As summer approaches, it’s time for many of us to think about where we want to spend our summer vacation. One of my favorite areas of the United States, especially in summer, is New England. This month, let’s take our car free journey to a delightful small city on the water: Portland, Maine.
What’s Special about Portland?
Surrounded by undeveloped beautiful rocky coast and beaches with six historically significant lighthouses, Portland is the Northeastern most major seaport city in the US. It combines the feeling of a small seacoast town with amenities and cultural attractions—at lower prices than most major cities.
Portland is a very walkable city, with a compact downtown that is 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. You can get here by air, train, or bus. Many hotels provide courtesy shuttles for their guests. If your hotel does not offer this service, there is an excellent public transportation, METRO that serves all major transportation locations, as well as downtown and many other locations you will enjoy visiting. Best of all, the local METRO bus services connects with other nearby public transit systems. For that reason, Portland is a good choice for a visitor who doesn’t want the expense or hassles of driving.
From June 15 2016 until early September, Bay Ferries Limited provides high speed ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. This 5 ½ hour trip can transport you from the Maine seacoast to the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. The CAT ferry leaves Portland daily at 2:30 p.m., arriving in Yarmouth at 9 p.m. It leaves Yarmouth the next morning at 8 a.m., and arrives in Portland a 1:30 p.m. For more information, and for reservations, visit http://www.ferries.ca/thecat/ or call toll-free: (877) 762-7245.
The following airlines serve the Portland International Jetport (PWM is the code when you make reservations.)
Metro bus route #5 goes into the airport and travels downtown. Many hotels offer courtesy shuttles from the airport for arriving guests.
Concord Coach https://concordcoachlines.com/stop/portland-maine/ has daily service to Boston’s South (Amtrak) Station and Logan Airport, as well as several communities in Maine and New Hampshire. There is also service to New York City. Concord Coach uses the same Portland Transportation Center as Amtrak’s Downeaster.
Greyhound has daily service to many communities. The St. John Street Greyhound bus terminal is located at 950 Congress St. (near St. John Street)
By Train. Amtrak’s Downeaster has several trains every day to Boston’s North Station. The train also stops Wells (good choice for York County’s Shoreline Explorer), and several other communities in Maine and New Hampshire. Summers only, the Downeaster also stops at Old Orchard Beach. Amtrak shares the Portland Transportation Center with Concord Coach.
From either Greyhound or the Portland Transportation Center, Metro Bus Route #1 travels downtown.
A Great Resource for Maine Visitors Who Don’t Want to Drive
For information about how to explore Maine by bus, ferry, train, bicycle, or air, visit http://exploremaine.org/.
Metro has Several Free Park and Ride Lots
Metro offers several Park& Ride lots for drivers who want to leave their cars and take Metro. On Metro schedules the Park and Rides are labeled P. Routes that have the Park and Rides are
Route #7– Near the Falmouth Shaws,
Route #8– Marginal Way over by Exit 7 from I-295,
Yarmouth and Freeport – Yarmouth I-295 Exit 17, Yarmouth I-295 Exit 15, and Falmouth Shopping Center
The cost of parking can be costly in Portland. Elm Street Parking Garage charges $1.75 an hour , $21.00 ( for the day) and monthly $110.00. A Local Day pass for METRO Buses is $5.00 and a Day pass for the Yarmouth /Freeport buses is $10.00. 10-ride tickets are available for purchase at Metro’s Elm Street Pulse.
Where to Stay
If you are arriving by train or bus, two nearby places to stay are the Clarion (https://www.choicehotels.com/maine/portland/clarion-hotels/me061?source=gglocaljn) and The Inn at St. Johns (http://www.innatstjohn.com/)
Good Neighborhoods to Stay if You Don’t Want to Drive
Check out: Arts District, Munjoy Hill, Old Port, Parkside, and West End/Longfellow Square:.
Here are three more neighborhoods with places to stay:
South Portland: http://www.merrymanorinn.com/
For a more complete list of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and other places to stay in or near Portland, go to https://www.visitportland.com/where-to-stay.
