View of the beautiful and vibrant city of Portland, Maine, on a sunny summer day, as seen from the water. The overlaid text reads “One of the top 10 best places to live in the U.S. in 2023-2024. (U.S. News & World Report).”

13 Things You Should Know About Living in Portland, Maine

Maine Portland ME

by Sofia Rivera Posted on March 7, 2024

If you’re considering moving to Portland, Maine (not to be confused with the city in Oregon), then you probably already have an inkling that it’s a special place. And you’re right! A community filled with artists and foodies, beachcombers and winter lovers, Portland’s a city where nightlife, shopping, and tourism abound. But it’s also a city that easily keeps its small-town feel. That duality is what living in Portland, Maine, is all about.

Planning a move to Portland? Start by getting a quote from PODS.

Portland residents can see the area blossom with tourism in the summer as the waterfront comes to life with sailing, outdoor events, and lobster roll munching. And in the winter, as the snow settles on the cobblestone streets of Old Port, you can relish in the beauty of the area that typically only year-round Mainers get the chance to experience. 

What else makes Portland stand out from other cities? Let’s take a deeper dive into what it’s like living in Portland, Maine.

Q: Why is Portland, Maine, so popular?
A:
It’s not hard to see why Portland is considered one of the 10 best places to live in the U.S., according to U.S. News & World Report. Whether it’s traversing the many beaches and quaint cobblestone streets of Old Port or enjoying the seemingly endless supply of great restaurants, Portland, Maine, living is pretty sweet for a variety of reasons.

Portland, ME – At a Glance

  • Though Maine is the northernmost New England state, Portland hugs the southern portion of the state’s coastline — only a quick two-hour drive down to Boston.
  • It may have a neighborly, down-home feel, thanks to its friendly folk, but Portland is actually the largest city in Maine by population. Approximately 68,400 people call Portland home.
  • At a little more than 21 square miles, Portland is large enough to provide ample space but small enough that commutes aren’t too bad.
  • The median age is just under 38, with about 15 percent of the Portland, Maine, population under 18 years old and about 17 percent 65 or older.

Q: Is Portland, Maine, a good place to live?
A:
Portland, Maine, is a nice place to live, absolutely. In fact, it’s one of the top 10 places to live in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2023-2024 rankings. Brimming with coastal scenery, city living, and small-town charm, the northeastern port has something for everyone.

A woman paying bills on her phone in a cafe

The cost of living in Portland, Maine, is above the national average, but it’s much more affordable than many other major metro areas.

1. The Cost of Living in Portland, Maine, Is Close to the National Average. 

Is it expensive to live in Portland, Maine? Well, that depends on where you’re coming from and what you’re used to paying. The good news? Portland’s cost of living is only 15 percent above the national average. For comparison, the cost of living in Los Angeles, California, is a whopping 51 percent above the national average! 

2. Renting an Apartment in Portland Is More Affordable Than in Larger Cities. 

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Portland, Maine? The median household income in Portland is about $71,500. How far does that take you in terms of living there? Well, if you’re renting, the average rate is around $1,750 per month for 670 square feet of space — a breath of fresh air for big-city dwellers used to living in a shoebox for the same price. There are even better deals to be had, though: A quarter of apartments for rent fall into the $1,001-$1,500 monthly range. 

3. The Portland Housing Market Is Competitive — But Worth It. 

As for investing in property (the owner-occupied housing rate in Portland is nearly 46 percent, after all), the average home value in Portland is around $522,500. As more and more people migrate to the coastal city and homes fill up, however, Portland, Maine, real estate prices tend to climb. Case in point: From January 2023 to January 2024, the average home value went up 9.3 percent, according to Zillow estimates. Not to mention, houses rarely linger on the market for long — as of January 2024, the median number of days before going under contract was a mere 13 days. 

Waves crashing underneath the Old Orchard Beach Pier

Beach bums will love living in Portland, with so many sandy shores to choose from. Head to Old Orchard Beach for a bustling boardwalk, and be sure to check out the amusement park. 

4. There Are a Myriad of Great Beaches in Portland, Maine.

Given its waterside location, Portland offers unbeatable access to several hot-weather hangouts. Watch the popular beaches and historic Old Port fill up with daytrippers during the summer months, and when the wintry wind comes around, bundle up and enjoy the peaceful nature of these sites when the tourism winds down.

Eastern Promenade

Yes, its vistas are as grand as the name suggests. The two-mile amble along this stretch of coastline consists of two parallel paved and stone dust paths, so you can tailor your stroll according to your footwear. 

East End Beach

Follow the Promenade long enough and you’ll wind up at East End Beach, Portland’s sole public beach. Slip into a swimsuit and take to the water for a swim or kayak excursion, or stick to the shore for some sandcastle construction or a stroll along the pebble-dotted beach.  

Higgins Beach

A 20-minute drive south of the city, this Scarborough gem boasts a soft sweep of sand for stretching out — as long as you time the tide right. In the water, expect to see wetsuit-clad surfers making the most of the waves.

