See also: Where to stay in Seattle
A seaport city hemmed by the Pacific Northwest and rolling peaks of evergreens, Seattle’s acres of parkland is offset by its innovative hub. Urban city and natural beauty come to a compromise – and the result is extraordinary. An entreaty to visitors of all ages and interests, keep an open mind – you may be surprised by unexpected experiences. Without further ado here's the 40 best things to do in Seattle:
Map your journey starting from the Space Needle
It seems only right to start your Seattle journey with the iconic Space Needle. The sky-piercing jewel of 1962 World’s Fair, this 605-foot-tall landmark is a beacon from all corners of the city. Shoot up to the observation deck in less than a minute; a breathtaking view of Elliott Bay and Cascade Mountains waits for you, between which Seattle stretches out in swathes of green-laced neighborhoods.
Marvel at Chihuly Garden and Glass
Delicate glasswork takes strength and precision; Chihuly Garden and Glass celebrates local glassblower and globally-renown Dale Chihuly. Through comprehensive galleries of his exquisite craftwork, you’ll gain a new appreciation for the medium. The crowning glory of his career however, is displayed in a glasshouse – a lengthy sculpture of fiery red and orange in fine bloom.
Be stunned by Pacific Northwest Ballet
Classical and modern ballet comes together in elegant and stunning performances put on by the Pacific Northwest Ballet company. Reinventing old tales such as The Nutcracker in an explosive expression of performance art, it is no wonder that they’re one of the world’s leading figures in ballet.
Brush up those references at the Museum of Pop Culture
Featuring fandom classics, the ever-changing exhibitions of the Museum of Pop Culture delve into music, video games, science fiction and horror as fore genres. A Nightmare on Elm Street meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a costumed display, and sci-fi aficionados will fall for the artefact collection from popular Blade Runner, Star Trek and Men in Black iterations.
Visit Kubota Garden for a tranquil respite
Autumn sighs in quiet reflection at Kubota Garden’s maple brilliance. Fanning out amid the purposeful array of hills, streams, waterfalls, rocky intervals and ponds is Kubota’s choice of fauna and pines. Indulge in inner musings at this beloved garden that tempts introspection, arched bridges and pathways hemmed by lanterns to form a guiding hand.
Head up Smith Tower
A concrete arrow heralding Seattle’s first skyscraper, Smith Tower looms 148-meters high. While it may no longer be the ultimate observatory point, its rich neoclassical features such as latticed doors, onyx banisters and charming elevator operators help retain an air of quiet dignity. For a classy nightcap, indulge in a cocktail at the classy speakeasy based here.
Drift the oceans in Seattle Aquarium
Seattle Aquarium sheds light on the secrets of the Pacific depths with vibrant sea plantations and dynamic sea life. From the colorful palette of sea anemones to deep-sea species, the non-diver can marvel at moon jellies, giant octopi. Dive shows keep the crowd excited and the curious can interact with sea cucumbers and urchins in carefully curated touch-pools.
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Comedic tragedy has carved out an unusual tour of a brick-lined city below the city. Thanks for the carelessness of a cabinet maker in late 1800s, an ignited glue pot led to the Great Seattle Fire, after which Pioneer Square and surrounding streets were constructed a good two stories higher than the original structures, lending to a cavernous underground. You’ll find traces of leftover brick and mortar from previous homes and buildings.
Take to the air at the Museum of Flight
The forerunner of aviation, Seattle houses multiple air-central spaces including the impressive, independent air and space museum; the Museum of Flight. Steel and glass come together to hoist aircrafts of the highest pedigree and significance. The Gossamer Albatross II, a Concorde, a de Havilland Comet and Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird are just few of the many pioneering aircrafts in the history of aviation. A Space Gallery further demonstrates the strides humans have taken to conquer airspace, detailing exploration crafts and hardware deployed by NASA and similar organizations.
