Why Portland, Maine Is A Fantastic Place To Visit In The Summer

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Dina Spector/Business Insider

They call Maine "Vacationland."

Sure, the winters are bitter cold, but for at least three months out of the year Maine's coast transforms into an oceanside summer retreat.

That's particularly true for Portland, the state's largest city and home to one of the most important working waterfronts in New England.

Portland is located in Southern Maine on Casco Bay, about a two-hour drive from Boston. There are beaches and a ferry service for visitors who want to explore the Bay, including several of its bigger islands.

Back on the mainland, there is no shortage of posh restaurants, shops, and museums.

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Portland is easy to reach from New York City. A plane ride is just 50 minutes from JFK airport, shorter than some people's commute to and from work.

Portland is easy to reach from New York City. A plane ride is just 50 minutes from JFK airport, shorter than some people's commute to and from work.

The Old Port District in downtown Portland, inviting to foodies and shoppers, is just a 15-minute drive from the airport.

The Old Port District in downtown Portland, inviting to foodies and shoppers, is just a 15-minute drive from the airport.

The Old Port is anchored by Commercial Street, overlooking Casco Bay.

The Old Port is anchored by Commercial Street, overlooking Casco Bay.

Old Port has a European air about it. The district is know for its cobblestone streets and 19th-century brick buildings.

Old Port has a European air about it. The district is know for its cobblestone streets and 19th-century brick buildings.

The place is filled with historic artifacts, including a small section of the Berlin Wall.

The place is filled with historic artifacts, including a small section of the Berlin Wall.

In terms of American history, the Freedom Trail consists of more than a dozen bronze and granite statues marking the location of important sites on the Underground Railroad.

In terms of American history, the Freedom Trail consists of more than a dozen bronze and granite statues marking the location of important sites on the Underground Railroad.

If shopping is what you're looking for, on summer weekends the main drag is dotted with street vendors, jewelry stands, and people selling all kinds of tchotchkes.

If shopping is what you're looking for, on summer weekends the main drag is dotted with street vendors, jewelry stands, and people selling all kinds of tchotchkes.

You'll find more boutiques and art galleries scattered along the side streets.

You'll find more boutiques and art galleries scattered along the side streets.

But the real draw is the waterfront, located less than 20 yards away from the crowded shops and restaurants.

But the real draw is the waterfront, located less than 20 yards away from the crowded shops and restaurants.

Portland Harbor is the most important port along Maine's 3,500 miles of coastline and one of the busiest ports on the East Coast.

Portland Harbor is the most important port along Maine's 3,500 miles of coastline and one of the busiest ports on the East Coast.

It's also the second largest oil port on the East Coast, marking the southern end of the pipeline between Maine and Montreal.

It's also the second largest oil port on the East Coast, marking the southern end of the pipeline between Maine and Montreal.

If you want to get off the mainland, a ferry service regularly runs to several of the major islands in Casco Bay. It's a 20-minute ride to Peaks Island, the most populous island in the Bay with just over 800 year-round residents.

If you want to get off the mainland, a ferry service regularly runs to several of the major islands in Casco Bay. It's a 20-minute ride to Peaks Island, the most populous island in the Bay with just over 800 year-round residents.

There are a number of sightseeing cruises that will also give you an opportunity to see the Bay.

There are a number of sightseeing cruises that will also give you an opportunity to see the Bay.

That includes famous landmarks like the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. This is Maine's oldest lighthouse and one of the most photographed in the world.

That includes famous landmarks like the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. This is Maine's oldest lighthouse and one of the most photographed in the world.

Hungry yet? Being on the water also means fresh seafood is never far away.

Hungry yet? Being on the water also means fresh seafood is never far away.

Portland is rumored to be second only to San Francisco for most restaurants per capita. It's not clear where that claim originated, but it seemed pretty accurate.

Portland is rumored to be second only to San Francisco for most restaurants per capita. It's not clear where that claim originated, but it seemed pretty accurate.

Around every corner, there's a new spot inviting you to try some tasty delicacy.

Around every corner, there's a new spot inviting you to try some tasty delicacy.

In 2009, Bon Appetit magazine named Portland "America's Foodiest Small Town."

In 2009, Bon Appetit magazine named Portland "America's Foodiest Small Town."

Yes, there's lobster.

Yes, there's lobster.

Lots and lots of lobster.

Lots and lots of lobster.

In rolls.

In rolls.

Melts.

Melts.

Baked.

Baked.

And steamed.

And steamed.

But you can pretty much find any cuisine, from Italian, to Mexican, to Japanese.

But you can pretty much find any cuisine, from Italian, to Mexican, to Japanese.

The docks of Portland attracted thousands of Irish immigrants in the 19th century, who got their start loading and unloading cargo from ships. As a result, the seaside town also has a thriving Irish pub scene, where lunch and dinner feature lobster rolls and fish sandwiches.

The docks of Portland attracted thousands of Irish immigrants in the 19th century, who got their start loading and unloading cargo from ships. As a result, the seaside town also has a thriving Irish pub scene, where lunch and dinner feature lobster rolls and fish sandwiches.

In between meals you can take a stroll over to Monument Square, where you'll find the Portland Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the public library.

In between meals you can take a stroll over to Monument Square, where you'll find the Portland Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the public library.

The Arts District is nearby, home to several museums for kids and adults.

The Arts District is nearby, home to several museums for kids and adults.

If it's a nice day, you can hit the Eastern promenade, a 1.5-mile-long paved trail that takes you to the easternmost point in Portland.

If it's a nice day, you can hit the Eastern promenade, a 1.5-mile-long paved trail that takes you to the easternmost point in Portland.

Along the way, you'll pass a steam locomotive that takes people on waterfront train rides.

Along the way, you'll pass a steam locomotive that takes people on waterfront train rides.

The promenade offers remarkable views of the Bay, including Fort Gorges as seen in the distance. The military fort was last used to store mines during World War II and is now a public park accessible only by private boat.

The promenade offers remarkable views of the Bay, including Fort Gorges as seen in the distance. The military fort was last used to store mines during World War II and is now a public park accessible only by private boat.

The trail rings around the neighborhood of Munjoy Hill, flanked by a giant grassy slope that leads down to the water.

The trail rings around the neighborhood of Munjoy Hill, flanked by a giant grassy slope that leads down to the water.

A towering granite statue on the great lawn remembers soldiers who died in World War II.

A towering granite statue on the great lawn remembers soldiers who died in World War II.

Ultimately, you'll end up at East End beach where you can lounge in the sun or rent a kayak to explore the Bay.

Ultimately, you'll end up at East End beach where you can lounge in the sun or rent a kayak to explore the Bay.

And feel free to enjoy the fresh air — Portland mandates that its parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, and beaches are smoke-free.

And feel free to enjoy the fresh air — Portland mandates that its parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, and beaches are smoke-free.

A long day of eating, shopping, and walking should be capped by a beautiful sunset on the water.

A long day of eating, shopping, and walking should be capped by a beautiful sunset on the water.

Of course, no trip to Maine is complete without eating lobster.

Of course, no trip to Maine is complete without eating lobster.

Maine's Top Chef Shows Us The Right Way To Steam And Eat A Lobster »

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