You don’t need to shell out a ton of money to have a great time in Portland. Oregon’s largest city is lucky to have beautiful public parks and cost-free things to do around almost every corner. These are just ten of the many fun things you can do across the city that won’t break the bank.
1. Hike (or bike) the Eastbank Esplanade
Talk about a walk with a view! This mile-and-a-half long path is open to both pedestrians and cyclists on the eastern shore of the Willamette River. The esplanade stretches north from Hawthorne Bridge to the Steel Bridge with impressive skyline views of downtown Portland. For some of the best photo ops, we recommend coming down here at sunset, or by night when you can see the city lights reflecting over the water. A map is linked on this page.
2. See the beautiful flowers at Washington Park’s Rose Garden
If you’re making a trip to Washington Park, stop and smell the roses at the International Rose Test Garden just below the popular Japanese Garden. Over 7,000 roses (and 550+ varieties) bloom across the park in the spring & summer, usually from April through October (depending on the weather).
3. Browse the Saturday Market
Portland’s Saturday Market is a weekend must. You don’t even have to spend any money to browse this huge outdoor arts & crafts market. It’s lined with local craft and gift vendors, small food carts and live entertainment. Don’t let the name fool you – they’re actually open on Sundays too.
4. Visit Powell’s Books
Powell’s is the granddaddy of all bookstores, and like the Saturday Market, it won’t cost you a penny to browse. The shelves here are packed with new, used and out-of-print books, more than you would expect to see at any regular library. The old flagship bookstore has nine color-coded rooms and over 3,500 different sections across three floors. You can find novels on almost any subject, by nearly any author you can think of. We recommend taking a look inside their “Rare Books Room”, which has tons of first edition books that are hard to come across.
5. Take a trail through Forest Park
Only a short drive from downtown, Portland’s Forest Park is the largest urban forest in the whole country. It covers over 5,000 acres of tall lush trees with miles of hiking paths for all ages and difficulty levels. If you’re into all things abandoned & creepy, try taking the half-mile Lower Macleay Trail to see the old ruins of a stone house known as Witch’s Castle.
6. Check out the Oregon Rail Heritage Center
Home to three enormous steam locomotives, this museum at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center is a fun place to take your kids for a first-hand look at Oregon’s railroad history. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. Train rides begin at the center starting in March – see Portland Train Rides. All aboard!
7. Hike through Hoyt Arboretum
Like Forest Park (and Washington Park), Hoyt Arboretum is another beautiful, lush green place to meander for a few hours for free. The scenery is gorgeous all year: in the spring, the hiking trails become lined with wildflowers, and by fall the leaves turn bright yellow, orange and red. There’s also a small information center & gift shop here that you can stop in and pick up maps for more info on hiking the area.
8. Tour a brewery, like Full Sail Brewing
Portland is known for its outstanding microbreweries, so why not get a behind-the-scenes look at how the hoppy drinks are made? Especially considering some brewhouses will give you a tour for free – like one of our favorites, Full Sail Brewing, about an hour away in Hood River. They put on tours at 1, 2, 3, and 4pm every day, lasting about a half hour each. Afterwards, if you do have a little cash to spend, you can also sample some beers & grab a bite to eat in their Brew Pub.
9. Relax at Keller Fountain Park
Keller Fountain Park is an oasis in the heart of downtown, with a beautiful design that was inspired by the gorgeous waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge. The main focus is this huge concrete fountain, with an urban cascade that’s cool and refreshing on a hot summer day. It’s a great, quiet place to sit and read a book, people watch, or just catch your breath before exploring the rest of downtown Portland.
10. Catch a summer movie in the park
Portland makes summer evenings even more memorable by putting on free movies in the park across the city. It has grown in popularity, selection, and locations over the years, with a variety of family-friendly selections from older movies to newer releases and independent & contemporary films. When the new summer movie list is published, it will be posted here.
Of course, these are just a few of the many ways to explore Portland without spending any money. What are some of your favorite cost-free things to do around the city?