Things To Do In Portland
Weird and wonderful Portland is the second largest city in the Pacific Northwest. It’s known for its pretty parks and gardens, and its craft breweries, food trucks and donuts.
But there’s more to the City of Roses than just those things, though they are great options. If you’re planning a trip and need some ideas, here’s our list of the 15 best things to do in Portland.
1.Visit a Garden
Visiting a garden is one of the best things to do in Portland, which is home to several incredible gardens. Two of the best are in Washington Park. At the Japanese Garden, you can explore several different traditional gardens and enjoy nature in a zen environment.
You can also experience a traditional tea ceremony at the Tea Garden or attend numerous special events. See why Portland is called the City of Roses at the International Rose Test Garden. You can find more than 10,000 roses here, including many new varieties that have been bred. Or be transported to China at the Lan Su Chinese Garden, which is a very authentic traditional Chinese Garden modeled after China’s famous Ming Dynasty gardens.
2.Powell’s City of Books
Even if you’re not a big fan of reading, Powell’s is worth a visit. It’s the largest independent bookstore in the world. There are four locations in the Portland area, but head to the flagship Powell’s City of Books on Burnside near Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Grab a cup of coffee from the in-store cafe and a map, then browse to your heart’s content. There are more than a million new, used and rare books here. Once you find something interesting, there’s plenty of room to sit and read.
Their events calendar is also jam packed with events, such as readings, book signings, book clubs, writing workshops and more.
Known for their unique doughnut flavors with whimsical names, Voodoo Doughnuts is one of the best and tastiest things to do in Portland. A Portland institution, their doughnuts are really good. The signature Voodoo Doughnut is shaped like a voodoo doll, filled with raspberry jelly and coated with chocolate.
Other customer favorites include the Bacon Maple Bar (a traditional maple bar topped with rich frosting and bacon) and Old Dirty Bastard (with chocolate frosting, peanut butter and Oreos). There are two locations. The original shop downtown is also across the street from the “Keep Portland Weird” mural. Long lines are typical. But visit on a guided doughnut tour and you can skip the lines.
4.Explore a Park
Enjoying the outdoors in one is one of the best things to do in Portland. Luckily, there are no shortages of parks in the city. Washington Park is a great option. In addition to 15 miles of trails, it’s also home to top attractions such as the Oregon Zoo, the Japanese Garden, International Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, Children’s Museum and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Forest Park, the largest urban park in the country, offers lush forests and more than 80 miles of trails. Guided hiking tours make it easy to explore. Enjoy the waterfront and open spaces at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Or visit an extinct volcano cone and pretty reservoirs at Mount Tabor Park. There are many other park options in the city as well.
5.Pioneer Courthouse Square
Located at the heart of downtown, Pioneer Courthouse Square is referred to locally as “Portland’s living room.” The lovely, brick-lined public square is one of Portland’s most popular attractions, and a great place to hang out. In addition to two brick amphitheaters, there’s also a waterfall fountain, iconic statues and artwork and many food carts and vendors.
Find the Pioneer Courthouse, the oldest federal building in the Pacific Northwest, on the eastern side of the square. The square hosts more than 300 events a year. Check their events calendar to see what’s going on. Visit on Mondays over the summer for the Portland Farmers Market. Other popular, and regular, events include free live music and movie screenings.
6.Portland Aerial Tram
Enjoy a birds-eye view of Portland on the Portland Aerial Tram. It’s technically a means of public transport, but one that also offers great views. The tram connects the South Waterfront neighborhood to the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) on Marquam Hill. The ride takes about four minutes and rises around 500 feet.
Floor to ceiling windows offer epic views. On a clear day, you can see the city skyline, Willamette River, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens. At the top, walk out on the longest suspended pedestrian skybridge in the country, or take in the views from the outdoor patio. Trams run daily, but are closed on most major public holidays.
Located in the heart of Portland, the vibrant Pearl District is one of the most popular areas in the city. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, chances are you’ll find yourself spending quite a bit of time here. It’s home to many notable restaurants, artisan coffee shops, craft breweries, independent boutiques, stylish shops and modern art galleries. Formerly abandoned warehouses now house trendy businesses and residences.
Find both Powell City of Book and Voodoo Doughnuts here. There are also several family-friendly parks here, including Jamison Square, Tanner Springs Park and Fields Neighborhood Park. Visit on the first Thursday of the month for the popular First Thursdays gallery walk.
8.Columbia River Gorge
Taking a trip out to the Columbia River Gorge is one of the best things to do in Portland. Located around 25 miles east, the stunning gorge stretches for more than 80 miles. At some spots, it’s about 4,000 feet deep.
There are more than 50 waterfalls in the area, with Multnomah Falls being the most popular. At 620 feet feet, it’s the tallest waterfall in the state. The Multnomah Falls Loop Trail will take you past three other waterfalls, Wahkeena Falls, Ecola Falls and Fairy Falls, before reaching towering Multnomah Falls.
Water sports are also popular here, including kayaking, whitewater rafting and kiteboarding. There are also many cute shops and plenty of wineries and tasting rooms offering stunning views of the gorge in the area. Guided tours from Portland are available and make for an easy day.
Visit Pittock Mansion to learn about Portland’s history and enjoy incredible views of the city. It was built in 1914 for Henry Pittock, the wealthy publisher of the Oregonian newspaper. The opulent 23-room French Renaissance style mansion sits 1,000 feet above the city and offers incredible views of the city and the Cascade Range. Fully restored, the interior is filled with artwork and antiques.
A guided tour is included in the admission but you can also explore on a self-guided tour. Don’t miss the spectacular grounds, which cover more than 45 acres. There’s also a nice gift shop that sells handmade items by local artisans.
Portland is known for having a great craft beer scene. In fact, there are more than 70 breweries in the city alone. So there’s no excuse not to sample some local brew while you are here. Popular breweries include Wayfinder, Breakside, Great Notion and Ancestry and Double Mountain.
And while you can visit them on your own, it’s more fun to visit them as part of a brewery tour. Several tour options are available. Most tours last 2 to 3 hours and include multiple stops. One of the most popular is a biking brewery tour, which combines two popular Portland activities. Walking brewery tours are also popular. For something unusual, try a haunted brewery tour.
11.Food Carts and Trucks
Portland is also known for a great local food scene. And the best way to experience it is to visit some of the many food carts, food trucks and food courts in the city. There are actually more than 500 food carts and trucks in Portland.
You can find many of the food carts and trucks grouped together in pods, which offer an easy way to sample several delicious cuisines, flavors and items at the same time. Popular pods include the TidBit Food Farm and Garden, Cartopia Food Cart Pod, the Cartlandia Food Cart Pod and the Third Avenue Food Cart Pod.
Food courts are another way to sample a variety of food, and the Pine Street Market is a great option. Guided food tours also make it easy to sample the local flavors.
12.Portland Art Museum
Founded in 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the oldest museum in the Pacific Northwest. The museum’s vast collection contains more than 50,000 items, though only a small portion is displayed at any given time. Explore nine permanent collections and a regular rotation of special exhibits.
Its Native American gallery is especially impressive, with more than 5,000 objects from more than 200 tribes. It also has a strong Northwest art and English silver collection. Other highlights include its photography exhibits, Asian art and pieces from European masters. Don’t miss the outdoor sculpture garden, which connects the two main buildings of the museum.
13.Go Wine Tasting
Going wine tasting is another great thing to do in Portland. The Willamette Valley, just south of Portland, is the premier wine growing region in Oregon and features more than 500 wineries and vineyards. And you can easily spend the entire day sampling wine. Be sure to try some pinot noir, which the region is particularly known for.
Opt for a guided wine tour and you can leave the driving to someone else. You don’t even have to leave Portland to go wine tasting. In recent years, more than 10 Willamette Valley wineries have moved to the city itself, complete with tasting rooms. There are also collaborations, such as the Southeast Wine Collective, which features several local producers.
14.Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Located along Portland’s south waterfront, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is one of the best things to do in Portland for families with kids. This highly rated interactive museum makes science learning fun for all ages. Explore five halls and eight labs filled with more than 200 interactive exhibits on subjects spanning the human body, chemistry, physics and technology.
There’s even a playground designed specifically for young children. In addition, the USS Blueback submarine, which was featured in the movie, Hunt for Red October, is docked right outside and can be toured. There’s also a 4-story OmniMax giant-screen theater and a planetarium. Combine a visit to OMSI with other top Portland sites with a guided city tour.
Underneath Portland, there’s a network of tunnels that once connected the basements of different bars, hotels and shops to the Willamette River waterfront. The Portland Underground is commonly referred to as the Shanghai Tunnels. Local lore has it that, in addition to legitimate uses such as storage, the tunnels were once used to transport men who had been “shanghaied,” where able-bodied men were captured and sold to sea captains in need of a crew.
Whether that actually happened is up in the air. But the tunnels are a unique attraction worth visiting. Several companies provide guided tours where you can learn more about the history of the tunnels and explore them for yourself in a safe manner.
There’s much to see and do in Portland. But when you are ready to venture further afield, check out our list of the 15 best day trips from Portland for ideas.