Portland, Maine On a Budget
SightsSituated above the city, the Portland Observatory is one of Portland's most important landmarks. Since it was built in 1807, the Portland Observatory has offered spectacular views of Portland's busy harbor and served as a beloved symbol of the city's rich maritime heritage. Existing as the only remaining historic maritime signal tower in the United States, the Portland Observatory was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Guided tours focus on maritime history, the purpose and importance of the structure, and changes in Portland over the last two centuries. The tour of the tower ends at the top of the stairs with spectacular views of Portland, Casco Bay, Back Cove and Mount Washington.
Another popular site just south of Portland is the Portland Head Lighthouse which marks the entrance to Portland Harbor. Commissioned by George Washington and dedicated by the Marquis de Lafayette, the Portland Head light was first lit in 1791 and is the state's oldest lighthouse. With beautiful views of the rugged Maine coastline and the lighthouse as the centerpiece, the Portland Head Light area is a great place to enjoy the fresh air, crashing waves, and a little piece of Maine's history.
NeighborhoodsThe Old Port is a historic district of Portland, Maine, known for its cobblestone streets, 19th century brick buildings, and fishing piers. While the coastal town has its history, the area is also a center of activity good for shopping and entertainment with a selection of boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and bars. If you take a walk at the water's edge along Commercial Street you can see a great view of the working waterfront. The smell of the sea air, the sound of the foghorn on a distant lobster boat, and the chatter of seagulls flying above all add to the quaint charm of the coastal atmosphere of the Old Port. A few other features to note are Portland's City Hall built by Carrere and Hastings (best known for their design of the New York Public Library), as well as Portland High School, the oldest standing high school in the United States.
Located just a few blocks from the waterfront, Portland's Arts District has been re-imagined from the original department store shopping area to be home to some of Portland's renowned museums and galleries like the Portland Museum of Art and the Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine. The Arts District also houses the Maine College of Art (MECA) as well as attractions like the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies, Cross Insurance Arena, the renovated State Theatre, Portland Stage Company, the Maine Historical Society, Museum of African Culture, and the historic Merrill Auditorium for performing arts. The funky vibes of this downtown area emanate from the collection of museums and art galleries mingled with numerous contemporary music and performance venues, plus some fine and ethnic dining choices. A walk through this part of the city will immerse you in some of the contemporary culture of Portland, a full display of the arts native to the area.
ActivitiesThe city of Portland is full of opportunities for shopping, dining, and sightseeing. Once you have had your fill of the Old Port and Arts District, Victoria Mansion is another neat place to see during your visit. The mansion was built between 1858 and 1860 as a summer home for Ruggles Sylvester Morse, a Maine native who made his fortune in New Orleans as the proprietor of luxury hotels. In 1894 the estate and most of its contents was sold to J.R. Libby, a merchant who opened Portland's first department store, and was later saved from demolition in 1940 by William Homes, a retired educator. Holmes opened the mansion as a museum in honor of Queen Victoria, and Victoria Mansion was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971. With well-preserved, quality interiors the mansion exists as an unparalleled example of pre-Civil War grandeur. It remains a rich piece of Maine's history, and a national gem as well.
If you prefer to get away from the busyness of the city you might enjoy a walk along Portland's Eastern Promenade. The 68.2-acre park offers great views of the harbor's activities overlooking Casco Bay and a variety trails for walking, running, or biking. Sunrise overlooking the Casco Bay Islands is a notable sight, but if you are not an early riser, the views during the day are just as spectacular. If that's not enough, you can even take a day trip via ferry to the Casco Bay Islands, which are sometimes called The Calendar Islands as there are so many you could explore a different island almost every day of the year. The islands offer visitors a chance to enjoy a slower pace of lifeexploring nature, watching for wildlife, relaxing on beaches, and admiring works of local artists.
Food and DiningWhen it comes to food in Portland, nothing is more renowned than the Maine Lobster. Some of the finer dining options in the city include places like Fore Street, the Back Bay Grill, and Grace which is uniquely housed in the sanctuary of a former church on the National Register of Historic Places in Portland. At any of these places you can splurge and enjoy some of the finer seafood and wines of the city. If you prefer something more casual, there are plenty of pubs and cafés throughout Portland where you can grab a beer and lobster roll. If you are a beer enthusiast you might even want to visit the Allagash Brewery, a local of Portland, Maine. A tour of the brewery takes visitors from the beginning stages of the craft all the way to the bottling room, with samples at the very end of the tour.
The nightlife of the city is also very vibrant with all kinds of cocktail and sports bars thriving with people. Vena's Fizz House is one such cocktail bar that is especially unique. The array of ingredients and knowledgeable staff makes the place more of an apothecary, allowing you to sample complex concoctions and take those fine ingredients home to experiment on your own.
TransportationBy car, Portland is accessible from I-95 (the Maine Turnpike), I-295, and US 1.
The nearest airport is the Portland International Jetport, where car rental services are available.
Concord Coach Lines bus service connects Portland to 14 other communities in Maine as well as to Boston's South Station and Logan Airport. Amtrak also provides train service to eight towns and cities to the south, ending at Boston's North Station. To the north, the train goes to Freeport and Brunswick. Both the bus and train services can be found at the Portland Transportation Center on Thompsons Point Road. There are also Greyhound Lines on Saint John Street.
The Portland Explorer and the METRO are two public bus systems in Portland. Taxis are also available.