Top 12 Things to Do in Portland, Oregon

Last Updated on February 10, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Portland, Oregon overflows with vibrant culture, creative spirit, and progressive ideals across its diverse neighborhoods. Nestled between the rainy Pacific Northwest forests and rivers, Portland’s hipster havens tempt with artisan coffeehouses, inventive farm-to-table fare, indie boutiques, and hundreds of craft breweries.

AttractionDescription
Portland Japanese GardenA serene space showcasing Japanese gardening styles.
International Rose Test GardenFeatures over 10,000 rose bushes of 600 varieties.
Forest ParkOne of the country’s largest urban forests with trails and views.
Powell’s City of BooksThe world’s largest independent bookstore.
Portland Saturday MarketA weekend market under the Burnside Bridge.
Pioneer Courthouse SquareKnown as “Portland’s living room,” hosting events and food carts.
Washington ParkOffers gardens, forests, and attractions like the Japanese Garden.
Columbia River GorgeScenic area known for its waterfalls and hiking trails.
Deschutes BreweryA craft brewery with tours and tastings.
Portland Aerial TramOffers views of the city and the Willamette River.
Director ParkA park in the shopping district with a fountain and art.
ConclusionHighlights Portland’s balance of urban and natural attractions.

Outdoorsy types fall hard for Portland’s accessibility to hiking in Forest Park’s 5,000 wooded acres, running along the scenic Willamette River waterfront trails, and exploring the Columbia River Gorge cliffs and waterfalls. And families appreciate the city’s walkability, livability, and abundance of attractions catering to kids.

The top 12 things to do in Portland showcase must-see sights and hidden local gems to help you experience authentic Rip City soul. Read on to discover Portland’s singular attractions.

Portland Japanese Garden

Name and Location: The Portland Japanese Garden is a 5.5 acre authentic Japanese garden located within Washington Park in Southwest Portland.

History and Significance: Designed in 1963, the Portland Japanese Garden has been proclaimed as one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan,with eight garden styles replicated using Japanese master planning.

What to Expect: Walking paths winding through tranquil gardens featuring waterfalls, ponds, bridges, ornamental shrubs and cherry blossom trees with views of Mount Hood. Cultural experiences like tea ceremonies available.

Visitor Information: Open daily, hours vary by season. Admission fee adults $19.95. Arrive early or during off hours to avoid crowds. Parking limited so consider transit.

Spanning 5.5 acres in Washington Park, the Portland Japanese Garden provides a tranquil, authentic sanctuary reflecting Japanese harmony with nature across eight garden styles. Traditional Sand and Stone gardens exhibit elegant arrangements of meticulously raked pebbles and boulders, moss and pruned evergreens symbolizing essential natural elements. Stroll through the lacy shade of the Flat Garden’s cherry trees surrounding a tranquil pond. View endangered cranes roosting from the Natural Garden’s wetland vistas. Explore the pagoda overlooking the pond in the peaceful Strolling Pond Garden. And sit under cherry blossom trees in quiet contemplation within the classically styled Tea Garden. The Portland Japanese Garden demonstrates refined Asian landscape design with subtle beauty.

International Rose Test Garden

Name and Location: The International Rose Test Garden is a beloved Portland attraction situated at the western base of Mt. Tabor Park in Southeast Portland.

History and Significance: Founded in 1917, the International Rose Test Garden is home to over 10,000 rose bushes from over 650 varieties – making it one of the largest dedicated rose test gardens on Earth used to trial roses before distribution worldwide.

What to Expect: Strolling gravel paths amid one of the most diverse, extensively maintained rose gardens imaginable, set against a sweeping backdrop of Mt. Hood and downtown Portland skyline – especially fragrant and colorful between May and September.

Visitor Information: Open daily without fee. Early morning and late afternoon ideal times to avoid crowds. Limited street parking, overflow lot available. Frequent MAX light rail and bus service to site.

Portland celebrates its well-earned “City of Roses” nickname at the International Rose Test Garden, where over 10,000 rose bushes from 600 varieties bloom from April through October. Set upon a hillside within Washington Park, the stellar views overlooking scenic Portland serve as the perfect romantic backdrop while you stroll past sweetly perfumed beds of vibrant pink, red, yellow, orange and white roses imported from all over the world. Expert gardeners assist in annual competitions evaluating new rose hybrids for awards. Summer concerts and festivals add to the allure. For lush sensory experiences, the International Rose Test Garden provides Portland’s signature floral showcase.

Forest Park

Name and Location: At over 5,100 acres, Forest Park in Portland’s west hills is one of the country’s largest urban forests, attracting visitors to over 70 miles of trails through temperate rainforest terrain overlooking the city.

History and Significance: Preserved as a site for recreation and relaxation, Forest Park has been a beloved component of Portland culture since 1892 – for its forestry, extensive trail networks, variety of flora and fauna and breathtaking vistas of the Willamette River, St. Johns Bridge and the mountains from deep within the city.

