Introducing Portland, Maine


By Emma W. Barhydt

For those who can’t stand the heat, for those who like charming coastal cities, for those who like the size of this little town, for those who love food, for those who love travel… may I introduce you to Portland, Maine. This city stands out as one of the best places to visit on the East Coast, blending the charisma of a classic seacoast town with the bustling energy of the state’s largest city. Clocking in with a population of just 68,313 residents, it seems hard to believe that Portland is Maine’s largest city.

While Portland may proudly wear that state’s largest city tag, it does so with the endearing charm reminiscent of quaint coastal settlements. Here you’ll find cobblestone streets lined with old architecture and people who say hello as they pass you, coupled seamlessly with an enormous variety of stores, some of the best restaurants on the east coast, and luxurious hotels.

Delve into the heart of this historic city and you’ll discover a harmonious blend of culture, cuisine, and commerce. Art enthusiasts, food connoisseurs, and business mavens alike find their place amidst Portland’s vibrant streets.

Known for its tantalizing food scene, Portland has earned accolades like “Restaurant City of the Year” from Bon Appetit in 2018, and it has graced numerous travel bucket lists, including those curated by such esteemed publications as Conde Nast Traveler and Lonely Planet. Portland, Maine is calling promising a blend of history, culture, and unforgettable experiences. And boy does it deliver on its promise, there’s always something new to discover and old favorites to enjoy with each pilgrimage. I find every excuse I can to visit, so I end up finding myself in Portland several times a year. From a seasoned foodie, shopper, and traveler, here are my suggestions for what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Portland, Maine.

How to Get to Portland
Portland has a variety of ways to arrive. Portland is a mere four-hour and seventeen-minute drive from Greenwich and right off I-95. If driving isn’t your thing, you could fly into Portland’s airport, or, if you’d like something a little more scenic, take Amtrak to Portland.

Where to Stay

The Cambria Hotel

Nestled in the heart of historic Old Port stands The Cambria Hotel – a beacon of luxury and comfort. My recent stay there was nothing short of fantastic. From the rooms to the customer service, not to mention its location– everything was top-tier.

First, and, in my opinion, most important: safety. To enter, you walk into a ground-floor lobby and then take an elevator up to the fourth floor where you check in and where the hotel’s bar and restaurant Alto are located. From there you get your room key and then you have to tap your keycard in the elevator to go up to the floors with guest rooms. It all felt very secure.

After getting my keys I went up to the room and was surprised at just how spacious and modern it was for an area that typically leans into its historic roots. I stayed in a suite with a small living room and kitchenette attached to the bedroom. The modern design seamlessly blended with comforting amenities, making it easy to relax. The bedding was soft and covered in pillows, and the bed itself was oh-so-comfortable.

After I got situated, I took a shower and got ready for dinner. The water pressure in the shower was good and the apparatus was easy to use. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I swear the hardest part about traveling is always figuring out how to work the shower. The spa-like bathroom was equipped with a fully lit, Bluetooth speaker mirror which made getting ready less of a chore and more of an event in itself.

Heading down to Alto, I was excited to be seated on their terrace and to get to soak in all of that wonderful Maine air. While Alto is a rooftop terrace, it’s not a terribly tall rooftop so you won’t be seeing much scenery, but that is wholly made up for by how beautifully they’ve made the terrace itself.

Alto’s indoor bar

When you walk out you’ll notice the tables and bar for the restaurant as well as two couches with firepit coffee tables in the middle. You’ll also notice greenspace, landscaped with flowers, and a fountain with chairs around it — the perfect place to enjoy a morning coffee.

I had the opportunity to taste a few of the shared plates, entrees, and drinks at Alto. The entrees I had – the Grilled Swordfish Steak with lobster and herb compound butter, rice pilaf, and haricots verts, and the Pasta Primavera with seasonal local veggies, a white wine garlic sauce, and fresh herbs over penne pasta served with bread – were okay, but their drinks and shared plates are really where their menu shines.

