The Getaway
20 of the Best Things to Do in Portland

Whether you know Oregon from its Trail or Portlandia, you should also know that some of the best things to do in Portland are free. Portland is Oregon's biggest city. Conscious of its effect on the environment and its residents, it's one of the greenest cities in the world. So much so, Portlandians eat green - at their famous farmer's markets. In Portland, you're more likely to see people cycling than driving. Walking is also huge in Portland, and understandably so. There are so many beautiful forest walks and parks scattered around the city to visit.


01 Grab a coffee at Powell's City of Books

Based on shelf space, Powell's City of Books in Portland is the largest bookstore in the world—it occupies an entire block which is music to the ears of bibliophiles. Powell's sells new and used books, so you can often score deals on your favorite authors. The shop has 3,500 different sections and millions of books. The Rare Book Room has old, out-of-print, and expensive collectors' items that demand a browse. Take a pic with the Pillar of Books at the store's entrance, parse through puzzles, board games, manga, and staff recommendations, and when you hear your stomach gurgling or feel your eyes getting heavy, head for Guilder Cafe to power up for round two.

02 Explore the International Rose Test Garden

Summer is the best time to see the rose bushes bloom at Washington Park's International Rose Test Garden. The gardens fill with a divine fragrance better than any perfume you can buy from the mall. Some flowers are huge, and the color palette will take your breath away. The views are glorious too. Don't be surprised if someone gets down on bended knee to propose—this is a very romantic spot. Admission is free, so everything's coming up roses here in Rose City.

03 Eat at food carts to satisfy your cravings

Portland is a foodie paradise, but its food carts set it apart. It all began with kosher hot dogs in 1965—today, food carts number in the hundreds. Clusters are called pods, and they cover dozens of cuisines. Check out Carts on Foster and Prost Marketplace if you're unsure where to begin. Bari Food Cart Pdx has Italian food good enough to make Nonna proud. Matt's BBQ is for the carnivores, but their queso mac and cheese is a must-buy.

04 Shop for souvenirs at Saturday Market

Over 200 vendors ply their wares at the boho Portland Saturday Market in the Old Town Chinatown district. This is the country's largest continuously operating outdoor market, and you'll find everything from grub to fine craftsmanship by Pacific Northwest artisans. Handmade accessories, clothing, and houseplants scratch the surface of what's on offer, but you can go just for the live music and elephant ear pastries. Round out the day with a visit to the local Farmers' Market too.

05 Enjoy the views from the Portland Aerial Tram

There are only two aerial tramways in the U.S. and Portland is home to one of them. Head for the South Waterfront, and you can catch the four-minute Portland Aerial Tram with its spectacular views of the skyline, Willamette River, and the Cascade Mountains. The tram is used primarily by Oregon Health and Science University students, staff, and patients, so mornings and late afternoons are hectic. Grab a coffee at the top, snap pics, and descend with a better lay of the land.

06 Discover the weird at the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium

Are you also a sucker for all things wacky? Freakybuttrue Peculiarium is catnip for anyone who gets a kick out of the weird. Sci-fi, horror, and mystery are the order of the day, and you'll get your fill of alien autopsies and Big Foot, complete with photo ops. The Peculiarium is reasonably-priced, and entry is free if you wear a costume. Take some money for the awesome, hilarious novelty items in the gift shop. While children are allowed, some may find the exhibits disturbing.

07 Be inspired at Lan Su Chinese Garden

Seeking a bit of peace and quiet? Lan Su Chinese Garden awaits, and it's close to the Portland Saturday Market. Suzhou in China is one of Portland's sister cities, well-known for its wonderful Ming Dynasty gardens. Lan Su will spirit you away to 16th-Century China, where you can have a calming pot of tea with steamed buns, mooncakes, and other vegetarian-friendly treats. This is the Portland excursion you didn't know you needed.

08 Get your game on at Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade

If old-school gaming is your jam, then Ground Kontrol should rocket to the top of your Portland to-do list. Pinball machines and dozens of vintage video games from the 1970s and 1980s compete with the futuristic vibe for attention. Enter the high-score competitions and revel in sheer juvenile delight—just be aware kids have limited access due to this venue being a bar.

09 Take a stroll at Waterfront Park

No visit to Portland is complete without a walk along Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a former highway. You can anticipate 1.5 miles of eateries, stalls, and boat watching along the riverside. Hike to Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, or take in the Japanese American Historical Plaza and cherry blossoms. Visit the Oregon Maritime Museum and make a splash at Salmon Springs.

