As one of the Northwest's largest cities, Portland is filled with a variety of activities and attractions that can appeal to any type of visitor. From outdoorsy adventure through public parks to indoor shopping, dining, and relaxation at some of the best attractions on the West Coast, Portland is a great destination year-round for tourists of all ages and interests as summers are not too hot, and winters are generally mild (and great for heading out to a sno-park or the like!).
Downtown Portland is an eclectic mix of artsy and upscale, quirky and approachable. It’s not so large that you can’t explore on foot or by hopping aboard the MAX light rail, but there’s enough to see and do that you can easily fill a day wandering around between shopping areas, parks, restaurants, craft breweries, and more.
If you only have time for a quick trip to Portland, you can truly experience a little taste of everything in the downtown area. Be sure to spend some time at Pioneer Courthouse Square, which often hosts festive events during the holidays. You can also stop by Powell’s Books, the nation's largest independent bookstore, or have a doughnut at the legendary VoodooDoughnut before relaxing in one of the city's many public parks.
Shop in Nob Hill
Nob Hill is a cute and low-key shopping district located along Northwest 23rd Avenue. It’s not far from downtown, but the easiest way to get there is by catching the MAX train.
Where downtown is busy, Nob Hill is quieter and more relaxed. Shops are mostly local with a few chains mixed in, and restaurants are pleasantly varied and tasty. Don’t miss some ice cream at Salt & Straw or a pastry at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. You’ll also find spas and salons along the way if you want to make a day of your time in this district. Washington Park is also not far away and the entrance is walkable from Nob Hill.
Voodoo Doughnut is a legendary Portland stop, famous for its unique doughnut favors, including raspberry-filled voodoo dolls, peach fritters, doughnuts topped with things like Fruit Loops and Captain Crunch, and bacon maple bars.
Of course, this is Portland, and right across the street from Voodoo, a giant mural proclaims “Keep Portland Weird,” so Voodoo has to do their best to help out. To that order, you’ll also find doughnuts like the Gay Bar (a white frosted bar with the colors of the rainbow on top) and the Maple Blazer Blunt (a doughnut that looks like a giant blunt).
Powell’s is the world’s largest indie bookstore and has four different locations in Portland, including the flagship store Powell's City of Books near the Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Stepping inside the original location of this independent bookseller, you won't doubt why it's known as the biggest of its kind. It even has a map topics and locations, but it’s more fun to give yourself time to wander. Browse the books and gift items while you sip on a coffee from the cafe near the entrance.
They call it Portland’s living room for a reason. Pioneer Courthouse Square is located in the heart of downtown Portland, and it’s the perfect place to kick back for a while to watch passersby going about their days. You can get a coffee and light snack while you leisurely enjoy the afternoon, or you can even catch an event if you're there at the right time.
Events that take place here include everything from farmers markets to live music to various festivals and holiday celebrations. Popular events include Valentine's Day crafting workshops, the annual Easterseals Oregon Bloomfest, and a whole lineup of Christmas holiday festivities.
Portland has no shortage of parks, but if you only visit one, visit Washington Park—a spectacular 410-acre urban green space filled not only with miles and miles of trails but also with some of the city’s best attractions.
You can enter the park at 24th and Burnside but expect a bit of climb if you’re on foot as the elevation ranges from about 200 feet to 800 feet above sea level within the park. You’ll find 15 miles of trails through the park overall, including some that connect this park to Forest Park.
You’ll also find the Rose Test Garden, which is the oldest, continuously operating rose garden in the country, and Hoyt Arboretum—both great spots for photographers. The Oregon Zoo and Portland Japanese Garden are also both within the park, and both are worth a visit.
Any day of the week, a stroll along the pathways of Tom McCall Waterfront Park is lovely. The park is long and skinny and follows along with the Willamette River. Views of Portland’s bridges greet you as you stand along the walkways and few sights are more signature to Portland than this.
The park is also home to a number of events, chief of which is the Saturday Market. From March through December on both Saturday and Sundays, the market fills the park with food vendors, artists and crafters, and live music.
Portland (and Oregon in general) has tax-free shopping! Whether you’re buying a sweater or a big-screen TV, there’s just something special about tax missing from the final purchase.
Portland is an amazing city for food. While not always known for highbrow cuisines like New York City or Los Angeles, Portland is known for fresh, local foods in just about every style and custom you could imagine.
