Best things to do in Seattle
What is it? Seattle’s oldest neighborhood (it’s where the first settlers built their homes), Pioneer Square boasts some incredible architecture, art galleries, cafés and bookstores.
Why go? It's one of the best places for soaking up Seattle history. Check out the outstanding Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, a museum covering Seattle's involvement in the 1890s mass migration to Canada’s Yukon region, then Smith Tower. Built in 1914, this was the tallest building on the West Coast for years, and the views from the 35th floor are still spectacular. On every first Thursday of the month, you can take part in one of Pioneer Square's Art Walks, where you'll enjoy a tour of the Square's galleries. And if you're into something that seems a little more secret, sign up for a Bill Speidel's Underground Tour, where (as the name suggests), you'll journey underground to dark tunnels and winding subterranean passageways with architecture from the 1890's before finishing up in Rogues Gallery gift shop.
What is it? Originally constructed to be part of the 1962 World's Fair, this Seattle landmark is arguably one of the most iconic. Not only does the attraction provide exceptional panoramic views of the Downtown neighbourhood, but also of the Puget Sound, the Cascades and Olympic Mountains.
Why go? A recent renovation added even more oomph to this Space Ace flying saucer–shaped landmark. Feeling brave?These upgrades included Skyrisers - tilting glass walls that provide the illusion of floating in open air and the Loupe - the world's first revolving glass floor. If you get peckish, head to the cafe or raise a glass to your sky-high trip at the Atmos wine bar. Vino you want to. (Sorry).
What is it? A unique visual experience, the Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases the epic work of Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly with a series of mind- and glass-blowing indoor and outdoor installations.
Why go? The sculptures range from the elegant to the extravagant, particularly in the garden, where plants and glass pieces tangle in a blaze of colors. Regular events include yoga sessions in the Glasshouse and live glassblowing demonstrations. Refraction means it’s a completely different experience in different weather conditions—but permanent Instagram gold.
What is it? A famous market and a must-see, no matter the length of your trip. Not only is it Seattle's most visited landmark (impressive for a market, right?), but it's also a great place for foodies to indulge in tasty grub.
Why go? Sleuth out the rosy entrance to hidden local favorite the Pink Door, which serves ridiculously fresh Italian dishes. Other great options for sit-down lunch include Pike Place Chowder—serving some of the best clam chowder this side of Boston—and Lowell’s, where you can tick the Seattle Joe’s Scramble (sausage, spinach and mushrooms) off of your gastronomical bucket-list.
What is it? The Rainy City’s reputation may be exaggerated, but when the weather looks menacing, simply duck underground to roam forgotten subterranean passages with expert guides.
Why go? For a sub-sidewalk circuit of the city, book the Beneath the Streets tour. Setting off from Cherry Street, the one-hour walk snakes under Pioneer Square, past beautifully preserved 19th-century architecture and into the earliest roots of Seattle. You can now also explore underground Seattle in a whole new light too, by joining a Red Light District Tour. Expect to come face to face with Seattle's underbelly, including discussions about prostitution, gambling, vice and drinking.
What is it? EMP is Seattle’s tribute museum to the history of Northwest music, from Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana, but it’s much more than that. In the Venn diagram of 20th-century creativity, this is where Isaac Asimov meets Kurt Cobain.
Why go? Celebrating pop culture and science fiction, the exhibition space is wrapped inside a fluid Frank Gehry design. Play in your own virtual rock band while learning about the region’s rich rock legacy or geek out in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
What is it? The 90-minute Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour covers the past, present and future of human flight in a state-of-the-art museum and gives you entry to the Boeing factory.
Why go? You get to go behind the scenes at the facility where the famous Boeing aircrafts are made and tested. At a sprawling 98 acres, this is officially the largest building in the world (measured by volume)—and the place where Boeing developed the new Dreamliner.
What is it? This nearby island is the antithesis of the skyscraper-stuffed city, with 150 acres of gardens, ponds and meadows to explore in the beautiful Bloedel Reserve.
Why go? Like NYC’s Staten Island Ferry, the Bainbridge Island Ferry is a great way to eyeball a significant amount of Seattle’s highlights swiftly—and cheaply. But before you take the 35-minute ride back, stop for a treat at one of the West Coast’s finest—and freshest—ice cream parlors, Mora Iced Creamery, where flavors include cheesecake with raspberry jam and mojito.
What is it? Self-taught chef Tom Douglas remains MVP when it comes to Seattle’s restaurant scene, since he owns no fewer than 19 eateries.
Why go? Whether you opt for tender pasta at high-end Trattoria Cuoco, triple coconut cream pie at Dahlia Lounge or thin-crust wood-fired pizzas at Serious Pie, you'll taste some seriously good grub. But our money is still on the buzzing Brave Horse Tavern, which serves outstanding craft beer and simple yet expertly executed dishes.
