On the USA’s west coast, Portland, Oregon is the state’s largest city yet a haven for lovers of nature, quirky characters, charming neighborhoods, and small city life.
Among the food trucks, craft beer, and historic buildings in downtown Portland, the locals thrive to keep Portland weird. In the city center are an abundance of green spaces, rose gardens, hipster cafes, street art, and amazing ice cream.
Best Things to do in Portland Oregon
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This comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Portland will help you explore the city’s weird side and see why it’s one of the most interesting places in the US. Interested in exploring Oregon? Check out our guide to the best things to do in the Beaver State.
Powell’s City of Books
In a city that embraces the old with vigor and substance, it’s no surprise that Portland is home to the biggest new and used bookstore on earth. Powell’s City of Books is a local institution. It’s an independent bookstore that covers an entire city block of Portland’s northern downtown.
Even if you have no plans of picking up a novel to enjoy some light reading, exploring the store is enough of an adventure in itself. Check-in and grab yourself a map so you don’t get lost roaming the aisles containing over four million books.
We love getting on the water when visiting any city, book this Portland dinner cruise through downtown Portland to see the sights along the Willamette River as you enjoy a delicious three-course dinner with entertainment and narration.
As the city’s biggest park and one of the best things to do in Portland, Forest Park must find its way onto your itinerary. Even in what is a growing city, the park is an excellent place to enjoy fresh air and feel a world away from the bustle of downtown.
Throughout Forest Park Portland, you will be inundated with amazing views, whether that be Mt Hood or the Willamette River. The endless miles of trails will take you to iconic spots like the Pittock Mansion or the spooky Witch’s Castle, where ghosts roam under the moonlight. Switch it up with a bike ride, or pack a picnic and soak up the scenery.
Or better yet, book this Portland Bike Tour to explore the Willamette River, sample donuts, learn about the neighborhoods and see the city from a different perspective.
Portland Art Museum
If you enjoy your art, then one of the top things to do in Portland is to explore the Portland Art Museum. Near the Portland State University campus, the art museum features work from across the globe and also focuses on Pacific Northwest Native American Art.
You could spend a full day wandering the halls and taking in several masterpieces, stunning photography and iconic prints. However, even with just an hour or two, you can still make the most of the experience.
One of the most prominent Portland attractions is the Pittock Mansion. The dramatic mansion was built in 1914 in the French renaissance-style. The Pittock family, who called it home, were major players in developing Portland, Oregon, into the city it is today.
Consisting of over 40 rooms and 16,000 square feet, the Pittock Mansion is well worth exploring on a guided tour. However, its location within Forest Park makes it the perfect spot to relax on your adventures through the woods.
International Rose Test Garden
Known as the City of Roses, Portland is home to the stunning and public Rose Test Garden. Found within Washington Park, you will discover over 500 varieties of roses sources from around the globe. The roses are sent here to test viability and the plants characteristics.
Although open year-round, the garden is best seen between the months of May and September. During that time period, more than 10,000 rose bushes bloom in unison, backed by the incredible views of Mt Hood. After the garden, wander over to the iconic ice cream shop Salt & Straw for some distinctive ice cream flavors.
Many cities have amazing examples of rundown districts born again and old neighborhoods with a ‘rags to riches tale’. Portland’s version of this is the Pearl District. Once home to warehouses and disintegrating brick buildings, the Pearl District is one of the best places to eat and drink in Portland.
The Pearl District is home to several fantastic art galleries, cafes for your morning cup and some of the best dining in the city when the tummy starts to grumble. Fans of craft beer will also delight in the neighborhood’s selection of delicious brewpubs, none more popular than Deschutes Brewery and Public House. Return in the evening when the laid-back district presents some of Portland’s best nightlife.
If you’re wondering what to do in Portland if you don’t have a car, then wonder no more. Washington Park is a sprawling urban oasis that is easily accessed with the help of Portland’s light rail.
Just 20 minutes from downtown, those visiting Portland will quickly fall in love with this open space. Bring your walking shoes, as there are 15 miles of trails to stroll while you will also have the chance to visit the Oregon Zoo and the International Rose Test Garden.
Columbia River Gorge
Following the immersive Historic Columbia River Highway, venturing to Columbia River Gorge is the perfect choice for those seeking a day trip from Portland. Spanning 80 miles along the river and soaring canyons, you will get the full fix of Oregon’s spectacular scenery.
Although you will have an abundance of epic lookouts along the way, make sure to leave time for the trip to Multnomah Falls. The Insta-famous waterfall is worth braving the crowds for, thanks to the memorable 542ft drop into a cascading pool. You can reach the falls by following the 5-mile Wahkeena Falls Loop Trail, which passes a total of 6 mesmerizing falls.
