16 Things to do in Bar Harbor: Nature, Whales and Authentic Local Flavors

Bar Harbor, Maine


Bar Harbor, on the Coast of Maine, is one of the places that has made a lasting impression on us. We saw whales, we ate delicious lobster, and enjoyed outdoor sports in Acadia National Park including kayaking and some beautiful views while hiking.

We live in New York City, and I’m going to be upfront about the fact that Bar Harbor, Maine is a long drive away, but it was worth every mile! This island on the Maine coast is home to Acadia National Park, gorgeous rocky coastlines, and breathtaking views. We are lucky enough to have a good friend who is originally from Bar Harbor, and she offered to show us around. In the process, we enjoyed delicious lobster, tried local microbrews, climbed mountains, swam in lakes, kayaked, and tested some local ice cream flavors. Want to find out our top picks? Read on. Know about other places we missed? Let us know! We can’t wait to go back!

Acadia National Park

In Acadia National Park,  Bar Harbor, Maine

The first Eastern National Park, Acadia covers 47,000 acres and includes mountains, ocean shoreline, woodlands, and lakes. It spreads over Mount Desert Island, part of Isle au Haut, Baker Island and part of the Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland. There are activities for everyone at the park from taking a scenic drive up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, to bicycling, hiking, swimming, boating, and even fishing. Whether you choose to camp or just spend a day in nature, Acadia National Park is absolutely breathtaking.

Take a bike ride

Bicycles in Bar Harbor, MaineBar Harbor boasts miles of car free carriage roads and the Park Loop road. You can rent a bike from somewhere in town, such as Acadia Bike and enjoy nature as you bike along the coast. We didn’t have time to enjoy a bike ride, but it is definitely on our list for the next trip. They offer all sizes of bikes, tandems, kids bikes, trailers and there is even a discount for advance reservations. You can find Acadia Bikes in downtown Bar Harbor across from the post office.

Whale Watch

Whale Watching in Bar Harbor, Maine

I had never seen a whale before, except if you count a trip to Sea World when I was about 9 years old. So the idea of going on a whale watch was exciting. Our friends told us to bundle up, and it’s true. We went on a crystal clear Maine evening on the sunset whale watch, and the wind on the boat made it cold enough to need a fleece sweatshirt, a windbreaker, and long pants even in August. The boat left Bar Harbor and traveled about 25 miles out into the open ocean where we were able to see several whales diving and showing us their tails. They are beautiful animals and it was majestic. We chose the company Bar Harbor Whale Watching Tours.

Mount Desert Island Ice Cream

President Obama at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, Bar Harbor, MaineI don’t think we could have a top things to do list without including a delicious stop for ice cream! This Bar Harbor ice cream shop has been named one of the top 25 ice cream spots in the United States by Food and Wine magazine. They weren’t wrong! Mount Desert Island Ice Cream makes very small home made batches of their original flavors using hormone free dairy and organic ingredients. They vary the flavors, so you’ll just have to come back often. I tried the ginger flavor and loved it. My friend tried the salted caramel and the nutella. I’m 99% everything they make is delicious. Ask for a taste and then indulge. Calories don’t count on vacation.

Maine Foodie Tour

Maine Foodie TourI am dying to try this the next time we visit Bar Harbor. This company offers tours in Portland, Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor. You can choose from 2 culinary walking tours around Bar Harbor, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. You will sample delicacies such as mini Maine lobster rolls, Duck fat fries with Maine craft beer, local ice cream and coffee. Another option is the 2 hour happy tour which features appetizers and cocktails. This seems like an ideal way to enjoy the local flavors and get to know downtown Bar Harbor. Yum!

The Atlantic Brewing Company and Bar Harbor Cellars

Atlantic Brewery, Bar Harbor, Maine

This local microbrewery in Bar Harbor also offers up classic BBQ. You can take a tour of the brewery, and enjoy a free tasting of the microbrews and the sodas that are bottled here. They are open 7 days a week with tours everyday (including Sundays) at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock and 4 o’clock. There is also a gift store where you can take home a 6 pack of beers that you can mix and match. We loved the ginger beer and the New Guy IPA, but there is something for everyone. While you are here, remember to check out the Bar Harbor Cellars, where they are beginning to make local wines, and offering free wine tastings. This is a relatively new venture, but it’s worth checking out.

The shops in town

Shops in Bar Harbor, MaineThere are tons of little shops in Bar Harbor that are worth browsing about. We took a stroll down Main Street and popped into a few shops. This is a great way to spend an afternoon if the weather is iffy, and you can always enjoy an ice cream or coffee stop along the way. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium! And you certainly wouldn’t want to leave Maine without your lobster souvenir!

Abbe Museum

Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, MaineIf you are interested in the history of Maine, this is a great place to get started. Native people have lived in the Maine for thousands of years. Today the four Maine Indian tribes are the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy. These four tribes are known as the Wabanaki which translates to People of the Dawn Land. You can learn all about the Wabanaki and Maine history at the Abbe Museum. In the summer the museum is open daily from 10-5.


