Free & nearly free

You don't need to spend a fortune to enjoy Portland.

Last Thursday on AlbertaThe Alberta Arts District's monthly Last Thursday art walk and street fair
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    Sample food and beverage and plenty of the famous “Keep Portland Weird” spirit at these free and almost-free attractions.

    Always free

    Brewery and distillery tours

    Many of Portland’s breweries and distilleries offer complimentary tours and tastings once a week or more. Contact each facility for times and details.

    Central Library

    The oldest public library on the West Coast, Portland’s Central Library was built in 1913. The library boasts more than 17 miles of bookshelves and terrific artwork, much of which reflects a “Garden of Knowledge” theme. Highlights include the ornately decorated stairs and a 14-foot cast-bronze tree in the children’s room. The tree’s bark is a sculptural relief of images that intrigue children: vines, musical instruments, toys, ballet slippers, animals, storybook characters and letters.

    Hours: Monday and Thursday-Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

    Oregon Rail Heritage Center

    Portland is home to more working steam locomotives than any other city in the country, and you’ll find them at the volunteer-run Oregon Rail Heritage Center, opened in 2012. Guided interpretation, presentations, exhibits and events tell the story of Pacific Northwest railroads and, during the holiday season, light-adorned “Holiday Express” trains tour passengers along the Willamette River. Located near OMSI and accessible via Portland Streetcar. Read more >>

    Monthly Gallery Walks

    One of the best times to explore Portland’s galleries is on the first Thursday of every month during the aptly named First Thursday Gallery Walk. On these nights, galleries and shops in Old Town, the Pearl District and downtown stay open late, inviting the public to mingle with the artists and explore new exhibits. The streets buzz with performers, sidewalk artists and enthusiastic crowds, and many galleries offer free appetizers and wine. See a map of participating galleries.

    Complementing First Thursday is Northeast Alberta Street’s Last Thursday event, which falls on the last Thursday evening of each month. This event offers plenty of gallery shows, plus sidewalk vendors, live music and a street-fair vibe. Held on Northeast Alberta Street between 15th and 30th avenues. Participating venues include Ampersand, Antler, Guardino Gallery, Screaming Sky Gallery, Talisman Gallery and others.

    Portland’s newest monthly art event is First Friday in the Central Eastside district, just across the Willamette River from downtown. Several First Friday shows and events are held in artists’ studios, cafés and other nontraditional exhibit spaces. Map of locations.

    Read more about monthly art walks >>

    Forest Park

    For outdoor enthusiasts, winter and fall are a wonderful time to hike through Forest Park, the nation’s largest urban wilderness. This nearly 5,000-acre wilderness has miles of hiking, jogging and mountain biking trails that are relatively free of traffic during the cooler winter months. Autumn sees the park’s mostly evergreen forest dotted with vibrant fall color. This is the perfect time of year to escape to the quiet solitude of the woods — and all within a 10-minute drive of most downtown hotels. Read more >>

    The Grotto

    The Grotto, a 62-acre Catholic sanctuary, is one of Portland’s most visited attractions, greeting more than 175,000 guests of all faiths each year. Visitors can stroll through this natural gallery in the woods; view the marble replica of Michelangelo’s famous Pietà, carved into the base of a 110-foot cliff; or ride the elevator to the top of the bluff for an impressive, panoramic view of the area’s highlights, including the Columbia River Valley, the Cascade Mountain Range and Mount St. Helens.

    Hoyt Arboretum

    Home to plants from all seven continents, this 185-acre hiker’s paradise contains more than 1,100 species of trees and 12 miles of trails. At the south end of the Hoyt Arboretum is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. An interpretive center offers restrooms, maps and brochures.

    International Rose Test Garden

    In Washington Park, you can also explore one of the largest and oldest rose test gardens in the country — for free. This is the largest of Portland’s three rose gardens. Started in 1917, the International Rose Test Garden, just minutes from downtown Portland, has 10,000 rose bushes, spectacular views of the city and an on-site gift shop. Read more >>

    Free tours are offered daily at 1 p.m. in summer months.

    Pioneer Courthouse Square

    Located in the heart of downtown Portland, Pioneer Courthouse Square is affectionately known as the city’s “living room.” Once a grim parking structure, the square is now a thriving urban park and the single most-visited site in Oregon, attracting more than 9.5 million visitors annually. The square’s on-site resources include the Travel Portland Visitor Information Center and TriMet’s bus and light rail ticket office. The square is also one of Portland’s leading outdoor venues, hosting 300 events each year, from large-scale concerts to cultural festivals. The Portland Farmers Market operates in the square every Monday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., June-October. Read more >>

    Portland Farmers Market

    Enjoy live music and samples of wonderful locally grown and prepared foods. During peak season, farmers’ markets are held on most days of the week around the city. At the Saturday market, chefs demonstrate how to create dishes with fresh market ingredients.

    Locations/dates: The flagship market is held on Saturdays in the South Park Blocks at Portland State University. On Mondays, the market comes to Pioneer Courthouse Square (June-October), and Wednesday’s market is held in the South Park Blocks of the Cultural District (May-November). Hours vary by location.

    Read more >>

    Portland Saturday Market

    Even though the Portland Saturday Market shuts down in January and February, this is still a great fall and early-winter attraction. You don’t have to buy anything, just browse through booth after booth of handmade crafts, jewelry, clothing and artwork. Street musicians, local performers, tarot card readers and international food kiosks round out the scene. The best thing about Saturday Market is that the people staffing the booths and selling the items are the same artists who created the crafts for sale. The market is open Sundays too. Read more >>

    Powell’s City of Books

    Spend an afternoon exploring Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore, covering an entire city block. Boasting more than 1.5 million titles, Powell’s is a mecca for bibliophiles searching for used, out-of-print, rare or autographed books. While the browsing is free, book-lovers will be hard pressed not to purchase something — especially from the bargain tables. Browsers are welcome to take up to three titles into the coffee shop for perusing. Ride Powell’s three-door elevator — one of only a handful in the United States — or check out the Rare Book Room. Read more >>

    Public art

    You can’t visit Portland without encountering public art. In the central city, you’ll discover a surprising mix of artistic styles, materials and settings within any given 10-block radius. Public art is integrated into architectural façades, along the street, in the parks, inside public buildings and in the sculpture garden outside of the Portland Art Museum. There are even indoor exhibits — perfect for rainy-day sightseeing. Download the public art map and guide.

    Wells Fargo History Museum

    Located in downtown Portland’s Wells Fargo Center tower, the free Wells Fargo History Museum showcases the company’s role in regional history, along with displays of original Concord Coaches, mining tools and working telegraphs.

    Free days

    Oregon Historical Society
    Several free days per year

    Portland Art Museum
    Free – fourth Friday of every month, 5-8 p.m.; always free for ages 17 and under.

    Portland Children’s Museum
    Free – first Friday of every month, 4-8 p.m.

    Almost free days

    Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)
    $2 – first Sunday of every month.

    Oregon Zoo
    $4 – second Tuesday of every month.


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