Maine Holiday Planning Guide
The easternmost state in New England, Maine is characterized by a geologically diverse coastline and forested interior, carved eons ago by receding glaciers. The prototypical tour of Maine would include striking scenes of lighthouses and stops in quaint resort villages, though there's more of that here than you could hope to cover in just one trip. In this sparsely populated state, the majority of land remains pristine and uninhabited wilderness. The temperate coastal regions, historically supported by fishing and lobstering, contain most of the state's urban centers and are the most popular spots for a Maine holiday. With the sea as the focus, it shouldn't come as a surprise that water plays an important role in Maine's distinct character, shaping its economy, tourism, cuisine, politics, sports, and art.
Places to Visit in MainePortland
: The starting point of many Maine tours, this vibrant city features cobblestoned streets flanked by historical red-brick buildings housing seafood restaurants, quaint shops, and world-class museums.Ogunquit
: The Native American description of Ogunquit as "beautiful place by the sea" remains true to this day, and this picturesque holiday destination draws big crowds with its sandy beaches and the pleasant atmosphere of a history-infused coastal town.Freeport
: Home to just over 7,000 permanent residents, tiny Freeport remains one of Maine's major shopping destinations, offering visitors numerous outlet stores and an eclectic selection of smaller boutiques and gift shops.Kennebunk
: Blueberry fields and a network of nature trails help make little Kennebunk a popular Maine vacation destination. Many visitors also come for the town's 19th-century architecture, packed into a two-block downtown area steeped in local heritage.Acadia National Park
: Home to the highest mountain on the eastern seaboard, this 19,000 hectare (47,000 acre) park contains dense woodlands, pristine lakes, and a rugged coastline that make it one of the most scenic locations in America, popular with hikers, bikers, and nature lovers.Bar Harbor
: The gateway to Acadia National Park, this little town big on tourist appeal offers everything from hiking and sailing to whale watching and golfing.Mid Coast Maine
: Featuring a string of fine beaches, this region remains a major destination for summertime trips to Maine, enticing visitors with its oceanfront dining options and outdoor activities like boating, hiking, and fishing.York
: Located near the southern tip of Maine, this resort town contains several notable 18th-century buildings, including one of the oldest British-built structures still standing in the United States.Bethel
: Home to one of Maine's largest ski resorts, Bethel offers visitors all the modern conveniences of a big city wrapped up into the cozy ambiance of an old-fashioned New England town.Rockland
: Home to a famous lobster festival, Rockland is the departure point for ferries linking the mainland with the three main islands of the Penobscot Bay.
Things to Do in Maine
Popular Maine Tourist AttractionsMarginal Way Walkway
: A great way to experience Maine's coastline on foot, this paved oceanside path stretches for approximately 1.6 km (1 mi) and passes through a quaint arts community in the town of Ogunquit.Perkins Cove
: A charming waterfront area built to protect the boats of local fishermen, this Maine attraction draws visitors with its beaches, shops, studios, and restaurants, which serve some of the freshest lobsters in the area.Mount Desert Island
: One of the biggest islands off Maine's coastline, this holiday destination--and home to a large national park--welcomes almost two million visitors annually.Ogunquit Beach
: Home to an LGBT-friendly community, this coastal resort offers soft sands and shallow waters ideal for swimming and wading.Cadillac Mountain
: Popular with visitors looking for outdoor things to do in Maine, this mountain is one of the tallest on America's eastern seaboard, offering glimpses of the distant Nova Scotia landscape.Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
: Encompassing over 100 hectares (250 acres), this coastal park features woodland trails, waterfalls, and scenic views, best enjoyed on seasonal walking tours and sightseeing boat trips.Portland Head Light
: Maine's oldest lighthouse, this 18th-century structure includes a museum of lighthouse lenses and interpretative displays, while the surrounding park provides picnic areas, walking trails, and recreational areas for kids and parents.Portland Museum of Art
: Housing over 17,000 pieces of artwork, this museum boasts one of the largest collections in the region and celebrates both local and international artists, including Winslow Homer and Marsden Hartley.Mount Battie
: Renowned for its panoramic views, Mount Battie serves as one of the most popular hiking destinations in Maine, easily conquerable by adventurers of all ages and skill levels.Old Orchard Beach
: Ideal for a relaxing Maine vacation, this 11 km (7 mi) stretch of perfect sand features a wooden pier where you can eat, shop, dance, fish, attend concerts, play games, or join guided whale watching tours.
