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Baltimore: A Book Lover’s Dream

Explore Baltimore's literary events, take a literary history tour and check out the places that inspired Baltimore's most famous literary residents.

One of Baltimore’s many mottos collected over the years is “The City That Reads.” Originally coined decades ago by former Mayor Kurt Schmoke to encourage literacy, today the slogan resonates in many other ways. Once home to famous writers like Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.L. Mencken, there is no shortage of historic sites and can’t-miss attractions. The city has long been home to iconic public libraries, most notably the George Peabody Library and the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and Baltimore’s modern cultural renaissance has also fostered a thriving bookstore community, with must-visit shops found all over the city, and literary-inspired restaurants—we even named our NFL team after a famous poem (Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”). Check out our list of literary hot spots to discover in Charm City.

Hop Around

Literary Landmarks

The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum

Edgar Allan Poe once lived at this house-turned-museum with his family for years. It has been very well preserved from its original state, so you can walk on the same floors and stairs and wander within the original plaster walls and woodwork that Poe once did. See the writing desk and chair where he created some of his early works, among other significant artifacts.

Poe House Exterior

Step inside one of Baltimore’s most iconic rowhomes, Edgar Allan Poe’s house on North Amity Street.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church

The first woman in history to receive a Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Edna St. Vincent Millay, frequently read during meetings of the Maryland Poetry Society at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon. Millay championed the plight of women and the oppression of traditional gender roles, and was known as “the embodiment of the liberated woman of the 1920s.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s House

F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer of great works like “This Side of Paradise” and “The Great Gatsby,” went through a dark period in Baltimore. This house in Bolton Hill is the last place he lived with his wife Zelda. Writer H.L. Mencken wrote in his journal in 1934: “The case of F. Scott Fitzgerald has become distressing. He is a boozing in a wild manner and has become a nuisance.” Although the house is not open to the public, you can see a blue historical designation on the outside of the rowhome.

Gertrude Stein’s House

Although Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo only lived in this location for about six years, the influence of life in Mount Vernon introduced Stein to a variety of people and perspectives that influenced much of her later work. Stein studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University for three years and later claimed Baltimore as her “place of domicile” in her will despite her 39-year absence from the city.

H.L. Mencken House

H.L. Mencken lived in Baltimore for more than 45 years and wrote for many city publications, including “The Baltimore Sun.” He was given the nickname the “Sage of Baltimore.” He lived in this brick rowhouse with a view of Union Square from 1883 until his death in 1956. It was recently renovated to become a museum dedicated to the author’s life and works.

John H.B. Latrobe House

In this house, on an evening in October of 1883, Latrobe and two other Baltimore writers pored over manuscripts submitted in a literary contest sponsored by the “Baltimore Saturday Visitor.” Their unanimous choice for the best prose tale was “MS. Found in a Bottle,” by an unknown, penniless author named Edgar Allan Poe. The $50 cash prize helped launch his literary career. The home in Downtown Baltimore is now a private residence but it signifies a milestone in Poe’s career.

Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church

This Victorian Gothic church in Mount Vernon was built at the site that once housed the mansion of Elizabeth Phoebe Key, the daughter of Francis Scott Key, who penned “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Francis Scott Key died in his home, and a plaque observing his death is on the southern exterior church wall.

Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum’s extraordinary collection chronicles the art of the book for more than 1,000 years. The collection includes more than 900 illuminated manuscripts, 1,250 of the first printed books, and an important collection of post-1500 deluxe editions. Books come from all over the world to live in the Mount Vernon museum, and include first-printed editions of ancient texts by great thinkers such as Aristotle and Euclid, diaries written by Napoleon, and intricate bindings crafted by Tiffany.

Person standing in a gallery at the Walters Art Museum

Literary history lives among the Walters Art Museum’s expansive collection.

 

Westminster Hall & Burying Ground

Edgar Allen Poe's gravestone

Visit Edgar Allan Poe’s final resting place right here in Baltimore.

