A truly unique and interesting city, there is an amazing variety of things to do in Portland and visitors are sure to be kept busy by all that is on offer. From the world’s largest independent bookstore to the many microbreweries, the iconic murals, and even the world’s smallest park, it’s no surprise that the city’s motto is the ‘Keep Portland Weird’!
We love spending time in the city and its surroundings and have put together this list of the best things to do in Portland to help you plan your own visit.
20 Best Things to do in Portland
Portland is an incredible city packed with fun and quirky things to do and has a vibrant food, drink, and coffee scene. Whether you are visiting the city on a weekend trip or using it as a starting point for a spectacular Oregon Coast Road Trip, this list of the best things to do in Portland
Where to Stay in Portland
There are lots of options for where to stay in Portland. We stayed in downtown Portland and highly recommend it as it’s close to most of the sights and the old town. We recommend the following hotels.
- Inn at Northrup Station – where we chose to stay during our time in Portland and we cannot recommend it enough. It is colourful, quirky and perfectly located for exploring Portland. The suite style rooms are huge, come with fully equipped kitchens and are perfect for a stay in Portland – check prices now!
- Mark Spencer Hotel – this is a perfectly located hotel in the Pearl District has been recently renovated and one of the most popular hotels in town. Definitely check it out – check prices now!
1 | Powell’s City of Books
Powell’s City of Books is a Portland landmark and a must-visit for anyone visiting the city. The world’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s is home to every book imaginable, including new, old and rare books. Powell’s is located right in the center of Portland and occupies almost a full city block.
Packed with aisles upon aisles of books (there are around 1 million books in total) and relaxed reading areas Powell’s is one of the most incredible bookstores we’ve visited on our travels. We love exploring the store and our toddlers love the reading area in the kid’s section.
In addition to new books, Powell’s also has an extensive selection of pre-owned books so you can snap some great deals on pre-loved books. You can spend hours here leafing through the mountains of books.
Powells’ City of Books is open every day, all year round, and has a great little coffee shop on-site.
Things to do in Portland tip: Powell’s have some great Portland and Oregon memorabilia in store so it’s a great place to pick up some gifts or souvenirs.
2 | Washington Park
Located on the southwest edge of the city, Washington Park is packed with some of the best things to do in Portland and is the perfect escape from the city. The park includes the Redwoods Observation Deck, Oregon Zoo, the stunning Japanese and International Rose Test Gardens, and Hoyt Arboretum.
Take a stroll around the Portland Japanese Garden
The Portland Japanese Garden was one of the most memorable places we visited during our time in Portland and is a perfect oasis of tranquillity located in Washington Park.
Entrance is a little pricey at $18.95 for adults but we think it really is worth it for the beauty that the garden holds. Admission includes a shuttle bus from the parking lot up to the entrance of the gardens.
Take in the colors at the International Rose Test Garden
Located across the street from the Portland Japanese Garden, this beautiful garden is lined with over 10,000 manicured rose plants and is maintained by Portland City.
The garden contains over 650 different rose varieties and it’s a perfect place for a picnic on a pleasant day.
The garden is open daily and the roses are typically in bloom from late May through October each year, with the peak time to visit around June. The entrance is free so it’s a great stop after exploring the Portland Japanese Garden.
3 | Portland White Stag Sign
The most iconic sign in Portland, the instantly recognizable White Stag should be on every visitor’s list for things to do in Portland.
There are two popular spots from which to check out the White Stag sign: both the pedestrian walkway on the Burnside Bridge and the park alongside the Burnside Bridge on Pacific Highway are great for grabbing a photo.
4 | Take a Tour of Pittock Mansion
Pittock Mansion is a French chateau built in 1914 originally as a home for the Pittock family. The Pittock Mansion was opened to the public as a museum in 1965. It’s a real joy walking through the house, which has been meticulously restored, and it gives a real insight into what life was like at the turn of the last century.
Make sure to take a stroll through the gardens of Pittock Mansion to check out one of the best views of Portland and the Cascade Mountains which include Mount St Helens and Mount Hood. We were lucky to visit on a clear afternoon and the view was spectacular.
We took a self-guided tour of the house. There are also 50-minute guided tours available each day. Entrance is $12 per adult, $8 for kids 6-18 and under 6’s go free.
5 | Voodoo Doughnuts
A visit to Voodoo Donuts is a Portland rite of passage! Renowned for the crazy variety and unique toppings that it puts on its doughnuts, the decor is pink and quirky and the queues can be around the block.
Voodoo has two stores in Portland, the original old town store on 3rd Avenue and the second branch at 1501 Northeast Davis.
