Long weekend in Portland, ME
November 8, 2007 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Things-to-do in Portland, Maine?

I'm planning to take a trip to Portland, ME next weekend. What should I do while I'm there? Now that tourist season is over, what's still open? Unless there's a very compelling reason to drive, the plan is to take the Amtrak Downeaster - will I be able to get around on foot? Any other general suggestions for enjoying the city?
posted by backseatpilot to Travel & Transportation around Portland, ME (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Hit J's Oyster for a pot of steamers.
posted by any major dude at 12:33 PM on November 8, 2007

You'll probably want to get a cab from the train station to the Old Port area -- there's plenty to see there on foot.
posted by JanetLand at 12:39 PM on November 8, 2007

will I be able to get around on foot?

Not entirely. There's no public transit worth mentioning. You'll need to take a cab downtown from the train station. Lots of things in the downtown area are pretty walkable though. You can spend an afternoon wandering around the Old Port to Monument Square. If you've got a car, this is a good time to use it-- your trip won't be impossible without it, but it will be much easier. I hate to drive when there are other options too, but it's a waste of a vacation to be stressed out about transport all the time if you can avoid it.

You'll get lots of good suggestions, but my personal favorite is Eastern Promenade Park, which has great views of the bay, victorian architecture and walking trails.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:47 PM on November 8, 2007

I got around Portland just fine without a car for the past five years, but if you're used to the convenience, drive here, or plan to take cabs. The public transit is a little too, um, counter-intuitive to learn quickly over a brief visit.

(For example, the #5 bus picks up at the Portland Transportation Center, which houses the Amtrak station, but it drops off downtown, not in the Old Port proper, so trying to hustle both yourself and your luggage from the Metro stop to the Old Port could be frustrating.)

Do you know where you're staying? This recent thread had some good restaurant and hotel suggestions. Beyond that, it's hard to recommend anything without knowing what your interests are.
posted by Elsa at 12:55 PM on November 8, 2007

When my wife and I were in portland we ate almost nothing but lobster... they were like $5 at the farmer's market!! And they were so good.
posted by muscat at 12:59 PM on November 8, 2007

If you plan on just sticking around town, then by all means take the train, but don't count on public transit. Take a cab from the train station and, if you're not averse to walking, you'll be fine otherwise. It is a pretty compact city.

As mentioned by Curley, the Eastern Prom has great views of the bay. Though it is worth mentioning that the mooring field is pretty much empty of boats now, so some of the charm is gone. The western Prom is a nice stroll, too, with views of.. uhh.. the jetport. But it can have some awesome sunsets. Otherwise, the Old Port is quaint and, at this time of year, not completely full of idiots.

For food, I highly highly suggest Caiola's on Pine Street for amazing dishes - some seafood, some not. The Mediterranean seafood joint Street & Co. on Wharf, in the Old Port, is awesome too.

There really isn't a whole lot of places that close down in the winter completely..

Is there anything you're interested in specifically? You're question is pretty vague. Maybe you weren't even asking about restaurants?
posted by mbatch at 1:01 PM on November 8, 2007

Unlike the coastal tourist regions, you won't find much "closed for the season" in Portland proper.

Once you get downtown from the train station (cab), the entire downtown area is quite walkable, as Mayor Curley and JanetLand have already said.

However, you'll pretty much see everything you want to see in the Old Port in the space of an afternoon unless you are intent on spending a lot of time in a lot of overpriced shops. That will leave you with a lot of time to kill if you're there for a three-day weekend.

Do visit the Portland Museum of Art; it's not huge but it often features some good stuff.

The Henry Wadsworth Longfellow House on Congress Street is a brief but interesting visit.

