Best Things To Do in Portland, ME
A stroll through the nooks and crannies of Old Port offers a great introduction to Portland's history, not to mention its outstanding foodie scene. When you're looking for a thirst-quenching lager to pair with all of the city's delicious eats, head to one of Portland's microbreweries; many offer free brewery tours. Meanwhile, those with even the slightest interest in the arts should visit the greats at the Portland Museum of Art or tour the grand interiors of the Victoria Mansion. And if you're just looking to admire the splendor of Maine's lovely landscapes, head to Eastern Promenade or plan daytrips to the Casco Bay Islands or Cape Elizabeth.
- #1View all Photos#1 in Portland, ME3.5 miles to city centerBeaches, Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Shopping, Swimming/Pools, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND3.5 miles to city centerBeaches, Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Shopping, Swimming/Pools, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Though beaches are few and far between in Portland, shorelines abound in the nearby Casco Bay Islands. The Casco Bay Islands are a group of islands located off the coast of Portland, six of which are accessible by ferry year-round. Each island has its own personality, history, attractions and activities.
Cliff Island, one of the smallest Casco Bay Islands, is home to only 60 residents year-round and is the only year-round island that features unpaved roads and as such, cars are seldom used. Meanwhile, Great Diamond, which was home to historic Fort McKinley, is lauded for its quintessential Maine landscape and boasts shallow, rocky shorelines backed by lush forests. Cars aren't allowed, so walking, biking or getting around on golf carts are the modes of transportation. You'll find plenty of beaches on this isle, specifically the stunning Diamond Cove, as well as a small museum, a bowling alley and tennis courts. You can make a weekend of it and stay at the Inn at Diamond Cove, which has a host of activities and excellent dining options.
- #2View all PhotosfreeOld Port#2 in Portland, ME0.3 miles to city centerCafes, Shopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerCafes, Shopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Old Port is without a doubt the beating heart of Portland. This downtown neighborhood is considered the city's center and bustles with things to do left and right, all the while gracefully maintaining its historical facade. The area is lined with cobblestone streets and 19th-century warehouses, and with the wharf just steps away on Commercial Street, the city's heydays as a world-renowned port town are easily felt. Tourists can benefit from ferries and cruise experiences as well as the delectable catches that dock there daily.
Away from the waterfront, travelers will find plenty of options to sustain and entertain. Some of the city's most popular restaurants can be found in Old Port. Duckfat, Fore Street and Eventide Oyster Co., some of Portland's best dining spots, are within a three-block radius of one another. Though dining and shopping is spread out through the neighborhood, Congress Street is a great starting point; restaurants, boutiques, local art galleries and theaters line this thoroughfare. The edge of the Old Port neighborhood is also considered the beginning of the Arts District, which houses plenty of notable attractions, including the Portland Museum of Art, the Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine and the Portland Stage Company, to name a few.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Portland, ME0.4 miles to city centerTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.4 miles to city centerTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Beer is to Portland is what lobster is to Maine. If you visit without sampling some brew, you're missing out. Portland is considered by experts to be one of America's best beer cities thanks to its large crop of local brewers as well as its role in the microbrew movement. Though more than 20 microbreweries may not sound like much, for a city with a population of a little more than 66,700, it's plenty for both residents and visiting beer enthusiasts.
There are a variety of beer tours offered by a number of operators, including Maine Beer Tours and the seasonal Bike and Brew Tour. For those who want to brewery hop on their own, Allagash, Shipyard, Sebago, and the family-owned Rising Tide, are some of the city's most popular breweries offering their own tours. Allagash is consistently recognized as Portland's best by both experts and travelers alike. The brewery stands out for reintroducing Belgian-style brews to the country in the mid-90s and is considered a leader in the microbrew movement. Shipyard, another leader in the microbrew revolution, produces English-style ales from a 150-year-old yeast strain from the owner's former home, and Sebago produces its beer with water from the nearby Sebago Lake State Park.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Portland, ME0.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
For such a small city, Portland houses some pretty big names in its art museum. Andy Warhol, Claude Monet and Winslow Homer are among the icons showcased within the Portland Museum of Art. Along with some of the greats, the museum features an extensive collection of American, European and contemporary works, as well as pieces from Maine artists. Paintings abound, but you'll also find photographs, sketches, pottery, furniture, ornate silverware, sculptures and so much more. The collection is so big – more than 18,000 pieces – that it would take nearly 10 years of constant gallery rotations to see everything in the museum, according to its website. Additionally, the museum hosts regular events including movie showings, curator talks and various activities geared toward families, including designated PMA Family Days. It also sells tickets to the seaside home of Homer, whose house is considered a landmark in the history of American art.
