18 Amazing Things to Do in Portland, Oregon
Portland is often described as weird because no other adjective can genuinely encapsulate the unique combination of the city's experiences, sights and flavors. From tranquil green spaces and natural wonders to bustling markets and famous distilleries, the largest city in Oregon has something for everyone.
So, if you have some free time to enjoy Portland, hop onto its impressive Europe-style public transport system and start exploring.
Whether you just bought your first home in Portland, are thinking of buying a new home for your family, or are just in town for a few days, here is a list of 18 things you must do while in Portland.
Explore the spirit of Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square
The Pioneer Courthouse Square stands right in the heart of the city and is one of the most symbolic sites in Portland. As you walk around the square, pay attention to its red bricks engraved with the names of nearly 80,000 Portlanders proud to call the city home.
The square, affectionately coined 'Portland's living room,' is abuzz with excitement year-round. The summertime musical concerts and holiday bazaars around Christmas are only some events that add cheer to the city. The square also houses the historical Pioneer Courthouse, the oldest federal building in the Pacific Northwest. This classical architecture was built in 1869in the Italianate style and still serves as a federal courthouse.
Discover Portland's history at the Oregon Historical Society
The history of a city shapes not only its identity and future but also its people's understanding of themselves as individuals and residents of the town. If you wish to get to know Portland and are considering buying a home here, delve into the city's history with the Oregon Historical Society.
Founded in 1898, the Oregon Historical Society is a public resource dedicated to preserving and researching the state's history and disseminating this knowledge to the public. To achieve this, the society holds events such as panel discussions and workshops, arranges exhibitions and oversees the Oregon Historical Society Museum. Visit the museum to see the Portland Penny. The coin flipped to decide the city's name, a 10,000-year-old sandal, and over 85,000 other artifacts documenting the region's history.
Ride above the city on the Portland Aerial Tram
If you're new to Portland and want to get, quite literally, a bird's eye view of the city, take a ride on the Portland Aerial Tram. Oddly reminiscent of the Jetsons (unless you're too young to have heard of the show), the aerial tram brings a bit of the future to the present.
The tramway runs from Portland's South Waterfront district to the Oregon Health and Science University campus at 500 feet. The 3-minute ride allows riders unparalleled views of the city skyline, the forested hills of Southwest Portland, Mount Hood and the Willamette River.
Get lost in a book at Powell's City of Books
Powell's City of Books is not just the largest used and new bookstore in the city, the state, or the country – it is the largest bookstore in the world! Encompassing a whole city block and offering around a million books, you will likely find almost every book you've ever heard of in this store.
Choose a book matching your interests from any of the nine color-coded rooms and 3,500 different sections. Enjoy it with a cup of coffee or a snack at the Guilder Café inside the store.
Soothe your senses at the Japanese Gardens at Washington Park
In experiencing the endearing hustle and bustle of the city, remember to enjoy the valuable moments of the city's serenity. Look at the lush green trees and listen to the gentle sounds of the running streams as you walk through the stunning 12-acre Japanese Gardens at the notable Washington Park. March is a wonderful time to visit the park when the trees are adorned with gorgeous pink cherry blossoms.
Stop and smell the flowers at the International Rose Test Garden
While you're at Washington Park, take advantage of the International Rose Test Garden located in the park. Red, white, pink and yellow: the garden features about 10,000 rose bushes in over 650 varieties. These roses lend the city its fragrance from late May through October, allowing Portland to live up to its nickname – the City of Roses.
Explore a traditional Chinese Garden
If you enjoyed the Japanese Gardens, the Lan Su Chinese Garden will take your breath away. Although another green space in the city, the Lan Su Chinese Garden stands out from typical American parks in its design and constituent elements.
The garden is influenced by famous gardens in Suzhou, with over 90% of its plants indigenous to China. This walled garden contains traditional Chinese structures such as a boat-shaped pavilion, a scholar's studio, and a water-side pavilion.
Feed your curiosity at Portland's fascinating museums
For people searching for greater knowledge, different perspectives and intellectual challenges, Portland's museums provide opportunities to learn new things and gain interesting insights into art, culture and science.
The Portland Art Museum aims to "engage and enrich diverse communities" through art and film. The museum contains collections of photography, drawings and prints, Native American art, Asian art and Northwestern art that engross your senses and offer a glimpse into different cultures.
While the art museum is usually intriguing to adults only, a visit to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is fun for adults and kids alike. The museum offers interactive exhibits to help you learn about the industry, technology and natural sciences. You can also gaze up at the stars and contemplate the vastness of the universe at the museum's planetarium.
Buy an eccentric trinket at Portland Saturday Market
The largest continuously operated outdoor market in the US, the Portland Saturday Market is a delightful blend of colors, shapes and textures.