To find out what other visitors think of Portland’s hotels and for hotel ratings, go to https://www.visitportland.com/where-to-stay.
Welcome to Portland
Portland is the largest city in Maine. In 2013, the city had a population of 66,318, growing 3 percent since the census of 2000, while the urban area had a population of 203,914. The Greater Portland metropolitan area is home to over half a million people, more than one-third of Maine’s total population. The city seal depicts a phoenix rising from ashes, which aligns with the city’s motto, Resurgam Latin for “I will rise again.” The motto refers to Portland’s recoveries from four devastating fires. [Portland, Maine was named for the English Isle of Portland. The city of Portland, Oregon was named for Portland, Maine.
The Arts District, centered on Congress Street, is home to the Portland Museum of Art, Portland Stage Company, Maine Historical Society and Museums, Children’s Museum of Maine, SPACE Gallery, Portland Public Library, and the Maine College of Art, and many smaller art galleries and studios.
Baxter Boulevard around Back Cove, Deering Oaks Park, the Eastern Promenade, Western Promenade, Lincoln Park, and Riverton Trolley Park are historical parks within the city. Other parks and natural spaces include Payson Park, Post Office Park, Baxter Woods, Evergreen Cemetery, Western Cemetery, and the Fore River Sanctuary. The non-profit organization Portland Trails maintains an extensive network of walking and hiking trails throughout the city and neighboring communities.
Other sites of interest (all locations are downtown unless a bus route number is given) include:
- Casco Bay Islands (including the Casco Bay Lines) (www.cascobaylines.com) Metro Route #8
- International Cryptozoology Museum (http://cryptozoologymuseum.com/)
- Longfellow Arboretum (http://www.arbnet.org/morton-register/longfellow-arboretum)
- Neal S Dow House (http://www.nealdowmemorial.org)
- Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum (http://www.mainenarrowgauge.org/) to get here, take Metro Route #8 to India and Commercial Sts. (the stop after Casco Bay Lines) and walk 5 minutes to the Museum
- McLellan-Sweat Mansion (http://www.portlandmuseum.org/about/history-architecture) this is connected to the Portland Museum of Art. This website is for the museum too.
- Portland Observatory (http://www.portlandlandmarks.org/the-portland-observatory/)
The spire of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has been a notable feature of the Portland skyline since its completion in 1854. A more recent building of note is Franklin Towers, a 16-story residential tower completed in 1969. At 175 feet (53 meters), it is Portland’s (and Maine’s) tallest building. It is next to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the city skyline. During the building boom of the 1980s, several new buildings rose on the peninsula, including the 1983 Charles Shipman Payson Building by Henry N. Cobb of Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners at the Portland Museum of Art (which includes the 1801 McLellan Sweat Mansion), and the Back Bay Tower: a 15-story residential building completed in 1990.
477 Congress Street (known locally as the Time and Temperature Building) is situated near Monument Square in the Arts District and is a major landmark: the 14-story building features a large electronic sign on its roof that flashes time and temperature data, as well as parking ban information in the winter. The sign can be seen from nearly all of downtown Portland. The building is home to several radio stations.
The Westin Portland Harborview Hotel completed in 1927, is a prominent hotel located on High St. in downtown Portland. Photographer Todd Webb lived in Portland during his later years and took many pictures of the city. Some of Webb’s pictures of Portland can be found at the Evans Gallery in South Portland.
Movies Filmed in Portland include:
- The Man Without a Face
- Message in a Bottle
- The Preachers Wife
The city is home to two minor league teams. The Portland Sea Dogs, the Boston Red Sox’ Double A farm team play at Hadlock Field. The Maine Red Claws, the NBA Development League affiliate of the Boston Celtics, play at the Portland Exposition Building..
Portland hosts the Maine Marathon each October.
Portland has developed a national reputation for the quality of its restaurants and eateries. In 2009, Portland was named the “Foodiest Small Town in America” by Bon Appetit Magazine, and was featured in the New York Times as a food destination.
