A lot of locals are quick to say that Portland is getting too expensive. They’re not wrong…they’re just not right! With about five minutes of planning, you can find a ton of free activities, outings, and spaces in Portland. So, the next time you’re in town or need a budget treat-yo-self day, check out my five favorite free (or nearly free) things to do and see in Portland!
1. The GrottoDespite being on a lot of Portland must see lists, the Grotto still manages to get less attention from locals than it deserves. The Grotto is a 62-acre green space and catholic shrine located in Northeast Portland, with a cave carved into an 110ft cliff which boasts a sculpture of Michelangelo’s Pietà in the center.While it is, in fact, a religious space, you don’t have to be to enjoy it!. With its greenery, gardens, and views, the grotto is a tiny slice of Portland Paradise. While most of the grotto is free, you will have to spend $5 if you want to take the elevator ride to the upper gardens and scenic views.
2. Festivals and MarketsPeople who complain about Portland being too expensive are clearly not attending the multitude of free festivals and markets the city offers throughout the year. To start, First and last Thursday can’t be missed! First Thursday occurs on you guessed it, the first Thursday evening of the month, and offers up wine, art galleries, and a stroll through the swanky Pearl District. If that’s not your scene, Last Thursday on Alberta Street is a monthly, more earthy cultural phenomenon of homemade crafts and art, street performers, cheap food, and loads of free lavender and patchouli scents. Even if you don’t buy anything, both are great people watching opportunities. Another people watching activity you have to try at least once is Saturday Market. Happening every Saturday morning March through December, Saturday Market is an open-air market on the waterfront in historic old town Portland.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back weekend activity, stroll through any of Portland’s city-wide Farmers Markets. Visiting a Portland Farmers Market is a wonderful way to support local business and get out of the house.
3. Free Outdoor MoviesDistinctly a summer activity, you’ll have to wait until at least June to take advantage of this Portland freebie. Showing oldies but goodies, both Flicks on the Bricks & Movies in the Park are totally free outdoor movie showings. Flicks on the Bricks is offered weekly at Pioneer Courthouse Square during the summer. Movies in the Park are offered nightly during the summer at Portland City Parks throughout the city. Both are a great way to spend a warm summer night in the city, without spending a dime.
4. Free Days at Local FavoritesIf you’re on a budget and are willing to spend two minutes planning, you can visit many of Portland’s destination hot spots for totally free (or cheap!)
Omsi: offers $2 admission on the first Sunday of every month.
Portland Art Museum: offers free admission on the first Thursday of every month.
Portland Zoo: $4 admission on the second Tuesday of every month. Bonus: admission is only $2.5 if you ride the bus or max!
Portland Children’s Museum: offers free admission the first Friday of every month.
5. City ParksPortland is covered in beautiful and famous parks. You can spend an entire afternoon on Mount Tabor exploring the walking paths, playing tennis or frisbee, reading on a bench, and soaking in the fabulous views offered at the top of this ancient volcano. In the summer, you can even catch free concerts at Mt. Tabor. Another fantastic park is Washington Park in West Portland, boasting the International Rose Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, an archery range, and more. Finally, there is Forest Park: the largest urban forest in the U.S. It is a forest, in the city. Super cool. Super free. Pressed for time? See the world’s smallest park!
Bonus: The TramIf you’re visiting Portland you really should check out the Portland aerial tram. It offers a fantastic aerial view of Portland, Mt. hood and beyond. While it is technically not free, you can work around the $4 ticket by taking a lovely hike to the top of Marquam Hill and riding the tram down. Trips down are always free!
All of these fantastic Portland to-dos are free or cost less than a grande latte. Whether these make it onto your vacation itinerary, or your yearly bucket list, there is no reason you can’t experience and love Portland for under 5 bucks, so make it your mission to take advantage of what the city has to offer!