Portland is a city that likes to cover its bases. Sure, we have the Portland Museum of Art with untold offerings right in the middle of downtown, but we’re also partial to the Umbrella Cover Museum–just a ferry ride to Peak’s Island away.
Maine has long been a home of the arts, from the many art-related businesses in the city to renowned artist colonies across the state. The Arts District (roughly centered along the western end of Congress Street, think Monument Square to Tandem Coffee Roasters) comes to life the first Friday of each month, 5-8 p.m., for the First Friday Art Walk–a great way to get your artistic bearings here in Portland.
Portland Museum of Art
Here’s the plan. Head straight to the Portland Museum of Art. This cultural mainstay exhibits a wide range of American, European, and contemporary art. Depending on your artistic leanings, it’s the museum’s iconic works by Maine artists that make it an experience unique to southern Maine. Take advantage of the museum’s tours, family activities, films, and more.
PRO TIP: Want to go the extra step to make your Portland arts tour really special? Sign up for a visit to the Winslow Homer Studio, only accessible via luxury van on tours operated by the Portland Museum of Art.
Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine
The Children’s Museum in downtown Portland is a rewarding family activity and affordable, as well ($10 per person, under 18 months free). Visit the recently launched exhibit, “Creating Communities.” Expect hands-on activities centered around culture, create your own art, and leave your own artistic mark on the “never-ending” drawing wall.
Other attractions include a top-notch indoor playground, The Playscape; kids explore light and color in Lights, Camera, Color: Exploring the Camera Obscura, and they can get their physics on in the Have a Ball exhibit! The Portland Children’s Museum offers this helpful guide for families planning a visit.
Not to be missed, The Children’s Museum & Theater of Maine offers ongoing, kid-centric productions like James And The Giant Peach (February), and Puss In Boots (April). Roles are played by kids and take place in the Dress-Up Theater. See what shows are coming up HERE.
Maine Historical Society & Wadsworth-Longfellow House
A combination museum, library, and tourist attraction, the Maine Historical Society is the third-oldest state historical society in the United States–founded in 1822.
It sits on a one-acre campus in downtown Portland, right across from Monument Square. It’s open year-round, and its’ mission is centered around education and outreach to the entire state of Maine and visitors.
Main elements include the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and Longfellow Garden, the Maine Historical Society Museum and Store, the MHS Research Library, and is home to the Maine Memory Network.
The Umbrella Cover Museum
The decidedly quirky Umbrella Cover Museum is dedicated to…umbrella sleeves, and it’s kind of awesome! If you don’t already have a reason to take a ferry ride over to Peak’s Island, this is the only excuse you need. It’s been covered by the likes of NPR, BBC and The New York Times. Check out Casco Bay Lines for ferry times and call ahead to the museum to make sure it’s open, even after it opens for the summer over Memorial Day weekend.
The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum
Based in an old, sprawling, red brick warehouse down at the eastern end of Commercial Avenue, The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum offers equal amounts nostalgia and fun for family members of all ages.
Founded in 1992, the museum preserves and operates historic two-foot gauge railroad equipment for all to enjoy. These uniquely sized railroad trackcrisscrosseded the state of Maine, serving up essential supplies to small communities across the state.
Museum offerings include a children’s story time; be a Diesel Guest Engineer and actually work the train’s throttle for close to an hour; and enjoy seasonally-themed activities like Spring Aboard.