Book this highly rated Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Tour for an afternoon at the Columbia River Gorge including, Multnomah Fall, the Portland Women’s Forum, the Crown Point Vista House, Latourell Falls, and Shepperd’s Dell.
Portland Saturday Market
One of the best things to do in Portland on the weekend is to visit the Portland Saturday Market. Held every weekend from March until Christmas Eve, you will discover over 150 arts, crafts, and food vendors. They help make the market the largest fair of its kind in the United States.
Wake up early and partake in some fresh food shopping, or return in the afternoon to try some unique Portland eats under the Burnside Bridge. Cuisines hail from all around the world, including Thai, Nepalese, Greek and even some homegrown fresh catch and desserts.
Portland Japanese Garden
When exploring Washington Park in southwest Portland, stopping by the Portland Japanese Garden is a must. Although you will find plenty of green space to explore when in Portland, the garden is a unique attraction that stands out.
Seen as one of the best Japanese Gardens in the United States, you can easily find a moment of Zen among the stunning aesthetics from wooden bridges over creeks to traditional rock gardens. Try the matcha tea as you sit in the peaceful open spaces catching glimpses of the towering Mount Hood.
Old Town Chinatown
One of the best places to start your adventures in Portland is within that city’s Old Town Chinatown. As one of the most historic neighborhoods in Portland, Old Town harbors the secrets of the city’s early days, including the infamous Shanghai Tunnels.
Also known as the Old Portland Underground, these tunnels used to connect the suppliers at the port directly to the businesses via, you guessed it, tunnels. That was until shady happenings continued to occur within the confines of the tunnels. Organized crime would not just take the produce but kidnap the port’s sailors, also known as Shanghaiing.
Over time, the historical accuracies have blurred, but a tour of the tunnels is one of the best things to do in Portland.
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Placed along the Willamette River, which divides Portland, the Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a beautiful spot to take in the river. Throughout the day you will find locals walking and jogging the Waterfront Park Trail, taking in the views of the city, park, river and port.
Come here to not only enjoy some peace but also to visit the Oregon Maritime Museum, the Salmon Street Springs or the smallest park in the world, Mill Ends Park. If you have arrived in time for sunset, continue on to Broadway Bridge for views of the colorful sky. Later, walk across the bridge for a night among the brewpubs in southeast Portland.
Alberta Arts District
Northeast Portland once had an infamous reputation, but over the years it has transformed into an artists’ hub and a neighborhood for expression and creativity. From this, the Alberta Arts District was born.
Based around Alberta Street, you will discover a youthful community of art galleries and homegrown boutiques. What will come as a shock to no one is that the district comes with an abundance of murals and is the best spot for street art in Portland. Come with no plan and simply get lost walking the streets, hitting up some great brewpubs, cafes or street vendors along the way.
The debate rages on about whether Blue Star Donuts are better than Voodoo Doughnut and no time in Portland would be complete without sampling at least one. Blue Star may be a local favorite, but the wild and innovative nature of Voodoo Doughnut makes it a memorable and must-do experience.
Voodoo loves to push the boundaries when it comes to creative donut-making. Where else can you find Capt’n Crunch toppings? So truth be told, they may not be for everyone, but there is only one way to find out.
The line is always out the door but moves quickly, so straddle up for a sweet treat adventure!
Combining your favorite exhibits with conservation and fun education, the Oregon Zoo is one of top best things to do in Portland with kids. The zoo comprises five main sections featuring different continents and unique ecosystems. So your crew can circle the globe while getting an unobstructed view of the world’s most iconic animals.
When exploring the zoo, you won’t go hungry with multiple restaurants and coffee shops to choose from. Head to Growlers for pizza or order your lunch online and pick it up at AfriCafe, so your day doesn’t miss a beat.
Another great option to see wildlife is at the Portland Audubon Society.
Pioneer Courthouse Square
If downtown Portland had a gathering place, this would be it. The square is an urban park within the heart of the city, a spot where post-work festivities begin.
Beyond being a meeting point, the beautiful square is vibrant throughout the year. Concerts and festivals occur almost weekly, with Tuesdays and Thursdays bringing free lunchtime concerts to locals.
However, the atmosphere in ‘Portland’s living room’ reaches its peak during the winter festival season. Festivals include Winter Lights and the Holiday Ale Festival, a celebration of the state’s best craft beers.
If the question is what to do in Portland at night, then the answer is Mississippi Avenue. Mississippi is another neighborhood in Portland that has risen to fame based on its social vibe and arts. The main drag, Mississippi Avenue, provides the goods with quirky shops, food trucks, and homes that are now trendy restaurants.
The daytime brings plenty of walking adventures as you meander your way down the street. However, at night, this is the place to go to experience Portland’s live music scene. The standout among the bunch is Mississippi Studios.
