The Best Things to Do in Portland

No matter the time of day, weather, or your mood, your list of Portland to-dos will stay stacked with good times and stellar flavors. Grab some chow from the city’s famous food carts, shop downtown Portland, tour Pittock Mansion, or take a bike ride through one of the city’s many parks. Up for something else? You could always spend the day browsing Powell’s City of Books. Or the whole weekend. Here, some fine ideas to get you going.

1005 W Burnside St, Portland, OR 97209, USA
An iconic name in Portland retail—as well as among readers who have never been to the city—Powell’s has multiple locations on both sides of the Willamette. The downtown store remains the one best suited for visitors to explore, with miles of used reads, a tightly curated selection of books from the knowledgeable staff, and every Portland-themed book you could hope to find under one roof. A renovation in 2014 opened up the space and made it feel less like a warehouse of dusty stacks, an improvement that bodes well for the future of the business. Author appearances, even those at the satellite branches, are some of Portland’s best events for interesting discussions.
1155 SW Morrison St #102, Portland, OR 97205, USA
Doughnuts are to Portland what coffee is to David Lynch, both essential fuel and calling card. While there are many pretenders to the title of the city’s best doughnuts—Voodoo Doughnuts certainly sells the most Instagrammable food products—Blue Star, from ubiquitous local restaurateur Micah Camden, is the most consistent. Flavors range from powdered sugar to maple bacon to passion fruit cocoa nibs, sold fresh daily until no more remain. The downtown location gets crowded early on weekends, so plan ahead. In a pinch, grab them at Blue Star’s airport location—which makes asking a friend to pick you up at the airport a sweet request indeed.
2 SW Naito Pkwy, Portland, OR 97204, USA
The #1 thing recommended to me to see in Portland was the Saturday Market. It lived up to its hype! I spent a few hours Saturday morning wandering around the market and was floored at the talent of the vendors. I was also shocked at how reasonably priced everything was. I purchased a catnip-filled body pillow to bring home for my cat and two hand-painted, extra-large ceramic mugs ($20 each). My only regret was that I didn’t have enough room in my suitcase to bring more stuff home!
53000 East, Historic Columbia River Hwy, Bridal Veil, OR 97010, USA
Multnomah Falls is a gorgeous sight located about 45 minutes by car outside of Portland, Oregon, on the Columbia River Gorge. Several hikes of differing degrees of difficulty offer vantage points to view the falls. The sound of the rushing water is a soothing composition from Mother Nature.
1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205, USA
The Portland Art Museum has been a fixture of the Rose City for longer than you’d expect—it’s the oldest art museum on the West Coast, opened in 1892. The current location, on the South Park Blocks, debuted in 1932 with a design by Pietro Belluschi. Today, the permanent collection includes 42,000 works along with a rotating selection of exhibits. Among the highlights in past years: pieces by Rodin and Andy Warhol, and what is thought to be the largest cat painting in the world. The 2.5-block campus also includes the Northwest Film Center.
SE Salmon St, Portland, OR 97215, USA
Right inside the city limits, the dormant volcano Mount Tabor is one of Portland’s many natural treasures. The park in which it sits was designed in 1936 by Emanuel Tillman Mische, who, for most of his career, worked for the Olmsted Brothers, the leading landscape architects of the period. Today, the park’s winding paths are chockablock with bicyclists testing their mettle and hikers exploring the many trails and three reservoirs in search of fresh air and views of the surrounding valley. There are three main walking routes, and it’s also possible to drive to the summit and take a quick amble through the firs and pines.
400 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205, USA
This is where everyone stops to smell the roses in the Rose City. Celebrating its centennial in 2017, the International Rose Test Garden is the nation’s oldest continually operating rose test garden (where varieties are evaluated for characteristics such as disease resistance, bloom size, and fragrance). Originally conceived as a way to preserve different varieties of European roses from the destruction of World War I, the garden today contains 10,000 plants across 4.5 acres in Washington Park. Best of all, it’s completely free, whether you want to compare green thumbs with professionals or take in the views of Mount Hood while breathing in the perfumed air.
6600 SW Macadam Ave, Portland, OR 97239, USA
Portland’s many bridges aren’t just for show—most of them are for crossing the Willamette River, which bisects the city. In recent years, and after much cleanup, a push to reclaim the river for recreation has been successful. Among the more popular activities is kayaking. Offering both tours and rentals, Portland Kayak Company is an excellent outfitter that gets urban adventurers out on the water with a minimum of fuss. The more romantically inclined may want to try a PKC moonlight kayaking tour, while those looking to up their paddling game can opt for one of the classes aimed at helping students hone their technique.
3229 NW Pittock Dr, Portland, OR 97210, USA
The mansion and grounds around this Portland icon are impeccably kept and constantly visited. It was even featured recently on CBS’s Amazing Race. The views are stunning and if you’re into hiking, there is access to the Wildwood Trail which traverses the crest of the West Hills. Park down at the Oregon Zoo or Hoyt Arboretum and follow the winding path up to one of the best viewpoints in the city. There is also plenty of parking and a gift shop with limited hours of operation. The history of having tea on the lawn on Sunday afternoons in summertime may be long past, but the Mt Hood view is still spectacular. The former tearoom is now the Gate Lodge and open for free tours during regular hours. These days the hours vary depending on the season and the all-volunteer efforts in keeping the Pittock public. The mansion tours take you back to the days when Portland was first finding its heady way as a city. Find your path to the Pittock and take in Portland’s past.
611 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205, USA
Portland is not lacking for parks and gardens—I’ve heard the Chinese garden in the Pearl district is a stunner—but I highly recommend the Japanese Gardens in Washington Park. Portland‘s a relaxed place anyway, but the Japanese gardens, said to be the best example outside Japan itself, are a change of pace entirely, a shaded haven of trickling streams and artful horticulture. The day we visited there were a number of other visitors, some of them a little boisterous, and I was worried that we weren’t going to get the full calming effect, but there are enough paths and Zen sculpture gardens that you can find your own spot to sit and contemplate. Don’t forget to take a warm jacket.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks