We’re back again with our student survival guide to help you hack Baltimore City. We’ll discuss different neighborhoods and accommodation options. Then we’ll get into the nitty gritty of every day life necessities like groceries and fitness.
You got into university so you are smart enough to know there are parts of Baltimore City with high levels of crime. For example…
When looking for a place to live, it’s not just about the price and distance to school, but the neighborhood as well.
Fear not: we will break it all down for you.
Which Baltimore neighborhood should I live in?
(For Johns Hopkins Medical campus-commuting students aka Johns Hopkins Medical School, School of Public Health, and School of Nursing)
Map of the neighborhoods mentioned below:
This is the heart of charming Charm City. Cobblestones, historic center, row houses, the bay.
Fells has a lively nightlife scene and lots of restaurants. It’s super easy to get to the medical campus by foot, shuttle, Circulator, or bike. It’s also easy to get to Canton or the Inner Harbor from Fells, but Mount Vernon and Charles Village are a bit farther.
Do note if you’re not either in Butcher’s Hill / Upper Fells or down below Eastern Ave, you still aren’t in a “safe zone”. Rents are on the more expensive side, as it is a popular neighborhood.
Many students choose to live in Mount Vernon because rent is cheaper than Fells (you can live in a studio or one bedroom for less than $1000) and it’s pretty simple to get to school using the free shuttle system.
Mount Vernon also has the advantage of putting you close to Penn Station (the train station) and the Light Rail Train.
Mount Vernon has a plethora of restaurants, museums, bars and shops but is way more “city” than any of the other neighborhoods with tall buildings and lots of traffic. You also don’t have easy access to the water or to a grassy park.
Also lots of shops and restaurants, easy access to Harris Teeter (being near a grocery store is a real anomaly in Baltimore!) and rent is also cheaper than in Fells Point. With all these factors, cost of living can be very attractive in Canton.
You can live either closer to Fells Point & Patterson Park (West/North) or closer to Canton Square (East/South) with its pubs, restaurants, and bars.
There are not a lot of public transportation options here so you would be depending on walking it out (it’s over 30 minutes to get to JHMI by foot) or biking (15 min). As we said in our transportation post, Hopkins shuttles don’t go into Canton or Federal Hill.
Patterson Park/McElderly & 929
You’re good to go right along the northern edge of Patterson Park but going even a block north, as you can see on the heat map, and you’re back in red.
This neighborhood does not have a lot of accessible grocery options (Northeast Market and Save-a-lot) but in better news, it can be relatively easy to find a parking space north of Patterson Park compared to other neighborhoods.
Except for 929, rent can be really cheap and you’re very close to the campus. The 929 apartments feel a bit like a dorm. Students populate half of the building and there are always activities hosted by the management or by Hopkins students themselves on the 9th floor rooftop.
Gatien won a pumpkin carving contest (3rd place) there and we hosted pot-lucks and pretty awesome get-togethers. That being said, the area is not great (it slowly gets better – in construction), especially to go out to eat or hangout: you’ll need to rely on the green Circulator or a car (and its existence as a city service is currently being debated).
This neighborhood is all the way up north near the undergrad Hopkins campus. It feels more “campus-y” with quads and backpacked students walking about.
There aren’t a ton of bars and restaurants in this area and you will likely need to have a car if you want to get around easily. Otherwise, there’s the Hopkins shuttle local and express. You can also take the purple Circulator, which can drop you at Penn Station in Mount Vernon where you can pick up the Hopkins shuttle.
Rent is super cheap compared to all the other regions and the area feels more relaxed than somewhere like Mount Vernon.
Even further north from Charles Village, Hampden is perhaps known as Baltimore’s quirkiest neighborhood. Not many JHMI-commuting students live here but rent is cheap and the area is charming and filled with some of Baltimore’s foodie restaurants.
Federal Hill is not at the top of the list because commuting to JHMI is difficult and time-consuming.