Planning a Maine Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Maine with Kids
Perfect for both adventure-minded visitors and those looking for relaxing ways to spend their vacation, Maine remains one of America's most family-oriented destinations. If the state's sheer number of lighthouses and charming coastal villages seems daunting, concentrate your Maine trip in Portland
, filled with refreshing green spaces and widely regarded as one of America's hippest small cities. Big on food and art, this former fishing village offers world-class museums and restaurants, located just a stone's throw away from historical working wharves. For outstanding nature walks and bird-watching, take your little explorers to Acadia National Park
, a picturesque island world of tall mountains and fjord-like river deltas. To learn something about the region's shipbuilding history, explore the towns and villages of Mid Coast Maine
, home to small but extremely photogenic settlements like Camden
Things to Do in Maine with Kids
There's much more to Maine than just lobster and lighthouses. Outdoor adventurers of all ages find plenty to do here, from kayaking and fishing to golfing, hiking, and cycling. Add a touch of history to your family's Maine holiday by visiting a few museums. Maine Maritime Museum
offers guided tours designed to educate and entertain young history buffs, while Owls Head Transportation Museum
features kid-appealing displays of antique trucks and old tractors. For something a bit faster-paced, consider the state's many beaches, great places for swimming, walking, and playing in the sand. A standout among Maine's kid-friendly coastal spots, Old Orchard Beach
features a long pier lined with stands selling hot dogs, popcorn, ice cream, hamburgers, and funnel cakes. If you like classic amusement-park distractions, include Funtown Splashtown USA
on your Maine itinerary. This water/theme park features a wooden roller coaster, water slides, pools, and the tallest Turbo Drop tower in the state.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Maine
It's no coincidence that Maine's license plates have "Vacationland" printed on them--the state boasts rugged coastal landscapes and a glacier-carved interior offering something for every traveler's age, budget, and personal interests. Make the most of your family's Maine trip by visiting during the leaf-peeping season, when you can enjoy vibrant autumn hues. In addition to the strikingly colored foliage, fall's mild weather is ideal for outdoor activities like canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and cycling. Base your trip in the well-connected city of Portland
, known for its high concentration of restaurants, museums, shops, tours, and family-friendly activities. From there, you can easily explore Maine's idyllic coastal areas, dotted with historical villages and sandy beaches. Add doses of history through engaging attractions like museums and lighthouses, located in scenic locations with unbeatable views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Maine
Cuisine of Maine
With its famous seafood-based cuisine, much of Maine tourism gravitates toward the table. Lobster remains the ever-present staple of local gastronomy, though crab, scallops, shrimp, and clams also play a major role in regional cooking. Typical lobster-inspired specialties include pies, casseroles, and stews. Some local ice cream makers have even concocted their own lobster-flavored frozen desserts--certainly a rarity worldwide. In addition to several oyster varieties, local cooks frequently use the Maine crab, one of New England's most abundant rock crustaceans. If you tire of seafood, turn to the state's official fruit, the wild blueberry. In late summer, you'll find many roads near Kennebunk
lined with farm stands selling freshly picked blueberries, used locally in everything from pies to cocktails. Stop by Wild Blueberry Land
to purchase blueberry-inspired souvenirs and taste blueberry-infused pancakes, bagels, muffins, cookies, scones, and candies.
Shopping in Maine
Lobsters may not make the best souvenirs of your trip to Maine, but you can find plenty of easy-to-pack mementos by exploring the boutiques of Bar Harbor
. Outdoor enthusiasts will want to search the racks at L.L. Bean Factory Store
, a century-old New England institution in Freeport
. While in town, take advantage of over 100 other outlets and specialty shops selling designer clothing, handmade trinkets, sporting goods, outdoor gear, and a range of other items you may find useful during--and after--your great adventures in Maine. Kittery
offers entire streets dedicated to brand-name stores with shoes, clothing, and accessories for children and grownups. Include Kittery Trading Post
on your Maine itinerary to find still more deals on outdoor clothing, beach essentials, and hunting equipment. If you simply must have a lobster keepsake to remember your trip by, look for lobster-branded shirts, glasses, coasters, posters, bandanas, and dog collars at one of the many souvenir shops in Old Port
, a historical waterfront area in Portland.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Maine
History of Maine
Maine's original inhabitants were the Algonquian-speaking Wabanaki peoples, which included about a dozen native tribes by the time English settlers established their first colony in 1607. In fact, Europeans had been communicating with the Wabanaki as far back as 1200: Norwegians collected timber in North America for several centuries, though they ultimately failed to settle this region. Learn more about the land's history and earliest peoples at Maine State Museum
Founded in the same year as the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, the English colony in Maine proved unsuccessful and dispersed after just 14 months. Though the original settlers returned to England, other English colonies sprang up over the next several generations. Early colonists faced numerous hardships, from brutal winters to repeated attacks by the native tribes. Additional problems emerged in 1692, when the Province of Maine lost its sovereignty to Massachusetts. Include Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site
on your Maine trip to view archeological remains of 17th- and 18th-century buildings and fortifications.
