Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
One of America’s great cities, Portland offers a variety of experiences for just about every type of traveler. Foodies are flocking to its artisanal restaurants, endless food trucks and microbreweries, while outdoor lovers enjoy gorgeous tree-filled parks as well as mountains and beaches nearby, and shopping enthusiasts can hit the countless vintage stores, design-savvy boutiques and more. After dark, there’s just as much to do, with countless clubs and bars that house fantastic local, national and international artists. If you’re looking for the best things to do while you’re in Portland, these top ideas can help you make the most of your time.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
What Is It? The Columbia River Gorge divides the states of Oregon and Washington and begins just east of downtown Portland.
Why Do It? By driving the Historic Columbia River Highway, you’ll not only take in some of the area’s most spectacular vistas, including the one from Crown Point which offers panoramic views of the mighty river, but you’ll also find a multitude of activities to take part in.
Good to Know: Wind sports enthusiasts will be blown away by the world-class windsurfing and kiteboarding conditions, and hikers will be rewarded with treks that lead to the greatest concentration of waterfalls in North America. The journey also features multiple wineries, luxury hotels and spas.
What Is It? Founded in 1917, the Rose Test Garden, located in Washington Park, is the oldest continuously operated public test garden in the U.S. Portland is sometimes referred to as the City of Roses, as it’s long been an incubator for these glorious flowers.
Why Do It? It all began when a future-thinking citizen convinced the local government to set up the garden during World War I to preserve the species of European roses that might be decimated by the bombings. Today, the garden is one of the top budget-friendly activities in Portland and continuously develops new rose varieties and even miniatures. Its grounds are divided up into a number of sections, each showcasing interesting plants to explore.
Good to Know: If you visit between April and October, you can walk among 7,000 gorgeous rose bushes – they’re at their peak in June. Award winners are planted in the Gold Medal Garden, which also includes a picturesque gazebo.
What Is It? Nestled near the International Rose Test Garden in the scenic West Hills, Portland Japanese Garden is a meticulously maintained, tranquil space that offers a perfect spot of quiet contemplation and beauty.
Why Do It? This 5.5-acre oasis is considered one of the best Japanese gardens outside of Japan, attracting visitors from all over the world. It includes an authentic Japanese tea house, winding streams, picturesque bridges and pagodas as well as amazing views of Mount Hood and five separate garden styles designed to create a sense of peace: Strolling Pond Garden, the Tea Garden, Natural Garden, Flat Garden and the Sand and Stone Garden.
Good to Know: Guided tours are included in the admission cost, and a variety of events are often hosted, like the popular autumn moon-viewing nights which feature live music, tea and sake service and Japanese fare.
What Is It? Portland is home to nearly 50 vintage shops at last count, attracting visitors from around the globe.
Why Do It? This city is one of the best destinations for shopping bargains on the planet.
Good to Know: Pick up meticulously curated and continuously updated items on the racks of shops like Xtabay. Some pieces are perfect for Red Carpet events, along with tailored suits, costume jewelry and even incredible Mad Men-style furniture at places like Hawthorne Vintage.
What Is It? Exploring Portland’s diverse food scene ranges from upscale dining to food trucks and small food joints.
Why Do It? Sampling some of the incredible array of fantastic food from Portland’s food trucks is really a must while you’re here, particularly if you’re a foodie or just appreciate creative cuisine.
Good to Know: Try the cone of fries at the poutine connoisseurs’ Potato Champion. The carts are clustered in pods around town, and if you’ve got a belly that’s ready and a wad of one-dollar bills, you can even become a master cart jumper.
What Is It? Portland is famous for its fantastic live music scene, feeding residents’ needs and love for great tunes.
Why Do It? On any given night, you can find a spot to listen to live music, and the offerings are as diverse as the city itself. Options include everything from pop, indie rock and jazz to punk and more. It’s really no surprise as the city boasts quite the collection of A-list musicians, including The Decemberists, Elliott Smith and Everclear.
Good to Know: Touring rock acts, including big national names, frequently grace the stage of the Crystal Ballroom, a historic venue in downtown’s West End, which features an unusual floating dance floor.
