Road Affair is reader-supported and may earn commission from purchases made through links in this article.
How well do you know Maryland? This East Coast state, sometimes nicknamed “America in miniature” due to its great diversity of terrains and people, is a haven for history buffs and anyone interested in maritime industry. But Maryland attractions extend beyond its historic sites and busy ports. The state is also home to lush parks, picturesque beaches, and destinations built for recreation. In no particular order, we’ve compiled a list of the best places in Maryland to help you build your perfect travel itinerary.
Related: 15 Best Airbnbs in Maryland
- 1 1. Annapolis
- 2 2. Assateague Island
- 3 3. Ocean City
- 4 4. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
- 5 5. Berlin
- 6 6. Patapsco Valley State Park
- 7 7. Ellicott City
- 8 8. Swallow Falls State Park
- 9 9. Solomons Island
- 10 10. Deep Creek Lake
- 11 11. Chesapeake Beach
- 12 12. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
- 13 13. National Harbor
- 14 14. Frederick
- 15 15. Baltimore
A list of the best tourist attractions in Maryland has to include Annapolis, Maryland’s capital city and site of the United States Naval Academy. Tours of both the academy and the Maryland State House are two of the city’s most popular activities for visitors. Located on Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis is known as the sailing capital of the US and hosts various boating events throughout the year.
The best way to experience downtown Annapolis is up close, so leave the car behind and prepare to walk the brick sidewalks of this historic city, which started out as a Puritan settlement in 1649. Take a trip back in time by visiting sites like the 1774 Harwood–Hammond House, an 18th-century art and architecture museum and a National Historic Landmark. For a more laid-back afternoon, stop by the City Dock and watch the boats float by.
If you leave downtown and cross Spa Creek, you’ll reach Eastport, often called the “other side of Annapolis.” This quiet district is home to the Annapolis Maritime Museum & Park as well as an area known as Restaurant Row, where you can enjoy waterfront dining, seafood restaurants, and steakhouses with fewer crowds than those found at many downtown eateries.
2. Assateague Island
The northern two-thirds of this East Coast barrier island belong to Maryland, while the lower third is Virginia territory. People who have never heard of Assateague Island may be surprised to discover that its claim to fame is its herds of wild horses. These feral creatures are the descendants of domestic horses that have returned to their wild state.
The Maryland portion of the island is home to Assateague State Park – Maryland’s only oceanfront park – and the majority of the Assateague Island National Seashore. The island has no permanent human residents, and its most developed areas are the campsites within Assateague State Park. Because the land is protected, most tourist attractions on the island center on respectful interactions with nature.
Assateague State Park has two miles of ocean beaches where activities include swimming, surfing, fishing, and beachcombing. Secluded coves are great spots for canoeing and kayaking. The land protected by the National Park Service offers campgrounds, hiking and biking trails, ranger-guided programs, and opportunities for fishing, crabbing, and hunting. Since the island is one of the few remaining places in the United States with herds of wild horses, wildlife photography is popular.
3. Ocean City
Are you looking for a boatload of fun things to do in Maryland? Consider a resort spot like Ocean City for your next vacation. The town is situated on a barrier island between the Isle of Wight Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and its waterfront location draws visitors in droves. Ocean City has approximately 7,000 permanent residents, but the population skyrockets during the summer months, when weekends bring in more than 300,000 visitors.
The obvious draw here is the town’s shoreline. Ocean City Beach features 10 miles of soft sand and is known for being clean and well maintained. The beach’s mild surf and lack of entry fee make it all the more welcoming. Surfing, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing are among the available aquatic activities. Look out for free events like concerts, movie showings, and fireworks during the summer.
The three-mile Ocean City Boardwalk is a popular pedestrian pathway that oozes classic beach culture thanks to its plethora of hotels, restaurants, shops, and amusement park rides. More outdoor fun can be found at Northside Park, a 58-acre recreation complex that features a fishing lagoon, playgrounds, lighted soccer and baseball fields, picnic sites, and walking paths. Thanks to its 17 championship courses, Ocean City is a great vacation destination for golfers.
4. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Founded in 1933, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was established as a sanctuary for waterfowl migrating along the Atlantic Flyway, a major migratory route that stretches from Greenland all the way to the Caribbean. Before it was designated as a refuge, the marshland was a fur farm. Today, the refuge comprises more than 30,000 acres of forests, freshwater wetlands, and tidal marsh.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places to visit in Maryland for fans of flora and fauna: The land is home to more than 165 species of endangered and threatened plants, 35 species of amphibians and reptiles, and more than 250 species of birds. Among the refuge’s animals are one of the largest breeding populations of American bald eagles on the East Coast and the largest natural population of the formerly endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel.
There are multiple ways visitors can experience the refuge. The popular Wildlife Drive is around four miles long and can be enjoyed via car, bike, or on foot. The refuge also has designated walking, biking, and paddling trails. Bird-watchers should consider a trip to the refuge between November and February, when the waterfowl population is at its highest.
If you’re a fan of small-town charm, head to Berlin the next time you visit Maryland. Home to a population of around 4,600, it frequently appears on lists of the most beautiful towns in the state. Berlin is a short drive from both Ocean City and Assateague Island, making it a convenient jumping-off point for various day trips.
Much of the town’s appeal lies in its preservation of history. It wasn’t officially incorporated until 1868, but its roots date back to a 17th-century 300-acre land grant that would become Burley Plantation. Locals assert that the name Berlin (pronounced Burl-in, with emphasis on the first syllable) derives from a contraction of Burleigh Inn, the name of an early tavern at the crossroads where the town developed. The Berlin Commercial District has more than 40 buildings constructed in the late 19th century, and the entire district is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Downtown Berlin is a must-see. Revitalization projects since the 1980s have led to it receiving a designation as both a Maryland Main Street Community and an Arts and Entertainment District. Downtown attractions include art galleries, antiques stores, local eateries, coffee shops, and live music venues. Check the town calendar for events like the Berlin Farmers Market and various festivals, parades, and conventions.
6. Patapsco Valley State Park
Just northeast of Ellicott City is Patapsco Valley State Park, one of the most beloved places in Maryland for outdoor recreation. Maryland’s first state park covers 16,043 acres and stretches 32 miles along the Patapsco River. The park’s impressive size includes eight developed recreational areas, making it a haven for folks who live in nearby Baltimore suburban neighborhoods. Playgrounds, sports courts, playing fields, and picnic grounds are definite draws for families.
The park boasts more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails. Adaptive cycling and paddling programs ensure that guests with special needs have access to modified equipment that enables them to enjoy trails and waterways to the fullest. Other popular park activities include camping, swimming, tubing, fishing, deer hunting, horseback riding, rock climbing, bird-watching, and picnicking.
Patapsco Valley State Park is known for its abundance of projects, programs, and events. The park’s calendar features introductory fishing courses, animal photography sessions, painting classes, invasive plant removal volunteer mornings, guided hikes that teach guests about the Native Americans who hunted the area, and much more. Patapsco Trail Fest is an annual celebration of the park’s many trails, with running and bike races, camping, on-site vendors, and fun events like a s’mores party.
7. Ellicott City
Among the many historic sights to see in Maryland are the quaint buildings in Ellicott City. Despite its name, Ellicott City is in actuality an unincorporated community and a census-designated place. As the seat of Howard County, with a population of more than 70,000, Ellicott City is the largest unincorporated county seat in the United States.
The community’s main draw is its historic downtown, known as Old Ellicott City and home to the Ellicott City Historic District. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the district is known for its distinctive architecture, with many structures built from locally quarried granite and featuring picturesque stone staircases. The Baltimore & Ohio Ellicott City Station Museum is a can’t-miss for history buffs – the Ellicott City Station was built in 1831 and is the oldest surviving railroad depot in the country.
Nearby Patapsco Valley State Park appeals to outdoorsy travelers, but Centennial Park, five miles southwest of downtown, is definitely worth a visit, too. The 337-acre park has received accolades for its design, which is considerate of nature and wildlife. Boating is available on the park’s 54-acre artificial lake, and the 2.6-mile paved pathway is popular with walkers and joggers.
8. Swallow Falls State Park
Located less than 10 miles north of Oakland in western Maryland, Swallow Falls State Park encompasses 257 acres of forested mountainous terrain. If you’re traveling to Maryland with photography in mind, this place is a must-see. As well as lush, verdant forests, the park is home to several waterfalls, including the 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls, Maryland’s highest free-falling waterfall.
