Looking for unique things to do in Portland, Maine?
I’ve visited Portland from Boston several times (makes for an awesome day trip !) and always find new fun things to do. There are several popular activities like visiting the famous Portland Head Light or going on a whale-watching tour.
But if you’re looking for other things that go beyond the most well-known tourist attractions, this list is for you!
Read on for 37 unique things to do in Portland, Maine!
Portland is Maine’s largest city, with 40% of the state’s population residing in the Portland metropolitan area. It’s an interesting city, because while it gives off some historic New England vibes, it also has an eclectic, hipster edge to it.
Because of this, you will find a very unique mixture of things to do in Portland. From exploring old mansions and bookstores to visiting Big Foot and umbrella cover museums (yes, both of those things exist), you will never have a dull moment here.
37 Unique Things to Do in Portland, Maine
1. International Cryptozoology Museum
Okay, let’s start off with something super unique. In Portland, Maine, you can visit the world’s only cryptozoology museum, the International Cryptozoology Museum.
What is cryptozoology, you might ask? Apparently it’s the study of hidden or unknown animals.
Here you’ll find specimens of Abominable Snowmen, Bigfoot, Yowie, and more.
Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids 12 and under (babies can go in for free).
Hours: Open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
2. Umbrella Cover Museum
Say what? Yes, for something very unique to do in Portland Maine, stop by the Umbrella Cover Museum on Peaks Island, just off the coast of Portland. You can get there by taking the ferry from the Maine State Pier.
The museum’s mission statement expresses the purpose of its unusual concept pretty well: “The Umbrella Cover Museum is dedicated to the appreciation of the mundane in everyday life.”
Here you can find umbrella covers from 71 different countries.
The museum also regularly features singing of “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella” with accordion accompaniment.
The museum is free to visit but a $5 donation is requested.
Hours: Open Memorial Day to Labor Day from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sunday, and Monday by appointment.
3. Tate House Museum
Want to learn how New England’s forests strengthened the British Royal Army and led to rebellion? Visit the Tate House Museum, home of Maine’s last mast agent.
Mast agents were responsible for finding white pines that would make the masts of large ships. Talk about a unique job.
Tickets are $16 for adults, $7 for kids 6-12, and free for kids 5 and under.
Hours: Tours are available June through October on Wednesday through Saturday. The tours take place every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
4. Maine Jewish Museum
Located in Portland’s historic East End neighborhood, the Maine Jewish Museum is the perfect place to learn about Maine’s Jewish immigrants, as well as see art exhibits from people who are connected to Maine and Jewish culture.
See Jack Montgomery’s photo of all the Holocaust survivors who settled in Maine, as well as exhibits on Maine’s Jewish history and its various synagogues.
You can also tour the museum’s gardens that have some access to ocean views.
Hours: Open every day except Saturday from 11 am. to 4 p.m.
5. Bug Light
See Portland Head Light’s little cousin, Bug Light (officially named Portland Breakwater Light, but Bug Light is so much better). It was first built in 1855 and replaced in 1875.
The lighthouse stands at only 26 feet tall, making it famous for its small size.
Bug Light Park itself is a nice place for a walk, with amazing views of the Portland Harbor and city of Portland. During the summer, they also have movie nights and other fun events in the park.
Hours: Open every day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
6. Victoria Mansion
Tour this historic home built in 1858, which is a National Historic Landmark and one of the best preserved examples of an Italian Villa in the United States.
The mansion still contains more than 90% of its original interiors, making it a really special National Historic Landmark.
Adult tickets cost $16, children and teens ages 6-17 cost $5, and kids under 6 go for free.
Hours: Open May 1-October 31, 2022, every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
7. Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad
For another unique experience in Portland, Maine, take a ride on a historic narrow gauge train at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum. Narrow gauge trains, which ran on a 2-foot-wide railroad track, were unique to Maine in the late 19th century.
The trains were determined to be cheaper and more efficient for hauling supplies throughout the state’s rough and mountainous landscape.
Now you can ride on some of the preserved trains on a 1.5-mile scenic stretch of 2-foot railroad along Casco Bay.
Hours: Trains leave on the hour every day at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m.. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $9 for kids ages 3-12, and are free for kids 2 and under.