Westminster Hall, one of the most historic half-acres in Downtown Baltimore, is an architectural landmark. The imposing brick church was built in the early 1850s and several historical figures are buried here, including the famed poet Edgar Allan Poe and his wife and mother-in-law. Inquire about arranging a tour of the grounds and catacombs.

Literary-themed Restaurants and Bars

Annabel Lee's Tavern

Named for one of Edgar Allan Poe‘s poems, this intimate Canton bar pays homage to the writer with dim lighting, gothic décor and hand-painted walls sprawled with lines of poetry. Check Annabel Lee‘s menu for cocktails titled “The Raven” and “Edgar.”

Apropoe's

Located inside the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront in Harbor East, Apropoe’s restaurant gives a subtle nod to the mysterious Edgar Allan Poe with its gothic feel. Dishes are classic American inspired by local fare with names like the Poe burger.

Seating area in low lighting

Literary excellence is all around Apropoe’s, from the atmosphere to the menu.

The Bluebird Cocktail Room

This literary-themed bar in Hampden features large communal tables, navy blue walls, a gas fireplace and a long bar for pub-style dining service. The cocktails (named after the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf) are complemented by a menu of European bistro fare including charcuterie, fried sweetbreads and steak fries.

Long dining table surrounded by barstools

Literature is the backbone of this bar named after a poem by Charles Bukowski.

The Charmery

Stop by this handmade ice cream shop with locations in Hampden and Federal Hill for the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired flavor Tell Tale Chocolate. Stay for the other one-of-a-kind flavors like Old Bay caramel and Otterbein Sugar Cookie.

Ice cream scoop sign in front of The Charmery

The story at The Charmery is always changing with new flavors to try every time you stop by.

The Owl Bar

F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.L. Mencken frequented this bar in the historic Belvedere Hotel in Mount Vernon. The hotel has since been converted to apartments and offices, but not much has changed since the Jazz Age (a term Fitzgerald coined) for The Owl Bar. The dimly lit bar features oak benches and stained-glass windows, and even an owl statue that signaled the police were near with the blink of its eyes during Prohibition.

Interior of the Owl Bar

Transport back in time for a night when you enjoy a cocktail in this local landmark.

TellTale Restaurant

This restaurant and bar in the downtown Delta Hotel by Marriott pays homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Subtle touches such as the ravens on the carpet also harken back to the famous writer.

Iconic Book Stores and Libraries

Atomic Books

“Literary finds for mutated minds” is the slogan of this independent Hampden bookstore, which also serves as the fan mail collection point for famed Baltimore native, artist and filmmaker John Waters. Atomic Books has been curating an eclectic selection of comics, books, zines and art for more than 20 years, and features a cozy bar in the back for hosting events.

Woman browsing for books at Atomic Books

It won’t be hard to get lost in the sea of titles offered at Atomic Books.

Bird in Hand

For an elevated bookstore and coffee shop experience, visit Bird in Hand in Charles Village. It’s a collaboration between Spike Gjerde, James Beard award-winning chef and owner of Artifact Coffee, and Ed and Ann Berlin, husband-and-wife owners of The Ivy Bookshop. This inviting space is lined with must-read titles and holds book readings every month.

The Book Escape

Don’t let the small storefront in historic Federal Hill fool you, The Book Escape has endless shelves of new, used and rare books. In addition to the ones on shelves, The Book Escape has more than 40,000 books in storage that are searchable through its website.

Charlotte Elliott & The Bookstore Next Door

Stopping by Charlotte Elliott in Hampden is a must for antiques hunters and vintage lovers, while The Bookstore Next Door features two levels of books from fiction and science to poetry and cookbooks. Charlotte Hays, owner of Charlotte Elliott & The Bookstore Next Door, is the fourth generation of antiques and arts dealers in her family.

Drama MaMa Bookshop

Alisa Brock, owner and Drama MaMa in question, proclaims that we should “write…and then write some more.” Whether you’re creating the next great novel or scribbling a quick grocery list, Drama MaMa Bookshop supplies all the coolest stationery you’ll ever need. You can even customize your own journal, adding a logo or image and choosing the cover and paper type.