What to Expect: Hiking, running, biking and equestrian riding along extensive trail routes for all levels within an exceptionally beautiful Pacific Northwest rainforest ecosystem teeming with giant ferns, maples and dozens of lush plant species throughout the park.

Visitor Information: 5am-10pm daily. Over 70 trailheads with many accessed from NW Thurman. Free admission. Seasonal naturalist led tours available.

At over 5,000 acres, Forest Park in Portland’s west hills ranks among the country’s largest urban forests, offering 80 miles of hiking trails past maple, cedar, hemlock and fir trees up to 250 years old. Escape the city without going far at sites like Pittock Mansion surrounded by flowering gardens with panoramic vistas over Portland. Mountain bikers cruise along the Leif Erikson Drive dirt road. Kayakers row through the densely forested protected waterway at Holman Lake. Wildwood Trail’s 30-mile loop provides top-notch hiking and trail running. And educational programs spotlight the park’s unique ecology. For outdoor adventure with easy park access, Forest Park lets you breathe in the restorative scent of tall pines just minutes from Downtown Portland.

Powell’s City of Books

Name and Location: Powell’s City of Books is a renowned independent bookstore located across multiple floors of a downtown Portland building that takes up a full block.

History and Significance: Opened in 1971, Powells lays claim to the largest independent bookstore in the world, stocking both new and used books while hosting author events almost nightly. The expansive Pearl District store has become an internationally famous Portland icon.

What to Expect: Routes lined with bookshelves organized into color coded rooms. Over 68,000 sq ft housing around 1 million new & used books over 3+ miles of shelves. Espressos & pastries at World Cup Cafe on site.

Visitor Information: Open 9am-9pm daily. Located downtown bordering Old Town/Chinatown. Sprawling free validated parking garage behind store off NW Park Ave.

As the largest independent bookstore in the world spanning an entire city block, Powell’s City of Books is the stuff of bookworm dreams. Its iconic multi-level Burnside location in central Downtown Portland offers over 1 million new and used books across 3500 sections. Bibliophiles get happily lost in vast rooms dedicated to special interests, local authors, small presses, travel guides, graphic novels, diverse kids’ reads and endless fiction and nonfiction options well-organized for easy discovery. Friendly staffers share literary wisdom. Shop for quirky bookish gifts at the gift shop. And sign up for readings, book talks or workshops with award-winning writers. However you read, Powell’s immersive paradise feeds the imagination on a grand literary scale.

Portland Saturday Market

Name and Location: Portland Saturday Market is an expansive arts and crafts outdoor market in Old Town Chinatown running weekends from March through Christmas Eve right under the Burnside Bridge.

History and Significance: Launched in 1974, the bustling Saturday Market serves as a launchpad for Portland makers, artists, crafters and cooks every weekend, providing a space to sell homemade goods while street performers entertain crowds browsing the rows of vendors.

What to Expect: All products must be handmade in Oregon so expect paintings, ceramics, glasswork, textiles, woodwork, jewelry, packaged foods and more from over 250 vendors alongside lively buskers and entertainers throughout the market footprint.

Visitor Information: Saturdays 10am-5pm, Sundays 11am-4:30pm. Free admission. Pet friendly. Easy walking access and Streetcar stop at NW 2nd Ave & Everett.

To see Portland talent and creativity on display under the iconic red Burnside Bridge every weekend, stop by the popular Portland Saturday Market. Open March through Christmas Eve, the Saturday Market brings 130+ artisans, farmers, bakers, and chefs together to sell their delicious foods and beautifully handcrafted works at bargain direct-to-consumer prices. Sample artisan cheeses, cured meats, or hot pad thai while admiring crafts like elegant jewelry, natural skincare products, stained glass, ceramics, wool apparel, blown glass pieces, wood carvings, original framed prints, and gift items galore. Street performers entertain the crowds with music, comedy, and dance. And themed weekends highlight traditions from Hawaiian culture to Oktoberfest. For distinctive gifts sourced locally, Portland Saturday Market packs a huge selection.

Pioneer Courthouse Square

Name and Location: Pioneer Courthouse Square, also known as “Portland’s living room”, is a public space filled with events located in the center of downtown Portland.

History and Significance: Built in 1984, Portland’s central public square hosts over 300 annual events for up to 30,000 people at a time, including summer concerts, festivals, performances, public meetings and downtown Portland’s Christmas tree and holiday celebrations.

What to Expect: Tables for lunching or playing games. Sunbathing and people watching on grassy areas. Rallies, music and events on the brick steps. Holiday festivities with Portland’s official Christmas tree as the centerpiece each winter.