Old Orchard Beach

Join the masses at Old Orchard, a town whose modest population grows exponentially in the summer months when out-of-towners flock to the beach. Take to the pier for a range of restaurants and bars or Palace Playland, the beachside amusement park, for a spin on the ferris wheel. Or head to the northern part of the seven-mile shoreline for fewer crowds and softer sand. 

Willard Beach

Small but lovely, this South Portland beach offers free parking, outdoor showers, and a snack shack to make the most of a sunny afternoon.

Scarborough Beach

Ten miles outside of Portland, this state park fills up quickly in the summer, so make sure to arrive bright and early. (Or take advantage of free street parking and an uncrowded beach during the off-season.) Big waves are ideal for body surfing, and nearby eateries are perfect for picnicking.

Houses in Munjoy Hill, Portland, Maine

If you think of lighthouses when you think of living in Portland, Maine, head to the East End, where you’ll find the Portland Observatory — a maritime signal station and a National Historic Landmark.

5. From East End to West End, Living in Portland, Maine, Means Exploring Its Rich Range of Neighborhoods.

As Maine’s most populous city, Portland is composed of 21 rich and distinct neighborhoods — all of which merit exploring. To kick off your discovery, though, here’s a brief snapshot of a few of its most popular communities. (To get a sense of how they all come together, take a peek at this handy map of Portland, Maine, neighborhoods.)

West End

Those partial to Victorian architecture will swoon over this enclave. Brick homes laced with green ivy and gorgeous private gardens make for a scenic stroll around the neighborhood. 

Downtown

If you want to be in the heart of the activity, head downtown. Walk down Congress Street to enjoy brunch at a posh hotel, delicious vegetarian cuisine, art galleries filled with local talent, and much more.

East End

This area occupies the northeastern section of the peninsula. Home to Munjoy Hill, East End Beach, the Portland Observatory (a National Historic Landmark), and plenty of coffee shops and cafes.

Insider Tip: Regardless of where you end up, prepare for your move with a PODS portable storage container. Take your time loading the container right in your driveway and, when it’s ready to go, PODS will pick it up and deliver it to your new home. Not sure where to start? Check out our helpful moving checklist and tips for moving.

6. The Portland Public School System Is Solid. 

With above-average schools and excellent teachers, you can feel good about public schools in Portland. And to top it off, Portland Public Schools is the most diverse district in the state.

Portland Head Light in the middle of winter

Portland is beautiful in the winter, but it is cold — the snowfall averages 60 inches per year. Luckily, it makes iconic features like the Portland Head lighthouse look even more majestic.

7. The Weather in Portland, Maine, Is Typical of New England.  

Let’s be clear: You’ll need your warmest coat to weather the winter in Portland. Snowfall averages about 60 inches per year — more than twice the U.S. average of 28 inches. Likewise, December through February temperatures easily dip below 20°F, but no worries! Just slip into a pair of waterproof Bean Boots (the L.L. Bean flagship store isn’t far away in Freeport, Maine) and relish the beauty of frosty cobblestone streets and wreath-dotted doorways as you walk through the city, enjoying the beauty of the Portland, Maine, weather. 

During the June to August warm season — which doubles as the high tourism season — temperatures climb into the 70s, making for optimal conditions for chowing down on lobster rolls by the waterfront or packing a bag for a Portland, Maine, beach day. 

Q: Are winters harsh in Portland, Maine?
A:
Living in Portland, Maine, typically means weathering cold, snowy winters. Snowfall averages 60 inches per year, and temperatures easily dip below 20°F, so you’ll want to invest in a good down jacket and pair of Bean Boots. The good news is, the zealous tourism of the summer subsides in the winter, so you can enjoy the snowy, cobblestone streets in peace.

8. The Portland Job Market Is in Good Health. 

Even those moving to Portland, Maine, without a job will likely find one without too much trouble upon arrival. The unemployment rate in December 2023 was a low 2.8 percent, compared to the national 3.7 percent in the same month. Portland’s 2021 median household income was slightly less than the national median: around $71,500 compared to around $74,500 nationally. But as of late, the job market is more open than ever. U.S. News and World Report dubbed Portland one of the best places for young professionals to live, and WalletHub concurs, naming it one of the best cities for jobs, period. 

Q: How much money do you need to live comfortably in Portland, Maine?
A:
The Portland, Maine, cost of living is about 15 percent above the national average. For a single adult with no children, the MIT Living Wage Calculator recommends an annual income before taxes of just over $49,000, while for two adults with two children, that number goes up to about $126,000. 

An everything bagel with cream cheese and lox at a Portland, Maine, restaurant

Foodies will feel completely at home in Portland, which is well known for its high rate of restaurants per capita and delicious eats on nearly every main street. 