Things to do in Portland tip: we love Voodoo doughtnuts but Portland opinions are divided on who makes the best donuts in the city. Make sure to check out the square doughnuts at NOLA Doughnuts and the glased doughnuts at Heavenly Donut. Unfortunately, the much loved Blue Star donuts has recently closed.
The Davis store is worth a stop if you’re passing for the bright pink exterior and an awesome mural.
6 | Explore the waterfalls on the Columbia River Gorge
There are some incredible waterfalls near Portland. The Columbia River Gorge, an 80 mile stretch of canyon 40 minutes from Portland, is renowned for the variety of beautiful waterfalls that are dotted along the gorge walls. It’s a beautiful area to explore and boasts the highest concentration of waterfalls in the USA.
The Columbia Gorge waterfalls are dotted along the Historic Columbia River Highway which weaves alongside the gorge. The waterfalls are easily accessible and are located relatively close to each other making it possible to visit a few of them in a single day. There are lots of viewpoints and stops along the route and it’s a lovely drive from Portland.
The best-known waterfall is the epic Multnomah Falls and our other favorites include Latourell Falls and Horsetail Falls.
Things to do in Portland tip: Allow at least a half-day to explore the main waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge. Although it’s a short drive out to the area there is so much to see and do that you’ll need to allow time to fit it all in!
We used a rental car to visit the Columbia River Gorge as part of a day trip from Portland. There are tours available if you don’t wish to drive, the most popular of which is this tour that covers all of the main waterfalls along the Columbia River – check prices now!
7 | Portland Saturday Market
If you happen to be in Portland on a Saturday then you simply must visit the Portland Saturday Market. Since its inception in 1974, the Portland Saturday Market has become more and more popular and is currently the longest continually running arts and crafts market in the US.
The market is a great way to spend a Saturday morning, strolling among the many stalls that sell everything from arts and crafts, trinkets, clothing, and locally produced fruits and flowers. Allow around 2-3 hours to explore the market and, if you get peckish, there are lots of stalls to grab a quick bite.
8 | Explore Portland’s Streetart
There is no shortage of fun and beautiful murals dotted around the city. Some of our favorite pieces include Keep Portland Weird, the Pink Flamingo at Pie Spot, and The Rhino Collector. If you are an Instagram fan, the murals are among some of the best Instagram spots in Portland!
9 | Try some of Portlands Best Coffee
Portland has some of the best coffee in the US. The city has a thriving community of independent coffee shops and many offer their own beans.
The best known of the Portland coffee shops is Stumptown Coffee Roasters who have multiple stores in Portland and who supply coffee shops across the US. Their downtown location on 3rd Avenue is arguably their best and regularly holds art exhibitions on site.
Other coffee shops worth a visit are Coava Coffee Roasters, Ovation, and Deadstock Coffee.
10 | Lan Su Chinese Garden
The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a beautiful walled Chinese Garden on NW Everett Street which is modeled after the Ming dynasty gardens of China. The garden was originally created in a collaboration between Portland and its sister city of Suzhou in China. The name originates from the Chinese characters for orchid (Lan) and awaken (Su), with the garden known simply as the “Garden of the Awakening Orchid”
The garden is so tranquil and it is a wonderful and spiritual spot for a stroll. The botanical garden is comprised of 90% indigenous Chinese plants that were sourced throughout Oregon.
Visits are self-guided but there are also public tours throughout the day (check their site for times and for other events (the Lanterns to celebrate the Lunar New Year are a highlight).
11 | Keep Portland Weird Sign
The iconic slogan ‘Keep Portland Weird’ has come to be the motto of the city and can be seen on bumper stickers, souvenirs, and clothing throughout the city.
The slogan originally was originally aimed to promote local businesses in Portland after the success of the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ in Texas. Over time the motto came to encapsulate all that is unique in Portland, whether it be a weird or unusual aspect of the city.
The slogan is a well-known mural that is located in a parking lot just across from the Old Town Voodoo Donuts shop.
12 | Hike to Witch’s Castle
Witch’s Castle is the ruins of an abandoned stone building located on the edge of Portland’s Forest Park. The ruins have a dark past: according to local legend, the owner of the land murdered one of his workers who had fallen in love and eloped with his daughter.
Getting to Witch’s Castle is a half-mile moderately challenging hike with the trail descending quite steeply from the trailhead on NW Cornell Road and ascending on return. The trail is really beautiful, especially in fall when we last visited, and follows Balch Creek to Witch’s Castle itself.