Nature’s beauty is on vivid display at Swallow Falls State Park, and people often take advantage of the breathtaking scenery to host weddings, photoshoots, and other events. An especially notable area within the park is the Youghiogheny Grove. This 37-acre stand of hemlock and white pine trees is thought to be more than 300 years old and the last grove of its kind in the state.
Hiking, biking, camping, and picnicking are popular activities. Lovers of fall foliage will appreciate the park’s mix of evergreen and deciduous trees during autumn months, when the green forests are interspersed with vibrant, fiery hues. The Youghiogheny River and Muddy Creek offer trout-fishing opportunities. These two waterways are both considered whitewater rivers, and intrepid guests are welcome to engage in whitewater rafting. Any whitewater rafting comes with natural hazards, so extreme caution is recommended.
9. Solomons Island
If you want to do as the locals do, stop by Solomons Island for a quick sojourn. This unincorporated community in Calvert County is a popular place to go in Maryland for a weekend. Situated at the mouth of the Patuxent River, it is a laid-back destination that attracts weekenders and tourists with various waterfront attractions.
Spring Cove Marina’s plentiful amenities make it Solomons Island’s premier marina. Boat rentals are available, allowing visitors to explore the river at their own pace. The marina features a full-service boatyard as well as picnic areas, a waterfront pool, poolside bar, shuttle service, and more. Other ways to make the most of this charming island locale include sightseeing cruises and meals at any of several seafood restaurants.
For an educational outing, head to the Calvert Marine Museum. Exhibits here explore the maritime history of the area, regional paleontology, and estuarine biology. The museum’s crown jewel is the Drum Point Lighthouse, originally erected in 1883 and now one of only four surviving screw-pile lighthouses in Chesapeake Bay. More culture awaits at the Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center, which features three distinct galleries, works on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, and 30 acres of meadows, fields, and forests.
10. Deep Creek Lake
When it comes to vacation spots in Maryland, Deep Creek Lake is the perfect four-season destination for outdoorsy travelers. Situated in the mountains of western Maryland, this artificial lake is the largest inland body of water in the state. Deep Creek Lake covers 3,900 acres and boasts 65 miles of shoreline, providing plenty of room for all sorts of recreation.
Vacationers who wish to avoid crowds may want to consider a springtime trip to Deep Creek Lake. The area sees fewer visitors during spring months, but temperatures are pleasant enough for activities like hiking and biking in nearby state parks. Spring is also a great season for anglers, who can find bass, yellow perch, sunfish, and more. Summer is the lake’s busiest season, when the warm weather and sparkling waters encourage boating, water skiing, kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, tubing, swimming, and more.
Many boaters stick around during the first months of autumn, while hikers and photographers take advantage of the area’s elevation for some spectacular views of the changing foliage. The fun continues through winter, when the entire lake freezes over. Ice fishing is a popular pastime, and the nearby Wisp Resort offers downhill skiing on 33 slopes, in addition to cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snow tubing.
11. Chesapeake Beach
The waterfront town of Chesapeake Beach was established as a resort community on Chesapeake Bay in 1894. The Calvert County town was a popular weekend destination in Maryland in the early 20th century thanks to its hotels and abundance of slot machines, which made it a fixture of the state’s Little Nevada district. The Great Depression and a devastating hotel fire ended Chesapeake Beach’s reign as a resort town, but it still receives its fair share of visitors today.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum tells the story of the Chesapeake Beach Railway, which was developed with the express purpose of connecting Washington, D.C., to the new southern Maryland resort town. The railroad opened in 1900 and closed in 1935, and the original depot houses the museum. A popular walking and biking trail follows approximately two miles of the old railroad line and features views of Fishing Creek.
The town’s location on Chesapeake Bay provides visitors with a wide variety of aquatic entertainment. Charter boats are available for fishing excursions, dinner cruises, and casual sailing. Swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, camping, and more can be arranged at Breezy Point Beach, and the Chesapeake Beach Water Park offers lots of family fun.
12. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is just one of many historical sites in Maryland that have become tourist attractions. The canal’s legacy endures today, more than 150 years after it was completed, and it brings in more than five million visitors every year. This 184.5-mile canal is no longer in use, yet as a monument it continues to have a positive economic impact on the counties and towns it traverses.
