Grab your best gal pals or your significant other, because Portland, Maine is waiting for you. This east coast United States city is the perfect location for a long weekend jaunt to relax and spoil yourself and your best mates. In Portland, Maine, you’ll find spectacular history, picturesque lighthouses and a city with a diverse selection of restaurants. Experience the ultimate weekend getaway to Portland, Maine by staying at the Portland Harbor Hotel.
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A huge shout out to Portland Harbor Hotel who hosted my stay and dining experience at the BlueFin. This review is 100% my own opinion.
About Portland, Maine
Portland is Maine’s most populous city, but it is not the capital of the state. That honour is given to Augusta. There are many reasons why Portland, Maine makes the perfect location for a weekend getaway. Not only is it the craft brew capital of the United States, but the city has been named restaurant city of the year by Bon Appetit. There are more restaurants per capita than any other city in the US, except for San Francisco, with over 200 establishments calling Portland home.
If you’re into history, then Portland is the right place for you. Located on the traditional lands of the Five Nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy, the history of the lands date back millennia. The area was known as the Great Neck, which seeing as the Portland peninsula juts out into the sea, it is a fitting name.
It wasn’t until 1786 when the community formed on the peninsula was dubbed Portland. The city has lived through its fair share of war from the Revolution to the Second World War. After Maine became an official state, Portland was given the crown as the capital city. It didn’t last long, however; when only 12 years later, the capital was moved to Augusta.
Despite being the current craft brew capital of the US today, Maine was the first to lead the United States into prohibition. Portland, Maine has also had the honour of burning down four separate times, the worst of which happened in 1866 on Independence Day. Today, you’ll notice that many surviving historic buildings were built using brick.
When should I visit Portland, Maine?
Portland, Maine is located on the coast, meaning it has humid but short summers and cold, snowy winters. Many establishments have reduced hours or close during the winters, and it seems like the official kickoff to their tourism season is Memorial Day (usually late May) and lasts until Labour Day (early September).
I was there in early May and found that the city was in bloom. The smells from the blossoms as you walk by was magical.
Where to stay in Portland, Maine?
Portland is home to several hotels, inns and Airbnbs. But I suggest the Portland Harbor Hotel, a boutique hotel located in the Old Port district. If you and your travelling partners wanted to feel treated like royalty right in the heart of the city, then you’ve got to stay at the Portland Harbor Hotel.
This lovely, four-storey, historic hotel is Portland’s only AAA four-diamond hotel. The recent renovation gives the entire hotel a nautical theme, perfect for this east coast location. Rooms have a cozy cabin feel with wood floors, comfy furniture, and local art and photography. No two (of the 95 rooms) are decorated the same.
Portland Harbor Hotel didn’t pass on the details either, with plush bathrobes and slippers, soft towels and fragrant toiletries. Why not go for a soak in their giant bathtubs or hang out on the small terrace overlooking the gardens? You’ll be sure to get a good night sleep in a comfortable bed with the soft, cozy bedding and pillows.
The service from when you check in to the thoughtful turndown service was exemplary. Plus, it’s all about location. You’re just steps from all the amazing things to do in Portland, Maine. That’s why Portland Harbor Hotel should be first on your mind when staying in Portland. Their special offers and events may catch your eye!
Three Day itinerary
When you want to take a three-day weekend to Portland, you’ve got to spend your time wisely, by knowing exactly what you would like to do, but also be flexible in your arrangements. If there’s one thing you have to do in Portland, Maine, it’s to eat. From seafood to fusion cuisine to the unique dishes you won’t find anywhere else, food will be the key to the ultimate weekend getaway to Portland, Maine.
Day one – check out the brews and views
When you’re on a weekend getaway, you don’t want to do the same old things – you want to find the unique things to do in Portland, Maine.
No matter how you got here, plane, train or car, the first thing you want to do after checking into the Portland Harbor Hotel, is to stretch your legs by heading to see the views of Munjoy Hill and then relaxing with some tasty brews. That’s right, no ultimate weekend getaway to Portland, Maine would be complete without some of the city’s delicious spirits and brews.
Munjoy Hill: Munjoy Hill is a historic residential neighbourhood. Many of the old ship captains’ homes still stand facing the water like guards of their own. Technically starting at Washington Street and then surrounded by water on three sides, Munjoy Hill is one of the more affluent neighbourhoods in Portland.
Portland Observatory: It costs $10 to visit the Portland Observatory, a lighthouse-style structure that isn’t (nor ever was) a lighthouse. The 26-metre tall structure was built in 1807 by Captain Lemuel Moody and was used as a marine signal tower for passing ships. Today you can climb the 103 steps to the top to get a wonderful view over Portland and the surrounding bay. Keep in mind that the observatory is only open from Memorial Day (late May) to mid-October.
