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The 8 Best Things to Do in Portland Maine
The nooks and crannies of Old Port provide a great introduction to Portland’s history, not to mention its fantastic food scene. To pair with the city’s delicious cuisine, visit one of Portland’s microbreweries; many offer free brewery tours. In the meantime, those with a slight interest in the arts should pay a visit to the Portland Museum of Art or tour the luxurious interiors of the Victoria Mansion. Visit Eastern Promenade or plan a day trip to the Casco Bay Islands or Cape Elizabeth if you want to admire Maine’s gorgeous landscapes.
The 8 Best Things to Do in Portland Maine List
Casco Bay Islands
Portland has few beaches, but the nearby Casco Bay Islands have plenty. Casco Bay Islands are a group of islands located off the coast of Portland, six of which are accessible by ferry all year round. Each island has its personality, history, attractions, and activities.
Only 60 people live on Cliff Island, one of the smallest Casco Bay Islands, year-round. It is the only year-round island with unpaved roads, and as such, there are few cars on the island. At the same time, Great Diamond, where the historic Fort McKinley once stood, is lauded for its idyllic Maine landscape and boasts shallow, rocky shorelines backed by lush forests. Transportation is by walking, biking, or golf carts since cars are not allowed. Diamond Cove is one of the most beautiful beaches on this island and has a small museum, a bowling alley, and tennis courts. The Inn at Diamond Cove provides a wide range of activities and excellent dining options. Make a weekend out of it and stay at the Inn.
Chebeague Island boasts similar attractive terrain but has a more storied history. It is best known for its stone sloopers – men who transported materials for 19th-century ships and many of its most notable structures, including granite for the Washington Monument. In the meantime, those unwilling to go too off the grid can enjoy Peaks Island, which offers cafes, shops, museums, and galleries as well as beaches.
Recent travelers enjoyed visiting the Casco Bay Islands. This ride along the bay’s calm waters, the stunning views from the ferry, the interesting narration (based on ferry attendance), and the overall accessibility made this an unforgettable experience. Peaks Island is the closest to Portland – only a 17-minute boat ride – but if you have time, you might want to visit other islands, too. Visitors to Peaks Island should be aware that golf carts, the island’s primary mode of transportation, book up quickly, so you should book one as soon as you get off the ferry. Another popular tour option for travelers is the Casco Bay Line Mailboat Run, which takes visitors along the daily route that drops off mail and freight throughout the islands. However, the passengers noted that the duration of the route varies greatly depending on the number of goods that must be delivered to the islands.
Casco Bay Lines ferries are the most popular way to get to the Casco Bay Islands. The company offers various types of tours seasonally and single destination tours. Diamond Pass Run takes you to Long Island, Peaks Island, Little Diamond Island, and Great Diamond Island. The Mailboat Run visits all the islands of Casco Bay except Bailey Island, which only offers tours at certain times of the year. Tour times vary depending on which island you travel to. Peaks Island is 17 minutes one way; the Mailboat Run is about three-and-a-half hours roundtrip. Several ferry routes, including the Mailboat Run, do not allow passengers to get off the islands. Tour types and fees also vary depending on the island you’re visiting. Visit the Casco Bay Lines website for more information about visiting the Casco Bay Islands.
Portland’s Old Port is, without a doubt, its beating heart. While maintaining its historical facade, this downtown district is considered the city’s center and bustles with things to do left and right. The area is filled with cobblestone streets and 19th-century warehouses, and the wharf is steps away from Commercial Street. This area is a reminder of the city’s heyday as a world-renowned port town. Ferries and cruises are available to tourists, as well as delectable catches that dock there daily.
Even away from the waterfront, travelers will find plenty of options to sustain and entertain themselves. Old Port is home to some of the city’s most popular restaurants. Within a three-block radius of one another, Duckfat, Fore Street, and Eventide Oyster Co. are some of Portland’s best dining spots. Dining and shopping are spread over the neighborhood, but Congress Street is a great place to start; restaurants, boutiques, local art galleries, and theaters line this thoroughfare. The edge of the Old Port neighborhood is considered the beginning of the Arts District, which is home to several notable attractions like the Portland Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, and the Portland Stage Company, to name a few.
The Old Port charms visitors with its ornate architecture and buzzing atmosphere. Besides the quality dining and shopping, Old Port’s walkability was highly praised by visitors, especially considering the high parking price. Old Port is located in downtown Portland. Located in downtown Portland, Old Port has quality dining and shopping. Visit the downtown Portland website for more information.
Portland, Maine, Brewery Tours
As lobster is to Maine, beer is to Portland. If you don’t taste the brew, you’re missing out. Experts consider Portland one of America’s top beer cities because of its abundance of local breweries and the microbrew movement. For a city with a population of a little over 66,700, there are more than 20 microbreweries, plenty for residents and visitors.
Several tour operators offer beer tours, including Maine Brews Cruise and the seasonal Bike and Brews Tour. Allagash, Shipyard, Sebago, and the family-owned Rising Tide are some of the city’s most famous breweries which offer tours on their own. Both experts and travelers consistently recognize Allagash as Portland’s best. Known for introducing Belgian-style brews to the country in the mid-90s, the brewery is a pioneer in the microbrew movement. Another leader in the microbrew revolution is Shipyard, which makes English-style ales from a 150-year-old yeast strain from the owner’s former home, while Sebago makes its beer with water from Sebago Lake State Park.
