9 of the Best Free Things to Do in Portland, Oregon
Portland has become one of the country’s hot new destinations for both young and old, and there is certainly no shortage of entertainment for anyone, even those on a budget. This green city is lush and provides plenty to do outdoors, while also playing host to a lively arts and food scene. It’s easy to fill your days with free activities, so check out our 9 Free Things to Do in Portland!
Powell’s City of Books
As one of the most talked-about bookstores in the country, Powell’s is a great free thing to do in Portland for every visitor to the city. Taking up an entire city block, it is home to more than a million works as well as a coffee shop and an art gallery. You could spend all day getting lost in the stacks and of course it’s always free to browse. CNN even rated this store as one of the 10 “coolest” bookstores in America! You’ll be sure to find plenty of rare and out-of-print books, and events take place nearly every night that feature authors and other intriguing speakers for you to enjoy.
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
The namesake of a former Oregon governor, this park along the river is a popular spot for locals and visitors to relax. Here you can rent bikes or enjoy cooling off in the Salmon Street Springs. For a great loop, start along the waterfront esplanade and head north to the Steel Bridge, then loop back on the opposite bank’s Eastside Esplanade until you cross back to the west side via the Hawthorne Bridge. This is a favorite route for runners and bikers and offers great views at any time of day.
You’re never far from Mother Nature in Portland, and Forest Park is a gorgeous backdrop to the city’s downtown core, with over 5,000 acres of sprawling green space. Its size makes it one of the largest city parks in the country, and it’s the perfect place for a hike, run, bike ride or horseback ride. You can easily access the park through downtown via one of the many entrance points. Be sure to check out the Friends of Forest Park website for more information on seasonal events and activities.
This outdoor market – which actually takes place on both Saturdays and Sundays from March through Christmas Eve – is a perfect free thing to do in Portland and a great place to hang out and enjoy checking out goods from local artisans and dining on international fare prepared right in front of your eyes. It’s always free to enjoy a relaxing stroll through the market, and of course there are plenty of items for sale including pottery, jewelry, clothing and candles. The market is located on the west side of the Willamette River under the Burnside Bridge. Entertainment changes weekly and may feature musicians, jugglers or other street performers.
International Rose Test Garden
Venture to the world-famous rose garden – the oldest public garden of its kind in the United States – and you’ll be wowed by the diverse and beautiful array of roses that are in bloom. The garden is primarily a testing site for new varieties, but is also popular among visitors who come to enjoy the picturesque landscape and stunning city views. Over 8,000 bushes are on display, so don’t forget to bring your camera and a picnic! The best time to catch the flowers in bloom is between early May and early June.
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Step into “Portland’s Living Room” where locals and visitors alike can enjoy the hustle and bustle of downtown Portland in this central square and relax while people watching at any time of year. Hundreds of events take place in the square, including the Festival of Flowers in May, the NW Book Festival in July, outdoor movies in the summer months and the city Christmas tree lighting in November. Farmers markets and food trucks regularly set up short here as well. For event information, check out the official website.
Monthly Art Walks
- Portland’s art scene has definitely made a name for itself, and if you find yourself in the city during the first or last week of any month, be sure not to miss any of these exciting art walks:
- First Thursday takes place in the modern Pearl District of NW Portland, with galleries and businesses staying open late to join in the festivities, display their work, and offer free beverages and snacks.
- At last Thursday, you’ll have the chance to experience eclectic Alberta Street’s street fair that attracts performers, artists and local bands, and shuts down the entire street during the summer months.
- First Friday, hosted by Central Eastside galleries and art spaces, gives visitors a unique look at this up-and-coming part of the city through the eyes of its art scene.
As the weather warms up, Portlanders like spend as much time outside as possible. Outdoor movie screenings can be found in nearly every neighborhood of the city on various nights of the week. Some of the most popular places to catch a flick are at Sellwood Park, Washington Park, Peninsula Park, or at Pioneer Courthouse Square’s “Flicks on the Bricks.”
Hike the 4T Trail
What better way to experience a city than by navigating on train, train, tram and trolley? You’ll start at the Oregon Zoo trailhead and take a pleasant 4.5-mile hike through forested area until you arrive at Oregon Health Sciences University. Here you’ll descend via tram to the south waterfront area and catch the city streetcar for a scenic ride to the downtown core. Descend at 10th and Yamhill and catch the Yellow Line on the Max Light Rail to link back to the zoo for a full tour. Although this activity will have a $2 charge for a light rail ticket, it’s worth it to see the city as a local and enjoy both nature and city life from a new perspective.
For a map of the 4T trail, click here.
Have you had the chance to visit Portland, Oregon? Share with us some of your favorite things to do in the Rose City!