The quaint New England town of Bar Harbor draws millions of travelers each summer. But downtown Bar Harbor has managed to retain its amiable charm, in part because so many of the visitors are regulars themselves, returning year after year.
At its best, Bar Harbor is the embodiment of the best parts of holidays in New England. Expect to see plenty of people walking down Main Street in flip-flops, often with an ice cream cone in hand. Just about everyone during the busy months is on vacation and that deliciously unhurried rhythm permeates just about every aspect of life here.
Here are a few of the best things to do in downtown Bar Harbor.
Walk the Shore Path
In the 19th century, New Englanders would go for evening strolls along this 1.5-mile path, which starts at Agamont Park.
Since the route is flat and far from strenuous, it makes for a great afternoon detour. It doesn’t hurt that the path wends past some of Bar Harbor’s grandest old mansions while offering views of the ships sailing by in Frenchman Bay.
Eat a Traditional Lobster Feast
Maine’s lobster industry is both a rare environmental success story and the pride of the state. During colonial times, these crustaceans were so common that government officials famously fed them to prisoners.
As Americans began to regard lobsters as a delicacy in the mid- and late-19th century, populations off the coast of Maine began to decline.
Now, thanks to a heavily regulated and responsibly managed local industry, Maine’s lobsters have rebounded and are very much back on the menu.
That’s a real boon; with their sweet, ample claws and tail meat, these lobsters are often thought to be the tastiest in the world. Trying them for yourself is one of the best things to do in Bar Harbor.
Here in Bar Harbor, locals pack these shellfish into just about every conceivable edible form, but there’s no substitute for the classic lobster feast.
Typically consisting of a boiled or steamed lobster with drawn butter, potatoes, and perhaps corn on the cob, the dish is as quintessentially New England as it gets. You can order it practically anywhere in Bar Harbor, but there are a few restaurants that do it exceptionally well.
For a traditional experience with a view, head to Stewman’s Lobster Pound, located directly overlooking the harbor. The unpretentious ambiance here channels that of an old-fashioned clam shack and the deck is the perfect spot to sip a locally brewed craft beer and watch the lobster buoys bob in the distance.
Lobsters come steamed in seawater, which naturally seasons the tender meat. Order “The Downeast Lobster Experience,” which in addition to the lobster itself, includes steamed Maine mussels, New England clam chowder, corn, potatoes, and a slice of wild blueberry pie.
Browse Works by Local Authors at the Oldest Bookstore in Maine
Founded in 1886, Sherman’s Book Store is a true local gem. What the petite shop on Main Street lacks in size it more than makes up for in charm.
The staff here are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about their subject matter. If your home library is running low or you’re shopping for the perfect gift for a friend, they’re guaranteed to have good recommendations.
The store showcases a number of titles by Maine authors and hosts regular talks and book signings. While parents browse through the literary selection, smaller kids will love checking out the collection of toys and stuffed animals.
Dine on Maine Seafood
If you’d rather enjoy your lobster without the need for a bib, Galyn’s, a local favorite since 1986, is the way to go.
Although they’ll happily serve you a perfectly boiled lobster, both the lobster fettuccine and the “Lazy Lobster” dinner, consisting of claw and tail meat lightly sautéed in butter with a kiss of sherry, are delicious alternatives.
The rest of the menu leans heavily on Maine’s exceptional seafood. From the Maine peekytoe crab cakes to the Maine oysters served on the half shell with a habanero mignonette to the Acadia mussels, everything that can be is fresh and locally sourced here.
For a little bit of everything, opt for the Frenchman Bay Stew, a Maine riff on a bouillabaisse packed with lobster, scallops, mussels, and shrimp.
For something different, but absolutely delicious, head to Havana, a contemporary Cuban restaurant that transforms Maine’s ocean bounty into dishes like lobster moqueca, a riff on a traditional Brazilian stew with a fragrant coconut broth, and seafood paella, made with saffron-perfumed rice loaded with lobster and other shellfish.
Wander Through Agamont Park
Though small in size, this public park at the end of West Street is a great spot to watch the boats sailing out in Frenchman Bay for a bit.
Since the park is right near the start of the Shore Path, many visitors pause here before setting off on their stroll. Or if you’re feeling lazy and the sun is shining, pack a picnic and simply sit and watch the world go by.
Try Lobster Ice Cream
It might sound like a joke, but this most unusual confection is both very real and surprisingly good. Every year since 1988, Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium right in the middle of downtown Bar Harbor churns up hundreds of gallons of lobster ice cream.
They don’t skimp on the good stuff either—there are three pounds of lobster meat in every four gallons of butter-based ice cream.
There are conflicting stories as to how this bizarre culinary tradition got started. According to one tale, a customer joked that the shop had every flavor except lobster on the menu and the owner rose to the challenge.
Another version claims that customers accused the parlor of selling commercial ice creams and the owners decided to prove once and for all that their flavors were homemade.
Whatever the origin, the unconventional combination is a genuine hit. If the idea of seafood-filled scoops seems too odd, rest assured that chocolate, vanilla, wild Maine blueberry, and other less challenging flavors are on the menu.
