From food trucks and breweries to parks, waterfalls, wineries, and more, here are the best things to do in Portland, Oregon!
Portland is one of those cities that has a laid back and relaxing charm but is absolutely jam-packed with fun things to do.
There is so much greenery to enjoy, so nature lovers will feel right at home. There are multiple landscaped gardens and parks within the city center, and there are gorges, mountains, and waterfalls right outside downtown Portland.
You can laze away the day sipping wine at a vineyard, browsing through a bookstore, or meandering around a museum.
But if you want to engage in the excitement of Portland, you can also go brewery touring and bar hopping, and or check out a street market or live music performance.
There is honestly so much fun to be had in Portland. With a thriving arts culture, numerous distinct neighborhoods with unique local businesses, and lots of incredible food and nightlife, you will never be bored here.
Planning to spend a weekend in the city? Check out our detailed 3-Day Portland Itinerary!
Table of Contents
- The Best Things to Do in Portland Oregon
- 1) Explore Forest Park
- 2) Admire the Historic Pittock Mansion
- 3) Go Wine Tasting in the Willamette Valley
- 4) Visit the Portland Art Museum
- 5) Spend the Day at Columbia River Gorge
- 6) Indulge in Portland’s Best Sweets
- 7) Explore the Alberta Arts District
- 8) Ski, Snowboard, or Hike on Mount Hood
- 9) Hang out in Pioneer Courthouse Square
- 10) Embark on a Food Tour of Portland
- 11) Take a Photo of Portland’s Most Iconic Sign
- 12) Spend Some Time in the Pearl District
- 13) Cruise Along the Willamette River
- 14) Wander Around Old Town Chinatown
- 15) Browse Through Powell’s City of Books
- 16) Admire the Roses and Greenery in Washington Park
- 17) Find Peace in the Portland Japanese Garden
- 18) Tour a Brewery
- 19) Enjoy Tom McCall Waterfront Park
- 20) Eat Your Heart Out at Food Trucks
- 21) Ride the Portland Aerial Tram
- Where to Stay in Portland
The Best Things to Do in Portland Oregon
Whether you are visiting Portland for a day, a week, or a month, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to activities, museums, hikes, restaurants, day trips, parks, and more.
Portland even has some special attractions that you never would have expected to find here.
For example, Portland is home to some of the USA’s most authentic Japanese Gardens, as well as one of the country’s oldest art museums.
It also has the world’s largest independently-owned bookstore, some of the Pacific Northwest’s best ice cream, and is one of the only cities in the USA with an aerial tram.
So aside from your usual attractions, some Portland points of interest are impressive beyond belief.
Let’s get into this exciting list of the best things to do in Portland!
1) Explore Forest Park
At just over 5,000 acres, Forest Park is one of the country’s biggest urban forests. This sprawling green space in the Tualatin Mountains is located just west of downtown Portland.
Full of hiking trails, wildlife, fresh air, and lots of greenery, Forest Park is the perfect escape from the city. Wildwood Trail and Lower Macleay Trail are two of the most popular walking trails that are easily accessible from the city center.
You can also stop by the Nature Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary run by the Portland Audubon Society while exploring Forest Park.
A highlight of the park is Witch’s Castle. This run-down stone dwelling covered in moss and vines dates back to the 1850s.
Though it was originally a house, and there are plenty of local stories about the home’s history, it’s just an abandoned building next to the riverbank now.
But Witch’s Castle looks like something out of a folk tale or a ghost story, so it’s a cool spot to check out while exploring Forest Park. The walk there is easy, and there is free parking all throughout the park.
2) Admire the Historic Pittock Mansion
While walking along the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park, or while wondering what to see in Portland, stop by the Pittock Mansion.
This giant, majestic mansion sporting French Renaissance architecture is one of the top Portland tourist attractions.
Complete with 46 rooms, antique furniture, and an early 1900s elevator that still works, a tour of this mansion is just fascinating.
Located atop West Hills, the Pittock Mansion offers a stunning view of downtown Portland, so be sure to admire the views outside after touring the inside.
