106 miles N of Boston and 317 miles NE of New York City
BY CAR: Coming from the south by car, downtown Portland is most accessible by taking exit 44 off the Maine Turnpike (I-95, which is a toll road) into the city, then following I-295 (which is free) a few miles into town. Exit I-295 onto Franklin Arterial (exit 7), then continue straight uphill and downhill to the city’s ferry terminal in the Old Port. Turn right onto Commercial Street and park. There’s a visitor center nearby, and plenty to do within 10 minutes’ walk. Get oriented here.
BY TRAIN: Amtrak (www.amtrak.com; tel. 800/872-7245) runs the daily Downeaster service from Boston’s North Station to Portland (passengers from other cities must change stations from South Station to North Station in Boston via taxi or subway). The train makes five round-trips daily (time: 2 1/2 hr.), for $20–$30 each way. Downtown is a short bus or cab ride or a drab 45-minute walk from the station, which is out on Thompson’s Point.
BY BUS: Two big carriers, Concord Coach (www.concordcoachlines.com; tel. 800/639-3317 or 603/228-3300) and Greyhound (www.greyhound.com; tel. 800/231-2222), provide bus service to Portland. The Greyhound bus terminal is at 950 Congress St., about a mile south of the downtown core. Greyhound runs buses from both Boston and New York City: from Boston, there are several buses daily (around 2 hrs., $15–$30 one-way), while from New York there are two buses daily (8 hrs., $33–$64 one-way). Concord Coach connects runs more than a dozen buses daily between Portland and Boston’s Logan Airport (2 hrs., $29 one-way; discounts for round-trips), plus two buses a day to NYC (6 hrs., $69 one-way). Concord Coach’s bus terminal is next to Portland’s inconvenient Amtrak station (see “by Train,” above) on Thompsons Point Road. City buses and taxis ferry you downtown from here.
BY PLANE: Portland International Jetport (www.portlandjetport.org; tel. 207/874-8877), airport code PWM, is the largest airport in Maine. It’s served by flights from American Airlines (www.aa.com; tel. 800/433-7300), Delta (www.delta.com; tel. 800/221-1212), Elite Airways (www.eliteairways.net; tel. 800/393-2510), JetBlue (www.jetblue.com; tel. 800/538-2583), Southwest Airlines (www.southwest.com; tel. 800/435-9792), and United Express (www.united.com; [tel] 800/864-8331). The airport got a significant expansion in 2011, and there are plans in place for further upgrades in 2018, but the terminal is still pretty easily navigated. A taxi ride to the city is about $30 with tip; some hotels near the airport and downtown will shuttle you to your digs for free. Ask when booking.
The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau of Greater Portland (www.visitportland.com) runs four tourist information centers around town. The main info center is on the Ocean Gateway Pier, just north of the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal at the feet of Commercial St. and Franklin Arterial. Most of the year, it’s open Monday through Saturday—but in July and August it’s open 7 days a week. (It closes in February.) There’s also a tourist information desk at the Portland International Jetport (tel. 207/756-8312), near baggage claim, open daily year-round, plus brochure kiosks at the Maine Mall in South Portland and at the Portland Transport Center at Thompson’s Point.
Portland’s free weekly newspaper, the Portland Phoenix, and the monthly Dispatch both offer good listings of local events, films, nightclub performances, and the like. Copies are widely available at restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and convenience stores, and in newspaper boxes on curbs in the Old Port and around downtown.
The city of Portland is divided into two areas: on-peninsula and off-peninsula. (There are also the islands, but more on that below.) Most travelers are destined for the compact peninsula, where the city’s downtown area is located; most of Portland’s cultural life and retail activity takes place here.
Viewed from the water, Portland’s peninsula is shaped a bit like a swaybacked horse or the hammerhead on a shark, with the Old Port lying in the middle near the waterfront. The peninsula’s two main residential neighborhoods (Munjoy Hill and the West End) top gentle rises overlooking downtown. Congress Street, Portland’s main artery of commerce, connects these two neighborhoods. The western stretch of Congress Street (roughly between Monument Square and State Street) is home to Portland’s emerging Arts District, where you can find the handsome art museum, several theaters, the campus of the Maine College of Art (located in an old department store), and a calliope of restaurants and boutiques.
Parking is notoriously tight in the Old Port, and the city’s parking enforcement is notoriously efficient. Several parking garages are convenient to the Old Port, and you can also park in some residential neighborhoods, often for a maximum of 2 hours. Read signs carefully for news of nighttime street-sweeping hours; you will be towed (don’t ask how I know; I just do) if you run afoul of them.
First Friday Art Walks bring Portlanders out along Congress Street (and spilling into the Old Port) early each month, even in winter. The sidewalk between Forest Avenue and Preble Street is a pop-up art fair with a pronounced indie/DIY aesthetic—a lot of the vendors are students at Maine College of Art, which also opens its galleries for the occasion. The streets are filled with buskers (and occasionally pretty sizeable roving bands), food trucks set up in the squares, and everything from coffee shops and bookstores to galleries and the Portland Museum of Art host openings and events. It’s quite a scene in the summers. Creative Portland (tel. 207/370-4784; www.creativeportland.com) puts out a monthly list of happenings.
The Old Port Festival (tel. 207/772-6828) takes place in early June, when tens of thousands of revelers descend upon the historic Old Port section to herald the arrival of summer. Several blocks of the Old Port are blocked to traffic, and the throngs order food and buy goods from street vendors. Several stages provide entertainment, ranging from kids’ singalongs to raucous blues. Admission is free.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.