The Best Free Things To Do In Portland Oregon This Year

February 14, 2021

There's a a huge amount of things to do on a visit to Portland, it's often difficult to know where to start! We've put together our favorite free things to do in this great city to give you some ideas of things to do in Portland without spending a single penny.

1. Forest Park

Forest Park, Portland

Ten minutes from downtown Portland, this vast tract of woodland covers over 5,000 acres, making it one of the largest city parks in the US. Visitors can explore more than 80 miles of tree lined hiking trials, bike paths and bridleways intersected by creeks and trout streams. Forest Park is home to over 100 bird species, and a diversity of tree life including cedars, firs, maples and alders. The park has a series of circular walks ranging from short (one mile) to moderate in length. The more energetic can opt to tackle the 30 mile Wildwood Trail, which explores the length of the park.

2. Portland Saturday Market

Open every Saturday and Sunday from 1 March to 24 December, this is a lively and hugely popular open air market on the banks of the Willamette River. Over 250 stalls offer a colourful profusion of handmade arts, crafts, souvenirs, homeware, and mouth-watering international cuisine. Wares on offer include jewellery, ceramics, silverware, clothing, and artworks, all made and sold by local producers. Browse the stalls and enjoy entertainment provided by a medley of street artists and musicians, with performances held throughout the day.

3. Oregon Rail Heritage Center

Located in the city’s Central Eastside district, this free to enter, working museum pays tribute to Portland’s railroad history, and makes a fascinating excursion for rail aficionados of all ages. The Center is staffed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers, who provide free guided tours and presentations. Exhibits include a trio of vintage steam engines, the eldest of which, the veteran Oregon Railway & Navigation 197, was built in 1905. Two of the steam locomotives have been fully restored, and are back in operation. The museum also houses several historic passenger trains and diesel locomotives. In the machine shop you can watch engineers at work with their welding machinery, as they restore the exhibits to their former glory.

4. International Rose Test Garden

International Rose Test Garden

Don’t miss a visit to this glorious public garden, housed within the city’s Washington Park, which has historical connections to Portland’s enduring nickname of City of Roses. Established in 1924, the beautifully tended site is home to fountains, sculptures, and over 650 species of rose, including many international award winning varieties. From early May through the August, the garden becomes a riot of colour and perfume, when over 10,000 flowers come into bloom.

5. Tom McCall Waterfront Park

A much loved haunt for locals since its opening in 1978, the park overlooks the Willamette River in downtown Portland. It boasts 36 acres of grassy lawns, memorial gardens, monuments and sculptures. The park is a lovely place to picnic, or just relax and enjoy the views, especially in springtime, when 100 ornamental cherry trees are adorned in pale pink blossom. The scenic walk and bike trails along the waterside attract a steady parade of joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers and walkers. Numerous water features include the Salmon Street Springs, a fountain with 185 alternating water jets, which draws hordes of squealing children (and a few adults) on hot summer days. The park plays host to several major events throughout the year, including the Oregon Brewers Festival and the Portland Blues Music Festival.

6. Pioneer Courthouse Square

Pioneer Courthouse Square

Known locally as Portland’s ‘living room’, Pioneer Courthouse Square is a vibrant hub in the heart of the city. Here, residents and visitors can enjoy a year round schedule of over 300 free events and activities. This regenerated urban space attracts scores of visitors, who gather to hang out and people watch amidst the public artworks, statues, and fountains. Turn up at lunchtime and you can take your pick from half a dozen popular food trucks. As well as being the venue for festivals, live music and cultural celebrations, each Monday the square hosts Portland’s farmer’s market, where you can sample an abundance of fresh, locally grown produce.

7. Powell’s City of Books

Powell’s City of Books

Avid readers: prepare to lose yourself within this mammoth bookstore. Purportedly the world’s largest independent bookseller, Powell’s stocks over one million new and used titles. Its vast five storey emporium is spread over an entire block of the city’s downtown Pearl district. On arrival head to the front desk, where you can borrow a map to help you navigate your way around the premises. Nine rooms contain over 3,000 different genres, including rare and out of print books, plus a collection of signed first editions. There is a coffee shop, and a gallery which hosts regular talks and readings by visiting authors. A great place to while away an afternoon.

8. Historic Belmont Firehouse

Located in the city’s eastside district, in a 100 year old former fire station, Belmont Firehouse is free to all visitors, though you will need to book admission and a tour via their website. Exhibits include 19th century hand and steam pumps, and a collection of vintage fire engines, including a hose cart dating back to 1860. Little ones can get to sit in a fire truck and even slide down the fire pole! Educational, and fun for all ages, the museum has a souvenir shop onsite.

9. Free art galleries

Free art galleries in Portland

The city has a number of galleries, and many offer free admittance at specific times. The illustrious Portland Art Museum is the state of Oregon’s largest art gallery, and has substantial 19th and 20th century American and European collections. The gallery offers free admission to under 17s, whilst entry is free to all visitors on the first Thursday evening of each month. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, located at the Portland State University campus, is free to all. Its contemporary two floor gallery features a combination of local and international works. Between 6pm and 9pm on the first Friday of each month, head over to the city’s east side arts district for a First Friday Art Walk. Enjoy free entry into over 20 independent galleries, studios and workshops and see local artists at work.

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