Every time I tell someone I’m heading to Portland in the winter, I get a raised eyebrow or two, but honestly, after going there so many times over the years, winter has become one of my favorite seasons to visit. Maybe it’s because I’m from Seattle, and the weather’s pretty much the same—cool, a little drizzly, but nothing I’m not already used to. There are so many things to do in Portland in the winter, and I feel like most people don’t know about them.
One of the best things about winter in Portland? It’s way easier to get into some of those popular spots that are jam-packed during the summer. As a foodie and someone who loves exploring new restaurants and bars, this is a huge win for me. No need to jostle with tourists or wait an hour for a table. In Portland in the winter, it’s a lot more laid-back, and I can just walk in and get a seat at some of the best places in town.
There are also a ton of unique winter-only experiences. I’ve caught the Christmas Ships Parade several times, and every time, it’s still magical. Then there’s the coffee—oh man, the coffee! As someone who can’t resist a good cup (you know how much I love my Seattle coffee), there’s something extra special about sipping a locally brewed latte while the rain gently taps on the window.
But it doesn’t end there. I’ve been to the Winter Light Festival a few times, and it’s always a blast. It’s not just a bunch of lights; it’s like the whole city comes alive in this radiant, artsy glow. Portland in winter has its own unique vibe—cozy, inviting, and always offering something fresh and new, even for a seasoned visitor like me.
17 Best Things to Do in Portland in the Winter
The sun sets early in mid-November at about 4:30 p.m., so you have fewer hours of light to work with in the winter season in Portland. Regardless, there are a host of incredible winter things to do in Portland.
1. Watch the Christmas Ship Parade
Dates: December 1-17, 2023
Seattle and Portland both have a fun event where thousands of residents flock to the banks of the river to watch the brightly lit boats cruise past in December. While there are many fun Seattle holiday events, Portland has plenty of its own.
In Portland’s rivers, a convoy of boats bedecked with Christmas lights glides through the water for a two-week holiday spectacle. While not every vessel is out every night, most partake in this seasonal parade. Each ship’s light show is custom-designed by its owner, who also covers all operational expenses, including fuel. The procession evolves annually as new boats join, adding their unique festive displays.
Meanwhile, seasoned skippers pass down their iconic setups to ensure the custom lives on. Alongside the public celebration, boat operators frequently host intimate gatherings for loved ones on board. The entire financial burden of this cherished local tradition falls on the boat owners themselves.
The Christmas Ship Parade began in 1954 with one single boat from Portland Yacht Club, and today, the parade averages 55–60 boats varying from a mere 14 feet in length to a whopping 65 feet. When you’re looking for things to do in Portland in the winter, it’s well worth grabbing a hot chocolate and enjoying the festivities.
Want to see more of the city? Jump on this Portland city morning tour to see the best sights.
2. Stop by Powell’s City of Books
Situated in the lively hub of downtown Portland, Powell’s Books isn’t just another bookstore; it’s a sanctuary for those who love to read. Known as the largest independent bookstore in the area, it’s always busy, but it becomes especially popular during the chilly winter in Portland months when people seek a warm and inviting atmosphere.
Whether you’re looking for brand-new releases or pre-loved used books, there’s something here to suit any taste or budget. Powell’s isn’t limited to just books; you can also discover a range of unique merchandise. From Harry Potter trinkets to keepsakes that celebrate Portland’s unique culture, you’re bound to find the perfect gift or memento.
What better way to enjoy a new book than with a hot cup of coffee? Luckily, Powell’s has its very own coffee shop on-site. There’s nothing better than the delicious smell of coffee wafting through the air as you sit down in a cozy corner, latte in hand, ready to delve into a captivating story.
For another fun vacation up north, check out all the winter activities in Vancouver, BC.
3. Visit the Portland Art Museum
What better way to escape the Portland winter weather than to keep warm inside a building filled with cultural masterpieces? This museum has five floors to explore and has everything from ancient Asian art to contemporary American art.
After you’ve feasted your eyes on the artistic shows, head to the Art Pub at the café for a glass of wine and some warming grub. The first Thursday of every month offers free admission between 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., so take advantage if you can.