Sumner Park: For a free view of the city, and a great place to catch the sunset, head to the highest point on Munjoy Hill located at Sumner Park. Join in and watch the sun sink below the horizon while overlooking Back Cove.
Eastern Promenade: If you have time, then I suggest a stroll along the Eastern Promenade, a massive park that stretches along the easternmost side of Portland peninsula. Here you can take a walk along the trails, or lounge on the beach and stick your feet in the ocean.
Now time for the brews: Along Washington Ave, the border of Munjoy Hill, you’ll find several establishments that offer a variety of drinks. You can go door-to-door for drinks! Drifter’s Wife is a wine bar, specializing in natural wines. A few doors down you’ll find Hardshore Distilling Company, who make a great gin and have been named the best craft gin distillery in the United States.
Next door, you’ll find Maine Mead Works, a vibrant space with an unusual drink. I highly suggest doing a tasting, because I’ve never really thought about mead before, but it is amazing. Finally, you’ll see Oxbow Blending and Bottling, an industrial location where Oxbow Brewery blends their aged beer. It’s a large event space where you can also try a flight of beer all made locally.
It’s not a bad way to spend your first day of the ultimate weekend getaway to Portland Maine.
Day two – See Portland sights and experience an incredible dinner
Labelled as one of the US’s coolest cities, there’s a lot to see and experience in downtown Portland. Spend day two of your ultimate weekend getaway to Portland, Maine by visiting some of the key areas for shopping and dining. You’ll round out the night at BlueFin, an incredible restaurant that you’ll want to schedule four hours to work your way through the menu.
Old Port: In Portland’s old port, you’ll still find cobblestones and red brick buildings paying homage to this old New England city. Wander the street and take a peek into the several one-of-a-kind shops. Make sure to stroll along Fore Street and Wharf Street and don’t miss the Longfellow street art. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a poet from Portland who is known for his poems capturing the plight of the Acadians.
Exchange Street: Looking to find the best places to shop in Portland? Then look no further than Exchange Street. Seriously, from shops to restaurants, all the cool kids are hanging out on Exchange Street. Here is where you’ll find the infamous Holy Donut, a doughnut shop that uses potato flour!
Historic Waterfront: If you’re on the coast, then you’ll definitely want to spend time along the water. Find the cool breeze and the salty air in the Historic Waterfront District. You can also zigzag through the floating piers, watch the boats zoom by and even find a piece of the Berlin Wall!
Congress Street: Find more of Portland’s history on Congress Street, including Congress Square Park, Public Market House and Monument Square.
Dine at BlueFin North Atlantic Seafood restaurant
What do you want from a nice dinner? What makes going out to eat a special experience? For me, the food has to be something you wouldn’t cook for yourself, and the atmosphere of the restaurant needs to be comfortable and inspiring.
At BlueFin North Atlantic Seafood restaurant, both boxes were checked. Located inside the Portland Harbor Hotel, you’ll be situated in a plush, relaxing restaurant overlooking the vibrant garden courtyard.
Open every day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks, BlueFin is the home of delicious dishes. They specialize in seafood but have several other plates. All the ingredients are sourced for top-quality and as local as they can get. They even grow their own herbs, tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini and more.
The BlueFin is headed up by Executive Chef Gil Plaster, whose passion for flavour comes across in every item on the menu. It was seriously hard to choose which dishes to try, and I’m lucky my friend Lindsay was dining with me so we could share!
Okay, so let’s talk about food. If I could sum up the experience in one word, it would be: mouthwatering. The flavours explode in your mouth, and the robust New England cuisine has taken on a new twist from Chef Gil.
Before you even get your food, you’ve got to try the homemade bread, which is drizzled with olive oil and dusted with parmesan cheese. It comes with homemade chive butter.
The first dish to whet my appetite was the rich, buttery Clam Chowder, a staple in Maine. The clams were so succulent, and the chowder was packed with herbs and potatoes.
When on the coast, you’ve got to try all the seafood. Chef Gil went out of the box with this appetizer, Calamari Fries with sweet chilli, peppadew pepper and cabbage. The crispy calamari, which is made with the body of the large squid and cut into thin strips, was paired perfectly with the spices of the dish. BlueFin is the only place in Portland that does this, so you definitely need to try it.
The second appetizer I shoved lovingly into my mouth was the Lobster Scargot with a lemon crumb. That’s right Chef Gil has created this unique dish because he loves escargot but said it can be had to do on the East Coast. Lobster has a similar consistency to snail, so he has created this very Maine style dish. The first one is supposed to be eaten on its own, to take in all the rich, butter and garlic flavours. Then you can use the crostini to balance out the butter.