It’s really too bad: Fed Hill feels like a complete different city from Baltimore! Little shops and restaurants, affordable cost of living and good access to groceries make this area really charming.
The Riverside Park and Fort McHenry are also popular places to go for a run or hangout with a book. The nightlife here is the most active in the city with the undergraduate students (over)populating the clubs and bars all and every weekends. Fun times. Some characterize Fed Hill as “fratty” but check it out and see for yourself.
How do I find a place to live in Baltimore?
Craigslist: Yes, really! We used Craigslist to find our apartments multiple times. Browse using their map feature and make sure to visit the place before committing to anything (as you would in any city) to be sure you know what you’re getting.
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions’ Off Campus Housing site: Find others affiliated with Hopkins and make them your roomies! You’ll still feel a bit in the bubble, but it’s a convenient way to look at lodging if you cannot come to Baltimore ahead of time.
The Hopkins Housing Facebook group: This group is very active with 4300 members and growing. You can post about what you’re looking for or see if there are any good fits.
Where can I go?
First, let’s look at a map of the main grocery stores in Baltimore (green carts on the map).
What can I get?
For basic groceries in Baltimore (without a car): Harris Teeter, Target, Safeway, and Whole Foods (in order of price) are your best bet for a one-not-complicated-trip to the grocery store. They’re all reachable by bike or foot.
For local food, the best bet can be farmers’ markets either seasonal (Fells Point Farmers’ Market, every Sunday morning in the summer) or permanent (Lexington Market, Northeast Market). Permanent markets will offer local (VA/PA/MD) vegetables as well as meats and fish, while seasonal markets may focus more on jams, pickled goods and more artisan/street foods.
For specialty groceries, H-mart (Korean, Japanese, Chinese), smaller grocery stores (Indian, Italian, Halal) and bulk import stores like Prima Foods (Greek) are good bet: there’s a lot of variety and you can almost find anything. Some will be at the corner of your street, some will require a car to access them.
For lower prices, it works well to get outside of Baltimore to access Walmart, H-mart, Giant, or Costco – but you’ll definitely need a car.
How can I spend less?
Most of the large grocery stores have fidelity programs: usually as a card that keeps track of your purchases and gives you discounts. Most of them don’t require any purchase / membership and can be asked for at checkout.
What if I don’t have a car?
The options are more limited, but it’s not impossible. If you live in one of the neighborhood we described above, there is at least one grocery store that you can access by foot. Having a bicycle is not a bad idea to expand your range of options, but the hills and the lack of bike lanes can make it hazardous for inexperienced riders.
You can also order groceries online for a fee (range from $10 to $15 / delivery) with Safeway or other grocery stores. If you live with roommates (and you get along), think of grouping orders together to pay much less.
Now, Uber / Lyft as well as Zipcar can be good options to get groceries. It may be only slightly more expensive ($12 – $20) than ordering it online but provides you with all of the available options. I found that getting a Zipcar for 2 hours to get groceries at Giant & Walmart saved me money (in total) compared to walking to any of the stores downtown.
If you like to go to the gym, you’ll be pleased to know you have free access to the Cooley Center near campus. It’s a dark, carpeted, aging cinderblock basement, so it’s never really busy (honestly, I only used it twice for activities held there).
Most people at the School of Public Health prefer to go to the *very* small gym on the 9th floor of the School of Public Health with lots of light and amazing views of the city. We used this gym for the most part, although it closes super early (7pm) and isn’t open on weekends.
If you like running, the trail by the water is amazing. It’s about 7 miles total if you do the whole thing from Canton to Fort McHenry. Of course you can do any stretch of it you want and turn around.
There are also trails throughout Patterson Park but it’s easy to get lost actually! Be sure not to be in the park after dark.
There are many yoga studios around town – just give it a Google. It’s not the cheapest way to stay fit, however; you’re looking at $15+ per drop-in class or over $100 a month for membership.