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The 18 best things to do in Portland right now

Explore the quirkiest, tastiest and most fun things to do in Portland

Written by
Jonathan Thompson
&
Krista Diamond
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Yes, they’re still putting a bird on it in Portland. PDX is keeping it weird, and the best things to do in Portland are quirky, cool and definitely unique. Twee boutiques and trend-setting food trucks are definitely at the top of the list (and if you’ve already taken home one of those iconic pink boxes from Voodoo Doughnuts, there’s a whole list of Portland donuts to try), but there’s so much more to see and do in the City of Roses.

Portland has many lovely parks and gardens to explore, as well as trendy neighborhoods and districts like the Pearl district and North Mississippi Avenue. You’ll want to explore handmade goods from Portland’s makers at independent shops, bakeries and cafes, and of course sample the beers produced by some of the city’s many breweries. Do like the locals do and bike your way around Portland (and across the many iconic bridges across the Willamette—including the Burnside Bridge for a view of the iconic White Stag sign), then settle in for a meal at the best restaurants in Portland.

Best things to do in Portland

  • Restaurants
  • Old Town

What is it? From bacon and maple to bubble gum, the doughnut menu at Voodoo looks more like Willy Wonka’s to-do list. After all, their motto is "the magic is in the hole."

Why go? Most of these flavors shouldn’t work. But somehow they do—incredibly well. Voodoo Doughnut now has locations nationwide, but aficionados head to the much-loved original store on Portland’s SW Third Avenue for their sugar fix. If it’s your first time, go for the classic Voodoo Doll, a chocolate-covered confection shaped like said effigy and packed with red jelly.

Go on an underground donut tour of Portland.

What is it? The best way to explore North America’s cycling capital is on two wheels.

Why go? Local operators Pedal Bike Tours and Portland Bicycle Tours offer great guided options within the Rose City. Both companies run food- and drink-centric tours—including one in which you pedal between Portland’s best microbreweries, building up a suitable thirst en route—but if you don’t see one you like, they can create a customized themed ride.

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  • Art
  • Greater Portland

What is it? Founded in 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the oldest in the Pacific Northwest, and impressively, one of the oldest galleries nationally, too. With a vast array of works on display (contemporary, modern and ancient pieces - and more than 45,000 of them) there's enough to keep you busy for an entire day.

Why go? Peep some outstanding Native American art and one of the world’s most impressive collections of English silver. Its two buildings in Portland’s cultural district are connected via a subterranean gallery, with a sculpture garden to explore outdoors too (look out for the towering Roy Lichtenstein work Brushstrokes). 

  • Shopping
  • Jefferson Street

What is it? The largest independent bookstore in the world, Powell’s City of Books is home to more than 1 million new, used and rare tomes.

Why go? Bookworms can find plenty to do in this labyrinthine store. In the Purple Room, check out the Espresso Book Machine, which you can use to publish your own book in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee. The Rare Book Room has plenty of signed volumes if you’re hunting for a one-of-a-kind gift. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Greater Portland

What is it? The Multnomah Whiskey Library stocks an incredible selection of more than 2,000 bottles of the liquor from around the world. 

Why go? Portland is rightly famous for its craft beer scene, but fans of the hard stuff now have their own clubhouse here too. This beautiful membership-based bar (Read: You have to become a member to imbibe) exudes sophistication and old-school class—plus, it's already known one of the finest whiskey bars in the world. If all libraries were like this, we’d be a lot more studious. 

  • Attractions
  • Old Town

What is it? A huge outdoor market – Portland's largest, and the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the US, in fact – selling a great variety of arts and crafts.

Why go? For a good ol' browse and a spot of breakfast/lunch.  A stroll on any Saturday will turn up unique items (which make for great Christmas presents), like deer-antler jewelry and vegan soap. You can guarantee the quality of the good too, as a panel of judges regularly checks the quality of what's being sold.

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  • Shopping
  • Jefferson Street

What is it? Among the art galleries, shops and restaurants in the thriving Pearl District, MadeHere PDX showcases the city's best handmade wares.

Why go? From brewing and baking to carving and welding, Portland is known for its DIY culture. A cross between a gallery and a street market, MadeHere PDX sells everything from skillets and small-batch hot sauce to denim jackets and kayaks. There's no better place to put your credit card to work. 

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Arlington Heights

What is it? One of only 6 test gardens for the American Rose Socienty and the oldest official continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States.

Why go? Whether you're a rose fanatic or just like to stop and smell them, the International Rose Test Garden has hundreds of them for you to admire and sniff. More than 10,000 rose bushes bloom with around 650 varieties of roses. Peak bloom is usually in June, but you can enjoy the beauty from April to October.

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  • Museums
  • Central Eastside

What is it? The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has to be one of the coolest educational facilities anywhere on the planet.

