Best Things To Do in Portland, OR
If you're looking to pub crawl, try the excellent bars and breweries. If you travel in June, take part in the annual Portland Rose Festival at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park or stop by the International Rose Test Garden to see why Portland is known as the City of Roses. For sightseeing, rent a bike and tour the storefronts in the St. Johns neighborhood. To catch up on your reading, try Powell's City Books. In the winter, the area is an ideal ski and winter sports destination, especially around Mount Hood.
Updated September 3, 2019
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Many critics, travelers and locals agree that of all of Portland's parks (and they are numerous), Washington Park is perhaps the best. Home to such notable landscaping feats as the Portland Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden, as well as the World Forestry Center, Hoyt Arboretum and several memorials dedicated to pivotal points in Oregon's history.
There are also family-friendly attractions like the Oregon Zoo and Portland Children's Museum along with a large playground, soccer fields, tennis courts and an archery range. Just make sure you save plenty of time for a leisurely stroll down one of the many shady paths, which are often decorated with flower displays and fountains.
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Not until you visit these sprawling gardens will you fully understand the reasoning behind one of Portland's nicknames, the City of Roses. Established in 1917 by the American Rose Society, it began as a sanctuary for European grown hybrid roses during World War I and is now the oldest official continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States.
Home to more than 10,000 roses, the site also offers the special Shakespeare Garden, which is filled with roses that are named after the characters in William Shakespeare's plays. To get a peek at smaller versions of your favorite roses, check out the Miniature Rose Garden. The award-winning roses are found in the aptly named Gold Award garden. If you have your heart set on seeing the roses in full bloom, plan an early summer visit.
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When the hustle and bustle of Portland start to get the best of you, you can seek out the Zen-like tranquility at the Japanese Garden within Washington Park.
The 12-acre Portland Japanese Garden is made up of eight separate gardens that represent different styles of traditional Japanese gardening techniques. All of the gardens feature essential elements like stone, water and plants that come from influences of the Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist philosophies, creating a unique, serene environment where visitors feel they are becoming a part of nature. The garden also features the Kashintei Tea House, where visitors can take part in a traditional tea ceremony. If you're visiting in late March, don't miss the chance to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
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Occupying an entire city block, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is among some of the only authentic Chinese gardens in the country. Modeled after China's Ming dynasty gardens, the Lan Su Chinese Garden aims at being a place where people can escape the hustle of everyday life and connect with nature. In addition to featuring plants and trees native to China as well as an 8,000 square feet lake, the garden also hosts a variety of Chinese cultural events, ranging from tai chi to tea tastings.
Many recent visitors said that despite the long lines, the gardens were a highlight of their trip to Portland, describing the space as "tranquil," "stunning" and an "urban oasis." They also highly recommended taking the guided tour, saying it added context to the beautiful and serene setting. Tours are included in the admission price and offered daily at noon and 1 p.m.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Portland, OR2 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Whether or not you're an avid reader, Powell's City of Books is worth checking out. It occupies a square city block and rises three stories high; in fact, this bookstore is so large that exploring it actually requires a map.
While you wander through the stacks, keep in mind that you are tracing the footsteps of great writers, many of which have scrawled their signatures on one of the building's pillars. You might also schedule your visit to coincide with a reading, as the book shop hosts events nearly every day totaling more than 500 author visits a year.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Portland, OR1.6 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.6 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Whether you're craving exotic foods or are in search of a unique souvenir, the Portland Saturday Market is the place to look. Running since 1974, the market is located on the northern side of Tom McCall Waterfront Park and features 252 booths filled with local art, clothing, toys and pet supplies manufactured from every material imaginable.
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As the oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest, the Portland Art Museum set the bar high for its followers. It is home to Oregon's most prestigious collection, including works from the European masters, Japanese screen prints and contemporary American pieces. There is also a sculpture garden and an area devoted to photography. But the museum's Native American gallery – which houses more than 5,000 ancient and modern objects from more than 200 different tribes – is not to be missed.
Recent travelers admit that they got lost in the art at this Portland museum, which is easy to do since the large collection fills three connected buildings. Because the museum is somewhat of a maze to navigate, some travelers recommend figuring out which exhibits you're interested in ahead of time so you know exactly where to go in the museum before arriving (gallery maps can be found online).