What is it? Located a short drive from downtown in Kent, the Seattle Barista Academy offers three-hour classes for javaholics.
Why go? If you’re a fan of the black stuff, the epicenter of the North American coffee scene is the perfect place to get your hands dirty. Learn everything from beginners’ latte art to how to brew the perfect espresso in the span of an afternoon. Pro tip: Better book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
What is it? Born from Seattle's ever-so-popular food truck, Marination Ma Kai is totally unique. The brand serves up mouthwatering Hawaiian-Korean fusion food, at an ace location on the glistening waterfront.
Why go? With jaw-dropping views from its patio, this restaurant has more of a Honolulu—or at least SoCal— vibe, rather than the Pacific Northwest. Just board the West Seattle water taxi at Pier 50 and 15 minutes later you’ll arrive in Seattle's take on the Tropics. Feeling hungry now? Opt for a pork katsu sandwich with kimchi or say aloha to some sexy (their word, not ours) tofu tacos. Winner.
What is it? The Seattle Great Wheel, on Pier 57, is one of the largest of its kind anywhere in North America and gondolas are fully enclosed for rain-or-shine rides.
Why go? The views from Seattle’s 175-foot-high Ferris wheel more than compensate for its corniness. From the top you’ll enjoy a grand panorama of the city, the Pacific Ocean and—if you’re lucky—the Olympic Mountains. First opened in 2012, it's not a particularly old landmark, but that hardly matters. Besides, not only can you expect fantastic views when you're going for a ride, but the wheel istelf lights up, providing the Seattle skyline. with a little bit of razzle dazzle.
What is it? This park covers all of the Bailey Peninsula, and its lush, old-growth forest (some of the trees are more than 250 years old) is a popular escape from the urban jungle.
Why go? A forested 300-acre peninsula jutting out into Lake Washington, Seward Park is only a 20-minute drive (or taxi ride) from downtown Seattle, but feels like a completely different world. With beaches, boating, tennis courts and hiking trails, it’s an excellent day-trip option for all ages.
What is it? Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry covers the region's heritage through a colossal collection of 4 million artifacts.
Why go? In 2012, this Smithsonian affiliate relocated to its grand new home in the city’s Naval Reserve Armory, over in Lake Union Park. The bigger premises allows the museum to display more of its collection, including outstanding pieces like the Petticoat Flag—an 1856 American flag sewn by women during the Battle of Seattle—and Boeing’s first commercial airplane (the 1919 Boeing B-1).
What is it? Washington prides itself on its wine—and Chateau Ste. Michelle, less than 20 miles from Seattle, is the state’s oldest and most celebrated winery.
Why go? A turreted French-style mansion surrounded by 105-acre grounds, Ste. Michelle produces chardonnay, cabernet, merlot, riesling and other varietals that visitors can taste in regular tasting sessions. If you visit during the warmer months, don't miss the popular summer concert series on the winery's pristine lawn.
What is it? The Seattle Art Museum (SAM to its friends) is one of the city’s unmissable highlights.
Why go? The extensive permanent collections of Native American and Pacific Northwest artwork are worth the visit alone, but it’s the diverse, lively temporary exhibitions that keep locals and visitors returning time and again. If you can, try to time your visit to include the first Thursday of the month, when entry is free, and leave time to check out the nearby outdoor art at Olympic Sculpture Park.
What is it? “De libertas quirkas,” or “the freedom to be quirky,” is the unofficial motto of Fremont, Seattle's indie enclave.
Why go? The hip nabe has some of the best vintage stores and independent boutiques in the Northwest. Among the highlights are PIPE + ROW, an expertly curated boutique known for its unique accessories, and Show Pony, which champions local designers and is a mine of affordable fashion.
What is it? Located on South King Street in the Chinatown-International District, the Wing Luke Museum is dedicated to exploring the culture, art and history of Asian Pacific Americans.
Why go? The museum is particularly strong on folk art and oral history, but also curates a number of fascinating neighborhood walking tours. Of course, there’s plenty of love for Seattle’s most famous Asian Pacific son, the mighty Bruce Lee, in an exhibition that includes some of his poems and personal possessions.
What is it? Triple Door—a beautiful 1920s vaudeville theater that had stints as a burlesque house and blue movie theater—is well worth checking out.
Why go? Now one of the Northwest’s top live music venues, it combines world-class acts with an award-winning restaurant, Wild Ginger. If you don’t want to commit to a full concert experience, the no-cover Musicquarium Lounge is great for pre-dinner happy hour cocktails and a taste of local music before moving on down Union Street.
What is it? Officially named the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, these labyrinthine waterways linking the Puget Sound with Lake Washington and the Ship Canal are one of the city's most popular attractions.
Why go? On sunny days, people flock to the waterside and the neighboring Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden—one of the most beautiful green spaces in the city. If the sun is out, many people will just kick back dockside or stroll on the swinging walkways to watch the boats come and go.