Named the no. 1 most livable city in the U.S. by Forbes, Portland, Maine, is admired for the beauty of its seaside setting, the recreational activities its natural setting inspires, a vibrant food scene, and its commitment to arts and culture. Both large enough to be diverse and small enough to retain a strong sense of community, Portland offers picturesque wooden wharves, charming Victorian homes, awesome ocean vistas, traditional lobster and clambakes as well as cutting-edge cuisine, and nationally recognized museums and theaters.
Must see in Portland
Start your visit with a trip to the Portland Observatory for a panoramic view of the city. Art lovers shouldn't miss Portland's Arts District, including the Portland Museum of Art, the Maine College of Art, and many other museums and galleries. Just a few blocks away in the West End is the Victorian House, a gem of Italianate architecture and a perfectly preserved showcase of interior decor and furnishings from the Victorian era. History buffs will appreciate walking the Portland Freedom Trail. This 16-site tour demonstrates Portland's role in the Underground Railroad and anti-slavery movement. Stroll along the Eastern Promenade Trail to take in the stunning vistas of Casco Bay, then jump aboard a ferry to visit the Calendar Islands, watch whales or partake in a lobster bake. Looking for evening activities? The well-regarded Portland Symphony Orchestra performs at the Merrill Auditorium. Portland Stage, the largest local nonprofit theater, is also great place for live entertainment after dark.
Where to stay in Portland
Almost every neighborhood in Portland has pleasant places to stay. But instead of the standard chain hotel, why not try a special boutique inn or bed-and-breakfast in Portland's West End neighborhood? This area is famous for its Victorian architecture and boasts some of Portland's largest historic homes. While you're there, check out the historic Victoria Mansion museum or relax in one of the nearby parks.
Best and worst time to go to Portland
Summertime, from late May to early September, is the best time to experience all the best that Portland has to offer. Cool ocean breezes help keep the temperatures comfortable and you can take full advantage of water sports and other outdoor activities. While Portland's winters are mild by New England standards, some businesses and sites close for the season and bad weather can make travel to and from Portland more difficult.
Where to get lost in Portland
Portland's Old Port is both a working waterfront and a beautifully revitalized neighborhood. Enjoy the smell of the sea air, the noise from a distant foghorn, and the sight of flittering seagulls as you wander down the cobblestone streets exploring one-of-a-kind boutiques, sampling a variety of restaurants serving everything from Maine's traditional lobster dishes to molecular gastronomy, and partaking in the vibrant nightlife.
The best deal in Portland
Consider scheduling your trip to coincide with the First Friday Art Walk. One evening each month (no matter whether there is rain, snow, sleet, or shine), art galleries, museums, alternative venues and even the streets of downtown Portland come alive with creative culture that you can enjoy for free.
Transportation in Portland
Portland is geographically compact and easy to navigate no matter what your preferred style of travel. The Metro bus provides service to hotels and attractions throughout the Greater Portland area with connections to train, ferry and regional bus transportation. Portland also maintains a network of bike and pedestrian routes.
Getting in from the Portland International Jetport
Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, and U.S. Airways all fly in to the Portland International Jetport (PWM). The jetport is located between I-295 and I-95 and is three miles from downtown Portland. There are a variety of ground transportation options including Amtrak, Greyhound, taxis, limousines, vans/shuttles and six car rental agencies.
Local tip for visitors to Portland
In the summer, don't miss the chance to explore Eagle Island, once the summer estate of Admiral Robert E. Peary, known for his pioneering adventures in the Arctic, now a National Historic Site. It is accessible only by boat but there are a number of charters and boat rental companies that will help you make the trip.
Author's bio: Victoria Franzese owned, operated, and wrote for a critically-acclaimed online travel guide for 15 years. Now, thankfully, all of her travel is purely for fun. See where she's going next at @VOFranzese.