Last updated on May 21st, 2019 at 08:33 pm
One of the best ways to explore a city is through their cuisine. That’s why I booked a Portland Old Port Culinary Walking Tour through Viator on my recent trip to Portland, Maine for the Women in Travel Summit.
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Portland Old Port
Maine Foodie Tours offers all kinds of tours (like their new “Bon Appetite” Culinary Walking Tour, Fun-Filled Progressive Dinners, Tastes of the Top: A Restaurant Tour, Old Port Lunchtime Lobster Crawl, India Street Food Artisans, and The Culinary Palette: Art, Culture, and Food Tour.)
However, I chose to do their Old Port Culinary Walking Tour.
Portland’s Old Port is a historic neighborhood right on the waterfront. Not only can you find boutique shopping and tasty restaurants, but you can see a real working waterfront with fishing and cruise boats.
As you walk on the cobblestones (well, technically they are pavers), you’ll feel instantly transported back in time.
Something you’ll notice about Portland Old Port is that you won’t find a lot of chain restaurants or stores. There are a few, but the vast majority are independently owned and operated.
And I have to talk about the architecture! It’s really stunning!
As you walk around town, you’ll see Portland’s City Hall, which was built by the same people who designed the New York Public Library.
You’ll also see how the city changed after the big fire of 1866, when some kids lit fireworks and ended up torching all of Portland. Darn kids!
Maine Foodie Tours: a Portland Old Port Culinary Walking Tour
I walked down to the meeting spot at Old Port Wine Shop about 15 minutes early and was surprised to see the rest of the guests also got there early!
I guess we were all hungry!
We met our tour guide Chuck and he enthusiastically told us all about Portland Old Port and what we could expect on the tour.
He did an awesome job of introducing everyone on the tour and we instantly started chatting away.
Since I attended the tour on my own, I really appreciated being included from the get-go and not feeling isolated.
After introductions were out of the way, it was time to start the tour!
Note: The stops on the tour change from time to time.
THE HOLY DONUT
Chuck actually brought our first stop to us! On his way to Old Port Wine Shop, he grabbed a box of donuts from the infamous The Holy Donut.
I hadn’t heard about them until I started researching places to eat in Portland, Maine and they kept coming up.
They are the trendiest donut shop in Portland and lines are usually out the door!
What sets them apart is that they are made with potato flour. They are super light and fluffy and the flavors come through well.
He brought fresh lemon (there was even lemon zest!) and sea salt chocolate (one of their most popular flavors!)
Chuck cut them in half so we got to try half of each flavor. OMG they were tasty!
I almost went back on my last day so I could bring home, but I wasn’t sure they’d make the flight home!
Insider tip: Bring a container so you take a few bites and save the rest for later. You won’t want to fill up on donuts at the start of the tour!
TOURED PORTLAND OLD PORT
This was actually my first tour of Portland Old Port, so it was nice to do it by foot. Part of that is because when we talked about the paver stones, I could reach down and take a closer look.
USA Today Travel Experience America actually rated Portland, Maine’s Wharf Street one of the ten prettiest, cobblestone streets in America.
When you stroll down it, you’ll understand why!
We also stopped at the Maine Lobsterman public art piece designed to represent Maine in the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
There, Chuck talked to us about the vital role of fishing on Maine’s economy.
Then, we walked past the Farmer’s Market, which locals claim to be the longest running farmer’s market in America!
The Farmer’s Market is located in Monument Square. That’s where you’ll find the statue of Our Lady of Victories.
It’s in honor of the 5,000 Portland soldiers who died in the Civil War, fully one-sixth of its population.
Throughout the years, Monument Square has been the location of many protests, including ones focused on prohibition.
Coming from Seattle, I’m a huge connoisseur of seafood. We have some amazingly fresh sushi and I was very curious what sushi was like in Portland, Maine.
Chuck took us to Mr. Tuna, one of the top sushi restaurants in Portland, Maine. There, we got to try their crab hand rolled sushi, also known as a sushi burrito.
This was the perfect size to try!
The nori (seaweed) was crispy and the crab had the perfect blend of mayo with just enough veggie for a crunch.
Mr. Tuna used to be a food cart. Then, they upgraded to a food truck.
Now, it’s a full brick and mortar inside the Public Market House, a cool place filled with delicious food options and lots of seating.
The whole place had an eclectic vibe. And I heard that upstairs they have even more ethnic foods and shops.
Next up was Scattoloni Bakery, not too far away near a bookshop.
They offered us some water (we were all so thirsty!) and gave us the option of trying their minestrone or creamy tomato bisque.
I chose the tomato bisque, as did the majority of the group.
The soup was served with house-made focaccia bread. The focaccia was doughy in the best way possible and was incredible on its own or dipped in the soup.
While we ate, Chuck showed us sketches of the Portland Observatory, a historic landmark that was used to tell the community what ships were coming into harbor.
As we left, we each got to pick a cookie or bar to take home. They wrapped it up and we were on our way!
MORE PORTLAND OLD PORT TOURING
I really couldn’t get enough of the fascinating history of Portland, Maine, so I was glad we got to learn a bit more as we worked up an appetite.
One of my favorite spots was the Colesworthy building. The builder decided it would be interesting to place a real English cannon ball into the exterior decoratively.
It’s one of the things I probably wouldn’t have noticed had I walked around by myself.