Without a car to take you beyond the downtown area, you're going to miss a lot of things to be seen elsewhere in the Greater Portland Area.
posted by briank at 1:10 PM on November 8, 2007

for a small city, the museum of art is very good. i always like it.
posted by buka at 1:13 PM on November 8, 2007

If you are into marine antiques, there is a very cool, very stuffed little shop called China Sea Marine Trading Co, 324 Fore St. Telescopes, sextants, compasses, tools, marine ephemera, African masks, voodoo figures, glass globes, paintings and posters of ships, muskets, swords, books, lanterns and on and on and on.

And right up the street at No. 424, you'll find Condom Sense, should your supply be low.

It's that kind of town.
posted by beagle at 1:14 PM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Now that tourist season is over, what's still open?

Sorry, I missed that. Very little closes down for the winter --- I can't think of a single thing that suspends operation, except the tourist day cruises. Otherwise, everything's open. Portland isn't like Ogunquit or Kennebunkport, where lots of shops and restaurants operate only during the tourist season. Some shops may close earlier in the fall (say, late afternoon), but expect things to be open for business.

Caiola's is a great recommendation. I love The Pepperclub, too, if you're looking for restaurant recommendations.

Portland/ Seacoast NE is usually game for a meet-up, too, or so I hear. Family emergencies have prevented me from attending them so far, every single time.
posted by Elsa at 1:17 PM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

There will be a good range of music and some plays if that interests you. And it is "holiday craft fair" season so you can stop into just about any church you see if you want to peruse that sort of thing. Sometimes you can get quite good homemade food at them for cheap, in case you get hungry while walking about.
posted by mikepop at 1:21 PM on November 8, 2007

I second the Jay's Oyster Bar recommendation. And if if you want more local flavor (as in people, not seafood), Rosie's and Ruski's are both nice comfortable places with good pub fare. Any of the Norm's restaurants are good, and again, they give you a good taste of the citizenry of Portland.

One of my new favorite walks is up Congress Street to the Eastern Prom. The neighborhood is changing over from rough to funky, so it makes for an interesting trek. And the view from the Prom is glorious.

You can check out The Portland Phoenix (probably better to pick up the paper, I find their site is useless) for listings of local arts and entertainment. I also recommend The Bollard, to get more of an insider's look at the city.

My email is in my profile. Feel free to contact me if you need addresses or directions or have something specific you're looking for. I love to tell people about my favorite place in the world.
posted by suki at 1:26 PM on November 8, 2007

Response by poster: I guess I asked the question without thinking it through well enough. The plan right now is to stay at the Inn at St. John. I think what I would like to do most for the weekend is take in some art, maybe a little light hiking, and photography. Mostly I think I want to explore the city and take some pictures. Excellent suggestions so far! I think I'll probably end up driving based on the recommendations.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:33 PM on November 8, 2007

Inn @ St. John is a good hotel in an area devoid of charm. They're very friendly, and I recommend it to visitors. There's a small, affordable Thai restaurant just up Congress Street, also Dogfish Cafe a few doors down. There are buses, and Congress/St. John should have quite good service, as the Metro garage is nearby.

The Old Port is full of shops by day, and bars by night. It's still primarily full of independent retailers, so it's not just another Mall with Gap/Macys/Body&Bath, etc. Plenty of coffeehouses, cobbled streets, interesting architecture.

Part of the city of Portland is on islands. Take the Casco Bay Lines ferry out to Peaks Island for a meal. Not sure what's there for restaurants these days, but it's a 20 minute boat ride, and it's fun, esp. in decent weather.

There's a narrow gauge railway, walking, biking, International Folk Dancing on the 15th, etc. Email me with questions, or check out the standard visitor links:
posted by theora55 at 2:53 PM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Even though it will not be First Friday, if you're into art, this page has a good overview of some good shows and where they are. If you're staying at the Inn at St. John it's a nice walk to Caiola's. The Bramhall Pub on Congress St is also close, and a nice place to stop in for a drink on your way in town. If you're interested in architecture you will be very close to the West End, where there are some amazing homes, including some John Calvin Stevens.
posted by miss tea at 3:21 PM on November 8, 2007

No shortage of things to take pictures of.

