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Welcome to Portland


Portland is Maine's biggest city and is the state's cultural and economic hub, attracting over three and a half million visitors each year. Originally a fishing and trading settlement, the town was destroyed three times over a hundred year period, and finally regained stability as a shipping port.

Unfortunately, over-zealous Independence Day celebrants managed to set fire to most of the city's commercial buildings, hundreds of houses and roughly half the city's churches in 1886, causing it to be rebuilt once again, this time in a Victorian style. Beautiful examples of this architecture can be found in the mansions set along the famous Western Promenade, and in the Victoria Mansion on Danforth Street, which offers tours of its well-preserved interiors.

Despite its tough beginning, Portland remains a beautiful city, ideally situated on a peninsula that juts out into Casco Bay, flanked by several small islands. Historic architecture blends with modern amenities and the city is a bustle of activity, making it one of the country's top cities to live in. Resplendent in natural beauty, Portland is highly popular in summer and visitors can enjoy boat rides; sightseeing, shopping, dining and people-watching at the Old Port historic waterfront and the East End; a visit to the Downtown Arts District or to the prominent Portland Head Light Lighthouse. The home of poet Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow is also well worth a visit, as is the Maine History Gallery, and for the kids, there is the Children's Museum of Maine.

Portland has an abundance of good restaurants, especially those offering renowned local seafood specialties like Maine lobster, clam chowder, and scallops, which are cheaper and more plentiful than in any other state. You'll find a variety of cuisines represented though, including Vietnamese, Thai, African, Greek, and Indian food, as Portland is the most culturally diverse city in Maine. The city boasts no fewer than five microbreweries, and dozens of bars, pubs, and nightclubs.

Portland is a wonderful city to visit in its own right, with plenty of attractions, activities and sights for the visitor, and it is also a useful base from which to explore the rest of this beautiful state. Smaller towns in the area like Freeport, Cape Elizabeth, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Kennebunkport offer their own amusements that are worth exploring on a holiday to Portland.

Information & Facts


As with the rest of Maine, Portland's temperatures are moderated by the sea. Portland's climate is continental, with four distinct seasons. Summers are warm and pleasant, while winters are cold, with snow. Temperatures range between 60°F and 80°F (16°C to 27°C) in summer and between 20°F and 40°F (-7°C to 4°C) in winter. Fall is a popular time to travel to Portland, due to the mild weather and spectacular fall foliage.

Getting Around

Portland is relatively easy to negotiate on foot, with plenty of attractions within walking distance of each other. The Old Port is worth exploring on foot, as is the Downtown Arts District. A car is worth hiring if exploring surrounding areas and parking is readily available within the city with free 'park and shop' options available at downtown parking garages. Tickets can be stamped for an hour's free parking at a number of downtown locations. The Portland Explorer Bus is another easy option, particularly for tourists. Operating from May to October, a ride is $2 (children under 12 ride free) and the bus connects major tourist attractions and several hotels.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

Stretching from upper Congress Street to the West End, the Arts District incorporates several galleries and museums, including the Portland Museum of Art, the largest of its kind in Maine and dating back to 1882, and the Maine College of Art. A great way to explore the Arts District is by participating in the First Art Walk - a self-guided tour that runs on the first Friday of every month from 5pm to 8pm. Local businesses, museums and galleries are open to the public and aim to highlight what is new in the art community. The Portland Art Museum offers free admission for the Art Walk.

Just 30 miles (48km) from Portland, Kennebunkport is a popular destination for weekenders escaping the heat in big cities like Boston and New York City. This pretty town is known for its laid-back yet civilised atmosphere, with several golf courses, antique shops, art galleries, and a busy harbour. It draws well-to-do holidaymakers, and both Former President Bushes are often seen at the family's nearby holiday home. The most popular attraction in Kennebunkport is its beaches, however. Kennebunk Beach, Gooch's Beach, Mother's Beach, and Parson's Beach are all packed on weekends each summer.

As its name suggests, Old Orchard Beach's most popular attraction is its seven mile (11km) stretch of sand, one of the best beaches in Maine. The town is a popular excursion for families in the summer, and ads to the entertainment with a seaside amusement park and weekly fireworks shows. Other popular activities include surfing, canoeing, and clamming. A direct seasonal train link from Boston and Portland make Old Orchard Beach easy to get to, however holiday weekends can be uncomfortably crowded.

It is no surprise that the Portland Head Light lighthouse is the most photographed lighthouse in the world. Every view of this 18th century lighthouse is spectacular. The lighthouse took four years to build and was completed in 1791. The lamps originally used to power the light were of whale oil, replaced by an autobeacon in 1958. The lighthouse is situated in Fort Williams Park and has an interesting museum housed within the old lighthouse Keepers Quarters. It is well worth packing a picnic and enjoying the beauty of the park and exploring the historic forts within its parameters.

Built between 1785 and 1786, the Wadsworth-Longfellow house was home to three generations of a Portland family that formed an integral part of the cultural, political and literary life of New England and the rest of the country. Revolutionary War General Peleq Wadsworth was its first inhabitant and Anne Longfellow Pierce (younger sister of poet Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow) its last. It was Anne's foresight that left the house, grounds and furniture to the Maine History Society, allowing public access. The house was the first brick building in Portland and visitors can enjoy a ramble through the three-storey house (containing effectively all original furniture and artefacts) and the Maine Historical Society Museum. Several different tours are also available throughout the year.

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