Get lost in the wonders of Pike Place Market
Spread out over acres of winding alleys like a world of its own is Pike Place Market. Cross under the iconic market sign into a collective of fresh produce, slick stalls of seafood, baking bread a crusty aroma that seeps into the throng of a 200-strong crafts market. Buskers line the cascading streets that’ll bring you down to Elliott Bay for a waterfront sunset. Nearby Gum Wall is another colorful attraction (albeit not very sanitary), where you can leave a tangible mark. Chew, spit and stick – this gooey masterpiece is decades in the making.
Cross the waters with Washington State Ferries
Slow and steady rebrands a practical trip across Puget Sound into something scenic. Think beautiful beaches and homes lining the shore, Seattle skyline a husky backdrop… but wait, what kind of ferry is it anyway? With minimum load of 64 cars, the massive Washington State Ferries keep your road-trip going. Drive straight across the channel in a one-of-a-kind ferrying experience.
Spinning with the Seattle Great Wheel
Requisite harbor views are best done on a cliché Ferris wheel ride, and the 53-meter Seattle Great Wheel will provide you just that. Fancy a luxurious, romantic night out? There’s even an upgraded pod with leather seats and champagne to end your date on a high note.
Learn something new at Pacific Science Center
If you’ve never marveled at the herculean feats of insects, Pacific Science Center’s Insect Village will set you right. Ever wonder about what technology will bring to our future? The immersive displays of “What is Reality” will engage you in thoughtful discussion. You can even take to the stars in the planetarium; the Center is a classroom for scientists of all ages and interests.
View masterpieces at Seattle Art Museum
Boasting a varied inventory of historical and contemporary art, Seattle Art Museum is a hotspot for artists and purveyors. From the delicate stone works and rougher basketry of Native American art to the dramatic works of Giovanni di Paolo and Puccio di Simone, you can spend hours browsing through the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Olympic National Park: a veritable nature adventure
It’s easy to fall in love with Olympic National Park’s wild forests and sweeping beaches, poised below elegant peaks and majesty mountain ranges. Those with indomitable spirit will no doubt venture up the jagged mountains on long hikes, the purple and orange hues up top giving way in the winter to ski slopes of top-tier quality. Those who prefer grounded activities can set up camp near Lake Crescent’s wide shores, soaking up the rejuvenating energies of Sol Duc Hot Springs after a long day of trekking in sand. Tide pools and scenic walks carve into the coastline, the loud roar of waves offset by the peaceful and open view of the Pacific Ocean.
Sky View Observatory at 360℃
Topping the 73rd floor of Washington State’s tallest building is Columbia Center’s Sky View observatory. The blockish buildings and the city’s green veins is laid out like a map, where Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier cut majestic figures over the boats of Puget Sound.
A unique play area: Gas Works Park
Gas Works Park may just about inspire your steam punk masterpiece. Preserved parts of a gasification plant, the copper pipes and towers and old pump house have been repurposed into a two-in-one monument and playground. A unique kite-flying spot emerged from the rubble as the Great Mound; perch at the top for a Seattle panorama.
Go grand at Safeco and CenturyLink Field
Baseball and sporting fans will inevitably be drawn to the boisterous atmosphere at Safeco or CenturyLink Field, the former ballpark home base to the Seattle Mariners. Behind-the-scenes tours are available off-season for baseball fans curious about the facilities, allowing a glimpse into the training centers of their favorite teams. CenturyLink Field’s joint sports and exhibition complex also hosts largescale conventions and expos all-year; visit their website for any must-see events to make the most out of your visit.
Outdoors meet art at Olympic Sculpture Park
Exposed to the elements and in perfect eye-line with other Seattle landmarks, the monumental sculptures are vivid slashes of color and geometry. An outdoor gallery, Olympic Sculpture Park draws attention with over 20 works by renowned artists such as Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly and Roxy Paine.
A moving relic: Seattle Center Monorail
Astride an elevated, city-winding track, Seattle Center Monorail ferries between the time-transcending Seattle Center and downtown Westlake Center is all its space age glory. Running at 45 miles per hour, it is a one mile journey that twists between buildings for a truly unique perspective.
