Bar Harbor’s long and renowned history as one of New England’s premier resort destinations began in the mid 1800’s. In the beginning, it was primarily artists, scholars and writers who journeyed the distance to Mount Desert Island for inspiration. Among them were Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, and the school’s most accomplished artist, Frederic Church. As their paintings of landscapes and seascapes reached the big cities, soon-to-be visitors longed to see the source of this inspiration for themselves.
As the number of visitors began to increase, so too did the need for seasonal lodging. It was local businessman Tobias Roberts, who built Bar Harbor’s first hotel known as Agamont House in 1855. By 1888, eighteen hotels had been constructed to accommodate some 2,500 visitors, and the development of Bar Harbor’s rich tourism heritage began.
Bar Harbor's Village Green, town pier, renowned Shore Path, and a variety of unique shops, galleries and restaurants are within a ten minute walk from the center of town. And Acadia National Park, the crown jewel of Downeast Maine, surrounds the village of Bar Harbor and encompasses more than 30,000 acres of Mount Desert Island, not to mention at least one or more days of visitors’ time to the region.
The Bar Harbor experience changes with the season. From Columbus Day to Memorial Day, Bar Harbor offers a relaxed and serene vacation destination. Snow covered carriage paths open for XC skiers and snowshoers, and the myriad of year-round restaurants serve up comfort food. After Memorial Day until Columbus Day, Bar Harbor is a bustling vacation town with filled with shops sporting open doors, lobster pounds, tours, festivals and plenty of visitors visiting downtown shops and restaurants and nearby Acadia National Park. It’s a vibrant, lively community with quite a different feel, humming through the late spring, summer and fall.
OUTDOOR ADVENTURE AND WILDLIFE
A trip to Bar Harbor would not be complete without exploring Acadia National Park considered by many to be one of the nations’ true treasures and a must-see on a Coastal Maine getaway. Bordered by Acadia on three sides and Frenchman Bay on the fourth, and less than three miles from the main entrance to the Park Loop Road and Visitor's Center, the town of Bar Harbor makes an ideal base for the outdoor enthusiast. Explore the park at your own pace, or solicit one of Bar Harbor's professional guides, outfitters, mariners or instructors to help make the most of the opportunities available in this unique environment. The 27 mile scenic Park Loop Road, 47 miles of carriage roads (for walking, biking, and cross-country skiing through the heart of the park), and 125 miles of hiking trails ensure that you will never run out of new destinations and miraculous discoveries. The Park is truly one of the region’s biggest draws and the perfect inclusion for a trip Along the Coast.
Between 1913 and 1940, construction of the carriage road system was financed and directed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr, son of the famous oil tycoon and founder of Standard Oil. Banned to motorized vehicles, the roads are ideal for hikers, bikers, horseback riders and carriages. Amongst the 57 mile network of carriage roads are 17 bridges clad in native Maine granite spanning streams, waterfalls, roads, and cliffsides. Each bridge is a unique work of art, and a wonderful place to stop for a snack during your journey. Bicycles are available for daily or weekly rental from The Bar Harbor Bike Shop, and other outfitters.
For your convenience and much to the delight of visitors, the Island Explorer shuttle service features eight bus routes from the Bar Harbor Village Green and one from the Hulls Cove Visitor's Center to destinations in Acadia National Park and the neighboring villages of Mount Desert Island. Clean, propane-powered vehicles provide visitors and residents free transportation to hiking trails, carriage roads, island beaches, and in-town shops. Service is seasonal from late June through Columbus Day.
To fully appreciate the magnificence of Acadia and the 27 peaks of Mount Desert Island, consider taking a voyage on one of Bar Harbor’s sea-going vessels. Whale watching, schooner rides, nature cruises and sea kayaking are a few off-shore adventures to enjoy in Frenchman Bay. Talk to your Inns Along The Coast innkeeper for full details and recommendations for your itinerary during your stay. In-the-know innkeepers know all the special places, natural gems and trusted shops for just about anything you might want to buy or rent.
ART CULTURE & TOURS
Explore the village’s history on a self-guided walking tour, aptly named the Bar Harbor Museum in the Streets. Bar Harbor offers renowned music festivals featuring string orchestras, chamber music and jazz. As for Bar Harbor nightlife, bars and clubs host a range of bands and solo artists that complete the musical mix. Improvisational comedic theater is available too. Visit the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce calendar of events for art shows, weekly band concerts, farmer’s markets, and other Bar Harbor and Island events.
