Seattle, Washington visitors guide with local and budget tips including the best things to do in Seattle, restaurants, and places to stay.
In the lush Pacific Northwest, nestled next to Puget Sound, is the city of Seattle.
The city was named after the Duwamish leader, Chief Sealth in 1852. Since that time, it has experienced economic flourishes from the timber, coal, railway, fishing and shipbuilding industries. These days it is most commonly known for its booming technology industry, with Microsoft and Amazon headquarters located here.
I was lucky enough to be based in Seattle for two months and made it my mission to explore as much of the “Emerald City” as I could.
Top 5 places to visit
A trendy inner-city suburb, Fremont is located 5 kilometers (3 miles) from downtown Seattle. Its biggest attraction is the Fremont Troll, a concrete creation hiding beneath the Aurora Bridge. Visit during the weekdays to avoid the crowds and increase your chances of snapping the perfect Troll pic.
On the southern tip of Fremont is Gas Works Park, home to a former gas plant which has been reconditioned and transformed into a public piece of artwork. This remarkable park also provides a spectacularly scenic view of downtown Seattle.
4. Chihuly Garden and Glass
Nothing can really prepare you for the surreal and unexpected beauty of the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Unlike any other museum or art gallery that I have visited, this enchanting world of glass spills across an indoor, outdoor, and glasshouse exhibit.
Situated in the “Seattle Center” alongside the EMP Museum and Seattle Space Needle, the Chihuly Garden and Glass is a site best seen in person.
3. Pioneer Square
Pioneer Square was the “first neighborhood” of Seattle with its official incorporation in 1869. When the city was first built, city residents constructed it at sea level without realizing the tides would impact on their daily life.
In 1889 the “Great Seattle Fire” rampaged through the city and destroyed many buildings. The residents pulled together to build the city back up. This time it was raised above sea level with the new buildings built on top of the original streets.
There are various tour companies that run underground tours in Pioneer Square, exploring beneath the modern day streets of Seattle. This eclectic neighborhood also hosts free public events regularly, including the “First Thursday Art Walk”.
2. EMP Museum
In the 1990s, Seattle became immortalized in music history with the explosion of grunge into mainstream pop-culture. With bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden hailing from here and Nirvana from nearby Tacoma, there is a legacy of artists to be admired.
The EMP provides the opportunity to be immersed in the progressive past of contemporary pop culture, including the musical history of the Pacific Northwest. The colorful and vibrant display starts outside of the building with the rock ‘n’ roll inspired exterior. Each exhibit, whether for music, gaming, film or television, has been carefully crafted to provide maximum enjoyment for its viewers.
Children and adults alike will enjoy the interactive installations, including the Sound Lab where you can try your hand at the musical instrument you have always dreamed of playing. There are even soundproof booths for practicing and a studio to record your next hit. For those who take their music more seriously, check the timetable for workshops that run throughout the day.
1. Space Needle
The Seattle Space Needle is a futuristic-looking tower standing at 184 meters (605 feet) tall with a revolving restaurant, SkyCity. Constructed in 1962 for the Seattle World’s Fair, it has attracted millions of visitors from all over the world.
The Observation Deck provides 360-degree views of Seattle, including the downtown area, Elliott Bay, Mt. Rainier and beyond. This is a vista that could never get boring. Step back inside for an abundance of interesting facts and stories on the beloved Space Needle. And if you still have questions, the helpful staff love to share their knowledge.
Eating and drinking
If you don’t do anything else in Seattle, at least make sure that you eat good food and drink great coffee. It’s hard not to in a city that has ample access to fresh produce and seafood. Another bonus is that this city is generally very vegan, vegetarian and food allergy friendly.
First stop is Pike Place Market, a public market where local vendors and farmers can sell their crisp produce and gourmet goodies direct to the public. The market can get quite busy, especially on weekends, however, it is for good reason. Pike Place is definitely worth multiple trips as you eat your way through the different delicious foods on display.
Other great foodie neighborhoods include Ballard and Capitol Hill. Considered the “hipster” and “alternative” neighborhood, Capitol Hill is a great place to eat, drink, watch live music and buy vintage clothes. For more nightlife recommendations check out Seeking Neverland’s tips on how to visit Seattle the right way.
There are so many independent and local cafes in Seattle that I would recommend sampling as many as possible. It is practically impossible to walk a block in downtown Seattle without running into at least one cafe. Some of my favorites include Milstead & Co (Fremont) and Storyville Coffee Company (various locations downtown). Feeling adventurous? Try a lavender or hemp latte.
In addition to having the first ever Starbucks location in Pike Place Market, there is now also the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room for something a little fancier.
The best way to get around downtown is to walk! Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Seattle as you pound the pavement towards your next destination.
Seattle is serviced by public buses, streetcars, a Monorail, and the Link Light Rail. To reduce your transport costs, invest in the Orca card (USD $5 deposit required) which can be purchased at ticket vending machines and associated retailers.
For those who prefer to drive, on Sunday there is free parking downtown.
Looking to be close to the action? I would suggest staying either downtown or on Capitol Hill. There are numerous downtown hostels with both the Green Tortoise Hostel and City Hostel (where I have stayed) having good ratings overall. See current rates for Green Tortoise Hostel or other accommodation options in Seattle.
Often it can be more economical to use Airbnb, especially if you are staying longer than a week or traveling with a partner. I have also used Couchsurfing in Seattle and had great experiences. For stays longer than a month, consider a short-term rental or monthly sublet which can be found on Craigslist.
The Seattle CityPASS offers a cost-effective way to see the major attractions, including admission to the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruise Harbor Tour, EMP Museum (or Woodland Park Zoo), Chihuly Garden and Glass (or Pacific Science Center).
Not only will you be saving up to 45% in combined admissions prices, you will also enjoy priority access to almost all attractions. Feel like a VIP and skip the ticket queue – time that is better spent enjoying your holiday.
Click here to buy your own Seattle CityPASS and save up to 45%.
Another benefit is that the CityPASS allows two separate trips up the Space Needle within 24 hours. So you can enjoy the 360-degree view of Seattle by day and night.
All images were sourced from Pixabay and Unsplash under Creative Commons CC0. Originally published in 2016, updated in November 2017.
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