There are many different things to do in Portland, Maine. However, the best part is that nobody is attempting to impress you with trendy this or glam that. They certainly want you to be here so they can share their love of inventive cuisine and their proud heritage in farming, handicrafts, and maritime culture. Ultimately, however, what makes this proud little city enjoyable is that the best things to do in Portland continue to be so true to its identity. These are some of the best ways to explore beyond the Old Port, from thrilling sailing excursions and historic homes to hip artisanal-ware shops and independent local eateries.
1- Portland, Maine, Brewery Tours
Portland is renowned for its thriving craft beer scene, and no visit to the city would be complete without experiencing a brewery tour. One of the must-visit breweries in Portland is Allagash Brewery.
Allagash Brewery has gained a stellar reputation for its exceptional craft beers. They specialize in Belgian-inspired brews, offering a wide range of styles that cater to all palates. From refreshing witbiers to bold and complex barrel-aged beers, Allagash Brewery has something to satisfy every beer lover’s taste buds.
Embark on a fascinating brewery tour at Allagash Brewery and get a behind-the-scenes look at their brewing process. Learn about the meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into each batch of beer. Knowledgeable guides will walk you through the different stages of brewing, from selecting the finest ingredients to fermentation and packaging.
As you explore the brewery, you’ll witness the gleaming stainless-steel tanks and the aroma of hops filling the air. The guides will also share insights into the history and philosophy behind Allagash Brewery, giving you a deeper appreciation for their dedication to quality and innovation.
Of course, no brewery tour is complete without sampling the beers. At Allagash Brewery, you’ll have the opportunity to taste a variety of their signature brews. From classic favorites to limited-edition releases, each sip will transport you into a world of flavors and craftsmanship.
Whether you’re a seasoned beer enthusiast or simply curious about the brewing process, a brewery tour at Allagash Brewery promises an unforgettable experience. Immerse yourself in the vibrant beer culture of Portland and discover why craft beer has become such an integral part of the city’s identity.
So, raise a glass, savor the distinctive flavors, and toast to the passion and creativity that make Portland’s brewery tours an absolute delight for beer connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike.
2- Stroll the Old Port – Best Things to Do in Portland
Immerse yourself in the rich history of Portland by taking a leisurely stroll through the charming Old Port district. This historic neighborhood, with its cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings, offers a glimpse into the city’s maritime past.
As you wander through the Old Port, you’ll feel a sense of stepping back in time. The district was once a bustling hub for traders, fishermen, and shipbuilders, and the architectural remnants and maritime artifacts scattered throughout the area tell the story of Portland’s maritime heritage.
The Old Port is not only steeped in history but also offers a wide array of attractions to explore. From unique boutiques and art galleries to enticing restaurants and cafes, there is something for everyone.
Indulge in a shopping spree at the local boutiques, where you can find one-of-a-kind clothing, jewelry, and artwork. The Old Port’s vibrant art scene is also worth exploring, with numerous galleries showcasing works by talented local artists.
As you meander through the streets, tantalizing aromas will lead you to a myriad of dining options. From seafood shacks serving up fresh lobster rolls to upscale restaurants offering delectable culinary creations, the Old Port is a food lover’s paradise.
Make sure to pause and admire the stunning waterfront views along Commercial Street. From here, you can watch fishing boats bobbing in the harbor, catch a glimpse of sailboats gliding by, and soak in the charming maritime atmosphere.
For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Portland Observatory is a must. This historic maritime signal tower, built in 1807, offers panoramic views of the city and the surrounding coastline. Climb to the top and imagine the tower’s past role in guiding ships safely into the harbor.
Whether you’re exploring the intriguing history, indulging in retail therapy, or simply soaking up the ambiance, strolling through the Old Port is an experience that captures the essence of Portland’s charm.
Take your time, immerse yourself in the stories whispered by the weathered buildings, and enjoy the lively energy that permeates this historic district. The Old Port truly encapsulates the spirit of Portland, where history, culture, and a vibrant atmosphere come together in perfect harmony.
3- Visit Portland Head Light – Best Things to Do in Portland
A visit to Portland, Maine is incomplete without witnessing the iconic Portland Head Light. Located in Cape Elizabeth, just a short drive from downtown Portland, this historic lighthouse is a true gem and a must-visit attraction.
As you approach Portland Head Light, you’ll be captivated by its majestic presence perched atop rugged cliffs, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This lighthouse has been guiding ships since 1791 and holds a significant place in maritime history.