8. Wadsworth-Longfellow House
Tour the childhood home of New England’s famous literary genius, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a Portland native.
The house was built by his grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, in 1785-1786. It was Maine’s first house museum to be opened to the public and is a National Historic Landmark.
Nearly all of the artifacts inside are original to the Wadsworth-Longfellow family.
Another interesting fact about the house is that it was the very first all-brick home to be constructed in Portland.
Tickets for adults cost $15 and for kids ages 6-17 they are $5. Kids 5 and under can enter for free.
Hours: Open June-October from Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
9. Fort Gorges
In the middle of Casco Bay is Fort Gorges, an old military fortress built in 1864.
Oddly enough, by the time the fort was finished, it was already considered obsolete because of newer military advancements.
It ended up only being used as a storage facility in World War I and World War II, and then the U.S. government conveyed it to the City of Portland in 1960.
The fort has been in a state of disrepair ever since, but the Friends of Fort Gorges group is committed to preserving it.
You can book a private tour of the fort by contacting them, as it is only accessible by boat.
10. Battery Steele
On Peaks Island in Casco Bay is Battery Steele, a military fortification that was completed in 1942 for World War II. It is one of the largest gun batteries ever built in the United States.
It is now on the National Register of Historic Places and can be explored by the public. The gun battery is filled with graffiti and other art that people have added over the years.
The location of Battery Steele isn’t too shabby either. It sits on a 14-acre preserve with scenic views of the ocean.
11. Portland Observatory
Catch a bird’s-eye view of Portland from the Portland Observatory, an 86-foot tower poised on Munjoy Hill. It was first constructed in 1807 as a way to view ships from up to 30 miles away.
The Portland Observatory remained in operation as a signal tower until 1923 when the invention of the radio made its purpose no longer necessary.
But thanks to citizens who made sure the tower was preserved over the years, it is now a National Historic Landmark and the only historic maritime signal station that remains intact in the United States.
Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 6-17, and are free for kids ages 5 and under.
Hours: From May 28-October 10, guided tours are available Thursday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
From June 7-September 8, self-guided tours are available on Tuesday and Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
12. Portland Freedom Trail
Many people know about the Boston Freedom Trail, but Portland has its own, too. Only this trail symbolizes something completely different.
The Portland Freedom Trail is a self-guided walking tour through about 2 miles of the city, where you can learn about the impact Black Mainers had on the abolitionist movement.
Many Black families in the state were involved in the Underground Railroad, shepherding formerly enslaved people through Maine and into Canada. Travel in their footsteps to better understand the sacrifices they made for freedom.
13. Lobsterman Statue
Another unique thing to see in Portland, Maine is the Lobsterman statue at Lobsterman Park on 1 Temple Street. The man represented by the statue is lifelong fisherman H. Elroy Johnson from Bailey Island, one of the Casco Islands.
Johnson used to visit the State House in Portland to advocate for Maine’s fishermen and lobstermen. At age 71, he was still fishing for lobster with 400 traps.
The original Lobsterman Statue was made by Portland sculptor Victor Kahill for the Maine exhibit of the 1939 World Fair in New York.
After the fair, the statue was brought back to Portland and had several different homes before landing at the Maine State Museum.
Three replicas of the statue were made afterward, one of which you can see at Lobsterman Park.
14. Portland Farmers’ Market
Sample some of the freshest produce in the city at the Portland Farmers’ Market. Browse the booths of 35 local farmers and find special Maine products like wild blueberries, mushrooms, and oysters.
The farmers’ market is located in Deering Oaks Park.
Note: Most farmers accept credit cards, but bring cash if you want to be sure you can shop at all booths.
Hours: Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. through November 23.
15. Portland Flea-for-All
Check out Portland’s go-to source for all things handmade, vintage, or antique, the Portland Flea-for-All. You could easily spend several hours browsing for hidden treasures in the more than 10,000-square-foot space.
The Flea buys and sells furniture, housewares, clothing and vinyl.
Chances are you will find something totally unique that you didn’t even realize you needed in your life.
Hours: Open every Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
16. The Black Box
For a unique retail experience, see the Black Box shops on Washington Street.
There are five shops in the Black Box – a repurposed shipping container – at any given point in time. Each shop has only about 300 square feet of space to work with.
