"I only have a couple of hours! What do I need to see?” is a question often posed by business travelers or visitors exploring Maine, who find themselves in the urban oasis of Portland for a brief period of time. Whether they had expected a metropolis and found a charming seaside city, or envisioned a sleepy waterfront village only to realize the scope of Maine’s largest city, they are at once inevitably delighted with their discovery and panicked at the brief time left to take in the sites.
What to see has much to do with the interest of the viewer.
Foodies, who may already know that Bon Appétit named Portland "America’s foodiest small town”, will no doubt wish to explore the culinary offerings of one of the city’s renowned eateries, too numerous to list. If time is short or your appetite thin, you could be guided to some of the highlights by Maine Foodie Tours
History buffs will want to visit Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s childhood home and see the room where he penned "Into each life some rain must fall.” Next door, the Maine Historical Society
houses permanent collections and changing exhibitions. You’ll also want to tour the West End’s opulent Victoria Mansion
and Colonial-era Tate House
in the historic Stroudwater district.
Patrons of the arts will want to see the Arts District along Congress Street, anchored by the Portland Museum of Art
in Congress Square. The Museum of Art began in the McLellan-Sweat house, currently a museum wing glorifying the architectural grandeur of the Spring Street mansion. The museum entrance was moved to Free Street in 1986 when the Payson Wing opened. Designed by the I. M. Pei firm, the architectural genius behind Paris’s Louvre expansion, the contemporary addition brought Joan Whitney Payson’s vision (that helped make New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art a world-class destination) to Portland. Along Congress Street, galleries surround the Maine College of Art that features talented artists of tomorrow and houses the Institute of Contemporary Art
displaying the gifted artists of today.
Nautical buffs should head straight to Munjoy Hill to see the Portland Observatory
, built in 1807, the last wooden signal tower in North America, and one of the only structures to survive the Great Fire of 1866. Head up the hill to Fort Allen Park to soak in the harbor’s many fortifications. Across the harbor in South Portland, Bug Light Park, located on the site of the former World War II shipyard that gave the world Rosie the Riveter, memorializes the Liberty Ships with a monumental bow seemingly ready to launch.
Regardless of personal interests, everyone’s time frame seems to include Portland Head Light
and its museum. Commissioned by President George Washington, Portland Harbor’s 1791 sentry is the United States’ first lighthouse and purported to be the most photographed in the world. Surrounded by crashing waves, a picturesque cliff walk meanders along the edge of Fort Williams Park leading to markers of Longfellow’s visits, base history, and the famed shipwreck of the Annie C. Maguire. The white tower glows against the sparkling blues of ocean and sky, but experiencing the historic light during inclement weather forces anyone to appreciate the necessity for these elegant icons.
However visitors spend their brief time in Portland, it’s best they don’t see everything…that way they have reasons galore for a return visit to this magical place.
by Bob Stephens