The city and outlying region played host to Rachael Ray in an episode of her Food Network Series $40 a Day, and was also featured in the Travel Channel’s series Man v Food and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (2010).
Portland is the birthplace of the ‘Italian sandwich” (called “an Italian by local residents). Italian sandwiches are available at many stores, but most famously at Amato’s Italian delicatessens, which claims to have originated the sandwich (hence the name).
The Portland Farmers’ Market, which has been in continuous operation since 1768, takes place every Wednesday morning in Monument Square and every Saturday in Deering Oaks Park from early May to the end of November, and every Saturday indoors at 200 Anderson Street in the East Bayside Neighborhood, from early December to the end of April. Fresh fish and seafood can be purchased at a number of markets on the wharves along Commercial Street, and numerous artisan bread makers bake fresh loaves every day.
Portland hosts a number of food and beverage festivals, including:
- Festival of Nations
- Greek Festival
- Harvest on the Harbor
- Italian Heritage Festival
- Maine Brewers Festival
- Maine Vegetarian & Vegan Food Festival
- Taste of the Nation
Metro’s bus fares are $1.50 one way, 10-ride ticket: $13.50, and a Day Pass (unlimited rides for a day): $5.00
Senior citizens (age 65 and older) and persons with disabilities pay: $.75 one way, and 10-ride ticket: $6.75
Metro has a very helpful page for visitors who don’t want to drive. Go to: http://gpmetrobus.net/index.php/rider-information/getting-around.
For detailed information about fares and routes, go to http://www.gpmetrobus.net/images/large-map/Z-Greater_Portland_Transit_Guide_web.pdf
For customer service, help planning your visit using Metro, and schedule and fare information, call (207) 774-0351 or visit http://gpmetrobus.net/index.php/rider-information/getting-around.
Regional Transportation (RTP) has a bus that goes to North Windham, Naples and Bridgton. RTP’S bus service is called Lakes Region Explorer. RTP’S email is http://rtprides.org/and its phone number is 207-774-2666.
What to Do
Check out the attractions listed earlier under Welcome to Portland. They are either downtown or easy to reach by public transportation. Here are a few other ideas:
Neighborhoods to Explore
Arts District: With Congress Street as its backbone, the museum and gallery filled corridor is anchored by Longfellow Square performance space (located at One Longfellow Square), Portland Museum of Art, and Maine College of Art (MECA). Both the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) and Bob Crewe Gallery are part of the MECA. Beyond the various theatres, restaurants, studios, and museums, the district also hosts the First Friday Art Walk every month.
East Bayside: This warehouse area is on a gentrification swing as an up-and-coming hip area. It houses several micro craft breweries and a distillery.
Freeport:. LL Bean’s main store (open 24 hours every day of the year) is a short walk from the station. There are dozens of national high-end outlet shops in this quaint New England village. Beyond the shopping and restaurants, Freeport is a good place to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, shooting, archery, snowshoeing, fly casting, kayaking, and camping. This town is a short ride one stop north on Amtrak’s Downeaster from Portland to Brunswick.
Munjoy Hill – Sweeping views of the harbor has transformed this seaside neighborhood. It now has several restaurants and is capped with the city’s iconic Portland Observatory, the last nautical signal tower in North America.
Old Port: This neighborhood, part of the original city, is steeped with history, and maintains much of its authentic charm. Rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1866, its largely brick and cast iron buildings are pure 19th Century beauty.
South Portland Meeting House Hill: This generally sleepy bedroom community is worth visiting for its cluster of fine dining and theatres. South Portland is also home to 2 lighthouses that you can walk to: “Bug” Light and Spring Point Ledge Light
Waterfront: This is one of the most active working waterfronts on the eastern seaboard. Here, the city is true to its maritime past with fresh seafood and commuter ferries sharing wharves with restaurants, shops, and offices.
