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Inexpensive Things to do in Downtown Baltimore

Are you going slightly batty trying to come up with things for the kids to do that don't involve high fees, expensive equipment, or complex logistics? Are you tired of hearing "We never go anywhere?" Downtown Baltimore offers a plethora of attractions that involve little spending or planning. The fact that many of these points of interest have an educational component is just gravy...

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Inexpensive Things to do in Downtown Baltimore
by Jane Sellman

...So here goes:

1. THE ENOCH PRATT FREE LIBRARY - 400 Cathedral Street - 410-396-5430.
You make at least one trip a week to the library already - after the obligatory mad search through the house for the overdue books. On your next trip go and wander around the Central Library, one of the first to be built with an accessible street level entrance. Over 60 years old, the Enoch Pratt Library continues to enchant book lovers of all ages with its immensity - it's just so darned BIG - an entire block in length. The windows always offer intriguing displays, including the magnificent Lego(R) Christmas constructions. The library sponsors numerous events, most of which are free. In the periodical section, find a newspaper from an important day in your life, browse through old magazines, or read an article in an out-of-town or out-of-country publication. Other points of interest include the fish in the Children's Department or the many books with pictures of Baltimore in the Maryland Room.

2. LEXINGTON MARKET - Lexington and Eutaw Streets - 410-685-6169.
For absolutely no money, you can enter the Market, walk around, watch butchers and fishmongers at work, and smell wonderful food cooking. You'll get a feel for what doing the food shopping used to be like. Be warned: Leaving the Market without buying something will be difficult. Wonderful treats are everywhere, including roasted peanuts, peppermint puffs, thick deli sandwiches, pickled cauliflower, real lemonade, huge salads, steamed crabs, raw oysters and fresh baked goods. You also can have a fantastic meal for just a few bucks.

3. ST. MARY'S PARK - next to 600 North Paca Street
St. Mary's Park, which once was home to old St. Mary's Seminary, is an island of green and quiet in the city. You can walk, sit and enjoy the sun, collect leaves, watch squirrels load up on acorns, look for apple windfalls, bring a picnic lunch, and enjoy the singing of local birds - everything from sparrows to crows.

4. WASHINGTON MONUMENT AND MOUNT VERNON PARK - Charles and Monument
Streets - 410-396-1049.
This monument to our first president, while not so imposing as the one in Washington, is arguably more pleasing to the eye. The statue of Washington atop can be seen streets away, and the sight of the Monument at night as one travels up Charles Street always takes the breath away. The surrounding park and buildings appear to have been lifted from a 19th century European city. Fountains, flowers and statues provide points of interest - a particular favorite statue is at the North end near Madison - John Eager Howard, who donated the land for the Monument and park. Benches are available for rest and picnicking. The Monument is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, for a $1 per person, and while you might not want to climb the 228 steps, you can look at the displays inside at the base. Restaurants are located nearby. On a warm day, you might even hear music from the open windows in the Peabody.

5. WALTERS ART GALLERY - Charles and Centre Streets - 410-547-9000.
This museum is well worth the admission fee, but on Saturdays, if you arrive between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., or on First Thursdays, if you come between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., it's free. Children will enjoy the displays of knights' armor, the statues, the colorful paintings, the furniture, the many small and lovely trinkets - including FabergÈ eggs. The museum actually owns more 25,000 pieces of art.

6. THE GALLERY - Pratt and Calvert Streets - 410-332-4191.
Sure, it's a monument to conspicuous consumption. Sure it's full of shops with all kinds of gewgaws and gadgets. However, it has decent eating bargains (including the McDonald's directly across on Pratt), and on the food floor (4th floor), visitors can fill their eyes with a tremendous view of the harbor. It sports a compact non-mega-bookstore run by pleasant folks and a convenience store that carries what we used to call penny candy before it started costing a quarter. What better way to spend a cold day than window shopping and riding the escalators. The hotel lobbies on the first and fifth floors offer chairs and couches for your resting pleasure. At Christmas, the decorations are beautiful and the music plays non-stop (you'll probably want to leave after you hear "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for the 5th time).

