Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Portland, ME

  • Published 2023/02/07

Portland is the county seat of Cumberland County and the biggest city in Maine.

Portland got its name from the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England.

Moreover, Portland is Maine’s commercial and cultural center, sitting on a peninsula on Casco Bay off the Gulf of Maine.

The city’s historic architecture, active arts scene, and renowned restaurants make it a popular tourist hotspot.

It also provides various free activities for both residents and visitors.

Here are some free things to do in Portland, Maine.

Read Your Favorite Book at Portland Public Library

Since its opening in 1867, the Portland Public Library (PPL) has provided residents and visitors access to the state’s biggest public library materials.

PPL provides all community members with free, open, and dependable access to library materials.

There are four branches of the Portland Public Library, including the Downtown Library, and three others in the city’s residential neighborhoods: Peaks Island, Deering Center, and Riverton.

People looking for a peaceful spot to read will appreciate this haven.

Its principal function is to provide access to its collection of nearly 300,000 print and digital books, periodicals, audio/visual resources, and historical collections.

The Portland Room is a special section of the library housing rare books, documents, and letters, some dating back to the 1550s.

The library also houses a sizable DVD and audiobook collection.

There are also book talks, film screenings, art exhibits, and other educational activities offered at no cost to the public.

Enjoy a great book when visiting Monument Square, Portland library.

Visit the Longfellow Garden

Pthway along the Longfellow Garden

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

When in Portland, don’t miss visiting the breathtaking Longfellow Garden.

This garden’s peaceful vibe is due mainly to the Colonial Revival architecture.

Myron Lamb, a landscape architect, was commissioned by the Longfellow Garden Club in 1924 to create a Colonial Revival-style garden.

Plan your trip to the garden accordingly, as it is only open from May until October.

Since the garden’s inception, the club has set aside maintenance funds and overseen its care.

Members of the club successfully pushed the Maine Historical Society to make the garden public in 1980.

Scenic view of Longfellow Garden

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although it was dismantled and rehabilitated in 2007, the garden still has the same feel and features as Lamb’s original design.

This much-loved urban sanctuary is open to the public without charge, which is excellent news for both tourists and locals.

Enjoy this beautiful garden on Congress St., Portland, Maine.

Paddle along the Eastern Promenade

Eastern Promenade during golden hours

Alexey Stiop /

If you’re looking for a beautiful place to stroll along the Portland waterfront, look no further than the Eastern Promenade.

The Olmsted Brothers, the same people who built Central Park and Boston Commons, designed the promenade in 1905.

This 68-acre historic landscape offers stunning views of Casco Bay and Portland Harbor.

It’s an excellent location for kayaking, swimming, rowing, and other water activities.

View of Eastern Promenade

Jaclyn Vernace /

Several trails wrap along the shoreline, as well as tennis courts, basketball courts, baseball fields, a playground, and more.

The trails are perfect for a stroll, bike ride, or jog.

The Eastern Promenade is a great spot to see marine life, birds, and boats in Casco Bay.

Various picnic spots for guests to sit back and take in the scenery.

A public boat launch allows swimmers, surfers, and other water sports enthusiasts convenient access to the bay.

People relaxing at Eastern Promenade

Enrico Della Pietra /

Take a Hike at Portland Freedom Trail

The Portland Freedom Trail features a walking tour of the city’s historic districts.

It includes a complete self-guided tour of 16 sites commemorating the 19th-century Black Mainers who led the anti-slavery movement in Maine.

Daniel Minter, a local contemporary artist, was responsible for the conception and execution of the Freedom Trail markers.

In many structures, secret tunnels and corridors protected escaped slaves when they fled to freedom in neighboring Canada.

The well-known Underground Railroad is a network of safe houses, which include homes, churches, and businesses.

The Portland Freedom Trail passes by the waterfront of Portland, where African Americans played a vital role in assisting escaped slaves.

Other stops along the trail include the Abyssinian Meeting House, the third-oldest African-American meeting house in the United States.

Enjoy the Nice Views at Deering Oaks

Pond with a fountain at Deering Oaks

Enrico Della Pietra /

Located near the crossroads of Deering and Forest Avenues, Deering Oaks Park is a scenic spot with a duck pond and a fun splash pool for kids.

This 55-acre park is the remaining portion of the original 1761 farm owned by Nathaniel Deering.