Portland Museum of Art
Portland’s art museum houses some pretty big names for such a small city. Among the icons exhibited at the Portland Museum of Art are Andy Warhol, Claude Monet, and Winslow Homer. As well as some of the greats, the museum showcases works by American, European, and contemporary artists and works by Maine artists. There are paintings everywhere, but you’ll also find photographs, sketches, pottery, furniture, silverware, sculptures, and so much more. According to its website, the collection is so extensive (more than 18000 pieces) that it would take nearly ten years to see everything in the museum. The museum’s regular events are movie screenings, curator talks, and activities geared toward families, such as PMA Family Days. It also sells tickets to Homer’s seaside home, considered a landmark in the history of American art.
Visitors to the Portland Museum of Art were delighted with its collections, expressing their delight. Guests enjoyed the variety of styles featured, from impressionists to classics, and the numerous works on display, with many commenting that they could have spent all day exploring the premises.
About a half-mile southwest of the Old Port, the Portland Museum of Art is located downtown Portland. Parking lots are available (for a fee) on the streets surrounding the museum. A cafe and a store are also located at the PMA. It is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday through Wednesday and from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays from November through late May. The cost of admission is $15 for adults, $15 for students and seniors, and free for children under 14. Friday evenings from 4 to 8 p.m. are also free. Visit the Portland Museum of Art’s website for more information.
The Eastern Promenade is the most picturesque part of Portland’s waterfront. Eastern Promenade is a 68-acre waterfront park located between Back Cove and the Fore River. There are trails and beaches in the park and grassy areas to relax. Take a stroll along the 2-mile-long Eastern Promenade Trail, which starts in the Old Port.
The Eastern Promenade Trail takes visitors away from the excitement of the city center to the rocky banks of Fort Allen Park. If you’ve had your fill of the bay’s scenic shoreline, consider a hike 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. You’ll then reach Portland’s only public beach, East End Beach, where you’ll find locals taking part in bay adventures and soaking up the sun. The Eastern Promenade Trail leads directly to the Back Cove Trail snakes along Back Cove. Additionally, there are numerous shorter trails and paths in the park that take hikers to various points of interest.
Visitors recently raved about the Eastern Promenade. Views and the peaceful nature of the park impressed many travelers, who felt the best way to experience the promenade is to enjoy the surroundings. Families also enjoyed the on-site amenities: not only are there several sports courts but there is also a large playground. Sunrise or sunset offers breathtaking views of the horizon. Eastern Promenade is a mile northeast of Old Port. It is free to explore and has no set hours.
Cape Elizabeth is a great day trip option for those seeking rolling hills and beaches, as well as the Casco Bay Islands. It is located about nine miles south of Portland and is best known for its lighthouses. Two Lights lighthouse appears in Edward Hopper’s painting “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” housed in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fort Williams Park is also home to the Portland Headlight. George Washington commissioned Maine’s oldest lighthouse in the late 1700s. One of the most photographed lighthouses in the U.S., and even the world, is the Portland Head Light.
Crescent Beach State Park is also located in the area. There is a mile-long beach with gentle waters backed by grassy (and, depending on the season, flowery) dunes. Visitors enjoy sweeping views of the ocean and a lush offshore island from the beach. It is also equipped with a snack bar, picnic tables, restrooms, and a lifeguard (in the summer), making it a popular spot for families.
Cape Elizabeth is also a gateway to other famous Portland area beaches. Both Higgins Beach and Scarborough Beach State Park are located about 6 to 8 miles west of Cape Elizabeth. See the Portland tourism board’s website for more information on Portland area beaches and Cape Elizabeth.
Visit the historic Portland Observatory, the country’s last standing maritime signal tower, for some of the best views of the harbor. Captain Lemuel Moody commissioned the octagonal, 86-foot high tower to be a communications tower for Portland’s harbor, but it wasn’t built as an altruistic measure. He charged ship owners an annual fee of $5 to alert merchants (who he charged as well) of ships arriving. With his telescope, he could see ships as far away as 30 miles away. Until 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 made a tidy profit for himself while benefiting both paying captains and merchants.
Two-way radio eventually rendered the tower obsolete, but the Moody family operated it until 1923. The observatory was donated to Portland in 1984, and Greater Portland Landmarks took it over and restored it. Recent visitors said the observatory’s views are not to be missed, and its history is fascinating.
From late May through early October, it is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. From July to August, it is open until 8 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 16. Visit the observatory’s website for more information.
The luxury of the Victoria Mansion will enchant fans of architecture and interior design. It was initially built in the mid-1800s as a summer house for hotelier Ruggles Sylvester Morse. When the house was damaged during a hurricane in 1938, it was scheduled for demolition to make way for a gas station. A Maine resident bought the home and turned it into a museum honoring Queen Victoria.
In the eyes of historians, the Victoria Mansion is an outstanding example of pre-Civil War grandeur. There is an ornate square tower with numerous balconies and piazzas on the house’s exterior, which is modeled after an Italian villa. On the inside, you will be even more amazed. 90% of the original interiors are still intact, including carved wood-paneled walls, gas light fixtures, cherub-shaped crown moldings, and ornate draperies and carpeting. Gustave Herter of Herter Brothers, one of the most popular design firms of the day, created the only intact work of his kind in the U.S. Another exciting aspect of this house is that it was considered modern. The property has hot and cold running water, gaslighting, central heating, and an alert system for servants.
Recent visitors were impressed by the house’s bells and whistles. Travelers marveled at the well-preserved interiors of the mansion. The knowledgeable staff was appreciated by others, although some expressed disappointment that visitors were not allowed access to all areas of the house. Victoria Mansion is located in downtown Portland, about a half-mile southwest of the Old Port. The cost of admission is $16 for adults, $5 for youth ages 6-17, and free for children younger than 6. Hours and guided tours vary according to the season. Visit the Victoria Mansion’s website for more information.
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