Nestled near Maine’s mid-coast is one of the most picturesque towns you’re likely to find anywhere in New England: Bar Harbor, Maine. Over the years, Bar Harbor has gained a reputation as one of the best summer destinations in the United States, and for good reason.
If you’re looking to experience the best of everything New England can offer on a vacation, you’ll find it in spades in Bar Harbor. Your jaw will drop and your senses will be on overload as you see sights, taste delicious food, and experience a sort of vibe you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else as you enjoy the best things to do in Bar Harbor Maine.
Getting to Know Bar Harbor Maine
Packed into a little more than 63 square miles are one-of-a-kind seafood restaurants, the spectacular Acadia National Park, breathtaking ocean views, a vibrant downtown, and world-class water sports.
Getting to Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor is so named because of the sand bar that connects Bar Harbor to Bar Island at low tide and continues to be a favorite New England destination, especially in the summer.
Bar Harbor can be reached by car, and is also served by the Bangor International Airport and the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in nearby Trenton. From the mainland, travelers can drive to Bar Harbor or sail in on their own boat to the harbor.
A History of Bar Harbor
The town was originally settled by Europeans on the northeast shore of Mount Desert Island. It was first settled in 1763 and incorporated in February 1976 as Eden, so named after English statesman Richard Eden. Early settlers worked in industries like fishing and shipbuilding and the rich soil also made Eden a good spot for dairy farming and agriculture.
Even in its early years, Eden became a destination spot. It first drew the attention of famed artists in the 1840s. By the Gilded Age — roughly 1870 to 1900 — it drew tourists by train and ferry. It rivaled Newport, Rhode Island in popularity and the mid-1800s saw the creation of more hotels to accommodate the influx of visitors.
It soon became a haven for America’s rich and famous where names like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan, and Astor tried to one-up each other with spacious estates and lavish social events and gatherings.
In 1918, Eden was renamed Bar Harbor after the aforementioned sand bar and its new name became synonymous with America’s wealthiest families.
Fascinating Facts about Bar Harbor
- Over the years, Bar Harbor has gained a reputation as the place to be for some of the wealthiest Americans. John D. Rockefeller Jr donated roughly a third of the land that makes up Acadia National Park, Cornelius Vanderbilt built cottages in Bar Harbor, the famous Astor family-owned homes and hotels in Bar Harbor, and even Martha Stewart has been known to frequent the town.
- As recently as 2018, Bar Harbor was named one of the 10 most popular summer destinations in the nation.
- It’s estimated that visitors to Bar Harbor consume more than 5 million lobsters every year and Mainers will tell you Maine lobsters are more tender and taste better.
- Bar Harbor’s Acadia Park is the largest visitor attraction in Maine and the oldest park east of the Mississippi River.
Fun Things to Do in Bar Harbor
Many are drawn to Bar Harbor’s bustling atmosphere for scenic boat tours around the island and whale watching tours to name a few things, but here are some of our favorite things to do in Bar Harbor.
Visit the Wondrous Acadia National Park
When vacationing in Bar Harbor, a trip to Acadia National Park is a must.
Acadia National Park has everything in an outdoor enthusiast’s dream as the park offers scenic biking trails on the authentic Carriage Roads, and 14 mountains for the hiker’s choice all with astounding views of Mount Desert Island meeting the ocean.
It’s little wonder why Acadia is the second most visited state park in the country!
There are miles of walking and biking paths on Carriages Roads throughout the park, in addition to scenic drives.
While there are many things to do in Downeast Acadia, if you only spare one vacation in Bar Harbor, visitors ought to venture out to Sand Beach, Otter Cliff, and Thunder Hole. Keep your camera handy.
Acadia’s peaks and cliffs also offer new workouts for the experienced winter hiker in this most challenging of seasons. Ice climbing routes abound and trails show a truly wild side to vacation in Bar Harbor.
Acadia National Park is an area that one must explore when in the northeast. The views are spectacular from throughout the park from Loop Road. There are many areas to park and a variety of trails to hike for hikers of all levels. Sand Beach is lovely, and Jordan Pond and Bubbles area is so serene. One may take a carriage ride, bike, or walk along many of the carriage trails as well. It does get quite crowded in the summer months. Were we there in mid-June. The weather was perfect, and we had no problems driving around and parking.Carol Ann J. via TripAdvisor
See a Breathtaking Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
One of the best parts of Acadia National Park is Cadillac Mountain. If you’re an early riser who loves watching the sunrise, this is one spot you need to get to.
The best part of catching a sunrise here is that you don’t even need to hike. This is a relief for some folks because the hike to Cadillac Mountain’s summit is more than 1,500 feet.
Instead, you can take a drive up Cadillac Summit Road to save the wear on your feet. So wake up extra early, dress warm, and bring a blanket to sit on because this is a popular spot during the summer.
Whale Watch on the Atlantic Ocean
If you visit Bar Harbor during the summer and you find the Atlantic Ocean too cold for a swim, you can still enjoy the ocean by going whale watching.