The Pittock Mansion was originally the home of Henry Pittock, a newspaper publisher, investor, and lover of the outdoors.
Construction of the home began in 1912 and was finished in 1914.
After being damaged in a storm in 1962, Portland’s citizens rallied together to raise money to restore the Pittock Mansion and turn it into a historic museum.
You can read more details about the history and story behind the Pittock Mansion on the official website.
- Address: 3229 NW Pittock Dr
- Hours: 10am – 4pm (open at noon on Tuesdays, close a 5pm in summer)
- Cost: $12 Adult, $10 Seniors, $8 Youth, Children under 6 FREE
3) Go Wine Tasting in the Willamette Valley
One of the best things to do in Portland is take a day trip to the Willamette Valley. Also known as Oregon Wine Country, this charming rural region south of downtown Portland has lots of amazing wineries and vineyards.
The area is known for its world-class Pinot Noir, and you can do some wine tastings at one of the 500+ wineries in the valley.
There is also lots of high quality, organic, delicious food to try out here. Many wineries and local restaurants pride themselves on their farm-to-table cuisine, so treat yourself to a day of eating and drinking some fresh local cuisine.
4) Visit the Portland Art Museum
One of the top tourist attractions in downtown Portland is this fantastic art museum. Founded in 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the seventh oldest art museum in the USA (and one of the oldest on the west coast).
The Portland Art Museum showcases a variety of pieces from all over the world. However, the focus is on Native American art from the Pacific Northwest.
The displays of art and artifacts showcased from these cultures are incredible.
With constantly changing special exhibitions and films, the Portland Art Museum always has something new and exciting for visitors.
You can also check out the museum store to purchase some souvenirs from local artists and support their work, or hang out in the sculpture garden.
Although it is a popular tourist attraction, the Portland Art Museum is so much more than that. It is a celebration of diverse communities and how art and film can unite us all.
- Address: 1219 SW Park Ave
- Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 10am – 5pm
- Cost: $25 Adults, Seniors $22, Kids 17 and under FREE
5) Spend the Day at Columbia River Gorge
One of the most gorgeous places of natural beauty in the Pacific Northwest is the Columbia River Gorge.
Located just 30 miles east of Portland along the Historic Columbia River Highway, this spot is one of the most photographed National Scenic Reserves in the USA.
The gorge consists of a canyon near the Columbia River that stretches down to around 4,000 feet deep. Around the canyon are hiking trails, waterfalls, forests, mountains, and stunning natural sights.
One of the best things to do in the area is hike the Wahkeena Falls Loop Trail. This 5-mile hiking trail passes 6 waterfalls, including the gorgeous and popular Multnomah Falls. The Multnomah Falls Lodge is a gorgeous historic lodge right near the falls, so consider spending the night here if you have time!
If you don’t have a car to get you out here, you can book a guided tour from Portland.
6) Indulge in Portland’s Best Sweets
While sightseeing in Portland Oregon, there is no better way to treat yourself than indulging in some heavenly desserts.
Portland’s food scene is top-notch, and there are a few dessert spots that are famous among locals in the city.
The first notable sweet shop is Salt and Straw, arguably the best ice cream shop in all of Oregon.
Though it first opened in northwest Portland in 2011, this artisan ice cream shop has gathered such a fan base that it has spread to multiple locations around the USA.
Their seasonal flavors using local ingredients are crazy. You can stick to the basics, but definitely sample a few of the more unexpected flavours.
Voodoo Doughnuts is another Portland classic. The famous shop opened in downtown Portland in 2003, and became so popular that it has also spread to multiple US states.
Here you can taste outrageous flavors of doughnuts and baked goods, all of which are decorated flawlessly enough for Instagram.
If you have a real sweet tooth, hitting up some of these spots is one of the best things to do in Portland!
Traveling more of the Pacific Coast? Check out this 3 Days in Seattle Itinerary.
