As the mother of tween and teen boys, it’s getting harder and harder to find activities with my kids that they will willingly participate in. Add in an educational component and their eyes glaze over in a hurry.
But a recent road trip to Baltimore and Washington DC turned out to be so much fun they didn’t even realize how much they were learning along the way. Even with a less favorable exchange rate on our Canadian dollar these days, both cities provided enough to do on the ‘cheap and cheerful’ to make it well worth a family visit.
As the birthplace of the American national anthem and first commercial railroad system, walking through Baltimore is a history lesson in itself. Within the city, the B&O Railroad Museum houses an impressive selection of historic locomotives and railroad cars. You can even take a ride along the first mile of commercial railway track ever laid in the US.
At Fort McHenry, the boys got a look at what it was like to be a soldier during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812 and even took part in the raising of the flag. Plus, the lovely surrounding grounds are free to use for an afternoon picnic or bike ride.
Speaking of bikes, Baltimore Bike share is available 24/7 and perfect for roaming around the city. We also made use of the Charm City Circulator, a free bus shuttle that travels four routes so you can easily hop on and off to explore.
While there are several neighbourhoods to stay in throughout Baltimore we opted for the Hotel Monaco, a beautifully restored 1906 building that is a short walk to the Inner Harbour and heart of the city. We booked the Pullman Suite which has a separate bedroom of bunk beds, a flat screen TV and an X-box gaming unit that the boys made good use of (you can borrow games from the reception desk).
The Inner Harbour is a must see, with the National Aquarium, World Trade Centre and a host of culinary treats. We sampled the infamous Maryland blue crab at Phillips Seafood and weren’t disappointed. We also paid a visit to the Sandlot, an outdoor city beach bar/restaurant opened this year which features volleyball nets, bocci and hammocks. There’s also live music.
A moonlight cruise around the harbor via a company called Spirit Cruises, was a perfect way to end the evening, with a buffet dinner and oversized deck games for the kids. Infants under three cruise for free.
For more information on what to see go to www.baltimore.org.
It’s only an hour drive from Baltimore to Washington, DC, and even with two days of rain, we were able to take in several of the free Smithsonian museums in America’s capital city. We spent almost three hours in the National Air and Space Museum alone where the boys got up close to a plethora of aircrafts, learned about the first planes from the Wright Brothers and got to enter a space shuttle.
The International Spy Museum was another hit. Each of us adopted a secret identity while we explored the world of espionage, from early pigeon cameras to the high-tech gadgets of our favorite James Bond movies.
When the sun came out, we took advantage of a hop-on double-decker tour on the Big Bus (www.bigbustours.com/en/washington-dc/) to see the White House, National Monument and the many other historical sites located throughout DC. I liked the fact our tour operator provided raincoats (in case the rain came back) and headphones so we could clearly hear all the interesting details from our guide along the way.
Even our hotel (thedarcyhotel.com) offered an engaging kids program. Each of my sons got a complimentary backpack based on a theme, including maps, books and activities to help them explore the city. We opted for the Darcy Detective, which features a mystery to be solved around the local area and comes with discounted tickets to the Spy museum. For more on what to see and do in DC go to www.washington.org/things-do-washington-dc.