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
COST: $10 adult, $5 child, $8 senior
The ornate, sleek, and imposing three-masted warship that welcomes visitors to Baltimore ’s Inner Harbor holds nearly 150 years of history in her hull. Perhaps the last all-sail warship built by the U.S. Navy, this magnificent vessel—the second to carry the Constellation name—was built back in 1853 in Virginia atop the keel of the first U.S.S. Constellation, which was built in Baltimore  in 1797. (A long-simmering controversy as to this vessel’s lineage and actual age was basically settled in 2002.)
The Constellation frequently sailed across the Atlantic, serving as a U.S. Navy ship that would hunt down slave ships leaving Africa, and served admirably against the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.
Years of neglect led to major internal damage and decay; in 1994, the Constellation was declared unsafe and slowly towed to a repair facility for five years of repairs, using traditional methods and more advanced techniques to return the vessel to its original 1855-era appearance and preserve the ship. (You might notice the ship’s orientation is not always the same: Sometimes she’s bow out, sometime she’s bow in. This rotation, which takes place about once a year, allows the hull to be exposed evenly to the elements.)
Today, the ship is the last surviving Civil War–era Navy vessel, and despite more than a century of repairs both sound and ill-considered, the Constellation is an amazing piece of living history that even features daily cannon firings.
Climb aboard for a self-guided tour of the ship, but if you have the time, wait for the guided tour, which will help explain the myriad of strange ropes, pulleys, doors, hatches, and other sailing ship details. You can tour almost every square inch of the Constellation from stem to stern; on weekends, twice a day, kids can sign up as Powder Monkeys, and learn what life was like for the young children (some as young as 11) who worked on 19th-century ships, doing a variety of grueling, dangerous jobs that would make today’s Federal regulatory officials collapse in horror.