If you have a half or whole day to spare in Portland, Oregon and you’re looking for the budget way to sightsee Portland, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. My recommendation is to use the NS streetcar as your transport and hop off along the way to see the city. The route is straightforward with tons of stops in the best parts of town. Read on for what stops to use, what to see, and a FREE downloadable map at the end of the post!
I hate city bus tours. Hate. Not only are they extortionate and false and over-touristy, but my hate probably also originates from an incident involving a particularly verbose tour-guide, a moose, and a concussion. Nevertheless! No expensive bus tours for me.
Instead, I prefer to fancy myself very clever and turn public transport into a sightseeing tour! A dash of imagination and a bus schedule can take you far in life. Portland happens to be the ideal city to use my little trick on. The public transport is cheap ($5 for an all day pass including all kinds of transport options). It’s also very simple as the city isn’t huge – it involves the MAX (only four lines), streetcars (also only four lines), and buses.
Start off in Pioneer Courthouse Square. This is the center of public transport and you will find the tourist center here. Pop in and ask a couple questions, get a schedule, and see what’s happening in the square (there’s usually a farmers market or show going on).
From there take the NS streetcar north to the alphabet district, the intersection of 23rd and Marshall. Your first order of business should be icecream from Salt and Straw.
Icecream? First thing in the morning?! Yes.
Salt and Straw is insanely popular – for good reason! The ingredients are in season, fresh, gourmet, and the weirdest (yummiest) combinations out there.Unfortunately this also means that once afternoon hits the line could actually be hours long. Save yourself the wait and eat icecrean for breakfast!
From Salt and Straw you can wander through the Nob Hill neighborhood.
There are tons of shops to check out along 23rd street in the Nob Hill area so take your time. There’s polish pottery…
Edible smelling Lush products….
Drool worthy real estate…what more do you want??
After substantial window shopping you can hop back on the southbound NS line (from 23rd and Marshall) toward the Keller auditorium stop which is at 5th and Market. I 100% recommend this stop for the Keller fountain just a two minute walk away!
The fountain is an amazing piece of architecture resembling a natural waterfall in many layer so, with clean lines and a city scape backdrop.
Please ignore the signs and go wadding in the fountain for the full experience. When we visited there were even people full out swimming in the second story of the fountain.
Make sure to check out the right side of the fountain (facing toward it) on the lower story. There’s a little alcove where you can walk behind the stream of water and sit in the cool shade feeling the spray.
Obviously the occasion called for some yoga.
And a selfie!
Finally, take the NS line (from 5th and Market) even more south toward the Oregon health sciences university stop (SW Moody & Gaines). Here you’ll find a bunch of food trucks if you’re hungry, but more importantly the aerial tram!
This is our moment of glory for pretending we are on a luxury tour.
The aerial tram connects the ground level offices to the hospital high up on the hill. Essentially it’s a way for hospital employees or patients to commute, but has been slightly commandeered by the cleverest of tourists.
The aerial tram is not included in the public transport all day pass, but a round trip ticket is only $4.50 (if you’re an OHSU employee or patient it’s free).
In my opinion definitely worth it for the thrill and the view!
There you have it my friends! I spent a very enjoyable day. Without spending much money touring the best of Portland through the NS streetcar. Let me know if you try this route or another public transport route to sightsee Portland.
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