Portland Bucket List: 12 Attractions that Showcase the City’s Variety

13 June 2024 | Highlights, North America, Play, Portland, Travel, USA

Must-visit attractions in Portland that won’t break the bank

A rising hub for digital nomads, Portland boasts a thriving arts scene, a vibrant history and a plethora of diverse, world-class attractions. This incredible city is also home to one of the USA’s highest concentrations of urban greenspaces.

Better still, despite being one of the most significant tech centres in the Pacific Northwest, Portland is much more affordable than cities like Seattle and San Francisco.

While you could spend a lifetime exploring the hidden gems of the ‘City of Roses’, this guide details 12 highlights that shed light on every aspect of the city’s culture and heritage, from its historic landmarks and museums to its parks and cuisine.

Portland bucket list

Summary of Portland’s top attractions

Here’s a quick overview of the Portland attractions detailed in this guide so that you can skip to the sections that best match your interests:

  • Pioneer Courthouse Square – An iconic square and meeting point in central Downtown
  • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) – Hands-on science and tech exhibits
  • Powell’s City of Books – The USA’s largest independent bookstore
  • Washington Park – Expansive and popular greenspace with gardens and tourist attractions
  • Portland Aerial Tram – Incredible cityscape and Mount Hood views from 500 metres high
  • Forest Park – One of the USA’s biggest urban forest reserves with miles of trails
  • Portland Saturday Market – A historic outdoor arts and crafts market
  • Portland Mercado – Latin American street food delights
  • Portland Art Museum – The most prestigious gallery in Oregon
  • Pittock Mansion – A hilltop French Renaissance mansion built in 1909
  • Breweries and Distilleries – Tours to over 80 breweries and 12 distilleries
  • Portland Center Stage – A performing arts venue housed inside a historic landmark

Detailed overview of Portland’s bucket-list attractions

From landmarks like Washington Park and Pioneer Courthouse Square to world-class attractions such as the Portland Art Museum and the OMSI, here are the most popular attractions in Portland.

1. Pioneer Courthouse Square

Occupying 40,000 square feet in the centre of Downtown, Pioneer Square has been a local gathering place and city landmark since opening in 1984.

Pioneer Courthouse Square

Known locally as Portland’s Living Room, this public square’s red-bricked amphitheatre hosts hundreds of events every year, from free concerts and farmer’s markets to Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.

The square’s sculpture of the ‘Umbrella Man’ has become a Portland icon. Another quirky feature is the Weather Machine, a ten-metre column with an orb that predicts the following day’s weather at noon by revealing either a gold leaf (clear skies), great blue heron (drizzly) or copper dragon (storm).

2. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)

Spend a few hours learning about technology, natural sciences and industry at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), where you can browse hands-on exhibits in various labs and halls.

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry entrance
Photo © jpellgen (@1105_jp) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the Turbine Hall, you’ll discover exhibits on physics and engineering, including a working Tesla coil. The Earth Hall focuses on sciences such as climate and geology, featuring interactive displays that detail the inner workings of earthquakes and volcanoes.

One of OMSI’s most famous permanent exhibitions is the decommissioned USS Blueback submarine. While exploring this navy vessel (which also starred in The Hund for Red October), you’ll gain insights into naval history and marine technology.

Decommissioned USS Blueback submarine at OMSI in Portland
Photo © Ian Abbott (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Other incredible showcases at OMSI include a planetarium, the OMNIMAX Dome Theater and a science playground for youngsters.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is located on the east bank of the Willamette River in Portland’s Central Eastside subdistrict. Ticket prices start at USD 20 per adult.

3. Powell’s City of Books

Powell’s City of Books is the USA’s largest independent bookstore, home to over a million new and used books in a square-block-sized space with over 3,500 sections plus a range of unique features. Bookworm or not, this place is a must-visit attraction in Portland for the eclectic vibe alone.