10 Step back in time to the Pittock Mansion

The Pittock Mansion sits in the hills to the west of the city. Built in 1909, it was originally the home of Oregon pioneer Henry Pittock and his wife. With 46 rooms, the French Renaissance-style property sits within 46 acres of land. The city of Oregon now owns the mansion, which became open to the public in the 60s. These days, around 80,000 people visit the home every year. If you think the building looks familiar, that might be because you've seen it before. Pittock Mansion was a star in several movies. TV aficionados might also recognize it as the finish line for the 13th season of The Amazing Race.

11 Walk Through Forest Park

Just outside of Portland, in the Tualatin Mountains, is Forest Park. Stretching for 8 miles, over 5,000 acres, Forest Park is one of the biggest urban forest reserves in the country. With more than 70 miles of trails for people of all ability levels to explore, the beauty of Oregon is rampant in this beautiful park. It truly gives you a feel of the state without having to wander too far from Portland. In part overlooking the Willamette River, the park's pure beauty will steal your heart. Bird watchers will also be in their element and should bring their binoculars. You never know what incredible species you'll see.

12 Visit the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, also known as OSMI, is a world-renowned science center. Initially hosted in businessman Ralph Lloyd's dwelling, it boasted the first planetarium in the Northwest. It was such a popular attraction that Oregon City Council stepped up when the house was set to be demolished. Leasing land in Washington Park, 400 volunteers helped to make the museum what it is today. OSMI offers a barrage of hands-on science exhibits for kids and adults alike, as well as exciting temporary exhibits. Serving more than a million visitors per year, the museum is one of the most popular in the Northwest.

13 Relax in Washington Park

Covering over 400 acres of land, Washington Park is home to most of Portland's best attractions. As well as the science museum, there's a children's museum, a zoo, and an arboretum. For those who don't want to spend time with lots of other people, there are plenty of other activities. With picnic areas, playgrounds, and a large plot of green land and forest, there's something for everyone in Washington Park. Hikers can indulge in more than 15 miles of trails where they can walk or jog, and some of the trails connect to landmarks like Pittock Mansion.

14 Hang out in Portland's living room

The highlight of downtown Portland is Pioneer Courthouse Square. Known by locals as Portland's Living Room, this public square has tons of cool features. At approximately 40,000 square feet, there's a lot of room for attractions, and it certainly doesn't let anyone down. In the center of the square, there's an area that looks like an amphitheater, and performances do happen there. There's also a fountain, an outdoor chess table, and plenty of spots to hang out with friends at any time of day.

15 Meet the animals at Oregon Zoo

Ask anyone in Oregon what their favorite attraction is, and they'll probably say Oregon Zoo. The zoo was opened in 1888 after a private animal collector donated all of his animals to the City. There are now nearly 2000 animals to see at the zoo. 21 of the zoo's 232 species are on the endangered species list, so the zoo has them on a breeding program. One notable success is the breeding of African elephants, who are the zoo's most popular residents.

16 Indulge your arty side at The Portland Art Museum

One of Portland's slogans is, "Keep Portland Weird!" and its art museum reflects that in all its glory. The Portland Art Museum is the oldest art museum on the West Coast. To this day, its mission is to enrich the diversity of Portland's communities through art. Open six days a week, there's ample time to visit this expansive museum housing pieces by Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Renoir. Alongside these incredible works, the Portland Art Museum is also home to one of Monet's Water Lilies paintings.

17 Spend the night in a historic Portland landmark

A mere 6-minute walk from Portland's Living Room, The Benson Hotel is an upscale historic hotel. Originally called the New Oregon Hotel, The Benson is one of Portland's finest hotels and the 7th largest in the city. The Benson's most lavish suites offer city views of the highest caliber. Other rooms in the hotel have flat-screen TVs, coffee machines, and free WiFi throughout. With its elegant lobby, cigar bar, and live music, guests may never want to leave the hotel at all. If you're looking for a luxury stay in the heart of Portland, look no further than this beautiful building.

18 Walk with nature in the Hoyt Arboretum

Nature lovers will never be lost for things to do in Portland. On a ridge in the west hills of the city, Hoyt Arboretum is just two miles west of downtown Portland. Hosting 6000 trees and shrubs of over 2000 species from all over the world, the Arboretum also has a gorgeous magnolia collection. The arboretum's extensive conifer collection includes a dawn redwood, which is one of the only conifers that lose their leaves in the winter. Although it was once thought to be extinct, the specimen was rediscovered in China during WWII. The arboretum even has a bamboo garden that features more than 30 species of the plant.

19 Feel at peace in Portland Japanese Garden

Experience a day in a scenic traditional Japanese garden right in the hills of Portland. The Portland Japanese Garden is one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan and a haven of tranquility. Featuring an authentic Japanese tea house, streams, and intimate walkways, you might think there's nothing else left to see. You'll also be wrong. Along with the beautiful maples, there's also a view of Mount Hood unlike any you'll see anywhere else.


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