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Perched along the dramatic slate-gray waters of the Atlantic Ocean, where gulls wheel and whitecaps dot the surf, Portland is quintessential Maine combined with the allures of a metropolis. Established as a booming port town by traders and fishermen, Portland is now the state’s biggest city. Here you can tread cobblestone streets, visit historic lighthouses, and dine on lobsters hauled from the nearby waters. But you’ll also find top-notch museums and galleries, boutique shopping, and a celebrated foodie scene that boasts award-winning restaurants and a thriving microbrew culture. New and old Maine commingle comfortably here, where you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Fly into Portland International Jetport (PWM), located about 15 minutes from downtown. You can explore this walkable city on foot — particularly the Arts District and Old Port, which are next to each other. The Greater Portland Metro operates several bus lines that navigate the city, and taxis and rideshares are also easily found. Renting a car is a good idea if you plan to explore nearby towns and attractions, such as the Portland Head Light.
Summers are brief and mild in Portland, where June through September bring average temperatures in the 70s Fahrenheit. October and November cool down, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s, and December through February are chilly, with temperatures in the 30s. Things grow steadily warmer starting in March, ushering in 40-degree weather and climbing into the low 60s by May. You’re likely to encounter rainfall year-round, and snow December through March. Pack lots of warm layers, hats, and scarves.
The Portland area is home to several historic lighthouses, but the Portland Head lighthouse is the undisputed heavyweight. Construction began in 1790, making it the oldest in the state. Visitors can tour the quaint lighthouse and its grounds, which include the former keepers’ house, now repurposed as a museum. Take in the sweeping vista, which includes views of four more lighthouses and the possibility of watching lobstermen pulling their traps from the bay, before taking a scenic stroll through Fort Williams, the 90-acre park in which the lighthouse resides.
Hop on a ferry (or charter a water taxi) to tour the photogenic Calendar Islands, clustered in grand Casco Bay. You can experience small-town Maine life here. Teensy Cliff Island has fewer than 60 year-round residents and a small schoolhouse. Peaks Island offers four miles of uninterrupted coastline and historical sites such as a World War II artillery bunker. Tonier Great Diamond Island, where a private community has been installed within the refurbished military buildings of historic Fort McKinley, boasts upscale dining. Don’t have time to set ashore? Casco Bay Lines, the island ferry service, offers speciality cruises that will afford you a sailor’s-eye view of the islands and dazzling bay.
Travel back in time in this quaint maritime neighborhood that still looks very much the way it did in the early 19th century. Narrow cobblestone streets and historic brick warehouses lend the enclave its cozy feel, but that’s where the frozen-in-time vibe ends. The restored Old Port District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is home to quirky boutiques, inventive eateries, and brewpubs. You’ll find many of these offerings on buzzy Exchange Street.