How to Spend One Day in Portland, Maine

Wondering how to spend one day in Portland Maine? Then you came to exactly the right place to find out. 

Although it’s not a huge city, Portland and the surrounding area are packed with attractions and stunning sights that inform you about the unique history of this old port town. 

This post is here to show you how to see the best of Portland Maine in one day. You’ll finish the guide knowing exactly which museums, lighthouses, and other places of interest to pin to the top of your agenda. 

Read on for the perfect Portland Maine itinerary plus important planning advice to help you arrange how to get there, how to get around, and where to stay in Portland. 

*Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link.*

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Useful Info for Spending One Day in Portland Maine

Before you dive into how to spend your time in town, you need to figure out the logistics of taking a day trip to Portland Maine! Let’s dive into the essentials.

How to get to Portland Maine

Portland International Jetport (PWM) is the closest airport to Portland. It’s located 2 miles (3 km) west of downtown Portland and only takes 15 minutes to get to a centrally located hotel.

If you are flying in from overseas then you might find better flight availability with Boston Logan International (BOS). It does take 2-2.5 hours to connect to Portland via I-95 N.

However, if your one day in Portland ME falls as part of a wider New England road trip itinerary then this might work better with your schedule anyway. 

You can also connect to Portland from Boston via the Downeaster train. These trains depart frequently from Boston North Station and take 2.5 hours to reach Portland Transportation Center. 

Best time to visit Portland ME

The best time to visit Portland really depends on the type of experience that you are seeking. 

Summer brings the warmest weather and prolonged hours of daylight which is great if you want to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Temperatures peak at 79°F (26°C) in July and August but the city does get extremely busy. Visit in May or June to avoid the worst of the crowds, if possible.

Fall is one of the best times of year to plan your one day trip to Portland Maine. You’ll escape the large summer groups, appreciate comfortable weather conditions, and get to experience the fall colors.

Winter can be pretty if you visit during snowfall but it’s never guaranteed. Temperatures can drop below freezing and get as cold as 14°F (-10°C) which limits how much time you can realistically spend outdoors. Also, bear in mind that some attractions are closed during winter. 

Portland Head Light

How to get around Portland Maine

Once you’re in Portland, you can explore the main downtown area on foot or by hiring a bicycle.

There is a bus system called the Greater Portland Metro that connects you with local destinations as well as the Amtrak Downeaster, Casco Bay Ferry, and Portland Jetport.

A ferry service connects Portland Harbor with the outlying islands in case you end up spending longer than one day in Portland Maine.

There are a few places on this itinerary that it is trickier to reach without hiring your own vehicle. So, if you do rent a car that will be a huge bonus. However, if you’re traveling without a vehicle then there is a way around this – as you’ll see detailed below. 

Where to stay in Portland ME

If you want to see the best of Portland Maine in one day then you’ll likely want to spend at least one night in this charming town. 

Downtown Portland is the most convenient area to stay for a short trip. However, you might want to consider staying in the East End or South Portland if you have access to a car and like the thought of staying away from the hustle and bustle. 

These are my picks for where to stay in Portland ME. 

Blind Tiger Guest House
Photo credit: Blind Tiger Guest House via Booking.com

LUXURY – Blind Tiger Guest House

Decadent rooms with fireplaces and stylish bathrooms will ensure that your 24 hours in Portland Maine treat you well! Breakfast is included at this central hotel and parking is available at no extra cost. 

Aloft Portland Maine
Photo credit: Aloft Portland Maine via Booking.com

MID-RANGE – Aloft Portland Maine

This funky hotel features a bar and a communal games area. Modern rooms are fitted with a private bathroom and a coffee machine. Situated right next to the Old Port, the location couldn’t be better.

Inn at St John Portland In-Town
Photo credit: Inn at St John Portland In-Town via Booking.com

BUDGET – Inn at St John Portland In-Town

Breakfast is included in the rate at this pet-friendly hotel in downtown Portland with budget-friendly rates. Rooms are beautifully appointed using a mix of contemporary and old-fashioned decor that feels functional yet homely. 

Overview of Your One Day in Portland, Maine

Breakdown of your one day in Portland ME

  • Morning: Holy Donut, Portland Museum of Art, Wadsworth-Longfellow House & Longfellow Bookstore, Portland City Hall & Merill Auditorium, Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes, Portland Observatory
  • Afternoon: Old Port, Fort Williams Park & Portland Head Light, Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, Bug Light & Bug Light Park
  • Evening: Dinner & optional bar hopping

Map for your one day Portland Maine itinerary

Below you can find a customized map that includes all the locations you’re going to visit on this Portland Maine itinerary.

