Portland in Oregon is one of the most tourist-friendly cities in the United States. It also has a reputation as a terrific food town. It is a city that appeals to different kinds of travellers. Whether you are a loved-up twosome, travelling with children, in a big group or going solo, there’s something for you. It’s also an all-weather, all-season destination. There’s plenty of activities for making the most of sunny days as well as places to visit on rainy days. Planning a trip and looking for some destination inspiration for The Rose City? Here are some of the best things to do in Portland.
14 Cool Things to do in Portland
1. Take a refreshing dip in the Willamette River
The Willamette River bisects the city of Portland into east and west sides. It is a great place to head if you want to cool down and splash around. The riverfront has plenty of lovely beaches and docks where you can go for a refreshing dip. On the East bank of the Willamette River, you’ll find the Kevin Duckworth Memorial Dock. It is between the Steel and Burnside bridges and is a nice spot for more advanced swimmers. If you are looking for a great family bathing spot, head to Sellwood Park located on the East bank of the river at SE 7th and Miller Street. This large park has lots of amenities including a long beach area and a wooden dock. The water near the shore is shallow and calm, so it is ideal for kids and dogs to splash around.
2. Paddle around on the Willamette
Stand up paddleboarding is a great watersport for beginners as it is relatively quick and easy to learn compared to other watersports. If you like to do your watersports sitting down, then you can also kayak and canoe on the river. There are plenty of companies in Portland where you can rent all the gear needed for a leisurely paddle. However, if you prefer to go in a group, there are lots of tour guides too that will take you out on the water and show you how it is done as well as give you a guided tour.
3. Get wet and wild on the Willamette
For a more exhilarating water experience, you can enjoy thrills and spills on a jet boat excursion along the Willamette. Travel the river at breakneck speeds and see more of the city from this unique waterside perspective. This ride is all about fun and you will get wet as the 1,000-horsepower jet boat performs figure of eights and tight turns as it speeds along. Lots of tour operators offer these experiences, so just go with the one that suits your schedule and budget.
4. Stroll around the International Rose Test Garden
If you’re a fan of flowers, you are in the right place. Portland is The City of Roses and is home to over 275 public parks and gardens. The Portland International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. You’ll find it in Washington Park. From late May through to October the garden blooms with over 10,000 individual rose bushes. There are over 610 different rose varieties on display here. The garden is a fascinating place and is a testing ground for new rose varieties. During World War I, botanists sent roses from around the world to Portland’s garden for testing.
5. Visit the gardens in Washington Park
The Rose Test Garden is just one of the many beautiful gardens to visit in the sprawling Washington Park which is a mere two miles west of downtown. The park is also home to the Hoyt Arboretum and the Portland Japanese Garden. At the Hoyt Arboretum, you can wander among 2,300 species of trees and shrubs from six continents. In the Japanese Garden, you can take time to reflect and bask in the tranquillity of the five different spaces where art, philosophy and nature are in perfect balance.
6. Splash around in Salmon Street Springs
Need to cool down? Head to Waterfront Park to the cool, in more ways than one, interactive fountain at Salmon Street Springs. This fountain has 185 water jets which a computer controls to change the spray pattern. So, you never know where the water is going to shoot out of next! It’s great fun as evident by the squeals of delight coming from all those, young and old, who run through the jets of water. As you can imagine, this is a popular thing to do with children in the summer months.
7. Wander around Waterfront Park
Located downtown, between Northwest Glisan Street and RiverPlace Marina, Tom McCall Waterfront Park hugs the Willamette River. This 1.5-mile-long public park is an ideal place to enjoy a stroll or a cycle and soak in the great views. The park also has lots of historical and cultural monuments to admire, for instance, the Japanese American Historical Plaza and the Oregon Maritime Museum. When you arrive at the marina, you’ll find some lovely waterfront restaurants and shops. Walking the Waterfront Park is one of the best free things to do in Portland.