Their French Fries were great, with a satisfying crunch while still being fluffy on the inside. The fries are lightly dusted in old bay and served with a few different dipping options making the fries less of a side and more of a showstopper. The Fried Brussels Sprouts with lardons, almonds, and balsamic glaze were honestly to die for, perfectly crispy with a great flavor, the tang from the balsamic glaze perfectly complimented their smoky flavor. The Fried Calamari with sweet peppers, remoulade, and micro greens was also fantastic. The calamari wasn’t too tough which can happen easily when frying seafood, and the flavor was lovely and mild. The portions of the shared plates were enormous as well and could easily satisfy 4-6 people.

Their drink menu is robust with options for everybody featuring a variety of handcrafted signature cocktails, locally sourced craft beer, and thoughtfully selected wines. Their flight of local beers is a must-have. Your order comes with moderately sized tasting portions of four local Maine beers, whatever they have on hand. I always love menu items like this – it’s always fun to get both a pleasant surprise and interesting local flavor when you travel. Their cocktails were no flop either. I got to try the Walk Along the Promenade and the Blueberry Mule, both of which were great. The pours were robust but not overpowering and the flavor combos were so fun. As someone who enjoys winding down with a good meal and drink after a day of exploration, this restaurant was the cherry on top of an already fantastic day.

The terrace at The Cambria as seen from my room

Beyond the serene room and delicious food and drinks, The Cambria has even more to offer including a fitness center stocked with pretty much everything you might need to keep up with your physical regimen on vacation. They have treadmills, exercise benches, weights, and medicine balls all on a separate floor beneath the guestrooms. They also offer a fully stocked snack bar open 24/7 where you can find everything from a granola bar to instant ramen and a variety of bottles sodas, sports drinks, and water.

The Cambria’s state-of-the-art exercise facilities

Because I know everyone is wondering in today’s modern age, the Wifi is free, fast, speedy, and accessible everywhere in the hotel and most rooms come with a little work area just in case.

In terms of location, the Cambria just cannot be matched. Perched just a leisurely walk away from some of Portland’s best attractions such as the Portland Museum of Art, the picturesque Old Port district, and the renowned Shipyard Brewing Company, the hotel promises an experience that truly encapsulates the essence of Downtown Portland.

The fireplace coffee tables create the perfect atmosphere for evening drinks.

My final verdict? Whether you’re in Portland for business or leisure, I wholeheartedly recommend immersing yourself in the luxury and comforts that The Cambria offers. It’s a decision you won’t regret.

What to Do?
So now you’ve arrived in Portland, taken a shower, unpacked your bags, and had a power nap… what next? Don’t fret, let me point you to the best that Portland, Maine has to offer. Portland is a fascinating amalgamation of maritime history, artsy enclaves, and New England charm. From centuries-old cemeteries to buzzing flea markets, here’s how to make the most of a visit to this coastal wonder.

Take a stroll through Eastern Cemetery. While it might seem a touch morbid at first, Eastern Cemetery is a historical treasure trove. Eastern Cemetery is a serene expanse in the heart of the city. Located at 224 Congress Street and established in 1668, this cemetery is one of the city’s oldest historic landmarks. With approximately 7,000 souls resting here, every tombstone unveils a narrative of life, love, and legacy.

Enjoy amazing art at the Portland Museum of Art (PMA). While the PMA may be unassuming from the outside, what is housed within is nothing to scoff at. The PMA was founded in 1882 and is the United States’ oldest public art institution. They house a robust permanent collection, as well as many works from Maine artists, “highlighting the rich artistic tradition of the state and its artists” all throughout three interconnected buildings, according to their brochure.

