Best Things To Do in Seattle
If you're a first-time visitor to Seattle, no trip would be complete without stopping by some of the city's most iconic attractions, such as Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. You'll also want to make the most of the city's scenic location by taking a stroll through Olympic Sculpture Park or Discovery Park. For an even more heart-pumping adventure, hop in the car for a daytrip to Mount Si. When overcast skies force you inside, marvel at the glass-blown works at Chihuly Garden and Glass, learn about aviation history (the Museum of Flight) and maritime history (Ballard Locks), or take the underground tour in Pioneer Square.
Updated July 24, 2019
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Since 1907, this bustling market near the downtown waterfront has been the go-to place for local produce. Today, you can find almost everything, from local artwork to vinyl records. Plus, the flower market is a particular must-see, according to reviewers. Though Pike Place Market is one of the most tourist-heavy attractions in Seattle (plan to run into crowds, especially during the weekend) that's no reason to scratch it off your to-do list. Recent visitors said the abundance of vendors and lively atmosphere make it an experience you shouldn't pass up, no matter how busy it gets.
The streets surrounding Pike Place Market are peppered with restaurants and coffee shops, and there's an information booth just west of the marketplace at First Avenue. If you want a little help navigating the massive market, guided tours and food tours are available from third-party companies. You can find a list on the market's website here.
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Bursting with artwork spanning the colors of the rainbow, Chihuly Garden and Glass offers visitors a look at creative, glass-blown pieces crafted by renowned Pacific Northwest artist, Dale Chihuly. The permanent exhibition opened in 2012 and has since attracted the admiration of Seattleites and tourists alike.
The venue is divided into the Exhibition Hall, which displays eight galleries of work and three "drawing walls," the Glasshouse (picture a greenhouse, but with glass-blown flowers) and the Garden, which features Chihuly's work integrated with lush shrubbery. Recent visitors were impressed by the amount of detail evident in each glass-blown piece and in awe of the intensely bright colors. Many say they were pleasantly surprised by how much they enjoyed the venue. Others recommended visiting after sunset to see the attraction illuminated.
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If there's one thing Seattle is known for (aside from coffee and Tom Hanks' insomnia), it's the 605-foot tall Space Needle. Built for the 1962 World's Fair, the Space Needle has dominated Seattle's skyline ever since with its unique UFO-like design. The tower's round observation deck (520-feet high) offers spectacular views of the city and the nearby Olympic Mountains. Its latest feature is The Loupe, a revolving glass floor. Also at the top of the needle is a cafe and a wine bar. If you're not a fan of heights, check out the Spacebase gift shop at the bottom of the tower.
When it comes to prices, recent visitors are torn: Some said the views are worth the high admission price, while others said it's just as impressive from the ground. Even those who said it was expensive admitted that for first-time visitors to Seattle, it's a must-see and many recommend purchasing a CityPASS to save money. Reviewers also recommend you make a stop here on a clear day as you'll likely miss out on the views if it's foggy.
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There's no better way to get a healthy dose of culture than to enjoy some fine art, especially when the art is outdoors and free to peruse. In other words, you should plan on visiting the Olympic Sculpture Park, a 9-acre section of the Seattle Art Museum that's filled with works by such sculptors as Alexander Calder, Claes Oldenburg and Roxy Paine. Once you've had your fill of art, turn your attention to the view, which stretches over Elliott Bay to the Olympic Mountains and is a big hit with recent visitors.
Past visitors to the park said it's an enjoyable way to experience the art and ambiance Seattle offers, especially during the warmer months. However, some said the park wasn't a "must-see" and only recommend making a stop if it's near other attractions you're visiting.
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Seattle is one of the most important cities in the world of aviation and home to several facilities belonging to the Boeing Company, one of the world's leading aircraft manufacturers. You can find out more about the city's unique and fascinating history in aviation at one of its best museums, the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. The museum is especially enticing for families with young children who can climb in and around various aircraft. Also recommended is the Red Barn, Boeing's original airplane factory, which features exhibitions chronicling the history of flight. The nearby Great Gallery also holds vintage aircraft, offering travelers a unique look into Seattle's prolific technological history. However, one of the most popular attractions is the SAM 970, which served as Air Force One for presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, as well as other vice presidents and VIPs until its retirement in June 1996.
Past travelers lauded the museum as one of the finest sites in Seattle, with a variety of exhibits to keep a range of age groups engaged. Visitors say it offers a well-rounded aviation experience and recommend giving yourself plenty of time to explore.
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If you're looking to get outdoors without getting out of the city, this is the place. Sprawling across more than 500 acres in northern Seattle, Discovery Park is the city's largest green space. You'll find hiking trails, meadows, beaches and sand dunes abound. One must-see is the West Point Lighthouse, which can be reached by following the North Beach Trail, while the South Beach Trail leads to a spectacular view of Mount Rainier and the city skyline. Trail maps are available at the visitor center near the park's main entrance.
And if you're not one for hiking, keep in mind the Discovery Park also features a tennis facility, a cultural center and a play area for the kids. Many park visitors say this is one of Seattle's finer gems, with something for everyone to enjoy. Hikers commented that there is a trail suitable for every experience level and you'll likely see wildlife on your trek. Others recommended visiting at sunset to admire the photogenic views.