- #8View all Photos#8 in Portland, OR2.3 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND2.3 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Whether you need to keep the kids entertained for a few hours or just need a way to spend a rainy day, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is the place to go. This interactive museum (referred to by residents as the OMSI) makes learning fun with five halls and eight labs filled with hands-on exhibits devoted to physics, chemistry, paleontology, and more. Other interactive offerings include a science playground specifically designed for young children. Recent visitors said that the museum is fun and educational for all members of the family, though some do gripe about the price of admission. If you've got kids in tow, past visitors said you'll want to spend several hours here.
And if you're a movie buff, you'll want to make your way to the museum's USS Blueback submarine, which was used to film "The Hunt for Red October," and is the most modern U.S. submarine on public display in the country. When you've exhausted the exhibits, take in a show at the IMAX theater or marvel at the stars at the Harry C. Kendall Planetarium. There's also a riverfront eatery on-site that serves healthy sandwiches and salads.
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The 16,000-square-foot Pittock Mansion is one of Portland's few historic attractions and definitely one of the most unique. Commissioned in 1912 by Henry Pittock – the owner of The Oregonian newspaper – and designed after the French Renaissance style, this 23-room mansion contains a Turkish smoking room, a library, a music room, and two sleeping porches, among other features.
Guided tours of the mansion are included in the price of admission, allowing you to learn how the wealthy lived here in Portland. But you'll need to call the mansion to check on the availability of the volunteer tour guides. Also, stop by the gift shop, which sells handcrafted items made by local vendors. You can also take a self-guided tour during visiting hours; maps are available at the front entrance and interpretive panels are stationed throughout the mansion.
- #10View all PhotosfreeForest Park#10 in Portland, OR6.5 miles to city centerHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND6.5 miles to city centerHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you're looking to spend some time outside but aren't willing to make the trek to Mount Hood, Forest Park is the place to go. With more than 5,000 acres, it's one of the largest urban parks in America.
Among the park's features is the 30-mile Wildwood Trail, which is part of the region's 40-mile Loop system connecting pedestrian and trail routes along the Columbia River to Gresham, through southeast Portland, along the Willamette Greenway, and back to the Marquam Trail in southwest Portland. To find a trailhead, check out Forest Park Conservancy's online maps. And if you're an avid bird-watcher, make sure to spend stop at the Portland Audubon Society, which offers a variety of activities especially for birders, including the Wildlife Care Center, which houses educational birds of prey. Recent travelers remarked on how close Forest Park was to the city, but how far into the wilderness it felt. They also remarked on the variety of hikes for all levels.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Portland, OR1.9 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.9 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Named for a former Oregonian governor, this 30-acre park stretches alongside the Willamette River in downtown Portland and provides some of the best views of the city's skyline. Because of its prime location, it hosts many of Portland's special events – including the ever-popular Oregon Brewers Festival and the Portland Rose Festival.
But even when the city isn't celebrating, there's plenty to do here. Locals congregate for afternoon strolls or picnics and families cool off on hot days at the Salmon Street Springs fountain. The park is also home to some historic monuments like the Founders Stone, Japanese American Historical Plaza and the Police Memorial. The Portland Saturday Market is held within the park every weekend from March to Christmas Eve. If you're in need of a bite to eat, head to Pine Street Market – a food hall with that sits at the northern end of the park on at Second Avenue and Pine Street.
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At 620 feet tall, the Multnomah Falls are not for the faint of heart. Visitors have the option of climbing a 1/4-mile trail to reach Benson Bridge, which gives them a closer look at the falls and is at the crux of the first tier. Another steep, mile-long hike will take travelers to the top of the falls for incredible views of the Columbia River Gorge. The Multnomah Falls Lodge, located at the base of the falls, has a gift shop, restrooms and a restaurant for patrons to enjoy before or after their hike.
Recent visitors unanimously agreed that the falls are a must-see attraction. Reviewers also said the difficult hike to the top is well worth the trip. According to travelers, you should be prepared for crowds and try to go as early as possible to avoid the deluge of tourists.
