The quintessential New England coastal town of Portland, Maine, really comes alive for the winter holidays.
Many special Christmas decorations and festivities dress up Portland’s historic buildings and cobblestone streets. It all creates a cozy atmosphere to warm up visitors on even the coldest days.
Many of Portland’s annual traditions include lights, such as the Monument Square tree lighting in the heart of downtown. It will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 29. It also features live music and Santa Claus.
Also from Monument Square, the city offers free horse-drawn carriage rides through downtown on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 29 through Dec. 22.
You can’t miss the Harbor Christmas Boat Parade of Lights in Portland Harbor on Dec. 14. You can watch the festivities from Fort Allen Park or elsewhere along the Portland waterfront as decorated boats sail by. You also can be amid the boats, with a specialty cruise with Casco Bay Lines for $12.50.
In addition, much of downtown is lit up all winter. Stroll along the bustling streets and vote for your favorite window display as part of the city’s Holiday Window Display Contest from Nov. 29 through Dec. 25.
On Shop for a Cause Day on Nov. 30 – the day after Black Friday — purchases made at participating outlets will benefit a local charity. On Dec. 5, stores participating in Merry Madness will remain open until 10 p.m. for holiday shopping.
Visitors who tour the Wadsworth Longfellow House this holiday season will learn about the friendship between poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol. Dickens reportedly performed a public reading of his holiday ghost story at Portland City Hall in 1868. The Maine Historical Society will offer tours of the house where Longfellow grew up on Dec. 16-23.
During Christmas at Victoria Mansion, its 19th-century interior is filled with decorations from local artists, designers and florists over six weeks from Dec. 22 to Jan. 5, 2020. Visitors can take a tour or attend one of several holiday programs and events. Built in the mid-1800s, the mansion boasted hot and cold running water, flush toilets, central heat, gas lights, wall-to-wall carpeting and a 25-foot long stained-glass skylight. Admission prices vary.
Holiday not required
There’s more to Portland than Christmas. Dating to 1632, the city was once Maine’s capital. Its compact size makes it easy to walk to museums, performing arts, quaint shops and plenty of good restaurants, cafes and craft breweries any time of year.
Many of those sights are downtown or in the Old Port District, which also offers beautiful water views. The Arts District west of downtown is home to the Portland Museum of Art (designed by I.M. Pei, its collection includes works by Monet, Renoir and Winslow Homer) and the free downtown Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Here is where you’ll also find Portland Stage and the State Theatre.
Maine has more than 100 craft breweries, and more than a few call Portland home. There’s Allagash Brewing Co., Liquid Riot Bottling Co., Rising Tide Brewing Co. and Shipyard Brewing Co. to name a few. Don’t want to drink and drive? Hop on The Maine Brew Bus to tour some of the local watering holes.
Note: The featured photo at top is by Kristel Hayes on Unsplash.