I marked your one day in Portland Maine with different colors – I used blue for the morning, green for the afternoon, and red for the evening, so you can easily see which places you’re going to visit each time of the day.

If you open up this post on your phone and you click on the bracket in the upper right corner of the map, it will open up in your Google Maps app so you can always have it with you. Super convenient, right?

Morning of Your One Day in Portland Maine

Holy Donut 

Start your one day trip to Portland Maine the right way – with a donut! The Holy Donut is located on Commercial Street right in the heart of downtown by the harbor. 

Now, this is not your typical donut place; these donuts are made using a potato base. They come in a variety of innovative flavors including maple bacon, dark chocolate sea salt, honey lavender, and even cannoli. With a starchy base, they’ll fill you up for hours. 

Grab a donut (or three!) and a coffee to enjoy by the harbor before getting started with your sightseeing.

Portland Museum of Art

Once your tummy is content, you can visit the first official attraction of your 24 hours in Portland Maine.

The Portland Museum of Art is an inclusive space that is committed to diversity, accessibility, inclusion, and sustainability. Exhibitions display historical and contemporary paintings and sculptures with works by Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, and Monet.

Note that the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Otherwise, it’s open daily 10 am-6 pm and until 8 pm on Fridays. 

Admission is $18 but they offer free entry on Fridays from 4 pm. If that suits you better, you can always jiggle this Portland Maine one day itinerary around. 

The Portland Museum of Art is a 15-minute walk from Holy Donut.

Wadsworth-Longfellow House & Longfellow Bookstore

The Wadsworth-Longfellow House & Longfellow Bookstore is the 19th century home of the poet and thinker, Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow.

You can visit the house on a self-guided or guided tour and peer into Maine history as well as read up on the nation’s beloved poet.

One of the highlights of the museum is the tongue-in-cheek “do not touch” signs that stud each room. Admission is $15 per person. 

Self-guided tours are scheduled by appointment from Tuesday until Saturday between 10 am-3.30 pm and you need to book in advance. You can take a printed pamphlet for details or download a free app before visiting. 

Guided tours only take place on weekdays at 1 pm and 2 pm. 

Remember to have a look around the bookstore too, even if you decide not to visit the museum during your one day in Portland Maine. 

The Wadsworth-Longfellow House & Longfellow Bookstore is a 5-minute walk from the Portland Museum of Art.

Portland City Hall & Merrill Auditorium

Built in 1909, Portland City Hall is the seat of the local government and holds various offices relating to local politics.

It occupies an entire city block and its tower stands at a height of 200 feet (61 meters). Before the construction of this building, an earlier City Hall stood in the same place. 

The Merrill Auditorium, a 1,908-seater concert hall, was added to the eastern section of City Hall. Although it was built in 1912, it underwent a huge renovation in 1997. The star of the Merrill Auditorium is the Hermann Kotzschmar Memorial Organ.

If you are staying for longer than one day in Portland ME then you might want to catch a performance to experience this beautiful venue at its best.

The Portland City Hall and Merrill Auditorium are a 5-minute walk from the Wadsworth-Longfellow House & Longfellow Bookstore.

Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes was constructed during the 1860s in the Gothic Revival style. This incredible russet-hued cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of Portland and shouldn’t be skipped from any Portland Maine itinerary.

As a working place of worship, the cathedral hosts daily masses as well as weekend services. Outside of these sessions, you are welcome to go inside and take a closer look at the organ and the stained glass windows. 

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes are a 5-minute walk from the Portland City Hall & Merrill Auditorium.

Portland Observatory

The Portland Observatory was constructed in 1807 at the bequest of Captain Lemuel Moody. This octagonal, 86-foot (26 meters) tall tower originally served as a communication station for Portland’s harbor.

Equipped with a powerful telescope at the summit of the tower, Moody could identify incoming maritime vessels as far away as 30 miles (48 km).

Although Portland Observatory fell into disrepair during the 20th century, it underwent renovation and was reopened in 1939. After another round of Restoration in 2000, the Observatory was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

It is the only remaining wooden signal tower and you can visit it from the ground or pay a small fee to explore inside. 

The Portland Observatory is open to the public during the summer season from late May until mid-October.

You can visit it Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays as part of a guided tour. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it is only possible to visit as a self-guided tour. 

As the observatory has a limited capacity, it is beneficial to book your tickets online in advance of your 24 hours in Portland Maine. Admission is $10. 

The Portland Observatory is located on Munjoy Hill, a 10-minute walk from the cathedral.

Afternoon of Your One Day in Portland Maine

Old Port 

Walk back to the Old Port, close to where you started your one day in Portland Maine. This is the perfect place to have lunch – especially if you like shellfish and seafood with a view.