Whales consider the waters off Maine’s coast to be perfect, especially from April through October. It’s not uncommon to see minke whales as well as finbacks and humpbacks while you’re on a tour.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the sound of a blowhole and bring your camera to take some amazing whale photos.
Take a Stroll Through Northeast Harbor Village
Northeast Harbor is the perfect area to take a stroll on a perfect day in Bar Harbor. This historic enclave has been home to some of America’s richest families and you’ll be in awe as you pass mansions by the ocean, tree-lined streets, and huge yachts at the harbor.
Not only is there a lot to see here, but there’s a lot to do. There are lots of great restaurants and shops to visit.
- Foodies will delight in a visit to Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars for its selection of specialty oils.
- Shaw Jewelry has an extensive collection of jewelry and great gifts you can buy for family and friends.
- Main Street Mercantile is a unique boutique filled with clothing, books, household accessories, and more.
- The Kimball Shop is the perfect spot to go if you’re looking for a unique gift. With its wide variety of products, you’re bound to find something for any occasion. You can even create customized gift baskets for events like baby showers and bridal showers.
- Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium is a chocolate lover’s dream located right in the heart of downtown. Treat yourself to ice cream and chocolates that are made fresh daily as well as your favorite candies and other sweets.
See Fun Sights on an Oli’s Trolley Tour
Sightseeing is a fun part of any trip and if you’re looking to sightsee on your Bar Harbor, Oli’s Trolley has you covered.
Whether you just want to relax or you’re not big on walking, hop in Oli’s Trolley and let these friendly folks do the driving.
Oli’s Trolley offers guided, narrated tours of both downtown Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. This way you can see all the popular sites the town has to offer without batting traffic in your own car.
If you’re looking for a small, private tour with family and friends, Oli’s Trolley can accommodate that too and offers trips to some of the area’s biggest attractions.
I traveled on a cruise with a group of 8 adults. We booked Oli’s Trolley on our own, not through the cruise company and saved about $20 per person which was a huge bonus. But the biggest bonus was our tour guide Jim. He is so knowledgeable, fun and entertaining. We were completely mesmerized by his stories of the people that discovered and developed that area. Of course, Acadia is beautiful beyond words. It was a perfect day with no fog. He gave us tips on where to hike if we ever come back to the area and have more time. I would take this tour again in a heartbeat.Cindy H. via Trip Advisor
Explore With a Registered Maine Guide
For new travelers of the Bar Harbor area, hiring a registered Maine Guide is a good idea as they are experts in the wildlife and the history of the area. In the company of a Maine Guide.
Visitors should also take to the water and tour the scenic bays and harbors on a kayak or canoe.
There are also walking tours of Bar Harbor. On the ocean and land, visitors and guests can tour the island on their own, or let experienced Maine guides show them the way.
Or set sail with one of the professional crews in search of whales, seals, seabirds, and stories of the grand cottage era. Or simply relax under the billowing sails of a Maine Tall Schooner on a day sailing trip.
If you are planning to visit Bar Harbor in the winter, the carriage trails make for excellent cross-country skiing, the Park Loop Road is a haven for snowmobilers, and the 27 miles of snowmobile trails under their coating of white take on a fresh new look.
Attend A Festival in Bar Harbor
Guests should also immerse themselves in the cultural aspect of Bar Harbor.
Hosting two celebrated Bar Harbor music festivals, visitors will be humming to string orchestras, chamber music, jazz, and blues. Local bars and clubs host a range of bands and solo artists that complete the musical mix.
The Bar Harbor Music Festival has been going strong for more than 50 years and has gained renown as a proving ground for up-and-coming artists. In fact, it’s estimated that the festival has helped advance the careers of more than 2,000 artists over the years.
Explore a Lighthouse Near Bar Harbor
One of the best features of any coastal town is the lighthouses that dot the coast. That’s certainly true around Bar Harbor and there are several great, picturesque lighthouses worth checking out.
- Egg Rock Lighthouse overlooks Frenchman Bay and is considered one of Maine’s most interesting lighthouses. It’s so named because of all the eggs found in the surrounding area and features a square tower.
- Mount Desert Light on Mount Desert Rock is assessable only by boat and is used as a mammal research station. It stands 48 feet tall and is made out of granite.
- The current Bear Island Light, near Mount Desert Island, was first built in 1889. It was deactivated in 1981 and relit in 1989 by the Friends of Acadia National Park.
Learn at the Abbe Museum
Located in the heart of Bar Harbor, the Abbe Museum is the one and only Smithsonian Affiliate in Maine. Visitors can actually visit two locations, the downtown museum and a small trailside museum at Acadia National Park.
Opened to the public in 1928, the downtown museum houses the history of Native Americans in Maine, the Wabanaki, through special events, workshops, and exhibitions.