Things to do in Portland tip: Witch’s Castle is accessible from both the Upper Macleay and Lower Macleay parking lots. If you would like more of a challenge, it is also possible to continue the hike up to the historic Pittock Mansion in the West Hills of Portland, a 5.7mile round trip from the Lower Macleay Park trail head.
13 | Paul Bunyan Statue
Built in 1959, the massive Paul Bunyan statue in the north of Portland was built to honor those who worked in the Oregon timber industry. Constructed of concrete and steel, the statue is 31 feet tall and has been well maintained over the years.
Things to do in Portland tip: due to its location, it can be tricky to park close to the Paul Bunyan statue but you can’t miss it!
14 | Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Crystal Springs is a 9-acre garden that is home to a beautiful and varied collection of rhododendrons. The park is open year-round but the best time to visit is in the spring and summer when the flowers are in full bloom.
The entrance is $5 for everyone age 11 and up. Admission is free on Mondays.
Things to do in Portland tip: The garden can get busy at peak times during the summer months – if the parking lot is full then try the surrounding neighbourhood.
15 | Visit Sauvie Island
Sauvie Island is a natural river island a short drive just 10 miles north of Portland. Sitting between the Willamette and Columbia Rivers there is plenty to explore from beaches and cycling to picnics along with the river and fruit picking at the farms. Sauvie Island is worth the short trip out of Portland for a day and is one of the best things to do in Portland with kids.
We had the chance to visit Sauvie Island during the fall when the pumpkin patch was in season and it was a lot of fun.
Things to do in Portland Tip: Visitors to Sauvie Island will need a parking permit at all non-commercial parking areas. Day use tickets are $10 and can be purchased at stores on the island or at the 7-11 on NW St. Helens Road just before you get the bridge to the island.
16 | Pioneer Courthouse Square (aka Portlands Living Room)
A stop at the Pioneer Courthouse Square is another fun thing to do in Portland. Known locally as Portland Living Room, this urban park hosts over 300 events each year so there is always something fun to see.
Things to do in Portland tip: Make sure to check out the milepost sign
17 | Silver Falls State Park
Silver Falls is a gorgeous state park 20 minutes drive south of Portland and a must-see for anyone visiting Portland. It’s one of the best day trips from Portland and, as it’s so close, it’s possible to visit in just a few hours.
The park is easy to explore via a 7-mile circular looped hike called the Tail of Ten falls. South Falls (the falls the park is named after) is by far the most popular waterfall in the park and the viewing trail that goes behind the falls is really cool.
18 | Visit the smallest park in the world (Mill Ends Park)
Portland holds the title of the city with the world’s smallest park. Mill Ends Park is a tiny, circular park located on a safety island on Pacific Highway along the Willamette River. It’s a fun thing to do in Portland and is a short walk from Pioneer Courthouse Square.
The park is only 0.292 meters squared ( 452 sq inches) meaning it’s so small it’s easy to walk right past it! There is a small sign beside the park on the intersection do so you’ll know you’re at it.
19 | Airplane In The Woods
A short drive west of Portland the Airplane in the Woods is the home of Bruce Campbell, who in 2003 purchased a retired Boeing 727-400, shipped it to a small wooded area outside Portland, and converted it into his home.
Bruce welcomes visitors into his home to show them around his unique abode. To arrange a visit contact him via his website here. Bruce is also ok with visitors flying drones over his property (check his website for the latest advice) so we took the opportunity to grab a few snaps when we visited. It’s definitely one of the most unique things to do in Portland!
20 | Enjoy some craft beers
If you love beer then you are going to love Portland. The city is home to over 70 breweries that have been producing some of the best beer in the USA since the early 1980s. Today Portland is renowned for its delicious IPA beer.
There are so many breweries in Portland that choosing which to actually visit can be daunting. We’ve put together the most popular/our favorites along with the types of drinks on offer:
Things to do in Portland tip: Not only do the Portland breweries offer great beer but most also offer really good food in their brewpubs.
Upright: Has become a Portland institution since opening in 2009 and specializes in Belgian-style farmhouse ales. Upright produce small-batch beer and has been extremely popular in Portland since they were founded in 2009.
Location: 240 N Broadway, Portland
Breakside Brewery: Has three locations in Portland and is best known for its award-winning American IPA’s.
Location: 1570 NW 22nd Ave, Portland
Hair of the Dog Brewing Company: Hair of the Dog is known for its stronger beers. They offer a range of barrel-age high-alcohol beer, using spirit casks and methods to brew their beers.
Location: 61 SE Yamhill St, Portland
Deschutes and Rogue are our other Portland brewery favorites.