Along with the Columbia River Gorge, a trip to Timberline Lodge is a great way to experience the world around the Portland city limits. 90 minutes from downtown Portland, the Timberline Lodge is the base for many outdoor activities.
On the edge of the monstrous Mount Hood, this is the place to go for year-round skiing and big mountain hiking trails. Better yet, save the energy and ride the gondola up to 7000ft with epic views of the summit.
After the return journey, cozy up in front of the Timberline Lodge’s fireplace and have dinner at what feels like the top of the world.
Want the lowdown on hiking around the Portland area, from the Oregon coast to the Cascade Range? Check out our guide on the best hikes in Oregon.
Where to stay in Portland
There are several worthy areas in Portland to stay, from Mississippi to the Pearl District and Old Town, while southeast Portland provides many budget options. Below, we have listed three hotels to suit each budget.
Budget – With a vintage vibe and exposed brick, the Society Hotel is a top choice among budget travelers. Within walking distance of the Pearl District, a mouthwatering food scene, and Northwest Portland, you’ll have it all at your fingertips. Check rates and Reviews on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Mid-Range – In Portland’s Northwest District, Park Lane Suites & Inn brings fantastic amenities at a great price. With a beautiful interior, well-equipped kitchen, and plush sofa, you’ll feel right at home. When you’re ready to explore Portland, the Lan Su Chinese Garden and Powell’s City of Books are steps away. Check rates and reviews on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Luxury – With a rooftop terrace, indoor pool, and enormous suites, the Hampton Inn & Suites will be the perfect home in Portland. Within the Pearl District, you are close to all the action in the city center, the best Portland restaurants, and the Portland Art Museum. Check rates and reviews on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Unique – Jupiter Hotel – We stayed at this hotel and loved its quirky vibe. A mid-century motor inn turned boutique hotel in the heart of Portland just minutes from downtown, the Pearl District, and the Rose Garden Arena. Check rates and Reviews on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Where we Stayed: We also stated at The Benson a historic landmark hotel in Portland that was founded in 1913. With a European flair it is a Four Diamond hotel. Check rates and reviews on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
How to get to Downtown Portland
The major arrival point for Portland, Oregon, is through the city’s major airport. Portland Airport is 9 miles from downtown Portland and the best way to travel is on the MAX light-rail train. The trip takes just under 40 minutes to complete, starting at 4:45 am, with the last train at 11:50 pm. Tickets cost $2.50 for adults.
Taxis and ride-share services provide alternatives. Depending on traffic, a trip takes anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. Costs for a taxi hover around $35.
Shuttles are another common option. Some Portland hotels provide free shuttle transfers.
Amtrak also connects to Portland via several western USA cities.
Getting around Portland
One thing that quickly becomes noticeable as you travel around Portland is just how great bicycles are and how bad the car traffic is.
That doesn’t mean you should rule out hiring a car when in town. In fact, to enjoy the coast and the mountains on either side of the city, then you’ll need four wheels.
However, with great public transportation, you can get almost anywhere within Portland.
Bus – The TriMet bus system operates over 80 lines throughout the city. You can plan your journey on their website and attain arrival times and details of each stop. Beware that there are fewer services in the evening and the vast majority end after 1 am.
Light Rail – If you are downtown, then using the MAX light rail and the Portland Streetcar are two easy ways to get around. The light rail is reasonably extensive and easy to use. For trip planning, you can download the app on the TriMet website.
To make life easier and cheaper, grab a Hop Fastpass Card. Use all forms of transport without having to worry about cash.
Bicycle – Portland has an abundance of bike lanes and a strong bike share system. Drivers here are also more aware of their two-wheeled counterparts than elsewhere in the States. The bike-share system is called Biketown. Have your pick of 1500 bikes stationed at 180 different locations throughout the city.
Car Rental – Local traffic has an infamous reputation and can slow down your adventures around Portland. You can compare car rental prices for Oregon at RentalCars.com
SmartPark garages are a great option for when you can’t find a spot to park. But in general, you will want to save your car for day trips further afield.
Taxis – Cabs are readily available at all hours, while Uber and Lyft operate in great numbers.
Best time to visit Portland
Thanks to the impressive nature, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Portland. Sure, it can get pretty cold in the winter, yet the soaring mountains provide ample exciting opportunities from skiing to mountaineering.
However, with an abundance of urban spaces and flowers blooming in unison, spring is the best time to visit Portland. The cherry blossoms come to life and the city’s atmosphere awakes from the winter slumber.
Summer and fall present also present great travel opportunities. The urban parks pack out in the summer with festivities and markets galore. While in the fall, the foliage is worth the price of entrance all by itself.
Now that you’ve explored Portland, why not check out another outstanding Oregon city. Explore our guide to the best things to do in Bend!