Hands holding three brown journals

Because one can never have too many journals.

Enoch Pratt Free Library

The main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library takes up nearly an entire city block near Mount Vernon. An entire room at the library is dedicated to American writer H.L. Mencken, and there is also a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s letters, poetry and photographs—and even a lock of his hair. One of the oldest free public library systems in the United States, there are 22 additional branches throughout the city and surrounding area.

Exterior of Pratt Library

The iconic Enoch Pratt Free Library is a must see for any literary lover.

George Peabody Library

This expansive library in Mount Vernon near the Washington Monument has been described as a “cathedral of books” and is considered to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. The Peabody Library‘s atrium is surrounded by six tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies. The library’s 300,000 volume collection is open for perusal by the general public, and it houses an impressive amount of H.L. Mencken’s writings.

Interior from above of the Peabody Library in Baltimore.

The Peabody Library, which opened its doors in 1878, stands six stories tall and houses more than 300,000 books.

Greedy Reads

Greedy Reads is a light-flooded book shop in Fell’s Point opened in 2018 by Julia Fleischaker, a Maryland native who moved back after working in publishing for nearly two decades in New York. A deep love of books and desire to create community drives her store’s ethos and programming, which includes a book club and discussions, and led to a second location in Remington.

Greedy Reads Bookstore owner standing among books

If you’re lucky, you might find Greedy Read’s shop dog, Audie, hanging out among the books.

The Ivy Bookshop

The Ivy Bookshop on Falls Road is a well-stocked independent bookstore with everything from bestsellers to niche titles. Find your perfect book with the help of knowledgeable book advisers, join a book club or meet national and local writers.

Literary History and Heritage Tours

Baltimore National Heritage Area’s Mount Vernon Cultural Walk

The Baltimore National Heritage Area provides 90-minute guided tours exploring the fine architecture and world-renowned institutions along Charles Street, one of the city’s main arteries and a National Historic Byway. Stops include the Walters Art Museum, Enoch Pratt Free Library and the George Peabody Institute. Guided tours generally depart from the Baltimore Visitor Center (401 Light Street in the Inner Harbor); maps for self-guided tours are also available for purchase there.

Maryland Humanities’ Literary Mount Vernon Walking Tour

Follow in the footsteps of some of Baltimore’s literary greats by exploring their neighborhood haunts and learning more about their lives in Baltimore. The Maryland Humanities literary tour begins at the Enoch Pratt Free Library (400 Cathedral Street). Take a self-guided tour using the Baltimore Heritage app, or follow along online.

Annual Literary Events

Baltimore Book Festival

The Inner Harbor is turned into a book-lover’s paradise during this weekend-long festival. Hundreds of author appearances, readings and book signings take place, and exhibitors and booksellers set up shop in booths along the water. There are workshops, panel discussions, live music and concessions, as well as plenty of hands-on activities for kids.

Inner Harbor waterfront path

The waterfront at the Inner Harbor serves as the beautiful backdrop for this celebration of books.

Baltimore CityLit Festival

The CityLit Project is dedicated to elevating enthusiasm for literary arts in the Baltimore area. Each year, the organization hosts a daylong celebration of literature in partnership with the Enoch Pratt Free Library. In addition to bringing well-known authors to Baltimore, the festival showcases Baltimore’s diverse community of literary journals and organizations, small presses and self-published authors.

International Edgar Allan Poe Festival and Awards

The annual International Edgar Allan Poe Festival and Awards coincides each year with Poe’s death day, October 7. The free outdoor event features Poe-themed performances, art, vendors and food across the street from the Poe House & Museum on North Amity Street where the poet once lived.

Edgar Allan Poe Square street sign

What better way to celebrate the macabre writer’s legacy than right in front of his former house?

Visit Baltimore Merch

Show off your Baltimore pride in style with t-shirts, hats and hoodies featuring the Visit Baltimore logo. Plus get your hands on our one-of-a-kind posters.