Maryland’s Fort McHenry is rich in history, with a major claim to fame. The Star-Spangled Banner was actually inspired by the fort. During the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 (part of the War of 1812), our troops valiantly defended it, and Francis Scott Key penned the ode to this great country that we still sing so proudly today. Beyond its musical connection, there’s a lot to love — and learn about — at this prominent landmark, which was named for Secretary of War James McHenry. You certainly don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate everything that the fort has to offer.

Inside Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD.

If it’s your first time, the Visitor Center is a great place to kick things off. A short introduction video will give you a thorough overview of the fort before you head out onto the self-guided tour. You might want to carve out around two hours for your entire visit, as it will take about an hour to make your way through. Make sure to check out the barracks as well, where you’ll see uniform and weapons displays, Officers’ Quarters, and the 1814 Guard House.

Beyond the fort itself, there’s also a 42-acre park filled with birds and small animals like reptiles, foxes, mice, and otters that you can admire on the Sea Wall walking trail once you’re through with your tour. There’s also a Research Library on the premises that houses primary documents including maps and letters, but unfortunately, it’s closed to the public.

As for the best time of year to visit? While the Fort is open year-round, summer offers more opportunities for events like ranger talks and special ceremonies that the whole family can enjoy. Have a fourth-grader at home? As part of the Every Kid in a Park program, they’ll get to visit the park for free for a year!

Fort McHenry

As the fort is so close to the bustling city of Baltimore, there are plenty of options in terms of lodging and dining in the vicinity. In addition, you can explore several regional landmarks as well, like the USS Constellation Museum, The Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum, and the Maryland Historical Society Museum — all within a 10-mile drive.