Getting around Maine – Lonely Planet

Maine is by far the largest state in New England, with a small population concentrated in the southern third, particularly along the stunning coastline.

This means much of the state, bordered by New Hampshire to the southwest, the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, and Canada everywhere else, retains a rural beauty that’s hard to appreciate without a car — especially outside of the busy summer and fall months , as tourist activity decreases in winter and spring and many services follow suit.

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Getting around by car is relatively easy, thanks to ample cheap or free parking, the availability of rental cars, and major north-south freeways such as Interstate 95 (I-95) and Rte 1 Explore sights along the way when you’re not in the driver’s seat – and the Maine countryside will amaze you to keep your face pressed to the window.

We can help you access some decent (albeit limited) bus, train, and ferry transportation options so you can enjoy some of the state’s top destinations like Portland and Acadia National Park without having to be behind the wheel yourself.

People walking and hanging out in Portland, Maine's Historic Waterfront District with cobblestone streets and red brick buildings.
Explore Portland’s waterfront on foot © Amy Sparwasser / Getty Images

Bussing and walking: a successful combination

You’ll likely spend some, if not all, of your time in and around Portland, since Maine’s most populous city is home to the Portland International Jetport (PWM) and Portland Transportation Center (PTC), the state’s major hubs for flights and local trains and buses.

From PWM Airport, take the 5 Greater Portland Metro bus to downtown Portland. from PTC, Route 1. Unfortunately, subway service is limited, so it’s hard to recommend for regular use. Luckily, the peninsula that surrounds downtown Portland is relatively small and within walking distance for most, making it an easy walk to explore the working waterfront, boutique shops and art galleries, world-class breweries, and transcendent dining scene – or if possible, hailing a cab or Uber is out of your reach.

To travel from nearby major cities like Boston and New York, and travel north of Portland, turn to Concord Coach Lines, a comfortable, reliable, and affordable provider of two routes through southern Maine. Most tourists will prefer the Midcoast Maine option, as it travels along the amazingly beautiful coast from Portland to Searsport and inland to Bangor, stopping at such charming towns as Brunswick (home of Bowdoin College), Rockland and Belfast.

Concord Coach’s domestic route is largely geared towards college students as it connects Portland to Bangor via landmarks such as Lewiston (Bates College), Waterville (Colby College) and Orono (University of Maine). Full timetables and fares can be found online. Note that booking a ticket for a specific time does not constitute a reservation but is valid for any point in time within one year of purchase. This system offers flexibility and we have never been approached for an overbooked bus.

To reach points further afield, change trains at Bangor. For example, Monday through Friday, Downeast Transportation connects Bangor’s Concord Coach Terminal with Bar Harbor, a neighboring town of New England’s only national park, Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island. The free Island Explorer bus allows you to explore other towns on the island, get to the park, and reach Hancock County Bar Harbor Airport.

CYR Bus Lines’ daily service extends an additional approximately four hours north to Caribou, near part of the Canadian border.

Catch a train to admire Maine’s beautiful coastline

Amtrak’s Downeaster is Maine’s only passenger rail service that travels through New Hampshire to Boston, stopping at only a handful of attractive towns along a scenic southern Maine coast road: Wells, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Portland, Freeport, and Brunswick.

The free Shoreliner Explorer bus connects Wells to other popular coastal towns such as Kennebunk, while Freeport is known to be home to LL Bean and many other retail outlets. Old Orchard Beach, which has a boardwalk with a nostalgic vibe, is a seasonal stop May through October.

Aerial view of the Old Harbor and Waterfront neighborhoods in Portland, Maine at sunset.
Many of Maine’s islands are accessible by ferry © Halbergman / Getty Images / iStockphoto

You can’t beat the view from a ferry

Maine’s coastline is 3500 miles long and features thousands of islands, many of which are home to small year-round fishing and lobstering communities and seasonal enclaves, meaning you’ll definitely want to catch a ferry to at least one or two of them.

From Portland, Casco Bay Lines offers many daily standard and specialty cruises to seven islands, including Peaks Island and Chebeague Island, which have some great inns and restaurants. You don’t need a car to enjoy most of these places, but you can purchase a vehicle ticket.

If you’re primarily interested in riding the waves to sights, try the round-trip mail boat service, which actually carries mail and freight, as well as passengers, to the islands over the course of a few hours. Look out for seals, terns and other seabirds.

Further up the coast, from places like Boothbay Harbor (Balmy Days Cruises) or Port Clyde (Monhegan Boat Line), you can visit Monhegan Island, a roughly square-mile gem known for its art scene and almost no cars in the Maine state Ferry service that connects towns like Rockland to outlying islands like North Haven and Vinalhaven. Keep an eye out for whales and puffins along the way, although you should book certain cruises to ensure these types of sightings.

Most airlines only fly out of state

Maine has several airports, but aside from the Portland International Jetport (PWM), these are primarily tiny affairs that connect only to larger East Coast cities and not to other in-state airports. In fact, many only offer private charter flights. In general, it’s better to take the bus or rent a car if you want a direct connection when in Maine.

Accessible travel in Maine

All major transportation and most of the providers discussed here, as well as many of Maine’s top attractions, are relatively accessible for people with disabilities, including wheelchair users. Note, however, that even cosmopolitan Portland can be challenging to walk or wheel, as the streets are hilly and often cobblestone-lined. Visit Lonely Planet’s Accessible Travel Resources page for more information.