Portland, Oregon, is a popular tourist destination, especially for those who are interested in alternative culture. Every year, nearly 12 million people visit the city.
It’s rich in history and culture, which you can explore at sites such as the Pittock Mansion or the city’s many museums. The city has beautiful parks, such as Forest Park, and is surrounded by Oregon’s beautiful nature.
Most importantly, Portland is a center for literature, music, and alternative culture of all kinds. You can explore this scene at famous shops such as Powell’s and Voodoo Donuts, by checking out the restaurant scene, or just walking through its hip, artsy neighborhoods.
But while this storied city has much to see and do, is Portland safe to visit? Here’s our take.
Is Portland, Oregon, Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes. Portland is a fairly safe city to visit. Although it has some crime, just like any big city in the United States, the crime rate is low to moderate, and being the victim of a crime is fairly easy to avoid if you take the right precautions.
There are few other threats to visitor safety at this time. The official Portland tourism board put out its own safety page to answer the questions of concerned visitors.
On its website, the tourism board states that Portland is safe to visit and that the violent crime rate is lower than the national average. Many people are nervous about visiting because news coverage has often painted the city as fairly dangerous.
While it is true that it has a higher crime rate than many surrounding areas in Oregon, that’s because it is a bigger city with a higher population density and, therefore, a higher density of crime.
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Common crimes you may encounter in Portland include:
- Petty theft
- Theft from vehicles
- Drug-related offenses
While the violent crime rate is fairly low, it is still worth taking precautions to protect yourself. A big reason why Portland is perceived to be unsafe is the history of civil unrest in the city.
During the 2020 protests against police brutality that swept the United States, Portland had some of the fiercest protests and clashes with police, as well as counter-protesters attacking protesters physically.
News reports after the fact often portrayed Portland as a dangerous place. However, these protests were a few years ago and largely have calmed down since then.
It is a good idea to avoid protests or demonstrations while you are visiting Portland, as there is a large amount of political militancy in the city (including organized far-right groups that often start violent clashes). Even a peaceful demonstration can escalate at any time.
However, keep in mind that a lot of crime reporting in the United States tends to be politically motivated, and the focus on crime increases during election season. So, take any reports you’ve read about Portland being very unsafe with a grain of salt.
Crime in Portland
Portland is a fairly big, so it makes sense that crime will occur in the city. However, the crime rate is lower than the national average, both the overall national average and when compared to cities of comparable size.
Its overall crime rate is 302.5 incidents per 100,000 people, which is lower than the national average. Its violent crime rate is also lower than the national average, although the property crime rate is slightly higher than the national average.
According to official Portland police crime statistics, violent crime makes up about 15% of the total crimes committed in Portland each month. The most common violent crime in the city is assault, which makes up about 14% of the total crimes committed.
Although most cases of assault in Portland are situations where the victim and perpetrator knew each other, there have been situations before where people were randomly attacked on the streets, often by people suffering severe mental health problems.
Property crimes are far more common than violent crimes in Portland, and the property crime rate is slightly above the national average. The most common property crime is larceny, which makes up about 35% of the total crimes committed. Larceny is a broad category that includes everything from shoplifting to pickpocketing.
It is true that crime increased in 2021, as it did in many other cities in the United States after the end of pandemic lockdowns. However, it decreased in 2022 and is projected to decrease in 2023.
The city saw a decrease of over 10% in violent crime, showing that it is returning to pre-pandemic levels. What this means for Portland is that although crime is a problem in the city, it is not quite the crime-ridden dystopia many people believe the city to be after reading a few exceptional news stories.
People’s perceptions of the city as being unsafe may have increased, often due to factors unrelated to serious crime, such as an increase in graffiti and homelessness.
Crime, especially violent crime, is not likely to affect tourists because it occurs most often in residential neighborhoods, especially impoverished ones where visitors rarely venture.
While you should still take basic precautions to keep yourself safe when moving around the city, you don’t have to worry about crime so much that it affects your visit.
The most common crime in Portland, like in most other cities in the United States, is theft. While most common forms of theft, such as shoplifting and larceny from businesses, don’t affect visitors, other forms of theft, such as pickpocketing, can affect travelers.
There have been cases of pickpocketing in Portland. Pickpockets often target busy areas such as shops, music festivals, and popular pedestrian malls. There are also some cases of theft on public transportation. Tourists aren’t singled out for targeting in particular, and both locals and tourists can be victims of pickpocketing.
Basic precautions can help you stay safe from pickpockets. Make sure that your important possessions, such as your wallet and phone, are secure — that means no open tote bags in crowded markets or putting wallets in back pockets on the train.