Kayaking in Bar Harbor, Maine

You most likely did not bring your kayak from New York City, but that’s okay. You can take a small group tour that takes about 3 hours among the islands in Frenchman Bay. I had never been kayaking before this trip, and I am here to vouch for the fact that no experience is necessary. It’s a great way to enjoy nature and have fun. Coastal Kayaking tours in downtown Bar Harbor has experienced guides and is conveniently located.

Take the Ferry to Islesford on Little Cranberry Island

Dock at Cranberry Island, MaineAnother place on our list for our next visit to Maine is a trip to Little Cranberry Island and the harbor town of Islesford. You can take the mail boat from Mount Desert Island and from here you will enjoy beautiful views of Acadia National Park. There are art galleries, shops and even an historical museum that is run by the National Park service. Before or after taking the ferry, you can also spend time exploring the Northeast Harbor, which is referred to as the “quietside” because of its more relaxed pace. There are art galleries, as well as the Kimball Shop and Boutique with local and unique gifts, as well as Colonel’s Restaurant & Bakery where you can sample homemade sweets as well as lunch or dinner.

Eat a lobster roll

Eating a lobster roll in Bar Harbor, Maine

Again, not sure you can come to Maine without eating a lobster roll. In fact, it was the first thing I put on my list when we planned our trip. Everyone will argue about the best place to go for a lobster roll. We tried one at the Portside Grill, but they are on the menu at almost any restaurant in town. Try the Side Street Café or one of these.

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Light House in Bass Harbor, Maine

Marking the entrance to Bass Harbor on the Southwestern side of Mount Desert Island, this lighthouse dates back to 1858 making it an historic site, as well as a beautiful place to see both a classic lighthouse and gorgeous views.

The Margaret Todd Windjammer Cruises

The Margaret Todd Windjammer, MaineThis impressive 151 foot schooner will take you on a two hour cruise around Frenchman’s Bay where you will see different islands and enjoy the breathtaking views from the water. There are three trips per day. The Morning Sail at 10am where you can even help to hoist the sails, the Afternoon Sail at 2pm where a park ranger will explain a bit about the different islands, and the Sunset Sail. The time for the Sunset Sail changes throughout the season, and there is often live folk music on board. Call to check for times, or if you are unsure of weather conditions. It is a unique way to enjoy being out on the water on a unique and historic ship.

Bar Harbor Inn Terrace

Bar Harbor Inn, Maine

This gorgeous inn overlooks the water in Bar Harbor and provides picturesque views, as well as a great spot to enjoy cocktails or a leisurely dinner. You can enjoy watching schooners, sailboats and ships from the table, and since it is located downtown the location is very convenient.

Thurston’s for an Authentic Lobster Pound Experience

Lobster Pound, Bar Harbor, Maine

One of the most typical foods in Maine is, of course, lobster. There are many different places to buy fresh lobster in Bar Harbor, but Thurston’s in Bernard, which is on the backside of Mount Desert Island, is worth a trip. This authentic lobster pound goes back 5 generations. Started in 1946 by Fred Thurston, they began as a place where local fishermen could buy fuel, bait and supplies, as well as providing a space to purchase fresh lobster. Almost 70 years later, Thurston’s continues to sell both hard and soft shell lobster (and they can explain the difference between the two.) Thurston’s also serves lunch and dinner every day, so if you don’t feel like preparing your own lobster, you can enjoy the catch of the day right there. The dining room is on a dock that juts out over the bay and offers a great view of one of Mount Desert Island’s busiest working harbors.

Thuya & Rockefeller Gardens

The Rockefeller and Thuya Gardens in Bar Harbor MaineThese impressive gardens offer an amazing, panoramic view of Northeast Harbor. Maintained by the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve, as well as local volunteers, the Asticou Azalea Garden and the Thuya Garden were originally designed with financial support of John D. Rockefeller. The flowers are gorgeous, and it’s a great way to spend a morning, as you walk along the winding paths and granite steps. There are areas of the gardens that look like they were taken right out of a fairy tale, and the flowers are exquisite. The only thing to keep in mind is that the gardens are only open on certain days, so make sure to check ahead of time.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this list, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island, and we ruskommend that you make the trip as well. There were so many amazing moments, breathtaking views and memories that will last a lifetime. This is the type of natural beauty that we will never forget. It was well worth every minute of the 10 hour drive from the city!

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

Eating a lobster in Bar Harbor, Maine

**We were invited to watch whales by Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. In no way were we swayed to write a positive review. As always, all opinions are our own.

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Abby Roule
I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, USA. I've lived in Reading and Pittsburgh (PA), in New York City for 6 years and in Spain for 5 years (in Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona, and now Málaga). I designed Rusko!
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