From curving bridges over the Willamette River and lush bordering forests to charming old-school architecture, Portland has major curb appeal by day, but that’s not all. Oregon’s biggest has also got a spirited theatre scene, a bustling food scene, and a dazzling array of nightlife. Frankly, Portland represents the best of the Pacific Northwest, and it’d be a shame not to give the city a spot right near the top of your West Coast travel bucket list.
A hub for urban life with an undercurrent of outdoorsiness, Portland is your destination for all things hipster. Wander in search of coffee roasters, indie bookshops, microbreweries, and vintage shops, stopping along the way to sample an eclectic smattering of foodie-approved vendors lining the city streets.
Ready to plan the ultimate holiday in central Oregon? Get the inside scoop on what to see & do, where to stay, and when to visit with this complete Portland travel guide.
What to see & do in Portland, OR
To take become fully acquainted with Portland’s outdoorsy side, slip into the rugged wilderness at Forest Park. This nature park on the cusp of the urban border spans over 5,000 acres and offers a range of different experiences depending on what tickles your fancy.
From peaceful meditation among the ferns and trickling creeks to a spooky trek to the Witch’s Cave, Forest Park is the one-size-fits-all solution when you’re craving an escape from the city.
Forest Park might compete against a few others for the largest urban forest in the world, but it’s unequivocally one of the best things to do in Portland, OR.
Portland International Rose Test Garden
Only have one day in Portland on your Oregon itinerary, and want to make the most of it? Be sure to check out the Portland International Rose Test Garden. This fragrant urban park is home to over 10,000 plants, but as its name suggests, roses are the star of the show. In fact, they have over 550 varieties to discover!
Besides being a natural work of art and a source of endless gardening inspiration, the Portland International Rose Test Garden is a must-see for another big reason. Portland has been affectionately (though unofficially) dubbed the “City of Roses,” and this botanical wonderland is a large part of the rationale.
Whether you want to take a casual stroll or sit down to paint the likeness of these big blooms, the International Test Garden is an attraction you need to carve out space in your itinerary for.
Old Town Chinatown
Looking for a hip and happening neighborhood to spend the day in? Old Town Chinatown is the perfect place to explore in Portland with a little time to spare. In just one afternoon, you can learn about the roots of early immigrants in Portland and celebrate happy hour at some of the city’s top-rated nightlife venues.
To take your Old Town Chinatown experience to the next level, be sure to check out some historical sightseeing tours. One of the most popular excursions is a jaunt through the underground Shanghai Tunnels, where you’ll learn the origins of some highly controversial urban legends.
Powell’s City of Books
Whether you’re a bonafide bookworm or just making your way through all the city’s top points of interest, no trip to Portland, Oregon, is complete without shopping ‘til you drop at Powell’s City of Books. With over 3,500 interest-based sections to explore (yep, you read that right!), spanning over an entire city block, this shop has the perfect novel for every type of reader.
Take a moment to stop and inhale that good ol’ book smell and add heaps of titles to your TBR list. Not ready to leave quite yet? Cozy up with your new purchase in one of Powell’s City of Books cafés. You can also spend some time perusing the Rare Book Room, serving as a museum of sorts with all kinds of collectible, autographed, and first-edition publications.
As if all that isn’t enough, Powell’s City of Books is listed as the world’s largest independent bookstore, making it a bucket-list-worthy item for even the most experienced globetrotter.
When planning your travels through Portland, don’t forget to take a trip back in time at the Pittock Mansion. This giant 1914 home-turned-museum has over 46 rooms of period decor to marvel at, as well as a French Renaissance facade.
You don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy Pittock Mansion. Draped across 46 mountain-view acres, outdoors lovers will find manicured lawns, gardens, and woodland trails.
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It’s one of the most beautiful places in Portland for an early morning stroll. There’s even a scenic lookout where you can take in the Portland city skyline from a unique vantage point!
Where to stay
Once you’ve been sold on a vacation to this Pacific Northwest city, deciding where to stay in Portland, OR, should be next on your to-do list. Thankfully there are tons of great neighborhoods to target your search. Whether you’re looking for a vacation rental, boutique residence, or trusty chain hotel, here are some tourist-approved areas to get you started:
- Downtown Portland: First-time visitors to Portland will want to see and do everything. With plenty of the city’s best restaurants, museums, parks, and attractions within walking distance, Downtown Portland makes the perfect hub for newbies and bucket-list travelers. What’s usually closeby to all the best attractions? All the best hotels. You’ll pay a bit of a premium for staying in this central location, but you’ll be rewarded with a great selection of amenities and dozens of hotel options in return.
- Old Town/Chinatown: Fancy a bit of cultural tourism? A stay in Old Town/Chinatown promises a deep dive into Portland’s history and some bumbling entertainment, not to mention some of the prettiest scenery in the city. Just picture cherry blossom trees and historic buildings perched along the riverside, and you’ll be sold. You can find a wide range of accommodation options in this district, with higher-end hostels and contemporary hotels with rooftop bars on either end of the spectrum.
- Pearl District: If good food and renowned restaurants are at the top of your priority list, don’t sleep on Pearl District. This modernized industrial neighborhood is home to all the city’s swankiest bars and bistros. You’ll also find plenty of boutique shops and art galleries to pass your time. You’ll seldom even need to venture outside the area if you’re a slow-paced traveler.
- Nob Hill: This is the area where all of Portland’s budget travelers and trendy youngsters unite. Along the streets of Nob Hill, you’ll find brewpubs, craft coffee roasters, and even old record shops to make your vacation a truly “hip” experience. There are tons of affordable and quirky boutique hotels in the area. If you want to find accommodations unique to your personality, Nob Hill is a great place to start.
When to visit
The best time to visit Portland, OR, is from June through August. Though Portland is a fun and fabulous city to visit year-round, the summertime is when the streets seem to come alive.
During the warmer months, you’ll be able to take advantage of numerous outdoor festivals and events. Plus, it’ll be easier to get around the city a little more freely since mountains of snow won’t bog you down. Summer visitors will also have the privilege of hiking, swimming, and biking the surrounding wilderness. It’s practically a right of passage in these parts!
Remember when we mentioned Portland was known as the City of Roses? To see these beauties in full bloom, you’ll want to target a visit between June and August.
Portland is served by Portland International Airport (PDX), located 6 miles northeast of the city center. Several major airlines fly into PDX from international & domestic gateways, including:
- Alaska Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Horizon Air
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
Portland is well-connected by road to cities in Oregon, Washington, California, and Idaho. Popular road routes and estimated driving times include:
- Seattle, WA (2h57m)
- Eugene, OR (1h39m)
- Bend, OR (3h17m)
- Boise, ID (6h39m)
- Redding, CA (6h31m)
Renting a car in a new city will always afford you maximum flexibility when it comes to getting around. But the good news is Portland has an extensive network of public transportation options that make it hardly necessary to have your own wheels to move around the city.
Choose between riding the city bus, streetcar, or the new MAX light rail, and you’ll be able to get easily from one end of Portland to the other in a flash.
Want to avoid additional carbon emissions? Portland is known as a highly environmentally friendly city and has plenty of transportation options that don’t require the use of fossil fuels. Portland is highly walkable, but bikes and electric scooters are also available to rent from central locations near all the city’s top attractions.