Pickpockets often use scams and distraction tactics to distract their victims. Be careful of someone coming up to you asking for donations, offering to help you with something, or otherwise trying to get your attention.
Some pickpockets have used unorthodox methods to distract their victims, such as one thief who was caught hugging victims in bars to distract them. Theft from vehicles is also fairly common.
Smash-and-grab thefts, where thieves break your car windows to get at valuables left behind, can happen even in busy areas during the daytime because they are so fast. The best precaution to take is to avoid leaving any possessions on display in your car, as even loose change can attract thieves.
Put everything in glove compartments or the trunk, or take it with you after you lock up your car. Portland has great public transportation, so if you can, you don’t have to bring your car with you to the city.
Portland is a city where bike culture is very widespread — which also means that bike theft is fairly common. If you are renting a bike, make sure that it is locked up carefully.
One common violent crime people worry about when visiting Portland is assault. Assault is the most common violent crime in Portland. Although most assaults occur in the context of escalating disputes between people who know each other, there have been cases when people were randomly attacked in the street.
Assault is more common in less safe areas of Portland, where visitors rarely venture, but there have been cases of people getting attacked even in neighborhoods considered safe.
Most attacks happen at night, so be careful with your movements after dark. Some neighborhoods that are safe during the day, such as the downtown business district, can feel quite sketchy after dark.
Make sure to trust your instincts as you move around the city. If you feel as if you are in a dangerous situation, get out of the area as soon as you can or call for help. It’s better to feel silly for overreacting than to be the victim of a crime.
Above all, keep in mind that the likelihood of a violent crime happening to you in Portland is very, very low. While high-profile incidents have happened, they are few and far between. Don’t let fear paralyze your trip to Portland.
Avoiding Bad Areas
One of the keys to staying safe in Portland is to avoid bad areas. Certain neighborhoods are responsible for much of the city’s crime, so you don’t want to venture there, especially at night. Locals say that the following areas are less safe than the rest of the city:
- Hazelwood, especially around the Gateway Transit Center
- Felony Flats
- West Burnside
- East Portland
- North Portland
- Airport South
Some areas that are safe during the day have high crime rates at night. At night, be careful in:
- Pearl District
- Downtown Business District
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional safety tips for visiting Portland, Oregon:
- Portland has a high homeless population. The vast majority of homeless people are just those who have fallen on hard times and may be experiencing mental distress in addition to financial distress. In most cases, you can just politely acknowledge a panhandler or ignore someone having a breakdown on the train. Avoid walking past encampments at night, as the crime rate tends to be higher in those areas.
- It really does rain a lot in Portland! Prepare for the weather appropriately with waterproof shoes and a raincoat (locals rarely carry umbrellas).
- Portland is a city of cyclists, and visitors are expected to respect this. Make sure that you don’t walk in bike lanes as a pedestrian. If you are driving, be respectful of cyclists. Portland cyclists will not hesitate to tell you if you are in the wrong place!
- Be prepared for the local culture. Locals tend to be very laid-back and open to whatever. You will see people expressing themselves in all matters of ways. There is a reason why the most popular slogan in the area is “Keep Portland weird.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few common questions people have asked about Portland before.
How safe is it to walk in Portland?
It is generally safe to walk in Portland as it has good pedestrian infrastructure and a low to moderate crime rate. However, do your research on which neighborhoods to avoid and avoid certain areas at night.
Is Portland safe to visit alone?
Portland is a very popular destination among solo travelers, thanks to its safety for solo visitors. If you are traveling solo, you should just take a few additional precautions, such as not walking in deserted areas at night and being careful if you visit any nightlife establishments.
Is Portland downtown safe to stay?
While Portland’s downtown area has improved in safety over the past year or so, it is better to stay in one of the neighborhoods nearby. Many people are still working from home, so the downtown area can be desolate after hours, making it feel unsafe.
Is Portland walkable for tourists?
Yes, Portland is very walkable for tourists. Most attractions are located close to each other, and sidewalks are very well-maintained.
Is Uber safe in Portland?
Yes, Uber is safe in Portland. In fact, it is one of the safest ways to get around the city at night, as you can track your ride.
Should You Visit Portland, Oregon?
Portland is a great place to visit and one of the safest big cities in the United States. Although the high homeless population worries many visitors, most people living on the streets are ordinary people who’ve fallen on hard times.
There is some crime, usually petty theft, but visitors are usually safe. So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience for yourself all that Portland has to offer. Happy travels!