Free Things to Do in Portland

International Rose Test Garden, Portland


Finding Family Fun on the Cheap in the City of Roses

With its trendy dive bars and gourmet coffeehouses, Portland, OR, has earned its reputation as a hipster’s paradise. But vacationing families will be pleased to find that the city still offers plenty of attractions, some of which are free. Perched along the banks of the Willamette River with the snow-capped peak of Mount Hood as its backdrop, Portland’s natural landscape invites children to roam free throughout idyllic rose gardens, sprawling green spaces and waterfront property. Explore the city’s culturally rich downtown, as the whole family enjoys day trips to museums and libraries, all without busting the wallet.

A Walk in the Park

Covering more than 400 acres, hilltop Washington Park (4001 SW Canyon Rd., Portland, OR) provides panoramic views of the city and the far-reaching landscape. No trip to the park is complete without a visit to the International Rose Test Garden (400 SW Kingston Ave., Portland, OR), home to more than 8,000 rose bushes and 600 varieties. The rose garden offers complimentary daily tours from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends. Pay a visit to 189-acre Hoyt Arboretum (4000 SW Fairview Blvd., Portland, OR), where kids will wander through wildflower-filled meadows and bamboo forests. The park also features playgrounds for the tiny tots.

Waterfront Adventures

Enjoy views of the Willamette River as you make your way through the 30-acre Tom McCall Waterfront Park (NW Glisan St., Portland, OR). Expose older kids to history lessons when you visit the Japanese American Historical Plaza. Its artwork and one hundred cherry trees celebrate the cultural contributions of Japanese Americans to the Pacific Northwest, while also honoring those sent to internment camps during World War II. When the weather warms up, children cool off in the park’s large water fountain outfitted with 185 jets.

Riding the Rails

It’s free to visit the Oregon Rail Heritage Center (2250 SE Water Ave., Portland, OR), which showcases three historic steam locomotives, including still-functioning vehicles from the 1930s and 1940s. A small museum features exhibits with photos, artwork and equipment detailing the region’s storied railroad history. For a small fee, each Saturday, the center offers 45-minute train rides aboard the Oregon Pacific Railroad along the Willamette River.

Literary Fun

Built in 1913, the massive Central Library (801 SW 10th Ave., Portland, OR) is a haven for eager young readers. Flip through a book in the children’s library whose centerpiece is a 14-foot bronze sculpture of a tree filled with musical instruments, animals and literary characters. The library also offers free programming throughout the year for children of all ages, including playtime sessions for babies, dance and sing-along parties for toddlers and craft workshops for teenagers.

Venture into Wilderness

Take just a 10-minute drive northwest of downtown Portland to discover the 5,100-acre Forest Park, a dense wilderness filled with Douglas fir trees, lazy streams and green rolling hills. Set out for an adventure on the park’s 70 miles of trails and keep an eye out for the 112 species of birds that call the forest home. Make a stop at the Audubon Society of Portland Wildlife Care Center (5151 NW Cornell Rd., Portland, OR), where volunteers work to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife, including owls and hawks.