Find your next must-have at Flea-for-All. In the heart of Portland’s vibrant Arts District, a curious spectacle unfolds within the sprawling confines of a 10,000 sq ft space. Enter the Portland Flea-for-All, an amalgamation of history, artistry, and discovery. Whether you’re a discerning collector on the hunt for that elusive piece, or a curious traveler seeking a touch of Portland’s soul, the Flea-for-All promises an expedition into the eclectic. Just make sure you’re car is as empty as possible before you go.

One of the historic cobblestone streets in the Old Port

Discover the Old Port. The Old Port is extremely walkable – park your car in one of the many lots with an all-day fee and get your step count up. The Old Port’s working fishing piers, cobbled streets, brick sidewalks, and historic buildings transport visitors to a bygone era; however, it’s not all about the past– the Old Port weaves in modernity seamlessly. Nestled in the core of Old Port, Commercial and Exchange Streets are the places to be. Contemporary boutiques mingle effortlessly with age-old establishments, offering visitors a phenomenal fusion of past and present. Lined with excellent shops filled with the kinds of things you can only find in Maine (did someone say sea glass jewelry?) almost all adorned with the famous “Made in Maine” sticker.

Turn back time at the Victoria Mansion. As you approach the Victoria Mansion, its breathtaking architecture immediately grabs you. But beyond its facade lies an interior that, in its prime, was the epitome of luxury and sophistication. Knowledgeable docents, well-versed in the house’s history and the broader historical context, provide insights that transport visitors back in time. As you navigate through the house, stories of the Morse and Libby families, the original occupants, come to life, painting a vivid picture of American life in the mid-19th century.

Visit the famous Portland Head Light. Standing proud at the edge of Fort Williams Park, the Portland Head Light isn’t just a lighthouse; it’s a living piece of American history. Established in 1791, it holds the distinction of being Maine’s oldest lighthouse and the honor of being the most photographed lighthouse in the world. Yes, world. This grand dame of lighthouses is not just for show – she remains operational, casting her light across the waves as she has done for more than two centuries though now automated. The lighthouse is surrounded by the lush expanse of Fort Williams Park, 90 acres of gorgeous green space perfect for a leisurely stroll or afternoon picnic. On your stroll take note of the interesting ruins including Battery Blare and Battery Keys, and the Goddard Mansion.

Hop a ferry to Peaks Island. Nestled just a 20-minute ferry ride away from the bustling city of Portland is Peaks Island. A fifteen-minute ferry from Casco Bay Lines might as well transport you to an entirely different world. Wander the island full of picturesque coastal cottages and quirky local businesses with the Portland City skyline in the distance. Whether you’re an art aficionado, a history enthusiast, or someone seeking a change of pace, Peaks Island has something tailor-made for you. On Peaks Island, traditional cars are around but typically take a back seat. Instead, bicycles, golf carts, and your own two feet rule the roads. Delve into World War II history at the Fifth Maine Museum or marvel at the imposing Battery Steele which also doubles as a living art exhibit; visit numerous galleries showcasing the work of local artisans; and if you’re looking for something utterly unique, the world’s only Umbrella Cover Museum awaits. This quirky institution pays homage to the ordinary, reminding us to find joy in the little things and “celebrate the mundane,” as their tagline goes. If you have the chance to get to Peaks on your trip, absolutely do not miss the Umbrella Cover Museum!

See more at the Portland Observatory. Built by Captain Lemuel Moody in 1807, the Portland Observatory functioned not as a lighthouse, but as a crucial communication hub. Through a system of flags during the day and lanterns by night, the observatory communicated with ships, informing them about docking conditions and space availability. Each of its floors houses meticulously curated exhibits that weave tales of Portland’s illustrious past, maritime traditions, and, of course, the very story of the observatory itself. For those willing to make the climb, the observatory promises a reward unlike any other. As you ascend, the views start to unfold, but it’s the final destination – the tower’s lantern or cupola – that takes your breath away.