West End/Longfellow Square: Victorian-style architecture defines this landmark neighborhood at the edge of the Arts District as an active residential area full of great culinary and live performing arts.
Two of the Casco Bay Islands are worth a short boat trip on Casco Bay Lines:
- Peaks Island: This is the closest island to downtown via ferry. The island has a small village with a comfortable hotel and pub and many fun and tasty restaurants for those who prefer “island time.” For some suggestions about how to best enjoy your visit here, go to http://www.cascobaylines.com/islands/peaks-island-maine/.
- Chebeague Island: One of the further islands in the harbor by ferry, its quiet charm and luxury Victorian-era inn with gourmet restaurant makes it hard to believe how close Maine’s largest city really is.
Let’s Take a Walk
There are several trails where you can enjoy a pleasant walk. Visit http://trails.org/ or call (207) 775-2411. Click on the links “Our Trails,” for a list of trails in Portland. Here is a list of trails in downtown Portland: Eastern Promenade Trail, Bayside Trail, Fort Sumner Trail, Harborwalk Trail, and Fore River Parkway Trail. Each trail connects to all the other trails throughout Portland. A staff member at Portland Trails advises visitors who are staying in downtown Portland to start with the Eastern Promenade Trail. There are two ways to get to this trail. Enter the trail at Commercial Trail, near the Ocean Gateway and Portland Visitor Center. Visit Eastern Promenade Park and get the trail there.
Another place for a great walk is Mackworth Island, a state park (take Metro’s route#7 here) that was donated by former Maine governor Percival Proctor Baxter in 1946. (There may be a fee of $1-$2 per person for entering the park.) The island consists of approximately 100 acres, connected to Falmouth by a causeway at the mouth of the Presumpscot River. The 1.25 mile trail that encircles the island takes about an hour to complete at a leisurely pace and visitors are treated to stunning views of Casco Bay and Portland. Along the way, stop to watch boats and ferries motor though the Atlantic waters while seagulls, osprey and shorebirds glide overhead as they search for food.
Macworth Island has a pet cemetery that was built for Governor Baxter who was a pet lover. His horse and 14 Irish Setters are buried there. The island also has a “fairy village” where kids of all ages can build small fairy houses of natural materials, hoping that they will eventually house a fairy.
The trail surface is packed soil which may be slippery when wet, and the terrain is generally level with slopes not exceeding 10%. There are no steps or other barriers to wheelchairs on the main loop except for rocks, roots, and a few waterbars, but some of the small side trails down the steep slope to the shore may be inaccessible to some visitors. Please watch children carefully around steep rocky areas.
The Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau also suggests these additional walks: Jewel Falls (Stroudwater Trail), Back Cove (3.5. mile), and the South Portland Trail to Bug Light. The South Portland Trail is called the Greenbelt.
Let’s Go Bicycling
Gorham Bike and Ski (http://gorhambike.com/ or call 207.773-1700) rents bikes and is within walking distance, or a short bus ride,fromr the Portland Transportation Center (Amtrak and Concord Coach) and Greyhound. If you rent a bike there, ask about the self-guided Lighthouse Tour that will take you to several lighthouses (including Portland Head Light Lighthouse) that are not near public transportation. If you want a longer bike ride, ask about the Eastern Trail that you can ride to Old Orchard Beach. The Eastern Trail is part of the East Coast Greenway that goes from Maine to Florida. (For more information about the East Coast Greenway, go to www.greenway.org/.)
How about A Boat Ride on the Casco Bay Lines?
The Casco Bay Islands are a short ferry ride away. We’ve already suggested visiting Peaks Island, and perhaps Chebeague Island. Both of these islands can only be reached taking one of the Casco Line Ferries. But there are many more islands to see. While most of them have little to offer non-resident visitors, it can still be great fun to take a boat ride through the islands. (My wife and I enjoyed that trip when we visited Portland.)
For more information about the islands, schedules, and fares, visit http://www.cascobaylines.com/ or call (207) 774-7871. On the website, click on Islands to learn about the different islands. Then, click on Schedules and select the Scenic Cruise option. Metro’s Route #8 stops at the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal.
