Home to world-renowned museums, exquisite urban green spaces and a vibrant underground culture both literally and figuratively, the Emerald City is one of the most fun-filled towns to explore, whether dealing with lifelong residents or first-time tourists. Don’t let the usual rain scare you away: There are plenty things to do, bars to drink in and, of course, beautiful hotels to stay at no matter the weather. Check out this guide to the best Seattle attractions, some that you may be particularly familiar with and some others that might be pleasant surprises. Beware, tourists: You might want to extend your trip.
Best Seattle attractions
One of Microsoft founder Paul Allen’s greatest contributions to the city (and there are a lot of them) is the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop). Formerly known as the Experience Music Project, the museum’s structure was designed in 2000 by architect Frank Gehry, so it is truly a sight to be seen. Exhibits range in topic and explore a variety of themes, from indie video games to horror films and all things Hello Kitty. If you want to beat the crowds, come early on a weekday. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions.
Who doesn’t love a Ferris wheel? Boasting 360-degree-views of both mountains and open sky, Seattle’s Great Wheel is worth being a bit of a tourist for. At $14 for an adult ride, many locals scoff at this attraction. Don’t make their same mistake: Get in line and get up there. If you’re feeling swank, you can purchase a VIP ticket for $50 that puts you ahead of the line and in a four-person gondola with a glass bottom.
Opened in 1907, the Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continuously operating farmers’ markets in the country. A thriving community of farmers, street performers and restaurateurs, this is more than just a place to grab a bite: Make sure to check out the underground shops, bookstores, apothecaries and the one very special magic shop. As you head out of the market, you’ll notice a line snaking around the first-ever Starbucks. The inside is exactly like any other Starbucks so waiting on a 20-minute line to order your latte is something you can (and should) absolutely skip.
The University of Washington is in of itself a beautiful campus only made more enticing by The Henry Art Gallery. The contemporary art gallery features works from all over the world in its permanent collection and is also home to the yearly student thesis exhibitions. Many of their works focus on social activism, including shows by and about the LGBTQ community.
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is one of the largest collections of art in Washington, featuring a wide variety of works that range in genre, from contemporary to ancient Roman and more. Depending on the featured special exhibition, lines can be long so you better check out the offerings before heading there. Entry to the permanent collection requires only a suggested donation but special exhibitions cost extra. Pro tip: Visitors are offered half-price tickets on the first Thursday of every month.
A part of the SAM family, the Olympic Sculpture Park, which overlooks the Cascade Mountains, is one of the most tranquil places in Downtown Seattle. Free and open to the public 365 days a year, the venue’s vast collection includes pieces by Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra and Ellsworth Kelly. The park occasionally hosts yoga in the garden, so be sure to check out the online schedule before you go.
If you don’t live in Seattle, you probably don’t know what a locks is. Simply put, it is a system of hydraulics that lift a boat from a lower level of water to a higher one. Some call it an elevator for boats. What makes the Ballard Locks so special, besides the fact that it is the most used one in the country? The fish that dwell below the boats. Underneath the locks system, you can watch as salmons run from fresh to seawater through the windows of the below-ground fish ladder viewing area.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Tony Kent
Formerly the site of a city-run gasification plant, the nine-acre Gas Works Park is an unusual and truly breathtaking park. Designed in 1975 by landscape architect Richard Haag, this award-winning green space is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. The park centers around the Great Mound, a large hill that offers sensational views of Lake Union and the surrounding area. Make sure to find the Play Barn, a collection of pipes and machinery leftover from the former plant. Fun fact: That infamous paintball kiss in 10 Things I Hate About You takes place on the lawn of the gasworks park.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Russell James Smith
The Washington State Ferries are an integral part of commuter culture in Seattle. The largest fleet of ferries in the United States, the system stops at multiple neighboring islands and towns. Either as a walk-on or car passenger, a day trip out of the city is easy. Even though most boats can carry 200 cars, commuter crossings are very busy so try to avoid them during rush hour.
Seattle’s vibrant Japanese American community has given the city more than its fair share of attractions. Most notable is Uwajimaya, a massive Japanese grocery and gift store. Founded in 1928 by Fujimatsu Moriguchi of Yawatahama, Japan, this family-run store is full of every type of Asian delicacy you can imagine. In addition to exceptional edible items, the store is also home to the Tokyo-based Kinokuniya Bookstore, which serves all of your Japanese stationery and manga needs.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/jpellgen