The homemade fudge, which comes in a wide array of flavors as well, keeps well and makes for a great gift or sweet treat for the road.
Take a Stroll Down Main Street
Downtown Bar Harbor encompasses a relatively small, easily walkable area. Main Street, the primary thoroughfare and center of gravity, has remained largely unchanged for decades and is the best spot to start exploring.
Here you’ll find everything from Sherman’s Book Store to Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium, along with an assortment of stores to pick up souvenirs. Pick Maine-related paraphernalia at Cool As A Moose or flowy, boho-chic dresses at the Hemporium.
Be sure to swing by Jordon Pond Ice Cream & Fudge for a scoop of freshly churned ice cream in flavors like wild Maine blueberry or maple cinnamon.
Get a Real Maine Breakfast
Bar Harbor takes the most important meal of the day seriously. For the ultimate local experience, head to Jordan’s Restaurant, a family-owned institution since 1976. At 5am, local lobstermen crowd into the booths of this friendly, affordable diner before heading out to sea.
Later in the morning and into the afternoon, expect to see plenty of families ordering up fluffy pancakes and tender-crumbed muffins packed with wild Maine blueberries. The ambiance hasn’t changed much over the decades, giving this a bit of a timewarp feel.
Another beloved local spot, Café This Way, features a cheery interior and, when the summer weather cooperates, ample outdoor seating.
The pancakes here, which come studded with wild blueberries and doused with real maple syrup, are closer to crepes, with lacy edges sizzled in butter. At least one order for the table is essential. Other specialties include a wide assortment of egg scrambles and Benedicts.
If you’re looking for a livelier ambiance, 2 Cats Restaurant has been serving hearty breakfasts since 1996. As with Jordan’s and Café This Way, everything here is made from scratch with care.
Order a stack of the banana pecan pancakes with Maine maple syrup or an omelet with smoked trout, creamy horseradish, and dill, served with freshly baked biscuit with strawberry butter. Buy a pound of the excellent house-made granola to take home for future breakfasts.
Sample Craft Beers at Local Breweries
Maine has an abundance of top-notch craft breweries, from the Maine Beer Company, a family-run business in Freeport, to Allagash Brewing Company, the popular Portland brewery with an impressive wild fermentation program.
While Maine beers from all over the state make regular appearances on restaurant menus around town here, it’s worth seeking out a few of Bar Harbor’s own craft breweries.
Atlantic Brewing Company is one of the oldest and best-loved craft breweries in town. Their tasting room in Town Hill, which is also home to Mainely Meat BBQ, makes for an ideal spot for beer and ribs on a laid-back afternoon.
Meanwhile, right in downtown, their Midtown pilot brewery project is where the owners try out small batches of beer. It’s the perfect spot to sit back and sip a Bar Harbor Real Ale or a Blueberry Ale, brewed with wild fruit, naturally. In addition to their boozy options, the brewery’s Old Soaker Root Beer is terrific.
Another local favorite is Fogtown Brewing Company, originally founded in nearby Ellsworth, Maine in 2017. The craft brewery prides itself in using hops, malts, and oats all grown in the state of Maine, in addition to spruce tips, berries, and other locally foraged ingredients, in their beer.
The downtown Bar Harbor taproom of Fogtown on Cottage Street is also a great spot for a bite. Order any one of the small plates, many of which feature locally made sausages and charcuterie, and wash it down with a Maine Coast IPA.
Lounge on the Village Green
At the height of the Gilded Age, when the robber barons and other well-heeled East Coasters often spent their summers in the area, the Village Green was the place to see and be seen.
This was once the site of the Grand Central Hotel, where anyone who was anyone stayed until it was demolished. Today, the Village Green serves as a de facto town center and meeting place, with pretty landscaped gardens and shady trees.
Look out for Bar Harbor’s original clock, dating back to 1896 and located on the eastern edge of the green. Check out the Italian fountain, too, created in the 17th century and restored in 1992.
See a Movie in a Historic Theater
On June 6, 1932, the Criterion Theatre celebrated its grand opening by welcoming almost 2,000 guests to an extravagant evening featuring vaudeville acts and a seven-piece orchestra, among other attractions.
With its floating balcony and stunning art deco interior, the theater was one of the premier cinemas and cultural spaces on the East Coast at the time. But in the early 2000s, the once spectacular space fell into disrepair and lay shuttered for years.
Today, thanks to painstaking ongoing restoration efforts, the Criterion Theatre has almost returned to its former luster. It now serves as one of the primary cultural nexuses of the small town, with regular live theatrical events, musical performances, and film screenings.
It’s the perfect activity for an afternoon in Bar Harbor, particularly on days when the weather is too rainy to venture into nearby Acadia National Park.
Visit the Village Burying Grounds
No one knows exactly who lies beneath some of the unmarked graves in this communal cemetery, which dates back to the late 18th century.
Those that historians have been able to identify offer a fascinating glimpse of Maine’s pioneer past. From local state legislators to sea captains, many colorful characters have been laid to rest in this ground.
The best way to visit downtown Bar Harbor and the surrounding area is on a Celebrity cruise. Browse our Bar Harbor cruises, which include ports of call along the Maine coastline, and book your voyage today.