Portland Observatory

#8 in Best Things To Do in Portland, ME
Portland Observatory picture
KenWiedemann/Getty Images

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.

See all Hotels in Portland, ME »

More Best Things To Do in Portland, ME

Old Port
Casco Bay Islands
Type
Time to Spend
1 of 10
#1 Old Port

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.

Read more
Corey Templeton/Flickr
See full list of Best Things To Do in Portland, ME »

Explore More of Portland, ME

Recommended

The World's 30 Best Places to Visit in 2019-20

Using reader input and expert analysis, U.S. News identified the latest can't-miss vacations.

Tilly PeckerJune 25, 2019

The 16 Best San Diego Tours

Take advantage of the adventures this coastal city has to offer with a guided trip.

Lyn MettlerJune 24, 2019

12 Top Napa Valley Wineries to Visit

Set your sights on these can't-miss wineries during your next visit to California's wine country.

Lyn MettlerJune 24, 2019

The 6 Best Denver Brewery Tours

Discover the buzz about Denver's craft beer scene with these tours.

Holly JohnsonJune 21, 2019

The 10 Best Charleston Walking Tours

Experience true southern hospitality as you explore Charleston on one of these strolls.

Claire LawtonJune 20, 2019

The 15 Best Charleston Tours

See everything this historic South Carolina city has to offer on one of these guided excursions.

John RodwanJune 19, 2019

The 5 Best Kauai Helicopter Tours

See the Garden Island's far-reaching beauty from the air.

Holly JohnsonJune 14, 2019

The 6 Best Las Vegas Helicopter Tours

Get a thrilling look at the lights and sights of Sin City and its surroundings with one of these tours.

Holly JohnsonJune 13, 2019

20 Road Trip Essentials for Your Vacation

These road trip must-haves can help you save money, travel more comfortably and ensure you stay safe on the open road.

Holly JohnsonJune 13, 2019

13 Top Charlottesville Wineries to Visit

Sip a glass of Virginia's signature viognier as the sun sets over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Gwen PratesiJune 12, 2019