Powell’s City of Books
Photo © Cacophony (CC-BY-3.0)

This iconic bookstore attracts locals and tourists alike. Keep your eyes peeled for the signatures of famous writers like Neil Gaiman and K. Le Guin on the pillars inside. You can also meet famous and rising-star writers at the store’s frequently held book signings (around 500 per year).

Author events and extensive book collections aside, Powell’s City of Books boasts unique attractions like The Purple Room, where you can publish your own book using the Espresso Book Machine faster than you can brew a coffee.

While you’re here, don’t forget to check out the Rare Books Room, where you can browse signed copies, limited editions and much more.

You’ll find Powell’s City of Books in the Pearl District. The nearest light rail station is NW 10th & Couch, and the nearest bus stop is W Burnside & SW 10th.

4. Washington Park

Home to manicured gardens, memorials and numerous family-friendly tourist attractions, the 458-acre Washington Park is one of the most popular greenspaces in Portland.

Washington Park

One of this park’s floral highlights is the Portland Japanese Garden, which is especially popular when the cherry blossoms bloom in March. The International Rose Test Gardens is one of the most colourful areas of the park from April to October, when 10,000 rose bushes bring the place to life.

Popular attractions in Washington Park include the World Forestry Discovery Museum, Oregon Zoo and the Hoyt Arboretum, home to 12 miles of trails that weave through 6,000 trees from over 170 different species.

The park’s facilities include an amphitheatre, archery range, sports courts and picnic areas. You’ll also see memorials dedicated to various wars and pivotal points in Portland’s history.

5. Portland Aerial Tram

Opened in 2006, the Portland Aerial Tram is one of only two commuter aerial trams in the USA. You can take in sprawling views of Portland and beyond by riding the tram from the South Waterfront district to the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Marquam Hill.

Portland Aerial Tram

The tram ascends to a height of around 500 metres and travels a distance of about a kilometre. On clear days, you can see the Portland cityscape backdropped by the iconic Mount Hood volcano peak.

The best time to ride the tram is at sunrise, though you’ll face less crowds in the late morning and early afternoon. Ticket prices start at USD 8 for a single round-trip pass and USD 40 for a monthly pass.

6. Forest Park

Covering an area of over 5,100 acres amid the Tualatin Mountains just ten minutes from Downtown, Forest Park is one of the USA’s biggest urban forest reserves.

Forest Park, Portland

While following trails that meander more than 80 miles through the park, you’ll have the chance to spot flora and fauna including over 110 bird species and 60 mammal species.

The 30-mile Wildwood Trail is one of the most popular routes through Forest Park, giving you incredible views of the area’s wildlife and the Willamette River.

If you’re a birdwatcher, keep your eyes peeled for species such as pileated woodpeckers, barred owls and Cooper’s hawks.

7. Portland Saturday Market

On top of being Portland’s largest market, the Portland Saturday Market has been recognised as the USA’s oldest continuously running outdoor arts and crafts market. It’s also a hub for globally minded foodies.

Portland Saturday Market
Photo © Steve Morgan (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Established in 1974, the Portland Saturday Market now occupies an entire block near the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Downtown. Over 150 booths display artisan crafts that include upcycled clothing, organic soaps, jewellery and handmade toys.

When you need a break from shopping, treat yourself to an international delicacy from the many food stalls. Cuisines on offer include local, North African, Polish, Uruguayan, Nepalese, and many more.

The market is open on Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm and 11 am to 4:30 pm, respectively. The best time to visit is on Saturday at 11 am or 2 pm, when live music adds a lively flair to the already bustling atmosphere.

8. Portland Mercado

Sample the tastiest of Portland’s street food by feasting on Latin American delicacies at the Portland Mercardo, an open-air food court and non-profit development project for the Latin American community.

Portland Mercado
Photo © Prosper Portland (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The market hosts over 40 local startups in colourful pod-style stalls serving cuisines from Oaxaca, Cuba, Columbia, Peru, Mexico, the Yucatan and more.

