Seattle has gifted the world with so many cultural reference points (Sleepless in Seattle, Frasier, Starbucks, Nirvana, …) that most people already feel like they’ve visited this Pacific Northwest city before. But there’s lots more to Seattle than what we’ve seen from our living rooms. From dozens of green parks and a flourishing foodie scene to renowned galleries and kooky museums, it’s little wonder that it makes such a popular holiday destination. With so much to see and do, we’ve cherry-picked the best things to do in Seattle to help start you off.
Cool things to do in Seattle
1. Climb the Space Needle Tower
Space Needle Tower is Seattle’s most iconic landmark, so it makes sense to start here. When the 605-foot tower was constructed as part of the 1962 World Fair it was impressive, but recent renovations have given it some serious chutzpah. Take the 41-second elevator ride to the observation deck and soak in the 360-degree skyline views. If you’ve got the stomach for it, head to the ‘Skyriser’, a tilting glass wall that gives the illusion of floating in the open air, and ‘The Loupe’, the world’s first-ever revolving glass floor. There’s often free festivals and film screenings below the needle too.
2. Grab a drink or a bite everyone’s favourite market
Another of Seattle’s most iconic (and vertigo-friendly) landmarks is the century-old Pike Place Market. Located downtown, Pike Place is less a shopping destination and more a vibrant neighbourhood made up of hundreds of farms, crafters, small businesses and residents. It’s where locals head to buy the freshest seafood and where hipsters hang for street food bites. Pike Place Chowder serves up some of the city’s best clam chowders, while at The Crumpet Shop you can breakfast on the world’s most underrated foodstuff – a hot, buttered crumpet.
3. Take a stroll along Pioneer Square
It all started off in Pioneer Square, where the first settlers decided to build their homes. Seattle’s oldest neighbourhood has retained much of its Old West identity and is probably the most culturally rich district in the city, bursting with imposing architecture, galleries and bookstores. It’s where you’ll find Smith Tower, Seattle’s original skyscraper, which was once the tallest building on the West Coast.
4. Head underground to explore Subterranean Seattle
Seattle is a city that rains, a lot. When the weather gets a little too menacing, book onto the Beneath the Streets tour. The one-hour long tours start off in Cherry Street and wind along historic underground passageways beneath Pioneer Square to the Red Light District. The tours are informative, but incredibly entertaining too.
5. Celebrate some POP culture
The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) isn’t your average deep dive into the past. The huge exhibition space, which is housed in a highly Instagrammable Frank Gehry conception, is dedicated to society today. Collections and rolling exhibitions explore the latest trends and pop culture, starting with the birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Take a look at the rolling calendar of events, which features experiences like the BYO-sleeping bag Campout Cinema.
6. Laugh really hard
They’ve got a good sense of humour in Seattle, nowhere more so than the city’s underground comedy scene. It’s not as prestigious or glamourous as the New York or Los Angeles comedy circuit, but belly laughs are always guaranteed. The Comedy Underground is one of the city’s most popular venues – Ellen DeGeneres, Louis C.K. and Jerry Seinfeld all performed at the club early on in their career. If you think you could get a few laughs too, there’s an Open Mic night every Monday.
7. Hop on America’s largest Ferris wheel
Is it expensive, touristy and cheesy? Absolutely. Will you regret not taking a trip on America’s largest Ferris wheel? 100%. Seattle’s Great Wheel offers sweeping views across Elliott Bay and out to the Olympic Mountains, and you don’t even need to climb for them. When you’ve finished, you can take a stroll along the Seattle Waterfront and pick up some candy floss or some souvenirs from the 120-year old Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.
8. Grab a beer
They’re big on beer in Seattle. The city is home to the most beer-makers in the whole country, with over 174 breweries in the city from artisan small-batches to huge productions. They’re not fussy about what they produce either, so you’re bound to find a new favourite whether you’re after IPA’s, stouts, sours or lagers. The Ballard, Freemont and SoDo are all bursting with craft breweries, so make an afternoon or evening of it and whisk yourself off on a beer bar crawl. If you need a little help, check out the Ballard Brewed Passport, created by Visit Ballard. The self-guided map includes 11 breweries within a one-mile radius and you collect a stamp at each location. You’ll some commemorative drinkware at the end of it and it’s free to download too.
9. Get to grips with aviation
The Museum of Flight is one of the country’s largest air and space collections and it’s stuffed full of aircraft and spacecraft, thousands of artefacts, millions of rare photographs and dozens of exhibits that bring the history of flight to life. You can see the Boeing Lunar Rover and an Air Force One from the Eisenhower era too. If that hasn’t quenched your appetite for all things flight, head to The Future of Flight Aviation Center for a 90-minute tour that covers the past, present and future of human flight, with entry to the Boeing Factory.
10. Get your caffeine fix at Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room
Alright, so Starbucks are two-a-penny in Seattle, unsurprising given that Starbucks started off in a tiny cafe at Pike Place Market in 1971. But if you’re a real superfan, you might want to check out this special Starbucks experience. The Willy Wonka-esque wonderland showcases exclusive beverages, various brewing methods, a coffee library, and more.
