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From the historic shipbuilding industry to the thriving arts scene, Portland, Maine, has a lot going on. These are the best free things to do in Portland, ME, with kids.
Known for its thriving food and arts scene, Portland, Maine, is making news in major magazines and news organizations from Bon Appetit to The Boston Globe. But it’s more than just a foodie city of lobster rolls, oysters and duck fat fries. Located just two hours from Boston, this New England city is a great place to visit with your family — especially during the warm months.
While you’re in Portland, there are so many wonderful ways to experience the history and beauty of the area — for free. Here are 11 of the best free things to do in Portland, ME, with kids. Hint: it includes some great stops for sightseeing, enjoying Portland Harbor and exploring.
Free Things to do in Portland with Toddlers and Babies
Explore the Eastern Promenade
A short drive from the hustle-bustle of downtown Portland, the Eastern Promenade feels rural. At 78 acres, this natural beauty is Portland’s largest developed park. There, you can walk or jog the multi-use trails, visit Will’s Playground, check out East End Beach and the amazing views of Casco Bay and even sled in the wintertime. I love strolling along the trails here and taking time to read the signs about the nearby forts, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and The Portland, a ship. Not far from here is the Portland Observatory, which offers excellent views but does have an admission fee.
Play at Deering Oaks Park
The 55-acre Deering Oaks Park is a public park in Portland that features a lively playground, tennis courts, walking trails and more. There’s even a splash pad in the warm months for kids to cool down. The pond at Deering Oaks Park is lovely and whimsical. And there’s a Rose Garden. A farmers market on Saturdays beginning in spring brings fresh fruits and veggies to the park. Friends of Deering Oaks Park organizes great, free events at the park including the annual Lantern Walk. Kids design and create their own lanterns at events leading up to the walk (or just bring their own!) and parade around the park.
Story Time and More at Portland Public Library
In Downtown Portland, Portland Public Library is a hub of activity and opportunity year-round. There are so many programs from story times and Rhythm and Rhymes for Babies to the Maine Comic Arts Festival in June. Drop in, check the schedule and make a point to enjoy all that the library has to offer. Other branch locations also have programs available to the public as well.
Free Things to do with School-Age Kids
Tour the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
Steps from the campus of Southern Maine Community College in South Portland is the squat and cute Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. Located on the breakwater, it’s the only caisson-style light station in the United States that visitors can walk to. Better yet, you can tour this lighthouse after a short walk down the 900-foot breakwater. It’s open in the summertime and staffed by volunteers. But you’ll want to plan ahead and check the opening schedule as hours and days are sporadic (the website indicates it’s open most Tuesdays and Thursdays and some Saturdays and Sundays).
Walk the Portland Freedom Trail
The Portland Freedom Trail is a self-guided walking tour that begins at the Franklin Street Wharf and continues around the city, ending at Mariners’ Church. There are 13 stops of the tour, each commemorating the Underground Railroad and abolitionist movement in Portland. A printable PDF map can be found on the Maine Historical Society’s website.
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Check Out the Portland Headlight and the Fort Williams Park
The Portland Headlight is perhaps the most familiar lighthouse for visitors to Portland, as it’s been photographed so many times. Located in Fort Williams Park, the tall lighthouse is actually located across Casco Bay in nearby Cape Elizabeth. There’s a great view from the top of Battery Blair, the white structure near the parking area built to defend the fort, but don’t be afraid to get closer. And while you are there, explore Fort Williams Park, which features a children’s garden, walking trails, a playground and sprawling grounds. The ruins of Goddard Mansion, which predate the park, are also worth checking out. Don’t forget your camera and bring a picnic, if you wish. Walking around is free, but if you want to visit the museum inside the keeper’s quarters, there is a fee.
Free Things to do in Portland with Tweens and Teens
Dig into the Portland First Friday Art Walk
Portland, Maine, has a thriving arts community. And on the first Friday of each month, art galleries, art studios, museums and other venues come together to offer a self-guided tour from 5-8 p.m. The art walk has stops throughout the city to meet artists and experience art, though the walk is mostly centered in the arts district. Established in 2000, this long-standing tradition is a great, family-friendly, free activity to fill up an evening year-round.
Explore the Portland Museum of Art
Located in downtown Portland with a giant sculpture of the number 7 outside (it’s the work of Robert Indiana, the same artist behind the iconic LOVE sign in Philadelphia), the Portland Art Museum is not to be missed. It features American, European, and contemporary art (paintings, sculpture, etc), as well as iconic works from Maine’s beloved artists. Admission is free every Friday evening from 4 to 8 p.m. There are also films, tours of the Winslow Homer studio and more.
Stroll the Old Port
Portland’s restored Old Port shopping district has cobbled streets and beautiful Victorian brick buildings. The former warehouse district is now filled with restaurants, microbreweries, art galleries, boutiques and specialty shops all with great Casco Bay and harbor views. Also located in the Old Port is the Victoria Mansion, built in the 19th century as a summer home for two people. There is an admission fee if you want to tour inside though.
Portland Breakwater Lighthouse at Bug Light Park
The Portland Breakwater Lighthouse (sometimes called the Bug Light) is smaller than other lighthouses in the Portland area at a mere 26-feet tall. But it has some serious grace and style for being so small. Located across Casco Bay in nearby South Portland, this lighthouse was first built in 1855 and was rebuilt in 1875. It was restored in 1989 and reactivated into service in 2002 after being decommissioned for decades. The waterfront park is located at the eastern terminus of the Greenbelt Walkway and offers excellent views of the Portland skyline. It’s an excellent destination for picnics, walks, kite flying and more.
Going to Freeport? Check out these free things to do there!
Cushing’s Point Museum and Gift Shop
Located nearby the entrance to Bug Light Park, Cushing’s Point Museum tells the story of the local shipbuilding industry and development of South Portland. Exhibits focus on not just ships, but the sardine industry, railroads, schools and more. It’s free to enter. A staff of volunteer docents are available (and happy) to talk about the history of the area and its importance to the war effort during World War II. Take some time to chat with them — you never know what you might learn. Run by the South Portland Historical Society, there’s also a gift shop perfect for picking up souvenirs of your trip. A stop here is a nice accompaniment to time at the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse.
What do you think are the best free things to do in Portland, ME, with kids?