No surprise what’s on the menu at Luke’s Lobster Portland Pier: you’ll find the likes of iconic Maine lobster rolls as well as lobster bisque, clam chowder, and catch of the day. The atmosphere is laid-back with fantastic ocean vistas.

If you’re not a fan of fish, then check out the upscale Italian eatery, Solo Italiano, which specializes in rustic dishes besides comforting pastas and pizzas. 

Standard Baking Co is perfect if you want a quick sandwich or pastry with a cup of coffee before cracking on with the rest of the day.

Fort Williams Park & Portland Head Light

You will spend the rest of your one day trip to Portland Maine checking out some of the lighthouses. 

There are over 60 lighthouses in Maine and 6 of them are in Portland, owing to the city’s important status as a harbor town during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Sadly, you can’t see that many in one day but you can at least see some of the prettiest lighthouses in Portland.

Portland Head Light is located in Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth. This is 5 miles (8 km) south of Downtown Portland and access is only possible via private vehicle. The drive is 15 minutes from the town center. 

The lighthouse is situated at the entrance of the shipping channel into Casco Bay. It is perhaps the most famous and iconic of the local lighthouses. Constructed in the late 18th century, it was lit for the very first time on 10 January 1791.

You can visit the lighthouse and take photos for free but it costs $2 to enter the museum. Donations are graciously received for the upkeep of the monument. 

Fort Williams Park itself is worthy of a wander if you have time – wander along the cliffs for different perspectives on the lighthouse. 

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse

Next up on your Portland Maine itinerary is the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse.

This one is located back toward downtown Portland. You can drive there in 10 minutes and park near Fort Preble.

Or, if you skip the first lighthouse due to transport issues then you could always take bus number 21 from Portland City Hall, alight at Fort Rd + SMCC, and walk to the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse.

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse was built on a rocky promenade in the ocean in 1897. Following several shipwrecks caused by a dangerous ledge, the lighthouse was a welcome addition to Maine’s coastline. 

It’s designed as per a chic monochrome color scheme which makes it all the more eye-catching to passing mariners.

There are no costs associated with visiting Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. But do take care while walking along the boulders to the base of the lighthouse.

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, Portland ME

Bug Light & Bug Light Park 

The final lighthouse of the day on your day trip to Portland Maine is Bug Light. Officially, Bug Light is called the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse but it usually goes by its nickname due to its tiny size. 

Bug Light is often considered the most beautiful lighthouse in Portland. It looks a little like a classical monument although in its heyday it was just as practical as it was pretty.

The lighthouse was built in 1875 to assist crew navigating their crafts into Portland Harbor. 

Of course, do take some time to explore Bug Light Park which overlooks the Pacific Ocean and has a wonderful vibe during the peak season.

If you don’t have a car then you can book a tour to visit these lighthouses in Portland. There are several options available but for the purpose of this Portland Maine one day itinerary, my personal recommendation is the Portland, Maine Lighthouse Tour – 2 hour Land Tour.

This one is guided by a local lobsterman who also provides professional tours. The meeting place is near the harbor and you will see all three lighthouses described above. 

Note that you will spend longer at Portland Head Light and then make a pitstop at the second two.

The tour price includes round transport and lasts around 2 hours. Subject to availability, you might have to book this tour earlier in the day. In which case you will need to rejig the itinerary.

Bug Light in Portland, Maine

Evening of Your One Day in Portland Maine

Dinner & optional bar hopping

That brings your one day in Portland Maine almost to a close. If you are spending the evening in the city then you’ll probably want to enjoy dinner in the heart of town.

You could visit one of the restaurants that I recommended as a lunch spot. Alternatively, here are some additional suggestions.

Taco Escobarr is a colorful tavern with a terrific range of tacos and margaritas. It has a great ambiance and is the perfect place to start an evening out. 

Fore Street Restaurant delivers locally sourced farm-to-table dishes as well as seafood. Upmarket yet with a countryside vibe, this is a great place for a special night. 

If you want to make an evening of it, check out Anoche. This artisanal bar specializes in cider, gin cocktails, and other spirits. Bar snacks including olives, charcuterie, and other small tapas-inspired bites are available.

Maps is another cool place for a drink or two in a close-knit venue brimming with vinyl, books, and vintage maps.

Final Thoughts

Now you know exactly how to see the best of Portland Maine in one day. I hope that this itinerary will inspire your trip to one of the prettiest cities on the East Coast.

If you have any unanswered questions about visiting Portland, feel free to contact me via email, social media, or by dropping a comment below. 

Have you already visited Portland? Leave a comment below with what activities you’d recommend to other travelers with 24 hours in Portland Maine. 

xoxo, Kriszti


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