Wondering what activities and attractions you can’t miss in the Emerald City? Our guide to the best things to do in Seattle is just what you need!
Tucked away in the northwestern corner of the United States, Seattle has developed its own distinct culture. One that adventurers and city slickers can enjoy equally.
The gorgeous waterfront boasts historic markets, eye-popping public art, and some stunning views across the harbor.
The downtown streets cover ancient tunnels and the scars of a 19th-century fire, and the surrounding suburbs hold their own twists for travelers to experience.
Much of your time will be focused on exploring the inner city which is home to art museums, cafes, and family-friendly fun.
But don’t neglect the trendy Fremont and South Lake Union. Of course, for more adventures, the nearby mountains await.
The 21 Best Things to Do in Seattle, Washington
Seattle is a wonderful mix of beautiful nature, foodie culture, and plenty of art. Our guide to the best things to do in Seattle covers all that and more.
Check out our 3 Days in Seattle Travel Itinerary for more ideas during your stay!
1) Pike Place Market
Once you’ve arrived in Seattle, you’ll want to dive straight into the local culture. On the edge of Elliott Bay, which flows out to Puget Sound, Seattle has a storied connection to the sea.
This is best seen in its many farmers’ markets where the aromas of salt and fish float through the air.
But no market in Seattle is as famous as Pike Place Market, making it the perfect spot to begin.
Pike Place Market is one of the most famous markets in the United States. Of course, this brings a hearty number of travelers, but its quality is more than enough to withstand the tourists.
It’s one of the best things to do in Seattle, and the highlight of any visit will be fishmongers who fling fish from one side to the other after you’ve made a buy.
Beyond the fresh seafood, discover exceptional artisan goods, local produce, and delightful cheese.
Later, settle in at one of the market’s restaurants like Pike Place Chowder for lunch. Visit their website for a full list of vendors and more info.
- Location: 85 Pike Street
- Opening hours: 9am to 6pm (Mon-Sun)
- Price: Free
2) Pioneer Square
In the center of the city, Pioneer Square is almost as prominent as Pike Place Market.
It’s the heartbeat of Seattle, having formed the core of the city’s foundation in the middle of the 19th century.
Not long after, the Great Seattle Fire ripped through the square, bringing it to its knees.
But such was the reverence locals had for it, Pioneer Square was built again from scratch.
Today, it’s a popular gathering point for locals. As for travelers, it makes for some fun people watching as groups mingle, take in the live music and street performers, or admire the many installations of public art.
Around the square are rows of beautiful Romanesque Revival architecture, boutique galleries, and charming cafes.
As it is the center of Seattle, Pioneer Square is a perfect starting point for nearby adventures.
3) Seattle Art Museum
The Seattle Art Museum is broken up into three sections. These are its central hub aka SAM, the Olympic Sculpture Park, and the Asian Art Museum.
Its main location is a short walk along the Elliott Bay Waterfront from Pioneer Square. The museum has a rich collection that focuses on a variety of genres and historic eras.
Visitors will discover a vast amount of Native American art hailing from the Pacific Northwest.
These go well beyond paintings to include artifacts and incredible handicrafts such as totem poles, gilded wood, and basketry.
Beyond this section, you can explore contemporary works from around the United States, including art by Jacob Lawrence and Mark Tobey.
You can once again venture back in time but instead to Renaissance Europe to see pieces from di Simone, Uccello, and Paolo.
- Location: 1300 1st Ave, Seattle, WA 98101
- Opening hours: 10am to 5pm (Wed-Sun)
- Price: Adult $29.99 Kids under 14 Free
4) The Space Needle
Soaring out of the city center, the Space Needle is one of the most iconic Seattle attractions.
Upon construction in 1962, it was the tallest building in the western half of the US. But while it’s no longer the tallest in Seattle, the incredible design and UFO-like features make it an incredible sight from anywhere in town.
The only thing that matches the sight of the Space Needle is the views from its observatory.
Jump in the elevator and be swept up 520 feet to where you’ll be able to see from horizon to horizon.
Gaze upon the Seattle skyline, Puget Sound, and the San Juan Island before turning your attention to Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains.
Alternatively, check out the Sky View Observatory also in downtown Seattle. In the Columbia Center, the observatory affords spectacular views through floor-to-ceiling windows at a cheaper price.