Take a Trip to Old Orchard Beach and take the Trolleys
The Shuttlebus (http://www.shuttlebus-zoom.com/ or call 207/282=5408) offers seasonal trolleys from Old Orchard Beach to many attractions, local communities, and campgrounds. From Portland, take Amtrak’s Downeaster train to Old Orchard Beach (this station is only open during summer) and walk to the Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce. Call Shuttlebus or check its website for fares for the seasonal trolleys. (You can also get to Old Orchard Beach on Shuttlebus’ Portland Intercity Bus. Call or check the website for details.)
(The Shuttlebus also has all-year local bus service from Amtrak’s Downeaster Saco train station to Biddleford Crossing which has several retail stores and many restaurants. Connecting bus service to Old Orchard Beach is available at the Maine Mall (take Metro route #5) and City Hall in downtown Portland. Greyhound travelers can connect directly to Shuttlebus’ Portland Intercity bus, and can even buy their ticket directly from Greyhound online when they buy their Greyhound ticket to Portland.)
There are several different trolley routes. The Camp Ellis Trolley will take you to Camp Ellis Beach: a fishing community with canoeing, sailing, and swimming available.
If you want to enjoy a professional baseball game, check out the schedule of the Old Orchard Beach Surge at the Old Orchard Beach Ballpark (http://www.oobballpark.com/ or call 207/205-6160). Tickets are just $5. For more information about the Surge team, go to http://www.oobballpark.com/teams/. (Ask which trolley to take to the Ballpark.)
Local Tours to Explore Portland
You may want to explore Portland in more depth. Here are some local tours to consider: Visit their websites for more details and to order tickets.
- Maine Foodie Tours: http://www.mainefoodietours.com/aboutUs.html or call (207) 233-7485.
- Wicked Walking Tours: http://www.wickedwalkingtours.com/ or call (207) 730-0490.
- The Maine Brew Bus: http://www.themainebrewbus.com.
- Lucky Catch: http://www.luckycatch.com
Historical Walking Tours: The Maine Historical Society offers these tours daily at 1:30 between June 1 and October 12. Join Maine Historical Society for a guided tour to the city’s waterfront highlighting Portland’s history, maritime heritage, and authentic character. Learn how Maine’s largest city evolved from a small British colony to a booming center of American culture and commerce. Famous city residents, industries, architecture, historic landmarks, social history, and the Great Fire of 1866 are among the topics covered. The tours leave from the MHS store and last 60-75 minutes. Tours are limited to 12 guests and are first-come, first served. The cost is $15 for the walking tour only, and $25 for the walking tour and the Wadsworth-Longfellow House Tour Combo. For more information, visit https://www.mainehistory.org/about_exploreportland.shtml or call (207) 774-1822 Extension 212.
Special Interests: Check out what local attractions match your special interests. Call the Portland Visitor Center (207) 772-5800, or email email@example.com. Then, call Metro at (207) 774-0351 to find out what bus serves each attraction. For a list of Portland attractions and things to do, visit http://visitportland.com/activities.aspx
Where to Dine—Eating Out In and Around Portland
The best locations are anywhere on the Portland Peninsula or Freeport. Visit http://visitportland.com/dining.aspx
Tips from a Local Resident
Chris (who asked that we not use his last name) is a Portland resident and enthusiastic walker who loves Portland and the surrounding area. Chris shared some of his tips and other suggestions for visitors who want to walk or use public transportation.
Chris’ Tips for Visitors Who Want to Visit Portland and Where to Stay
“Portland and surrounding areas are good to see via bicycle. Tip and caution is to be aware of traffic and watch for potholes and cobblestones. The winters and plows can be harsh on the roadways and offer up ever changing hazards.
“The Old Port neighborhood of downtown Portland is a great place to stay in town. It is walking distance from just about all of the things to see downtown. A particularly nice place to stay is The Press Hotel, http://www.thepresshotel.com. It is a nice homage to the history of the building that was home to the former Portland Press Herald newspaper. They also have bicycles that they can provide for their guests.”
