Bar Harbor, Maine is the perfect destination for couples, world travelers and families with it’s coastal location and easy access to Acadia National Park. There are so many things to do in Acadia National Park and the surrounding area. Check out beautiful hikes, take a lobster boat ride or whale watching tour, enjoy all the amazing seafood and watch the sunset over Cadillac Mountain. Staying in Bar Harbor is the perfect spot for being close to all the major attractions. So check out our list of the best things to do in Bar Harbor on your next trip!
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Getting to Bar Harbor, Maine
There are a few options for getting to Bar Harbor, Maine, but most visitors fly into Bangor International Airport, which is an hour and 15 minutes drive to the city of Bar Harbor. Since you’ll likely require a rental car, picking on up at the Bangor International Airport is a good option. We prefer to rent from Hertz since they have a good history of customer service and clean vehicles.
Where did we stay?
The Bar Harbor Grand Hotel
We elected to stay at the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel. They have large rooms, free breakfast and walking distance to the downtown area in Bar Harbor. Depending on the size of your family, you can book a King, two queens, a King Suite or two bedroom unit. They also provide pack and plays for smaller travelers.
We appreciated the continental breakfast spread each morning with fresh bread, scrambled eggs, breakfast meats and drink options. There are high chairs available in the dining area. Then after a long day you can relax in the heated pool with a hot tub nearby to soak your muscles from hiking.
No pets are allowed, unless you have a service dog.
There prices vary depending on the time of the year, but for their location, free breakfast, large rooms and heated pool, we felt like the $$ price tag was worth the amenities.
Check out the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel reviews on Tripadvisor!
Favorite Activities in Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor is the perfect town to explore with families due to its various shops, excellent family friendly restaurants, green spaces and ability to walk around town. With its close location to Acadia National Park, the location is perfect for a weekend to explore! Are you ready to explore with your children? Not sure what you need for a trip with kids? Check out these tips for flying with a baby.
1. Explore Bar Harbor, Maine
You can’t stay in Bar Harbor without exploring the quaint town. There are so many locally owned shops and places to eat. The entire downtown is walk-able, so park the car and explore by foot. The majority of the shops are along Main Street, including some of our favorites, but there are plenty of side streets to wander down. Here are some of our “must visit” shops, coffee shops and ice cream places.
In The Woods– This beautiful shop is full of wood carved items. From children’s toys (including a giant rocking horse) to unique puzzle boxes, wooden bowls and walking sticks. The shop is filled with products created by local artisans. They donate all profits to land conservation efforts.
Cool as Mouse– If you are looking for a souvenir shop filled with wooden boats, lobster gifts, t-shirts and more, then this is the place to check out. The local blueberry jam is a favorite.
Bark Harbor– If you have a furry friend in your family, this is a great local shop. They have everything from treats, collars, clothing and toys. Support a great cause as they share profits to support the local pet pantry and SPCA. Our pup wasn’t along on the journey with us, that we picked up a lobster toy for him to squeak to his hearts content!
Christmas Spirit Shop: if Christmas ornaments are your souvenir or choice or you just can’t help but enjoy wandering around Christmas shops, then this is the place for you. Be sure to check out their personalized ornaments.
House Wine: This spot is a bit further up Maine Street, but it’s a great spot to pack a picnic. Grab a bottle of wine, check out their selections of meat and cheeses, add some crackers and you’ve got the perfect picnic.
Best Spots for Coffee/Tea:
Bar Harbor Tea Company- If you are a tea lover, this is the place for you. Be sure to try their maple tea or blueberry tea. Plenty of flavors to choose from and great gifts for tea lovers.
Coffee Hound Coffee Bar: This is a cute little coffee bar that is close to the waterfront and the famous Bar Harbor Inn. They have some amazing small drip coffees from unique coffee batches. If you see a line developing, jump in line, you won’t want to miss a delicious coffee from here. We loved their eco-friendly cups and straws. My personal favorite was an iced coffee with Maine maple syrup. If you need a bite to eat, the crepes are on par with those from France. Delicious!
Choco-Latte: If you are looking for a place a bit further up Maine Street, be sure to stop by Choco-Latte. The coffees are full-bodied and flavorful. If you are feeling a bit hungry, be sure to check out their bagels. The cafe also has free wifi, so it’s the perfect spot to do a bit of travel research or catch up on social media.