We also heard the story about the huge Portland fire of 1866. It was started by 2 kids playing with firecrackers and by the end, 13,000 people were homeless.
Thankfully, no one died.
However, that’s the reason so many buildings have distinctly different looks, especially from the bottom to the top.
I’m all about smoothies when we travel. I find it hard to get enough fruits and vegetables at restaurants and so I feel better when I get some fresh juice or a smoothie.
Blake Orchard a very small place inside, but they have gorgeous pink wallpaper just screaming to be posted on Instagram! It’s my featured photo on this blog post!
We got to try a half serving of their Sweet Ginger smoothie made with: house made almond mylk, banana, pineapple, maca, almond butter, date, ginger and garnished with chopped almonds.
I’ve never had that combo before, but it was so tasty! Not too sweet, but definitely flavorful!
They are opening up a second location soon.
Just as I was thinking it was odd we hadn’t tried Portland’s most famous dish (the lobster roll,) we walked inside Gritty’s.
This was definitely the biggest meal of this Maine foodie tour and it was fantastic.
We started off getting to try 2 different ales. One was dark and one was light. I’m not a beer/ale drinker, so I’m not the best judge. I will say the light one tasted pretty good with the lobster roll, though.
Under Gritty’s is where they make the beer and it goes directly to the tap in the bar.
There’s a mural on the wall depicting the entire process (although the naked people on the mural are not part of the process!)
After learning about the ale process, our food was ready!
We each got half a lobster roll and a generous portion of fries. The lobster roll was on a nice, buttery roll and the lobster was mixed with mayonnaise.
While we ate, we learned about soft lobster and why they can’t ship it. Apparently that’s what Mainers like to eat, and I’m hoping to visit during soft lobster season!
This Maine Foodie Tour ended the way it should: with chocolate!
We headed to Dean’s Sweets where we got to try their version of a Needham, a traditional Maine potato confection. Dean’s Sweets uses Maine Cold River Vodka (distilled from Maine potatoes) and it was delicious!
We also tried a salted chocolate truffle that was divine!
All tour guests get 10% off, so I grabbed a few lobster lollipops for my kids before heading out.
Why I Loved Portland Old Port’s Maine Food Tour
For me, a big part of travel is meeting new people. As they say, people bond over food. So, what better way to get to know other travelers than by doing a food tour of Maine!
Maine Foodie Tours keeps their tour group small, and that facilitates quality conversations.
I met an older couple from Maine who told me how they are doing a photo contest for Down East, a Maine magazine, where they have to take selfies in specific spots around the state. It’s called the Great Maine Scavenger Hunt.
Even though they live in Maine, it’s taken them to places they haven’t been before and they even get their friends and family involved.
Apparently they have won the past couple of years!
Their prize? Huge poster collages of all their selfies plus bragging rights!
These folks also brought their cousins on the Portland food tour. They were two sisters from California who were in Boston for a wedding and decided to drive 4 hours to cross Maine off their bucket list.
We talked a bit about family travel and how important it is to make good memories while traveling with kids.
And then there were two older ladies from Texas who asked when it gets warm in Maine. Like 80 degrees warm.
It was hilarious to see their reaction when our guide Chuck told them that’s a very rare occasion, maybe in August!
How to Book Your Portland Old Port Culinary Walking Tour
It’s super easy to get advanced tickets to this Maine Foodie Tour. And you’ll want advanced tickets because they tend to sell out quickly.
This is about a 3 hour tour and the stops will vary day to day.
Reserve your Portland Old Port Culinary Walking Tour tickets.
If you go:
WHERE TO STAY IN PORTLAND OLD PORT
For a Portland boutique hotel and spa, The Francis is a quaint 15 room inn.
They have family rooms and suites available, free parking and they have a restaurant and bar on property.
For Portland’s only AAA rated 4 diamond hotel in Old Port, check out the Portland Harbor Hotel.
They have 24 hour room service, valet, spa, restaurant and an Instagram-worthy lobby!
If you are looking for a Portland, Maine vacation rental, this one is right in the heart of Old Port.
It can sleep up to 6 people and is great for families with little kids. Easy walk to restaurants, attractions, and activities.
WHAT TO BRING WHEN EXPLORING PORTLAND OLD PORT
Because Portland Old Port is right near the waterfront, it’s extremely windy! I’m glad I wore a few layers, with my North Face jacket on top!
All the eating and walking will make you thirsty. I wish I would have brought my Hydro Flask with me.
If you are a light eater (like me!) you might want to bring a bag and some sort of container to take leftovers with you to eat later.
WHAT ELSE TO DO IN PORTLAND OLD PORT
Have you ever wanted to learn how to catch lobsters? Hop aboard this fun, hands-on boat ride into Casco Bay where you’ll learn the ins and outs of lobster fishing.
Plus, you’ll get to wear a real apron and gloves. And they have little lobster pants for kids!
Reserve your Lucky Catch ticket here.
Want to see the most photographed lighthouse in Maine? Take a ride inside an air-conditioned van as you explore Portland’s famous lighthouses.
And you’ll also get a brief city tour. They have water and umbrellas available.
Reserve your Portland Explorer Tour tickets here.
Is there a cooler way to do a city tour than on a vintage fire truck? I don’t think so!
See the top sights in Portland, Maine in the comfort of an open-air, covered fire truck. They even have authentic fire jackets and hats you can wear!
Reserve your Portland Fire Tour tickets here.