Portland is the largest city in Oregon, a coastal U.S. state in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Although surrounded by scenic forests, mountains, and beaches, Portland is a modern city known for its avant-garde, quirky culture and numerous memorable microbreweries, boutiques and coffee shops. There’s never a shortage of things to do in Portland, even if it means simply exploring the city’s parks and bridges or getting familiar with its thriving music, theater, and art scenes. Even if your time in Portland is limited, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with this friendly, laid-back city under the snowy peak of Mt. Hood.
What’s the best time to visit Portland?
While many other cities in the U.S. get much more snow, winter is still far from the best time to visit Portland Oregon. The weather gets chilly and unpredictable, with frequent rains. Most travelers agree that visiting from June to August is the safer bet. In summer, the weather is consistently warm, allowing you to take full advantage of the city’s outdoorsy culture. If you can, though, aim for June or late September, outside of the city’s peak tourism season. When the leaves start changing, the forests surrounding Portland explode with unparalleled beauty. It’s the best time to book day trips from Portland or to visit the wine country.
A few facts about Portland
Portland is located on the banks of two rivers – the Columbia River and the Willamette River. The city’s first settlers arrived in the 1830s, almost at the very end of the Oregon Trail, the famous wagon/migrant route laid by fur traders. The settlement was named after Portland, Maine.
Early on, Portland relied primarily on the timber industry. As time passed, however, legitimate businesses gave way to racketeering and organized crime, earning Portland the title of one of the most dangerous port cities worldwide. This all changed when World War II rolled around and gave a much-needed boost to the city’s economy. After the war, Portland became known as a city of progressive political views and a bastion of counterculture. This reputation still holds today, as Portland lights the way for other environmentally conscious cities with its focus on public transportation, high walkability, farm-to-table dining, and with more than 10,000 acres of perfectly maintained public parks.
In Portland, the winters are usually cold and rainy, but the summers are warm and dry. Interestingly, this climate is perfect for growing roses, something Portland has been taking full advantage of, earning the title of the “City of Roses”.
One Day in Portland Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Portland.
Start Your Day by Visiting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Due to the large number of things to do in Portland, make sure to start your early to be able to see as much as possible and make your time in Portland unforgettable. Start by visiting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, one of the only two Portland Oregon attractions in this guide located east of the Willamette River. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is a modern museum with three auditoriums. The museum’s main focus is on technology, natural sciences, and industry.
In addition to regular exhibition halls, you are sure to love the museum’s planetarium, its large-screen theater, and particularly its science labs, rotating shows, and submarine tours. With more than 21 events each month, visiting this museum is certainly among the top things to do in Portland.
Make a Short Stop at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center Before Walking Across the Tilikum Crossing Bridge
As you exit the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and head south, you will come across the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, located to your left across the street. It takes less than 5 minutes to get there on foot. It is a relatively small indoor museum with several historic exhibits and beautifully restored trains, a number of which are still operational. It is a must-see for train enthusiasts and is also one of the best things to do in Portland with kids. All in all, you shouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes there.
After that, you should head over to the Tilikum Crossing bridge and make your way across the Willamette River. There are several streetcars that can take you across, but if you opt for walking, it will give you more time to enjoy the scenery and take some great photos.
Take the Portland Aerial Tram up to Marquam Hill and Back
The Portland Aerial Tram is a relatively new attraction, built in 2006. You can board the tram at the South Waterfront Lower Tram Terminal. After you cross the bridge, walk down SW Moody Ave until you reach it. Although the tram leads to the hospital, it offers some seriously spectacular views. The only other commuter aerial tramway in the United States is the Roosevelt Island Tramway in NYC. The ride lasts only four minutes and costs 5.10 dollars for the round trip. Not a lot of tourists take the aerial tram, allowing you to relax and enjoy the view once you reach the top.
Make Your Way Downtown
After the aerial tram, head back to the South Waterfront/SW Moody MAX Station and take the MAX Orange Line (light rail) heading downtown. Exit at the Pioneer Courthouse/SW 6th Ave MAX Station. You will find yourself in front of the Pioneer Courthouse, a famous Portland landmark. The nearby Pioneer Courthouse Square, often referred to as Portland’s living room is a vast public space covering a whole city block.
The block was initially the location of Portland’s Central School, and after that, the eight-story Portland Hotel. The plaza you can see today opened in 1984. The surface of the square is made up of red bricks, each carrying the name of one of the citizens whose small donations helped fund its construction between 1981 and 1982. Apart from visiting the square, here are some other things to do in downtown Portland.
