Is Portland safe? Everything a traveller needs to know.

Chances are you'll run into nothing that will make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable in Portland, except for possibly getting burned if you're too close to The Unipiper's fire-spewing bagpipes. Or maybe hipster overload. That's probably a thing, right?

Author: Jessica Spiegel (check out her blog). First things first. Yes, most locals have seen at least some of 'Portlandia,' but we don't speak in excerpts from the show. Some Portlanders even take umbrage at insinuations that they're anything like the show’s characters. Such a reaction usually indicates that yes, they are quite like characters on the show, but best to keep that to yourself, hmm?

Crime and places to avoid in Portland

Portland is a safe city for the most part, but that doesn't mean you should let your guard down. Common sense dictates you shouldn't leave your iThing in view in a locked car and expect it to remain there. Even busy areas of the city have smash-and-grab thefts, so lock your car doors and don't leave visible temptation.

Bike theft is a big deal. If you rent a bike make sure the rental company outfits you with adequate locks (and that you follow their locking instructions).

Bike culture is also a big deal here, which means there are sometimes bike-motorist confrontations if a cyclist thinks a driver is overstepping his or her lanes. Drivers, pay attention to the big (and sometimes painted green) bike lanes and areas.

Homelessness is an issue in Portland, as it is in many cities on the west coast. The vast majority of the time, that just means holding your breath while walking past a particularly odiferous encampment in Old Town or hearing a nonsensical monologue while you're riding the train. Every so often, though, those situations can escalate. Trust your gut.

Some areas you may want to avoid include:

  • Hazelwood around the Gateway Transit Center (highest rate of violent crime in the city).
  • An area known locally as 'Felony Flats' between roughly Duke and Johnson from 70th east.
  • West Burnside downtown (closer to the bridge there are a number of homeless shelters and camps; it's more iffy at night).

Most of the less-safe areas of Portland aren't places visitors spend much time.

Portland's parking police are not slackers, so don’t think you'll get away with overstaying your parking meter by a few minutes or pulling in for just a second to that no-parking zone while you grab an artisanal latte.

Portland public transport

TriMet runs all of Portland's public transit, which includes a robust network of buses, a few light rail lines (they're known as MAX trains, and one serves the airport), and a couple streetcar lines. You can buy tickets at every MAX stop, but not all bus stops. Download the free TriMet ticket app to make ticket-buying easy.

How to speak like a Portland local

Here are some local pronunciations that you'll need to get right if you don't want to immediately be taken for an outsider. That big river running through the middle of the city? Never mind how it's spelled, it's pronounced will-AM-ette (as the saying goes around here, 'It's Willamette, dammit.')

The state you're in is OR-eh-gun, not or-eh-GONE. And the street on the west side of the river that looks like it's named for a piece of living room furniture? It's pronounced kooch. Not couch.

Yes, we know.

Portland is dissected into quadrants by the Willamette River and Burnside Street. The names of these quadrants are how locals generally refer to parts of town – NW (northwest), NE (northeast), SE (southeast), and SW (southwest). There’s also North Portland, which breaks rules, but there you have it.

How to dress for Portland

This is a casual city. Jeans that don't have holes are considered 'dressy' nearly everywhere – even nice restaurants. And if you bought those $300 jeans with the holes already in them, then they're dressy, too.

You may have heard that it rains nine months of the year here, but... Okay, it does. Sort of. It's not a downpour, more like you're walking around inside a very misty cloud, so most Portlanders eschew umbrellas for waterproof hoods.

Two strange facts about Portland

  1. There's no sales tax in Oregon. The price on the tag is what you'll pay. Have fun.
  2. There really is a Uniper with fire-spewing bagpipes.

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