4. Gaze at the Portland Winter Light Festival
Dates: February 3-11, 2024
Every February, Portland buzzes with anticipation for the Portland Winter Light Festival. This isn’t your average light display, but it’s a convergence of art and tech that transforms the city into a glowing, interactive museum.
Featuring a collection of over 100 individual light installations, the festival appeals to a wide range of artistic sensibilities. These displays, created by a diverse group of artists, engineers, and other creative thinkers, range from abstract light arrangements to more thematic exhibits and offer something intriguing for each visitor.
I love this festival because it’s filled with diverse activities for attendees of all ages. Cyclists can take part in a unique bike ride decked out in radiant gear, becoming a mobile light show themselves. Those who prefer collective experiences can participate in the lantern parade—a glowing march that winds its way through the festival area.
That’s not all – live ice carving sessions are mesmerizing, showcasing artists as they skillfully turn blocks of ice into intricate sculptures on the spot. Dance performances, too, are an integral part of the festivities. These shows often incorporate special lighting effects, adding a visually striking and emotionally rich layer to the event, making it perfect when you need things to do in Portland in the winter.
If you feel like getting out of town, you’ll love going on a Portland to San Francisco road trip.
5. Indulge in Some Local Brews
Portland isn’t shy about its affinity for beer. Every month promises at least one beer festival, but with February being Oregon Craft Beer Month, the tastings, pairings, and events are on steroids. It might not be as big as Oktoberfest in Washington, but it comes close.
If you’re not in town over a festival, though, simply pop into one of the dozens of breweries like Lucky Labrador Brewing Company or Deschutes Brewery to satisfy your thirst. While I love visiting during the summertime in Portland and sitting outside, being inside all cozy has its own benefits as well.
Fill yourself up after with this Portland food tour to try some of the best spots in the city.
6. View the Lan Su Chinese Garden
If the weather’s good, take a trip to Chinatown and embrace the Asian aesthetic of the beautiful Chinese Garden. It’s pretty big, taking up an entire city block, and it houses an authentic Ming Dynasty-style garden that Suzhou artisans built. While this is a popular thing to do in Portland in the fall, I also love coming here in the winter.
It’s a peaceful escape in a Portland cultural and historic district that you wouldn’t want to miss. Even on a dreary day when the rain is pattering down, the sound of raindrops plopping into the pond is so serene that you’ll achieve inner peace with ease. It’s so beautiful that you may even want to come back during spring in Oregon to see it really blossom.
7. Watch a Movie on the Big Screen
Portland has a rich cinema culture and plenty of fun movie houses to indulge in. Most serve beer and/or wine, as well as delicious pub grub like pizza (popcorn and soda are so last season).
McMenamins Theater and Pubs serve up recent releases, cult classics, and arty films with their hand-crafted ales, while Academy Theater boasts three screens and microbrews. They are also my go-to place to get a hearty meal and beer.
For another option, Laurelhurst Theater is a Portland landmark from 1923, with nine beers on tap and four auditoriums showcasing revival screenings. Tell me this isn’t the ideal way to spend a rainy day in Portland in winter.
8. Explore the Street Art Around Portland
The diverse range of styles and subjects represented in Portland’s street art culture is a tangible manifestation of the city’s rich cultural heritage. If you’re in Portland this winter, you’ll want to spend some time exploring the city’s robust street art scene, whether you’re an art connoisseur or just searching for a new perspective on the city.
Bicycle sculptures, which can be found all around Portland, are one of the city’s most recognizable street art features. These sculptures are more than just works of art; they are also a celebration of Portland’s bicycle culture and a window into the city’s everyday life for visitors. Each bicycle sculpture is one-of-a-kind since it was created using a different set of materials and artistic approaches.
Portland’s street art also features numerous murals. These massive murals may be found painted on the sides of buildings, and they feature anything from abstract patterns to detailed portraits and social and political commentary. The murals take regular city walls and make them into vibrant works of art, and I love that you’ll never run out of street art to look at when visiting Portland in the wintertime.
The Zoobomb Pile, located outside the downtown Vans store, is a fun and interactive alternative. Bicycles that have been abandoned or donated to the installation are stacked in an ever-evolving monument. Being a whimsical backdrop that perfectly depicts the spirit of the city, it’s also a favorite location for photographers and selfie-takers.