From intricately carved wooden boxes and premium leather bags to one-of-a-kind rings and handmade soaps with heavenly scents, the 300-odd vendors at this market offer virtually anything that can be categorized as 'arts and crafts.'
If hunger strikes while browsing through the creative merchandise at the market, you can grab a slice of pizza or even get some Indian food at the many food stalls.
Get a drink right from the source
Although known for its beer scene, Portland is also home to several distilleries and wineries. Many people who can't access Europe choose to go wine tasting in the sprawling vineyards near Portland instead. You can also savor a glass of wine at the many urban wineries within the city.
If you're more of a hard liquor person, check out over 80 unique spirits (not all at once, please!) produced by the 12 distilleries in Portland's Distillery Row.
Immerse yourself in nature at the Forest Park
In a world struggling to survive the devastating impacts of pollution and climate change, initiatives to address these challenges are crucial. One of the largest urban forests in the US, Forest Park in Portland provides shelter to over 112 birds and 62 mammal species, helps clean the city's air and water, and functions as an essential recreational spot for city residents.
Let the cool, green surroundings soothe you as you take a stroll or bike ride through the forest.
Enjoy the lively atmosphere at the Pearl District
The Pearl District is a place for shoppers, food connoisseurs, and art enthusiasts. Located in the heart of downtown Portland, this vibrant district is home to vintage shops, excellent cafés, trendy restaurants, top-rated breweries and chic art galleries. The district caters to a diverse range of interests, so there is never a dull moment when you're there.
Indulge in delicious street food at the Portland Mercado
Portland's fantastic food carts, stalls and pods add even more flavor to the city's vibrant air. You can head to Pioneer Courthouse Square for a delicious sandwich, to Portland State University for some tender kababs, or to Third Avenue for hand-pulled noodles.
The city offers scores of amazing street food options. Still, the Portland Mercado is simply legendary for the decadent Latin street food it serves up. Enjoy the colors and smells as you walk around the Mercado to choose a filling burrito or cheesy enchiladas.
(Re)live your youth in the Alberta Arts District
The "epicenter of youth and culture," the Alberta Arts District is bursting with life and color. The district has no dearth of cute restaurants, cafes and bars. Enjoy the bright, colorful murals as you walk in the neighborhood. While there, grab some biscuits at the famous Pine State Biscuits or try the pancakes at Proud Mary.
The neighborhood offers exciting shopping options, from vintage knives to locally designed clothes.
Suppose you're in Portland in the summer. In that case, you must devote an evening to experiencing local artists, vendors, musicians and performers at the Last Thursday event in the Alberta Arts District.
Check out the many bridges of Bridgetown
'Bridgetown' and 'Bridge City' are among Portland's many nicknames, thanks to the abundance of bridges in the city. There are 12 bridges over the Willamette River entirely within the city, and an additional three bridges connect Portland to Washington state.
During the summer, join approximately 10,000 other residents and visitors in the annual Portland Bridge Pedal and Stride event. Participants can choose between an 8km two-bridge walk or a 37-mile bike ride across 11 bridges.
But even if you choose not to participate in the yearly event, make sure to stroll along the bridges to observe their beautiful designs, not to mention a great photo op.
Go underground with the Shanghai tunnels virtual tour
Enter Portland's underbelly through the Shanghai tunnels, a group of passages located mainly underneath the city's Old Town Chinatown neighborhood and connecting to the central business section. Although the tunnels were reportedly used for the easy transportation of goods, lore is that they were used for far more nefarious purposes.
While some say the mysterious tunnels were a route to transport smuggled goods and humans, others claim that the passageways led to illegal brothels and gambling houses. The stories of the tunnels' origins are too convoluted to divorce fiction from reality. However, that takes little away from the fascinating virtual tour of the Shanghai tunnels.
Step into the glorious past in the Pittock Mansion
Symbolic of Portland's transformation from a pioneer town to an industrialized city, the mansion was originally the private home of Oregonian publisher Henry Pittock and his wife.
This 46-room French Renaissance-style chateau built on a hilltop affords stunning panoramic views of downtown Portland. You can explore the many rooms, including the Library, Turkish Smoking Room and Sewing Room, and observe Portland from above.
Appreciate the scenes at the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls
The Columbia River Gorge is a spectacular canyon of the Columbia River, just minutes from downtown Portland. The gorge offers picturesque viewpoints, scenic hikes and breathtaking waterfalls.
Standing tall at over 600ft, Multnomah Falls are a tourist favorite. Looking up from the Benson Bridge at the lower end of the falls offers an awe-inspiring view of the falls.
Although it takes about 20 minutes to reach the gorge, you can enjoy both sides of the river by driving a loop from Portland to Maryhill, which takes about 5 hours.