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The Top 11 Free Things To Do In Portland

30 March, 2022by Bounce

Exploring Portland can absolutely be done for free! Portland is home to several amazing attractions that will not cost you a thing to experience. Explore all Portland has to offer even if you are on a strict budget.

You may have to think outside the box a bit to find all of the great free things to do in Portland. But there are plenty of fantastic to discover. Get up-close-and-personal with Portland as only a local can do by enjoying all the great free things the city has to offer.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the Willamette River is a lovely place to go for a walk and in spring, the cherry blossoms are incredible. This park is also the ideal place to view Burnside and Hawthorne Bridges as well. Nearby, the Pioneer Courthouse Square occupies an entire city block! It's known as Portland's living room and when you go there, you'll know why. It's known as one of Portland's leading outdoor venues.

The Alberta Arts District is a great place to see fantastic street art and is a way to support the local creative community. If you'd like to see some of the outskirts of the city, head to Columbia River Gorge and admire the beautiful Multnomah Falls. An afternoon here will have you wanting to come back again!

While you are out exploring Portland, drop large bags and gear at a luggage locker for safekeeping. Enjoy your outing without being weighed down with extra belongings. There is so much to do!

Browse Multnomah County Central Library

Address: 801 SW 10th Ave, Portland, OR 97205

Pay a visit to the West Coast’s oldest public library. The Multnomah County Central Library was built in 1913 and has over 17 miles of bookshelves taking up three levels filled with the classics, children’s literature, and even several of the newest best sellers. Take the kids for storytime or a craft session and peruse the bookshelves for an hour or two.

Curl up in one of their comfortable chairs and crack open a book. The library follows a “Garden of Knowledge” theme throughout the library and the theme is carried into the children’s room with its 14-foot tree that is cast-bronze. The bark is sculpted into images that will grab children’s attention such as animals, letters, toys, storybook characters, ballet slippers, musical instruments, and vines.

Explore the Oregon Rail Heritage Center

Address: 2250 SE Water Avenue, Portland, OR 97214

Take a guided tour through the Oregon Rail Heritage Center and check out the intriguing exhibits and presentations. There are several events throughout the year that tell the full story of the Pacific Northwest railroads. Portland has more working steam locomotives than any other city in the United States and this is a must-visit for anyone who loves trains.

Visit during the holiday season and ride the Holiday Express trains which are decorated in festive lights. The museum is bordered by several rail lines including the MAX Light Rail, Portland Streetcar, Oregon Pacific, and Union Pacific. There are three vintage steam locomotives, two of them are still in great running condition.

The Southern Pacific Daylight Locomotive 4449 is on display. This engine was active in the 1940s when it traveled back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is also the engine that pulled the American Freedom Train that traveled throughout the United States for the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations.

Visit an Art Gallery for Free

The Pearl District hosts free receptions from 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m., but each art gallery does have its own hours. You can stroll through the different galleries and see their regular exhibits for free. Any special events or exhibits will most likely not be free.

You can visit several of the galleries during these free receptions. Many even offer complimentary snacks and wine or soft drinks. As you stroll through the Pearl District, you will get to listen to live music being played on the street and check out the street food vendors that visit and booths where artisans showcase their goods.

Spend an evening at the Portland Art Museum

Address: 1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205

Check out the Oregon Historical Society to find out when they host free admission days. There are specific museums, especially in the Pearl District, that offer free admission once a month. The Portland Art Museum, for example, has free admission on the first Thursday of each month so visit between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. They also offer free admission for military personnel and children under 17 years.

Best known for its Native American art and Northwest art, it is one of the oldest art museums not just in the Pacific Northwest but in the entire United States. When you visit on their free admission Thursdays be sure to check out the plaster casts of Roman and Greek sculptures that have been with the museum since 1892. Visiting museums is a great way to spend some time in downtown Portland.

Get Outdoors in Forest Park

Address: 833 SW 11th Ave, Suite 800, Portland OR 97205

One of the biggest urban parks in the United States, Forest Park encompasses almost 5,000 acres and has miles of mountain biking trails as well as jogging and hiking trails, a total of about 70 miles of trails. It is a nature lover’s paradise right in Portland. There is always something fun and interesting happening during the warmer months.

During the cooler months, the park is not as crowded, making it a great place to hang out and stretch your legs. Pack a picnic or grab some takeout and enjoy the fresh air. Bring your dog, but keep them leashed, and spend the day exploring the park for free. You can even bring your horse and ride along some of the multi-use trails. Wildwood Trail is a favorite.

There are around 112 bird species and 62 mammal species that can be seen in Forest Park. You can pay a small fee and join a guided tour of the Pittock Mansion, located inside the park. It is free to hike along the Willamette River or you can climb the Cascade Range Mountains. Forest Park hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, check their schedule of events.