The pond area of Deering Oaks Park has remained mostly unchanged from its original design.

The park is famous for its red and white oak trees, trails, and its historical cabin called the castle.

Frog at Deering Oaks

Jeremiah Gould /

The castle served as a warming shelter for ice skaters and was built in 1894 following traditional Victorian architecture.

This park also has tennis courts, a pond, a playground, and a baseball field.

In addition, there is a splash pool designed to look like a stream, complete with small rocks.

The park is free and available to the general public.

Ice skating at Deering Oaks

Jongpol Jujaroen /

Shoot Hoops at Edward Payson Park

If you’re looking for a free and enjoyable park in Portland, look no further than Edward Payson Park on the city’s western edge.

Payson Park is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.

The 48-acre park is home to various sports and recreational amenities, such as baseball grounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, an ice skating rink, and multi-use fields.

The property was acquired in 1916 and given the name “Payson Park” in honor of Edward Payson, whose family once owned the nearby Payson home.

The Longfellow Arboretum, covering 2.5 acres in the park’s southwestern section, is one of Payson’s most attractive attractions.

About 40 non-native trees have been planted in this arboretum, creating a picturesque setting for visitors to enjoy some quiet time.

Visit the park at Baxter Boulevard, Portland, Maine.

Explore the Old Port

Cobbled stone pathways at Old Port

Albert Pego /

Located at the crossroads of Exchange and Fore Streets, the Old Port is a fantastic starting point for exploring the many sites and shops in the area.

The Old Port area is the best example of why Portland is considered one of the best walking cities in New England.

There are numerous picturesque locations perfect for snapping Instagram-worthy photos.

Its location on the banks of the Fore River and its 19th-century brick architecture make it a popular tourist destination.

Harbor at Old Port

Joseph Sohm /

Besides its historical sites, the area is well-known for its modern boutiques, eateries, and nightlife hotspots.

Visit one of the many charming shops in the Old Port as you stroll the cobblestone streets.

The Harbor Fish Market is great for stocking up on fresh seafood like lobster, soft-shell crab, dorado, and haddock.

Boats docked at Old Port

Enrico Della Pietra /

Hike along the Back Cove Trail

The Back Cove Trail is one of Portland’s oldest and most well-known for its breathtaking panoramas of the city.

It is a 3.5-mile loop with stunning views of the cove, harbor, and downtown, making it perfect for walking, running, biking and dog walking.

There is a link to the Bayside and Eastern Promenade Trails under Tukey’s Bridge.

The trail features distance markers that indicate both miles and kilometers traveled.

View of the Back Cove Trail on a sunny day

Christa Castillo /

The park is a great place to go if you need to relax and have fresh air.

There are sports fields with a fitness course in addition to the gardens and benches.

Back Cove Trail is a beautiful place to take the kids on a memorable and relaxing adventure.

The city of Portland has made an effort to ensure that this trail is accessible to people with disabilities.

The trail is accessible through Baxter Blvd, Portland, Maine.

Relax at Fort Sumner Park

Fort Sumner Park, sometimes known as Standpipe Park, is a small public park covering 1.2 acres on the west side of North Street in Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood.

The Fort Sumner Steps, which run at the top of Munjoy Hill, are its most notable feature.

The steps are all left of Fort Sumner, a coastal defense fortification atop Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine.

It became part of the United States’ first network of coastal defenses in 1794.

A young woman enjoying the view of Fort Sumner Park

Kendall Rittenour /

Nowadays, Fort Sumner Park is a popular place for people to have picnics, have fun, and relax on the grass.

This vantage point provides a picture-perfect panorama of Portland’s breathtaking sunsets.

Enjoy some of the best vistas in the city at North St, Portland, Maine.

Enjoy the View at Fort Allen Park

View of  Fort Allen Park

Ken Schulze /

Fort Allen Park is a ten-acre public green space located above Casco Bay.

It’s a haven for people who want to relax while enjoying the view, having a picnic, or attending summer events.

Located on the historic Eastern Promenade, it looks out over Casco Bay and the cityscape of Portland.

The park is named after Portland native and Civil War General Ethan Allen.

Fishing area at  Fort Allen Park covered with snow

Dan Hanscom /

The park is frequently used for social events, exercise, and recreation.

