There are so many fun things to do in Portland Maine that you’ll love. Whether you’re spending one day in Portland, three days in Portland, or even longer, you’ll have a total blast in this New England gem. From marveling at lighthouses to eating all of the delicious food and drink, Portland has plenty to offer.
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I visited Portland when I was attending a travel blogger conference. While I spent five days and nights in the city, two of those days were mostly taken up at the conference. This means that I saw most of the attractions and activities listed below with 3 days in Portland, Maine.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the best things to do in Portland Maine that I’ll be covering in this article:
- Visiting three local lighthouses to Portland, Maine
- Discovering the local beer, wine, and spirits scene with Maine Brew Bus Tours
- Checking out downtown Maine and Old Port neighborhoods
- Marveling at the beautiful street art in Portland
- Walking at the East End Beach Promenade and visiting local parks
- Dining at the best vegan restaurants in Portland
- Uncovering Portland’s amazing coffee shop scene
Where to Stay in Portland Maine
My top choice if you’re looking for where to stay in Portland Maine is the La Quinta by Wyndham Portland. It’s not too far from downtown Portland, and it’s both an affordable and comfortable place to stay.
The La Quinta hotel includes free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and a very roomy suite. I also loved having the option of free parking as I had my car with me. It’s an ideal place to stay if you have a car or a rental car as many hotels in downtown Portland have expensive parking fees.
More Places to Stay in Portland
Want more choices? There are lots of incredible hotels in Portland, Maine. Here’s a handy booking tool where you can see all of the accommodations and vacation rentals in one place. It’s easy to compare prices and find the best rate for your trip to Portland.
Getting Around Portland
I drove my own car from Toronto on a road trip to Portland, Maine. Some of my stops included Albany and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You might also consider checking out Dutchess County (NY), Western Massachusetts, or Boston on a New England road trip.
My hotel was within walking distance of downtown Portland and Old Port. However, to get to many other neighborhoods and the lighthouses, I really needed my car to get around. Taking an Uber from place to place to place will definitely add up. I suggest renting a car to get around Portland. Plus, you can also continue your adventures to Southern Maine, too.
Best Things to Do in Portland Maine: Visit the Lighthouses
If you think about coastal New England, the crashing waves and picturesque lighthouses immediately spring to mind. There are numerous lighthouses to check out in Portland and all over the coast of Maine. Here are three lighthouses in Portland that aren’t too far from one another.
You can easily visit all three lighthouses in one short drive, and they’re worthy additions to your Portland Maine itinerary. They’re fascinating and picture-perfect, so discovering these lighthouses is surely one of the most fun things to do in Portland, Maine.
Portland Head Light
The Portland Head Light is one of the most iconic lighthouses in New England, and it’s right here in Portland. It’s located right at the shores of Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, about a 10 minute drive from downtown Portland. This is one of the top attractions in Portland.
The lamps within this historic lighthouse were first lit in 1791, and it’s still in operation to this day. It’s had a few updates over the years as it once used oil lamps to light the way in the late 1700s. The keepers’ quarters was updated over the years, too. The current keeper’s house was built in 1891, and it was home to the lighthouse keepers up until 1989.
Fort Williams Park is open all year long and you are welcome to walk on the paths along the coast. When I visited the Portland Head Light, the museum and gift shop were closed (they’re open from Independence Day to Columbus Day). Visiting the park, the lighthouse, and the museum is free of charge.
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
The Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse was built in 1897 at the end of a granite breakwater. You can walk out on this lengthy ledge right up to the lighthouse itself. The lighthouse was actually constructed on this ledge jetting out from the mainland to warn the ship captains of a ledge in the Portland Harbor.
Spring Point Ledge Light looks a bit like a giant spark plug. Seeing this lighthouse is one of the most unique things to do in Portland Maine. It has its own individual look that sets it apart from other lighthouses in the area. Sitting in Casco Bay, this lighthouse has become a symbol of South Portland for many years. It’s free to visit, too!
Not too far from Spring Point Ledge Light, you’ll find Bug Light, another cute lighthouse in Portland. Bug Light is right at the edge of the South Portland Greenbelt Pathway, which runs through Bug Light Park and beyond.