- #13View all PhotosfreeMount Tabor Park#13 in Portland, OR2.9 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.9 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Mount Tabor is a dormant volcanic cinder cone located 5 miles east of downtown Portland. It may sound like a trek, but the scenery is well worth it, according to reviewers. At its summit, Mount Tabor provides vistas of both downtown and Mount Hood. Travelers can choose one of three trails that takes them to the top of Mount Tabor and around the park. Along the trails, you'll see three reservoirs, which used to be the source of the city's drinking water and a statue of Harvey W. Scott, longtime editor of the Oregonian. If views and hiking don't interest you, maybe this will: Mount Tabor Park is home to the Portland Adult Soapbox Derby. Each year on the third Saturday in August, racers in wacky cars zoom down the park's hills for a chance to win the top spot.
Past travelers relished the long walks they took through Mount Tabor Park. The breathtaking views are repeatedly mentioned by visitors. Know that you'll do a lot of uphill walking before you reach that reward, however.
- #14View all Photos#14 in Portland, OR2.6 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.6 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If you're in Portland on a Saturday, make a morning stop at the PSU Farmers Market. In addition to great local produce, vendors peddle meat, beverages (including alcohol), dairy products and more. The market offers live music each Saturday and a Chef in the Market event, during which local chefs give cooking demonstrations.
Past visitors said the market is worth walking through even if you don't plan on buying produce. Others were impressed with the beautiful flowers for sale. Past travelers also raved about the prepared foods at the market, including burritos, biscuits, cookies and more.
- #15View all PhotosfreeHoyt Arboretum#15 in Portland, OR3.7 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.7 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Founded in 1928, the 189-acre arboretum features 172 different tree families and 6,000 individual trees. The species represented originate from countries all over the world including Chile, Afghanistan, Germany, India and Algeria. Visitors can either explore the arboretum on their own via the park's 12 miles of trails or take a guided tour. Travelers with children will want to check out the family-friendly activities like guided bird walks and nature activities, the latter of which is part professionally-lead and part self-guided.
Past visitors raved about the arboretum and many expressed their surprise that such a tranquil place exists within city limits. Travelers also encouraged future tourists to take their time when exploring the trails and advised planning a trip around one of the arboretum's guided walks.
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Towering over the Portland skyline is Mount Hood, the region's prime skiing area. When the snow begins to fall, grab your gear and head east, where numerous powdery downhill and cross-country trails await. Test your skills on the expert slopes at Mt. Hood Skibowl or conquer your vertigo at the Timberline Lodge, which sits at 6,000 feet. You can also spend the night here if you plan on enjoying the slopes for more than a day.
Planning a summer getaway? Never fear: Mount Hood offers summer skiing as well, not to mention plenty of opportunities to hike and mountain bike. Mount Hood's main summer attraction is the Mt. Hood Adventure Park at Skibowl, which features hiking and biking trails, as well as numerous other warm-weather activities.
- #17View all Photos#17 in Portland, OR2.3 miles to city centerTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND2.3 miles to city centerTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Portland is well-known for its craft beers. In fact, there are more than 70 breweries in the city proper, meaning there are plenty of places to quench your thirst. Though you're welcome to stop by the breweries on your own, taking a guided brewery tour might be a better bet if you're only in Portland for a quick trip. The tours generally stop at a few different breweries in the city, allowing participants to sample several different kinds of beer.
Brewvana wins accolades from past tourgoers for its knowledgeable staff and wide range of beer samples. If you're looking for a quintessential Portland experience, consider Cycle Portland's Brews Cruise, which combines two of the city's passions: biking and breweries. Past bikers particularly enjoyed the ride in between the breweries and appreciated the guides' attention to safety. If you're looking for a more unique brewery tour, check out BeerQuest Walking Tours' Haunted Pub Tour, which weaves brewery stops with stories about Portland's paranormal activity and scandalous residents.
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Explore some of the world's cutest, ferocious and exotic critters at the Oregon Zoo. The zoo houses around 90 different species ranging from reptiles to big cats to insects. And by 2021, the zoo anticipates opening new habitats for rhinos, primates and polar bears, which will be the final improvements after a decade-long expansion project. Along with the animal exhibits, there are also behind-the-scenes tours and summer concerts, among other programs.
Recent visitors reported loving the zoo for its manageable size and animal residents (especially the elephants). However, some travelers complained that the zoo's remodeling construction dampened an otherwise lovely visit.
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