600 N. Charles St., 410/547-9000,
HOURS: Wed.–Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Think what you will about the ruthless American industrialists of the 19th century: They certainly knew how to leave a legacy. William Thompson Walters, a native of Pennsylvania who moved to Baltimore  and made a fortune in wholesale liquor before the Civil War (and, post-war, another fortune in banking and railroads), moved to a grand home in exclusive Mount Vernon Place in 1858 and set about collecting paintings, sculptures, and antiquities.
By the mid-1870s, Walters was allowing the public into his home to see his collection (for a fee—donated to charity, of course), which was an impressive trove of European and Asian artworks. His son, Henry Walters, helped in the acquisition of items, and expanded the breadth of the collection into new areas. His biggest score was the 1902 purchase (for $1 million) of the entire contents of a palazzo in Rome, including works by greats like El Greco, and seven astounding sarcophagi that are some of the museum’s most amazing pieces.
Henry Walters left his incomparable collection to the city of Baltimore , and new construction and the donation of an adjoining mansion (Hackerman House) have made the Walters Art Museum one of the nation’s finest small museums. It’s rare to find such a incredibly deep and impressive collection from so many different cultures, epochs, and media in one place.
The Walters amazes with every exhibit, and never lets up throughout the various buildings’ multiple levels and passageways. Egyptian mummies and burial items are just down the hall from medieval European reliquaries; rows of Asian jade sculptures line the walls of Hackerman House, while the Chamber of Wonders in the original building re-creates a 17th-century nobleman’s room of exotic animals, natural wonders, and heavenly observations.
Tourists may often skip the Walters in favor of the bigger Baltimore Museum of Art , but the museums’ collections complement one another, and the Walters should be considered a mandatory destination. Best of all, admission is free.