Enjoy the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother – The Grotto

Address: 8840 NE Skidmore, Portland, OR 97220 (at the corner of NE Sandy Blvd and 85th St)

The Grotto is one of the most visited attractions in Portland and sees over 300,000 visitors of all faiths each year. You can explore the lower level of the Grotto for free but if you want to go to the upper level you do have to pay for the elevator ride. Once you reach the upper level or top of the bluff you will have unparalleled views the Cascade Mountain Range, Columbia River Valley, and even Mount St. Helens.

This Catholic sanctuary covers 62 acres where you can meander through the woods and check out the splendid marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta which is carved into the base of a cliff that stands over 110 feet tall. There are several wonderful Catholic shrines on display along the tranquil paths that wind throughout the entire 62 acres.

Walk in the Hoyt Arboretum

Address: 4000 SW Fairview Blvd, Portland, OR 97221

This interesting public park was founded in 1928 and encompasses 185 acres of breathtaking plants that come from across the globe. With over 2,000 different species of trees, you can easily spend all day trying to identify each one. There are 12 miles of hiking trails where you can stretch your legs and learn more about the flora from around the world.

The interpretive center has modern restrooms, brochures, maps, and information packets on the different trees you will see. This living museum is open year-round from 5:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. and is a great free family outing. Be sure to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the south side of the Hoyt Arboretum. There are great views of downtown Portland's distinctive skyline.

Admire the International Rose Test Garden

Address: 400 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205

Head to Washington Park and spend time wandering through one of the oldest and biggest rose test gardens in the United States. The garden began in 1917 when hybridists in England began sending cuttings to the International Rose Test Garden to preserve the species in case they were destroyed in Europe during World War I.

With over 10,000 rose bushes from over 650 rose species, you will definitely spend hours strolling through looking at the magnificent blooms and learning about the history of not just the garden, but some of the more exotic species. Be sure to check out the gift shop for some unique gifts and souvenirs. Come during Portland's annual rose festivals for a fantastic experience.

You can even purchase several of the rose species that are on display in the garden. Each year, the International Rose Test Garden replaces between 10 to 20 different varieties with new hybrids that will be released in the commercial market. Sign up for one of the daily tours available at 1:00 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Tours are free and a great way to learn more about the garden.

Explore the P.S.U. Portland Farmer’s Market

Address: 1803 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97201

While Portland has numerous farmer’s markets, the P.S.U. is the biggest Portland Saturday market. It is hosted on the Portland State University campus and is a great place to hang out listening to live music, sampling great food such as pizza, breakfast burritos, pies, cookies, and fresh bagels. There is also plenty of fresh produce from local vendors.

You can find great souvenirs and homemade craft items that make nice gifts. Vendors even offer smoked salmon, chocolates, hazelnuts, wine from local wineries, and dried herbs and flowers. Plan to spend a few hours or even most of the morning browsing through the vendors then kick back and relax while listening to local live bands. What can be better than a Portland Farmers Market? Browsing (and maybe even sampling) for free is a marvelous way to see food carts, local crafts and so much more.

Marvel at Powell’s City of Books

Address: 1005 W Burnside St, Portland, OR 97209

Check out the biggest independent bookstore and an excellent place for book lovers to visit. You can easily spend several hours browsing the shelves, sitting in their comfy chairs reading, or searching for great gift ideas for the book lovers in your family. This iconic store takes up a full city block located at the corner of West Burnside Street and 10th Street.

Order a cup of coffee, grab a pastry, and spend time soaking up the local flavor in the largest independent bookstore in the world. Powell’s also plays host to several wonderful readings from best-selling writers from around the United States and Europe. Check their calendar of events for special events.

Frank Kidd Toy Museum

Address: 1301 Grand Blvd, Portland, OR 97209

With over 10,000 toys and banks in its collections, the Frank Kidd Toy Museum is a great place to spend a nostalgic afternoon. Several of the toys on display date back to the mid-1800s. It really is not the best place for the easily offended as several of the pieces in the collection have fallen victim to the cancel culture movement.

Check out the collection of cast-iron banks that date back to the early 1900s as well as interesting German Steiff animals. The collection of trains and trucks will take you back in time. This family-run museum is truly a treasure trove of fantastic toys. Mr. Kidd’s daughter helps run the museum and loves to give tours and tell stories about how her dad started the museum.

Downtown Portland and Beyond

This list of free things to do in Portland is by no means complete! Take free brewery tours, attend the Waterfront blues festival or a Portland rose festival, or visit a thriving urban park when in Portland. You can take a free walking tour and check out the city's notable monuments or learn more about the Oregon Pacific railroad. There really are a number of fantastic free things to do in Portland once you land at Portland Airport. Grab your family or friends and spend time exploring Portland for free – you won't be disappointed!

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