See street art and more on this Portland bicycle tour of the city.
9. Go on a Donut Binge
Portland, Oregon winter weather just screams for deep-fried carbs and cream-topped coffee to ward off the cold and cheer the spirit. That’s why one of the best things to do in Portland in the winter is to warm yourself up with one of Portland’s most popular foods.
The donut shops in downtown Portland are insane, in a good way. Uber hip and eccentrically decorated, they collect crowds from all walks of life to sample their tasty wares. Voodoo Doughnut is pretty on-trend, as is the ultra-trendy Blue Star Donuts. I can never walk away from either without at least half a dozen.
Want to try these and more? You’ll want to book a spot on the Portland donut tour.
10. Join in the Holiday Ale Festival
Dates: December 1-3, 2023
Beneath the largest decorated Christmas tree in the region is this annual celebration of foamy winter warmers in the first week of December – an ideal activity in Portland during winter (similar to the many Christmas activities in Vancouver, BC).
More than 50 brews are featured, as well as holiday-themed foods and live music to add to the festive spirit. Don’t worry about the weather, as the clear-top tent and gas heaters ensure a good time no matter the weather outside.
Feel like extending your trip? Book a weekend getaway from Portland!
11. Head for Mt. Hood
If snow is what you crave, slip away from the city on a Portland day trip and take part in some typical snow-filled winter activities in Portland, Oregon, on Mt. Hood. Whether it’s skiing, snow tubing, sledding, or hitting the snowshoe hiking trails in the Mt. Hood National Forest, you’re bound to have a frosty adventure.
If it’s snowshoeing that’s caught your interest, make sure to include the Tamanawas Falls trail — a frozen waterfall in the heart of a winter wonderland is a sight to behold. This is a popular place to stop on a Pacific Northwest road trip.
If you want to spend the night here, I highly recommend staying at Timberline Lodge. I came here for my college graduation and enjoyed being able to ski right back to the resort, but I also loved the interior inside. Fun fact – they used the exterior of the hotel to film The Shining (but it’s not creepy inside, I promise).
12. Celebrate the Lunar New Year
Date: February 10, 2024
It’s the first day of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, typically falling in late January or early February, and it’s marked with all sorts of events and activities. It’s traditionally a 15-day-long period of celebration, and wearing the lucky color red is very en vogue.
Be prepared for red lanterns everywhere, firecrackers to ward off evil, dumplings and long noodles for long life, and lucky papers bearing good wishes. Lion dances will enchant the crowds, as will martial arts performances and calligraphy artists.
If you go on the first day of the festival, you get a lucky red envelope (hong bao) as part of the tradition. It’s one of the most unique things to do in Portland in the winter.
13. Go to the Portland Japanese Garden
The Portland Japanese Garden has been proclaimed as the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. This 5.5-hectare garden boasts a proper Japanese tea house, gently bubbling streams, cozy walkways, and gorgeous views of Mt. Hood.
There are five different garden styles within its borders. The Tea Garden is lush, has a stone walking path, and is designed to inspire peace. The Strolling Pond Garden shows the wealth of nature with a bridge that zigzags through the beds of Japanese irises by a waterfall.
The Natural Garden is filled with leafy trees, most notably maple, to showcase the beautiful autumnal changes, and the Sand and Stone Garden is for quiet contemplation. The Flat Garden is best enjoyed from the pavilion and offers a four-season tableau.
Love the water? Check out this lunch cruise on the Willamette River.
14. See the Zoolights Displays
The Oregon Zoo is a standard attraction year-round, but come November, it lights up with a dazzling display of over 1.5 million lights and one of the best things to do in Portland in winter. Not only is it a sheer awe-inspiring spectacle, but there are tasty food and beverage options thrown in for extra holiday delight.
Food carts toting sandwiches and elephant ears, along with hot chocolate (perfect to warm up with during winter in Portland) and Oregon beer, make sure you’re fully fed by the time you’re ready to head home. This is one of the best things to do in Portland in the winter with kids, and one my kids now request to go to.