The units are rented to businesses month by month, offering them flexibility to test out a concept or use the space for some other more temporal purpose.
17. Treehouse Toys
Embrace your inner child by browsing through the Treehouse Toys shop on Exchange Street.
They have the cutest selection of stuffed animals and toys, which they take time to curate from high-quality manufacturers.
Hours: Open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
18. Sherman’s Books & Stationary
Sherman’s is Maine’s oldest bookstore, with five locations across the state, including Exchange Street in Portland.
It’s a book lover’s paradise, with its floor-to-ceiling bookcases that give off Beauty and the Beast vibes. But as the picture below indicates, no, unfortunately you can’t glide across the store on a ladder like Belle.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
19. Salt Cellar
If you’re looking for unique, the Salt Cellar literally has a sign outside of its shop that says “Portland’s most unique shop!”
At the corner of Market and Middle Streets, you will find this shop that specializes in gourmet sea salt and bath products made with minerals from around the world.
Hours: Open every day from 10 am. to 6 p.m.
20. Richard Boyd Art Gallery
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this gallery is the owners, Richard Boyd and Pamela Williamson, operate it for free.
The small commissions they receive from art sales go to covering overhead costs for the gallery. Any expenses that aren’t covered by commissions are paid from their retirement account.
Richard and Pamela just love art and feel it should be free for the public to view.
Hours: Open daily April-October from 10 am.-5 p.m. and November-March on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Tours & Entertainment
21. The Real Portland Tour
While the vintage fire truck tour is unique and gives a nice overview of the city, for a real insider look, book a Real Portland Tour.
These tours are run by a man who was born and raised in Portland and knows the ins and outs of the city.
You’ll see the main sights that you could visit on any other tour, but he’ll also take you to some hidden gems.
The tour lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes and costs costs $49 for adults and $44 for kids 12 and under.
22. Lucky Catch Cruise
Ever wondered what it’s like on a lobster boat? You can find out by booking a Lucky Catch Cruise with real lobstermen during the summer months.
They will take you on an 80-minute boat tour, where you can see the entire process of setting and tending to lobster traps.
You’ll also get to see lighthouses and historic sites along the way.
Adults ride for $40, teens 13-18 for $35, kids 2-12 for $25, and kids under 2 go for free. Book a tour here.
23. Vintage Fire Truck Sightseeing Tour
Nothing says unique like touring a city in a vintage fire truck! These 50-minute tours are run by the Portland Fire Engine Co. and narrated by knowledgeable guides who know the city inside and out.
You’ll learn all about Portland’s historic buildings, forts, and lighthouses.
Because the tour is pretty short, it could be a great way to begin your time in Portland and become more acquainted with the city.
Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for children. The tour begins at 180 Commercial St. in Portland.
Hours: Tours take place every day at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m.
Note: Reserve your spot online ahead of time, since the truck can only accommodate 13 people at a time.
24. Casco Bay Islands
Hop on a Casco Bay Lines ferry to one of the Casco Islands, just off shore from Portland.
The ferry goes to six different islands from the Maine State Pier: Peaks Island, Little Diamond Island, Great Diamond Island, Long Island, Chebeague Island, and Cliff Island.
- Chebeague Island: The largest island in Casco Bay, with its own inn and restaurants.
- Cliff Island: The smallest year-round island in Casco Bay, with only 60 residents and a one-room schoolhouse for 6 students.
- Great Diamond Island: The most luxurious of the islands, with the Inn at Diamond Cove and several nice restaurants. You can also tour the historic Fort McKinley and watch boats come and go at the marina.
- Little Diamond Island: This is mostly a private island that connects to Great Diamond Island via a thin sandbar during low tide.
- Long Island: This island is best known for Sandy Beach where the sand is said to “sing” beneath your feet. It has scenic paths that are great to tour by bicycle. (But you’ll need to bring your own bike on the ferry, as there are no places to rent on the island.)
- Peaks Island: Probably the most bustling of all the islands, it is only about 17 minutes from the mainland. It has several restaurants and cafes and stunning ocean views, making for a fun side adventure during your visit to Portland. It is also home to the famous Battery Steele military fortification.
If I could only choose one island to visit, I would pick Peaks Island.
