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14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Maine

Few states have claim to as many iconic images as Maine. Think of that northern New England state, and immediately springing to mind are fully rigged Windjammers, waves breaking against a rocky coast, fishing harbors filled with colorful boats, lighthouses, and tall pine trees. The miles and miles of backwoods inhabited by moose hold their own mystique, conjuring images of a lone canoe barely riffling the mirror-like surface of a forest-encircled lake, or rainbow trout jumping from crystal waters.

The remarkable thing about Maine is that it doesn't disappoint tourists who arrive with these romantic images in mind. Lighthouses do crown points from York to Quoddy Head, and between them lie dozens of snug little fishing harbors and mile after mile of rocky wave-beaten shore. Windjammers weave between the fir-clad islands just offshore, and bright-painted lobster buoys bob in the water, with lobster boats scuttling between them to haul traps. But Maine's attractions aren't all in iconic images, and between its museums, breathtaking gardens, art heritage, historic attractions, outdoor activities, and natural wonders, you're spoiled for choice of things to do on a Maine vacation.

1 Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park
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The rugged and beautiful stretch of coastline that is set aside as Acadia National Park also surrounds a large inland region of lakes, streams, and forests. It provides a playground for locals and visitors who enjoy the outdoors. The scenic Park Loop Road winds its way through the park past the main attractions and is the best way to tour the park by car. The handy Island Explorer buses also connect the various attractions, while cyclists and walkers can follow the network of unpaved carriage roads, part of the more than 100 miles of hiking trails for all levels of ability. These include trails to the summit of 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain, the park's highest point, from which there are views of the coast and islands.

Other highlights in the park are Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and the dramatic chasm of Thunder Hole. A second and little-visited portion of Acadia National park is farther north, on the Schoodic Peninsula, where there are more hiking trails, coastal views, and opportunities for kayaking. There are two large campgrounds in the park and a number of picnic areas.

2 Kennebunkport

Kennebunkport
Kennebunkport
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The little coastal town of Kennebunkport, 12.5 miles south of Portland, is very popular in summer. Stately homes of former ship captains and owners, some of which have been carefully restored as bed-and-breakfasts, line its quiet streets, and you can learn about these on a self-guided walking tour, or at the Historical Society's First Families Kennebunkport Museum, in an 1853 Greek Revival home. The small commercial area of restored dockside buildings around Dock Square is filled with galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Parsons Way, a scenic path, begins from the square and leads along the shore to Walker's Point.

Two miles east of Dock Square is the still-active fishing village of Cape Porpoise, with more shops and galleries, along with working lobster boats. Also of interest is the Seashore Trolley Museum. In nearby Kennebunk, look for the outstanding Brick Store Museum and drive past the fanciful Wedding Cake House on Summer Street.

3 Boothbay Harbor

Boothbay Harbor
Boothbay Harbor
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Boothbay Harbor was once a shipping port, but today it is primarily a popular summer resort, especially with boat-owners. It has the largest boating harbor north of Boston, and along with private yachts, it is home port for working lobster boats and a variety of cruise vessels. From here, you can go deep-sea fishing, take river and ocean cruises, go whale watching or even join a local lobsterman hauling traps.

The downtown area is packed with waterfront seafood restaurants, antique shops, and a number of art galleries, reflecting the more than 200 artists and craftspeople who live and summer in the area. It has been a haven for the arts since the early 1800s, and along with studios and galleries, the little town has an Opera House and Carousel Music Theater, as well as a community band. You'll also find the Maine State Aquarium and Boothbay Railway Village here.

4 Monhegan Island

Monhegan Island
Monhegan Island
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Monhegan is a small island that lies 10 miles off the coast of Maine, and although it's one of many inhabited coastal islands, it has achieved iconic status over the years. This is in large part due to its long history as an artists' colony, coupled with the many tales of its hardy population and their lives on this storm-swept outpost. There are no cars or paved roads on the island, and its 75 year-round residents are mainly engaged in fishing and lobstering. During the summer, visitors can take day trips to the island from Boothbay Harbor, New Harbor, and Port Clyde, but will have only three or four hours ashore.