Bug Light, also known as Portland Breakwater Light, was built in 1875. It’s made out of curved cast-iron plates, and the seams are disguised by Greek columns. By visiting the park, you can view this adorable little lighthouse up close. Plus, there are various events at Bug Light Park throughout the year, like the Kite Festival, 4th of July celebrations, and outdoor movie nights.
Portland Maine Lighthouse Tour
Fun Things to Do in Portland Maine: Try Local Craft Beverages
Sampling delicious craft beverages from local small businesses is one of the top things to do in Portland, Maine. You’ll have a blast sampling the best beer, wine, and spirits that the city has to offer. While you can hit up the local pubs and cocktail bars, sometimes it’s best to try samples right at the source!
I suggest booking a tour so you don’t need to drive from place to place. This Portland local brewery tour takes you on a walking tour to three different craft breweries.
I visited a brewery, a winery, and a distillery during my trip to Portland. Also, I made sure to sample more local beer right in town at some bars and restaurants. Here are my three suggested stops for craft beer, wine, and alcohol.
Foundation Brewing Company
Foundation Brewing Company is a craft brewery in Portland, founded in 2014. They’re passionate about creating delicious brews, whether it’s their core beers or limited edition ones. Foundation even has cellar beers, aged in bourbon, rye, rum, oak, or scotch barrels.
Not only did I get to sample quite a few different beers, but I also took a tour around the brewery, including the barrel room. Foundation Brewing Company has a spacious tasting room, and they’ve also got a massive outdoor heated tent right now, too.
If you aren’t able to visit the brewery, you might be able to find Foundation Brewing Company beer at a pub near you. You’ll also be able to find them at a variety of establishments in New England and beyond.
Eighteen Twenty Wines
Eighteen Twenty Wines is one of the most unique wines that I’ve ever sampled. It’s made entirely from Maine-grown rhubarb! Have you ever tried rhubarb wine before? Portland, Maine is precisely where you can try this interesting wine. The winery likens their wine to a French Rosé, Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc.
Some of this rhubarb wine also has strawberries or blueberries added to it as well. It’s like summer in a glass! You can also use this wine as a spritzer or a base for a sangria. Eighteen Twenty wines are super refreshing, and they have sweet, semi-sweet, and dry wines, too.
Hardshore Distilling Company
Hardshore Distilling Company is best known for their award winning gin, Hardshore Original Gin. This flagship product took four years to perfect, and it’s made with five botanicals (rosemary, mint, orris root (iris), coriander, and Tuscan juniper).
While I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of gin, Hardshore Distilling Company actually changed my mind about it. I tried the most delicious gin cocktail in their tasting room, and they’ve totally converted me to becoming a fan of gin! Trying these craft beverages is one of the top activities in Portland Maine.
What to Do in Portland Maine: Discover Street Art
I was really surprised by the sheer amount of street art in Portland, Maine. While there might not be too many obvious graffiti alleys in town, there’s quite a bit of street art, if you know where to look. I’m going to show you a few hotspots for murals and graffiti in town where you can go for a wander.
Street Art in Downtown Portland
First, the best place to find street art in Portland is right downtown. As you wander around the city streets, you’ll find murals and graffiti in some obvious and not-so-obvious places.
It might take poking your head around some alleys and behind some buildings to find the best ones. There are some murals right downtown in some urban parks, on the sides of businesses, and even some colorful designs on outdoor tabletops. Street art hunting is one of the most fun things to do in Portland Maine.
Murals in East Bayside
One of the best places to visit in Portland Maine for street art is in the East Bayside neighborhood. You’ll find quite a few on Anderson Street. However, be sure to walk behind the buildings on Anderson Street on the Bayside Trail. Some of the most interesting street art and graffiti can be viewed from the Bayside Trail.
If you continue south on Anderson Street to Fox Street, you’ll also be able to see some cool street art at Kennedy Park by the basketball court. There’s also some interesting mosaic tile work on the building across the road from it, too.