Recent travelers were impressed with the Portland Museum of Art, expressing their delight at its collections. Visitors enjoyed the diversity of styles featured, from French impressionists to American classics, as well as the numerous works displayed, with many saying they could have easily explored the premises all day.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Portland, ME0.8 miles to city centerBeaches, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.8 miles to city centerBeaches, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Portland's waterfront is at its most picturesque at the Eastern Promenade. Beloved by locals, the Eastern Promenade is a 68-acre waterfront park located on a stretch of land separating Back Cove from the Fore River. The park offers trails, beaches and plenty of grassy areas to simply kick back and unwind. To make the most of your visit, take a stroll along the 2-mile-long Eastern Promenade Trail, which starts in the heart of the Old Port.
Once an old rail line, the Eastern Promenade Trail takes visitors away from the excitement of the city's center to the rocky banks of Fort Allen Park. Once you've gotten your fill of the scenic shoreline, consider a climb up the park's grassy hills for sweeping views of the bay, as well as the islands and boats that dot its deep blue waters. From there, you'll hit the small yet charming East End Beach (Portland's only public beach), where you'll find plenty of locals embarking on bay adventures and soaking up the sun. Those looking to continue their coastal trek can follow the Eastern Promenade Trail and connect directly to the Back Cove Trail, which snakes along Back Cove. There are plenty of other shorter trails and paths located in the park that bring hikers to various points of interest.
- #6View all PhotosfreeCape Elizabeth#6 in Portland, ME7.5 miles to city centerBeaches, Hiking, Monuments and Memorials, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND7.5 miles to city centerBeaches, Hiking, Monuments and Memorials, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Along with the Casco Bay Islands, Cape Elizabeth is a nice daytrip option for those in search of rolling hills and beaches. The town is located about 9 miles south of Portland and is best known for its lighthouses. You may recognize the Two Lights lighthouse, which is featured in Edward Hopper's well-known "The Lighthouse at Two Lights," a painting housed in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Cape Elizabeth is also home to the Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park. Commissioned by George Washington in the late 1700s, it's Maine's oldest lighthouse. Portland Head Light is also considered one of the most photographed lighthouses in the U.S., and some even say the entire world.
The area is also home to the beautiful Crescent Beach State Park. The mile-long beach offers gentle waters backed by a spacious shoreline and grassy (and depending on the season, flowery) dunes. From the beach, visitors enjoy sweeping views of the ocean and a lush offshore island. The area is also packed with amenities, including a snack bar, picnic tables, restrooms and a lifeguard (in the summer), making it a popular spot for families.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Portland, ME0.5 miles to city centerSightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND0.5 miles to city centerSightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
For some of the best views of the harbor, head to the historic Portland Observatory, the country's last standing maritime signal tower. Built in 1807, the octagonal, 86-foot high tower was commissioned by captain Lemuel Moody as a communication station for Portland's harbor, but it wasn't built as an altruistic measure. Moody charged ship owners an annual fee of $5 to alert merchants (who he also charged) of ships arriving. He could spot them from as far as 30 miles away with his telescope. Before the observatory was built, ships couldn't be seen from town until they came around a point of land and were practically in the harbor. Moody offered an advantage to both paying captains and merchants, while also making a tidy profit for himself.
Eventually, the two-way radio made the need for the tower obsolete, but the Moody family had a good run, operating it until 1923. After some years of neglect the observatory was donated to Portland and in 1984, Greater Portland Landmarks took over and restored it. Recent visitors said the views from the observatory are not-to-be missed and its history is fascinating.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Portland, ME0.7 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Architecture buffs and lovers of interior design will be swept up by the opulence of the Victoria Mansion. This National Historic Landmark was originally built in the mid-1800s as a summer house for hotelier Ruggles Sylvester Morse. But after it was damaged during a hurricane in 1938, the house was scheduled for demolition to make way for a gas station. A Maine resident quickly bought the home and turned it into a museum in honor of Queen Victoria.
What makes the Victoria Mansion so important in the eyes of historians is that it's seen as an exemplary illustration of pre-Civil War grandeur. The exterior of the house was modeled after an Italian villa and features an ornate square tower, numerous balconies and piazzas. Inside, prepare to be even more amazed. Ninety percent of the original interiors are still intact, with carved wood paneled walls, gas light fixtures, cherub-clad crown molds, and ornate draperies and carpeting throughout. Designed by Gustave Herter of Herter Brothers, one of the most popular design firms of the day, it is the only work of his kind in the U.S. that remains intact. Another interesting aspect of this house is that it was actually considered modern in its era. The property features running hot and cold water, gas lighting, central heating and a system to alert servants.
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