Portland, Oregon, is a delight to visit. It has everything a visitor could possibly want: great food, great shopping and great sights to see. The Willamette River bisects the state’s largest city and joins with the mighty Columbia at Portland’s north boundary, giving the city the nickname River City. Portland also is known as the Rose City, because of its outstanding Rose Garden and the Rose Festival it’s hosted since 1907; more than a half-million people turn out for the Grand Floral parade every June. So why should travelers stay home when they can visit the amazing attractions in Portland?
Best Organized Tours
- Portland Sightseeing Tour Including Columbia Gorge Waterfalls · 395 reviews
- Oregon Coast Day Trip: Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock · 158 reviews
- Mt Hood, Multnomah Falls, and Hood River from Portland · 121 reviews
- Portland to Multnomah Falls and Columbia River Gorge Tour · 99 reviews
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.
The Oregon Zoo, then known as the Portland Zoo, made global headlines in 1962 with the birth of Packy, the first elephant born in captivity in 44 years. Today the zoo is the pre-eminent breeding center for captive elephants in the world. The zoo was founded in 1888, making it the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi. The zoo may have started with only two bears, but today it has more than 1,800 animals belonging to 232 species, including several, like the condor, that are endangered. Visitors pressed for time can take the zoo railway to the edge of the park and back.
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.