What Is It? Portlanders, and even some outsiders, refer to the city as “Beervana.” It’s no wonder, as Portland is home to more breweries than any other in the world.
Why Do It? Perfect for a rainy day in Portland, locals take their beer seriously here with brewers pioneering the craft beer movement using fresh ingredients.
Good to Know: You’ll get a good sense of the beer scene by touring local pubs like Deschutes Brewery and Hopworks Urban Brewery, a bicycle-themed brewpub with organic beer along with 75 bike parking spaces, bike tools, take out specials for bikers, and two stationary bicycles in front of the restaurant that creates energy to power the building when customers pedal them.
What Is It? Portlanders are well-known for their love of all things fresh and local, like organic fruits and vegetables, free-range meats, eggs and raw honey.
Why Do It? There is a long list of farmers’ markets to choose from. Located all over town, they offer a wide range of uniquely Oregon goods as well as fresh, organic and local produce.
Good to Know: Portland Saturday Market, open on both Saturdays and Sundays in the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood, is a thriving arts and crafts open-air market place, while the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University boasts 200 rotating vendors with local, seasonal produce and live music to match every Saturday throughout the year.
What Is It? One of the best waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest, Multnomah Falls is Oregon’s most photographed natural wonder, and one of the most stunning in the world.
Why Do It? It stands above the rest as the tallest waterfall in the state too, tumbling 620 feet into a pool below. Fed by rainwater and snowmelt, the steady stream of water runs year-round, with the highest volume in winter and spring – the waterfall sometimes freezes partially at the height of winter.
Good to Know: Located just 30 miles east of downtown along the Historic Columbia River Highway, it’s easy to reach. While most visitors come from around the world to view the falls from its base, locals know that by hiking just another mile from the bridge to the top, they’ll get to enjoy the very best views – and sometimes, all to themselves.
What Is It? Forest Park is just a 10-minute drive from downtown and offers 5,157 wooded acres with 80 miles of trails as the largest forested natural area within city limits in the country.
Why Do It? Flanking the hills on the west side of the city and overlooking the Willamette River, it’s popular with hikers, runners, dog walkers, off-road cyclists and bird watchers.
Good to Know: In addition to providing a respite from urban life, the park supports over 112 bird and 62 mammal species.
What Is It? Known as one of the world’s greatest bookstores, Powell’s is the largest independent bookstore on the planet.
Why Do It? In fact, at its flagship store, known as Powell’s City of Books on Burnside Street, which boasts 8,000 square feet, nine rooms, three floors and 3,500 sections, you’ll need a map to find your way around so it’s a good thing that the shop provides one.
Good to Know: This store is a lot more than just a great bookstore, but a true microcosm of the city, with its smart and eclectic offerings, its own coffee shop and plenty of passionate people. Do as locals do, check out the aisles and aisles of books, pick up a cup of coffee and enjoy the old fashioned art of thumbing through the paper pages.
What Is It? No visit to the city could possibly be complete without going to the world-famous Voodoo Doughnuts.
Why Do It? This Portland icon offers a rotating and regular menu of unique doughnuts with names like the Voodoo Doll, a sinfully indulgent raised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake, and the Grape Ape, featuring vanilla frosting, grape dust and lavender sprinkles. There are even caffeinated and vegan delights too.
Good to Know: If there is ever a place that exemplifies that slogan “Keep Portland Weird,” this is it. Really big fans of the place have even gotten married here as Voodoo is happy to provide the service.
What Is It? While going to the movies is not something many people do while on vacation, in Portland, it offers the chance to experience something more unique as the city really takes movie-going to a whole new level.
Why Do It? The “brew ‘n’ view” theaters run the gamut from swanky to funky, serving a wide range of brews, food and films. Even better, admission is less than $10, and at some places, it’s only the cost of a pint. A number of McMenamins properties, a company run by two brothers who specialize in preserving local landmarks and turning them into artful entertainment centers, feature movie theaters that show recent releases, cult classics and art films along with handcrafted ales and pub fare.
Good to Know: Other great options to check out include Living Room Theaters, a downtown art house featuring new indie and foreign films on six screens, along with a gourmet menu and full bar, and Hollywood Theatre, a historic staple in the Hollywood neighborhood since 1926.
