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Portland, Maine: The Forest City by the sea
Attractively set on a peninsula with sweeping views of the islands and lighthouses dotting Casco Bay, Portland is the largest city in Maine, and one of its most picturesque. Yet the harbour’s red-brick warehouses and shipshape piers are not just for show: over 20 million pounds of fish are unloaded, sorted, and sold every year at the Portland Fish Exchange. Travellers who come for a freshly caught Maine lobster will find many reasons to stay: fabulous art galleries, museums, microbreweries, mansions, and festivals are just a few of the Forest City’s charms.
Commercial ocean liners, cobblestone streets, and collector’s pieces
Wandering through the historic Old Port District’s cobblestoned streets to see the commercial ocean liners, ferries, and fishermen at work is one of the city’s greatest pleasures in sunny weather, though many travellers also choose to enjoy the view from one of the fine hotels and restaurants along the harbour front. The deck of a tour boat or private charter bound for the islands, beaches, and lighthouses of Casco Bay offers a lovely vantage point, too. Many of Portland’s best pubs, shops, and art galleries are also found in this part of town, though no art aficionado should leave the city without visiting the Portland Museum of Art. Centrally located in the city’s handsome downtown, the museum is home to over 18,000 pieces from the likes of Andy Warhol, Winslow Homer, and Claude Monet.
Four seasons of fun and festivity
Hotels are best booked in advance for the second Sunday of June, when Portland hosts the annual Old Port Festival, the largest one-day festival in Maine. Tourists and locals likewise enjoy a bustling sidewalk sale, pony rides, music, and an expansive buffet of local cuisine, as well as an (almost!) equally delicious sense of anticipation: summer in Maine is also known as beach season, and the greater Portland area features some of the finest shores in the state. Not to be outdone, autumn’s spectacular foliage and produce fill every hotel in the city with avid “leaf peepers” and foodies attending annual Harvest on the Harbour festival. L.L. Bean’s annual Northern Lights Celebration, as well as the Sparkle Weekend and Parade of Lights in nearby Freeport, keep spirits bright throughout the snowiest of Maine winters. And how better to celebrate the arrival of Spring than by flying a kite? The annual kite flying festival is held in Bug Light Park, a beautiful wide open space around the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse.
Microbrews, lobster rolls, and Italian sandwiches
Ironically, despite Portland’s pivotal role in making Maine the first “dry” state during the heyday of Prohibition, today the city is a craft beer mecca. Allagash and the Maine Beer Company are two of the largest players, though determined drinkers can try each and every one at Novare Res, which features all of the local microbrews among its 25 rotating taps as well as over 500 bottles imported from all over the world. Any one of these pints would likely go nicely with one of Portland’s most famous sandwiches. The “Italian sandwich,” so named for its creator, Portland native Giovanni Amato, involves a long white sub roll piled high with ham, white American cheese, and chopped veggies drizzled with oil, salt, and pepper. Portland is also famous for its infinite variations on the lobster roll, each with its highly devoted following. Though components such as mayonnaise, celery, lettuce, and spices are all up for fiery debate, all sides agree: there is nothing quite like a freshly caught Maine lobster.
Bigfoot, brollies, and one really big boot
However architecturally beautiful, historic, and culturally rich, Portland also has a delightfully quirky streak. It is home to the International Cryptozoology Museum (where you’ll find a life-sized model of Bigfoot and actual hair samples from Abominable Snowmen) as well as the Umbrella Cover Museum, which offers over 700 umbrella covers from all over the world (yes, really!). Even travellers who aren’t in the market for a new parka or backpack get a kick out of the giant rubber-bottomed boot in front of L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport, though more serious shoppers flock to the massive Maine Mall in South Portland; it is the biggest in the state, and is surrounded by hotels in every price range.