8. Enjoy all the fun of the fair at Oaks Amusement Park
Oaks Amusement Park, in Southeast Portland’s Sellwood neighbourhood, is of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the USA. The park is full of old-time charm and is a great place for some old-fashioned family fun. Enjoy thrilling rides and more sedate children’s rides, play a game of mini-golf and skate around the largest roller rink west of the Mississippi. Make sure you step right up to play the fun games and try to win a prize. There are lots of places to eat inside too but you can always bring a packed lunched and relax in the picnic area. This is one of the best things to do with kids in Portland.
9. Hang out in Pioneer Courthouse Square
Locals affectionately call Pioneer Courthouse Square the city’s “living room” as it is where people come to gather and hang out and enjoy events. Located in the heart of downtown Portland, the thriving urban park attracts more than 9.5 million visitors annually. This makes it the single most visited site in Oregon’s most visited city. Pioneer Courthouse Square is a great place to grab some grub from a food truck and to enjoy a concert, cultural festival and free movie. The square is also home to what is quite possibly the most photographed man in Portland. “Umbrella Man” is the nickname given to the Allow Me sculpture by John Seward Johnson II. The bronze statue of a suit-clad man carrying an umbrella is a Portland icon and landmark.
10. Admire the works in the Portland Art Museum
Founded in 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the oldest museum in the Pacific Northwest and the seventh oldest museum in the United States. With more than 45,000 contemporary, modern and ancient works of art on display, there is plenty here to see and to keep you busy for a whole day. The museum has an outstanding collection of Native American art and Northwest art. There is also a centre for modern and contemporary art and permanent exhibitions of Asian art alongside travelling exhibitions too. Make sure you check out the works of Paul Cézanne, Renoir, van Gogh and Monet and its collection of English silver, one of the most impressive in the world. Outside, you can roam around the sculpture garden and see one of the museum’s signature pieces, the towering Roy Lichtenstein Brushstrokes.
11. Marvel at the exhibits in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
This science and technology museum has to be one of the coolest in America. Prepare to be dazzled and have your mind blown many times over with the incredible artefacts, exhibitions and activities. Outside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, you’ll find the submarine from The Hunt For Red October (a.k.a. the USS Blueback). Inside, you can come face to face with life-size dinosaurs in an immersive Dinosaurs Revealed experience. In the Kendall Planetarium, you’ll be educated and thoroughly entertained with laser shows set to the soundtracks of popular movies and albums! This place is great fun for people of all ages and one of the best rainy day things to do in Portland.
12. Browse the shelves at Powell’s City of Books
Bookworms are in for a treat when visiting Portland as it is home to Powell’s City of Books. This is the largest used and new bookstore in the world and it occupies an entire city block and is filled with around one million books. Looking for a unique or hard to find tome? Head to the Rare Book Room where you’ll find signed volumes and out-of-print titles. In the Purple Room, you can publish your own book using the Espresso Book Machine. There are nine colour-coded rooms in total with over 3,500 different sections. Each month in the Basil Hallward Gallery (located upstairs in the Pearl Room) lots of acclaimed writers, artists and thinkers give readings and talks and other bookish events.
13. Explore Pittock Mansion
Pittock Mansion is a French Renaissance-style château in the West Hills of the city. It was built in 1909 for Henry Pittock, the wealthy publisher of The Oregonian daily newspaper. Nowadays, the building is a museum that tells the story of Portland’s transformation from a pioneer town to a modern, industrialised city. Using the belongings and buildings of the Pittock family, Portland’s history is brought to life in an engaging and eye-opening way. The Pittock Mansion is perched high in the hills and as a result, has stunning views. The grounds surrounding the building is a popular picnic spot, so make sure you pack a lunch when you visit.
14. Take to the trails of Forest Park
Located a mere 10 minutes drive away from downtown, Forest Park is the only virgin forest in the United States that is within the confines of city limits. Verdant and lush, there are 80 miles of accessible tracks and trails that take you through the park. It is a haven for walkers and wildlife. Forest Park stretches for more than seven miles along the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains and there are some beautiful views, especially of the Colombia and Willamette rivers from the park too. If you want to get reacquainted with nature in Portland, this is where you should come.