Every time we move to a new city, we often have to make compromises. We can eat out at nice restaurants as long as we are frugal in other areas. As far as activities go here, it’s all about the outdoors. We recommend saving your money for food and beer, and checking out some of these fun free things to do in Portland.
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Last Updated: August 24, 2020
Jacob is Chinese, so by nature, he’s always looking for a bargain. If it’s free, that’s even better! Before, we got into all sorts of arguments about spending, but now I realize we give each other a good balance. He helps us keep money in our pockets, while I push him live a little.
Not sure if you’ve heard this saying before, but I first heard it in college. “Chinese people have cheap wallets with loads of cash inside, while Koreans will buy an expensive wallet and have no money inside.” I know it’s a generalization, but if it’s between just the two of us, it’s very true.
25 FREE THINGS TO DO IN PORTLAND OREGON
This tiny park is worth stopping by if you’re in the area. The park has interesting history, and it’s constantly changing with new contributions. I heard news at one point someone stole the tree, but there’s one there now! It’s also right by the waterfront, so you can enjoy the views afterward.
This may only be a hallway in the back of a Stark’s vacuum shop, but if you can channel your inner Monica, you can appreciate the vintage vacuums that date all the way back to 1905. If you’re not into vacuums, you can just appreciate the weirdness of it all.
3. Portland Farmer’s Market
There are two main markets that happen every weekend in Portland. The Farmer’s Market is a great place to browse fresh produce. We did some grocery shopping here the first week we were in town, and we will probably pick up our veggies and kimchi here in the future.
4. Portland Saturday Market
I heard someone describe the Portland Saturday Market as the place to go to buy your Che Guevara shirts made in China. Though I didn’t find anything I would purchase here, I thought it was nice because they had live music, and you could hang out by the waterfront. If we went back, we would probably grab an ice cream and just people watch.
5. The Grotto
Although the upper-level garden requires admission, you can still visit the lower garden, grotto, chapel, visitor center, and gift shop for free.
Local Tip: It’s decorated especially nicely during the holidays, but you pay an admission.
6. Powell’s City of Books
Powell’s is the largest independent bookstore and a cornerstone of Portland. Any book lover needs to stop by. The hard part making this a free experience is having to resist buying more books.
10. Urban Waterfall at Ira Keller Forecourt Fountain Park
Gotta be honest. I didn’t think much of it, when I heard about the Ira Keller fountain in downtown Portland, but it was really beautiful seeing it in person.
11. Oregon Rail Heritage Center
See the rich history of the locomotives and railroad industry in Oregon. You can get a guided tour of the big engines or even hop aboard the Oregon Pacific Railroad for a short trip.
We’ve enjoyed getting to know whiskies the past couple of years, but have only done one distillery tour. We’re excited to check out the local ones and hopefully find a new go-to beverage.
15. Free Community Yoga
They meet at different locations every weekday of the week, but find one that’s convenient for you and get your namaste on (did I use that correctly?). Most free yoga classes recommend donations, but this one will not even take them.
17. Go for a Bike Ride
Everyone in Portland bikes as a mean for transportation, but there are also some great recreational rides too. Some popular spots include Springwater Corridor, which connects a lot of the parks and runs along the waterfront. We ended up borrowing some bikes from Jacob’s cousin, but if you don’t have access to a bike, it’s still a beautiful walk.
And although not free, you can bike to pick up lunch at one of the many food carts or food trucks and take it to the park for a picnic.
18. Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade
Classic arcades are hard to find nowadays, but Portland is home to one that has all your favorites. It’s free unless it’s a special event and you must be 21 or over after 4:30 PM.
20. Historic Belmont Firehouse
Recently celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Belmont Firehouse is a beloved landmark to locals. You can learn about the history of the firehouse, get your photo sliding down a fire pole, and kids can spray water out of a fire hose.
22. Visit the Simpsons Streets
NW Portland – NW 2nd to NW 24th St
Did you know that Matt Groening is from Portland? It’s something we learned after we moved here! He named some of the Simpsons characters after the streets, like Flanders, Lovejoy, Quimby, & Kearney. This is one of the street signs in the Pearl District, where someone wrote in a D after NE for Ned Flanders.
23. See Ramona Quimby’s Portland
If you were a fan of Beverly Cleary, then you probably are familiar with Ramona Quimby. Although the characters are fictional, the streets and landmarks are real.
24. Hoyt Arboretum
There are over 2000 species of trees and plants at the Hoyt Arboretum inside Washington Park and tons of trails to walk. The Maple trail is especially beautiful in the fall.
It’s one of our favorites in the city and walking the grounds is completely free (there is a fee to enter the mansion). Try to visit in the summer to increase your chances of having a clear sky to see Mount Hood looming over the city.
BONUS. Chase a Waterfall
The waterfalls are technically outside the city, but the Historic Columbia River Highway isn’t too far (some are only half an hour away) and you’ll find a ton of waterfall hikes there. Multnomah Falls is a popular stop, and you practically park right next to it. If you’re willing to drive out a little farther, here’s a list of more waterfalls to check out in Oregon.
Map of Free Things to Do in Portland OR
More Things to Do in Portland for Free (Seasonal / Conditional)
- International Rose Test Garden (click to see our full post) – It’s open year round, but if you want to see the roses, you’ll have to visit between mid-May and mid-October (this may change depending on the weather). Free public tours are at 1 pm starting from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
- Cherry Blossoms – Spring time is absolutely beautiful at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
- Go Drive the Hood River Fruit Loop in Fall – though it technically costs you gas.
- The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium – you can get in free if you wear a decent costume!
- Oregon Zoo Community Free Day – If you can’t make the free day, there are also discounted days.
- Portland Art Museum has Free First Thursdays.
- Portland Japanese Garden – free admission for military veterans and active military personnel, as well as family members who accompany them on Veterans Day.
- Portland Children’s Museum – Target sponsors every free first Friday.
- Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden – Free from October to February.
- Pioneer Courthouse Square Free Events
- Free Fitness in the Parks (summer)
- Free Summer Fun in the Park which includes a Climbing Wall
- Shakespeare in the Park (summer)
- Flicks on the Bricks Outdoor Movies (July and August)
- Summer Free for All – Movies, Concerts, Lunch for Kids in the park
- Alberta Street Fair (annually 2nd Sat of August)
- Scrap PDX occasionally has some free events, like making cards for Valentine’s Day.
What to Pack for Portland OR
Best Places to Stay in Portland
All the accommodations below have Tripadvisor’s Certificate of Excellence.
Do any of these free things to do in PDX look interesting to you? Can you think of any other free things in the city that’s worth a visit?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Portland Oregon.