Not many here, but this was a twenty-minute walk around the city one morning. A few more random shots.
posted by mikepop at 7:54 PM on November 8, 2007

I'm late, but maybe this will still be helpful:

-- The Things Everyone Does --

+ Walk around the Old Port. "The Old Port" is roughly the area between Temple St and Pearl St (side to side) and Congress to Commercial (top to bottom), more or less centered on Exchange St. Its a kind of artsy shopping area.

+ Visit the Art Museum. Its free on Fridays from 5-9pm. Attached to the back of the museum is a (totally empty) Federal Area house that's pretty cool.

+ Visit Portland Head Light (which is actually in Cape Elizabeth), the most photographed Lighthouse in the US.

+ Visit the Wadsworth-Longfellow House at the Maine Historical Society. The garden out back is very very nice (and free) if its open, even if you don't want to go inside the museum.

+ Victoria Mansion

-- Fun things Everyone Should Do, but Most Don't --

+ Visit the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum and take a ride on the train. (Very Kid Friendly)

+ Take the Mailboat run or the Diamond Pass Run. Of these, I most prefer the Mailboat run, but its 3 hours. Diamond Pass is shorter, and a little more scenic, but doesn't give you the same sense of the life being lived on the island communities in the Bay. Also, if you take the Mailboat run, you can get off at at Peaks Island and spend a few hours exploring the island.

+ Walking Tours (although they may not be running any longer)

+ Go Lobstering

-- Food Best Bets --

Bull Feeneys (two words: scotch bar)

Becky's Diner for Breakfast!!

Federal Spice Quick, cheap, good.

Portland Flatbread Co

Gritty McDuff's - Maine's original original brew pub. Good Food. Family friendly for lunch.

Five Fifty-Five: Super high end (the chef was just named one of the ten best new chefs (or some such thing) by food and wine magazine). Is working hard to beat out Street & Co for Portland's "best" (fancy) restaurant.

Standard Baking Company

Great Lost Bear. Far from downtown. One of the best beer bars in New England (or some such award).

Tandoor: Hands down, best Indian food in Portland - and there are actually several (like, more than three) restaurants in the running for that. I love this place.

Uncle Billy's Bar-b-que

Fuji is often called things like "best Japanese food in New England" but I have no way to judge that. It is very good.

Henry VIII in Monument square for Lunch

Little Lad's Bakery Vegan $4 lunch buffet. Run by some religious outfit. Even if you don't eat there, you must, must MUST try the popcorn. Instantly addictive.

Silly's: small, eclectic, homemade, good eats

North Star Music Cafe: Veggie organic food with live music

Pepperclub restaurant is often voted "best cheap dinner in Portland". See also The Good Egg Cafe.

Duckfat. High end comfort food. Check the menu.

... and finally Top of the East is the restaurant on the top of the Eastland Park hotel. They do have a lunch menu, but its kind of high end. However, the view is worth it. I'd say start a romantic evening with cocktails in their jazz lounge. Its very nice.
posted by anastasiav at 10:17 AM on November 9, 2007 [6 favorites]

I just want to chime in, as a resident of Maine (and born in Portland), that everyone who says there is no real public transit has obviously never been a poor teenager trying to get from Philadelphia to Chebeague Island with no car. I have, multiple times, and I never took a cab. There is a bus system in Portland which runs decently frequently (for such a small city) and the extremely kind drivers will take you down to Monument Square (to the "Pulse", where all the bus lines originate) for a buck twenty five (I think). It runs about every 20-30 minutes from the bus/train terminal IIRC.

I've walked from the Old Port to the bus terminal, but I don't really recommend that. It's a bit long. Then again, I was a poor teenager fueled by angst.

I suggest that all the Mainiacs in this thread who said there is no bus system get on the damn bus and ride it around a bit. It could use some support.
posted by nursegracer at 9:49 AM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

« Older Time Glitch   |   Should I be afraid of the US stock market right... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.