15. Get Cozy by a Fire
It may not snow much, but fire pits are pretty popular in Portland, Oregon in the winter. Maybe it’s the combination of heat and cheery atmosphere that keeps the winter blues at bay. Either way, if you want to experience these cozy fires for yourself, The Fireside is a good place to start, boasting two large fireplaces.
They even have fireside s’mores and campfire espresso on the menu. The Doug Fir Lounge has an outdoor firepit where you can cuddle up with a cocktail or three while listening to live bands.
16. Get Toasty from a Roasted Coffee
Portland has a love affair with books and coffee (as do we in Seattle). When winter arrives, that love only grows stronger. Listening to the sound of the rain outside and the coffee shop background murmur while you indulge in a hot cappuccino and get your nose stuck in a book is the ultimate winter activity.
Try out Oblique Coffee Roasters for a vintage atmosphere or Phoenix Roasters for their curious cold brews (blueberry-basil sounds intriguing). For a bit of fantastical whimsy, head to Dragonfly Coffee House with its mythical knickknacks or Rose City Book Pub if you’d rather curl up with a craft brew on a comfy couch.
17. Pop into the Portland Saturday Market
Open every Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, more than 250 vendors offer their wares to delighted market perusers. It’s been a tradition since 1974 and is now the largest continually operating fair in the US.
There’s a great selection of arts and crafts handmade by local artisans, jazz musicians pumping out sweet blues, and yummy ethnic eats like falafel and kielbasa. You’ll find everything from jewelry, souvenirs, and silverware art to ceramics, home decor, and photography. It runs throughout December until Christmas Eve.
Weather in Portland in the Winter
Similar to Seattle in the winter, the skies cloud over, and rain falls in abundance in the winter months in Portland, but the oceanic climate means temperatures remain mild. However, there are occasional dips below freezing. The most common question about Portland winters that people tend to ask is does it snow in Portland?
While it does indeed snow, it’s only an average of about 4.5 inches per year, with significant snowfall being very rare, so don’t break out the snowshoes anytime soon. At any point from December to February, the temperatures might dip enough for a smattering of snow to fall.
Portland in November
Though it’s not technically winter yet, it’s when the sky darkens, the cold really sets in, and the rain begins in earnest. An average of 5.5 inches will fall through the month, and temperatures will dip to as low as 41ºF and as high as 53º F. It’s officially time for fleece and insulated jackets.
Portland in December
The average low is 35ºF, and the average high is 46ºF, making it the coldest month in Portland as well as the rainiest, with an average of 6.9 inches of rainfall. Still, it’s the perfect month to cuddle up with hot cocoa to keep out the chill and get festive with all the things to do in Portland in December.
Portland in January
With a low of 36ºF and a high of 47ºF, it’s barely warmer than December. It also rains a little less during January in Portland (about 6.1 inches of rain on average), but that also means great snow-filled activities up the mountains when you’re looking for things to do in Portland in January.
Portland in February
The rain starts to let up, with only 4.6 inches on average this month, and the temperatures rise to a low of 37ºF and a high of 51ºF. If it’s going to snow in the city, this tends to be the month when it happens.
Where to Stay in Portland in the Winter
Here are some suggestions for where to stay during your Portland winter activities, whether you’re in Portland for a weekend or just one night.
- The Mark Spencer Hotel — In the heart of downtown, you’ll be in the center of the city’s bustle. Portland’s Pearl district is only one minute away, and other attractions like Powell’s Books and the Japanese Garden are within walking distance. The hotel itself is a nostalgic throwback with warm tones and retro decor. (rates start at $159 per night)
- Silver Cloud Hotel — This hotel situated in the Northwest District has all the luxury amenities you expect from a high-end place but at a reasonable price. Forest Park and its walking trails will satisfy nature lovers, while the boutique shopping opportunities, spa, and cinema will beckon city lovers. (rates start at $149 per night)
- Hampton Inn & Suites — The rooms here are modern and spacious, and the indoor pool is a bonus. Popular stops like Voodoo Donuts and the Chinese Garden are mere minutes away, as are countless museums, parks, and monuments. Even the Oregon Zoo is within easy reach. (rates start at $118 per night)
Which of these activities in Portland in winter are you looking forward to the most?