Portland, Oregon, a city which boarders Washington state on the northwest coast of America is affectionately known as ‘hipster capital of the world’. We were really intrigued to see how fitting this term actually is, as…to put it in the least snobbish way…the American ideals of ‘cool’ can often differ from the European. But to our pleasant surprise, Portland was awesome. And we think any beard-trimming, vinyl-collecting, succulent-planting European hipster would be proud to call Portland home.
One of the main things that struck us about Portland is that the residents are really friendly. The Portlanders we met had such an obvious love for their city that they were constantly giving us recommendations for coffee shops, bookstores and bars in the hope that we love it just as much them. And it worked.
Unfortunately, as we only have a month to tour the entire west, we were only able to spend two days in this awesome city. We managed to cram in quite a bit though, so here’s a little list of what -in our opinion- a short trip to Portland should include:
Brunch is to Portlanders as afternoon tea is to the English: something to be taken very seriously. The most popular spots can have queues snaking out the door and the options throughout the city seem endless. We chose a place called ‘Mothers Bistro’ in downtown, a Parisian style restaurant which served traditional egg-based dishes and, of course, delicious coffee.
A large chunk of our first day was spent in Powell’s Bookstore, the largest independent bookstore in the world. The building pretty much takes up an entire block, with five stories of new and used books. As we found out, is easy to get lost in there and, before you know it, 3 hours has past. Powell’s really is a Portland institution, and a city break here isn’t complete without perusing its many shelves.
One thing that is so special about Portland is that it is surrounded by wilderness; it almost feels like a city built in the middle of a national park. So, a short drive out of town brought us to Multnomah Falls, a beautiful waterfall surrounded by moss-covered evergreens. You can view it from the bottom, or a short hike leads you to the midway bridge. It’s a popular tourist spot, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try to go on a weekday….and not on Labor Day weekend, like we did.
Portland has an awesome shopping scene. Seriously, bring all your money, you will want to buy everything. Southwest 10th Avenue between Stark street and Washington, was a favourite of ours. There was so much to buy on this street: outdoorsy hard wear, über cool home decor, arty jewellery; there was even a shop dedicated solely to feminist fashion brands. Here’s a list of links to our favourite shops:
A lesser known fact about Portland is that Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, was born here. This perhaps explains the city’s obsession with doughnuts. We went to two different establishments and both had lines out the door. ‘Blue Star’ is the place to go for the more ‘gourmet’ style, with flavours ranging from maple bacon to cayenne spiced PB&J- get here early though, as they can run out by the afternoon. If you want a doughnut fit for Mr Groening however, go to ‘Voodoo’ and ask for ‘The Homer’. Voodoo is to doughnuts as Powell’s is to books: a Portland institution and a must-see.
Honourable Mentions and Sidenotes:
- Outside of downtown, Hawthorne street has loads of cool vintage stores and another (smaller) Powell’s! Portland just can’t get enough of books.
- Nike Bikes. These are Portland’s much cooler version of London’s ‘Boris Bike’. They are neon orange and named after the infamous sports brand (which originated in Portland), rather than after a floppy-haired fool. But I digress.
- Unlike most American cities, you won’t require a car to get around. The public transport here is pretty good, with reliable buses to and from town, and a tram service called ‘The Max’, operating city-wide.
- If you are so inclined, the state of Oregon has legalised the use of recreational marijuana. You can buy pretty much any product you can think of from one of Portland’s many dispensaries. And because it’s Portland, much of the products sold are locally sourced, fair trade and organic. Think salted cacao infused with organic marijuana oils, that sort of thing. But, please note: unlike Amsterdam, public use is prohibited and you have to be 21 to even enter a dispensary.
In conclusion, Portland has stolen our hearts, well and truly. There is so much to see, do, eat, drink and buy; so many kind people to chat to; so much to explore! We definitely plan on coming back….unless it gets too mainstream.