7) Explore the Alberta Arts District
One of the highlights of Northeast Portland, and a must-see for art lovers, the Alberta Arts District is one of the coolest spots in the city.
Full of street art, boutique shops, art galleries, and some of the best Portland restaurants, this lively and colorful corner of the city is packed with entertainment and culture.
The best part of the area is the Last Thursday event. On the last Thursday of every month, Alberta Street fills up with vendors, local businesses, and non-profit organizations coming together to celebrate art, culture, and diversity.
Last Thursdays run year-round, but there is more happening in Summer when the weather is nice. From May to September there is usually an outdoor art fair and live music and performances to see. The Last Thursday event usually runs from 4pm to 9pm.
8) Ski, Snowboard, or Hike on Mount Hood
Oregon’s highest mountain is located just 50 miles east of the Portland city center, making it extremely accessible. If you love hiking, skiing, snowboarding, or just being in nature, a visit to Mount Hood is a must!
You can see the snowy peak of Mount Hood from most places in downtown Portland, but the mountain and its surrounding meadows and forests make for the perfect day trip from the city.
There are six ski areas to visit if you’re looking to ski or snowboard, otherwise there are lots of hikes, camping spots, and rivers for fishing or canoeing.
For the ultimate day trip from Portland, book a tour of Mount Hood combined with Columbia River Gorge and wine tasting.
9) Hang out in Pioneer Courthouse Square
As the heart of downtown Portland, chances are you’ll pass through Pioneer Courthouse Square on a day of sightseeing.
The square is often referred to as “Portland’s Living Room” because the entire city block is just an open space dedicated to community gatherings.
There is always something happening in the square, from festivals and events, to pop up concerts, live music, art shows, and more.
Visit the official website for Pioneer Courthouse Square so you can see what’s on when you visit Portland.
There’s no better way to engage with the culture and community of Portland than stopping by a local event in the heart of the city center.
10) Embark on a Food Tour of Portland
This article on the best things to do in Portland definitely emphasizes the amazing food and drinks in the city. But there is so much incredible food in Portland that this list has only scratched the surface.
From food trucks and cafes to doughnut shops, brewpubs, rooftop restaurants, dive bars, and more, the food scene in Portland is outstanding.
If you’re a real foodie, consider going on a guided food tour of Portland Oregon. A local guide will take you on a walking tour of this fabulous city and show you all the best eateries. This is a super fun way to learn about Portland’s thriving culinary scene.
Looking for other great activities in the Pacific Northwest? Check out this post on all the best things to do in Seattle!
11) Take a Photo of Portland’s Most Iconic Sign
Another one of the best things to do in Portland is visit the “Keep Portland Weird” sign.
Painted in downtown Portland in 2003 on Burnside Street, this giant mural is popular among tourists, travel bloggers, and even locals. “Keep Portland Weird” has become the unofficial city motto because it celebrates quirkiness and individuality.
The slogan was intended to help support small local businesses and has actually taken off and become an iconic part of the city center.
- Location: 350 W Burnside Street
12) Spend Some Time in the Pearl District
The Pearl District is one of Portland’s most popular neighborhoods. It has an industrial look with renovated warehouses and red brick buildings, but the cobblestone streets and unique local businesses make the area feel homey.
With plenty of breweries, art galleries, cafes, and a wide variety of different shops, there is so much to see and do here.
The Pearl District is also one of the top spots for enjoying Portland’s nightlife, as there are lots of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants.
13) Cruise Along the Willamette River
The Willamette River flows through Portland for 17 miles, making it an important natural landmark of the city.
From waterfront parks, to scenic bridges, to all the fishing, swimming, and kayaking opportunities, the river is a beloved part of Portland for locals and tourists.
One of the best ways to enjoy the river and explore downtown Portland is by booking a river cruise. There is no better way to spend an evening than cruising down the river at sunset, admiring the sights of downtown and having dinner and drinks.
Check prices for a river cruise on Get Your Guide.
14) Wander Around Old Town Chinatown
Exploring the Old Town Chinatown is easily one of the best things to do in Portland. Dating back to the 1880s, Portland’s Chinatown is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.