Street Art in East End/Munjoy Hill
Lastly, there are some more murals in the East End/Munjoy Hill neighborhood. As part of the Portland Mural Initiative, artist Susan Bartlett Rice painted a mural depicting Maine clam diggers at the intersection of Congress Street and Washington Avenue.
I also found some colorful painted fences just up the street from the clam digger mural. I’m not sure if there are any more murals in the neighborhood, but maybe some more have popped up since my trip to Portland!
Explore Downtown and Old Port
One of the most fun things to do in Portland Maine is simply wandering around the city streets. You can definitely get some retail therapy with many boutique shops along the way. There are also numerous restaurants, cafes, gelato shops, and pubs if you get hungry or thirsty on the way.
Walking around downtown and Old Port are some of the most fun things to do in Portland Maine. Here are a few spots that are a must see in Portland, Maine.
Architecture in Downtown Portland
Downtown Portland is a great place to marvel at Victorian architecture. You might wonder why most of the buildings were constructed in the late 1800s when Portland was founded in the 1600s? In 1866, a massive fire broke out in Portland as the city was celebrating the 4th of July after the Civil War. Most of the buildings, churches, and homes were reduced to rubble.
Even still, I loved walking around downtown Portland to see the buildings and the architecture. There are lots of beautiful Victorian homes should you choose to walk through the residential streets, too.
What to Do in Old Port
From downtown Portland, continue walking to Old Port where you’ll catch glimpses of the waterfront. A section of the Berlin Wall is along the waterfront, and there’s also a piece of an old love lock fence beside it. The fence was dismantled when it became unsafe, but this portion was saved.
There are more shops and restaurants in Old Port to discover, so you’ll be able to eat and drink your way through the city here, too. From the northeastern side of Old Port, you can walk on the Eastern Promenade Trail towards Fort Allen Park.
Take a Walking Tour of Portland
While I really love walking around new places and soaking up all of the sights, you can learn more about the history of a place from an experienced and knowledgeable guide. By taking a walking tour of Portland, you’ll learn interesting facts and an intriguing history of Portland that dates back to 1632.
You’ll walk around downtown Portland, Old Port, the waterfront, and more. Some of the topics include fires, wars, railroads, famous poets, and Hollywood producers!
The Eastern Promenade
The Eastern Promenade was designed by the Olmstead Brothers Landscape Firm in 1905. They also designed the Mont Royal Park in Montreal and Central Park in NYC. It’s two miles in length and connects downtown Portland with the Bayside Trail, wrapping right around the coast. There are stunning views of the Portland Harbor and Casco Bay.
Along the Eastern Promenade, you’ll find East End Beach, Portland’s only public beach. If it’s warm enough outside, you can stop for a beach day on this picturesque, pebble covered beach. It’s also a great place to launch your kayaks and standup paddleboards. When I visited in May, it wasn’t nearly warm enough to go swimming, but the views here are lovely.
Fort Allen Park
Fort Allen Park is another place to visit on the Eastern Promenade Trail. It’s a great place to enjoy a picnic or a summer concert at the bandstand. It was once the site of a Revolutionary Fort built in 1775 to protect Portland during the War of 1812.
It became a park in 1890 and there are many monuments and tributes, as well as a restored ship mast from the USS Portland. Going for a walk on the Eastern Promenade and stopping to admire the scenery is one of the best things to do in Portland Maine.
Where to Eat in Portland Maine
Portland Maine was named the Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine. The city celebrates all sorts of cuisines and restaurants from a variety of culinary backgrounds. Even though Portland is mostly known for its seafood, there are great vegan restaurants in Portland, too. Here are some of my top picks.
Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro
The Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro is an Asian inspired culinary experience in healthy, vegetarian dining. Starting with influences from Thailand, Green Elephant offers flavors reminiscent of voyages to Japan, China, Malaysia and India.
To start, I ordered the Crispy Wontons (stuffed with soy cheese and spinach, served with chili sauce). They were tasty little fried morsels that paired perfectly with the sauce. For my main course, I chose the Chinese Broccoli with Crispy Breaded Soy Filet (stir fried broccoli, Chinese broccoli, carrots and Thai bird chili in a brown sauce). The dish was moderately spicy (in a good way!) and the soy filet was super crispy.
