Havre de Grace — pronounced locally as “HAV-eh deh Grace,” but “HAVE’r dee Grace” also works — is possibly the coolest small town on the Chesapeake Bay’s Western Shore. And, it’s easy to get to, just off Maryland’s I-95.
The city center is surrounded by historic homes which make for a nice walkabout, and the unusually large downtown is full of former mercantile buildings a block or two from the Susquehanna River where it opens into the Bay.
Even after COVID, those buildings are filled with hip restaurants, hopping pubs, antique stores, and stylish boutiques.
In the morning, the luscious smell of several small bakeries often wafts through the downtown area. In the afternoon and evening, it’s replaced by the grills from the many waterfront restaurants.
Make sure you have time to stroll the amazing promenade along the river and through the tidal marsh, just outside the downtown district. You’ll find amazing views of the river.
The town can be a weekend getaway any time of the year, but it has events and festivals throughout the year which make it especially fun.
Ironically, while it’s a waterfront town you’re not going to see much of the water unless you head to a bar or restaurant, or walk The Promenade about a mile away from the city center.
A Little Background on Havre de Grace
The town got its name from a visit by General Marquis de Lafayette during the Revolutionary War. He said the village reminded him of the French seaport, Le Havre. In 1785, residents renamed the town Havre de Grace, which is French for “Haven of Grace.” Originally, it was called Harmer’s Town.
In 1789, the 1st U.S. Congress considered making Havre de Grace the nation’s capital. It lost by one vote.
After that, the town continued to serve as a shipping terminal for Chesapeake Bay seafood, as well as fruits and vegetables during the summer. Residents turned to duck and goose hunting in the fall, drawing sportsmen from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.
Over the years, it transitioned into the stopping point for travelers on their way to and from New York City.
In the 1980s, the fading downtown got its second wind and became a quaint destination point. Farmland turned into suburbs for Baltimore and Wilmington (Delaware) workers. Historic downtown buildings began their renovation into pubs and shops
Downtown Havre de Grace & Historic District
The downtown business district is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s built on the side of a subtle hill that eases into the Susquehanna River. Even so, it’s an easy walkabout.
Restaurants have taken up the buildings near the water with the river view. Shops are spread out throughout the downtown if you’re up for a stroll.
A note for downtown shoppers: the stores generally don’t open until 10am and many wait until 11am. The town gears later for the tourists.
The five-mile downtown area is sprinkled with antique stores and vintage shops, from the high-end designer type to dusty dig-throughs.
Havre de Grace has a Bourbon Street. You’re not going to find distilleries, but you can learn to sail or charter a day on a sailboat.
Havre de Grace Walking Promenade/Pier (The Boardwalk)
South of the downtown area is The Promenade, also called the walking pier or boardwalk. It’s a 3/4 mile easy walk along the Susquehanna River.
The walk starts at the Concord Point Lighthouse (352 Commerce St, Havre De Grace, MD 21078), the oldest in Maryland, built in 1827. It’s next to the keeper’s house. Both are part of the National Park Service.
A short walk down the boardwalk is the Maritime Museum and a bit farther is the Decoy Museum. Both give you a chance to explore Havre de Grace’s maritime history.
The Maritime Museum takes visitors back 400 years to pre-colonial American life and it has a secret garden.
The Decoy Museum is full of duck hunting history and has a nice visitors’ shop. You can drive to both museums.
The walk ends at Millard Tydings Memorial Park (908 S Washington St, Havre De Grace, MD 21078) and Concord Point Park (700 Concord St, Havre de Grace, MD 21078), connecting riverfront parks for picnics and play.
The promenade is about a mile from downtown. So unless you’re a power-walker, you might consider driving than walking.
There is parking on both ends of the walk.
Havre de Grace Waterfront
Havre de Grace is a popular stop for boaters, which creates a bit of a boater’ bar scene during boating season.
Add to that, daytrippers escaping the big cities and you get a lively waterfront, especially on nice weekends.
Here’s a map of some of the waterfront bar choices.
What Else is in Havre de Grace?
The 1840 Lock House Museum offers sweeping views of the Susquehanna River. The Lock House is next to a pivot bridge. The original lock is on seven acres facing the river and is used for special events. It’s open seasonally and tells the story of transportation and life in Havre de Grace in the 1800s. It’s usually open Friday through Sunday, 1pm – 5pm. Admission is “pay what you can.”