While it used to house mainly just Chinese businesses, the area is a lot more diverse and modern today. There are lots of shops, cafes, and bars, and there are still plenty of traditional teahouses and Chinese shops.
A highlight of Chinatown is the Shanghai Tunnels. The 150-year-old Shanghai Tunnels are passageways that run underneath the city.
They used to act as easy transport routes for goods, and now they are just a cool tourist attraction.
The Lan Su Chinese Garden is another highlight of Chinatown. Stroll through here to admire the Chinese plants, flowers, and architecture.
After enjoying the authentic Chinese gardens, stop in the tea house for a hot drink.
Portland’s Chinatown is also home to the Pine Street Market, a food hall with lots of options for eating and drinking. The market opens every day at 11am and is open until 8pm (10pm on weekends) and is closed Monday and Tuesday.
15) Browse Through Powell’s City of Books
Located on the northern side of downtown Portland is Powell’s City of Books, one of the top Portland attractions for locals and tourists alike.
Whether you want to shop for some good reads or just browse, this is a fun place to spend an afternoon.
Powell’s City of Books is the largest independent bookstore in the world. It is packed with roughly one million books, including new, used, and rare ones. They also sell journals, notebooks, and games.
Browsing through this gigantic bookstore is one of the best Portland activities on a rainy day. Find a full list of the books they have in stock on their website.
- Address: 1005 W Burnside St
- Hours: 10am – 9pm Daily
16) Admire the Roses and Greenery in Washington Park
One of the best things to do in Portland is explore Washington Park. Located in southwest Portland and accessible via public transport, Washington Park has plenty of attractions to keep the whole family entertained for a day.
There are lots of nice biking, walking, and cycling trails, as well as picnic spaces and the World Forestry Center.
You can also find the Oregon Zoo in Washington Park, which is a fun place to bring children. The Oregon Zoo is home to over 2,000 animal species and focuses on conservation and animal welfare.
A highlight of Washington Park is the International Rose Test Garden. Covering about 4.5 acres, and home to over 550 varieties of roses, the International Rose Test Garden attracts visitors from all over the state and the country.
There is even a rare miniature rose garden and a Shakespeare Garden.
It is a true urban oasis of color, with gorgeous roses blooming brilliantly in landscaped gardens. Visit the public Rose Test Garden from May through September for the best blooms.
Side note: if you’re a big fan of roses, consider attending the annual Portland Rose Festival held in June each year!
Read next: 21 Best Things to Do in Denver, Colorado
17) Find Peace in the Portland Japanese Garden
Within Washington Park lies another one of the city’s best attractions: the Portland Japanese Garden. These authentic Japanese Gardens deserved their own point because they are one of the best sights in Portland.
Full of landscaped gardens, waterfalls, streams, bridges, and more, a stroll through this area is a gorgeous way to spend an afternoon. The gardens are particularly stunning in fall when the leaves on the trees change colors.
The Portland Japanese Garden is also home to a traditional Japanese teahouse called Umami Cafe. Stop in here for a matcha or a tea after exploring the gardens.
18) Tour a Brewery
Portland is often rated the best beer city in the USA. There are many unique brewpubs scattered around the city, and a day spent touring them all and tasting beers is one of the best things to do in Portland.
Portland is known for its craft beers and IPAs, so you’re in for a treat if you like those. Backwoods Brewing Company and Deschutes Brewery in the Pearl District are two local favorites, as is Stormbreaker Brewing on Mississippi Ave.
Great Notion Brewery in the Alberta Arts District is another great option that has more unique beer flavors to try.
Breakside Brewing is also great, and it even won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Migration Brewing and Ecliptic Brewing are two more options.
If you can’t decide which breweries to hit, consider booking a guided craft brewery walking tour. A knowledgeable local guide will take you to all the best spots so you can just relax and enjoy your beers without having to decide where to go!
