Straddling the banks of the winding Willamette River, Portland is Oregon’s largest city, being home to roughly half of the state’s entire population. While its lively yet laidback atmosphere, thriving cultural scene and wealth of wonderful gardens all make it a very desirable place to live, the ‘City of Roses’ is also an increasingly popular tourist destination.
Once a grimy port city, it is now instead known for its brilliant craft breweries, coffee shops and counterculture scene. As it is divided into lots of different neighborhoods, there are always new things to do in Portland with lovely parks and gardens scattered throughout town. Add in all the stunning scenery and nature that lies nearby, its magnificent dining scene and interesting historic tourist attractions, and it is no wonder that Portland is such a great place to visit.
A very popular and picturesque place to wander around, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is home to an astounding array of colorful flowers, plants and trees. Set just fifteen minutes’ drive to the southeast of the centre, it is named for its numerous springs with stupendous scenery and nature wherever you look.
Established in 1950, the gorgeous garden now contains more than 2,500 rhododendrons, azaleas and other plants all lovingly laid out alongside pretty paths and ponds. While visiting during fall is a treat due to its fabulous foliage, spring and summer are equally rewarding as all kinds of colorful flowers are in bloom.
As the city is located in one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the country, no visit can ever be complete without stopping by the fantastic Portland Farmers’ Market. Such is its staggering success, it now operates six markets around town with Tuesday being the only day the vendors take off.
While most only open during the sunny summer months, the flagship Saturday market at Portland State University operates year-round. Widely considered to be one of the best farmers’ markets in the States, it has hundreds of stalls selling fresh produce, baked goods and hot coffee to peruse with live music and cooking demos also on offer.
Thanks to its fertile surroundings, Portland is also a wonderful place to go wine tasting with over five hundred wineries located in the Willamette Valley alone. With so many to stop by and so much stunning scenery to take in, it is well worth taking a few days to explore the valley or a tour which takes you around its verdant vineyards.
Particularly known for its Pinot noir, the rural region also produces Pinot gris, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon alongside other kinds of grapes. In atmospheric tasting rooms you try delicious wines paired with local produce while basking in beautiful views over the vineyards and learning how the wines are produced.
Another of the park and Portland’s top attractions is the brilliant Oregon Zoo which lies not far from both lovely gardens. Home to an astounding array of animals from all around the world, its spacious enclosures and exhibits are a treat to explore and are very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Founded in 1888, the zoo now contains more than 1,800 animals with elephants and orangutans to be spotted next to lions, bears and pandas. While some areas focus on animals and ecosystems from the Pacific Northwest, others instead transport you to Africa, Asia and the Arctic with educational shows and even concerts also taking place at the zoo.
Home to lots of incredible paintings, sculptures and drawings, the excellent Portland Art Museum can be found right in the heart of downtown. Set across three buildings are exquisite exhibitions on Native American art and galleries full of Asian artworks with masterpieces by Monet, Picasso and Renoir also on show among others.
Impressively the oldest museum in the Pacific Northwest, it was founded in 1892 with its collection now encompassing more than 42,000 artworks. As you amble about the massive museum, you’ll see everything from gorgeous Japanese screen prints and sparkling silverwork to contemporary photo displays and visual arts installations.
Just half an hour’s drive to the east of the city you can find one of the most spectacular sights in the state – the majestic Multnomah Falls. Towering to 620 feet in height, it makes for some fabulous photos and is the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest.
Set in a very scenic spot, the falls flow down two craggy cliffs with verdant foliage and undergrowth lying all around them. Besides gazing up at their glittering waters from down below or from the small footbridge that crosses the lower cascades, visitors can also hike to their top for even more phenomenal panoramas.
Yet another peaceful and picturesque place to spend some time in the city is the marvelous Portland Japanese Garden which lies just a short drive from the center. Set within Washington Park, it has pretty paths, ponds and pagodas for you to enjoy with little stone lanterns and streams dotted about.
Since being founded in 1967, the gardens have grown and grown and now have lots of delightfully different areas for guests to explore. While some feature cascading ponds and waterfalls, others are home to mosses, ferns and shrubs with traditional tea houses and cherry blossom trees also on show.
As Portland is known as the ‘City of Roses’, no visit to town can ever be complete without taking a leisurely stroll around the International Rose Test Garden. Also part of Washington Park, it sprawls over a huge area with colorful flowers, fountains and manicured lawns wherever you look.
