With so much to see and do in Portland, balancing a budget is tricky, especially when considering the cost of living here in 2021. It's tempting to spend your money visiting the city's amazing breweries, chowing down at a local restaurant or perusing a record store. However, there are plenty of ways to entertain yourself without spending a dime in Rip City. Here are 25 awesome ideas for free things to do in Portland that will help you explore the city without breaking the bank.
1. Brewery Tours
Photo source: Ecliptic Brewing
The city of Portland has a longstanding love affair with craft beer. The thriving brewery scene is a testament to that. If you're a beer nerd looking to get a peek behind the scenes, several breweries in town offer free tours, like Ecliptic, Widmer Brothers and Von Ebert Brewing (by request). Some tours offer samples, but resisting the urge to sit down for a pint is a challenge.
2. Burnside Skatepark
Photo source: Burnside Skatepark / Facebook
Burnside Skatepark has long been a haven for Rip City's skateboarders and was featured as a level in the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game, which warrants a visit in itself. However, even if you don't skate, it's always fun to go hang out and watch people show off their skills, and the tasteful graffiti art that adorns the bowls is constantly changing.
3. Central Library
Photo source: Multcolib.org
Libraries are a well-known, free resource, but few are as beautiful as Multnomah County's Central Library. More than 100 years old, Central Library has a historic charm that seems to radiate from the tall stacks and large windows. It's right in the middle of downtown, so it's a convenient place to go if you have some time to kill, or need a place to unwind with a book for a bit. There are also tours available for those looking to learn more about the building's history.
4. Eastbank Esplanade
Photo source: Portland.gov
If you're looking for a place to spend some time outdoors, the Eastbank Esplanade is always a great choice. This 1.5-mile paved path along the Willamette River's eastern shore is perfect for walking, biking or just sitting on a bench and taking in the view of the city skyline. There are also a couple of docks that serve as popular places for swimming and sunbathing during hot summer days, just be sure to bring sunblock and use caution.
5. First Friday Art Walk
On the evening of the first Friday of each month, Portland's Eastside Arts District puts itself on display for the First Friday Art Walk. Enjoy a free, self-guided tour of some two dozen independent galleries, shops and studios. This free thing to do in Portland will really show off an immersive experience of the city's art scene.
6. Forest Park
Photo source: Forest Park Conservancy / Facebook
Get a feel for the forest without leaving town by visiting Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. The 5,200-acre park has over 80 miles of trails to explore with some great views and sights along the way.
7. The Grotto
Photo source: The Grotto Portland / Facebook
The Grotto is a beautiful, 62-acre outdoor shrine and garden with winding paths, meticulously maintained landscaping and places to sit and enjoy some quiet reflection. While the upper garden does charge admission, the lower level is open to the public and free to enjoy. Stop by around the holidays to see it decked out in lights and decorations.
8. Historic Belmont Firehouse
Photo source: Historic Belmont Firehouse / Yelp
If you ever dreamed of being a firefighter as a kid, you'll love visiting the Historic Belmont Firehouse. Free of admission with guided tours by appointment, you can slide down a firepole, sit in the cab of an old fire truck and learn about how fire fighting has developed over time through interactive exhibits.
Kids will absolutely love it, but it's also a great way to entertain adults without spending a cent.
9. Hoyt Arboretum
Photo source: Hoyt Arboretum / Facebook
Interested in learning more about the natural beauty that surrounds us here in Portland? Hoyt Arboretum offers a free botanical garden, conservation lab, nature education hub and a tree museum located within Washington Park. Wander around on your own for a self-guided tour of the arboretum's 2,300 species of trees and shrubs, or sign up for a class or event led by a wildlife expert.
10. International Rose Test Garden
Photo source: International Rose Test Garden / Yelp
They don't call Portland the City of Roses for no reason. The beautiful buds grow wild throughout the city, but nowhere more plentiful than at the International Rose Test Garden. Take some time to smell the flowers and enjoy the sight of over 10,000 rose bushes blooming in more than 600 varieties. Admission is free, but guided tours are available for purchase.
11. Keller Fountain Park
Photo source: Keller Fountain Park / Yelp
Have you ever seen a waterfall in the middle of a city? Keller Fountain Park is about as close as it gets. The forecourt fountain is an architectural marvel that provides a refuge for people to sit and enjoy its striking visual effect, the cascading sound of water or a refreshing splash for kids on hot summer days.
12. Last Thursday Art Walk
Photo source: Last Thursday Art Walk / Facebook
The Last Thursday Art Walk takes place monthly on North Portland's bustling Alberta Street. This gallery crawl supports artists of color and multicultural art aimed at healing the community. Enjoy visiting the various shops and galleries up and down the street for a few hours while the good vibes flow.
13. Lone Fir Cemetary
Photo source: Oregonmetro.gov
Lone Fir Cemetery is one of Portland's oldest and most scenic final resting places and it's open to the public. The first headstone was laid here in 1846 and you can find the names of some of the city's most prominent families among the beautiful memorials. It's a great place to go for a stroll and take in some of the city's history, especially around Halloween.
