9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions and Things To Do In Portland, Maine (Portland’s Bucket List) (2023)
From epic lighthouses to picturesque beaches and mouthwatering lobsters, Portland has a lot. Portland is Maine’s casual but trendy city, and it is where most of the tourism draws. Be it solely for traveling, economic benefits, or other purposes; Portland welcomes people literally throughout the year. Its cultural and historical offerings, along with the seaport charm, have engaged people for ages and still continue to do the same beautifully. No matter when you arrive and where you have come from, Portland will always appear charming and exciting to you.
When in Portland, there are plenty of things to do both on land and water. From enjoying the water cruises to rolling on the sandy beaches and enjoying the authentic city-style nightlife, options are truly varied. The majority of visitors love taking a walk through the Old Port neighborhood since that’s where the real fun and experience lie. Portland isn’t about glam, but both the city and its residents are extremely friendly, hospitable, and welcoming.
9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions and Things To Do In Portland, Maine (Portland’s Bucket List)
Here are all the Popular Places to check out when in Portland, Maine. Have a look:
1. Morse-Libby House or the Victoria Mansion
Morse-Libby House, which is also known as Victoria Mansion, is Portland’s popular historic house museum. It is also a National Historic Landmark and an excellent example of American residential architecture in downtown Portland. The Mansion was built back between 1858 to 1860 by Henry Austin, America’s one of the most prominent and prolific architects. This truly dynamic structure flaunts an Italian villa-style design and has numerous small to big details that every enthusiast will love observing. Since 1941, the Victoria Mansion has been operating as a museum that flaunts opulent furnishings, elaborated interior designs, brownstone exteriors, and many period artifacts. The museum continues to operate throughout the year weekly from 10 a.m. to the last tour at 3:45 p.m. People who love going through historic properties must visit the Morse-Libby House at least once.
2. Portland’s Old Port District & Commercial Street
When in Portland, one cannot overlook the opportunities and experiences of Old Port District & Commercial Street. This section of the city is undoubtedly a top-rated tourist attraction. Inhabiting in the heart of Portland, this bustling downtown section still maintains the ambiance of an old seaport town. People can find several watercraft options including ferries, sightseeing cruises, and charters that operate tours to different sections of an extensive Atlantic spread. If not that, the Old Port District & Commercial Street has everything, including eat, play, stay and participate. Shop for Maine apparel and souvenirs, locally made handicrafts, soul-satisfying bakery goods, and even several boutique goods. Eat at small food trucks or relish Maine’s Lobster rolls at high-end dining venues. Seafood, especially Lobster and Lobster rolls in downtown Portland are definitely some of the best in the world. And when done with dining, head on towards exploring historic buildings, boutiques, and multiple galleries lined up in the commercial street.
3. Portland Museum of Art
Portland Museum of Art is a part of the Old Port District though it deserves an introduction of its own. Known as a popular tourist attraction in Portland, the Museum of Art is United States’ largest and oldest public art institution. Since 1882, the museum has been housing a range of fine and decorative arts, and the collection is ever-growing. The museum houses more than 22,000 works of sculpture, pottery, furniture, artifacts, paintings, pictures, and other different creations. The facility is even home to the largest collection of European art in Maine, and that’s definitely quite impressive to observe. The art you observe here is from several notable names in the art world, a few of which include Winslow Homer, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Louise Nevelson, Edgar Degas, René Magritte, Claude Monet, etc. People visiting the Portland Museum of Art also are keen about checking out nearby Winslow Homer House. Tickets for the same are sold separately right at the museum premises.
4. Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co and Museum
The Narrow-Gauge Railroad Co and Museum is a must-visit tourist attraction in Portland, Maine. A visit here offers a 3-mile, 40-minute roundtrip journey into the railroad history of Maine. Visitors can enjoy a scenic, family-friendly train ride while observing the mesmerizing views of the beautiful Casco Bay. The train ride operates from May through October and is extremely fun to experience. The various rides include Polar Express, Ice Cream Trains, Rails & Ales Trains, Pumpkin Trains, and more. Besides that, visitors can also pay a visit to the museum. The museum facility features historic rail cars, exhibits, and a range of interactive activities for kids. The museum, too, operates seasonally from May through October and for special events, including the Polar Express. If in Portland with family and kids, do visit the Narrow Gauge Railroad for an ultimate day of entertainment.
