Must-Visit Attractions in Portland, Oregon

St Johns Bridge and Mount Hood on a beautiful clear sunny day
St Johns Bridge and Mount Hood on a beautiful clear sunny day | © Thye Gn / Alamy Stock Photo | © Thye Gn / Alamy Stock Photo
Alexia Wulff

Portland may be known as the City of Weird. But it’s also an epicenter for craft beer, coffeehouses, theater, arts and music. Here are the must-visit attractions when in the city.

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Powell’s City of Books bookstore

Powell’s is an iconic Portland landmark, with rows of new, used, eclectic, rare, and out-of-print books spanning a multi-level building that occupies an entire city block. And despite the downturn of brick-and-mortar bookstores, Powell’s has maintained its stature amongst Portlanders (thanks to the city’s burgeoning love for books).

Lan Su Chinese Garden

Lan Su Chinese Garden is a lush green wonderland nestled in the heart of Portland. The garden – considered to be the most authentic of its type outside of China, offers things like tea, story time, calligraphy demonstrations and Tai Chi for those in search of some inner zen.

Portland Saturday Market in Old Town

Every weekend from March through Christmas Eve, over 350 local artisans, photographers, jewelry makers, vendors and food carts take to the streets of historic Old Town for the largest continually operating outdoor arts and crafts market in America. Established in 1974, Portland Saturday Market highlights all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer, including exotic foods, live music and handmade wares.

Portland Art Museum

Founded in 1892, Portland Art Museum is the oldest museum in the Pacific Northwest (and the seventh oldest in the US). The museum is known for its variety of collections, including Asian, American, Native American and graphic art, and houses more than 42,000 objects across its 112,000sq ft (10,405sq m) of space – with 90 percent of the gallery dedicated to its world-renowned permanent collection.

Voodoo Doughnut dessert shop

There is no doubt that Portland loves its doughnuts. And while artisanal doughnut shops are aplenty, Voodoo must be visited at least once – that’s if you can look past the line that usually gathers outside its doors. Inside this quirky space, find creative doughnuts such as the Memphis Mafia – banana, cinnamon, chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips – or the Bubble Doughnut topped with bubble gum dust and a piece of bubble gum.

Portland Food Carts

You can’t say you’ve been to Portland without visiting the city’s famed food carts (locally known as pods). There are over 500 pods in the city dishing out everything from Texas-style barbecue to Hainanese-style poached chicken and rice. In the mood for Guam-style shrimp fritters? What about Nyonya-style curry soup? If you can dream it, Portland has it.

Washington Park

While most urban sprawls are wrought with cement and towering structures, this city sticks to its Pacific Northwest roots: trees, plant life, hiking trails and vast stretches of natural scenery. And Washington Park, with 15mi (24.1km) of trails, a zoo, rose garden, arboretum, museums and Japanese garden, is Portland’s centerpiece for connecting with nature.

The Grotto monastery

The National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother – commonly referred to as the Grotto – is a Catholic outdoor shrine tucked into Portland’s Madison South neighborhood. But this isn’t just a place for worship; the Grotto is frequently visited for its tranquil botanical gardens, a sanctuary for finding a piece of serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of city life. Also on the grounds are a monastery, meditation center and a little red chapel with several Madonna reproduction paintings from around the world.

Forest Park

At 5,151 acres (2,085ha), Forest Park is one of the largest urban forests in the nation. Just west of downtown Portland, this wooded area is intersected by trails for hiking and biking – some even run as long as 30mi (48.2km). And with Portland’s residents predominantly advocates for the preservation of nature, it’s no surprise that this little gem exists.

St. Johns Bridge

This bridge, which connects St. Johns and Linnton, is the oldest bridge in Portland, officially opening in 1931. And it’s also the tallest, rising over 400ft (121.9m) into the air. Its teal color can be seen from miles away as it stretches 2,000ft (609.6m) across the Willamette River – the perfect backdrop for a Portland photo opportunity.

Portland Breweries

Portland is as much of an epicenter for food enthusiasts as it is a city for beer lovers. Going strong since the 1980s, Portland’s craft beer scene has gained so much traction that it’s earned itself the nickname Beervana. In Portland alone, there are over 50 breweries – and counting – with local brewers pioneering the movement with Oregon-grown hops and Pacific Northwest water. A slew of brewpubs can be found around the city alongside year-round beer events. Make sure to visit Widmer Brothers Brewing for a guided tour of the brewery.

Portland Aerial Tram

There’s no better way to see Portland and all of its splendors than on the Portland Aerial Tram. When it reopens to the public, jump on the gondola in South Waterfront, and revel in the panoramic city views as the tramway ascends into the clouds on Marquam Hill. On a clear day, views can stretch as far as Mount St. Helens.

Portland Japanese Garden botanical garden

Influenced by Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist philosophies, Portland Japanese Garden mixes stone, water and plants to create a center for peace and tranquility. Venture into one of the five gardens – flat, strolling pond, tea, natural and sand and stone – located on 5.5 acres (2.2ha) of land; the garden also features a teahouse, cultural festivals and events, workshops and mountain views.