Expand children’s minds at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. Understanding the link between play and learning, the museum masterfully crafts experiences based on the latest scientific research on childhood development. Every exhibit is meticulously designed to empower kids to take charge, letting them sculpt their own adventures. Housed in a sprawling 30,000-square-foot building on the water, this wonderland boasts three levels of thematic exhibits. It isn’t just the quantity, but the rich diversity that sets this museum apart. From art and culture to STEM-oriented displays, there’s a universe waiting to be explored.

The results of a recent paint & sip at Muse

Unleash your creativity at Muse Paintbar. The establishment, which began in 2012, has evolved from a humble concept to a thriving culture, offering not only a unique paint-and-sip experience but also an atmosphere that encourages people to come together and unleash their inner artists. Even if you’re not much of a painter, the paint and sips at Muse make art highly approachable. The atmosphere is lively and joyful, fueled by the perfect playlists and a full cup that the Muse Paintbar team ensures you always have. My favorite part (besides taking home your beautiful and unique work of art) is their Shirly Spritzer! Don’t worry, kids can also come and enjoy painting (just not the sips).

Portland beckons with its mix of old-world coastal charm and modern vibrancy. Dive into any activity and let Portland, Maine captivate your heart and the last gigabytes of space on your photo roll.

Where to Eat
Okay, you’ve done everything you wanted to do, taken a million photos, shopped ‘’til you dropped and your feet kind of hurt… but where should you eat?

Welcome to Hot Suppa, where Northern sensibilities meet Southern comforts. It’s a brave endeavor to declare a singular ‘best’ dish amidst Hot Suppa’s delectable menu, yet I have a clear favorite that is an absolute must-eat any time I’m in the area: the waffle plate. A waffle; two eggs any style; and your choice of bacon, sausage links, or Canadian bacon doesn’t sound like it would be a showstopper, but believe me, it absolutely is. The signature Hot Suppa waffle boasts an exterior that’s perfectly golden brown and crisp while hiding a fluffy interior. Their waffles are thinner with smaller squares than your typical Belgian waffle, a delightful departure from the ordinary that lends itself to optimally soaking up real Maine maple syrup without losing that slight crunch. The dish’s accompaniments do not play second fiddle. I take my eggs scrambled and they have perfected that here too, the eggs are pillowy soft, and still slightly moist. My meat of choice is bacon which always comes served nice and crispy, just how I like it.

When you’re just in the mood for standard American diner fare, in Portland there’s nowhere better than Becky’s Dinner… nothing finer. A diner with its own Wiki page, Becky’s is both a diner and a cultural icon in Portland. Becky’s Diner is a culinary treasure, and its breakfast offerings can only be described as sublime. Becky’s has found itself on the pages of Gourmet Magazine, claimed a coveted feature on Rachael Ray’s Food Network program, “$40 a Day;” and even earned a spot on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. But that’s not all, Becky’s has also earned the title “Best Greasy Spoon of 2008” by The Portland Phoenix. Personally, I suggest a stack of chocolate chip pancakes, homefries (ask for them well done), and a glass of milk. The chocolate chip pancakes — fabulously fluffy, generously sprinkled with chocolate chips, and topped (once again) in real Maine maple syrup melt in your mouth and warm the soul, paired with an enormous pile of perfectly seasoned home fries? Forget it, I’m getting rolled out of there.

Are bagels more your thing? Look no further than Rose Foods. Opened in July 2017, this independent, family-owned bakery and restaurant is the brainchild of Chad Conley, a man whose journey to build a bagel sanctuary in Maine was woven with threads of love, dedication, and a deep appreciation for Jewish culinary arts. Be it one of my favorites; an everything bagel schmeared with their beautifully briney olive cream cheese or their signature sandwich, the “Good Deal” on a plain bagel, or any of their other masterful combos and creations- you cannot go wrong with any bagel from Rose. And with every bagel sold, Rose goes donates at least one percent of its sales to charitable causes.