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream- There is nothing more iconic than strolling Main Street with an ice cream cone in one hand. If\ you are a true ice cream connoisseur, then you’ll know that researching the best place to go is key. I’ve learned that gelato in Italy is not all the same, so when I say to beeline to this little gem, you’ll thank me. If you don’t believe me, then maybe you’ll follow in Obama’s footsteps (yep, he enjoys a good ice cream cone too!) You’ll discover lots of unique flavors in addition to some local favorites like blueberry ice cream and sweet Maine cream flavor . They are also vegan friendly.
2. Go sea glass hunting on Bar Island
Bar Island is located just off the coast of Bar Harbor and is connected to the harbor for about three hours during low tide. (Check the tide schedule here.) It is a small island that’s worth exploring! Once on the island, you can hunt for sea glass, snail eggs or seastars in the tidal pools and along the shores. There is also a mile long trail that heads up to the highest point on the island for a view back to Bar Harbor and towards Frenchman Bay. The island was once owned by a journalist and author, Jack Perkins, but the National Park service purchased the island in 2003.
-Be sure to time your visit for the 1.5 hour before the bar island low tide and head back before you reach the 1.5 after low tide, otherwise you’ll be stuck on the island!
-Dogs are welcome on leash.
-Bring food and drinks, there are NO services on the island.
-Park along Bridge Street or West Street and then walk down to the uncovered land bridge.
In the summer, this bar harbor island is perfect for exploring without shoes, or bring some water shoes because is naturally a wet place to explore. Be sure to enjoy a Bar Island walk to see the views from the peak.
3. Take a ride on LuLu Lobster boat ride
If you are looking for the top rated Maine lobster boat tour, then look no further than Lulu Lobster boat ride in Bar Harbor, Maine. They have been featured on the Travel Channel, and countless news networks and are popular with the cruising industry. It is also one of the best Bar Harbor boat tours for kids (over the age of 6, according to their new policy). With over 80% of the lobster consumed in the US being caught in the waters around Maine, it is an important industry for Captain Nicolai.
This two hour education tour is perfect for understanding where Lobster comes from, how it is regulated and how it supports the economy of Maine. The traditional lobster boat departs from the harbor in Bar Harbor and heads out into Frenchman’s bay to tour the Maine coastline, get close to the lighthouse and spot animals such as seals, bald eagles and whales.
-The tour is only available for children OVER the age of 6. This is a new policy.
-The boat runs from May until October, be sure to make reservations due to its popularity.
-Anytime to take a boat tour, be sure to bring some layers to keep warm, a hat and sunscreen. Sunglasses are also great for avoiding the glare of the open seas.
-Bring your own drinks, as well as snacks if needed.
–Sea Bands are offered if you are prone to sea sickness, but need to be returned at the end of the journey.
You’ll start off the boat tour with a visit to the Egg Rock Lighthouse where you’ll also see sea lions basking on the rocks and swimming in the surrounding waters.
The second portion of the tour features the captain locating his lobster traps, pulling them onto the boat and explaining the anatomy of the lobster as well as how the lobster traps work. There is plenty of background on the lobster industry and some fun facts about unique lobsters that have been caught in the past. It is the perfect intro into the Bar Harbor, Maine lobster industry.
Read more about the Lulu Boat tour on Tripadvisor.
4. Stroll along the Bar Harbor Shore Path
If you are staying in Bar Harbor, or even just visiting for one day, a walk along the shore path is a must! This 1/2 mile long path connects the Town Pier from Agamont Park and ends up by Wayman Lane. You can get to and from the path from neighborhood streets, but please be sure to stick to the path and not wander onto the property of the multi-million dollar homes that hug the path.
You’ll be able to enjoy a nice gravel path (wide enough for a stroller) and with breathtaking views of the coastline, islands (Sheep Porcupine Island and Bald Porcupine Island) in the Bay and the Egg Rock Island Lighthouse in the distance. This path was originally created in 1880 when multiple hotels popped up in the area and boat loads of visitors would arrive to enjoy the sights in Bar Harbor.
-If you are an early riser the path is perfect to be enjoyed as the sun is rising to greet the new day. You will be rewarded with gorgeous light peeking over the horizon.
-These are some fun tidal pools and huge boulders to explore at low tide. A great treat for kids!
Taking in the beautiful views along the coast line, pick out your “future home” from the dozens of beautiful estates and keep an eye out for boats sailing to and from the wharf in Bar Harbor. The Bar Harbor shore path is a delight and must see when visiting Bar Harbor, Maine.
