Fells Point is a historic maritime neighborhood east of Baltimore‘s Inner Harbor area that contains the city’s densest collection of pubs, bars, and restaurants (good ones, that is).
Founded in 1763 and incorporated into the city in 1773, Fells Point is comfortably Baltimore’s most charming historic district—indeed, it was Maryland‘s first designated historic district. The harbor rose to prominence in the early nineteenth century as both a principal destination for immigrants arriving from Europe and for the U.S. shipbuilding industry. Fells Point was the birthplace of the first frigate of the Continental Navy, the Virginia, as well as the famed Baltimore Clipper: a fast ship used for privateering and blockade running to much success during the War of 1812. The wild success of the ships were in no small part responsible for the Battle of Baltimore—the British Navy targeted Baltimore in order to halt the production of these ships, responsible for so much damage to the Royal Treasury!
Fells Point was largely spared the decline faced by the rest of the city in the second half of the twentieth century, owing to the fact that it is simply beautiful. Preservationists kept a close watch on the condition of local historic buildings, and had financial muscle to back them up from wealthy locals who stayed here for the beautiful historic streets, and from businesses, many of which are built on the important tourist sector.
There are a host of other small neighborhoods in and on the periphery of Fells Point, the best known of which is Little Italy, a tiny neighborhood with a very tightly knit Italian immigrant community. Pretty, safe, authentic, and with wonderful food, it’s a highlight of any Baltimore visit (as long as you dodge the odd couple of tourist trap restaurants).
Jonestown is now thoroughly off the tourist radar, having undergone serious economic decline after the construction of low income housing projects in the mid-twentieth century, but has a fascinating history as the one-time center of Baltimore’s Jewish Community, and is today home to the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Beautiful Upper Fells Point is quieter and more residential than its bigger neighbor, but does have a few fantastic cheap Mexican restaurants worth seeking out, as it is home to Baltimore’s most rapidly growing Latino community. Butcher’s Hill, a one-time German-American and Jewish stronghold, is pretty enough, and undergoing a wave of new construction and development near Johns Hopkins University Hospital, but does not have any significant attractions for visitors.
Fells Point was the principal filming location for the national crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street, which can make for interesting viewing before or after a visit. Don’t expect your visit to share much in common with the stories on the show, though—you are highly unlikely to experience any crime while walking the harbor and its restaurants and shops, really any time of day.
Fells Point was also briefly seen in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. The character Becky (played by Rosie O’Donnell) can be seen exiting her car with a bag of groceries while tugboats moored at city pier can be seen in the background.
Fells Point Diner was also the fictional late night eating stop in the movie Diner – where the ensemble characters gathered to bicker about the night’s events and multiple mundane topics of daily life.
Parking is actually not that hard in Fells Point, although you will need to hunt a little bit for a parallel parking spot. Residential parking is limited to two free hours, after that you may find your car towed. Read the signs carefully. There are also a good number of metered spots on Broadway and around the harbor, which you can pay via credit card at the meter machines.
Fleet St and Broadway are the main avenues, although they are usually terribly backed up with traffic.