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These locks – operated by the Army Corps of Engineers – are popular among visitors and locals in Seattle. The locks allow boats to pass between Puget Sound and the Lake Washington ship canal, offering a live demonstration of Seattle's maritime lifestyle (many have compared the locks to a miniature version of the Panama Canal). After you've watched a couple barges pass by, head to the south side of the locks where fish ladders help salmon migrate during the summer months; if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a sea lion looking for a quick bite to eat. The fish can be seen up close from special viewing windows. The Chittenden Locks are also home to the Carl English Botanical Gardens, which feature a variety of unique plants and beautiful views.
Many visitors suggested taking one of the free tours offered to learn more about the history of the locks. A few reviewers were disappointed that the visitor center was closed the day they stopped by. If that's something you want to explore, make sure you check the hours ahead of time. You can also learn more about the locks on one of Seattle's best boat tours.
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Spread across three locations, the Seattle Art Museum houses one of America's premier art collections, displaying everything from European masterpieces to contemporary sculpture. The Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park are also part of the complex. The museum receives some mixed views from recent visitors, but most appreciated its eclectic collection and recommend setting aside a few hours if you need to fill a rainy day. Recent travelers were particularly impressed with the museum's permanent collection of African art and its display of Northwest Coast Native American artists.
Commonly known as "SAM," the main part of the museum is located in downtown Seattle about a mile-and-a-half south of the Space Needle. SAM is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours until 9 p.m. on Thursdays.
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This small viewpoint park, which offers amazing views of Elliott Bay and the Central City (and occasionally Mount Rainier), is a favorite with photographers. Sunset is a particularly popular time to visit, when the city lights up and the Space Needle is a beacon in the night. While the park is tiny, you can see the sculpture "Changing Form" and a childrens play area at the Bayview-Kinnear Park just below the viewpoint of Kerry Park.
Recent visitors said the views are astounding and advises others to come on a clear day and be prepared for crowds.
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If you don't have time to make the drive to Mount Rainier (about 80 miles southeast of downtown Seattle), Mount Si offers a popular alternative. Sitting about 30 miles east of the city center, Mount Si offers several opportunities to strap on your hiking boots and hit the trails. According to most, Mount Si is also a good place to get warmed up before tackling some of the more challenging trails found in nearby Mount Rainier National Park.
On a clear day, views from the summit stretch across the city to the Olympic Mountains. The Mount Si trail to the summit is about an 8-mile hike there and back with an elevation gain of 3,100 feet. Many recent travelers said the hike is a fun way to get in some exercise on vacation, though they add it is definitely not for novices. Inexperienced hikers may want to stick to the trails in Discovery Park. Others were impressed with the great condition of the trail. Note: There are restrooms located at the bottom of the trail, but no facilities along the path.
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For a glimpse under the sea, head to the Seattle Aquarium, which sits along the waterfront just a few blocks west of the Seattle Art Museum. It may not be as impressive as other cities' aquariums, but Seattle's facility offers a wonderful introduction to northwestern sea life. The highlight of your visit will most likely be the "Window on Washington Waters" exhibit, which houses aquatic animals native to the surrounding area in a 120,000-gallon tank.
Other points of interest include a coral reef tank and a kid-friendly touch tank, where your little ones can shake hands with starfish and sea cucumbers. And don't miss your chance to get the fish-eye view from the aquarium's underwater observation dome.
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Set in the eye-popping complex designed by architect Frank Gehry, the Museum of Pop Culture celebrates rock in a myriad of ways, though the museum is not limited to music only. Exhibits like "Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses" and "Pearl Jam: Home and Away" are excellent and comprehensive looks at these two iconic music phenoms, while the Sound Lab allows visitors to jam on electric guitars, drums, samplers, mixing consoles and more in this interactive area. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame exhibit features artifacts from sci-fi literature, film, television and art, including the pieces from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "The Empire Strikes Back."
According to recent visitors, the interactive exhibits appeal to a variety of ages, and the museum is worth spending a couple of hours exploring. Those traveling with teenagers in particular said the museum provided quality entertainment for that fickle age group.
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If you like history, Pioneer Square should be at the top of your to-do list. This neighborhood was one of the first settlements in the Northwest U.S. (hence the name), and it has maintained much of its Old West identity. Today, you'll find the cobblestone area peppered with art galleries, restaurants and shops, not to mention an ornamental pergola, which provides shelter to those waiting to hop on the cable car.
No visit to Pioneer Square is complete until you tag along on the Underground Tour. The tour leads you through a maze of subterranean passageways – which were once the city's main roads before the Great Seattle Fire in 1889 – where you learn about the quirkier side of historic Seattle, from legends of thieves to the history of the flush toilet. The Underground Tour recommends that participants be at least 7 years or older to keep up with the 75-minute walking tour. Tour tickets cost $22 for adults, $20 for seniors and students (ages 13 to 17, or with a valid college ID), and $10 for children ages 7 to 12.
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With more than 200 indoor and outdoor hands-on exhibits, two IMAX theaters, a Laser Dome, a butterfly house and a planetarium, this science center is a must for families. Everything from dinosaurs to giant robotic insects to a tide pool will excite the kids. The Tropical Butterfly House is an especially popular exhibit, with colorful butterflies from South and Central America, Africa and Asia. Many recent visitors said this center is geared more toward children, though plenty of adults said there is enough fascinating exhibits to interest everyone.
There are a variety of interactive experiences and shows to take in at the center, including the Tinker Tank, where you can design, build and test experiments; the Studio, where scientists discuss cutting-edge innovations in health-related research; and the Science Playground, where can learn how things, such as an electric motor, work through experimentation.
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