Often referred to as the City of Roses, Portland’s gardens have become one of its main attractions. But beyond its greenery, its setting among coastal mountains, its mild climate, impressive arts scene and lively nightlife lure visitors from all over to book flights to Portland.
Lovers of the great outdoors can spend their holiday hiking the trails of Forest Park and taking long walks in the Japanese Garden. The climate is so mild and rainfall so plentiful that Portland is a paradise for gardeners. Semi-tropical plants like camellias thrive, as do 400 varieties of roses. And while much of the rest of North America is still shovelling snow, spring comes to Portland early.
Visitors who come off a flight to Portland when it’s raining shouldn't be disappointed, there’s plenty to do indoors from visiting art museums to exploring the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry or just hanging out at the enormous Powell’s bookstore. There are several local theatre companies, a symphony orchestra, chamber music group, and opera company. In addition, Portland has so many microbreweries and brewpubs; it’s been called “Munich on the Willamette”.
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Portland has the mild rainy climate of the Pacific Northwest. It doesn't get that much rain in inches, but it has a lot of days when it rains some. The rainy season is roughly October to May. Summer is the sunniest season in Portland, so that’s when most people visit. It can be hot, with temperatures reaching 32 degrees Celsius. Whenever you go, be prepared for at least a little rain and also for cool evenings even in summer.
When to fly to Portland
There is much less rain from May to October, and because the summer weather is mild, any time during this half of the year is pleasant. Summer is the most popular time to book flights to Portland, with the highest rates and the nearest to crowding that the city experiences.
The rainy season goes from October to May. During this time, you'll find lower rates and almost as much to see and do. The pleasantest weather in more-or-less off-season times occurs in early May and late September.
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Getting around Portland
It’s easy to walk around compact downtown Portland. There are plenty of small parks to rest at and sidewalks are wide. The public transit system is very good. TriMet has buses and light rail, the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX). If you’re traveling in the free rail zone, a 300-block area downtown, a ride won’t cost you a thing. The Portland Streetcar services the cultural district and great areas for shopping and restaurants. The free rates apply to the streetcar too. If you hop on one of the vintage streetcars that run on the weekends, you still won’t have to pay.
Portland insider information
- If you have a question or need directions when you’re downtown, look for one of the people wearing bright green jackets. These are Portland Guides, and their job is to answer questions and give directions.
- The Portland Saturday Market (now continuing into Sunday) is a favourite outing for locals and visitors alike. Every weekend, artists and craftspeople, typically close to 300 of them, sell their creations. You’ll also find a variety of ethnic and other interesting foods.
- Portland calls itself the City of Roses, and celebrates the Rose Festival throughout all of June. The festival includes a grand parade, boat and car races, an air show, an arts festival, and of course a rose show. Also during June is Fleet Week, when a variety of US Navy, US Coast Guard, and Royal Canadian Navy ships are in port. Some ships provide river cruises. Ships in port are open for free tours.
- Some of Portland’s main attractions are gardens and parks. The Japanese Garden, one of Portland’s most popular attractions, is considered the finest example of a Japanese garden in North America, and the Portland Classical Chinese Garden is the largest of its type outside China. Though very different, both gardens are lovely, and both have tea rooms.
- The Pittock Mansion is the most impressive mansion in Portland, and it commands an impressive view, looking over the city to the Cascade Range. Built in 1914 in the style of a French Chateau, it has innovative features like a built-in vacuum cleaning system and multiple shower heads. The lawn is a good picnic spot.
- One of Oregon’s best-kept secrets is Sauvie Island, a 24,000-acre island ten miles northwest of downtown Portland, where you can observe an impressive array of migratory and year-round birds, pick berries, or walk along the beach. A narrow bridge connects the island to the mainland, running along the top of a dyke past houseboats and fruit and dairy farms.
- Portland has been a major port since the 19th century, and in the early days, unsuspecting young men enjoying a night out in Portland’s seedier sections might be drugged and wake up on board a ship heading for Asia, sold to the captain as slave labour—shanghaied. You can tour the Shanghai Tunnels, the restored labyrinth where the victims were imprisoned, and see the cells where they were held and the trapdoors through which they were dropped from bars and brothels. For tours, call the Cascade Geographic Society (+1 503.622.4798).
- Portland has some unusual attractions, but none is more bizarre than the 24-Hour Church of Elvis/Where's the Art?, a cross between performance art and a kitschy collection of found objects and pop art. It’s not a church—but it does have a proprietor who claims to be a minister; it’s not open 24 hours; and Elvis is only a small part of the popular culture represented.