Summer in Baltimore means the Orioles are playing at Camden Yards, paddle boats are plentiful in the Inner Harbor, and, in the evening, music from live concerts drifts on the warm air from the Pier Six Pavilion. But if you’re a Baltimore foodie, summer means one thing: the choicest produce and tastiest eats are filling the local markets.

A Storied History

Baltimore’s municipal market system is the oldest continually operating public market system in the United States. When it developed – Baltimore’s first market opened in 1763 – the markets were essential for food distribution. They gave farmers a central place to sell their wares to hungry city dwellers – essentially, they were the supermarkets of their day.

While certain markets have faded away, many of the originals remain, some with stallholders who have been there for generations. In recent years, new markets have also emerged, putting the limelight on Baltimore as a vibrant food city. Many are convenient to, and even walking distance from, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. (Several of the markets are also included in Hilton’s “Best of Baltimore” tour packages.)

If you’re looking for things to do in Baltimore, particularly on an empty stomach, a visit to one of these markets is a must for your itinerary.

The Historic Markets

For a taste of the city’s bygone era, visit one of the venerable Baltimore markets including Cross Street Market in the Federal Hill neighborhood, Lexington Market on the West Side, or Broadway Market on the central thoroughfare running through the bustling waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point. Each market reflects the character of its neighborhood and tells the story of the city’s immigrant past and present. While there are produce stalls and fishmongers, the tastiest treats are found in the delis and bakeries, like Berger’s Bakery in Lexington Market where you can indulge in the freshly baked version of Baltimore’s iconic Berger cookies. (Several markets are currently undergoing renovations, but remain open during construction.)

Lexington Market in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar

From live crabs and raw oysters to locally raised bison meat and garden-fresh tomatoes, this market is where Baltimore foodies congregate every Sunday morning. Located beneath the Jones Falls Expressway, this is the place to rub elbows with local chefs perusing the hydroponic lettuce. The market opens at 7:00 am and the line for a cup of Zeke’s Coffee gets long quickly, so give yourself plenty of time to walk the stalls and the craft bazaar.

The Newcomers

The key to the markets’ survival in the era of the mega supermarket is that they mix a sense of tradition with the understanding that they must reinvent. Newcomers to the Baltimore food scene R House and Mt. Vernon Marketplace are less food stall and more dining hall. These are lively meeting places perfect for a gathering of friends or a casual night out with the family. As each vendor features its own chef, the offerings are as eclectic as they are scrumptious and there’s something for every taste. Think Venezuelan Arepas, Korean BBQ, artisanal burgers, tacos, and gyros washed down with a craft beer.

R. House in Baltimore. Photography by Steven Norris.

Whether you want to savor the smell of fresh herbs and eyeball locally made cheeses, slurp a raw oyster from the Chesapeake Bay, or dip into a bowl of bibimbap, Baltimore’s markets offer a world of culinary adventure. They also provide a chance to mingle with the local residents and vendors – the people who are the reason this city is still Charm City.

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