You bet I tried a third appetizer (thankfully I shared with Lindsay). Crab Cakes are a seemingly simple dish, but they are anything but ordinary at BlueFin. Chef Gil has paired the crab cakes with fennel for crunch, homemade aioli, a preserved Myers lemon, fire roasted peppers and tangy mustard. What did I tell you? It was anything but ordinary, and I’m drooling just thinking about them. It was like an explosion of multiple flavours in your mouth. Plus, when the crab cakes are made with 95% crab and only 5% filler to help them stick together when pan seared, you know it’s going to incredible.
A lot of people are wary of scallops. And I can understand why, the first time I tried them they were rubbery, chewy and flavourless. But that’s because they were overcooked or not cooked properly. Later in life, my parents started making a scallop with tarragon white wine sauce dish for an occasional dinner, and I thought I would never try scallops as amazing as they cooked them. Well, here’s Chef Gil going in for the kill with his incredible, savoury Seared Scallops.
The three perfectly cooked scallops were on a bed of parmesan risotto topped with a wild mushroom demi glaze with a side of crispy shallots and accented with a tiny drop of beet honey. The sweet beet honey and the salty demi glaze and the melt-in-your-mouth scallop was so perfect I could cry. I’m not even kidding. If I could eat just one thing for the rest of my life, it would be this.
The BlueFin also has a robust cocktail menu. I tried the Cadillac Mountain, a blackberry bourbon and mint drink named after the gorgeous mountain in Acadia National Park.
To top off this satisfying dining experience, I gobbled down the in-house churned Wild Blueberry Ice Cream. It was so creamy and so flavourful that I declared (and still stand by) that it was more delicious than the gelato I had in Italy. (Mic drop)
A huge shout out to Nichole, our masterful and patient server, who chatted with us for nearly four hours, and to Chef Gil for being a master in the kitchen and stealing my heart with his creative dishes and fabulous menu. And thank you to Portland Harbor Hotel for hosting us for this incredible stay.
Day three – Lighthouses!
You deserve a lie-in after that fantastic meal at BlueFin last night, but you’ve only got one more day of the ultimate weekend getaway to Portland, Maine and you should spend it wisely. After rolling out of bed, you could grab a coffee in the lobby of Portland Harbor Hotel (they serve Starbucks!) then head to Holy Donut before embarking on a lighthouse self-guided tour.
The Holy Donut: Find out what all the fuss is about at the Holy Donut. These fresh and delicious doughnuts are made from Maine potatoes. Yup, that’s right potatoes. And you’re not going to have just one. There’s almost always a line up out the door so be patient, because they are freaking worth it.
From here, you’re going to want to grab a car or bike (you can use the personal car service or the complimentary bicycles at Portland Harbor Hotel) to visit all the amazing lighthouses in Portland.
Portland Head Lighthouse: Head to Cape Elizabeth south of Portland to visit one of the most famous lighthouses in the world: Portland Head Lighthouse. It’s also the oldest lighthouse in Maine.
George Washington commissioned the lighthouse before he became the first president of the US. The Portland Head Lighthouse is located within Fort Williams Park, which was operating as a military fort from the late 1800s until the mid-1960s. You can explore the old batteries that dot the coastline. New in 2019, out-of-town visitors will now have to pay $2/hour for parking within the Fort Williams Park.
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse: Heading north, you’ll visit Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, a short, squat lighthouse with a small, rocky path jutting out from the shore. It dates back to 1897, but today you can tour the lighthouse and Fort Preble, where it is located. It is adjacent to the Southern Maine Community College.
Bug Light: Also known as the Portland Breakwater Light, Bug Light is a tiny lighthouse located in South Portland. What’s interesting about this lighthouse are the fake Corinthian columns that decorate the side, are actually used to hide the seams of the iron façade. The land surrounding Bug Light has an interesting tale. During the Second World War, the area was used for a shipyard for the New England Shipping Company, where the crews, of mostly women, built 236 Liberty Ships, a military-grade cargo ship, for the war efforts. You can see a reconstruction of a hull’s frame at the park today.
The Ultimate Weekend Getaway in Portland, Maine
Getting together with your best gal pals or heading out on a weekend away with your significant other can be such a special time to make memories with the ones you love. Portland, Maine is the perfect place for that, with an incredible array of restaurants to choose from, including the marvellous BlueFin, a stunning historic setting on the ocean, and an incredible place to rest your head at the Portland Harbor Hotel. Choose to have the ultimate weekend getaway to Portland, Maine.