Stepping onto the grounds of Portland Head Light feels like stepping back in time. Take a moment to absorb the breathtaking panoramic views of the coastline, where crashing waves and rocky shores create a picturesque backdrop.
Explore the surrounding Fort Williams Park, which offers more than just stunning views. You can take a leisurely walk along the park’s trails, enjoying the fresh sea breeze and the beauty of the Maine landscape. Picnic areas are available, allowing you to savor a meal while immersed in the tranquility of nature.
Venture closer to the lighthouse, and you’ll find a small museum housed within the former lighthouse keeper’s quarters. Here, you can delve into the rich history of Portland Head Light through exhibits and displays that showcase its maritime heritage. Learn about the lighthouse’s construction, its keepers, and the important role it played in guiding ships to safety.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a photography lover, or simply seeking a serene spot to unwind, a visit to Portland Head Light promises an unforgettable experience. The combination of its historical significance, breathtaking views, and peaceful ambiance makes it a true highlight of any trip to Portland, Maine.
Remember to bring your camera, as Portland Head Light provides numerous opportunities for capturing stunning photographs. Whether you’re aiming for a postcard-worthy shot of the lighthouse or capturing the raw beauty of the surrounding landscape, you’ll find no shortage of inspiration.
So, set aside some time during your visit to Portland to explore the enchanting Portland Head Light. It’s a place where history and natural beauty intertwine, leaving an indelible mark on all who have the privilege to experience it.
4- Portland Museum of Art
If you have an appreciation for art and culture, a visit to the Portland Museum of Art is a must. Located in the heart of downtown Portland, this renowned museum boasts an impressive collection that spans centuries and showcases a diverse range of artistic styles.
Upon entering the museum, you’ll be greeted by a world of artistic masterpieces. From classic European paintings to contemporary works by local and international artists, the Portland Museum of Art offers a rich and immersive art experience.
The museum’s collection features an array of artistic mediums, including paintings, sculptures, photography, and decorative arts. Marvel at the works of renowned artists such as Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, and Edward Hopper. Explore the evolution of art through different movements, from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism.
The Portland Museum of Art also takes pride in its strong emphasis on local artists. Discover the vibrant creativity of Maine-based artists who have left their mark on the art world. The museum’s commitment to supporting and promoting local talent adds a unique flavor to its collection.
In addition to its permanent collection, the Portland Museum of Art hosts a rotating series of temporary exhibitions. These exhibitions bring fresh perspectives, highlighting different themes, artists, or art movements. From retrospectives of influential artists to thought-provoking contemporary installations, there’s always something new and exciting to explore.
The museum also offers engaging educational programs and events that cater to all ages. From guided tours and workshops to lectures and film screenings, visitors have the opportunity to deepen their understanding and appreciation of art.
The Portland Museum of Art is not just a haven for art enthusiasts but also a place for inspiration and contemplation. Take your time to soak in the beauty and significance of each artwork, allowing it to evoke emotions and spark your imagination.
Before leaving, don’t forget to visit the museum shop, where you can find a carefully curated selection of art-related books, prints, and unique gifts. It’s the perfect place to find a memento to remember your visit or to support local artists by purchasing their works.
Whether you’re a seasoned art connoisseur or simply curious about the world of art, the Portland Museum of Art promises an enriching and visually captivating experience. Immerse yourself in the beauty of human creativity and let the art transport you to new dimensions.
5- Visit the Victoria Mansion
Prepare to be transported to a bygone era as you step into the exquisite Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine. This architectural gem, also known as the Morse-Libby House, is a testament to the opulence and grandeur of the Victorian era.
The Victoria Mansion showcases the finest examples of Italianate architecture in the United States. From the moment you lay eyes on its impressive facade, adorned with ornate details and intricate carvings, you’ll be captivated by its beauty. Step inside, and you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of elegance and refinement.
Built between 1858 and 1860 for Ruggles Sylvester Morse, a successful hotelier, and his wife Olive, the Victoria Mansion is a remarkable piece of history. Designed by architect Henry Austin, this stunning mansion served as a summer residence for the Morse family.
The mansion’s interior is a testament to the craftsmanship and attention to detail that defined the Victorian era. Elaborate plasterwork, stunning frescoes, and intricately carved woodwork adorn the rooms, creating a visual feast for visitors. Each room is meticulously decorated and furnished in period style, giving you a glimpse into the lives of the mansion’s former residents.
