But Portland has more to offer than a bunch of crustaceans. The coastal New England port boasts a vibrant working waterfront, an abundance of Victorian-era architecture and numerous historic lighthouses. Nestled on a picturesque seascape, the city is perched on a peninsula jutting out into the island-studded Casco Bay, protected from the Atlantic Ocean. The romantic movie "Message in a Bottle" was filmed in this seaside town, and the famous Portland-born poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called Portland a "Jewel by the Sea" in one of his poems.
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The historic port was once a major shipbuilding center, as well as one of the busiest fishing ports on the Atlantic as far back as the 18th century. Its success as a port made it a prime target for the British during the War of 1812 and also for the Confederates during the Civil War. The coastline and islands are still dotted with forts that were built to protect the city. Ironically, during an Independence Day celebration in 1866, a firecracker ignited a fire that quickly spread across the city's east end, destroying 1,800 buildings.
The city quickly rebuilt, resulting in lovely Victorian-era architecture, and today the Old Port (sometimes referred to as the Old Port Exchange) is a bustling seaport with a high concentration of quality eating and drinking establishments. With less than 65,000 residents, Portland is compact enough for visitors to explore the town thoroughly -- tourists can stroll along the working waterfront of Commercial Street, walk the cobblestone streets of the restored Old Port district, or visit a historic building or two.
What will you remember most from a visit to Portland? Will it be the lobster traps piled on the wharf, the smell of sea air combined with the chatter of seagulls or a visit to a historic attraction? If you're like the majority of visitors, a succulent lobster lunch may be your most savory memory of this New England port.
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What to See
Maine's oldest lighthouse, built during George Washington's presidency, Portland Head Light is located on the shores of Cape Elizabeth. Originally, the 80-foot tower was lit with 16 whale-oil lamps. Today there are a number of interpretive displays at the onsite museum.
Climb the 103 steps to the top of the Portland Observatory and enjoy the views of Portland and Casco Bay. This signal tower is the only remaining wooden maritime signal station in the U.S. It was built in 1807 and is currently listed on the National Landmark Registry.
Take a ride on a historic narrow gauge steam train aboard the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad. Passengers can enjoy the view of Casco Bay while riding along the waterfront by the Portland's Eastern Promenade.
Originally built in 1858 for a wealthy New Orleans hotelier, the Italian villa-style Victoria Mansion has graceful verandahs, a four-story tower and a lavish interior. The house was named for Britain's Queen Victoria when it was turned into a museum in 1941. Visitors can tour the property, which still boasts 90 percent of its original contents such as gas light fixtures, elaborate wall paintings and exquisite woodwork.
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Built in 1785, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House is the boyhood home of noted poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was the first wholly brick dwelling in Portland and now features a collection of Maine's historical artifacts.
Located next door to the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, the Maine Historical Society Museum houses exhibitions that feature art and artifacts that bring Maine history to life, from children's toys to traditional furniture.
Want to see Portland by bike? Cycle Mania, located a few short blocks from the Old Port, offers rentals by the day or the week.
Take the 15-minute ferry ride aboard Casco Bay Lines from Maine State Pier to Peaks Island. Once there, you can rent a bike from Brad's Recycled Bike Shop, or take a guided kayak trip with Maine Island Kayak Company to explore the protected waterways of Casco Bay -- you'll paddle past Civil War-era forts, lighthouses and seal-covered ledges.
The Portland Fish Exchange is a fresh seafood auction held Monday through Thursday at noon and Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Portland Fish Pier Complex by the Casco Bay Bridge. Commercial fishing vessels are offloaded in the early morning and buyers arrive throughout the morning to inspect the day's catch. Visitors can watch the auction unfold with the auctioneer soliciting bids for each species and size of seafood.
Located about 45 minutes south of Portland, the charming coastal village of Kennebunkport features several Federal- and Victorian-style homes built by wealthy merchants and sea captains in the 1700's and 1800's. Today it is regarded as one of the most expensive vacation areas in the Northeast (the Bush family has a home here). Visitors can explore the small district of art galleries, seafood restaurants and souvenir shops.
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