Maryland’s downstairs neighbor, Washington D.C., receives most of the attention when it comes to patriotism. But when sports fans choke up at the mention of “the rockets’ red glare” during our national anthem, it’s Maryland’s strength they’re shedding tears for. “Star Spangled Banner” writer Francis Scott Key found inspiration for the lyrics during an attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. Today, the flag still flies above the fort, and one of the best things to do in Maryland is to visit in summertime, when guards perform drill, musket, and artillery demonstrations.
A short water-taxi ride brings visitors from Fort McHenry to the National Aquarium, which houses more than 16,000 animals on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Families will find plenty to do here; watch a dolphin training session, for example, or walk through the ring-shaped Shark Alley tank, where nurse sharks, sand tiger sharks, and stingrays encircle visitors.
Like in Baltimore, many of the best things to do in Annapolis revolve around the water. A tour of the U.S. Naval Academy sheds light on the training required to become a top-notch sailor. Another great thing to do is to board a sailboat, such as the 74-foot schooner Woodwind, for a two-hour tour of the Chesapeake Bay, followed by dinner at one of Annapolis’ many seafood restaurants.
Up and away from the water lies Antietam, a national battlefield preserved in the state’s northwestern region. The Battle of Antietam took place in 1862, stalling the Confederate Army’s move into the North and prompting Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Though guides may be commissioned, visitors can take self-guided tours of all the sites around the 8.5-mile stretch, which is easily accessible by car, bike, or foot.