Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities in the US. In the Pacific Northwest, it is the capital of culture and technology. The city has grown from its wild surroundings into an energetic, forward-looking metropolis. And today, whether you’re seeking urban adventure or outdoor enjoyment, Seattle combines it all into a memorable visit experience.
The Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair, is a must-see Seattle landmark. A cornerstone of Seattle Center, the Space Needle is often the first destination tourists associate with the city. The Space Needle makes an excellent starting point for exploring other attractions like Chihuly Garden & Glass.
Seattle has many fun attractions. The best way to experience them all is by boat. For example, the Seattle Great Wheel offers a complete revolution around the Space Needle, and it’s open every day. Whether you want to see a museum or ride on a ferry, there’s always something new to try in Seattle.
To fully appreciate the city of Seattle, visitors must go beyond the central tourist destinations. They must explore the saltwater and freshwater beaches, the sculpture gardens, and the zoos. A vacation in Seattle is an opportunity to do everything.
Are you planning a trip to Seattle? It depends on when you go. The city is gorgeous in the summer, but it is also packed with out-of-towners. The best time to visit Seattle is when you want to avoid crowds and have a personalized experience. Here is a list of the top attractions and things to do in Seattle.
1. Pike Place Market
Two floors of vendors offer a wide range of wares for sale in the picturesque Pike Place Market. This busy area near the waterfront is a popular tourist spot throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Market tours are a great way to cut through the bustle of Pike Place and hear some unique stories.
The seafood, fruit, vegetables, and other odds and ends in the market tantalize the taste buds and camera lenses. If you don’t have the facilities to cook seafood at the hotel, you can eat out at one of the 80 local restaurants or head to one of the specialty stores to buy goodies for your home.
Food is only half of the fun at the market. Retailers can make their store more appealing to shoppers by adding an eclectic mix of local and international retailers. A great way to do so is by installing a crafts market that features 225 makers from all over.
The Pike Place Market is a famous attraction in downtown Seattle. People can spend the whole day there, but most people only stop by for a little while on the way to other destinations. The market is right next to the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Great Wheel at Pier 57.
2. Discovery Park
Discover Park has nearly 550 acres of land and is the largest park in the city. It’s located on a point on a peninsula, west of downtown. The park encompasses meadows, forest, and coastline, providing an escape from the city and a home for wildlife.
West Point Lighthouse is a great photo destination with a view of Puget Sound, but there are other great views in the park. The Loop Trail and Beach Trails are the two most popular ways to get to those vantages.
A learning center for the environment is a great way for people to learn about the park. It has interactive exhibits and information about the park. There are also education programs for all ages. Within the 500-plus-acre park, there are a lot of trails, but there are signs to help you navigate them. You can also download a map of the park on your phone.
3. Chihuly Garden and Glass
The Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle is a great museum displaying the work of Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native who has revolutionized glass art. The exhibits here show off his innovative techniques and beautiful works.
Chihuly’s work captivates onlookers with its beauty and artistry. His work is known for using glass as a medium, but he also uses other materials. The Seattle Center Exhibition is one of his largest works, and it can be enjoyed in the Glasshouse. In the building, visitors can see how sunlight changes the colors of the beautiful installation.
Next to the Museum of Glass, a café and glassblowing demonstration will provide a place for visitors to sit and enjoy Chihuly’s work. The space is adjacent to the garden, where visitors will find Chihuly’s glass pieces incorporated with nature.
The Chihuly Museum is a great place to enjoy the lovely art of glassblowing. The museum features a video about the artist’s life and craft, as well as gallery talks and tours every day. It is open seven days a week.
4. Go Underground in the Pioneer Square Historic District
The Smith Tower is a 42-story building that’s the most eye-catching in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square. It has an observation deck that’s perfect for sightseeing, and you can get there by climbing a 60-foot totem pole.
The Klondike Gold Rush was a very important historical event that brought in a new era of prosperity to Seattle. As the gateway to the gold fields, this city experienced an enormous economic boom. Today, there is a national park that honors the Klondike Gold Rush and all of its historical importance.
For a different take on the past, book a spot on Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. This 75-minute experience delves into the history of Seattle and its streets. The tour explains how the modern city came to be after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, and explores the now abandoned underground sidewalks.