While enjoying tasty treats from vendors like Que Bacano and Fernando’s Alegria, you can listen to live music and soak up the local Latin culture.

Portland Mercado opens daily from 11 am to 8 pm. You’ll find it in the Foster-Powell neighbourhood, reachable from Downtown in less than 30 minutes via bus number 10, 14 or 17 (one-way fares are under USD 3).

9. Portland Art Museum

Founded in 1892, the Portland Art Museum holds the title of being the Pacific Northwest’s oldest art museum, housing the most prestigious art collection in the State of Oregon.

Portland Art Museum exterior
Photo © born1945 (CC BY 2.0)

Included in the museum’s permanent collection of more than 42,000 works are over 3,500 objects from around 200 tribes displayed in the Native American gallery.

Other highlights at the Portland Art Museum include collections of Japanese screen prints, European masterpieces, contemporary American pieces, a photography area and a sculpture garden.

You might want to decide which exhibits you wish to visit ahead of time – navigating the museum’s three adjoining buildings can be tricky.

Native American artefacts inside the Portland Art Museum

The Portland Art Museum is located in Downtown and opens Thursday and Friday from 10 am to 8 pm and weekends from 10 am to 6 pm. Ticket prices start at USD 25 per adult.

10. Pittock Mansion

Built in 1909 for the former The Oregonian owner Henry Pittock, the French Renaissance-style Pittock Mansion overlooks Portland from an elevation of 300 metres above sea level on the West Hills.

Pittock Mansion

This château-turned-museum boasts 44 rooms, 23 of which are open to visitors. Highlights include a museum room, a library, two sleeping porches, a Turkish smoking room, servants’ quarters and Henry Pittock’s private hideout.

While exploring the mansion, you’ll learn how the influential Pittock family helped shape Portland’s development over the last century.

After viewing the interior, you can enjoy a picnic on the pristine lawn while taking in views of Portland’s cityscape.

View of Portland from Pittock Mansion

The Pittock Mansion is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm during the high season (May to October) and 10 am to 4 pm during the low season (November to April). On Tuesdays, the doors don’t open until noon. Ticket prices start at USD 15.50 per adult.

11. Breweries and Distilleries

In the central districts of Portland, there are around 70 breweries and at least 12 independent distilleries – the city boasts what is widely considered to be one the USA’s best craft beer scenes.

Distilleries and breweries in Portland

You can try a huge range of local beverages at the bars and clubs of Downtown and the Pearl District. But if you want to sample the city’s best local offerings, you might want to join a tour offered by a company such as City Brew Tours, which run from two to five hours.

If you’re more interested in spirits than craft beers, consider the tours of independent distilleries offered by Distillery Row – there are more than 80 unique spirits waiting to be sampled!

12. Portland Center Stage

If you want to soak up the local performing arts scene, consider attending a show at the Portland Center Stage.

Portland Center Stage
Photo © Portland Center Stage (CC BY 2.0)

Housed inside the city’s late 19th-century armoury – listed on the National Register of Historic Places – this renovated venue is as much of an architectural gem as a showcase of culture.

Anything to add?

By visiting the Portland attractions detailed above, you can gain insights into the history, culture, food, nightlife and greenspaces of Oregon’s largest city. We’ll keep adding more bucket-list items to this guide over time, and we’d really appreciate your help.

Which attractions do you think people need to squeeze into a short trip to Portland? Are there any lesser-known places to visit or things to do that shed light on an aspect of the city’s heritage not mentioned in this guide? Do you have any money-saving tips for our community of digital nomads? Let us know in the comments below.

Josh Saunders

Josh Saunders

I've been writing my way through Europe, Asia and Oceania for just over a decade, providing SEO copywriting, editing and content strategy services to travel-industry clients ranging from startups through to Fortune 500 giants. Now, I'm on a mission to connect digital nomads with the world's best destinations for work and leisure.


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