Portland Observatory

#7 in Best Things To Do in Portland, ME
Portland Observatory picture
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Key Info

138 Congress St.

Details

Sightseeing Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
4.2scorecard
  • 3.5Value
  • 2.5Facilities
  • 4.0Atmosphere

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.

The observatory is open from late May through early October from 10 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. In July and August, it is open until 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 6 through 16. For more information, visit the observatory's website.

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More Best Things To Do in Portland, ME

Casco Bay Islands1 of 10
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Time to Spend
#1 Casco Bay Islands

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.  

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