14. Mill Ends Park
Photo source: Mill Ends Park / Yelp
Did you know that Portland is also home to the world's smallest park? Mill Ends Park is in a median strip on SW Naito Parkway in downtown and has a total area of 452 square inches, just big enough for one small tree. You get the full experience at just a glance, but it's always a fun place for a photo op.
15. Oregon Historical Society Museum
Photo source: Oregon Historical Society Museum / Facebook
If you're a history buff, you'll love this free thing to do in Portland. The Oregon Historical Society Museum is the place for all things history. Interactive exhibits detail the state's rich history and even the most knowledgeable of locals can pick up a new factoid or two. Thanks to your tax dollars, with proof of residency, Multnomah County residents enjoy free admission.
16. Oregon Rail Heritage Center
Photo source: Oregon Rail Heritage Center / Yelp
Every little kid loves trains, making the Oregon Rail Heritage Center an ideal destination for free family fun. However, even adults will enjoy viewing decommissioned engines, learning about how the railroad helped develop the west and a quick ride on the Oregon Pacific Railroad passenger train.
17. Pioneer Courthouse Square
Photo source: TheSquarePDX.org
Known affectionately as Portland's Living Room, there's always something going on at Pioneer Courthouse Square. The square hosts a number of events year-round, from live music to art installations to group yoga, many of them free to just walk up and enjoy. However, it's also a great place to sit and enjoy the scenery of downtown and do some people watching among the bustle of city life.
18. Pittock Mansion
Photo source: Pittock Mansion / Facebook
The Pittock's were one of Portland's most influential families and their sprawling mansion on a hill built in 1914 has been meticulously preserved and transformed into a museum. Although entry to the interior of the Pittock Mansion does cost admission, the beautifully landscaped garden and grounds are free to enjoy, as well as one of the best views of the city. This is a must, so add it to your free things to do in Portland list!
19. Portland Art Museum
Photo source: Portland Art Museum / Facebook
The Portland Art Museum is a popular destination for those visiting the city and locals alike. With an ever-changing rotation of world-famous exhibits, there's always something new to enjoy. On the first Thursday of each month, admission is free between the hours of 5-8 p.m. for a budget-friendly evening exploring the galleries.
20. Portland Farmers Market
Photo source: Portland Farmers Market / Facebook
Portland is home to a variety of fantastic farmer's markets, but the market at Portland State University is the largest and is open every Saturday year-round. Plan to spend some time browsing the selection. There will be vendors selling fresh local produce, artisan crafts and more. This is always a great way to kick off the weekend. And yes, some booths even offer free samples.
21. Portland Saturday Market
Photo source: Portland Saturday Market / Facebook
The Portland Saturday Market has been in operation since 1974 and is the largest continually operating outdoor arts and crafts market in America. Each Saturday, Portland's historic Old Town fills with vendors, arts, crafts, products, food, live music and more. Obviously, goods must be purchased, but the sights, sounds and smells of the market are free to enjoy while leisurely strolling around and taking it all in.
22. Powell's City of Books
Photo source: Powell's Books / Facebook
Powell's Books has been a Portland institution for over 50 years. Their downtown City of Books location is famous for being the largest used and new bookstore in the world, occupying a full city block and containing over a million books. You can easily spend a few hours perusing the shelves or sitting with a book and it won't cost a thing, but the elegant Rare Book Room, home to the store's most valuable and beautiful books, is a must-see.
23. Simpsons Scavenger Hunt
Photo source: Bart Simpson Sidewalk Sculpture / Foursquare
This is a fun, free thing to do in Portland you should add to your list — the Simpsons Scavenger Hunt. The creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening, grew up in Portland and drew a lot of inspiration for the show from his hometown. Outside of Lincoln High School, you'll find Groening's signature etched into the sidewalk with a sketch of none other than Bart Simpson himself. If you're a fan of the show, you may recognize several street names throughout the city, like Flanders, Lovejoy and Quimby to name a few, which Groening named some of his characters after. Spend an afternoon strolling around the city and see how many references you can spot.
24. Stark's Vacuum Museum
Photo source: Stark's Vacuum Museum / Yelp
Take a step back in time at Stark's Vacuum Museum and observe the evolution of domestication through the perspective of the humble vacuum cleaner. Over 25 iconic models illustrate a detailed timeline and this quirky and unique display is free and open to the public during regular business hours.
25. Waterfront Park
Photo source: Tom McCall Waterfront Park / Yelp
If you're downtown and looking for a place to relax, head towards Waterfront Park. The paved path along the water offers a fountain for kids, shady grass to lay out on, and plenty of benches to sit and look out onto the Willamette River.
You don't need to pay to have fun in Portland
They say the best things in life are free and there are tons of great things to do in Portland without opening your wallet. From outdoor adventures to educational activities for the whole family, you can save your money for enjoying the city's vibrant dining or shopping scenes and spend a day having fun without spending a dime.