A dozen oysters at Eventide

A vivacious and welcome revival of the classic American oyster bar, Eventide is a tiny but busy seafood maven. In particular, Eventide is known for its amazing selection of oysters. Oysters, brought in and eaten fresh, are not just served but celebrated. Your oysters come served on a bed of ice with a selection of accouterments, such as lemon pepper or cocktail sauce mixed with shaved ice to put on top of your oysters to both give them an amazing punch of flavor and keep your oysters the perfect temp. I highly recommend half a dozen oysters with their Ponzu ice and Horseradish ice if they have them when you go in, their ices are rotating. Both are scrumptious with any kind of oyster, whether your preference is small and sweet or meaty and salty. In the current dining climate where many establishments bend backward to be everything to everyone, Eventide stands tall, proud, and tasty in its niche.

Honey Paw tempts the palate with pan-Asian flavors that pay homage to New England’s bountiful offerings. The ambiance, as I found, is disarmingly welcoming. Communal seating encourages chatting and laughter with your tablemates over mismatched dishware and incredible flavors. Allow me to steer you toward my personal favorites. The assorted pickles are a fun favorite of mine, it’s always interesting to see what kinds they have in stock throughout the year. The fried bread served with a seasonal butter packs a small but mighty punch. If you find yourself at Honey Paw with just drinks in mind, this treat promises to be a delightful companion — though be warned, you might find yourself ordering a second, or even a third, just for yourself. For now, my favorite entree at Honey Paw is the pork katsu sandwich, simple but tantalizing, just like Portland. Be warned, it is special and so apt to be gone soon.

For those with a more classically American palette, follow me to Black Cow Burger. Black Cow is a place where soda fountains aren’t just nostalgia, but an integral part of the dining panorama. While the milkshakes are quite good, I know we’re all here for the burgers. Black Cow thoughtfully creates just about every part of their burger in-house down to the buns and sauces while utilizing the “smash on the griddle” technique for burgers that are juicy with a crust. I find with most burgers, they tend to sit in your stomach like a brick– not Black Cow burgers though, they’re the perfect size to leave you with just enough room for dessert. My romp through this menu led me to the mushroom Swiss burger with bacon, a choice vindicated from the very first bite. Paired with their criminally crispy fries and a nostalgic Manhattan egg cream, it is the embodiment of a quintessential American lunch.


Beef bibimbap at N to Tail

Enter N to Tail, a culinary haven that insists – ever so delightfully – that you always order for the table. Featuring both Korean Barbeque and table service with menus for each that leave you positively salivating. Their KBBQ Beef Trio is unbeatable for a celebratory dinner with friends, and their Bibimbap and kimchi pancake are not to be missed. Not kidding- the kimchi pancake changed my life. Chef and owner Jung Hur, with more than two decades in the restaurant business, masterfully crafts each dish. Aside from cooking in and owning an amazing restaurant, Chef Hur also owns a farm in Auburn, Maine providing N to Tail with an assortment of specialty vegetables cultivated and chosen based on seasonality. Every fish that graces your plate is sourced straight from local Portland fish markets. And those oh-god-amazing sauces? Crafted in-house.

Have the perfect lobster roll (or three) at Highroller Lobster Co. There are places where you can get a lobster roll, and then there’s the Highroller Lobster Co. Few places can claim lobster tacos with shells ingeniously crafted from melted cheese crisps. Or how about the insanity (both in idea and level of deliciousness) of a lobster tail corndog? But the thing you absolutely cannot leave Portland without trying is their lobster roll flight. “Beggahs CAN be choosahs,” says their menu of the flight, and after diving into the three amazing lobster roll combos they’ve created you’ll definitely be begging for more.

Portland is for foodies, and I stand by that. Where else can you find such a diversity of food choices at such a high quality (besides, of course, Greenwich)? No matter where you go, whether it was on my list or not, you won’t be disappointed. Portland takes its food scene seriously, and you can tell the restaurants in the city are very proud to be in the unique little oasis that is Portland, Maine.

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