11. Explore Seattle’s Indie enclave
True, there’s more to Fremont than hipsters and indies, but we’ll venture that it’s one of the best thing about this arty, bohemian neighbourhood. It’s where you’ll find some of the city’s best vintage stores and boutiques, like PIPE + ROW and Show Pony. There’s lots of public art here too. It’s long been considered a safe haven for hippies and artists; its nickname used to be The People’s Republic of Fremont or The Artists’ Republic of Fremont.
12. Then met the Fremont Troll
Don’t miss another of Seattle’s quirky landmarks – the Fremont Troll located under George Washington Memorial Bridge. It’s a nod to the city’s Nordic heritage and depicts the Norwegian folk story of a troll who lives under a bridge. The 18-foot troll is made of cement. Look closely and you’ll notice he’s grasping a VW car – it’s actually a real car that has been encased in concrete.
13. Dive deep into the region’s history
To really get under the skin of a city, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on how it came to be. Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) offers a comprehensive history of the whole region, with over four million artefacts for you to peruse too. It’s a diverse and collection, encompassing everything from a pink truck with toes to Boeing’s first commercial aeroplane built in 1919.
14. Explore the greener side to Seattle
Seattle isn’t short of green space, hence the nickname ‘Emerald City’. If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air without getting out of the city, head to Discovery Park – Seattle’s largest park. Stretching 500 acres across northern Seattle, you’ll find meadows, hiking trails and beaches here. There’s also a cultural centre and play area for kids, and some brilliant wildlife treks if you’ve got the stamina.
15. Stretch out in the sun, lakeside
Lake Union offers another sunny escape in the heart of the city. You can explore the giant lake by electric boat or kayak, or just soak up the rays on the grassy areas alongside it. If you’ve got the budget, book a seaplane tour with Kenmore Air. The 20-minute tours offer a totally different perspective of the lake, with great views of the University of Washington campus, downtown Seattle and the city’s blockbuster stadiums.
16. Check out Seattle’s art collection
The Seattle Art Museum is one of the best galleries in the country and a must-visit for art aficionados. The museum is spread across three locations –The Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Park Sculpture Park. You’ll find one of America’s most renowned art collections, displaying everything from European masterpieces to contemporary sculpture, at the Seattle Art Museum while the Seattle Asian Art Museum tells the stories of human experiences from vibrant Vietnamese artworks to ancient Iranian pieces.
17. Go for cocktails in the clouds
When the sun makes an appearance, nothing beats booze and some top-notch views. Seattle is home to a fair few reputable rooftop bars, but M Bar is the biggest and probably the best. Perched on the 14th floor, the 2,800 square foot space offers sparkling views over the whole of Seattle, right out to the Olympic Mountain Range. Kick back with a craft cocktail and tuck into bay shrimp ceviche and chicken shawarma, courtesy of one of the city’s most famous chefs, Jason Stratton.
18. Get up close to the city’s most majestic residents
If you’re in Seattle between May and October, you’re in town for whale watching season. While you might be able to spot orcas, grey whales and humpback whales throughout the year, most of the southern Orca community travel through the San Juan Islands during the summer and early autumn. You can catch a glimpse of them from the shoreline, but better to take a guided kayak or boat trip off the San Juan Islands. Island Adventures Whale Watching is only 30 minutes from Seattle too.
19. Get some of that fresh seafood
Thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, San Francisco is teeming with local seafood – including the holy trifecta: Dungeness crab, oysters and wild salmon. The Walrus and Carpenter is one of the best restaurants in the city, credited with igniting the city’s modern seafood renaissance. The menu changes daily depending on the catch, but the highest quality ingredients is a constant. If you like your seafood fresh, you’ll be bowled over by the raw bar which serves up dishes like scallop crudo with sunshine yellow preserved lemons, as well as a staggering variety of oysters.
20. Up your Instagram game at the Selfie Museum
If you’ve tired of the Monets and Warhols, Seattle has another quirky museum for you to explore – the Seattle Selfie Museum. Rather than perusing other people’s works of art, you become the masterpiece. With colourful booths, ball pits and everything in between, you’ll get to snap selfies against a range of different backdrops and seriously ramp up your Insta profile in the process. It’s open until 10pm on Saturday and 8pm throughout the week too.
21. Bike the Burke-Gilman Trail
Sweat out last night’s excesses on a salty sea air trail that snakes its way around Seatle’s northern neighbourhoods, including Ballard, Fremont and the University District. The 27-mile trail is (mercifully) flat too, so while it might be lengthy it’s by no means a slog. The scenery is diverse too – fill your boots with lakes, coastline, evergreen trees and atmospheric streets. You can rent bikes in Burke from the Dutch Bike Co or in the University District from Recycled Cycles. If you’d prefer to combine two great Seattle pastimes (beer + outdoors), cycle out to the Redhook Brewery.
22. Cheer on the Seattle Mariners at the T-Mobile Park
We’ve mentioned that Seattle is a city that loves a lot of things (coffee, beer, excellent WiFI etc), but we haven’t mentioned their deep-seated adoration for the game. Sporty times can fill their boots with football and soccer at Lumen Field or basketball at the Winds arena, but one of the best sporting experiences in Seattle is the classic ballpark atmosphere at T-Mobile Park. The 19.5-acre stadium has a retractable roof too, so it’s the perfect all-weather activity.