Four Ways to See Portland Without A Car (OR)

by Julie Cohn

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A car may be necessary when traveling to certain cities like Los Angeles, but whenever possible, I try to avoid renting a car when I travel.  Gas, insurance, taxes, and parking fees involved with car rentals can get expensive, and navigating traffic in a new destination can get stressful.  Many cities, such as Portland, now offer clean and comfortable public transportation options to get visitors where they need to go, making a car rental unnecessary.  Here are a few tips on Four Ways to See Portland Without A Car.

Four Ways to See Portland Without A Car


Max Light Rail Service

Photo by LW Yang

Photo by LW Yang

Portland’s light rail system, MAX, offers five lines of service from Portland International airport to downtown Portland and surrounding areas.  The Red Line train takes only 40-45 minutes from the airport to Pioneer Square downtown, without worries about traffic.  Train tickets can be purchased at a TriMet kiosk in baggage claim, and riders pick up the train just outside baggage claim.  MAX is super convenient, with trains available every 15 minutes from 4:42 a.m. – 11:59 p.m. each day at 97 stations throughout the system. Each ride is $2.50 (adults)/$1.25 (students and 65+) or you can purchase 1 day, 7 day, 30 day, or one year passes from TriMet ticket stations at a discounted rate.  Children 6 and under are free with a fare-paying passenger.

Portland Street Car

Photo ny Paul Sableman

Photo by Paul Sableman

The Portland street car system operates two lines throughout downtown Portland.  The North/South line operates from N.W. 23rd Avenue through South Waterfront, with points in-between, and the Loop Service line operates from Portland State University through River Place, with points in-between.  Street cars operate every 12-14 minutes, depending on the time of day, and the Portland Street Car fare system is maintained by TriMet, the same company that operates MAX, so your passes are interchangeable between trains if you have a multiple-day passes.



Although the MAX and Portland Street Car offer service to most of the Portland metropolitan area, there are some places inaccessible by train.  For those areas, Uber service is a great option.  Using the Uber app on my phone, I was able to punch in my destination (the app uses GPS to locate a starting point) and get a fare estimate.  Once I requested service, I was able to track the car that would pick me up, along with vehicle license and driver information.  Most times, I received a pick-up in 3-5 minutes.  Uber drivers go through background checks before being accepted as a driver, so I felt secure having my son and I use the service, and the drivers were pleasant and knowledgeable of the area.  I found the service to be 1/3 the price of taxi service, making it a more economical option.


Portland street 2

Portland is a great city to get around by foot.  Streets are clearly marked (and well-lit at night), traffic signals allow for pedestrian crossing, and shops, restaurants, and theater are all within easy walking distance.  We felt safe walking most streets, even at night. Even when it rains (a common occurrence) Portland is a fun city to hoof it, with great food trucks, coffee shops, art installations, and book stores to make the path more interesting.  We saw more of Portland by foot than any other transportation method!  An added bonus?  Walking is free!



  • Download the free PDX Bus app to get accurate train times and directions to nearest stations.  This app includes service for all public transport services including MAX light rail, Portland Street car, bus, and WES (regional transit service).
  • If you are going to be in Portland more than two days and doing lots of sightseeing, get a multi-day pass, as it will pay for itself. An adult 7-day pass is $26, less expensive than a one-way shuttle from the airport to your hotel.
  • Download the free UBER app to get fare quotes and arrange pick-up service.  If you are new to UBER, you can get your first ride free (up to $15) by using my special referral link
  • Pack comfortable walking shoes, a water-proof jacket, and umbrella or hat for walking.
  • Use a cross-body anti-theft travel bag* while using public transportation or walking.  The straps are cut-proof, the credit card slots are RFID-blocking, and the bag has lots of pockets for tissues, sunglasses, etc.
  • Google Maps has a setting for walking so you can navigate the streets on foot.  Just type in your destination and Google Maps will give a step-by-step guide.
  • Bring cash for tipping and food truck stops.
  • Check out my guide to Five Things You Can Do in Portland in 48 Hours


*This is an affiliate link.  You are under no obligation to make a purchase.


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