You can purchase ferry tickets at the terminal at Maine State Pier. Tickets can’t be reserved ahead of time, so they recommend arriving at least 30 minutes before departure time to get your tickets.
Adult tickets range from about $8-$12 round-trip, depending on which island you choose. Tickets for kids ages 5-13 cost between $4 and $6, and kids under 5 get to ride for free.
Hours: Boat schedules vary by island but typically leave every 2-4 hours from morning to night. See the exact schedules on the Casco Bay Lines website.
25. Palace Playland
Take a break from sightseeing to enjoy Portland’s 5-acre, beachfront amusement park, Palace Playland.
The park has 28 different rides and is home to Maine’s largest arcade, which has more than 250 games and attractions.
Fun fact: Palace Playland has no set closing time! It depends completely on weather and attendance. For a general operating schedule, visit their website.
26. Thompson’s Point
Enjoy a concert under the stars at Thompson’s Point, home to a large, open-air stage that hosts performances during the warmer months.
There are several food trucks stationed there during events where you can grab a bite to eat.
See the show line-up for the remainder of 2022.
27. Lyric Music Theater
See a show at the Lyric Music Theater, which has been entertaining guests in Portland for the last 70 years.
They feature a variety of Broadway performances, including both the classics and more modern varieties.
View their 2022-2023 schedule here.
28. Eastern Promenade
Created by the same company that designed New York’s Central Park and the Boston Common, Eastern Promenade is Portland’s own special city park.
Located on the east end of the Portland peninsula, this 68-acre park offers sweeping views of the Portland Harbor and Casco Bay.
There are basketball and tennis courts, a baseball field, and a playground, along with plenty of trails to make for a nice harbor stroll.
Note that the Eastern Promenade is close to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, if you already have the train on your itinerary.
29. Deering Oaks Park
Deering Oaks Park is a 55-acre park not far from downtown Portland that was designed in 1879 by city engineer William Goodwin.
His original intent was for the park to remain completely natural with no lights or buildings added, but as soon as 1883, a bandstand was built in it.
Later came a Victorian duck house (it’s super cute!), a “Castle” to be used as a warming hut for ice skaters, a playground, and more.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day
Food & Drink
30. Harbor Fish Market
For some of the freshest seafood in Maine, stop by Harbor Fish Market. It has been a local landmark since the 1800s, located on the picture-perfect Custom House Wharf.
The lobsters at Harbor Fish Market come fresh off the boat and sit in circulating ocean water for a short time before being sold to customers. You can’t really get much fresher than that!
If you’re looking to take some lobster home with you, they can even pack it for you in a variety of containers based on the length of your trip.
Hours: Monday-Saturday from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sunday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Indulge in a cone of crispy, duckfat-fried Belgian frites at Duckfat, which has been in operation in Portland since 2005.
It was founded by husband and wife Rob Evans and Nancy Pugh, who were inspired to open their own frites shop after a visit to Amsterdam.
Hours: Open every day except Wednesday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. except for Tuesday (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
32. Susan’s Fish & Chips
For yummy fried seafood at a great price, stop by Susan’s Fish & Chips. It’s in a very unassuming building, but the food has been featured in newspapers, magazines, and TV shows across the country.
Grab some lobster on a stick, fried clams, chowders, deep fried ice cream, and more. (And now my stomach is growling. I really shouldn’t be writing this during lunchtime.)
Hours: Open every day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
33. Fore Street Restaurant
If you are interested in a more upscale, sustainable dining experience, look no further than Fore Street Restaurant. Located in Portland’s Old Port, this restaurant only sources local ingredients.
The menu changes every day based on what the farmers, fishermen, and foragers bring in, so you’ll be in for a bit of a surprise when you arrive.
But one thing you can know for sure is you’ll have amazingly fresh and unique options to choose from, including varieties of wood-grilled and turnspit-roasted meat and seafood.
Hours: Fore Street is open every evening for dinner, starting at 5 p.m. You’ll probably want to call ahead to reserve a table.
34. Gorgeous Gelato
Why not taste some authentic Italian gelato during your time in Portland? Gorgeous Gelato has a yummy selection of flavors, including cinnamon, coconut, hazelnut, and their signature flavor: “Gorgeous.”
Hours: Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. t0 11 p.m.