Breakfast and brunch are popular meals here so don’t miss an early morning meal at Mother’s Bistro or Besaw’s. For lunch or dinner, sure, you could go fancy, but one of the highlights of the local food scene is Portland’s food trucks. You’ll find them in groups here and there called pods, but the biggest pod takes up an entire block between Southwest 9th and 10th streets between Alder and Washington streets.
Visit a Museum
Portland is not known as a museum city, but it does have a few museums worth a visit. Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (better known as OMSI) are the two most popular museums in town.
If you enjoy art and film, the art museum is obviously the finer choice, but OMSI gets more buzz for families. The museum is huge and features hands-on activities by the dozens, a planetarium, a theater with a massive screen, and special exhibits make regular appearances. It’s a hit with kids, but even adults who enjoy some scientific fun will get a kick out of OMSI.
Part public transport and part attraction, the Portland Aerial Tram travels between the South Waterfront and the Oregon Health & Science University in Marquam Hill. Also known as the OHSU Tram, it climbs an impressive 500 feet during its journey and takes about four minutes to complete a one-way trip.
At the top, you’ll find views of downtown, Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helens on clear days. You can also take the time to explore the OHSU campus and travel back down whenever you want to continue exploring the rest of the city.
Trams depart about every six minutes throughout the day; it typically operates from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays as well as on Sundays during the summer. However, the aerial tram is closed on most major holidays including New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.
The Pittock Mansion is a French Renaissance-style château in the HIllside area of Portland that now serves as a historic house museum. Visitors to the mansion can learn about its construction in 1914 and the first family that owned it: famed publisher of The Oregonian newspaper Henry Pittock and his wife, Georgiana Burton Pittock.
The Pittock Mansion Society, a non-profit organization established to preserve historic buildings in Portland, maintains the museum and house. Money from tours and guest admission helps this important organization to continue operations.
If you'd like to take in a bit of foreign culture while visiting, you can stop by the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland's historic Chinatown. This tranquil, urban botanical garden features a variety of plants native to China housed in Chinese architecture including an authentic tea shop. The Lan Su Chinese Garden also hosts a variety of events throughout the year—most of which are free to attend. Check the Garden's website for more information on what's happening at the garden.
Also known as The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, The Grotto is a cliffside Catholic sanctuary near Rocky Butte Park in Maywood Park. The Grotto is known for its Pieta replica, which is nestled into a cozy grotto, as well as the serene botanical gardens found in the sanctuary. Daily masses also take place at the sanctuary, and The Grotto is open most days of the year from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Located a little under four miles south of Portland, Oaks Amusement Park is one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the country. Built in 1905, this spot is full of nostalgic amusements including a wooden skating rink, mini-golf, and go-karts. Buy a day pass for the family and enjoy the rides, games, and attractions for discounted prices during special events.
Eastern Portland is home to its own extinct volcano: Mt. Tabor. This large park features 360-views of the city and the chance to climb to the top of the volcano itself. Stop by the Mt Tabor Visitor's Center for more information about the trails, recreation, and history of the park.
Although technically across the river in Vancouver, Washington, Fort Vancouver is a popular destination for tourists who want to relive a bit of history while visiting Portland. Featuring blacksmithing and weapon-making demonstrations, exhibits about 19th-century life, and lantern-lit tours of the historic fort, this National Historic Site provides a great opportunity to learn about early life in the city.
Portland's history isn't all grand mansions and beautiful buildings—it also has a gritty underbelly centered around the Shanghai trade that took place in the city from 1850 through 1941. Tunnels were built under the city by maritime traders to smuggle in slaves and keep prisoners in unjust conditions, and you can get a look at this sordid history on tours offered by Portland Underground.
During the tours, a knowledgable historian will guide you through several segments of the underground that were once hidden from the public. You'll see holding cells, a deadfall trapdoor, the remnants of a tunnel you can still walk through, and several artifacts left behind by prisoners and slavers alike.
If you're a fan of gaming, beers, and music, head to the classic arcade/bar known as Ground Kontrol, which features a variety of retro arcade games like pinball alongside new favorites like Rockband. Until 4:30 p.m. daily, all ages are welcome in the venue, but afterward, it's 21 and over only. Ground Kontrol also regularly hosts music performances at night, so it's truly a great spot to go with friends any night of the week.