Visit the Portland Art Museum
After a couple of minutes at the square, take a short walk west until you reach Director Park, a lively urban plaza recognizable by its large circular fountain. Walk south down Park Avenue past the Paramount Hotel Portland and the Portland Farmers Market – Shemanski Park. You will love these quaint, lush little parks in the heart of the city.
The Portland Art Museum is primarily known for its Native American and Asian art. Founded in 1892, this is the oldest museum on the West Coast and one of the seven oldest in the country. Due to its dedication to serve the public by preserving a wide range of art, the Portland Art Museum is frequently listed as one of the top places to visit in Portland.
Grab Lunch from One of the Food Trucks at the Alder St Food Cart Pod
With only one day to see it all, your schedule will naturally be packed. Which means – no time for elaborate lunches. On the go it is! Luckily, the Alder Street Food Cart Pod has rows and rows of food trucks where you can buy delicious sandwiches, burritos, gyros, and so much more. You can get there in 5 minutes by taking the Portland Streetcar north – either the A Loop or the NS Line. Nearly every kind of food imaginable can be found here. If you like Asian food, check out Beijing House’s Chow Mein. If you like something more “American”, several carts offer amazing southern BBQ.
Take the Light Rail to Washington Park
After lunch, go to the Galleria/SW 10th Ave Station in front of the nearby CVS Pharmacy and take the MAX Blue Line or the MAX Red Line to Washington Park. There is a tram every 8 minutes and it takes about 14 minutes to get to the Washington Park Station.
The park is huge, and its varied attractions include the world-renowned Japanese Garden, one of the most beautiful and largest gardens of its kind in countries other than Japan. The International Rose Test Garden, founded in 1917, features 10,000 plants maintained by the city, all in manicured displays.
Visiting Washington Park is definitely among the top things to do in Portland with kids. Right across the parking lot from the Washington Park MAX Station, you will find the Portland Children’s Museum and the Oregon Zoo. The Children’s Museum provides interactive educational and creative activities, both for younger and older children. Kids aged 2-6 will love the exhibits with water and toys, while children around 9 will take to Museum’s maker and clay areas.
The Oregon Zoo, covering 64 acres, is primarily focused on promoting conservation, with many endangered animal species, such as polar bears and elephants.
Go Back Downtown and Visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden in the Old Town Chinatown
After a couple of hours at the park, take the MAX Blue Line/MAX Red Line again from Washington Park and ride the tram for 10 stops until you reach the Old Town/Chinatown MAX Station. The Lan Su Chinese Garden is basically right across the street. Formerly known as the Portland Classical Chinese Garden or the Garden of Awakening Orchids, this is a peaceful botanical garden with native Chinese plants, beautiful stonework, and a traditional Chinese teahouse serving blends made locally. You can also try some tasty vegetarian snacks. Spend at least an hour here, savoring the unique blend of plants, art, history, and construction.
Close out the Day with an Epic Pub Crawl
In the evening, there are plenty of things to do in Downtown Portland. The city is known for its numerous pubs and breweries, and getting familiar with the pub scene is just about the best thing you can do, especially if you’re spending a weekend in Portland. You can even book a guided tour of the city’s “haunted breweries”. In all seriousness, the Old Town really does have an eerie side, reminiscent of its dark past filled with opium dens, prostitution, kidnapping, and gangs.
If you’re looking for something a bit more cheerful, check out Cider Bite, a great, buzzy spot for fans of cider, with flavors including sour cherry, green tea, and vanilla bean. In total, there are 32 hard ciders on tap, plus a variety of bar games you can play there. You’ll also be offered a selection of snacks and shareable plates since every establishment that sells alcohol in Portland must also serve food – which is one of the great perks of visiting the city.
To get there, just cross the parking lot north of the Lan Su Chinese Garden and take the bus line 77 from NW Glisan & 3rd to NW Glisan & 14th.
If you’re looking for something more specific and are interested in things to do in Portland tonight or rather, things to do in Portland this weekend, check out this website for a list of the most recent events.
Where to Stay in Portland?
Staypineapple at Hotel Rose
50 SW Morrison Street, Portland, OR 97204
With an excellent location near the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, it is hard to beat Stayineapple at Hotel Rose – a comfortable, contemporary hotel. Amenities include an on-site bistro, a 24-hour reception, helpful and knowledgeable staff, free Wi-Fi, bottled water, and extended cable channels in beautifully furnished, air-conditioned rooms. The on-site restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in addition to a large selection of creative cocktails and an impressive wine list. The biggest thing, however, are the hotel’s complimentary bicycle rentals to make exploring the city of Portland easier than ever.