9. You Can Eat Your Heart Out in This Restaurant City. 

If the first thing you associate with Portland is the waterfront, then the close second is the food scene. It was previously named “Restaurant City of the Year” by Bon Appétit for a reason. Where else in New England can you score a bagel smeared with cream cheese and smoked salmon (Rose Foods), hand-cut Belgian fries fried in duck fat (Duckfat), Colombiano hot dogs topped with queso fresco (Quiero Cafe), and potato donuts in flavors like coffee brandy and pomegranate (The Holy Donut) — all within walking distance?

10. Portland, Maine, Living Is Relatively Safe.

Portland’s crime index, according to Neighborhood Scout, is 25, meaning it’s safer than about a quarter of other neighborhoods in the U.S. The violent crime rate is under 2 percent, while the property crime rate hovers just below 17 percent. While the Portland crime rate is higher than the average rate in Maine, it is significantly lower than other major East Coast cities, such as New York and Boston

11. From Planes to Trains to Automobiles, Portland Has Plenty of Ways to Get Around.

Though buses run throughout the city, walking or biking around Portland is scenic and convenient. As for crossing the city limits? You have a few options:

Amtrak

The Downeaster train line will take you up to Brunswick in 45 minutes or down to Boston in about 3.5 hours. And free Wi-Fi on board means the ride flies by while you knock out some work.

Portland International Jetport

A 15-minute drive from downtown, this airport offers nonstop flights to sites such as Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

Concord Coach Lines

This bus line can shuttle you to Boston (including directly to Logan Airport, where you can catch an international flight), New Hampshire, or New York. 

Old Port in Portland, Maine

Walk around the cobblestone streets of Old Port to window shop at independently owned stores, grab a lobster roll, or simply take in the water views. 

12. You Can Visit a Historic Lighthouse.

If you’ve found yourself Googling “Portland Head lighthouse Maine” and oohing and aahing at the photos of crashing waves around a classic lighthouse, you’ll be glad to know you can easily pay a visit to the Portland Head Light. Just five miles from Portland, you can make the 20-minute drive south for a picturesque afternoon taking photos of the lighthouse and strolling around the 90-acre Fort Williams Park it’s situated in.  

13. Arts, Brews, and Island-Hopping Are the Top Things to Do in Portland, Maine.

Whether partaking in some local shopping in Old Port, sunbathing on the shore, or indulging in one of the amazing Portland, Maine, restaurants, there’s no shortage of ways to keep busy and enjoy yourself. Stuck on how to spend a lazy weekend day? Try one of these local treasures: 

Explore the Arts District

Portland is home to reams of talented artists, which is abundantly clear when you take to the Arts District. This section of the city center is composed of the Maine College of Art & Design as well as the Portland Museum of Art

Wander Around the Old Port

Cobblestone alleyways dotted with independently owned shops, portside lobster roll shacks, and glistening views of the waterfront all around? It simply doesn’t get more idyllic.

Sip a Craft Brew

Take a hoppy tasting tour of the city by visiting its various breweries, such as Allagash, where you can imbibe some Belgian-style witbier right where it’s made. 

Bar Crawl Around the City

With great food comes great cocktails. Sample Portland’s mixology for yourself by doing a DIY bar crawl — in the summer, you'll surely be joined by giddy groups of bachelor and bachelorette parties. Whatever you do, be sure to ask the locals where you can find Lincolns, a true speakeasy-style bar with cash-only drinks that will only cost you just $5.

Take an Island Trip

When it comes to things to do in Portland, Maine, this is one of the quirkiest. Board the Casco Bay Ferry to float over to Peaks Island. Once there, you can bike, kayak, and check out the Umbrella Cover Museum — a unique attraction that pays homage to the little sleeves that keep umbrellas neat and tidy.  

Q: What are the pros and cons of living in Portland, Maine?
A:
Overall, living in Portland, Maine, is wonderful. You have access to a delicious food scene, fun waterfront, walkable downtown, and a bunch of beautiful beaches. The downsides, though, include a competitive housing market, relatively high cost of living, and cold, often snowy winters.

Moving to Portland, Maine

Already picturing yourself in Portland, strolling down the cobblestone streets, lobster roll in hand, looking for the perfect bench to admire the Atlantic’s crashing waves? Whether it’s a post-retirement move, you’re relocating for a new job, or you’re just ready for a change in scenery, moving to Portland just may prove to be the perfect move.  
For specific tips on packing your bags (and getting settled in as quickly as possible), peruse the PODS Blog, where you’ll find professional advice on decluttering and packing hacks from seasoned movers

Sofia Rivera is a Brooklyn-based lifestyle editor and frequent contributor to the PODS Blog. Her work has appeared in Boston magazine, Apartment Therapy, and more. You can most often find her redecorating her apartment, trying out a new recipe, or trekking all over the city.  

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Comments

I moved to Portland, Maine from Chicago, IL. While I didn’t live in the absolute most expensive areas of the city or suburbs they were most definitely some of the most respectable with low crime and upper middle income housing. In the time that I have lived here (2018-Present) crime has risen substantially, housing costs are through the roof and landlords unreasonable!
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