Portland combines natural beauty, lush green parks, a historic old town and a progressive sensibility into a city that both residents and visitors love. You can explore so much of it without spending a lot of money. Learn about ten free things to do, both indoor and out, that will give you a taste of what Portland is all about.
- Tour. Secrets of Portlandia is Portland’s free walking tour. It casts an irreverent, but informative, look on Portland’s history and culture. The tour is offered from May through October. No reservations are required. Just show up. Afterwards, if you enjoyed the tour, you can give the guide a tip.
- Nature. Forest Park is the nation’s largest urban park, encompassing almost 5,000 acres and 70 miles of walking trails. Walk, hike and run through the forest of firs, hemlock and western red cedar. You might see tracks from bobcats, chipmunks or even a black bear. Explore and learn from knowledgeable guides at the Forest Park Discovery Hike Series. Each hike has a special focus and many are free.
- Toys. Bring your child or your inner child to Kidds Toy Museum and explore the extensive collection of vintage playthings. The bulk of the collection is from 1869 to 1939, and includes an amazing variety of mechanical banks.
- Breweries. Several local breweries and distilleries offer free tours and tastings. Here are some you can contact to get information on their schedules: BridgePort Brewing Company, Clear Creek Distillery, House Spirits Distillery, Rogue Ales Distillery and Public House and Widmer Brothers Brewing Company.
- Grotto. The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, a 62-acre Catholic shrine and gardens, is better known as “The Grotto” and is one of Portland’s most visited attractions. There’s much free to explore, including the botanical gardens and a rock cave carved into the base of a 110-foot cliff with a life-size marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà in its center. For just $4 (less for kids and seniors) ride the elevator to the top of the bluff and take in the spectacular panoramic views of the area.
- Museums. Several Portland museums have free days. If you plan your visit to Portland carefully, you may get to explore several museums for free. Museum of Contemporary Craft is free the first Thursday of every month, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Portland Art Museum is free the fourth Friday of the month, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Portland Children’s Museum is free the first Friday of the month, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- Roses. The International Rose Test Garden, which introduces and tests new varieties of roses, is the oldest and largest garden of its kind in the country. Each year the city of Portland awards one new variety the “Gold Medal,” and that rose is added to the Gold Medal Garden. Admission is always free, and free tours are offered several times a week.
- Books. No, the books aren’t free at Powell’s City of Books, but the experience is. Powell’s is the largest used bookstore in the world, occupying a full city block. How big is Powell’s? Big enough that they’ve got an app you can download that will give you turn-by-turn directions to find the book of your choice. It also boasts a coffee shop, and, yes, you can take books in there to read.
- Art. You’ll find several monthly gallery walks in art districts around Portland. The longest-running of the gallery walks is the First Thursday gallery walk. Several area of the city participate, and galleries often schedule exhibit openings and receptions during the walks. North Alberta Street has hosted a gallery walk on the last Thursday of every month for 15 years
- Park. Drawing the most visitors of any spot in Portland, Pioneer Courthouse Square is a central gathering spot. It hosts more than 300 events a year, is home to the visitor’s center, weekly farmer’s market, a theater and a television studio.
Pioneer Courthouse Square – courtesy TravelPortland.com
Children’s Museum – photo by Torsten Kjellstrand/TravelPortland.com
Art Walk – photo by Rob Finch/TravelPortland.com