Portland, Maine, One of the Top Distinctive Destinations

Portland, Maine, One of the Top Distinctive Destinations

Portland, Maine’s largest city, is located on a peninsula at the mouth of the Fore River part of Casco Bay. Initially inhabited by Native Americans, Portland became a major British trading and fishing settlement in 1632. Portland enjoyed prosperity till destroyed by the Great Fire in 1866. Today, the city’s symbol is the Phoenix, the mythical bird emerging from the ashes, as Portland was refashioned in the Victorian style following the Great Fire.

Portland has been honored as one of the Dozen Distinctive Destinations in the US by the National Historic Trust for the opportunities it provides visitors. Features include the Old Port District along the harbor, the Arts District with museums, galleries and shops and the surrounding Casco Bay Islands.  Religious groups visiting the city will enjoy the wealth of attractions combining history and arts and exploring the Maine coastline.

Religious Attractions in Portland

Chestnut Street Methodist Church

Chestnut Street Methodist Church

Portland’s bounty of churches reveals the city’s history. St. Dominic Church, the first Catholic church in Portland, was built in 1828. Increasing membership from 200 to 4,000 led to the building of Sacred Heart Church in 1888. Serving the same parish, both churches have been proposed for the National Register of Historic Places.

Other churches include the Chestnut Street Methodist Church, built in 1856; the First Baptist Church, built in 1867; the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1869 by the first bishop of Portland; and the First Parish Church, built in 1825.

Main Attractions

Exchange Street in Old Port

Exchange Street in the Old Port District

Cobblestone streets lined with boutiques and restaurants define Portland’s Old Port District. The revitalized district remains a working waterfront, while also boasting a popular shopping, dining and entertainment destination. Another highlight overlooking the waterfront is Portland Observatory. Built in 1807, the Observatory is the only remaining maritime signal tower in the US.

Portland’s Arts District features Portland Museum of Art. The largest and oldest art museum in Maine, it contains 17,000 objects housed in three historic buildings. Maine Historical Society highlights include a museum, exhibitions and library along with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house. Other highlights of the district include Merrill Auditorium, Portland Symphony Orchestra and the Kotzschmar Memorial Organ.

Victoria Mansion, built in 1858, is a landmark example of the historic architecture of Portland. Designed by Gustave Herter, the mansion contains 90% of the furnishings Herter used in the original design.

Victoria Mansion

Victoria Mansion

Portland is home to three minor-league sports teams. The Maine Red Claws basketball team is in the NBA D-League, Portland Pirates hockey team in the American Hockey League and Portland Sea Dogs baseball team in the Eastern League, affiliated with the Boston Red Sox.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light is one of America’s most photographed lighthouses.

Located outside the city is the Museum at Portland Head Light, one of America’s most photographed lighthouses. Housed in the former lighthouse keeper’s quarters, the museum tells the history of the lighthouse and Fort Williams, a coastal military outpost. Highlights of the Casco Bay Islands include Mackworth Island featuring beaches with views of Portland harbor. Peaks Island contains trails and beaches, accessible by a 20-minute ferry ride, while Back Cove’s circular trails are perfect for walking, jogging or biking.

Tours In and Around Portland

Lobster Catching

Visitors can participate in a lobster haul with Lucky Catch Cruises.

The waterfront can be explored through Odyssey Whale Watch and Nature Cruises. Narrated, daily tours enable visitors to see such wildlife as finbacks, humpbacks and dolphins.

Lucky Catch Cruises feature 80 to 90-minute cruises that discuss the methods used during a lobster haul, allowing passengers to participate in setting lobster traps.

Downeast Duck Adventures provides an hour-long land and sea tour. The land portion covers the historical highlights of the city, while the sea cruise covers the surrounding islands and lighthouses.

Greater Portland Landmarks offers walking tours through the Old Port District, telling the history of the architectural treasures in the district.

Wicked Walking Tours, given by performing artists, tell creepy stories from Portland’s history in a comic and entertaining manner.

Portland’s Festivals and Events

Portland’s famous culinary scene is celebrated with the Annual Maine Restaurant Week every March. Restaurants expand their menus to include unique, specially-priced three-course meals. Harvest on the Harbor Festival every fall further highlights the city’s culinary scene, featuring three days of tastings and cooking demonstrations on Portland’s waterfront.

Portland Maine waterfront

Portland Maine Waterfront

The Old Port Festival, the city’s kickoff to summer, includes music, shopping, food and kid-friendly activities. A highlight of the festival is a buffet from local restaurants that runs the entire length of Exchange Street.

Local art vendors line the streets in the Sidewalk Art Festival occurring late August to early September. It is the largest art festival in New England, drawing 300 artists and 40,000 visitors. The same vendors are featured at the Picnic Holiday Sale in December at the Maine Heritage Center.

Portland was able to remain a prosperous city after the destruction of the Great Fire. Such prosperity has enabled the city to become the largest city in Maine, where history thrives, along with chic restaurants and shopping. Opportunities for religious groups abound, ranging from historic churches and museums to tours of Portland’s harbor and surrounding islands.