“How do I love thee, let me count the ways”. This Elizabeth Barrett Browning quote flashes through my mind whenever I visit Portland, Maine. The bustling waterfront, art galleries, specialty shops, eateries and microbreweries lend Portland an air of culture, history, sophistication and physical beauty that cannot be found in any other small cities on the East Coast. Portland, more than any other urban area celebrates young ideas while continuing to venerate traditions.
A stop at the Eastern Promenade, just outside of the Old Port area, will give you a bird’s eye view of the harbor. In the summer, white sail boats bob in the breeze and you can watch the water taxis and ferries head toward the 100+ islands in Casco Bay, which includes Portland Harbor on its southern edge.
If you prefer to get a fish eye view of the bay, plan on taking one of the Casco Bay Cruise Line tours of the harbor. Whether you sail on the Mail Boat Run, the Sunrise Cruise or the Peaks Island Ferry (just to mention a few of the possibilities) you will quickly become immersed in life along the harbor. All types of marine craft sail along, their captains and mates waving a greeting as you pass by.
You may see a seal or a sea lion effortlessly gliding through the water and of course, the pristine white sea gulls are everywhere. Many of the cruises actually visit the islands, stopping at their docks to release or pick up passengers, mail or packages.
A Small City With A Big History
Casco Bay served as the most eastern anchor during World War II. Supplies moved from the US to Great Britain, passing through Casco Bay. Neighboring houses were replete with black out curtains and manned guard shacks were common all along the bay.
You can see vestiges of this history in the forts still standing guard at various points on the water. These forts have been constructed during every era of American history and many can be visited, such as Fort Preble and Fort Williams. Fort Williams nestles against Portland Headlight, one of the most famous light houses in the whole world. Six other light houses illuminate the seaway from the Atlantic Ocean to the city of Portland.
If you must reach Portland by land, you will find that it is eminently drivable. Forest Ave and Congress Street will lead you to the business district, while Commercial Street passes along the edge of the harbor and into the Old Port section of town.