Monhegan's combination of rugged granite cliffs (the highest ocean cliffs in Maine), crashing waves, and unique light, coupled with its air of an untouched fishing village, has made it a destination for artists since the middle of the 1800s. Because of this long-term art colony and the several dozen artists who currently work there, you'll find an abundance of studios and galleries. Birders also love Monhegan, and its 12 miles of trails lead to remote corners and soaring headlands. Be very careful on the shore-line rocks anywhere along the southern or back side of the island, where rogue waves and a fierce undertow are constant dangers.

5 Old Orchard Beach

Old Orchard Beach
Old Orchard Beach littlelionkat / photo modified
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An unabashed old-fashioned beach resort, Old Orchard Beach revels in the somewhat tacky honky-tonk atmosphere of its pier and thrill rides at New England's only remaining full-scale amusement park on a beach. So kick off your shoes, step back into mid-century summer fun, and indulge in a little nostalgia. Palace Playland has all the expected rides: a Ferris wheel right over the waves, a roller coaster, an old-fashioned carousel, bumper cars, and a dozen or so other kid-pleasers. Pier stands and street-side windows sell fries, soft ice cream, saltwater taffy, and fried dough.

The highlight of all this is a full seven miles of golden sand beach with free public access. The sands are scoured each night by volunteers, so you won't find a cleaner beach anywhere, and separating most of the seven miles of beach from the line of low hotels and shops is a barrier of grassy dunes. Old Orchard is also the only Maine beach where you can arrive directly by train; the Amtrak station is opposite the pier and amusement park.

6 Victoria Mansion, Portland

Victoria Mansion, Portland
Victoria Mansion, Portland
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Victoria Mansion is an extraordinary Italian style villa built in the mid-19th century. The architecture and the interior details are exquisite, and it's one of the most lavishly decorated mid-Victorian homes in the country, with painted walls and ceilings and ornately carved woodwork. Most of the furnishings are original, and along with the house itself, they provide a glimpse into how Portland's wealthy lived during the pre-civil war era.

7 Portland Museum of Art

The superb collections of the Portland Museum of Art go far beyond the expected works of those artists who lived and painted here - artists such as Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, and the Wyeths. Among the more than 18,000 pieces of fine and decorative art, dating from the 1700s onwards, are works by Monet, Degas, Picasso, Warhol, Sargent, Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Gilbert Stuart, Joshua Reynolds, Alexander Calder, George Bellows, and Edward Hopper. The museum also features traveling and temporary exhibits throughout the year. Attached to the museum is a historic house, formerly home to a prominent Portland family, with outstanding examples of period furniture, art, and decorative details.

Separate from the Portland facility, and accessible only by tours that originate here, is the studio of artist Winslow Homer, overlooking the sea on Prouts Neck, a point of land in nearby Scarborough, Maine.

Address: 7 Congress Square, Portland, Maine

8 Cruising the Maine Coast

Victory Chimes, Windjammer Fleet
Victory Chimes, Windjammer Fleet | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography
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Don't miss the chance to see the craggy, irregular Maine coast and its rock-bound islands from the water. Not only will you get a new perspective on the lighthouses and granite cliffs, but you'll have a chance to be part of the busy harbor life of Maine's seaport towns. The options are many. You can join a whale watching tour from Bar Harbor, go deep sea fishing from Eastport, take a Puffin Tour to Machias Seal Island from Jonesport or Stonington, join a lobster boat out of Portland to haul traps, or take a seal cruise from there to Eagle Island.

From Ogunquit, you can take a breakfast sightseeing tour or cruise to see York's Nubble Lighthouse from the water. Boat experiences can be as short as the 15-mile ferry ride from Rockland to Vinalhaven or a week-long cruise under sail on a Maine Windjammer out of Rockland or Camden.

9 Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Bowdoin College Museum of Art PAVDW / photo modified
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The Bowdoin College Museum of Art, on the college campus in Brunswick, features a permanent collection of more than 20,000 pieces, ranging from ancient Greek ceramics and a 15th-century painting by Florentine artist Fra Angelico to 17th-century New England furniture and mid-century modern furniture by Charles Eames. Multiple works by Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley, and Maurice Prendergast highlight the collections, along with those of Bierstadt, Inness, Eakins, and Corot. Rotating temporary exhibits, gallery talks, tours, and lectures throughout the year make this an active cultural center.