What Is It? The city’s major league soccer team, the Portland Timbers, has a large and loyal following – so much so, that it’s earned Portland another nickname: “Soccer City USA,” and going to a game is one of the hottest tickets in town.
Why Do It? The atmosphere is one that many other MLS soccer teams are trying to recreate, but it’s something that’s truly fan-generated, and Portland’s offers an especially good opportunity for getting to know the locals.
Good to Know: Winning is everything to Timbers’ fans, who you’ll see wearing scarves that read “No Pity” and hear them shout chants through the entire match, taking it up a notch when their arch-rivals like the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps come to town. If you aren’t lucky enough to nab a ticket, it can be almost as fun to watch at a sports bar which is sure to be filled with cheering fans.
What Is It? One of the city’s true hidden gems, visitors rarely stumble upon the mysterious Rimsky Korsokoffee House.
Why Do It? An original “Keep Portland Weird” coffee shop, it’s tucked away in an unmarked Victorian home in southeast Portland, open nightly for dessert and coffee. It’s famous among locals for its ghostly atmosphere, live classical music and to-die-for housemade desserts. With absolutely no advertising and limited hours, its atmosphere is what’s kept it open and busy for more than a quarter-century.
Good to Know: Owner Goody Cable swears that the place is haunted by its former tenants, a pair of writers who bore witness to the Russian revolution, which is why each table is named for deceased composers.
What Is It? The oldest zoo in the West, in existence for 128 years, the Oregon Zoo is located just minutes from downtown and is home to 2,200 animals from over 260 species.
Why Do It? The stars are its herd of Asian elephants. Just last year, their exhibit, Elephant Lands, quadrupled in size and added new features like the pond with remote-controlled water jets so they can enjoy some playtime.
Good to Know: In addition to the elephants, visitors can get up close to everything from creatures like the African hedgehog and Visayan warty pigs to rhinos, monkeys, sea lions, polar bears, penguins and tigers.
What Is It? Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is referred locally as the OMSI. It sits on the east bank of the Willamette River across from Waterfront Park and is interesting for kids and adults alike.
Why Do It? If you’ve got kids along, they’ll enjoy fun learning with the multiple hands-on exhibits devoted to physics, chemistry, weather patterns and geothermic activity. There’s also a motion simulator and a science playground designed for kids ages six and younger. Movie buffs will appreciate OMSI’s USS Blueback submarine, which was used to shoot “The Hunt for Red October.”
Good to Know: After exploring all of the exhibits, visitors can take in a show at the IMAX Theater, or head to the planetarium to be mesmerized by the stars. If you don’t have kids along with you, you may want to go to OMSI After Dark, which offers the chance to enjoy the museum in an adults-only environment with a microbrew in hand.
What Is It? One of the more interesting ways to get to know Portlanders and their city is to catch some live theater.
Why Do It? There a number of outdoor venues found throughout the city, including Washington Park, Laurelhurst Park and Mt. Tabor Park, in an event known as “Portland Actors Shakespeare in the Park.”
Good to Know: Bring along a picnic and a blanket, and get ready to enjoy one of the best free attractions in the city
What Is It? If you’ve ever watched the television show “Portlandia,” you probably got the impression that people who live in Portland love brunch – and you’re right, it’s not something that was made up for the sake of the script.
Why Do It? That’s at least partly because of the Screen Door which serves up amazing dishes like chicken and waffles, hush puppies with bacon and smoked cheddar, and, of course, biscuits and gravy. Just beware that the eatery doesn’t take reservations, so you may have a wait to get in.
Good to Know: Other good brunch options in town include Tin Shed and Tasty N’ Sons.
What Is It? While biking is huge in this city, zoobombing is altogether different – and, it’s quintessential Portland.
Why Do It? In this bizarre sport, people race down the hills by the Oregon zoo on tiny kids’ bikes every week, dressed in costumes, or sometimes nothing at all.
Good to Know: If you don’t happen to have your own kid-sized bicycle, in the spirit that’s typical of Portland’s attitude about sharing, a tower of mini-bikes sits anchored to a bicycle rack known as “Zoobomb Point” is available. The pile of bikes has also become a popular local landmark.