To fully appreciate the Victoria Mansion, it’s highly recommended to take a guided tour. Knowledgeable guides will lead you through the mansion, sharing fascinating stories and insights about its history, architecture, and the people who called it home.
As you explore the various rooms, including the stunning double parlor, the elegant dining room, and the luxurious bedrooms, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the Victorian lifestyle and the societal norms of the time.
Pay close attention to the exquisite details that adorn each room, from the hand-painted ceilings to the meticulously crafted furniture. The mansion’s collection of original mid-19th-century furnishings and decorative arts is truly awe-inspiring.
Events and Exhibitions
In addition to guided tours, the Victoria Mansion hosts a variety of events and exhibitions throughout the year. From lectures and musical performances to special exhibits that delve deeper into specific aspects of the mansion’s history, there’s always something intriguing happening at this architectural marvel.
Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast, a history buff, or simply someone who appreciates beauty and craftsmanship, a visit to the Victoria Mansion is a must. Allow yourself to be transported back in time and marvel at the splendor of this well-preserved Victorian treasure.
6- Munjoy Hill – Best Things to Do in Portland
Perched on the eastern edge of the Portland peninsula, Munjoy Hill offers a charming and vibrant neighborhood to explore during your visit to Portland, Maine. This historic district provides a unique blend of picturesque streets, stunning views, and a welcoming community atmosphere.
One of the highlights of Munjoy Hill is the Eastern Promenade, a beautiful waterfront park that stretches along Casco Bay. Take a leisurely stroll along the promenade and soak in the breathtaking views of the harbor, islands, and sailboats dotting the horizon. The fresh sea breeze and the calming sound of waves crashing against the rocky shore create a serene ambiance that is perfect for relaxation and rejuvenation.
The Eastern Promenade also offers recreational activities for all ages. Enjoy a picnic in one of the designated areas, play a game of Frisbee on the spacious lawns, or challenge yourself to a game of tennis on the public courts. Cyclists and joggers will appreciate the paved trail that winds its way through the park, providing an opportunity to stay active while enjoying the natural beauty of the surroundings.
As you explore Munjoy Hill, be sure to wander along Congress Street, the main thoroughfare that runs through the neighborhood. This bustling street is lined with a variety of shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants, offering a diverse array of experiences for visitors.
Indulge in a culinary adventure as you sample the local flavors at the neighborhood’s charming eateries. From cozy cafes serving freshly brewed coffee and pastries to upscale restaurants featuring farm-to-table cuisine, there’s something to satisfy every palate. Don’t miss the opportunity to try the renowned Maine lobster or indulge in a plate of freshly caught seafood.
Congress Street is also home to a vibrant arts scene, with numerous galleries showcasing the works of local artists. Browse through the unique collections of paintings, sculptures, and photography, and perhaps take home a one-of-a-kind piece of art as a memento of your visit.
Fort Sumner Park and Observatory
For panoramic views of Portland and the surrounding area, make your way to Fort Sumner Park and Observatory. Located at the peak of Munjoy Hill, this park provides an ideal vantage point to admire the city skyline, the islands in Casco Bay, and the majestic Portland Head Light in the distance.
The park’s historic observatory, constructed in 1807, adds an extra layer of charm to the experience. Climb the stairs to the top of the observatory and gaze through the telescope for a closer look at the city’s landmarks and natural beauty. It’s a spot that offers a sense of tranquility and a chance to appreciate the wonders of the surrounding landscape.
Munjoy Hill is not just a neighborhood; it’s a close-knit community that radiates a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Take the time to engage with the locals, who are known for their friendly nature and love for their neighborhood. Strike up a conversation at a local cafe or join in on a community event to experience the genuine hospitality and sense of belonging that defines Munjoy Hill.
7- Bug Light Park
Nestled along the shores of Casco Bay, Bug Light Park is a hidden gem in South Portland, just a short distance from downtown Portland. This charming waterfront park offers a picturesque setting, stunning views, and a tranquil atmosphere that is perfect for relaxation and recreation.
The focal point of Bug Light Park is the iconic Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, affectionately known as “Bug Light” due to its small size. This charming red-and-white striped lighthouse stands proudly at the end of a long granite breakwater, guiding ships into Portland Harbor since its construction in 1875.
Take a leisurely stroll along the breakwater and immerse yourself in the history and maritime heritage of the area. Marvel at the architectural beauty of Bug Light and capture breathtaking photos of the lighthouse against the backdrop of the bay. As you walk, listen to the rhythmic sound of the waves crashing against the rocks and feel a sense of tranquility wash over you.
Scenic Beauty and Outdoor Recreation
Bug Light Park is not just about the lighthouse; it also offers stunning natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor activities. The park features expansive green spaces, well-maintained walking paths, and picnic areas, making it an ideal spot for a family outing or a peaceful retreat.
Find a cozy spot on the grassy lawn and enjoy a picnic with loved ones, savoring the panoramic views of the bay and the Portland skyline. Watch as boats sail by and take in the serenity of the surrounding nature.
For those seeking a bit of adventure, bring your bicycle or rollerblades and explore the paved paths that wind through the park. The gentle sea breeze, the scent of the ocean, and the invigorating views will make your outdoor excursion even more enjoyable.
Bug Light Park is also a popular spot for fishing enthusiasts. Cast your line into the water and try your luck at catching local fish species, such as striped bass or mackerel. It’s a peaceful and relaxing way to connect with nature and experience the joy of angling.
Events and Festivals
Throughout the year, Bug Light Park hosts various events and festivals that bring the community together. From outdoor concerts and art exhibitions to food festivals and holiday celebrations, there’s always something happening at this vibrant waterfront park. Check the local events calendar to see if there’s an upcoming event during your visit.
If you’re traveling with a furry friend, you’ll be pleased to know that Bug Light Park is dog-friendly. Leashed dogs are welcome to accompany their owners and enjoy the open spaces and fresh air. Take a leisurely walk with your canine companion along the waterfront or let them romp and play in designated areas. It’s a wonderful opportunity to bond with your four-legged friend while immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the park.
8- Casco Bay Islands
A visit to Portland, Maine is not complete without exploring the enchanting Casco Bay Islands. This archipelago, comprised of over 200 islands and islets, offers a unique and captivating experience for visitors. Each island possesses its own distinct charm, from pristine beaches and rugged coastlines to quaint villages and picturesque lighthouses.
One of the most popular islands to visit is Peaks Island, located just a short ferry ride from downtown Portland. As you step off the ferry, you’ll be greeted by the island’s laid-back atmosphere and breathtaking natural beauty. Explore the island by foot, rent a bicycle, or even hop on a golf cart to discover its hidden gems.
Stroll along the scenic shores, sink your toes into the sandy beaches, and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding waters. Peaks Island is also home to an eclectic arts community, with galleries and studios showcasing the works of local artists. Immerse yourself in the island’s creative spirit as you explore the vibrant art scene.
Great Diamond Island
Another gem in the Casco Bay Islands is Great Diamond Island. This tranquil island is known for its serene ambiance and historic landmarks. Take a leisurely bike ride or a refreshing walk along the island’s scenic trails, allowing the gentle sea breeze to invigorate your senses.
One of the island’s highlights is the Diamond Cove area, where you can find beautifully restored military fortifications that once protected the entrance to Portland Harbor. Explore Fort McKinley, a former army base that has been transformed into a charming residential community. Admire the well-preserved buildings, including officer’s quarters and a picturesque chapel.
Casco Bay Lines Cruises
To fully experience the beauty of the Casco Bay Islands, embark on a memorable cruise with Casco Bay Lines. These scenic cruises offer a chance to explore multiple islands, enjoy breathtaking views, and learn about the rich history and natural wonders of the area.
Sit back and relax as you sail through the sparkling waters of Casco Bay, passing by picturesque lighthouses, rocky cliffs, and charming coastal communities. The knowledgeable guides on board will provide fascinating insights and anecdotes about the islands, their history, and the local marine life.
Recreational Activities and Island Hopping
The Casco Bay Islands provide ample opportunities for outdoor activities and island hopping. Kayaking enthusiasts can paddle their way through the calm waters, discovering hidden coves and secluded beaches. Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines and try their luck at catching local fish species. Hikers can explore the island trails, immersing themselves in the natural beauty and spotting wildlife along the way.
For those who want to explore multiple islands in a day, island hopping is a popular option. Casco Bay Lines offers ferry services that connect various islands, allowing visitors to customize their itinerary and create their own island-hopping adventure.
9- Eastern Promenade – Best Things to Do in Portland
Eastern Promenade is a beloved waterfront park located on the eastern edge of Portland, Maine. With its scenic beauty, panoramic views, and recreational activities, it offers a perfect retreat for both locals and visitors.
