2400 E. Fort Ave., 410/962-4290,
HOURS: Daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
COST: $7 adult, children free
In 1814, star-shaped Fort McHenry was the lynchpin in the defense of the city of Baltimore  during the War of 1812. The fort was squarely in the sights of the invading British army that had just burned Washington, D.C. to the ground; a fleet of warships was bound and determined to pass the fort and attack Baltimore , while a second prong of attack—an army of British soldiers—marched into the city from the east.
The British bombardment was massive, yet the defenders—numbering only 60 men—managed to hold off the Brits after an evening of relentless fire. When the smoke cleared and the dawn came, the enormous American flag sewn by Baltimorean Mary Pickersgill languidly flapped above the fort, letting a prisoner in one of the British vessels—Francis Scott Key—know that Fort McHenry remained in American hands. The invasion failed; Key was released; and the verses he had written after realizing the battle’s outcome would (eventually) become “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem.
Start the tour with the obligatory, aged informational film (starring an actor in period attire playing a barely important character from the War of 1812) in the fort’s visitors center: the only reason to endure the film is for what happens at the end, which is a manipulative but effective theatrical tool that cannot be revealed. Suffice to say, it will stir whatever patriotism lives within you.
Then head down the walkway to the fort itself, which is the only site in the United States designated as both a National Monument and a Historic Shrine. You can tour the bastions and barracks, which remain mostly as they were back in 1814, and see the powder magazine that was struck by a British shell during the bombardment—but did not explode, which would have probably turned the tide of the battle against the American defenders. The surrounding waterfront park and trail is popular with locals for running and picnicking, and a stroll around the grounds gives a great view of Canton’s working waterfront and the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the distance.