The trailside Sieur de Monts Spring museum is usually open from spring to fall and allows visitors to take a trip through time with presentations about Maine’s Native American archaeology.
*The trailside Sieur de Monts Spring Museum is currently closed for maintenance [September 2022].
See the Sea Bottom With Ed’s Dive-In Theater
Want to journey to the bottom of the sea without getting wet? Visitors can do just that by taking a tour with Ed’s Dive-In Theater.
Join Diver Ed on the Starfish Enterprise and prepare for a memorable (and entertaining experience). This is fun for visitors of all ages and kids will delight as they get to watch Ed go underwater — after they push him overboard.
Onboard, visitors can hear a narration as Ed explores the sea bottom and brings up his findings for all to see.
Experience a Bit of Bar Harbor Nightlife
Bar Harbor doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a party town but that doesn’t mean it’s not a happenin’ place to be when night arrives.
After you’ve had your fill of fun, head to Bar Harbor Beer Works for a brew and some of your favorite Maine grub. It’s open seasonally from May through October and is a great place to spend an afternoon or a night out.
Where to Eat in Bar Harbor
As one of the most popular destinations in Maine, Bar Harbor is known in some circles as a city for foodies. No matter what kind of food you’re craving, you can find it here and it may just be some of the best food you’ve ever had.
Here are some of our favorite places to nosh in Bar Harbor:
If you’re looking for a taste of authentic Mexican food in New England, this is the place to go. All dishes are made to order and cooked in-house, so you know you’re getting only the best. The menu is filled with all your favorite Mexican dishes and drinks, so you won’t leave hungry.
Maine is known for its fresh seafood and locals consider this eatery to be one of the best. Stop by for lunch or dinner and try seafood classics like chowder and lobster bake or dishes with a twist like the Bar Island Cobb salad or Bacon Jalapeno lobster roll.
This restaurant is a bit more upscale, but it’s worth visiting for its decor, great service, and impressive drink list. Sit down in a place with comfortable decor as you devour mussels, crab cakes, scallops, and other great seafood options.
Locals consider this a hidden gem and this chef-owned and operated eatery serves up delicious, authentic Thai cuisine. The menu features many noodle, rice, and curry dishes, but sushi lovers can also order many varieties of sushi.
Visitors can find American fine dining with a Latin flair here. Treat yourself to a tasty cocktail and chose from an extensive small plate menu, large plate options, and several desserts.
New England may not be known as a BBQ mecca, but you can stop here in the summer months and enjoy a great meal outdoors. The menu is simple and loaded with goodness like ribs, meat dinners, burgers, and more. There’s also a simple kids menu and plenty of drink options.
If you’re craving a sweet treat, is a great place to go. Here it’s all about making the best ice cream with the finest ingredients. Stop in and treat yourself to a cone filled with your favorite flavor of ice cream. It’s the perfect accompaniment on a summer day.
Where to Stay in Bar Harbor
Lodgings in Bar Harbor offers the perfect vacation getaway with its honeymoon allure, waterfront inns, and luxurious hotel locations.
Bar Harbor’s neighboring towns on Mount Desert Island including Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, or Bass Harbor are slower-paced and perhaps better suited for vacationers interested in a more subdued atmosphere.
Bar Harbor offers a vast array of excellent dining, attractions, lodging, and hotels. Use our Bar Harbor Lodging Directory to find your vacation stay.
Plan An Unforgettable Trip to Bar Harbor Maine Today
With one of America’s best national parks, delicious seafood, awe-inspiring, scenic ocean views, and plenty of great lodging and shopping options, there’s no better time to start planning your trip to Bar Harbor than right now.
There’s so much to do and explore in Bar Harbor that you may just find yourself wanting to stay for at least a few days. Gaze at the magnificence of the Atlantic Ocean, keep your eyes peeled for marine life, catch a sunset from the top of Cadillac Mountain, or take a leisurely stroll through the center of town.
Bar Harbor offers the chance to do all of those things and so much more. A little slice of paradise awaits in Bar Harbor so start planning your perfect Maine getaway today!
Bar Harbor Maine FAQs
Q: Where is Bar Harbor?
A: Bar Harbor is a little over three hours northeast of Portland and a little over two hours east of Augusta.
Q: What is Bar Harbor known for?
A: Bar Harbor is known for quite a lot, including stunning views of the ocean, fresh seafood, yachts, lobster boats, and so much more. It is home to Acadia National Park.
Q: Why is Bar Harbor called Bar Harbor?
A: The town got its name from the sand bar that connects Bar Island to Bar Harbor at low tide.
Q: When is the best time to visit Bar Harbor Maine?
A: Because of where it’s located, Bar Harbor’s temperatures are cool all year long. But the best time to visit is when it’s the sunniest, which is usually from June to August.
Q: Is Bar Harbor walkable?
A: Many Bar Harbor visitors spend their time checking out shops and restaurants along Cottage Street and Main Street. The village is a great place to walk on a nice, warm day.