If you’re looking for where to eat in Portland Maine, don’t miss dining at the Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro. Vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore, I’m convinced that you’ll love dining here. I’m still dreaming about my meal here!
Baristas and Bites
Baristas and Bites is a breakfast and lunch joint in Portland with several vegan options on the menu. They believe in offering fresh food from local farmers at a fair price point with excellent service to match. I had some great conversations with the staff there about their vegan offerings and they were more than happy to help. Please note that Baristas and Bites has a cashless system, accepting debit and credit.
All of the vegan and gluten-free options are clearly marked on the menu, and they’ve got quite a few vegan desserts. Some of their vegan sandwiches include: chickpea salad sandwich, TLT (tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato), BBQ tempeh, vegan tuna salad wrap, kale Caesar wrap, and more. I ordered a Thai noodle salad bowl, which was perfect for a quick lunch on the go.
You’d expect that a restaurant called Silly’s might be a little off the wall. Open for over 30 years, this place is magical and crazy all in one. The decor is colorful, vibrant, and wild with kitschy artwork covering every square inch of the walls. Silly’s is very friendly to those with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diets.
I choose a menu item that seemed like the best of two worlds: Vegan Strikes Mac. It’s half a plate of vegan mac n cheese and half a plate of Buffalo fried tofu. This takes comfort food entirely to the next level. Can I also mention that the portions are huge? Silly’s is a favorite local establishment that you’ve got to check out when you visit Portland.
LFK is another eclectic restaurant and bar in Portland, Maine. It’s not a strictly vegan or vegetarian eatery, but you’ll find loads of vegan food. To accompany the food, they offer craft beer, signature cocktails, spirits and wine. You’ll also discover lots of interesting art, bursts of color, and interesting design features all over the restaurant.
LFK has a rotating menu that changes with the seasons. LFK has vegan cheese and can do vegan pizzas, burgers, nachos, and more. I ordered the LFK Veggie Burger with vegan cheese on top (also comes with greens, tomato, onion and dill tahini), and served with a side of pickles and a bag of chips.
Mi Sen Noodle Bar
Mi Sen is a noodle bar in downtown Portland, Maine with several vegan and vegetarian friendly meals on the menu. The noodles are made from scratch, and you’ll find lots of delicious Thai noodle and soup dishes here. Many of the items can be made “vegetarian upon request” or “gluten-free upon request”.
I ordered the Drunken Noodles made vegan, which meant leaving out the egg and adding tofu. You’ll receive a tasty dish of stir-fried flat noodles, broccoli, bell peppers, basil leaves, and carrots in a spicy sauce.
Looking for vegan pizza in Portland Maine? Head directly to Otto! It’s a pizzeria with options for omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. I’m so happy to include a pizza place in my vegan Portland Maine guide as I don’t think that I can live without pizza in my life.
I recommend you try one of their vegan pizzas either from the vegetarian menu or the spicy menu. I ordered the Buffalo cauliflower, Scallion and Blue Cheese pizza, substituting the vegan cheese for the blue cheese. The spicy cauliflower and the green onions matched the vegan cheese perfectly.
For even more restaurant options for vegans and vegetarians, please check out my vegan dining guide for Portland.
Best Coffee Shops in Portland
Looking for amazing coffee shops in Portland, Maine? You’re not alone! I always seek the best coffee wherever I travel (which is why I write so many coffee guides – to share the best coffee with you, too!). I wrote a complete coffee guide for Portland, including an awesome donut place that you can’t miss.
One of my favorite things to do in Portland Maine was sipping coffee in between sightseeing and places of interest in Portland. Here are the places where I found the most delicious coffee, donuts, and espresso beverages. You’ll find many more details in the full coffee guide.
- Tandem Coffee Roasters
- Coffee By Design
- Bird Coffee
- Speckled Ax
- Arabica Coffee House
- The Holy Donut
More Things to Do in Portland Maine
Even with a few days in the city, there are still even more fun things to do in Portland, Maine. Feel free to add these to your Portland Maine itinerary. Here are even more suggestions for what to do in Portland that I’d love to check out the next time I’m in town.