12 Festive Things to Do in Portland in Winter

Portland Christmas Events

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Portland, Oregon, is known for beer, food, makers, and nature, and one season shows off this Oregon city’s best of – winter.

November through to the end of December are great months to visit because the city is packed with Christmas Portland events.

We (Gemma and Craig) visited Portland during winter and take it from us, the sunrises were still lovely and the crisp air was refreshing! Enjoy our guide on things to do in Portland in winter.

You might also like our three-day Portland itinerary, which you can read here.

Winter Things to Do in Portland

1. Portland Christmas Ships – Willamette or Columbia Rivers

The award-winning Christmas Ships Parade sees ships decorated in lights and Christmas decor taking to the water for 15 nights in December.

Sparkling ships can be seen at the Willamette and Columbia Rivers; in previous years, there have been around 60 boats on the water.

To celebrate the city’s people and events, there are sponsored nights throughout the 15 days.

For example, a parade dedicated to fallen firefighters highlights the community’s Christmas spirit in Portland.

There are also a couple of ‘meet and greet the skipper’ nights if you want to shake hands with the Santas of the sea!

Best Place to See the Christmas Boats in Portland?

The ships’ path depends on the time of night, so it is best to check the Christmas Ship Parade website before picking your location. There are individual sails and combined fleet nights.

Some locations include the I-5 Bridge, Lake Oswego, and North Portland Harbour. There are restaurants and bars on the route, but you need to book seating promptly.

Check out this charming video created by the incredible Travel Portland team.

2. Pioneer Courthouse Holiday Ale Festival

Many things to do in Portland, Oregon, in December, evolve around Pioneer Square (701 SW 6th Ave).

Pioneer Square is called the city’s living room for a good reason. It is an urban park located in downtown Portland where anything goes.

Christmas Holiday Tree lit upat Pioneer Courthouse Square

Throughout the year, there are different kinds of events, but December is known for the beer festival because this is Portland – the craft beer capital of the USA.

The Holiday Ale Festival is the trademark of the December holiday, and it is an opportunity for beer lovers to meet like-minded ale fans and have a good time.

There is a large tent with gas heaters to keep the punters warm. Naturally, it is advised to wrap up and mandatory to dress up! It’s not essential, but we love a good old fancy-dress party.

At this Christmas beer festival, there are over 50 festive ales to try, and Santa might just be there tasting along with you. I hope he leaves Rudolph at home.

Pint of beer with Santa hat

3. Peacock Lane Portland

Do you know in the movies when the neighbors try to outdo each other in an unofficial Christmas house decoration competition?

Well, that’s what the Tudor houses of Peacock Lane look like come December 15th.

However, it is all done in the name of community spirit, so much so that the city pedestrianizes Peacock Lane for the first few nights to allow visitors to see the lights safely.

This is not a commercial shopping street, so please respect the families here.

Contrary to rumors, this is still one of the many free Portland Christmas events.

4. Portland Holiday Christmas Market

Sadly, the city has said goodbye to the longstanding Bazzar, coined America’s largest bazaar. However, shoppers can now check out local crafts and gifts at the Portland Holiday Christmas Market at the Portland Expo Center.

“Shop outside the box” for four nights in November. Check the most up-to-date information on the official website.

5. Christmas Festival of Lights

Portland is known for the famous Christmas Festival of Lights at the Grotto (8840 NE Skidmore St).

Expect enthusiastic choirs and performances from 5-9pm.

Portland Christmas Lights is mainly aimed at families with high school choirs performing.

6. Portland Light Festival

If you are around the city in February, you might also be impressed by the Portland Winter Light Festival.

Over 40,000 visitors walk along the Willamette River (and other locations) to see stories of dragons, folklore, and cocoons come to life through light.

Many of the 100 installations, such as pong tables and musical hubs, are interactive.

This free winter event in Portland takes place over a three-day weekend.

  • Note: The streetcar is free to ride to discourage car use.
  • Food/drinks: Available at one of the main hubs.
  • Photo credit (and feature image): PWLF.

Portland Light Festival is also featured in our guide to free things to do in Portland, Oregon.

Portland Lights Festival

7. Oregon Zoo Lights

Portland Zoo Lights (4001 Southwest Canyon Road) are a city holiday tradition, attracting local visitors and international guests.

Why? It is estimated that it takes around 1.6 million bulbs to make the zoo lights.

Don’t just expect hanging lights; the animals come to life from the end of November until January. Revelers can purchase ‘light up’ cotton candy (great for the ‘Gram!) and hot cocoa onsite to keep warm. ZooLights can get busy with crowds, so arrive early to see the magic.

Many cities like Edinburgh in Scotland have started copying this tradition of celebrating animals through lights.

Kudos to this festive event.

Image credit: Oregon Zoo.

Oregon Zoo Lights Portland in December

8. Pittock Mansion at Christmas

Pittock Mansion (3229 NW Pittock Dr) is a favorite all year round, but the ‘mansion on the hill’ is especially decadent come Christmas.