- Location: 400 Broad St, Seattle, WA 98109
- Opening hours: 10am to 9pm (Mon-Thur) 10am-10pm (Fri-Sun)
- Price: Adult $57 Child $35
5) Seattle Center
Just a few steps from the Space Needle, you’ll find yourself in Seattle Center. Teeming with art galleries, entertainment, and restaurants, it’s the cultural epicenter of Seattle.
Where Pioneer Square is the town’s historic heart, Seattle Center is your ticket to 70+ acres of artistic and community bliss.
When the sun is out, a visit to Seattle Center is one of the best things to do in Seattle.
With grassy lawns and beautiful fountains (complete with 137 water jets) it’s a gorgeous place to enjoy the warmth, with a charcuterie board built from your purchases at Pike Place Market.
But even on those moody Seattle days when the threat of rain is high, there’s still plenty to do.
It’s here you’ll find the Museum of Pop Culture and the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Afterward, jump on the Seattle Center Monorail and ride back into downtown Seattle.
Exploring more of the west coast USA? Check out this Portland 3-Day Itinerary.
6) The Fremont Troll
Complementing the main fantastic art galleries in town is Seattle’s vast range of public art.
You can see this in many districts, but the most iconic is the Fremont Troll. It’s one of the weirdest and most wonderful art installations in the US, and in typical troll fashion, you’ll find him under a bridge.
On the northern end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge, the Fremont Troll is frozen in time, crawling out of the pavement.
The sculpture is an impressive 18 feet tall and weighs 6.5 tons.
The Fremont Troll makes for a memorable photo op. But once you’ve caught the perfect snap, spend some time exploring the charming town of Fremont which harbors lovely retro boutiques and cute houseboats on the water.
7) The Post Alley Gum Wall
The Texas capitol may hold the motto “Keep Austin Weird” close to its heart, but Seattle has its own quirky personality.
As if the troll wasn’t enough, it’s here you’ll also find the famous, gross-yet-beautiful Post Alley Gum Wall.
Forget symbolic locks over the River Seine. Find a stick of gum, chew it until it’s as sticky as glue and place it on the wall.
Like a lot of odd traditions, it began small. At first, it was just theatergoers before it morphed into a cultural phenomenon. Today, the prismatic wall is a rainbow of gum.
You may even spot messages or art created from each sticky piece. The unique attraction has become one of the must-do Seattle attractions. Care to add to it?
8) Join a Food Tour
Seattle is an underrated foodie paradise. Tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, it doesn’t receive the acclaim that it may if the city was elsewhere. But that’s great news for you, as you’ll be able to discover the city’s varied cuisine with fresh eyes.
Seattle is one of the top-ranked cities in the United States for restaurant quality and affordability.
This is the perfect mix for travelers who won’t have to blow up their budget to try Seattle’s exceptional seafood scene and mix of international cuisines.
To get started, however, we recommend joining a food tour to get the lay of the land.
There are many to choose from, but this chef-guided tour of Pike Place Market gives you an expert’s eye over an iconic destination with nine delicious stops along the way.
9) Chihuly Garden and Glass
One of the best parts of Seattle Center is the Chihuly Garden and Glass. It’s another of the city’s beguiling attractions that showcases the talented glasswork of Dale Chihuly.
Chihuly, who is a Washington state native, is beloved by locals. But slowly his impeccable creations become known more and more.
This museum and garden feature a series of mesmerizing glass structures that will first have you scratching your heads before becoming amazed at the sheer scale and color of each piece.
The Chihuly Garden and Glass boasts eight galleries that show Dale’s work throughout the decades.
But the longer you explore, the more you’ll see the main glasswork change, as the moving sun shifts the glass composition.
- Location: 305 Harrison St, Seattle, WA 98109
- Opening hours: 10am to 6pm (Mon-Sun)
- Price: Adult $32 Child $19
10) Puget Sound
For all the art, culture, and markets in Seattle, you could easily forget that it’s surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States.
Just across Elliott Bay is Bainbridge Island, the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula. While you aren’t far from the stunning Mount Rainier National Park.
One of the best things to do in Seattle is to explore Puget Sound. You can do so on one of the many ferries that venture out across a dozen different routes.