35. The Porthole
For a classic, northeast diner experience, go to The Porthole, established in 1929. It started out as a breakfast place for lobstermen before they went out for a busy day of fishing.
If you are looking for lobster, this is your place. The restaurant also has a back deck with views of the water to add to the dining experience.
It can get busy in the summer time, so you’re likely to have shorter wait times if you go during the off season. But even if you do go in summer, it will be worth the wait.
Hours: Open Sunday-Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday-Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
36. Green Elephant
Maine is known for its seafood, but if you’re craving something different, try the Asian-inspired vegetarian food at Green Elephant.
The owner first got inspiration from Thailand in creating the menu, but now it is a fusion of Thai, Malaysian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian flavors.
He also tries to source local ingredients as much as possible to promote sustainability. Definitely worth giving a try!
Hours: Open Thursday-Saturday for lunch from 11:30 am.-2:30 p.m. and Tuesday-Sunday for dinner from 5-9:30 p.m.
37. Dobra Tea
Care for a spot of tea? Visit Dobra Tea on Exchange Street, where you’ll find a large selection of teas inside a cozy, artsy space.
The owners of Dobra Tea pride themselves on sourcing traditional and organic teas and educating people on the tea farming process.
They may also have live music or some other artistic event going on inside when you visit.
Hours: Open Wednesday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Tips on Visiting Portland, Maine
Unique Places to Stay
Black Elephant Hostel
Portland has its very own hostel, Black Elephant Hostel, that looks very similar to the hostels you can find in Europe. The rooms are all decorated with fun wallpaper and modern fixtures.
Depending on your budget, you can either reserve a bed in a shared room or book a private room. Linens and towels are provided free of charge.
Pomegranate Inn has a splash of eclectic colors and patterns. Each room is completely different, forcing you to pause and take in every detail.
From bold wallpaper to mismatched upholstery to vintage furniture, the Pomegranate Inn understands what it means to be unique.
Stay in a renovated nineteenth-century home, the Blind Tiger, located in the heart of Portland. Each morning, a variety of fresh, complimentary pastries are up for grabs in the pantry. Fresh coffee, tea, and homemade snacks are also available throughout the day.
A fun extra little detail: Blind Tiger provides picnic blankets and baskets for guests who want to enjoy a relaxed meal on the grass at Deering Oaks Park or Eastern Promenade.
A signature hotel in Portland, the Press Hotel is luxury at its finest. It’s a seven-story hotel in the former Gannett Building, the historic headquarters of the Portland Press Herald, Maine’s largest newspaper.
Each corner of this hotel has been meticulously designed to play on the building’s history, which is bound to give you a one-of-a-kind experience you will never forget.
Best Time to Go to Portland, Maine
Portland is always beautiful, but many of the places listed above are only open during the warmer months. And if you’re a seafood fanatic, you’ll likely get the best varieties during warmer months as well.
However, July and August can be very hot and crowded. Lots of places are still open in May, June, and September, so to avoid long lines and have more comfortable temperatures, you may opt to go during one of those months.
Of course, the chance of rain is higher in May, so maybe go with June or September. Okay, that’s my final answer. 🙂
How to Get to and Around Portland, Maine
There are five main airports that are near Portland. They are listed below from closest to farthest.
- Portland Airport (PWM): Only 2.7 miles from downtown Portland
- Manchester Airport (MHT): 1 hour and 30 minutes south of Portland
- Rockland Airport (RKD): 1 hour and 40 minutes north of Portland
- Bangor Airport (BGR): 2 hours north of Portland
- Boston Logan Airport (BOS): 2 hours south of Portland
- From Boston, Massachusetts, Portland is an easy two-hour drive up I-95.
- From Providence, Rhode Island, it’s 2 hours and 41 minutes up I-95.
- From Hartford, Connecticut, it’s 3 hours and 15 minutes north via I-495 and I-95.
- From Albany, New York, it’s 4 hours and 20 minutes northeast via I-90, I-495, and I-95.
Wrap-up: Unique Things to Do in Portland, Maine
If you are looking for unique things to do in Portland, Maine, you won’t run out of options.
Whether you choose to spend your time touring one-of-a-kind museums and historic sites, taking guided tours of the city, eating your way through the city, or a mixture of everything, I hope you have an amazing experience!
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