Over 50 volunteers decorate the 1914 home, and visitors lose count of how many Christmas trees are decked out!

Musicians often volunteer their time to create some festive ambiance, too.

Been before? You’ve not seen it all because there is a different theme every year.

There is a free shuttle from the number 20 bus stop.

9. Frock Boutique Rooftop

The colorful Frock Boutique (1439 NE Alberta Street) displays various vintage blow molds collected over the years on their roof!

Pop into the store to pick up a Christmas outfit, gifts, or unusual decorations.

10. Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree

The Portland Singing Christmas Tree has entertained crowds for half a century through choir performances, dance shows, and cinematic living nativity.

A family tradition for many in Portland, not to be missed by visitors either.

Portland also features in our guide the best US cities to visit in winter.

11. Treat Yourself to a Spa Day 

Christmas is hard work; you deserve some time to yourself. 

Fly solo or grab your friends for a session at Knot Springs (33 NE 3rd Avenue) or a day trip to the Allison Spa (2525 Allison Lane, Newberg).

Book a facial or massage and enjoy the relaxing facilities before the true madness of Christmas Eve kicks in. 

12. Silver Falls State Park

Plan a day out to Silver Falls State Park, a one-hour drive from the city. 

The ‘crown jewel’ of Oregon State Parks is home to many waterfalls, the most famous being South Falls.

Be prepared for wet and icy paths, and wear hiking shoes with grips. 

You may also like our guide to coastal towns in Oregon.

Portland Travel Winter Information

Getting Around Portland in Winter

It is strongly advised to leave the car at home while enjoying Christmas in Portland, but that’s not a stress in the city when there are so many public transport options.

The city of the four Ts – trail, tram, trolley, and trains!

Portland Winter Weather

In December, you can expect rain, clouds, and sunny spells in Portland.

Lows of 26 Fahrenheit versus highs of 50.

There is more rain than snow, so pack a decent waterproof raincoat and shoes. When it does snow (we experienced the tail-end of a freak storm), it does not lie for long, turning to city sludge quickly.

Accommodation in Portland

Looking for something unusual with an intriguing story? We stayed at The Society Hotel in Chinatown during our travel campaign in the city.

This boutique hotel was a treasure trove of stories when the top floor was opened up during restoration. Uniquely, the owners used many of the vintage items, such as the newspaper cuttings displayed in the hotel rooms.

There is also a cheaper modern dorm option for those on a budget.

Each bed has its curtain for privacy.

The dorm features a kitchen, too.

You can read our full review here.

If you prefer a more central hotel, check out the Radisson Red Downtown for a modern hotel at a reasonable price under $180.

There are not many hostels in Portland, but one of the top-rated is the HI-Portland.

Visitors like its central location in Portland’s historic area and popular Nob Hill (Northwest) District, which is packed with bars, galleries, breweries, and nightlife.

The Society Hotel Sunrise | Portland

Packing List for Portland in Winter

  • Hat, gloves, and scarf
  • A waterproof coat like this Marmot Precip US / UK or Mountain Equipment Rupal US / UK
  • Rab Alpine down coat USA / UK
  • Merino Icebreaker tops USA / UK
  • Comfortable walking shoes and hiking boots – I swear by Salomon Ellipse trek shoes US / UK
  • Camera and battery
  • Battery pack for your phone – I vouch for Anker’s range US / UK
  • Osprey bag cover US / UK
  • Eco water bottle like the practical Tree Tribe US / UK, also keeps hot liquids warm
  • Bamboo cutlery set US / UK
  • Skross universal travel adaptor with USB slots US / UK
  • Pacsafe safety net US / UK
  • Hydration tablets US / UK
  • Money! Buy local.
Couple cycling in Portland Oregon

Affordable Travel Tips

  • Portland downtown is accessible on foot
  • Everyone bikes in Portland, and there are many rental stores
  • TriMet buses and light rail are affordable
  • Food truck food is usually economic and filling
  • Many of the Portland Christmas activities put on free transfers
  • Tap water is drinkable; bring an eco-bottle
  • Many coffee shops discount drinks if you take your cup

Final Words

As you can see, there are many Christmas things to do in Portland and other winter months. From shopping at local makers, getting merry at festivals, and watching ships sail with seasonal spirit. Many holiday festivities are unique to Oregon’s Portland, and we wouldn’t expect anything less from this all-year-round endearing city.

Portland also features in our guide the best places to visit in December.

Have we missed anything? Tell us in the comments.

Note: We worked with Travel Portland and The Society Hotel during our stay. Opinions are ours, as always.

2 thoughts on “12 Festive Things to Do in Portland in Winter

  1. Ty says:

    Thank you for this post, Other website only gives vague information about the events, thank you for the detail of the information and the address of the events, I greatly appreciate it. It’s much easier for me to find as a tourist.
    I will be visiting Portland from December 19, 2020 until January 4, 2021.
    . I could really use a huge favor, when Portland December event is posted by the city port of Portland, would you please email me the link? Thank you

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