The most popular is the Seattle to Bainbridge Ferry which affords beautiful views back toward the Seattle skyline.
The Puget Sound and the nearby San Juan Islands are an adventurers’ paradise. They’re also the best spot to go whale watching, which occurs year-round.
To admire the water without jumping on a boat, head to Golden Gardens Park. Come to relax on the soft sand before exploring the tide pools and lighting up the fire pits.
11) Kerry Park
To get a majestic view of Seattle without spending a dime, make a beeline for Kerry Park.
On Queen Anne Hill, the grassy Kerry Park faces south and looks over the skyline down to Elliott Bay and the mountains beyond.
The land was donated in the 1920s to the city for this exact purpose. Albert Kerry, a lumber magnate, wanted to ensure that the generations to follow would be able to enjoy the scene as much as he did.
Although it’s a small park, load up the picnic basket and pack the rug. Lounge out on the lawns with some tasty treats and look upon the Space Needle, downtown and West Seattle.
Read next: The Best Things To Do In Portland, Oregon
12) The Ballard Locks
The Ballard Locks steady the flow of water between the Puget Sound and the Lake Washington Ship Canal.
But such is the beauty of the waterway, the surrounding gardens, and the architecture that the canal has become one of the most popular Seattle attractions.
The Ballard Locks were constructed over an eight-year period. In the ensuing decades, the lesser flow lead to lower waters on Lake Union and Lake Washington, opening up acres of new waterfront.
You can learn all about this at the Ballard Locks Visitor Center and in the summer months, you’ll also catch the sight of hordes of salmon swimming upstream.
To explore the Seattle Waterfront, the locks and Lake Union, join this narrated boat cruise.
13) Olympic Sculpture Park
Just a mile from the Seattle Art Museum is another arm of the art gallery. The Olympic Sculpture Park is placed upon almost 10 acres of reclaimed industrial land.
The outdoor art museum comes with over 20 unique installations that create a lovely convergence of creativity and outdoor fun.
All 20+ pieces will capture your attention, but some will stand out more than others. One of those is the Eagle.
When viewed from a specific point, the sculpture lines up with the Space Needle creating a memorable photo op.
Another highlight is the rows of red metal chairs that provide travelers with an elevated view of the Puget Sound.
14) Underground Tunnel Tour
If you love your history, then you’ll be thrilled to discover Seattle’s fascinating labyrinth of underground tunnels.
We mentioned the Great Seattle Fire than razed parts of the city. It also forced the residents to rethink the building materials they used.
Seattle switched purely to masonry and the new streets were to be one or two stories higher than the previous roads. By doing so, built roads on top of the old ones, inadvertently creating tunnels.
Today, you can venture into the tunnels on an underground tour. Venture deep into underground Seattle to find the original “ground floors” of restaurants and shops that were left behind by the new developments.
15) Hot Air Balloon Ride
If you haven’t realized by now, we love our views. Whether it’s from a park or the top of a skyscraper.
But such is Seattle’s brilliant mix of man-made beauty and natural splendor, it’d be remiss of us to not mention a hot air balloon ride.
Sure, you won’t want to have a big night before, as you’ll be up before sunrise. But it’ll be worth every bit of the lack of sleep.
There are many great hot air balloon experiences in Seattle, including with Seattle Ballooning. Whichever way you go, you’ll quickly fall in love with the colorful morning sky.
As you rise towards the heavens, spot the sun creep above the horizon, coating the skyline and nearby snow-capped mountains in warm orange light.
Upon touching back down, reflect on the stunning views over a glass of champagne.
16) Museum of Pop Culture
Another must-see gem in the Seattle Center is the Museum of Pop Culture. This is an art museum with a twist.
Not only does the city’s monorail zoom through the beguiling building, but the space explores all the things we love in popular culture.
Forget the regular halls of artwork. You’ll have a blast exploring the many exhibitions that focus on science fiction, a wide range of music, video games, and movies.
Some of the highlights include a viewing of the original scripts from the Game of Thrones, props from some of your favorite films along with a rock and roll sound lab.
The museum, along with some of the top Seattle activities, is found on the CityPass.
- Location: 325 5th Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109
- Opening hours: 10am to 5pm (Mon-Sun)
- Price: Adult $30 Child $21
17) Have a Coffee
If you ever get stuck on what to do in Seattle, then simply make your way to any of the city’s aromatic coffee shops.