Construction on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, also known as the C&O Canal and the Grand Old Ditch, began in 1828 and was completed in 1850. The canal stretches from Georgetown in Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland (Original plans had Pittsburgh as an ending point, but those sections did not come to fruition.) The national historical park is dedicated to educating visitors about the canal’s contribution to the United States’ early transportation industry.
In addition to its educational resources and programs, the park offers a wide variety of recreational activities. Depending on where you travel to along the Potomac river, you can enjoy boating, fishing, camping, hiking and biking, horseback riding, and more. Public canal boat programs allow guests to step back in time by riding on replica canal boats.
13. National Harbor
Just 10 miles south of Washington, D.C., is an exciting census-designated place on the Potomac River that was specifically designed to be a multiuse waterfront development. If your ideal vacation to Maryland includes a hefty dose of waterfront fun, National Harbor may be the perfect destination for you.
National Harbor’s main focus is offering entertainment, resulting in a development with activities to suit almost every taste. Kid-friendly thrills can be found at the top of The Capital Wheel, a 180-foot-tall Ferris wheel with climate-controlled gondolas and views of the Washington Monument, the city of Alexandria in Virginia, and more. An Americana-themed carousel and adjoining playground provide even more fun for the little ones. Aquatic adventurers of all ages will enjoy time on the Potomac, which can be navigated via pedal boat, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or Hydrobike.
National Harbor has plenty of ways for adults to let loose, too. MGM National Harbor is a $1.3 billion casino resort boasting a concert venue, pool, more than a dozen restaurants, multiple bars and lounges, a 27,000-square-foot spa and salon, and a shopping center. Visitors can indulge in further retail therapy at various specialty shops in the Waterfront District, or they can head to Tanger Outlets for a wide selection of brand-name and local stores.
Frederick is one of the best cities in Maryland to visit for a vacation that combines historic sites, arts and culture, and gorgeous green spaces. Situated in western Maryland, the city was founded in 1748 and is the seat of Frederick County. The area has historically been considered an important crossroads, first for Native American hunters and then for European traders. Frederick’s mountain location makes it a gateway to the Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail.
One of the many historically significant sites in Frederick is the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. The institution displays immersive exhibits that explain the war’s harsh conditions and how the medical innovations that appeared during the Civil War continue to have an impact today. Only a few miles southeast of downtown is the Monocacy National Battlefield, the site of the 1864 conflict that became known as The Battle that Saved Washington, D.C.
Downtown Frederick is characterized by its many brick buildings and a skyline clustered with the spires of its historic churches. Diverse restaurants, art galleries, and more than 200 specialty shops come together in the city center. Follow Frederick’s wine trail to sample the region’s agricultural bounty while taking in views of rolling green hills.
Baltimore is Maryland’s most populous city, so you can be sure that this bustling metropolis has something for everyone. History seemingly permeates every inch of the Baltimore area, which was inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years before European settlers arrived in the early 17th century.
No visit to Baltimore is complete without a healthy dose of history. As one of the oldest neighborhoods in Baltimore, Fell’s Point is a great place to start. Established in 1763, the neighborhood was once a busy shipbuilding site, but today it’s known for its many pubs, taverns, and restaurants. Fell’s Point is a designated National Historic District and more than 300 of its buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, so a walk through this neighborhood is like taking a walk through the past.
Are you afraid that all that history might get a little stuffy? Have no fear: Baltimore never runs short on entertainment. Baseball fans can catch a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, known as “the ballpark that forever changed baseball.” Baltimore’s National Aquarium attracts 1.5 million visitors a year thanks to its impressive size and breadth of exhibits. Foodies are spoiled for choice, too, as Baltimore’s culinary scene regularly receives national attention. The city’s many museums range in focus from art to trolleys to archaeology to dentistry, so no matter your interests, there’s probably a museum for you.
Between the state’s plethora of waterways, breathtaking mountain vistas, family-friendly resort towns, and, of course, innumerable historic sites, you’ll never be at a loss for what to do in Maryland. And this list is just a start; with a little research, you will undoubtedly discover many more quaint towns, storied sites, and serene waterfront views to enjoy.