As the crowds descend upon New York to watch the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks battle for glory in Super Bowl XLVIII, let us take a moment to reflect on last year's champions, the Baltimore Ravens. After the big win, things went downhill fast for the team (they did not even make the playoffs this year). But things are looking up for Baltimore itself.
Prior to 1980, the Inner Harbor/downtown area of Maryland's largest city was famed for things corrupt and clandestine. Today, the neighbourhood borders on glitzy. Just check out the Four Seasons – or ask the more than 23 million people who visited in 2012.
Baltimore, population 621,000, earns its nickname "Charm City" with just the right mix of southern hospitality and lively northern personality. It's easy to get around, thanks to free buses in the core – as well as the water taxi, which jets across the harbour to eclectic neighbourhoods filled with cobblestone streets and crab shacks (Bo Brooks is rumoured to be the best in town).
It's a relaxing urban retreat that entices visitors to eat, drink, explore and languidly lounge at the end of the day, ideally with a cocktail or Berger cookie – the city's official treat – in hand.
What to see
Kick off your trip with a visit to M&T Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. Seating capacity exceeds 71,000, but high-definition screens measuring 7 1/2 metres high by 301/2 metres wide ensure fans can see every touchdown. 1101 Russell St., baltimoreravens.com
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture tells stories of perseverance, triumph and celebration through permanent and special exhibitions. Through March, check out Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard & Shirley Kinsey – Where Art & History Intersect. The collection of artifacts and works from the 1600s to modern day includes an early copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and a signed copy of Brown v. Board of Education. 830 E. Pratt St., rflewismuseum.org
Six races. One day. The Baltimore Running Festival inspires about 26,000 participants to cross the finish line each year. Held in October, the event includes a marathon, half-marathon, kids run and 5K. Non-racing activities include a health-and-fitness expo, games and a crab-eating contest. Note: This is a USATF Certified Boston Qualifier course. thebaltimoremarathon.com
Where to dine
Swing by the Charmery for ice cream, vegan sorbets, homemade sodas and cookies. The proprietors, a husband and wife team, use fresh and local ingredients for their creamy confections, which includes a peanut-butter-and-banana mix called Fat Elvis. In winter, opt for hot chocolate with whipped cream and flavoured marshmallows. 801 W 36th St., thecharmery.com
The Chesapeake, a farm-to-table-style raw bar and seafood restaurant in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District offers palate-pleasing dishes, such as shrimp and grits, and beet-cured salmon. 1701 North Charles St., thechesapeakebaltimore.com
Set three storeys above the Inner Harbor is Rusty Scrupper, a waterfront eatery that has a 30-plus-year track record for exceptional food and service. The dinner menu features fresh takes on old favourites, such as rockfish piccata, applewood-bacon trout and crab bruschetta. The Sunday jazz brunch hits all the right notes. 402 Key Highway, www.selectrestaurants.com/rusty
Artifact Coffee, a creation by James Beard-nominated chef Spike Gjerde, offers lattes, espressos and teas. Things get creative with the "day menu," which touts cold noodles with kohlrabi and a vegetable bahn mi with marinated tofu. Cookies, cupcakes and an espresso float are worth the calories – if you're counting. 1500 Union Ave., artifactcoffee.com
Where to shop
Lexington Market, in the same location for almost 250 years, is your one-stop shop. You'll find beauty products, flowers, shoes, baked goods, fried chicken, seafood – even a barber shop. Most importantly, you can pick up Baltimore's signature Berger cookie: shortbread topped with a thick, fudge-like layer. 400 W. Lexington St., lexingtonmarket.com
Modern lines and indie designs are both available at Doubledutch Boutique, home to moderately priced apparel and accessories. On the first Friday of the month they offer refreshments, music and a 10-per-cent discount. 1021 West 36th St., doubledutchboutique.com
Atomic Books sells small-press prints, art publications and comics. Adding to the quirkiness is a collection of cassettes, LPs, video games and action figures. 3620 Falls Rd., atomicbooks.com
Where to stay
In November, 2011, the Four Seasons Baltimore opened its doors as the first luxury resort in the Inner Harbor area. Waterfront rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and a big, beautiful bed. Bonus: A free car service takes guests to nearby museums during the week. Rooms from $349 (U.S.). 200 International Dr., fourseasons.com/baltimore
For Old-World-inspired grandeur, check in to the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore. Some rooms feature four-poster beds, brocade drapes, full-size dining set and replicated 18th-century paintings. Complimentary valet parking is available. Rooms from $189 (U.S.). 550 Light St., sonesta.com/baltimore
The writer travelled as a guest of Visit Baltimore. It did not review or approve this article.