Three Maine cities have been recognized as Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation: Portland, Bath, and Rockland. Each has a dynamic downtown that is culturally diverse and architecturally attractive; each is committed to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization.
Put all three cities together and the result is an immersion into Maine’s extensive maritime heritage. Even better, each offers lodging in historical accommodations.
Portland blends big-city style with small-town pride, combining a working waterfront with chic shops and nationally acclaimed restaurants with local lobster shacks. Its vibrant arts scene includes the extremely popular First Friday Arts Walk; museums that run the gamut from the Portland Museum of Art to the Museum of African Tribal Art; historic theaters and performing arts centers; and architectural treasures such as the 1755 Tate House and the 1860 Victoria Mansion.
Adding to the appeal is East End Beach; grassy parks; cobblestone streets; hiking and bicycling trails; and ferries and excursion boats that pass islands, lighthouses and historic forts in Portland Harbor.
Bath may sit on the Kennebec River, but its heart is with the sea. Ships have been built in Bath and the surrounding region for centuries. That tradition is preserved at Bath's Maine Maritime Museum, on the grounds of the historic Percy and Small Shipyard. Shipbuilding continues at Bath Iron Works, which constructs state-of-the-war warships for the US Navy. Sea-captains' homes stand shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the city's residential neighborhoods. Brick sidewalks and Victorian storefronts line Front and Center streets, which intersect at City Hall, featuring a bell from Paul Revere's foundry. Also downtown is the 1846 Gothic Revival-style Chocolate Church, which is now a performing-arts center.
Near Bath, at the tip of the Phippsburg peninsula, is Popham, site of the 1607 Popham Colony. It was one of the oldest English settlements in North America. There, in 1608, settlers launched the Virginia, the first ship built by the English on this continent.
This small city on Penobscot Bay blends fine art and good food with a seafaring atmosphere. Rockland is home to the annual Maine Lobster Festival, North American Blues Festival, and Maine Boats Homes & Harbors Show. The downtown includes the Farnsworth Art Museum and the Wyeth Center; dozens of galleries; and the Maine Lighthouse Museum, which houses the world's largest collection of lighthouse artifacts. The city also earns kudos for its dining scene, eclectic shops and historic inns, which join forces for an annual pie weekend each January.
The Rockland Breakwater was built at the turn of the 20th century to protect Rockland Harbor from damaging storms. Today, you can stroll out this narrow finger of rock for dazzling views of ferries and windjammers and the 1902 Rockland Breakwater Light.