Columbia River Gorge

A short drive from Portland, discover one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon: the Columbia River Gorge. Marked by massive, steep canyon walls that contain the Columbia River, panoramic views are unparalleled, stretching as far as Washington. Along the Historic Columbia River Highway, find dozens of waterfalls and life-altering nature hikes: Multnomah Falls, Horsetail, Ponytail and Bridal Veil.

Pioneer Courthouse Square

Affectionately known as the city’s living room, Pioneer Courthouse Square is a public space that plays host to year-round events for the community, such as the Northwest Brain Tumor Walk and Food Truck February. The space occupies an entire city block (40,000sq ft or 3,716sq m) and opened in 1984; its history, however, is deeply rooted in Portland’s beginnings, with the block first purchased in 1849 by a shoemaker for $24 and a pair of boots.

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Get into science at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry – one of the best science centers in America. OMSI has 200 interactive exhibits and activities for all ages, eight labs, rotating shows, submarine tours, a theater, a motion simulator, a planetarium and a museum with more than 20 events monthly.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Running along the banks of the Willamette River are 30 acres (12ha) of grassy knolls, paved paths and prime parklands known as the Waterfront Park. A popular route for bikers and runners, the riverfront provides ample opportunities for riverside walks and picnicking – there are even fountains for the kids to play in.

Pittock Mansion

Pittock Mansion is filled with a wealth of history, built in 1914 for one of Oregon’s richest families, publisher Henry Pittock and his wife Georgiana Pittock – the founder of the Portland Rose Society. Take a tour of the 46-acre (18.6ha) estate and inside the century home. But don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the city below – this is considered one of the best views in all of Portland.

World Forestry Center Discovery Museum

As one of three programs run by the World Forestry Center, the Discovery Museum is a must for anyone interested in learning about the importance of forests and woodlands to our ecosystems. With a particular focus on sustainability, visitors are treated to two floors highlighting both forests in the Pacific Northwest, as well as forests from around the world. Founded in 1966, the museum has expanded into the 21st century by including virtual tours and interactive exhibits. This 20,000sq ft (1,858sq m) educational facility is unsurprisingly popular with the little ones, and under 18s have a reduced admission.

Portland’s Children Museum

Combine education with fun at this impressive museum, located on Canyon Road in Southwest Portland. The museum relocated to the original site of the Oregon Museum of Science and Technology in 2001 and hasn’t looked back. Featuring over 10 exhibits, children adore the outdoor adventure area with more than 1.3 acres (0.5ha) of land, which was designed by a professional team with children as their focus. Have fun with the tricky labyrinth, or spend time at the Pet Hospital and Water Works. There’s a whole load of activities to appeal to the family.

International Rose Test Garden

The City of Roses is the official moniker for Portland, and for good reason. Out of love for the pulchritudinous flower, Portland Rose Society was born; a few years later, in 1905, Portland held its first Festival of Roses. The International Rose Test Garden has been upholding the city’s reputation since 1917, with more than 7,000 manicured rose plants of over 550 varieties.

Hoyt Arboretum

A stone’s throw from downtown Portland, naturalists with a particular fascination in botany have enjoyed this 190-acre (77ha) oasis for nearly 90 years. Opened in 1928, Hoyt Arboretum has 12mi (19km) of trails, two miles (3.2km) of which can be enjoyed by wheelchair-users. Features of the arboretum include a notable bamboo garden billed as the largest bamboo collection in the Northwest, a research library housing over 800 books available to the public and over 6,000 trees comprising about 2,300 species. Be one of the 350,000 annual visitors and spot distinguished species such as redwoods, sequoias and magnolias.

Bridgeport Village

Retail therapy in Portland doesn’t come much more stylish than a trip to Bridgeport Village. Located off Highway 5 about a 15-minute drive south of the city center, the Village encompasses world-class shopping with global cuisine and jam-packed events, meaning visitors can immerse themselves in an assault on the senses. Bridgeport Village is a landmark shopping destination, its architecture and design inspired by European characteristics. Special features include Italian gazebos, outdoor sound systems and dining, together with kiosks and plenty of bike racks. Get pampered at one of the Village’s many beauty salons, or grab a substantial meal at legendary Joe’s Burgers – the choices are endless.

Xtabay Vintage Clothing Boutique

Fed up with the usual, characterless clothes on offer in the high streets? Xtabay Vintage Clothing Boutique (XVCB) is the answer to the search for your sumptuous retro clothing needs. Opened in 2001 by Liz Gross, there’s an emphasis on bridal wear, although there’s plenty more on offer for those with off-the-wall tastes. A fan with several high-profile names, Liz has built a superb client list and continues to wow customers at what has been described as Portland’s premier place for ladies’ retro fashion. Also on offer are collectibles, toys and crafts. What’s not to like?

Keep Portland Weird Sign

Keep Portland Weird. Although the city is known for its quirky residents and oddball culture, Portlanders have embraced it – some locals would say this is the unofficial city motto. Originally used as a marketing tool for local businesses, this unique sign is a part of the city’s culture in its own right. Find the sign on 3rd Street between Burnside and Ankeny.

Additional reporting by Jo Varley.

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