The oldest garden of its kind in the country, it was first opened to the public in 1917 and now boasts over 10,000 rose bushes of some six hundred or so varieties. The best time to visit is between April and September as all the flowers are in bloom and their sweet scents waft through the air.
Portland visitors seeking an outdoor wilderness adventure may not realize it’s closer than they think. The city’s Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United State. It was envisioned in 1903 by the sons of the man who designed New York City’s Central Park, but it didn’t become a reality until 1948.
The park, located in the Tualatin Mountains, overlooks northwest Portland. The park offers more than 80 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Users must stay on their allotted trails to avoid harming the lush vegetation and wildlife.
Passengers on the Portland Aerial Tram can get a bird’s eye view of the city as they ride 500 feet above the city. The tram travels from South Waterfront to Marquam Hill, passing over houses, businesses and freeways. The trip four minutes as the tram cars zoom along at 22 mph.
The tram cars hold 79 people and include commuters as well as visiting passengers. The upper level has an observation deck, with views stretching as far away as Oregon’s iconic Mt. Hood and Washington’s Mt. Saint Helens. The upper terminal also has an enclosed sky bridge that is the largest in North America.
Nestled among the woods of the West Hills is one of Portland’s most loved landmarks: the Pittock Mansion. Newspaper publisher Henry Pittock started construction on the French Renaissance-style chateau in 1909. It was finished in 1914, just five years before his death in 1919.
The mansion featured 46 eclectically decorated rooms overlooking downtown Portland. The city bought the house in 1964, sinking millions of dollars into its restoration. Some visitors may recognize the house since it’s starred in several films and TV shows, including First Love, Unhinged and The Amazing Race.
Science buffs won’t want to miss out seeing the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, known locally as OMSI, when they visit Portland. The museum offers a host of exhibits and hands-on activities dealing with natural sciences, industry and technology. OMSI also has a planetarium.
A submarine exhibit features the USS Blueback, which was featured in the movie The Hunt for Red October. Changing exhibits, such as one on food, expand its scope. A visit to OMSI could easily be combined with a visit to the Oregon Zoo since they are adjacent to each other.
Shoppers looking for something different in the way of arts and crafts, handmade clothing and jewelry, or food likely will be able to find these items and a whole lot more at the Portland Saturday Market. This popular market draws about a million visitors during its open months of March through December.
The non-profit group, which has been operating the market since 1974, lists 350 vendor/members who sell their wares at Waterfront Park in the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood. The name Portland Saturday Market may be a misnomer, however, since the market also is open on Sunday.
Portland is a very pretty city, but it can also be a very busy one. A good place to escape the hustle and bustle is the Grotto Gardens, known officially as the Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother. This national Catholic shrine is dedicated to Mary and operated by the Order of the Friar Servants of Mary.
You don’t have to be Catholic, however, to experience the sense of peace and serenity the garden has. Lush greenery provides an oasis of quiet and has been since 1924. The centerpiece of the garden is Our Lady Grotto, a statue of Mary carved into a 110-foot high cliff.
Travelers who want to experience a traditional Chinese garden without having to visit the Middle Kingdom should head, instead, for Lan Su Chinese Garden. Since one of Portland’s sister cities is Suzhou, China, it was only natural for Suzhou artisans to travel here to recreate a Ming Dynasty garden.
This botanical garden is based on the Chinese tradition of melding design, architecture and nature in a harmonious setting. Also known as “the Garden of Awakening Orchids,” Lan Su Chinese Garden showcases plants, some quite rare, that are native to China. A traditional tea house offers visitors a place to relax.
The name Pearl District may be a misnomer. While visitors may be able to find pearl jewelry there, the area got its name because of its trendiness. As one of Portland’s hottest neighborhoods, it’s full of great restaurants, art galleries, unique boutiques and businesses that want to be where it’s all happening in downtown Portland.
Book lovers will especially love the Pearl District since its home to the original Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest independent book seller that has more than a million new and used books in 3,500 sections for sale.
Washington Park is one of the city’s oldest parks, dating back to 1891. As such, it is filled with history and some of the best known tourist attractions in Portland. There are memorials to the Lewis & Clark Expedition and their guide, Sacajawea. The park center is home to the cast-iron Chiming Fountain that features gargoyles at the base.It was created by a Swiss woodcarver who modeled it after a Renaissance fountain.
Plus, the city’s first zoo was located here. The park is also home to one of the most highly ranked Japanese garden in North America and the outstanding Rose Garden, the flower Portland is famous for. Because Washington Park is so popular, parking is limited during the summer months; the city recommends MAX Light Rail instead.