Visitor Information: Open 24/7. Located above the transit hub at SW 5th Ave & Morrison St. Easy pedestrian access. Surrounded by downtown hotels, shopping and MAX Light Rail lines.

Nicknamed “Portland’s living room” for its welcoming central gathering spot, Pioneer Courthouse Square serves as the city’s cultural crossroads for celebrations, rallies, concerts, festivals, and everyday hangouts surrounded by food carts. Its most iconic feature? The ornate 1875 “Portlandia” statue depicting the goddess of commerce watching over the town perched above the entrance to the former hotel facing the square. Events fill Portland’s calendar at the Square, especially free summer concert series and the annual Christkindlmarkt holiday market. Year-round, locals congregate to play chess over food cart coffee, read on shaded stone benches near the flower stands overflowing with blooms, splash in the waterfall fountain, or take photos in the Ira Keller Memorial Fountain with 275 spurts to delight children of all ages. Capture quintessential Rip City vibes at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Washington Park

Name and Location: At over 400 acres, Portland’s Washington Park contains several world-class attractions like the International Rose Test Garden set within an expansive urban public park in the West Hills above downtown.

History and Significance: From 1883, Washington Park’s prominent hillside location has made it a prime Portland site for gardens, vistas, and attractions like the zoo and children’s museum suited to outdoor recreational use for residents and visitors exploring miles of trails.

What to Expect: Jogging trails, superb overlooks, rose testing grounds, glass-walled arboretum at the Japanese Garden, Science playgrounds nearby – Washington Park contains something for everyone among its sprawling gardens and trails.

Visitor Information: Open daily 5am-10pm. Most major attractions open 10am to 5pm. Light rail and shuttle bus access. Free parking within park grounds.

At over 400 acres, this peaceful urban oasis delivers fresh air and serenity above the city hubbub across scenic gardens, forests, and vistas. Seek relaxation admiring koi at the Portland Japanese Garden before stopping for matcha tea and mochi. Wander amid thousands of vivid roses arranged by color at the International Rose Test Garden. Snap the famous picture-postcard shot of Mt. Hood from the Shakespeare Garden. Rent a kayak and row across scenic Duniway Lake near the lush Oregon Holocaust Memorial. And look for birds, squirrels, and other wildlife while meandering along pretty Wildwood Trail through towering firs and cedars past streams to Pittock Mansion for panoramic views. Washington Park nourishes the soul through artful landscapes and nature without leaving Portland proper.

Columbia River Gorge

Name and Location: The Columbia River Gorge refers to the epic canyon carved over millennia by the Columbia River running along the southern Washington and northern Oregon border stretching over 80 miles east from Portland with incredible scenic vistas accessible via I-84.

History and Significance: Towering cliffsides, roaring waterfalls pouring down sheer rock faces, and panoramic vistas of the river cutting through the Cascades Mountains draw roadtrippers, hikers and nature lovers, making the Columbia River Gorge a perennial favorite easy day or weekend escape from Portland.

What to Expect: Pullouts with cliffside views of up to a dozen waterfalls. Hiking trails spanning over forested bridges and rocky terrain. Fruit farm stands and windsurfing spots off I-84. STEM learning and kid-friendly science exhibits at museum stops.

Visitor Information: The Columbia River Highway section of I-84 runs along the south side of the Gorge. Multnomah Falls area most popular with many hikes, vistas and dining options right off the highway.

Stretching for over 80 miles of vibrant evergreen forests, rocky peaks, wildflower meadows, raging waterfalls, tranquil lakes and rivers, and Oregon Trail relics, the epic Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area represents some of the Pacific Northwest’s most spellbinding vistas – all within an hour’s drive of Portland! Hit popular attractions like roaring Multnomah Falls, Crown Point’s vertigo-inducing hairpin turns 620 feet above the Columbia River, and ethereal misty views of verdant peaks along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Or escape the crowds hiking to lesser-known waterfalls like 245-foot Wiesendanger Falls or the fairy forest pools at Opal Creek. With countless ways to immerse in the Columbia River Gorge on drives, hikes, rafting trips, and photo pit stops, Portland serves as gateway to the Pacific Northwest’s natural majesty.

Deschutes Brewery

Name and Location: Deschutes Brewery operates a massive brewpub located within Portland’s Pearl District northwest of downtown serving craft beers and upscale pub grub with 24 taps.

History and Significance: Founded 1988 in Bend, Oregon, family-owned craft beer pioneer Deschutes Brewery changed the West Coast’s beer identity. Today their Portland brewpub remains a pearl District staple, pouring fan favorites like Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale alongside small batch experimental brews.

What to Expect: Industrial chic warehouse setting filled with the smell of hops brewing. Gourmet burgers, poutine, mac n cheese plates and an extensive menu alongside 24 Deschutes draft selections. Seasonal brews like Hopzeit Autumn IPA rotating through.

