Free Things to Do in Portland

Free Fun Abounds in Portland

Portland's offerings of free fun things to do spans the full spectrum of interests and hobbies. Fans of the outdoors will enjoy the Eastern Promenade with its spectacular views of Casco Bay. In addition, the backwoods paths of Portland Trails treat adventurers to choice experiences on Portland's little known wild side. Urban parks take on new significance with such delights as the Payson Terrain Park, a mecca for snowboarders and skiiers in the winter; the Longfellow Arboretum with its choice collection of 40 non-native tree species, and the nostalgic Castle-in-the-Park for fun Victorian play in Deering Oaks Park. Meanwhile, history and fun combine to make the Old Port District and the Portland Freedom Trail a must-do experience well worth trying. No matter what your interest, Portland's free and fun things to do are waiting for you!


Portland Public Library
Photo courtesy of Portland Public Library

The Portland Public Library, which consists of four branches throughout the city, is representative of public libraries in the best sense of the word. In short, it more than fulfills its mission of advancing love of the written word, arts and culture – at little or no cost to library patrons. Those seeking a quiet place to immerse yourself in a great book – without the accompanying coffee shop chatter and activity – will find a welcome refuge at the Portland Public Library. But Portland's city library also offers much more. On any given day of the week, there are free talks by renown authors, readings by book groups, documentary film screenings, art exhibits and even basic computer training and math tutoring for teens. Unique to this library is the Portland Room, a repository of rare books, documents and letters – some dating back to the mid-1500s – well worth exploring. The library also has an impressive collection of DVDs and audio books that are well worth sampling.

Local Expert tip: Visit the library's website for a full listing of the latest activities.

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Payson Park
Photo courtesy of City of Portland

Edward Payson Park, located on Portland's west side, offers fun, free outdoor space with a few choice extras. In many ways, Payson Park has become a favorite community destination, both for locals and visitors alike. The park's choice facilities include a well-equipped children's playground and very well-maintained basketball and tennis courts. Among Payson's best features, however, is the 2.5-acre Longfellow Arboretum which is located in the southwestern corner of the park. This wonderfully serene environment features nearly 40 non-native trees that are great for viewing and relaxing amidst their natural splendor. The arboretum is named in honor of Edward Longfellow, a Portland native son and one of America's legendary poets. Another big plus is the Payson Hill Terrain Park. Owing to the park's hilly location, the City of Portland established a comprehensive terrain park facility for skiing and snowboarding during the winter months in 2008. As a result, Payson Park is one of the few municipal parks in the United States to offer free skiing and snowboarding lessons.

Local Expert tip: Visit the website for an update on community events at Payson Park.

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Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
Photo courtesy of Spring Point Ledge Light Trust

Seeking a fun, free activity that truly says "Portland?" Then be sure to visit the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. This historic lighthouse is located at the end of a 900-foot breakwater wall that borders the Atlantic Ocean. It was built in 1897 to warn ships away from a dangerous ledge that extended into the main shipping channel in Portland Harbor. The ledge, which jutted out into the waters near Fort Preble in South Portland, was the site of numerous shipwrecks and vessel groundings. When a succession of buoys and other nautical floating devices failed to warn mariners away from the ledge, Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse was constructed. Today, visitors can take a short walk along the breakwater wall to visit the lighthouse. During the summer, weekend open houses, conducted by the dedicated Spring Point Ledge Light Trust volunteers, offer free tours of the lighthouse interior. This lighthouse is a great way to experience a true and compelling piece of Portland history.

Local Expert tip: Visit the website for a listing of Open House tours.

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Portland Free Concerts
Photo courtesy of

Portland's busy docks have long attracted people of cultures from throughout the world. This global influence is perhaps best reflected in the city's incredible diversity of musical styles and presentations. From spring to early fall, Portland's world music offerings are on display during free noontime, after-work and evening concerts throughout the city. This is a great way to sample up and coming musical talent at no charge. Bring a bag lunch or take-out, along with your favorite ice cream cone flavors, and enjoy this gift of music for all to hear. Top venues include the Alive at Five Concert Series, presented at Monument Square, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.; and the Weekday Music Series at Congress Square from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. In nearby South Portland, be sure to check out the Summer Concerts at Mill Creek with concerts in July and August from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. – visit for further details.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to check the website for a current list of free concerts.

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Old Port Sights
Photo courtesy of

Portland's reputation as one of New England's finest walking cities is perhaps no more apparent than in the bustling Old Port district. Window shopping and sight seeing rises to new levels of entertainment for those who wander through the many attractions of Old Port, located at the intersection of Exchange and Fore Streets. Here you can leisurely view the wide array of merchandise on display in the front shop windows of many downtown boutiques and quirky establishments. The variety is impressive with everything from handmade quilts and rugs to expertly designed, one-of-a-kind prints, furniture, jewelry and pottery. Watching fishing and lobster boats dock nearby is always a fascinating pastime for those eager to catch the busy activity of Old Port. The warmer months are an especially great time to catch Old Port at its best with street musicians and performers – everything from magicians to storytellers – practicing their crafts to the delight of young and old alike.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to visit the Old Port website for a list of upcoming activities.