5. Smell the flowers in the Asticou Azalea Garden
Looking to build upon the laid back New England way of life? Then a visit to the nearby gardens are in order. There is nothing more beautiful than admiring the beauty of nature and both of these gardens are a delight.
The Asticou Azalea Garden was created in 1956 by John Savage, who was a longtime resident in the area and was financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. It is a garden filled with delights and colorful flowers. Enjoy the smells as you meander through the winding paths or sit for awhile to soak it all in. It is part Japanese garden and part azalea garden.
Admittance to the garden is free, but it is managed by volunteers and owned by the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve, so donations are appreciated. The garden is open 7 days a week (sunrise to sunset) from May till October. There are restrooms available and plenty of nice benches to rest, but please do not bring a picnic because food and drinks are not allowed. Pets are also not welcome due to the beauty of the gardens.
You can read more reviews of the Asticou Azalea Garden on Tripadvisor.
The gardens are in full bloom in July and a delight to wander the paths.
6. Delight in Thuya Garden’s
The Thuya Garden and Thuya Lodge is preserved from a long time summer residence Joseph Curtis. He was a Boston landscape architect that wanted to connect with nature and enjoy the beauty of the Northeast Harbor. When Curtis dies in 1928, the 140 acre property was gifted to the residents of Mount Desert and is now managed by the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve with a community of volunteers. in 1956, Charles Savage a landscape designer helped to transform the gardens into what you see toady.
You can still visit the Thuya Lodge where you’ll be able to see an entire library full of horticultural and botanical books. Mr. Savage wanted a place where people could come and study with a variety of horticultural materials. You’ll also see education exhibits for the gardener in your life. The gardens include beautiful perennials and annuals, along with apple trees and English gardens.
Thuya Gardens is open every day from May until October from 7 am till 7 pm. The Thuya Lodge is open everyday from June till Labor Day from 10 am till 4:30 pm. It is free to enter both the lodge and the gardens, but a donation is appreciated. You can either be accessed via a road up to the Lodge (single lane) or by the Asticou Terrace Trail (which I recommend). Along the trail, you’ll be able to traverse the hillside from Peabody Drive up to Thuya Lodge. There are multiple lookouts to enjoy the scenic beauty and views. At the top of the climb, you’ll be rewarded with an open observation pavilion (that is also popular for events). It is a relatively easy 1/2 mile trail, but bring a carrier for the kids.
Note: Parking is limited, no pets, no food or drink in the lodge or gardens. Public restrooms are available.
7. Admire the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
There is nothing more icon about New England than a beautiful lighthouse perched on the granite cliffs shining its light towards the sea and keeping ships safe from its rocky shores. The Bass Harbor Lighthouse is a beautiful brick structure built in 1858 standing 56 feet above the water. The Bass Harbor Head is located on the southern end of Mount Desert Island, but pairs perfectly with the fishing villages of Southwest and Northeast Harbor.
It is open from 9 am until sunset everyday, but unfortunately you can’t go inside the lighthouse and the keeper’s house is used as Coast Guard housing, so please be respectful. The best views are from the trails located a short walk from the lighthouse. Parking is free.
Bring a carrier if you plan to explore the trails since there are stairways and cliff sides to navigate.
You can read more about the Bass Harbor Lighthouse on Tripadvisor.
Views from the trails looking over the ocean and back towards the Bar Harbor Lighthouse
8. Explore the coast in a sailboat
If you are looking to explore the quieter parts of Acadia National park, look into booking a sailing cruise with Sail Acadia. We booked a 3 hour sail from Northeast harbor to discover the Sommes Sound, Bear Island Lighthouse, out to East Bunker Ledge to see seals, over to the Cranberry Isles and then back to Northeast Harbor while munching on provided snacks.
This activity is best for older children due to the small constraints of being on a sailboat, but check in with the company to see what they recommend.
Need more help to plan your trip to Bar Harbor, Maine? Check out these great guides!
If you are headed to Bar Harbor, Maine, you’ll have plenty of things to see and do in this beautiful Northeast city. I hope this list has inspired you to explore the shops, trails along the coast and book a boat tour to view the coastline from the water. Bar Harbor is a perfect jumping off point to explore Acadia National Park. Be sure to read my Top 10 Things to do in Acadia National Park.
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