Portland to Boston: Bus or train?

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Debating the best way to travel between Boston and points in Maine? The best options are the Concord Coachlines bus service or the Amtrak Downeaster train service. Here’s the skinny on both:

Concord Coachlines bus service

The Concord Coachlines bus has extremely frequent service between Boston’s Logan Airport, Boston’s South Station, and Portland’s Transportation Center, with less frequent buses continuing up the coast or routing inland to Bangor.

Put aside any qualms you may have about taking buses. This service is excellent, drivers are professional and courteous; coaches are spotless; movies are shown (bring your own headphones or purchase cheap ones at the station); there’s free WiFi;  many coaches have power outlets at each seat; passengers departing Portland are offered free water and pretzels; all coaches have a restroom. Cell phone use is prohibited except for emergencies and quick calls.

This is a great service that I use frequently when headed to Boston and always when I’m flying via Logan. Because the bus docks in South Station, it’s also the easiest access for Amtrak’s Northeast corridor trains. (You can easily walk between the bus and train terminals. All trains heading south depart from here, only those headed to Maine depart from North Station).

Routes:

• Portland/Boston: Most buses between Portland and Boston visit South Station, before continuing to Logan Airport; a few reverse that; and there also are direct buses between Portland and Logan. The Logan buses stop at all terminals, dropping off at departures and picking up outside arrivals (look for the blue Scheduled Buses sign).

• Coastal service: The coastal route stops in Brunswick, Bath, Wiscasset, Damariscotta, Waldoboro, Rockland, Camden/Rockport, Lincolnville, Belfast, and Searsport, before turning inland to Bangor, and Orono. From Bangor, there are options for getting to Bar Harbor.

• Inland service: The inland route stops in Augusta, at Colby College in Waterville, Bangor, and Orono.

Tickets:

You can purchase tickets online or at the stations. If you don’t have a ticket, expect the driver to take something as collateral, which will be returned once you purchase one at a station. You can also purchase tickets via Megabus, but be forewarned, while some are heavily discounted, others are more expensive: check both sites before purchasing.

Amtrak Downeaster train service

Amtrak’s Downeaster train operates between Boston’s North Station and Portland’s Transportation Center, with less frequent service to Freeport and Brunswick.

The train’s a bit pricier and the ride’s a bit longer than the bus, but it’s nice to be able to move around the cars, and it edges the coastline for a bit, before veering inland providing glimpses of communities en route, rather than highways.

WiFi is free, there are power outlets available, and there’s a cafe car offering light fare and drinks as well as Charlie Cards for the Boston T. Seats are less cramped and restrooms are much nicer than those on the bus. Other pluses: The train is accessible for those in wheelchairs and it tends to be more reliable when the weather is really bad. I wish the train ran more frequently, because I would take it more often.

The Route:

Between Boston and Portland, the train stops in Woburn/Anderson and Haverhill, Mass.; Exeter, durham-UNH, and Durham, N.H.; and Wells, Saco, and Old Orchard Beach (seasonal), Maine. From Boston, if you want to continue south on Amtrak, you have to cab or take the T to South Station.

Tickets:

Purchase online or at the station. Do check for applicable discounts; some of these require a three-day advance purchase.

 

22 COMMENTS

  1. As a train fan I would have always chosen a train no matter what. The fact that you can stand up and walk around and not being glued to the seat is the crucial difference!

  2. The problem that I have is getting from southwest NH to Portland to get the train or bus. Seems that NH does not believe in public transportation. Monorail from Brattleboro Vt, through Keene to Concord or manchester to Portsmouth anyone?

  3. I recently took the bus from Bangor to Portland and then Portland to Boston. Great trip! Reasonably priced. Am going to use this option again in the future.

  4. “I wish the train ran more frequently, because I would take it more often.”

    Me too, also. So often the train is one’s first choice, and then a look at the schedule rules it right out. Just one more northbound train between 5 pm and 11:20 pm would make all the difference!

  5. They need one more later train out of North Station to Portland, ME for those who want to go to concerts, sports, etc.. at TD Garden… They just get out too late to get to the train 🙁

  6. Emailing from England. Planning New England trip for Sept/Oct. Will be hiring car most of time but thought might use bus or train from Boston to Portland before we head for hills. Which is better to see coastal scenery (if either) or do you recommend we hire the car in Boston?
    Thanks!

  7. Hi Celia, The bus simply follows the highway. The train does follow the coast Between Old ORchard and Portland, Maine, but otherwise is mostly inland. That said, it delivers more scenery than the bus. If you opt for a car, Route 1 is the coastal option.

  8. Sorry, no, but I’d suggest you check with the Kennebunk/Kennebunkport Chamber of Commerce for ideas.

  9. Hi. Looking to make a trip to Ct from here in Wells, Maine. I find that the bus and train don’t go straight through. Is it easy to navigate and change trains or busses once at the station.

  10. Sorry it took me so long to reply, I’ve been on the road for most of December and January. From Wells, the Amtrak Downeaster goes into North Station. You’ll need to connect to South Station by the T or taxi to continue south. All buses go into South Station, so that’s an easy transfer.

  11. I am flying into Logan on July 18 from the UK. We land at 1.30pm and I need to travel on to Rockland that day. The Concord coastal bus seems to have cut its service and now there is only one a day which leaves at 11.15am, so no use. I do not want to hire a car. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  12. Cape Air offers service to Rockland’s airport, that would be your best choice. Other than that, both the Amtrack Downeaster and Concord Coachlines have service to Brunswick, from there you would need to arrange with a shuttle service to get to Rockland, but you likely wouldn’t arrive until 10pm or so.

  13. This was immensely helpful insight for my out-of-towner self, thank you! You enabled me to save serious $$$ on a rental car. I’m flying into Boston for the glory of New England fall foliage, taking the train to Portland, and renting a car from there for two weeks. It saved no less than $400 vs renting a car @ BOS!

  14. Hi we r traveling to Logan airport from the UK on 19th august then to brunswick ma by bus Do we need to book our tickets for the bus before we leave the uk or is it OK to get them when we arrive at airport?

  15. When you arrive, you can go right to the bus and board. You’ll give the driver your passport or other ID, which you’ll get back at the ticket counter.

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