Suggestions for a Visiting Friend Who Wants to See Portland
“One of the truly unique things to do is to get out on a boat on Casco Bay. A great inexpensive way to do this for the general public is to take a ride on one of the Casco Bay Lines ferry boats. http://www.cascobaylines.com.“
How to Experience what is Special about Portland
“You can get a good sense of what makes Portland special by walking through the Old Port neighborhood, along the working waterfront on Commercial St., and taking a ride on one of the Casco Bay Lines ferry boats.”
Here are Some Suggested Excursions for Visitors with Special Interests
- Parks and other natural attractions: Deering Oaks Park, in the summer is a nice walk with a manmade flowing stream and water spouts for kids to play in. Again, the Portland Trails website is a great resource. A walk around Mackworth Island is nice. Just about 2 miles north of the city.
- Museums, and other cultural attractions: Two local museums are the Portland Museum of Art (http://www.portlandmuseum.org) with over 18,000 collected works including some Winslow Homer paintings; and The Children’s Museum (next door). A quirky fun site is the Cryptozoology Museum (http://cryptozoologymuseum.com). The Henry Wadsworth Longfellow House (https://www.mainehistory.org/house_overview.shtml) is right next to the Maine Historical Society.
- Science related: There is a fantastic new Science Center http://www.portlandsciencecenter.com)
- Self-guided walking tours: The Greater Portland Landmarks Inc. Association has literature about self-guided walking tours. (http://www.portlandlandmarks.org)
- Bicyclists: The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is a great resource. http://www.bikemaine.org
Chris’ Suggestions for Where to Enjoy a Good Meal
“Portland, Maine is a foodie city getting national and international acclaim. There are so many restaurants, that it really depends on what you enjoy. Here are a few suggestions:
- Fore Street Restaurant: Possibly the best restaurant in the city. High end locally sourced fare is the specialty.
- Portland Lobster Company: (open May – Oct) Down on the wharves on the water front, locals and visitors can be found here for local beer, live music, and traditional seafood. This is a great relaxed place to sit on a dock and take in the atmosphere. Most of the seating is outside, but heat lamps and a tented space can keep people comfortable in the elements. Outside seating is dog friendly too.
“With so many places to list Trip Advisor is a fantastic resource. The top 20 listings are pretty accurate.”
Ideas for Entertainment, Recreation, and Shopping
- Evening entertainment close to public transit:
In July and August there is the Summer in the Parks Concerts series. http://www.portlandmaine.gov/651/Summer-in-the-Parks-Concerts
Also there is a summer concert series on the Maine State Pier in Portland. http://www.waterfrontconcerts.com/venue/maine-state-pier
Some bars and pubs have live music for no cover charge, i.e.
- Andy’s Old Port Pub
For Theater check out the Merrill Auditorium The in town movie theater is the Nickelodeon. The Portland Museum of Art has a movie series as well.
Portland’s minor league baseball team is the Portland Seadogs at Headlock Field. The Sea Dogs are an AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
The D League Basketball team is the Red Claws: an affiliate of the Boston Celtics.
Great local shopping can be had on Exchange Street and Commercial Street in the Old Port.
Another great resource is Portland Buy Local: http://www.portlandbuylocal.org.
As our visit to Portland draws to a close, it’s time to go to the airport, train station or bus terminal and return home. If you are like me, you will want to come back and revisit some of the wonderful neighborhoods and attractions that you enjoyed during your visit.
For More Information
- For information about attractions, what to do, and what to stay: Visit https://www.visitportland.com or call (207) 772-5800.
- For information about public transportation schedules and fares: Visit http://gpmetrobus.net or call (207) 774-0351 from 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 7:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. on Friday
Steve Atlas welcomes your comments and suggestions. Do you have a favorite place that you want Car Free Journey to spotlight in a future column. Send your requests to E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org