Portland is just about as easy to travel in as it is to live in, especially if you know where to stay and how to take advantage of the top-notch public transit. These quick tips should help you do just that, and be sure to click through to the more detailed articles on each topic.
Most major airlines serve Portland, including from a few select international cities in Canada, Mexico, Japan and Germany. Alaska Airlines and its subsidiary, Horizon Air, both use Portland’s airport as a hub so you may find special deals on airfare with those two airlines or their partners. If you are coming from outside the United States, it’s likely you’ll have a layover in the U.S. before arriving in Portland, but if you’re already in the country you might be able to get a direct flight. Portland isn’t the major destination that Los Angeles or Seattle is, so most flights will still have a layover somewhere in the middle of the country, but the number of direct flights from the East Coast is increasing every year. For Portlanders, being able to fly across the country without stopping in the middle is a relatively new – and welcome – development.
Portland International Airport
Portland International Airport (airport code PDX) is the city’s major international airport. It’s less than 10 miles from downtown Portland, and lies right along the Columbia River which separates Oregon and Washington. Flying in or out of Portland can be quite pretty, if you have a seat on the river-side of the airplane (and it’s not too dark to see!). There are several transportation options to get you into town from the airport, including the light rail line, called MAX. A ticket to get downtown is just over $2, and the trains run much more reliably than the highways (traffic never slows them down!).
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With only two hostels to choose from in Portland, you should be able to decide which one suits you best without spending much time doing research! There is a hostel on each side of the Willamette River, so the better location will change depending on what your itinerary is while you are here. Both Portland hostels are part of the Hostelling International network, so you’ll need to be a member to get the best rates (although the non-member rates are just fine).
There are plenty of hotels to choose from in Portland, it just depends on how much you are willing to spend and where in the city you want to stay. Downtown hotels tend to be upscale and expensive, although compared to New York you might find them to be bargains. With downtown hotels you have the advantage of being right in the middle of most of what you’ll want to see, and close to all kinds of public transit. Further away from the center, the prices will go down and you’ll need to rely on the buses if you haven’t rented a car – so make sure your hotel is near a bus line.
Portland has been recognized on the national and even international level for excellence in public transportation systems, and even though many locals still stick to their cars there is a fabulous network of public transit which you can take advantage of. Tri-Met buses run all over the city and the suburbs, so no matter where you are in the Portland Metro area you’re probably not too far from a bus stop. The MAX train service area is more limited, but expanding, and in certain areas there is no fee (called “fareless squares”) for short rides. In downtown Portland, especially, the MAX train is the ideal choice. The Portland Streetcar is a relatively recent addition, connecting downtown with the area around NW 21st and 23rd, so if you’re staying downtown but you want to do some shopping in trendy NW, the Streetcar is a great option.
Of course, you can always rent a car as well – a car will be a must, in fact, if you plan to make day-trips to nearby sights like the Columbia Gorge, Mt. Hood, Oregon’s wine country, Mt. St. Helens, or the Oregon Coast. A car is also handy if you have any reason to visit Portland’s suburbs, as the bus lines are not as extensive. But if your travels will be limited to the city of Portland, and especially if you are staying in the city, a car will likely just be a pain. Parking can be a challenge to find (unless, of course, you’re staying in a swanky downtown hotel with valet parking!), the parking meters are strictly monitored from 8:00am until 7:00pm, and the multitude of one-way streets in downtown make navigating difficult (even sometimes for locals).