One of the highlights of Eastern Promenade is its stunning views of Casco Bay and the surrounding natural landscape. As you stroll along the well-maintained pathways, you’ll be treated to breathtaking vistas of the ocean, nearby islands, and the Portland skyline.
Take a moment to pause and soak in the beauty of the expansive horizon, the sailboats gracefully gliding across the water, and the gentle waves crashing against the rocky shore. The sight of seagulls soaring overhead and the salty scent of the sea will transport you to a place of tranquility and serenity.
Eastern Promenade offers a range of recreational activities for visitors of all ages. The park features spacious lawns where you can relax, have a picnic, or play games with family and friends. Take advantage of the designated sports fields and engage in a game of soccer, frisbee, or softball.
Cyclists and joggers will delight in the paved trail that winds its way through the park, offering a scenic route for exercise enthusiasts. The trail is also suitable for leisurely walks, allowing you to explore the park at your own pace while enjoying the natural beauty of the surroundings.
East End Beach
At the southern end of Eastern Promenade, you’ll find the popular East End Beach. This sandy stretch of shoreline invites visitors to bask in the sun, take a refreshing swim in the cool waters, or build sandcastles with the little ones.
The beach provides a picturesque setting for relaxation, with its views of sailboats and kayakers passing by. It’s a great spot to unwind, read a book, or simply enjoy the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore.
Fort Allen Park and Portland Observatory
Within Eastern Promenade, you’ll also discover Fort Allen Park, a historic site that played a role in Portland’s defense during the War of 1812. Explore the remnants of the fort, take in the views from the observation deck, and learn about the area’s military history.
Adjacent to Fort Allen Park is the iconic Portland Observatory, the only remaining maritime signal tower in the United States. Climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views of the city and the surrounding coastline. The Observatory offers a fascinating glimpse into Portland’s maritime heritage and the importance of signal towers in the past.
10- Peaks Island
Peaks Island, located just a short ferry ride from downtown Portland, is a charming and picturesque destination that captures the essence of coastal Maine. With its pristine beaches, scenic landscapes, and vibrant community, Peaks Island offers a delightful escape for visitors seeking natural beauty and a relaxed island atmosphere.
One of the main attractions of Peaks Island is its tranquil and inviting beaches. As you step off the ferry, you’ll be greeted by the sight of sandy shores and crystal-clear waters. Spend a day lounging on the beach, basking in the warm sun, and taking refreshing dips in the cool ocean.
Peaks Island boasts several beautiful beaches, each with its own unique charm. Sandy Beach, with its soft sand and gentle surf, is perfect for families and sunbathers. Backshore Beach offers a more secluded and serene setting, ideal for those seeking solitude and tranquility.
Scenic Walks and Bike Rides
Exploring Peaks Island is a delight for walkers and cyclists. The island features scenic paths and quiet roads that wind their way through charming neighborhoods and breathtaking coastal landscapes. Rent a bicycle or simply take a leisurely stroll, immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the island.
As you explore, you’ll come across picturesque viewpoints that offer panoramic vistas of Casco Bay, neighboring islands, and the distant mainland. Capture the beauty of the rugged coastlines, the sparkling waters, and the sailboats dotting the horizon. Don’t forget to bring your camera to preserve these unforgettable moments.
Artistic and Cultural Vibrancy
Peaks Island has long been a haven for artists, writers, and musicians, and it exudes a creative and cultural vibrancy that is palpable as you wander through the island’s streets. Numerous art studios, galleries, and workshops can be found, showcasing the works of local artists and artisans.
Immerse yourself in the artistic scene by visiting the various galleries, where you can admire paintings, sculptures, and other forms of creative expression. Engage with the artists, learn about their inspiration, and perhaps even take home a unique piece of artwork as a memento of your visit.
Island Amenities and Dining
Despite its small size, Peaks Island offers a range of amenities and dining options for visitors. Browse the charming boutiques and shops, where you’ll find unique gifts, handmade crafts, and local souvenirs. Enjoy a delicious meal at one of the island’s restaurants or cafes, savoring fresh seafood and other culinary delights.
For those interested in history, a visit to the Fifth Maine Museum is a must. Housed in a historic building, the museum showcases the island’s rich history and maritime heritage through exhibits and artifacts. Learn about the island’s past as a summer retreat and its role during wartime.
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