Reflect in Central Public Library
There’s nothing more enticing than the smell of paper and quiet rustling of books but Seattle’s Central Library takes a step further in fostering a reflective space. Where its sleek glassy skin may come off as an unexpectedly modern library façade, the natural light and overhangs affects a dreamy but thoughtful atmosphere.
Woodinville Wine Country
A literal country of over 130 wineries, embark on your journey for your favorite red or white through Woodinville Wine Country. Wine connoisseurs will take pleasure in visiting the state’s first winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle having established in 1954. For a full immersive experience, don’t just taste – tour around the vineyard’s gravelly soils and production rooms to learn the art of winemaking.
Go local at Fremont Sunday Market
There’s nothing like mingling in at Sunday Markets, sampling local fare and digging for personalized trinkets. Eat fast at a food truck before delving into the spirited crowd, exploring stalls toting antiques, vintage ware, arts and crafts or fresh fruits to snack on. With up to 200 vendors, this European-style market is a show of support for small businesses in a big city.
The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour
If there’s one aviation attraction to visit, it will have to be the Boeing Aviation Center. Learn the mechanics of air travel with this guided tour around Boeing’s production facility. Plane spotters get to come up close and personal with aircraft sections of older models, whilst interactive features allow you to try your hand at designing your own aircraft.
A cozy park atop Queen Anne Hill, there is no better outdoor viewing platform than Kerry Park. Breathe freely and absorb the panoramic view spanning from levelled Puget Sound to the specter of Mount Rainier. Downtown Seattle splays out in casual exhibition behind Space Needle’s prolific outline.
Of course, what is a trip without indulging in the local food scene? Seattle’s Chinatown will have you chowing down authentic Asian cuisine in no time, offering up a plethora of pho, sushi and dim sum options. Bring home snacks from the Uwajimaya Japanese supermarket (the best kind of souvenir), or burn off those calories with a few intense games at the Seattle Pinball Museum. Those curious about the neighborhood community should invest some time into learning their story at Wing Luke Museum, then it’s back to dining with new appreciation.
Levelling water at Ballard Locks
Stationed in Lake Washington’s Ship Canal, Ballard Locks is a century-old “boat elevator” that bridges freshwater lakes and salty Puget Sound. Whilst the movement of yachts and trawlers are a spectacle in itself, on-site botanical garden and the fish ladder are natural delights not to be missed out on. If you time it right, you’ll catch the trout’s determined migration.
Enjoy the arts at a Theatre
The sister playhouses of Paramount Theatre, The Moore and The Neptune carry Seattle’s art scene with over 600 performances annually, inclusive of Broadway shows and smaller concerts and dance performances. With rounded spectator seating and historic, gilded interiors, visitors can also tour the spellbinding premises for some behind-the-scenes insight and funny staff stories.
The very heart of Seattle’s foundation lay in the neighborhood around Pioneer Square, its architecture bearing the marks of time. Original wooden structures may have been replaced by Romanesque Revival buildings, but small historical symbols such as the Tlingit pole exist as a reminder of the city’s past.
Explore Washington Park Arboretum
An impressive 230 acres stretch along the shores of Lake Washington to make up Washington Park Arboretum’s all-year splendor. Seasonal sectors guarantee earthy spring fauna such as the Rhododendron Glen, a vibrant and sturdy collection of maples and oaks, and a treasured Azalea Way for a cherry-brushed pastel haven bordered by evergreens.
Observe the old and new at South Lake Union
South Lake Union is a real-time showcase of Seattle’s constant reinvention. Formerly a manufacturing zone (in fact, home to Boeing’s first airplane factory), the neighborhood now hosts Amazon’s cutting edge headquarters. Biotechnology and research institutes dominate, effectively branding Seattle as an innovation hub. Yet alongside modernization are well-preserved historical landmarks and memorials, such as the Historic Ships Wharf and Center for Wooden Boats.
