Greater Portland, on Casco Bay, is Maine’s largest city and a delightful year-round tourist destination for vacationers who love urban settings. The Old Port section, dating from the 1800s, is now a first-class shopping and dining district packed with restaurants, stores, galleries, and lodgings. The neighborhood’s charm comes partly from its fine Federal-style architecture and cobbled streets. The city’s “new” port is the departure point for the ferries and commuter boats to the Casco Bay’s Islands. Portland is the place for gourmets; good restaurants are abundant and rich with local seafood and regional specialties.
People who love lighthouses should know about Cape Elizabeth’s Portland Headlight, one of the most-photographed lighthouses in the world, located in Fort Williams Park. The lighthouse has its own museum in the lighthouse keepers quarters, with a gift shop offering Maine- and lighthouse-themed gifts. Nearby, Two Lights State Park offers unobstructed views of Casco Bay. And Crescent Beach State Park is a popular spot for families because its crescent shape protects the beach from big waves.
Children on vacation will love the Children’s Museum of Maine, with four floors of interactive exhibits and special programs every day. Places within the museum of play and learn include the Toddle Park, Tide Pool Touch Tank, a rock climbing wall, the Space Shuttle, and the Music Garden. Take a ride on the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad out of Portland. Watch magnificent views of Portland's working waterfront glide past from antique rail cars pulled by steam and diesel locomotives.
The excellent Portland Museum of Art has 15,000 objects showcasing three centuries of art and architecture. You will see work by Winslow Homer, Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, Louise Nevelson, and Andrew and N.C. Wyeth, as well as European masters Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, and Pablo Picasso. For a unique combination of art, exercise, and outdoor beauty, hike the Cliff Walk in nearby Scarborough to the site of artist Winslow Homer’s former studio.
Other highlights of the region include the city of Freeport, 20 miles north of Portland, home of upscale outlet shopping and of the world-famous L.L. Bean outdoor store. The city has made a priority of historic preservation, and many original schools, homes, and churches have been preserved and refurbished. Wolfe’s Neck Woods is one of several sanctuaries along the coast, perfect for hiking and bird watching.
Portland has luxury hotels and quaint smaller lodgings. Outside the city are inns and B&Bs, some featuring very fine, historic pedigrees.