Paved and dirt paths with mild inclines connect a gazebo, an exhibit of cannons, the USS Maine’s mast, and other points of interest.

Visit Fort Allen Park at 49 Eastern Promenade in Portland, Maine, to unwind and enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

Vibrant sunrise at  Fort Allen Park

David Dority /

Have a Picnic at Major Charles Loring Memorial Park

Portland, Maine, is home to Major Charles J. Loring Memorial Park, which honors Charles J. Loring and other veterans.

American Air Force fighter pilot Charles J. Loring received the nation’s highest military honor for his heroic efforts in the Korean War.

It has four granite towers, each 2.74 meters tall, and a light well equipped with searchlights illuminating the night sky.

It’s an excellent spot for picnics, relaxation, and other outdoor gatherings.

The memorial is an attractive spot for quiet contemplation, with a beautiful view of the Back Bay.

The 4.2-mile Eastern Promenade Trail can be reached from the park by a 0.1-mile trail of packed dirt and grass.

Visit the Major Charles J. Loring Memorial Park on the Eastern Promenade and spend quality time with your loved ones, marveling at the breathtaking sunset.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Explore the Outdoors at Hinckley Park

The 40-acre Hinckley Park is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

It has a beautiful walking track and gorgeous landscape in the fall.

A 1.3-mile loop around the park’s two ponds makes it an ideal spot to exercise and enjoy the outdoors.

Its two picturesque ponds provide opportunities for freshwater fishing.

If you head to the park’s western edge, you can walk up the woodland trail to Stillman Street.

Indulge in a stroll around the pond or admire the scenery from the trails.

You can find Hinckley Park on Highland Avenue in South Portland, Maine, seven minutes from Portland.

Walk along Willard Beach

Shoreline of Willard Beach

Claire Prendergast /

Willard Beach is a tiny beach tucked away in a peaceful section of Simonton Cove in South Portland, Maine, ten minutes from Portland.

When the weather is nice, many locals head to the beach to soak up some rays and get their daily dose of vitamin D.

It has stunning panoramas of Casco Bay and the islands in the distance.

It is a great place to watch the motorboats and sailboats that frequently pass through the front of the beach.

Boats at Willard Beach

Braden Brothers /

On top of that, you’ll witness a constant stream of commercial ships making their way to and from the harbor.

During the warmer months, guests can take advantage of the beach house, snack bar, and showers.

It’s also an excellent venue for a family get-together, thanks to its picnic tables and hygienic restrooms.

The beach is halfway between Southern Maine Community College’s campus and Fisherman’s Point.

View of Willard Beach

Braden Brothers /

Explore Bug Light Park

Stunning view of Bug Light Park

Sean Pavone /

South Portland is also home to Bug Light Park, also known as Portland Breakwater Light.

Located ten minutes from Portland, the park takes its name from the tiny lighthouse built in 1875 that overlooks the port.

It’s an excellent place for enjoying family outings, strolls, and views of the harbor.

The original wooden lighthouse was built in 1855, but it was replaced in 1875 when the breakwater was expanded.

Closer view of Bug Light Park

Cowen Duggar /

Full restoration of the light was completed in 1989, and it returned to service in 2002.

It hosts numerous community events, including Fourth of July celebrations, auto shows, kite festivals, and more.

Bring your family and friends to Bug Light Park and enjoy the grand vistas and fresh air.

Enjoy the Beautiful Scenery at Portland Head Light

Scenic view of Portland Head Light

Steve Parisi /

The famous Portland Head Light is situated at the entry point to Casco Bay’s shipping channel in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, 15 minutes from Portland.

George Washington commissioned the lighthouse in 1791, becoming the state’s oldest lighthouse.

The town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, owns and operates this tourist attraction.

You can enjoy the best view of the lighthouse from the park without paying any entry fees.

It is a valuable historical landmark and a popular tourist destination.

Nightview of Portland Head Light

James Steidl /

It is located adjacent to Fort Williams Park, which spans 90 acres and features ocean vistas, walking trails lined with observation lenses, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Enjoy the incredible views and visit the park at Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Facade of Portland Head Light

GagliardiPhotography /

Final Thoughts

Many of Portland’s parks provide excellent vistas of the harbor and surrounding area.

The city is an excellent area to stroll and enjoy the scenery without spending a dime.

Enjoy the free things to do in Portland, Maine!

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