7. THE DINOSAUR IN FRONT OF THE MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER - Light Street
and Key Highway - 410-685-525.
Yes, this wonderful exhibit costs a bit of the green to get in, and you will want to take the children to it at some point. On our freebie trip, though, you and your children can enjoy a tete-a-tete with the really huge guy (or gal) outside. Discovered in China, Mamenchisaurus, some 72 feet long with a 33-foot neck, is the largest scientifically reconstructed dinosaur around. Don't be alarmed by his or her size - this dinosaur ate strictly vegetarian.

8. TYSON STREET - walk to Park and Read, turn left, walk 1/2
block.
These elegant but tiny renovated homes once housed Irish Immigrants - most were built around 1830. The shady block to the north of Read is particularly beautiful; the houses are in a variety of colors. You can peak through the breezeways to see the gardens behind. Read Street itself used to be a thriving, slightly bohemian Walkway - there are several good places to eat on the street. The Designer Bathroom window is a great place for children to browse shiny brass drawer handles and classy toilet seats.

9. ANTIQUE ROW - 800 and 700 blocks of North Howard Street
Most children really aren't into 17th century Chinese snuff bottles, but the windows on this promenade are full of intriguing and sometimes odd bits of history to enjoy. The lamp store offers exquisite lighting fixtures in the shape of flowers. Other stores offer ornate vases and beautiful pieces of furniture, jewelry, plates that are themselves works of art, and delicate articles of all kinds. There's also the magnificent Drusilla's, a bookstore that will make the grownups long for a return to childhood. Impress upon the children that the books they love now should be cared for because they may be collectibles one day. Across the street, you can catch sight of the Maryland General Hospital; the older part of the building was once part of the Richmond Market, where people came from miles to sell or buy fresh produce and seafood.

10. - THE LIGHT RAIL - 410-539-5000; 1-800-543-9809.
For the cost of a day pass, adults and kids over six (under six, free) can ride to their hearts' content. See both stadiums, experience the stomach-churning turn and ride over water south of the Raven's Stadium, ride over Lake Roland between the Falls and Lutherville stop, or just use it to get from one end of downtown to the other. It's comfortable, rarely overcrowded (except on game days), and runs very regularly. Along the way are shops and restaurants that might make nice stops for the kids.

11. EDGAR ALLAN POE GRAVE - 519 West Fayette Street - 410-706-2072
Most children are fascinated by strange and spooky places. Actually, though, this is a very serene and quiet spot in the middle of the city. Poe and Virginia Clemm rest in the Westminster Hall cemetery located at 519 West Fayette, the corner of Fayette and Greene, which has also been the resting place of prominent Maryland families. The church and graveyard are now cared for quite well by the University of Maryland Law School staff. Poe's grave, located in the back of the cemetery at first, remained unmarked for a time because the stone had been destroyed in transport. The school children of Baltimore, thinking it unjust that the writer had no stone to mark his grave, went door to door collecting pennies and raised $600 - a benefactor provided the rest of the money needed. A monument now marks the grave; these days, people still leave a few pennies in his honor. You're welcome to visit the grave informally at no cost during the day (8 a.m. to dusk) when the cemetery gates are left unlocked.

On Poe's birthday, people often leave small tokens - cigars or flowers, even a bottle of Cognac now and then. Feel free to just walk around and look - maybe bring a scary story to read. You may get lucky and see the black cat or one of the ravens who ironically call the place home. Arrange for a guided tour of the cemetery by calling 706-2072 on a weekday.

Many museums in downtown Baltimore offer regular free or reduced admission days, sometimes in conjunction with a special event (First Thursdays or the Baltimore Book Festival). For information on First Thursdays, call the Downtown Partnership at 410-244-1030. For a wonderful and thorough guide to walking around Baltimore, see Walking in Baltimore by Frank Shivers, available at most area bookstores

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