Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). You can read my full disclosure policy here.
Portland, Oregon – nicknamed the city of roses or stumptown depending on who you ask. Home to friendly, quirky people who are welcoming to all. Known for their love of good food, good beer and good coffee. Everything about this city is fantastic from it’s progressive thinking to the hipsters to the outdoor enthusiasts. Pretty much anything goes in this town which is why thousands flock to the city in hopes of living there. It has a small town feel while having everything a bigger city offers. The perfect place to go if you just need to chill out, relax a little and enjoy life. Here are 7 things to do in this great city that won’t cost you a penny.
1. Pioneer Courthouse Square
Known as Portland’s living room, there is plenty to see and do at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Built in 1984, the square is a symbol of Portland. It was built by the people for the people, brick by brick. If you look down as you’re wandering, you can see the names of the 72,856 people who donated money for a brick.
There is almost always some sort of event happening at the square. The day we visited, they were setting up for a free movie later that night. Otherwise, sit on the steps and people watch. It’s always entertaining! The Portland Visitor Centre is also located here and they can get you oriented in the city.
701 SW 6th Ave
Portland, OR 97204
2. Visit the Portland Saturday Market
Saturdays in Portland means heading downtown and visiting the Portland Saturday Market, the city’s largest outdoor arts and craft market. Wander among the stalls of people selling art, photographs and drawings. With 252 booths you’re sure to find a gift or two to take home with you. There is a main stage and performers are invited to share their talents. Food stalls are also set up for a quick bite to eat. During the warm summer months, kids young and old can run around in the fountain (apparently you’re allowed to play in all public fountains found in Portland). Despite its name, the market is also open on Sundays.
2 SW Naito Parkway
Portland, Oregon 97204
Open Every Weekend: March – Christmas Eve
Saturdays 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sundays 11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
3. Explore the International Rose Test Garden
Whoever said to stop and smell the roses hasn’t visited Portland’s International Rose Test Garden. There are over 7000 roses of 550 different varieties in the garden that you’ll be there for a very, very, long time. With 4.5 acres of roses, no wonder Portland is nicknamed “the city of roses.” The garden is used as a testing ground for new variety of roses. Countries from around the world send their roses here to be tested for colour, fragrance, and diseases among other things. The roses bloom from April to October with most of them peaking in June. With so many roses, there is every colour and shape of rose imaginable within the gardens. You’re able to tour the grounds on your own [pdf], or you can join a guided tour free of charge.
400 SW Kingston Ave
4. Wander the aisles of Powell’s City of Books
Book lovers rejoice! Powell’s City of Books is the place to go and get lost. Imagine a multi-story building the size of a city block with floor to ceiling bookshelves. The store is so huge, you can pick up a map to guide you around. With over a million books, you could easily spend a couple of hours in Powell’s and you can find books on any subject imaginable. Some are completely new, others slightly loved and now ready to be rediscovered. There is also a rare and out of print book section for the collectors out there. Beyond the main store, there are a couple of other Powell’s locations with their own specialities. The hardest part of visiting Powell’s is not buying up the whole store.
1005 W Burnside St. between 10th and 11th Ave.
Portland, OR 97209
5. Shop at a Farmer’s Market
There are so many farmer markets in Portland with a different one happening every day of the week it seems. The biggest is the Saturday market at Portland State University where you can find all sorts of fruits and veggies and artisan foods like jams, cheese and meats. Be prepared to sample and to chat with the vendors. There are also prepared food stalls where you can pick up a meal. Music and entertainment make it more than just a farmer’s market and you can easily spend a couple hours wandering and taking in the atmosphere.
1717 SW Park Ave
Portland, OR, United States
6. Brewery Tour
Portland is well know for a few things one of which is beer. No where else can you find such a huge collection of microbreweries within a city limits. With all those breweries come brewery tours! Many places will offer a brewery tour where you can see the magic happen. A few options are try are Full Sail Brewing, and Hopworks Urban Brewery. Widmer Brothers also has a tour, but it’s $5. You can also join a brewery tour (paid) and get driven around to a number of local breweries. Also, depending on when you go, you might be in the city for one of its many beer festivals.
7. Portland Art Museum
For all the art lovers out there, the Portland Art Museum is has free entry on the 4th Friday of every month in the evening from 5 – 8pm. Founded in 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the oldest museum in the Pacific Northwest and the 7th oldest in the country. The permanent collection houses over 42,000 pieces of art and there is always a traveling collection on display as well. Collections range from European art to photography to modern and contemporary art. Be prepared for long lines to get in so arrive early!
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97205
Free 4th Friday of every month in the evenings. Otherwise adults $15; seniors / students $12; children under 17 free
BONUS – A couple things so cheap, they might as well be free:
Eat at a food cart
Portland is famous for its food cart scene. Everywhere you go around the city, you’ll find gatherings of food carts called pods. Here you can find anything and everything to eat. Vegan? No problem. Want some Georgian dumplings? Got you covered. Mexican? Korean? Italian? Yes, yes and yes. It’s a food lovers paradise and with over 700 food carts around the city, it’s near impossible to eat at them all.
Read more: A Quick Tour Through the Portland Food Scene
Play video games at Ground Kontrol
Easily one of my favourite discoveries in Portland. Ground Kontrol is an arcade full of classic video games and pinball machines. Plus beer! Who can ask for more? Clearly, not many people. The place was packed while I was there. Games are very affordable, costing a couple quarters at most. It’s very easy to blow through a lot of money very quickly, especially if you lack hand eye coordination like me. Regardless it’s a great way to spend a little time.
Looking for a place to stay?
Consider the Jupiter Hotel , a boutique hotel located just outside downtown Portland. It’s within walking distance of the downtown core or a short bus ride. There are a number of restaurants and bars nearby. The beds are comfortable and the hotel incredibly clean. Check out my full review here.