Baltimore travel: Hip revamp is a work of art

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Inner Harbor, BaltimoreInner Harbor is the centrepiece of downtown Baltimore (Image: Getty Images)

TV viewers may remember its gritty depiction in gripping Noughties crime drama The Wire but, a decade on, Maryland's largest city has undergone a surprising transformation. Traditional blue collar neighbourhoods are now hipster epicentres, with vintage clothes shops, retro diners and quirky art galleries. Historic mansions and industrial buildings have been turned into boutique hotels, there's a shiny waterfront area - and a packed calendar of festivals. Throw in a healthy dollop of kitsch and eccentricity and it has all the qualities loved by trendy weekend breakers keen to "experience" a destination by embracing its history, culture and spirit.

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To get an immediate sense of the surroundings, we checked in to Hotel Revival, a historic building that housed Baltimore Museum of Art's inaugural exhibition in 1923. True to its roots, the walls now act as gallery space for local artists, plus there's a buzzing rooftop restaurant.

My room - a cosy double with beautiful curved furniture, a low coffee table and soft lighting - had views over Washington Monument, a famous landmark in the Mount Vernon district. Tourists can climb the 227 marble steps that spiral to the top for a breezy view of the surrounding neighbourhoods.

If you fancy a true taste of the city before hitting the sights, check out Miss Shirley's Café, a Baltimore institution with branches at Roland Park and the Inner Harbour. Named after Miss Shirley McDowell, who for more than 30 years educated a generation of food professionals, the dishes here are created with pure sass.

Start like you mean business with "mornin' cocktail" (try a That's My Jam! Crush with vodka and strawberry lemonade) then move on to one of the house favourites such as chicken 'n' cheddar green onion waffles.

Of Baltimore's many museums and art galleries, one of the best is the American Visionary Art Museum, or AVAM (avam.org).

Back in 1814, US soldiers at Fort McHenry raised a huge American flag to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces during theWar of 1812. It was this sight that inspired Francis Scott Key to write Star Spangled Banner, which eventually became the US national anthem.

American Visionary Art MuseumAmerican Visionary Art Museum (Image: NC)

Mount Vernon and Washington MonumentMount Vernon and Washington Monument (Image: NC)

It's fitting that the lyric "O Say Can You See" is in big colourful letters on the wall of the museum.

The work itself here, crammed into every nook of the space, really grabs the imagination with pieces by intuitive artists, usually without formal training, each with a compelling story.

In sharp contrast is the airy Baltimore Museum of Art (artbma.org) which hosts an impressive 95,000 modern and contemporary works, as well as paintings by Cézanne, Gauguin,Van Gogh and the world's largest collection of Matisse masterpieces. There is also The Walters Art Museum in Mount Vernon which displays centuries of art as well as world-class touring exhibitions (thewalters.org).

Getting around Baltimore is all part of the fun if you travel by water taxi. We jumped aboard for a trip across the harbour before stopping for a beautiful seafood lunch at Loch Bar, a classic Maryland oyster house in the Four Seasons hotel.

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