5. Learn about Puget Sound at the Seattle Aquarium
The Seattle Aquarium is a non-profit organization that brings education about the Puget Sound ecosystem to the entire family. The Aquarium is located right on the downtown waterfront, just a short walk from the Seattle Great Wheel. Several live animal exhibits show how important Puget Sound is to local wildlife.
The Window on Washington’s Waters is the first exhibit visitors see at the aquarium. The massive tank contains 120,000 gallons of water and has a 40-foot-wide window. Visitors can sit on bench seating and watch fish swim by. Throughout the museum, staff members are available to answer questions and provide relevant information.
The tide pool touch tank is next on the list of must-see exhibits at the aquarium. Here, guests can get up close and personal with sea anemones and other colorful invertebrates. The aquarium is also home to various marine mammals like seals and otters. Guests get to observe these playful critters above and below water thanks to the unique design of the tanks.
6. Woodland Park Zoo
Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo is a 92-acre facility that houses many threatened and endangered species from around the globe. The zoo has created naturalistic exhibits, and it contains 300 different species, including Asian and African elephants, jaguars, snow leopards, lemurs, and grizzly bears.
On a normal day, you can visit the zoo at certain times to see certain creatures. In the summer, it’s best to go in the morning or late in the day. Many animals do not like the heat, so they stay in the shade of their enclosures most of the day.
The zoo offers a special treat for visitors. Booking an animal experience gives you the chance to meet giraffes, penguins, lemurs, and other interesting animals that are usually kept behind the scenes. These experiences often include the chance to feed or touch the animals.
7. MOHAI: The Museum of History & Industry
MOHAI’s mission is to celebrate Seattle’s position as a leader in innovation and industry. Through its extensive collection, MOHAI remembers the events that led to Seattle becoming an important port city.
The True North exhibit takes tourists on a journey through the area’s history. It explores how geography and cultural events like the Klondike Gold Rush shaped the Emerald City. Visitors can also have a 360-degree view of the city using an authentic WWII-era submarine periscope.
The museum’s third major gallery focuses on how local inventors have put the region at the forefront of innovation. It includes interactive exhibits and a chance to get a sneak peek at new tech that is being explored. Permanent collections in the museum’s main gallery include a wide range of historical objects, from vintage clothing to locally invented products.
Just across the way from MOHAI is The Center for Wooden Boats. This center provides public access to water recreation, as well as maritime travel. The center holds workshops and offers public rides on its boats. It also offers rentals throughout the week.
8. Watch Boats Pass at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Ballard Locks)
Northwest of Seattle Center and in Salmon Bay, the Ballard Locks are fascinating feats of engineering that keep the saltwater of Puget Sound separate from the freshwater of Lake Washington. The locks help regulate the water levels in Lake Washington, which otherwise would fluctuate with the changing tide.
The Ballard Locks is a great way to move boats of all shapes and sizes. It’s an important piece of the water transportation system that connects Puget Sound to Lake Washington, which is the largest freshwater lake entirely within the state of Washington.
The fish ladder is a must-see. It is located in the Port of Tacoma, which is near the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden. The fish ladder is a unique part of the Port of Tacoma where thousands of salmon migrate up the ladder every year to spawn in the upper reaches of the Sound and Lake rivers.
Tourists who want to see the city from the water can take a narrated sightseeing cruise along the canal. This two-and-a-half hour tour features views of the Space Needle and the Ferris Wheel, as well as the houseboat community in Sleepless in Seattle. The tour includes transportation back to the starting point.
9. Take a Water Taxi to Alki Beach Park
Alki Beach Park is a popular destination for many people in West Seattle. It’s one of the oldest landmarks in the area, with a lot of history. The first white settlers landed there in 1851, greeted by Chief Seattle and his tribe. Today, this linear park remains a busy place when the weather is nice.
On a sunny summer day, you can find Alki Beach packed with people. It is a fun place for volleyball games, picnics, and sunbathing. But in the peak of summer, crowded parking lots can sometimes be an issue. To avoid this problem, you can simply get on a water taxi from downtown Seattle and enjoy the walk across the beach to the pier. There you’ll find plenty of free parking spaces.