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Deering Oaks Park
Photo courtesy of Friends of Deering Oaks

Among its other attributes, the City of Portland is known as a metropolis that goes to great lengths to preserve open space. This is most evident in the many quality urban parks and natural environments contained within the city limits. Among the best examples of such recreational planning is Deering Oaks Park, located at the intersection of Deering Avenue and Forest Avenues. This premier park features a baseball diamond, playground, a pond and tennis courts. All of the facilities are free and open to the public. Not to be missed is Deering Oak's most prominent landmark, the Castle-in-the-Park. Constructed in 1894, the "castle" was built in classic Victorian style as a warming hut for ice skaters. This structure is a favorite with children who are often seen engaging in spirited imaginative play in and around the castle. Among activities within the park, the Portland Farmers Market (located on the Park Avenue side of the park) is a big draw for locals and visitors alike.

Local Expert tip: Check out the Friends of Deering Oaks website for up-to-date special events planned for the park.

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Portland Freedom Trail
Photo courtesy of Maine Freedom Trails

For decades prior to the Civil War, the state of Maine and, especially, its city of Portland was a hot bed of abolitionist sentiment. Indeed, one of Maine's greatest heroes, Civil War general Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, was a strong and vocal opponent of the American institution of slavery. He wasn't alone in his beliefs, as demonstrated in the legacy of Maine's anti-slavery leanings as evidenced through the free, choice walking tour of the Portland Freedom Trail. This is a comprehensive, do-it-yourself trek that features 16 marked sites which tell the tale of Maine as a chosen destination of temporary safety for escaped slaves. Many of the buildings you will view featured hidden passageways and tunnels that helped to safeguard African American slaves on their way to reach the salvation of freedom in nearby Canada. These structures ranged from private homes to churches and businesses that served as stops along the famous Underground Railroad. A downloadable map of the trail is available from the Maine Freedom Trails, Inc. website.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to visit the Maine Freedom Trails' website for a free, downloadable walking tour map.

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Kennebunk Bridle Path
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

While the Kennebunk Bridle Path doesn't necessarily afford a long trek, it has special features well worth experiencing for outdoor enthusiasts. In particular, a section of this 5.6 mile path crosses into the Rachel Carson Wildlife Preserve. Here, it is possible to experience expansive views of the coastal wetlands that naturalist Rachel Carson fought so hard to safeguard from development. Because the trail courses through a narrow section of uplands, the fragile ecology is not disturbed by cyclists, walkers, runners and others who take this path. At the same time, it is possible to pause and appreciate the marsh grasses waving in the ocean breeze, seafaring birds resting along natural canals, and the meandering travels of wetlands waterways. The path, which begins near the Sea Road School in Kennebunk (71 Kennebunk Beach Road), borders private homes at times but there are also sections that are enclosed within thick forest, giving travelers a soothing deep woods feeling. When school is in session, the path can be accessed near the Mousam River Bridge on Route 9 in Kennebunk. Be sure to bring your camera � you don't want miss the opportunity to have a visual record of the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you.

Local Expert tip: Fall is a great time of year to travel this path with native trees ablaze with color.

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Portland Trails
Photo courtesy of Portland Trails

There is nothing quite as exciting as discovering a little known perspective to a new travel destination. Such is the case with Portland Trails, one of the leading open space preservation groups on the Southern Maine Coast. This organization has done a remarkable job of preserving nearly three dozen tracts of land for public use. Families with children, in particular, will enjoy exploring the winding trails that make their way through the surprisingly deep woods environment of these lands. Often, it is hard to believe that you are only yards away from Portland's busy streets. One of the most remarkable properties is the Presumpscot River Preserve, located on Overset Road near the Presumpscot River. This preserve features a 2.5 mile trail that leads visitors through a deep ravine, far from the surrounding metropolis, along the scenic Presumpscot River, along upland areas, and across wooden pathways. If you're so inclined, much of this trail is accessible by mountain bikes – a perfect activity for families and others seeking to enhance their enjoyment of one of Portland's hidden wonders.

Local Expert tip: Check out the Portland Trails website for a detailed listing of their properties, including easy to follow directions for making your way to these hidden gems.

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Eastern Promenade
Photo courtesy of Portland Trails

The Eastern Promenade is a favorite with locals and visitors alike who are seeking a relaxing, scenic walk along the Portland shoreline. The 2.1 mile paved, generally level trail follows an old train line. Walking, biking or jogging along this trail, you'll enjoy expansive views of Casco Bay with its boats, birds and even seals that occupy its waters. Benches and picnic tables enable visitors to spend time lingering over the wonderful scenery. The trail connects to East End Beach for swimming (changing rooms are available and public toilets, as well). There is also a public boat launch which affords easy access to the bay for boaters, canoeists and kayakers.

Local Expert tip: Keep this wonderful destination in mind for romantic walks.

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