5. Portland Observatory
A must-visit tourist attraction in Portland, Maine, the Portland Observatory is the only remaining historic maritime signal station in the nation. This intact survivor from the Golden Age of Sail was built in 1807, featuring a powerful telescope at the top of its 86-foot height. This telescope helped in spotting ships as much as 30 miles out to sea well before when people spotted them from the harbor. The Portland observatory was under operation until 1923. Later in 1939, it reopened as a historical relic of the Age of Sail and a popular tourist attraction. Today, individuals can check out the observatory via guided history tours. The experience will include a discussion about the history and clear, faraway views of the sea. The tours are available at a small fee and hosted by local volunteers from Memorial Day throughout Columbus Day.
6. International Cryptozoology Museum
It’s been nearly two decades since its first operation, and International Cryptozoology Museum has surprised everyone with its adventure. This one-of-a-kind museum in Portland, Maine, is home to something unique, weird, yet extremely interesting. The museum covers a range of topics from Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Yeti, things that more than half of the world hasn’t yet heard about. Most of the exhibits here are dedicated to the study of unknown or hidden animals. Their collection includes specimens, personal documents, artistic impressions, documents, models, and whatnot. They even claim to feature hair samples of Yowie, Bigfoot, Abominable Snowman, and more. Additionally, their display includes evidence regarding thylacines, the Montauk Monster, and lake monsters. International Cryptozoology Museum opens seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
7. When in Portland, Do Not Miss To Check Out The Historic Lighthouses
Maine is a vibrant seaside city, and all thanks to that, it is blessed with an array of Lighthouses. The lighthouses are undoubtedly a part of the city’s fabric and also its treasured symbols. While nearly 5 lighthouses are within walking distance from the city, there are several more as you move in different directions. However, for people who want to stick to the city limits, here are some Popular lighthouses they can check out in Portland:
- Portland Head Light: The oldest operating lighthouse in Maine and probably the most popular lighthouse in Portland. It is also among one of the most photographed lighthouses in the entire American region. Portland Head Light is right adjacent to Fort Williams Park, another must-visit place in Portland.
- Two Lights: It is nearly 8 miles from downtown Portland and just Crescent Beach State Park area. Of the ‘Two Lights,’ only the eastern structure though is under private ownership and thus not open to the public. People often choose to observe its beauty from a distance.
- Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse: Another must-visit lighthouse in Portland, Spring Point has several distinctive features. It offers a view of the entire Portland skyline from across the water, and that’s what attracts visitors the most here. The best part about this lighthouse is that it is the only one in the area that is open for a regular visit.
- Portland Breakwater Lighthouse or Bug Light: Perhaps one of the smallest lighthouses, Bug Light is quite elegant and unique. It is popular amongst photographers, especially during the evening and night hours.
NOTE: Lighthouses (majorly) in Portland offer inside tours only on the annual Maine Open Lighthouse Day in September.
8. Do Visit The Excellent Beaches in Portland
When in and around Portland, Maine, it is a must to check out the beautiful Atlantic beaches. Portland, thanks to its geographical settlement, is blessed with a miles-long, rugged coastline. Some beautiful beaches and picturesque buoys are the USP of Portland. Here are a few beaches in Portland that you must check out:
- Old Orchard Beach: It, though, is an old-fashioned beach but unarguably the most popular beach in Portland. The highlight here is its pier, 500 feet into the ocean, which operates a happening beach life. Every night of the week here remains alive with good food, music, shopping, and another form of entertainment.
- Crescent Beach: This stunning beach is known for its gentle waves and picturesque views. It is a popular swimming spot during summer and is also known for its fishing opportunities. Locals often visit here to watch songbirds and waterfowl.
- Scarborough Beach: A large clean beach, Scarborough Beach is popular for its temperate waters during the months of July and August. It is quite a recreational spot where visitors can enjoy surfing, buggy boarding, sea kayaking, and standup paddle boating. The beach also operates for swimming from early June through Labor Day.
- Higgins Beach: When searching for the best beaches in Portland, do not miss the unique and exciting Higgins Beach. Nearly 20 minutes’ drive away from Portland, Higgins Beach is in Scarborough in Cumberland County. Some embedded remains of a wooden shipwreck decorate the beach, and that’s what adds to its glory.
Note: For swimming, use only the areas frequented by lifeguards.
9. Southworth Planetarium
A science and planet enthusiast in Portland must not miss a chance to visit Southworth Planetarium. This popular attraction is located inside the Portland Campus of the University of Southern Maine within the Science building. A visit here allows individuals to learn about space and planets through fun and exciting educational shows. The Planetarium features a dome theatre where different kind of events and programs, including Fires in the Sky, Seasons of Light, Tour of the Solar System, and Through the Eyes of Hubble, takes place. The administrators focus on different kinds of shows, including astronomy shows, educational lectures, and evening courses as well. The public shows are organized throughout the week except for Thursdays. The schedule goes from Monday and Wednesday at 1:00 p.m., Friday evenings at 7:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.