19) Enjoy Tom McCall Waterfront Park
On the western banks of the River Willamette lies Tom McCall Waterfront Park. This sprawling green space is home to more amazing Portland attractions.
Go for a stroll along the Waterfront Park Trail or stop inside the Oregon Maritime Museum to learn about the history of the Oregon Coast.
Also check out the Salmon Street Springs Fountain, a popular landmark, or the Japanese American Historical Plaza which marks the spot of the old Japantown in Portland.
Another highlight of the park is the Portland Saturday Market. Between March and December, Tom McCall Waterfront Park is home to one of the largest arts and crafts markets in the USA.
Here you can chat with local merchants, browse through all the handicrafts, and pick up some special souvenirs.
If you’re visiting Portland in spring, you also have to check out the cherry blossom trees in the park.
At the right time of year, the trees along the waterfront burst into bloom, with bright pink flowers towering over the walkways.
The cherry blossoms are some of the best things to see in Portland in spring!
20) Eat Your Heart Out at Food Trucks
One of the coolest things about Portland is the abundance of food trucks. Most cities will maybe have one or two food markets that pop up occasionally, but Portland has lots of outdoor food markets that are open daily.
Commonly called “food truck pods”, these open-air food markets are full of international cuisines.
Locals frequent them on their lunch breaks, and tourists love to sample all the different cuisines available.
Some of the best food cart pods include:
- 5th Avenue Food Cart Pod, open daily 11am – 8pm
- Hawthorne Asylum Food Carts, open daily 8am – 9:30pm
- Prost Marketplace, open daily 11am – 2:30am
- 3rd Avenue Food Cart Pod, open Mon-Fri 9am – 4pm
If you’re looking for some affordable, delicious food, the food truck pods are some of the best places to visit in Portland!
21) Ride the Portland Aerial Tram
Opened in 2007, the Portland Aerial Tram is an interesting part of the city’s framework.
It was originally built to connect Oregon Health and Science University Main Campus with the south waterfront.
The city introduced the tram to improve traffic flow because the road traffic used to be problematic for ambulances, students, and staff traveling to and from the main campus.
Portland is now one of only a handful of US cities with an aerial commuter tram. The scenic tram ride offers beautiful views of Mount Hood and the waterfront and is a fun way to get around.
Currently, due to COVID-19, the tram has been limited for essential use to the OHSU only. However, as the country continues to improve its handling of the pandemic, it’s possible the tram may reopen for recreational use. Check the website for updates!
Where to Stay in Portland
Now that you know what to do in Portland, here are some of the best places to stay. No matter which area of the city your Portland itinerary takes you, there are plenty of accommodation options scattered throughout the city center and beyond.
Best Hostel in Portland: HI Portland
Without a doubt, the best hostel in Portland Oregon is HI Portland, a member of Hostelling International. It is located in the Northwest District near lots of cafes, bars, and attractions, though it may be hard to leave the hostel with all the amenities they offer!
Complete with an in-house cafe, a firepit, courtyard, live music, and plenty of cozy common areas, this is the best place to mingle with other travelers and make some friends when you visit Portland.
The hostel has a 9.6/10 rating with over 3,000 reviews on Hostelworld! Dorms start at 38 USD per night.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Portland: Bluebird Guesthouse
Located in southeast Portland, the Bluebird Guesthouse is a cozy and affordable place to stay. This locally run inn is set in a historic building and offers continental breakfast to its guests.
It’s far enough away from downtown Portland to be quiet and peaceful, but it’s still convenient to get to all the Portland attractions.
This corner of southeast Portland has a beautiful green space called Mount Tabor Park, and it’s walking distance from the Oregon Museum of Science.
A queen room starts out at around 130 USD per night.
Best Luxury Hotel in Portland: The Nines
The Nines Luxury Hotel is one of the top-rated 5 star hotels in Portland Oregon. With decadent rooms, city views, and tons of amenities, this fabulous hotel has everything you could ever need.
It’s also in a great location, just between Downtown and Chinatown. All the best museums and attractions are within walking distance.
Rooms start at around 330 USD per night.
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