Maine Foodie Tours has come to Bar Harbor offering informative and tasty tours throughout the downtown section in the late spring, summer and fall. Take the tour and enjoy local delicacies at several of the most popular eateries while strolling through the town on a leisurely walk. Tours are limited in size to offer a personalized, highly interactive culinary adventure. Meet the local talent and taste your way through town!
The historical culture in Bar Harbor dates back thousands of years. Today, the cultural history of the Wabanaki "People of the Dawnland" Indians (comprised of the four Maine Indian tribes, the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy) can be discovered at the Abbe Museum. Open year-round The Museum contains about 50,000 items, some over 10,000 years old. The main branch of the museum is located in downtown Bar Harbor and there is a second “seasonal” location in Acadia National Park, just 2 miles from Bar Harbor.
A free self-guided tour of local art galleries, studios, museums, and alternative art venues is all part of Bar Harbor’s First Friday Art Walks beginning in June. The festive evenings include galleries hosting special events featuring demonstrations, artists, exhibits and receptions for local, state and national artists and craftspeople along with special theatre, musical and art events throughout the village. For a complete schedule and info, click here.
DINING & SHOPPING
With fresh seafood, fine international cuisine, vegetarian alternatives and festive brews, Bar Harbor offers a diverse selection of restaurants and other dining options including locally owned gourmet restaurants, pubs and all the lobster you can eat. And speaking of lobster, or as the natives say, “lobstah”, Bar Harbor’s got it all. Steamed, baked, stuffed, grilled, chilled, served over rice, served over pasta, served in a roll or in a scoop of vanilla ice cream (it’s an acquired taste), you can’t come to Maine and not eat a lobster. One of the best places to do that is at a lobster pound like Thurston’s, Beal’s, Abel’s or Trenton Bridge. In downtown Bar Harbor, there are also several great restaurants where you can get your lobster fix. Some of the more popular include Poor Boy’s Gourmet, Side Street Café, Fish House Grill and the Cottage Street Bakery. If you’re looking for a more fine dining experience, fear not. You’ll find that here too.
The majority of shops are open seven days a week from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Don’t expect to find a chain or department store in Bar Harbor’s vibrant downtown. The streets are lined with eclectic shops selling everything from locally made crafts to books, apparel, specialty foods, t-shirts and toys. Bar Harbor offers up a fun experience for those who enjoy discovering that one-of-a-kind find.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
Spring kicks off with the Annual Taste of Bar Harbor in May. Four nights of restaurant specials, tastings, cooking classes and theme nights such as Dessert Night, Pub Tour, Chef’s Tables, Sidewalk and Craft fairs and the infamous Waiter Races draw visitors for early season culinary fun.
Acadia's birding community invites you and your family to celebrate the ecological wonders of the birds of the Gulf of Maine at the Acadia Birding Festival, also in May. Explore the island and its native bird species through numerous events and venues. Greet the warblers on early morning birding walks, visit with puffins and pelagic birds at sea, and observe Peregrine Falcons at active breeding sites in Acadia National Park. A combination of lectures, walks and adventures will connect you to Downeast Maine’s many bird species, diverse habitats and local experts. (www.acadiabirdingfestival.com)
Join us in June for the longest running art show in Bar Harbor, to celebrate the town’s artistic heritage. The 65th Annual Art in the Park show is a time when more than 35 painters and photographers display and sell their original work.
Bar Harbor’s Fourth of July Festival has been voted the best Fourth of July celebration in America by the Today Show, and recognized by National Geographic as one of the top ten in the U.S. The long-held traditions and new vibrant additions have made the Fourth a very special and memorable day in Bar Harbor.
Acadia National Park and the outskirts of Bar Harbor are ideal venues for some of the most pristine, star-filled night skies in the eastern United States. The Milky Way galaxy shines bright in the largest expanse of naturally dark sky east of the Mississippi. For this reason, the town offers up one of the most premier night sky events on the eastern seaboard during the annual Acadia Night Sky Festival in September.
As Bar Harbor winds down from the busy summer and fall seasons, the locals get a little kooky at the Annual Pajama Sale and Bed Races in November. The festivities begin at 6:00 am. Dress is casual. And by casual, we mean pajamas. Seriously, wear you pajamas if you want the best deals at Bar Harbor’s finest retail establishments. A Pajama Parade followed by the Bed Races at 10 a.m. caps off a fun filled November morning.
In December, Bar Harbor rings in the holidays with the Annual Christmas celebration and Midnight Madness Sale. Santa Claus kicks off the evening with the lighting of the Christmas Tree in the Village Green, followed by the Midnight Madness Sale from 8:00 pm until midnight! Make a night of it with dinner at one of Bar Harbor's many restaurants before shopping the generous discounts and sales from participating businesses.