September 3rd, 2014

5 Free Things to do in Portland, Oregon

5 Free Things to do in Portland, Oregon

You can find a wealth of budget-saving activities in the City of Roses, including art walks, hiking trails, and outdoor music and theater.

Books, bikes and coffee shops are some of the first things that come to mind when picturing Portland, Oregon, which has earned a reputation as one of the coolest cities in America.

Portland is also known for its wealth of outdoor activities and an endearingly quirky side that has been spoofed brilliantly in the TV show "Portlandia."

It’s easy to find fun, free things to do in the “City of Roses” without busting your budget. Free activities can be found all year long, including outdoor parks, art galleries, open-air markets, rose gardens and historic attractions. The best time to visit is during the summer, when the city's warm weather allows you to take advantage of various outdoor activities:

1 - City parks

Few urban areas can compare with Portland, Oregon in terms of outdoor recreation opportunities. Portland Parks & Recreation maintains more than 200 developed city parks. A standout is Forest Park, one of the largest forested areas in any U.S. city, with 5,172 acres of trees and trails, so bring a backpackand do some hiking.

Another popular spot is Mount Tabor Park, the site of an extinct volcanic cinder cone, making Portland one of only a handful of U.S. cities with a volcano within city limits. Mt. Tabor now serves as an ideal family hangout, with hiking opportunities, picnic pavilions and a large dog park—not to mention great views overlooking the Portland skyline.

More free things to do: During the summer months, the parks even host no-cost theatrical productions as part of the Portland Actors Ensemble’s Shakespeare-in-the-Parks series.

2 - Art galleries

Art lovers will want to check out the many free galleries throughout downtown, Old Town, and the Pearl District. During the first week of each month, the city holds its “First Thursday” event in which the galleries stay open into the evening and offer music and refreshments. Park the bike or car, grab a day bag, wander around at your leisure and enjoy the artwork.

Some of the art museums that typically charge admission offer “free days.” The Portland Art Museum is free between 5 and 8 pm on the fourth Friday of each month. The Museum of Contemporary Craft, which showcases ceramics, jewelry, and other objects of modern craft, offers free admission during the first Thursday.

3 - Portland Saturday Market

For more than 40 years, Portlanders have been attending the open-air marketplace known as Portland Saturday Market. What began as a market for food and crafts, has evolved into a weekend-long event featuring free art activities, live band performances, and other special events in addition to the standard market of handmade goods.

The city estimates that more than 1 million locals and tourists visit the market each year. Despite its name, the market operates on both Saturday and Sunday from March through Christmas in Waterfront Park in Old Town.

4 - Public rose gardens

The “City of Roses” is home to not one but three free rose gardens. Since 1919, the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park has served as a testing location for new rose varieties, making it the oldest public rose testing garden in the U.S. Walk around and observe the 10,000 roses on your own, or join a free tour on Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday.

The Peninsula Park and Ladd’s Addition gardens are smaller (about two acres each) but still contain thousands of roses representing more than 60 varieties.

5 - Bookstores, museums, and memorials

No Portland, Oregon experience is complete without a visit to Powell’s, the largest independent bookstore in the world. The books aren’t free, obviously, but visitors are welcome to wander through the store, which occupies an entire city block, to browse the collections or grab a chair and read a few chapters of a new title.

For those interested in history, the Oregon Rail Heritage Center is a free museum celebrating the history of rail travel in the region. Meanwhile, the Oregon Holocaust Memorial in Washington Park is a quiet, moving tribute to the victims of the World War II Holocaust.

If you’re thinking of packing your bags for a visit; which of these free things to do in Portland, Oregon would you most want to experience? Leave a comment with your suggestion!

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Scott Shetler is a freelance journalist and frequent traveler who enjoys national parks, urban nightlife, and everything in between. He blogs about his adventures at

by Scott Shetler

Scott Shetler is a freelance journalist and frequent traveler who enjoys national parks, offbeat destinations, urban adventures, and everything in between. He blogs about his travels at