Many would argue that Seattle is the coffee capital of the United States, but that’s not just because it’s the home of Starbucks. Coffee chains are so 2000s, anyway.
On any block in Seattle, you’ll find a handful of fabulous cafes slinging exceptional coffee while using beans from around the world.
Some of the top cafes in Seattle include Milstead & Co., Storyville Coffee, and Seven Coffee Roasters.
Of course, all visitors should put on their tourist cape for a moment and also visit the original Starbucks in Pike Place. Just be prepared for a line.
18) Woodland Park Zoo
One of the best things to do in Seattle with kids is the Woodland Park Zoo. Home to a vast range of wildlife from across the globe, this amazing zoo is your ticket to habitats on all continents.
Woodland Park Zoo is found in North Central Seattle and has become one of the most awarded zoos in the US.
This is on the back of the exceptional enclosures home to such animals as the Humboldt penguins, roaring lions, colorful birds, and massive gorillas.
The entire family can embark on a guided tour of the zoo. There are also a number of events through the holiday season and the summer months.
- Location: 5500 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103
- Opening hours: 9.30am to 4pm (Mon-Sun)
- Price: Adult $24.60 Child $15
Read more: The Ultimate 3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary
As one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Seattle, no time in town would be complete without a visit to the Chinatown International District.
The historic area was developed in the 19th century but has morphed into a rich international community and a hub for fashion, food, and culture.
In the spring, the cherry trees at Kobe Terrace bloom, creating a stunning landscape of pink, purple, and off-white. It’s also home to a 200-year-old stone lantern.
Another place to visit is the Wing Luke Museum, which explores Seattle’s Asian history through art.
Afterward, check out the Seattle Pinball Museum before tucking into some delectable dim sum at Harbor City.
20) Seattle Aquarium
If the kids are still restless after a trip to the zoo, add the Seattle Aquarium to your itinerary.
Boasting a fantastic mix of marine life and underwater worlds, it’s a memorable look into the world along the Pacific coast.
Travelers will be able to get up close to a world of eels and rockfish playing in an adaptation of local underwater habitats.
You can also explore a recreation of Seattle’s tidal pools and inland waterways.
There are several shows to enjoy, including one where divers swim into the enclosures and interact with the animals.
Through their masks, they can answer your questions along the way.
- Location: 1483 Alaskan Way Pier 59, Seattle, WA 98101
- Opening hours: 9.30am to 6pm (Mon-Sun)
- Price: Depends on visitor date
21) Pacific Science Center
Finishing off the trio of family-friendly Seattle activities is the Pacific Science Center.
Within one of the city’s many buildings that were constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair, the center is as fascinating for the kids as it is for us older folk.
The Pacific Science Center will stoke your curiosity as you interact with hundreds of puzzling displays and learn more about the world around you. Some exhibits showcase the power and might of insects.
Other cool things to see include the Tropical Butterfly House, a laser dome, and a planetarium.
Afterward, kick back at one of the two IMAX theaters to watch the latest movies on the enormous screen.
- Location: 200 2nd Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109
- Opening hours: *Temporarily Closed (reopens July 2022, check website for updates)
- Price: Adult $24.95 Child $17.50
Where To Stay In Seattle, Washington
With all the best things to do in Seattle now covered, let’s look at the best places to stay.
Best Hostel in Seattle: Green Tortise Hostel
Right across the street from Pike Place Market, the Green Tortoise Hostel offers an unbeatable location.
Within a gorgeous historic building, guests will enjoy a modern hostel experience with reading lamps and power outlets, with complimentary breakfasts and daily events.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Seattle: Mayflower Park Hotel
At the Mayflower Park Hotel, you’ll be in the heart of Seattle, within walking distance of most of the top sights.
Your hotel comes with beautiful decor, original tiled floors plus two onsite restaurants.
Best Luxury Hotel in Seattle: Four Seasons
For luxury and comfort in Seattle, you can’t go past the Four Seasons.
Guests will enjoy a modern bedroom, a marble bathroom with a rain shower, onsite dining, a swimming pool, and a fitness center, all within a short of the market, the Space Needle and Pioneer Square.
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