For a more modern slice of the art scene, check out the Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art (522 Congress St. or 87 Free St., 207/879-5742 or 207/669-5029, www.meca.edu , 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Sun.; 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Thu.; 11 a.m.–8 p.m. first Fri. of the month, tours 12:15 p.m. on Wed., free).
Hit the mother lode of Maine  lore at Center for Maine History (489 Congress St., 207/774-1822, www.mainehistory.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat.; noon–5 p.m. Sun., $5 adults, $4 seniors and students, $2 children), which illustrates (often with real innovation) the state’s past through collections, exhibits, and lectures.
Particularly riveting are the exhibits pertaining to the shelling that Portland received at the hands of the British during the Revolutionary War, when the port, then known as Falmouth, was literally burned to the ground in October 1775. The British captain offered mercy if the townspeople would swear allegiance to King George. No oath came, and the city was destroyed-only to be rebuilt over the next two decades through the hardwork of its populace and rechristened Portland.
Next door, the Longfellow House (487 Congress St., 207/774-1822, www.mainehistory.org , tours on the hour, 10:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–4 p.m. Sun. May–Oct.; open Dec. for holiday tours; call for hours) was built in 1786, and achieved fame as the childhood home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The home has been restored to the time of the early 1800s, around the time when Longfellow lived there. Tours take in the life of the poet-a Renaissance man of his time—as well as other members of the Longfellow family, such as Revolutionary war general Peleg Wadsworth.
Built in 1807, Munjoy Hill’s Portland Observatory (138 Congress St., 207/774-5561, www.portlandlandmarks.org , tours 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily late May–mid-Oct.; sunset tours Thu. 5 p.m.–8 p.m. late July–early Sept., $7 adults, $4 children 6–16, free children under 6) has heart-stopping views of Portland , Casco Bay, and beyond.
Fans of Italianate architecture (or anyone who likes a pretty building, for that matter) should be sure to swing by the Victoria Mansion (109 Danforth St., 207/772-4841, www.victoriamansion.org , tours 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 1–5 p.m. Sun. May–Oct.; 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Tue.–Sun. late Nov.–early Jan., $15 adults, $13.50 seniors, $5 students 6–17, free children under 6, $35 family), considered a paragon of the style.
Built by a hotel magnate between 1858 and 1860, the mansion is quite simply the greatest surviving example of pre–Civil War architecture in the country. Ahead of its time, it employed central heating, running water, and gas lighting in an era when they were virtually unknown luxuries.
These days, the house is particularly impressive at Christmastime, when it is decorated from baseboards to ceilings with ornaments and wreaths.