Instability and bloody conflicts continued for many decades. Resilient settlers fought off attacks by the natives, as well as the French and British conquerors, who didn't withdraw completely until the end of the War of 1812. Free of royal rule, Maine next fought to detach itself from Massachusetts, which controlled the area from Boston. Maine finally gained its independence in 1820, when it became the 23rd U.S. state.
The 19th century brought rapid growth to the newly formed state. The timber industry ensured the prosperity of the forested interior, with the city of Bangor
becoming the unofficial lumber capital of the world by the middle of the century. Shipbuilding and granite quarrying also employed a huge section of the population, as did textile and paper mills. Of course, the waters of the Atlantic also brought in revenue; for details about local lobstering industry, include Islesford Historical Museum
on your Maine itinerary.
The relatively short-lived economic boom ended when most of Maine's major industries foundered, largely due to massive overfishing and the collapse of big sawmills. Population growth stagnated, and the state became something of a backwater. In a twist of fate, however, it was precisely Maine's underdeveloped landscape of pristine wilderness areas that became a major draw for 20th-century travelers. Thanks to places like Mount Desert Island
, Maine now boasts a lively tourism sector that accounts for about 15 percent of its economy.
Landscape of Maine
One of the least populated states in America, Maine features a mostly rocky coastline historically supported by tourism, fishing, and lobstering. With the Atlantic Ocean to the south and east, water features prominently in Maine's cultural character, shaping its economy, cuisine, politics, sports, and art. Maine also includes Moosehead Lake
, the largest mountain lake in the eastern section of the United States. If you're looking for outdoor places to see in Maine, think about exploring the trails of Mount Katahdin
--at 1,600 m (5,270 ft), the highest mountain in the state. This "Greatest Mountain," as the Native Americans called it, forms the centerpiece of Baxter State Park
, a vast area of pristine wilderness in north-central Maine. One of Maine's striking geographical features is the Western Hemisphere's largest tidal whirlpool, located just off the northeastern coast of Moose Island.
Holidays & Festivals in Maine
Every August thousands of seafood lovers flock to Rockland
, home of the famous Maine Lobster Festival. This five-day event involves fun and feasting on Maine's picturesque coastline, with a range of family-oriented activities like street parades, fun runs, and crate races. Other outstanding food-related festivals include the Yarmouth Clam Festival and Maine Fare in Belfast
, both taking place in the summer. Ideal for autumn Maine itineraries, Fryeburg Fair ranks as the state's largest agricultural festival, dating back to the 1850s. The event delivers six days of live entertainment and craft demonstrations, along with one of the world's biggest steer and oxen shows. Celebrate the blueberry harvest by attending the Wild Blueberry Festival in Machias
, hosting an old-fashioned weekend event with children's parades, arts and crafts shows, road races, and pie-eating contests.
Maine Travel Tips
Climate of Maine
Most of Maine experiences a humid continental climate, which makes for warm summers and snowy winters. Though cold in much of the state, winters are particularly harsh in the northern section of Maine. Coastal areas benefit from the moderating effects of the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in cooler summers and milder winters than in the interior. New England's particular brand of intense cold-season storms, known as "nor'easters," can cause severe flooding, erosion, blizzards, and hurricane-force winds. If visiting in winter, keep your eye on the forecasts and follow any extreme weather advisories.
In warmer seasons, however, extreme weather is less common: Maine experiences fewer days of thunderstorms than any other state east of the Rocky Mountains. Plan your Maine holiday with changeable local weather and personal interests in mind. If you come between June and September, you'll find most coastal towns packed with tourists. October draws leaf peepers, arriving in throngs to admire and photograph the foliage. Winter sports season peaks from November through March, with impassioned skiers and snowmobilers filling up Maine's mountain trails.
Transportation in Maine
Most international visitors to Maine land at one of the state's two main airports, located in Portland and Bangor. Both provide daily flights to other major American destinations, like New York City, Atlanta, and Orlando. To get around Maine's interior and explore its coastal areas, you're best off renting a car, which allows you to travel at your own pace. Expect heavy traffic at the height of the summer tourist season and be mindful of moose on the road, especially if you tour Maine in the spring or fall, when these large creatures are at their most active. You can travel between Portland and Boston by Amtrak passenger train, which stops in popular destinations like Freeport and Old Orchard Beach. Yet another scenic vacation idea in Maine is to take the seasonal Maine Eastern Railroad - CLOSED, operating passenger excursions between Rockland and Brunswick.