Attend mass at St. James Cathedral
Or, simply catch a choir performance. St. James Cathedral is an old-world structure of typical Renaissance design; arched ceilings, bordered pillars and stained-glass inserts take you back to early 1900s. Get in touch with your spiritual side and bask in the reverent ambiance, or quietly tour the grounds in appreciation of its architecture.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room
Set in Starbucks-typical varnished wood and black accented space is a flagship store like no Starbucks you’ve seen before. Looking more like a distillery than café, the Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room presents the roasting process in real-time; an experience coffee bar and bakery serves a classier roast than the normal cash-and-ago selection, including coffee and tea cocktails. If you’re a frequent Starbucks customer, you’ll love this place.
Fly high with Kenmore Air
The true birds-eye-view is from the air, wings wide and gliding across the city. Kenmore Air’s Seattle Scenic Seaplane Tour will have you soaring above Seattle in a leisurely cruise while enjoying a top-down view of the city in its entirety.
Thrift shop for one-of-a-kind pieces
Leave behind the fancy malls for more of Seattle’s grunge vibe. Thrift stores are popular and plenty and definitely budget friendly. Bring home vintage finds or head over to the shops near U-District for trendier, student-donated clothing. To blend in, you have to dress to fit.
Tour the University of Washington Campus
Chances are you’ve left university behind and have no desire to revisit the back-breaking moments of study. But University of Washington’s sprawling campus will remind you of the moments after exams; basking on the quad with your friends, of relaxed strolls between buildings. The university posits an oasis of spring blossoms, framing historical buildings in soft pastels to achieve a magical photo stop.
Museum of History & Industry: the story of Seattle
Seattle’s history is long and rife with destruction and discovery. From the 1889 Great Seattle Fire and subsequent Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, or the later Boeing foundation and the Red Scare Smith Act Trials of the 1900s, you’ll find this museum a trove of historical resource that details the city’s growth through artifacts and photography. History buffs can spend an entire day unravelling the generous collections of over four million pieces, only a fraction on permanent exhibition.
Woodland Park Zoo
‘Prestigious’ doesn’t even begin to describe Woodland Park Zoo’s numerous accolades. Careful thought is put into the design of individual habitats, presenting its inhabitants in revealing but natural display. For domestic visitors, Tropical Asia’s sector of tigers, tapirs, orangutans and rhinos from Malaysia and India paints the wilds of far-off countries – maybe you can’t go to them, but they’re brought to you.
Round off your trip on a high note atop Mount Rainier
Every nature reserve deserves its own dormant volcano; Seattle’s Mount Rainier postures at over 4000 meters as a prominent Decade Volcano, one with notable history of destructive eruptions near settlements. Take to its thickets in a guided walk to catch a glimpse of elk and coyotes hiding in the outcrops of lakes and sweeping forest. For more thrill, head towards its glaciers on a snowshoe adventure.
Elliot Bay, Cascade Mountains and Mount Rainier are outdoor marvels that invite hikers and outdoor explorers on sea and inland adventures. Within the city are tamer counterparts that blend art and nature; Washington Park Arboretum and Chihuly Garden & Glass respectively showcasing how an oasis can persist in the urban, and how art can commemorate transient blooms. Meanwhile, the cutting edge labs of Amazon and Google carry on the legacy of the 1962 World’s Fair, constantly pushing the boundaries of technology.
Somewhere in-between is the softer but no less riveting delights of Seattle’s food and art scene. Multiple museums and galleries (both indoors and open air) celebrate history and artistic endeavors with maximum efficiency, laying claim to over tens of thousands of artifacts and art pieces. Likewise, Seattle offers diverse choice of cuisine, catering to the taste of the high-class while promoting local fare and cheap but delicious bites. Sometimes, food and crafts go hand-in-hand such as the case of Pike Place Market, aromatic stalls just steps away from handicraft stores.
Regardless, these attractions hold their place as Seattle’s best things to do.