When you think of visiting Portland, you might not picture being in Portland in winter. While it is a bit dreary, there are plenty of things to do to keep you entertained! You just have to know where to look, and you can easily have a full itinerary during this time of the year.
For example, winter in Portland has everything from Christmas ships to warm coffee to zoo lights. There are also plenty of festivals to participate in, so make sure to mark them down on your calendar! I personally find this time of year very cozy.
In this article, we’ll discuss what to expect for the winter weather in Portland, suggestions on where to stay, and the best things to do in Portland in the winter.
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 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 53ºF. It’s officially time for fleece and insulated jackets.
Portland in December
The average low is 35ºF, and the 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.
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.
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, Oregon in Winter
Here are some suggestions for where to stay, 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)
Things to Do in Portland in the Winter
The sun sets early from mid-November at about 4:30 pm, so you have fewer hours of light to work with in the winter months. Regardless, there are a host of incredible things to do in Portland in winter.
1. Watch the Christmas Ship Parade
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.
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. You’ll have to check the schedule for this year’s dates and times, but it’s well worth grabbing a hot chocolate and enjoying the festivities.
2. Stop by Powell’s City of Books
Bookworms flood Powell’s on a regular basis, but even more so in the cozy months. It’s the largest independent bookstore in the heart of downtown Portland.
It sells both new and used books as well as merchandise like Harry Potter goodies and Portland souvenirs. There’s also a coffee shop on-site for you to hunker down with a hot latte and immerse yourself in your new purchase.
3. Visit the Portland Art Museum
What better way to escape the Portland winter weather than keeping warm inside a building filled with cultural masterpieces? This museum has five floors to explore and has everything from ancient Asian installments to contemporary American art.
After you’ve glutted 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 pm – 8 pm, so take advantage if you can.
4. Gaze at the Winter Light Festival
Although it’s only in February, the Portland Winter Light Festival is worth the wait. Bright, colorful lights lighten the dismal winter nights in a dazzling display where technology and light mingle to create art.
You can expect over 100 light installations, an illuminated nighttime bike ride, a lantern parade, live ice carvings, dance performances, and more. What’s even better is it’s powered by renewable energy, so it’s planet-friendly.
If you feel like getting out of town, you’ll love going on a Portland to San Francisco road trip.
5. Indulge in Some 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 summertime in Portland and sitting outside, being inside all cozy has its own benefits as well.
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.
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 is 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.
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
From curious bicycle sculptures to artistic murals painted on buildings, if you’re vibing for some street culture and unique selfies, this is a fun side-quest to add to your itinerary. Make sure to check out the Zoobomb Pile, an ever-evolving monument just outside the downtown Vans store.
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.
The donut shops in 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.
10. Join in the Holiday Ale Festival
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.
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.
12. Celebrate the Lunar New Year
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 art 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.
13. Go to the Portland Japanese Garden
It’s 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.
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. 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.
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. 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 – 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.
Which of these activities in Portland in winter are you looking forward to the most?