Why go? Not only does it have the submarine from The Hunt For Red October (a.k.a. the USS Blueback) as a permanent floating exhibit outside, but its outstanding planetarium also hosts Laser Pink Floyd shows. Yep, that’s laser shows to a thumping 1970s soundtrack. This place seriously rocks.

  • Theater
  • Jefferson Street

What is it? This local company performs contemporary and classic plays year round. 

Why go? Portland has plentiful performing arts options, from the wonderful Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, a.k.a. the “Schnitz,” to the Oregon Ballet Theater. But the most dramatic setting is undoubtedly the Gerding Theater in the city’s old armory. Already on the National Register of Historic Places, the building has attracted lavish praise from the architecture world for its intelligent renovation. The reviews are equally as glowing for the theater’s resident company, Portland Center Stage. 

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  • Music
  • Buckman

What is it? The iconic 113,500-square-foot brick school on SE Stark Street was extensively renovated before starting a new life as a music venue. 

Why go? Portlanders have been going back to school in droves—namely, George Washington High School, which reopened as live music venue Revolution Hall in 2015 and has since counted Neko Case and Andrew W.K. among its headliners. The popular rooftop bar with outstanding views of the city doesn't hurt either. It sure beats sneaking a beer behind the cafeteria.

What is it? The simple yet delicious poached thai chicken and rice at this food truck has cemented its status as a local legend.

Why go? Although Portland is home to more than 500 food carts, which you’ll see (and smell) baking, frying and grilling all over town, Nong’s Khao Man Gai is a must-try. Within this miniature kitchen, one dish is perfectly executed time and time again - tender chicken, fluffy rice and aromatic sauce fit for a king. 

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What is it? The French Renaissance–style château perched high in the West Hills was originally built for The Oregonian’s wealthy publisher Henry Pittock in 1909.

Why go? This mansion turned city-owned museum tells the story of Portland’s growth over the last century through the eyes (and belongings) of the prominent Pittock family. At more than 1,000 feet above sea level, the mansion also commands some of the finest views over the city, making its lawns a popular picnic spot. Grab your strawberries and blankets, people.

Discover Portland on a half-day tour.

14. White Stag Sign

What is it? Also known as the Portland Sign, a large neon sign atop the White Stag Building.

Why go? This iconic sign welcomes those coming across the Willamette River to downtown Portland via the Burnside Bridge. Though the wording has changed over the years, it was designated a historic landmark in 1977, and permanently changed to read "Portland, Oregon" in 2010. Walk across the bridge to snap a pic, and try to get the skyline behind it. During Christmastime, the stag's nose glows red like Rudolph. 

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  • Music
  • Jefferson Street

What is it? Widely referred to as “Portland’s Living Room,” this park plays host to some 300 events each year.  

Why go? Pioneer Courthouse Square is also home to one of the city’s most famous residents: “Umbrella Man.” Otherwise known as Allow Me by J. Seward Johnson, the bronze statue of a suit-clad, umbrella-toting man has become a Portland icon, overlooking the events in this popular gathering space. 

  • Attractions
  • Willamette Heights

What is it? A verdant and lush idyll situated in the city's west side, amongst the Tualatin Mountains. With 80 miles of accessible trails and beautiful views of the Willamette River, the reserve is a haven for hikers and wildlife alike.

Why go? If Portland is a republic of tree huggers, then Forest Park is its capital. At a whopping 5,200 acres, it is the largest forested natural area within city limits in the United States—and a mere 10-minute drive from downtown, with multiple entry points. If you’re feeling fit, lace up your sneaks and tackle one of Forest Park's many hikes.

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  • Museums
  • Greater Portland

What is it? Thousands of artifacts that tell the story of Oregon, from early settlement to the present day.

Why go? Thanks to the flip of a coin in 1845, Portland gained its name. Should that coin have landed the other way up, you'd be in Boston right now. It's great historic facts like this about the city and the state that make the Oregon Historical Society a winning visit. You can see the very 'Portland Penny' in question while you're there, as well as a 9,000-year-old sandal and a replica ship's hull.

  • Attractions
  • Old Town

What is it? This network of underground catacombs was supposedly used for nefarious purposes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and is now one of Portland's must-visit, and most unique tours.

Why go? While a sale of the building has now restricted access to physical tours of the tunnels, Cascade Geographic Society still offers amazing virtual tours of this not-so-well-kept secrets with an intriguing backstory. Legend says that a dark secret lurks beneath Portland’s streets, where many an unsuspecting (or inebriated) Portlander would wake up to find himself aboard a merchant ship bound for the Orient—a process known as “Shanghaiing.” Step inside the Shanghai Tunnels virtually and you'll come face to face with this subterranean world, from hidden trapdoors to holding cells – just be sure to look over your shoulder.

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