Visitor Information: Open 11am-10pm most days. Happy Hour runs 3-6pm and 9-close with deals on pints and eats. Plenty of street parking available in the Pearl District, but metered until 7pm.

With over 70 breweries in Portland alone, beer reigns as an iconic Portland experience. Pay tribute to Portland’s craft brewing legacy at Deschutes Brewery, renowned for exceptional beers like the citrusy Fresh Squeezed IPA, malty Black Butte Porter, and Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Tasting flights let you sample ales, lagers, and experimental brews in the massive converted warehouse taproom with floor-to-ceiling windows. Brewery tours explain the entire brewing process plus bottling and kegging lines while you witness the impressive machinery at work. Order burgers, fish and chips, or mac and cheese to complement your pints straight from the source. And insiders know that waiting out the lines at the Bend or Southeast brewpubs means you can skip them upon arriving at the Portland mothership location! For great brews in an invigorating audacious setting, Deschutes delivers quality and quotient.

Portland Aerial Tram

Name and Location: The Portland Aerial Tram carries commuters between the city’s South Waterfront district along the Willamette River to the main Oregon Health & Science University campus located in the West Hills.

History and Significance: Opened in 2007 primarily to connect OHSU’s medical buildings, the iconic aerial tram quickly turned into a popular Portland experience for locals and visitors riding 3,300 linear feet over Interstate 5 providing birds-eye views spanning the Willamette Hills.

What to Expect: A quick three minute commute between two endpoints along an angled aerial cable route showcasing panoramic vistas of Portland’s bridges, buildings and landscapes from an alternate angle floating 78 feet above.

Visitor Information: Trams run 5:30am until 9 pm M-F, shorter weekend hours. Fare is around $5 and includes unlimited rides for the day.

For a thrilling birds-eye view over Portland’s Willamette River waterfront, hop aboard the Portland Aerial Tram ascending 1300 vertical feet over a length of 3300 feet in just four minutes! This iconic transport service launches from the South Waterfront district, where the lower tram terminal provides easy access via the Portland Streetcar, through the elevated midpoint tower, across the river to OHSU’s Marquam Hill medical campus. With the floor-to-ceiling glass observation cabin rotating for panoramic sightlines the entire ride, the Portland Aerial Tram affords breathtaking scenery taking in massive cargo ships, Downtown Portland’s glittering buildings clustered around Union Station, silvery bridges criss-crossing the Willamette, and snow-dusted Mt. Hood peeking above the evergreen hills on clear days. After the quick smooth glide, stretch your legs walking down samurai warrior statues along peaceful Terwilliger Parkway or grabbing an espresso drink at Portland icons like Nob Hill Bar & Grill.

Director Park

Name and Location: Director Park is a European-style urban park located in downtown Portland spanning a full block with fountains, sculptures and movable seating.

History and Significance: Created in 2009 on what was once an open-air parking lot, Director Park brought much needed public green space specifically for downtown workers to take breaks within. Designed by ZGF, the park’s elegant central brick plaza serves as a lunch space hosting games, performances and seasonal events.

What to Expect: Terraced lawns, granite benches, movable metal chairs. Dramatic water fountain for play. Giant chess boards. Various public happenings, musical acts, yoga classes throughout the park. Cafe tables spilling out from nearby cafes.

Visitor Information: Located on SW Park between 9th and 10th Ave. Open daily 8am until midnight. Plenty of downtown foot traffic. Easy adjacency to museums, food carts and MAX Light Rail.

Tucked into the heart of the shopping core, Director Park packs a restorative green escape from city life just one block from Pioneer Courthouse Square. Designed to complement its historic theater namesakes as an outdoor cultural venue, Director Park entices with granite benches, a cascading fountain, a seasonal glass canopy, and rotating public art installations. Lunchtime food carts dish up falafel, tacos, banh mi, and more to enjoy on the lawn. In summertime, locals flock here to play table tennis and giant chess on game tables shaded under leafy London plane trees. The open-air deck with Adirondack chairs atop Blooming Moon Wellness spaces provides front-row seats to Downtown Portland observances, parades, and theater performances on the elevated stage. Embodying flexibility through modern design, Director Park promotes easygoing gatherings.

Conclusion

Balancing urban excitement with access to natural escapes, Portland delights travelers with its laid-back personality, incentives to keep Portland weird and wonderful, nodding craft beer culture, and the great outdoors always beckoning nearby. Wander through lush trails under ancient trees just minutes from Downtown Portland’s quirky attractions and renowned bookstores. Sip on complex IPAs straight from innovative taprooms. Road trip out to misty waterfalls tumbling into the Columbia River Gorge canyons. And don’t forget to smell the roses, with Portland claiming 500 varieties all its own! With invitations for exploration, revelation, and revitalization around every corner, Portland’s vibrant spirit and creativity make you fall for its charms instantly.

Leave a Comment