Sentinel, a Provenance Hotel
614 Southwest 11th Avenue, Portland, OR 97205
Situated within easy walking distance of downtown Portland, Sentinel is a lavish, luxury hotel that boasts full-service facilities and unrivaled service just a stone’s throw away from the city’s trendiest restaurants, theaters, and shopping malls. Highlights include pet amenities and being able to use the hotel’s signature wellness and fitness kit in your own room. The light rail stops right in front of the hotel, allowing you to reach all of Portland’s attractions within minutes. As an added bonus, all guests receive complimentary fitness passes.
Hyatt House Portland / Downtown
2080 SW River Drive, Riverplace, Portland, OR 97201
Hyatt House Portland / Downtown is located in the Riverplace district, on the western bank of the Willamette River, next to the gorgeous Tilikum Crossing Bridge. Guests can choose between studio rooms and one-bedroom suites, both with fully equipped kitchens.
A stay at the hotel includes a complimentary breakfast, while the guests are invited to try the H BAR’s extensive selection of premium wines, colorful cocktails, and excellent Portland beers from local microbreweries.
HI – Portland Northwest Hostel
479 Northwest 18th Avenue, Portland, OR 97209,
Conveniently located in the vicinity of Portland’s Pearl District, HI – Portland Northwest Hostel provides travelers with a long list of options for customizing their stay, including both male and female-only dormitory rooms, mixed dormitory rooms, and even private, individual rooms. No matter your choice, all guests have unlimited access to the shared kitchen and laundry facilities. The on-site bike rentals and the 24-hour front desk should make your stay in Portland as easy and as exciting as possible.
Day Trips from Portland
The Pacific Northwest is known for its natural beauty, and the area surrounding Portland is no different. Most day trips from Portland take full advantage of that, providing travelers with an opportunity to make the most of their vacation. Just don’t forget to take your camera with you, since you are sure to come across beautiful scenery unlike any other.
Oregon Coast Tour
This full-day trip from Portland is focused on exploring Oregon’s scenic northern coastline, with stops at Oswald West State Park, Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, and Manzanita. Expect to see wind-swept rocky beaches, picturesque winding roads, sweeping coastal views, and charming beach towns. The tour usually includes visits to quaint little shops and art galleries. Sounds like your cup of tea?
Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls Tour
If you want to come across wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else in the world, if peering down spectacular mile-deep basalt lava flows sounds like your idea of a good time, if seeing some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world is right up your alley, then going on a day trip to experience the magnificent Columbia River Gorge is just what you need during your stay in Portland. The Columbia River Gorge is among the most photographed Natural Scenic Reserves in the United States. The tour includes a drive along the oldest scenic highway in the country, complete with stops at various panoramic viewpoints, including the famous Bonneville Dam Sturgeon viewing center. So, what are you waiting for? Book the Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls Tour now!
Mt Hood Day Trip to Multnomah Falls and Hood River
It is a little-known fact that Mount Hood, watching over Portland with its snowy peak, is in fact a potentially active stratovolcano. Along with Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams, Mount Hood is one of three mountain peaks representing fallen lovers from a sad Multnomah legend immortalizing a tragic love triangle. With beautiful sights including Multnomah Falls and Timberline Lodge, an organized day trip is the best way to see the mountain and learn about all the sights and landmarks along the way. No need to worry about parking, crowds, or losing your way. The fact that the tour includes a hotel pickup makes the offer doubly attractive. You can learn more about the offer and book a trip here.
Mount Saint Helens Tour
A day tour is also the most convenient way to visit Mt. St. Helens. With hiking by breathtaking waterfalls, stopovers at scenic viewpoints, and picnic lunch in a crater, this tour has all the makings of an unforgettable experience. Highlights include a stop in Mt. St. Helens National Monument, a hike through a lava cast forest, and spelunking in the longest lava tube in North America. You can book your Mount Saint Helens Tour here.
Extra Tips for Visiting Portland
-Portland has a large and passionate cycling community. If you like cycling, renting a bike or trying a cycling tour may be just the thing for you.
-Portland’s light rail system is called the MAX (Metropolitan Area Express). Getting around with the MAX easy, fast, and economical. The fare is only $2.50 US, and a single ticket is good for two and a half hours.
-There are frequent festivals in Portland, happening almost every weekend. If you’re looking for things to do in Portland this weekend, check out this website.
PIN FOR LATER!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).