Address: 245 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Brunswick

10 Old Fort Western

Old Fort Western
Old Fort Western
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Old Fort Western is a wooden fort built in 1754 on the banks of the Kennebec River. It is the oldest of its kind in New England and the nation's oldest stockaded fort. The National Historic Landmark, which includes the fort along with a store and house, has been well restored, with exhibits and information on the fort and the history of the area during the mid-18th century.

Address: 16 Cony Street, Augusta, Maine

11 Farnsworth Art Museum

No other museum has such a complete collection of works by artists connected with Maine, and its Wyeth Center is one of only two in the country dedicated to the work of the three generations of Wyeths - N.C., Andrew, and James. The museum's collections include some of America's most prominent late 19th- and early 20th-century landscape painters. Along with the earliest known work by Thomas Cole, you can see paintings by George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, John La Farge, George Inness, Childe Hassam, and maritime artist Fitz Henry Lane. A separate building, a former church on Union Street, exhibits works of James Wyeth and N.C. Wyeth. The Farnsworth also arranges tours of the Olson House, made famous in several works by Andrew Wyeth, the best-known of which is his 1948 painting Christina's World.

The museum is in Rockland's historic downtown, lined with nicely maintained 19th-century brick mercantile buildings. This old seaport town is worth a stop for several other attractions, including Owl's Head Light and the Owl's Head Transportation Museum; Rockland is one of the home ports for the Maine Windjammer Fleet, whose historic sailing ships you can often see moored there.

Address: 6 Museum Street, Rockland, Maine

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rockland

12 Nubble Lighthouse (Cape Neddick Light)

Nubble Lighthouse (Cape Neddick Light)
Nubble Lighthouse (Cape Neddick Light)
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Perhaps New England's most photographed lighthouse, and certainly one of the easiest to get to, Nubble Light poses on its own islet just off the rocky point of Cape Neddick. Especially on a rising tide, the surf usually obliges photographers with a few waves breaking into froth against the rocks. The point bounds one end of Long Sands, the largest of two popular beaches in York.

13 Maine Maritime Museum

Maine Maritime Museum
Maine Maritime Museum Jack at Wikipedia / photo modified
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On the site of a 19th-century shipyard, the Maine Maritime Museum preserves and interprets Maine's seafaring, shipbuilding, and lobstering heritage. Along with the extensive collection of artifacts and materials that make up exhibits on everything from the clipper ships and lighthouses to maritime art, the 20-acre campus includes a blacksmith shop, a hands-on lobster exhibit, and more than 140 Maine-built or Maine-related boats. Among these is an antique birchbark canoe. Newly acquired is Mary E, the oldest fishing schooner built in Maine.

Address: 243 Washington Street, Bath, Maine

14 Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography
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Strolling the paths through this 270-acre garden, it's almost impossible to believe that it opened as recently as 2007. The profusion of bloom and the size of the well-manicured and creatively designed gardens achieve the sense that they have been pampered by generations of devoted horticulturalists. The paths wind among the various themed gardens, showing native and exotic plants that thrive in woodland, water, and other environments. There is a kitchen garden, and a garden for the five senses spotlights plants for their fragrances, flavors, and textures, in raised beds for wheelchair access. The large children's garden will charm any age, as will the woodland village of fairy houses.

Walking trails traverse the grounds, which slope down to the shore and include various shore environments. Daily tours point out highlights and follow themes such as rare and native plants. A large collection of original sculpture by regional artists highlights the gardens, and art exhibitions are held in the visitor center throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

Address: 132 Botanical Gardens Drive, Boothbay, Maine

Official site: www.mainegardens.org

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Boothbay Harbor

Explore More Must-See Destinations near Maine

The largest of the six New England states, Maine is bordered on the south and west by New Hampshire, whose White Mountains are the highest in the Northeast, known for their hiking trails and for skiing in the winter. The historic port of Portsmouth lies just across the harbor from

Kittery, Maine. North of Maine are the Canadian provinces of Québec and New Brunswick, where you can continue your coastal explorations along the Bay of Fundy and in Fundy National

Park. North America's only walled city, Québec City, is an easy drive from northern Maine. Although Maine doesn't border Massachusetts, Boston is a short train ride from Portland or Old Orchard.

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