Visiting the Old Port Historic District in Portland, Maine
Article by Eric Hurwitz. Updated Oct. 4, 2017
Old Port Historic District. Photo credit: Maine Office of
a walk through the Old Port Historic District in Portland, Maine,
everything wonderful one would expect in a historic, urban waterfront
The cobblestone streets, mix
of 19th century brick architecture, fishing piers and hilly streets
leading to the water create an authentic port atmosphere while
shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars lend travel appeal
that ranks amongst the best in New England. From an early morning walk
through the quaint streets to experiencing the vibrant nightlife, the
Old Port combines a small town feel with elements of a world
class city. The location on the southeast side of the Portland
peninsula, overlooking the wide mouth of the Fore River, makes for a
cozy, scenic and charming oasis that feels like one's own discovery.
Thank goodness visionaries revived a deteriorating Old Port
neighborhood in the 1970s by
preventing demolition of historic buildings, and then restoring them
for commercial and residential use. One of the most amazing
"before and after" scenes ever to take place in New England, the
Old Port District's beautiful warehouse district transformation is the
revitalization equivalent of a beautiful piece of art. I personally
remember what the Old Port Exchange looked like in the late 60s when my
mom would sell her art down the street on Congress St. at the WCSH-TV
The Old Port wasn't a pretty picture -- rather sketchy to be perfectly
blunt -- and my dad smartly kept us away
from that area and focused on kid things like ice cream (anyone
remember Deering's?). When I returned to the Old Port with
friends in my late 20s, I did a double-take seeing something
unrecognizable in the very best sense.
The Old Port possesses a charming, thriving vibe.
Photo credit: Maine
Office of Tourism
Much of the Old Port Historic District has the highly
Historic Places designation, but it goes far beyond just a
"designation." Today's Old Port has become the heart of an
overall great city -- a blessing for locals and a must-see for any New
England travelers. The curb appeal would make any HGTV host or hostess
take up permanent residence.
The ultimate anti-cookie cutter shopping and
dining district, the Old Port thrives on, and is packed with
locally-owned, unique stores
and well-known but high quality regional places like Stonewall
Kitchen. Colorful signs, even more colorful
and skilled street musicians (with the exception of a few) make the gas
lamp-lit Old Port Exchange feel like a destination not only historic
but with plenty to see and do. Additionally, the
Arts District is just a few blocks from the
waterfront and includes the Portland Museum of Art, Children's Museum
and Theater of Maine, State Theater, Portland Stage Company and Maine
Historical Society. One of the District's great
the Old Port Festival that takes place in June with
its outdoor celebration of music, art, and community.
Because the city is so compact, many Portland hotels are within walking
distance of the Old Port. I found the Holiday Inn Portland by the Bay to be a
great choice with a very nice room, panoramic views of Portland Harbor
and the skyline, an indoor pool and restaurant that serving seafood as
good as the many of the standalone restaurants.
New England features so many revived, worth-a-visit small and
medium-sized city historic waterfront neighborhoods, including those in
Portsmouth, N.H., Gloucester, Mass., Newburyport, Mass., and New
Bedford, Mass. None of those neighborhoods rival the charm and appeal
of the Old Port Exchange, in my opinion. Therefore, I highly recommend
starting your historic city waterfront New England vacation or day trip
at the Old Port!
For more information on the Old Port, log onto the downtown Portland page.
Portland waterfront. Photo credit: Maine Office of
the Whaling District in New Bedford, Mass.
Mass.: not your typical waterfront travel destination
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