When Alki Beach is low tide, the tide pools are visible. A concrete pathway on the beach allows people to explore the tide pools. The pathway also has benches and businesses along it. These features allow people to spend an afternoon exploring the tide pools.
10. Wander the Galleries at the Seattle Art Museum
Seattle is a beautiful city. It has a lovely market and an incredible museum. Have you ever been to the Seattle Art Museum? It’s a gorgeous building in the center of downtown, one block from Pike Place Market. This incredible museum houses famous paintings that have been collected over many years.
The museum has a sprawling collection of art on four floors. The first three floors contain rotating temporary exhibits and some permanent pieces. Some of the permanent displays are Native American Art, European Art, and Islamic Art. The museum also houses a robust collection of contemporary and modern works.
For the ultimate visual treat, SAM also runs two other prominent art facilities. Just a mile north of SAM on the waterfront, you’ll find the Olympic Sculpture Park. This gorgeous park is completely free. And in Volunteer Park, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, SAM runs the Seattle Asian Art Museum.
11. Take a Trip to The Museum of Flight
The Museum of Flight in Seattle is a vast collection of airplanes and aviation-related objects. The museum is open Thursday through Monday, but some visits take the entire day. For those who want to see the most, the museum offers premium experiences. These premium experiences grant access to behind-the-scenes exhibits not available with general admission.
The National Air and Space Museum houses the largest outdoor collection of aircraft in the world. The outdoor gallery includes a Concorde, the first jet Air Force One, and military planes like the B-17F Flying Fortress. The indoor Great Gallery at the museum has displays for onlookers to give them a thrill of seeing many of these planes suspended in flight. The Lear and Space galleries focus on space travel, both its history and future.
Aviation history buffs will especially love this museum. It’s dedicated to remembering the important role of aviation during World War I and II. There are 28 restored fighter planes, personal stories of pilots and air support troops, and interactive experiences like a flight simulator.
The Red Barn is a collection of artifacts from the early days of flight. It’s housed in the original barn that was used by the fledgling Boeing Airplane Company.
If you are an aviation fanatic and also like to travel, you should check out a tour of the Boeing plant in Seattle. It’s easy to do, and it will take you to the heart of innovation in aviation. The tour includes transportation and a 90-minute factory visit. You’ll be able to see the planes being assembled and learn all about the company’s history.
12. Whale Watch from Seattle
Seattle is a city in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It is known for its large, natural harbor, called Puget Sound. This body of water is home to a variety of marine life, including whales, dolphins, orca, and seals. This abundance of sea life gives locals and tourists a chance to see the largest mammals in the area.
Several types of whales are found near the city, but orcas are the ones most sought after by tourists. The best time to see orcas is between mid-June and early September.
Tourists who want to see whales from the shore can do so without going on a boat tour. The western shores of Seattle are the best places to spot orcas. Patience and a little help from resources like the Orca Network go a long way in spotting whales from these shores.
Orca populations are declining in the Puget Sound. In years past, one factor that has contributed to this declining population is boat noise and disturbance. Many companies offer whale-watching tours, but some are more respectful than others. Puget Sound Express has a long track record of responsible practices and offers a tour that keeps its boats far away from the orcas.
13. Get Lost at the Washington Park Arboretum
One of the best ways to disconnect from the city is by heading to the Washington Park Arboretum. Spread over 230 acres, the arboretum is co-managed by the city of Seattle and the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. It’s open every day to the public, free of charge.
There are several gardens in the arboretum. A few notable ones include Rhododendron Glen, which is a green space filled with rhododendrons, and Azalea Way, which is an old-fashioned path with roses and other flowers. Visitors can also expect to see Japanese maples and a 2.5-acre plot devoted to New Zealand native plants.
Guided and self-guided tours are available at the arboretum. If you are looking for a guided experience, take a Tram Tour, which will give you a quick tour of the entire park in an hour. If you want to walk through the whole park, plan for at least an hour. For more information or to see trail maps, visit the Graham Visitors Center near the northern border.
14. Catch the Sunset at Gas Works Park
On the shore of Lake Union, Gas Works Park is a stunning destination. People enjoy the water as well as the impressive views across the lake to downtown Seattle. With its unique industrial history, the park is also home to several pieces of eye-catching infrastructure.
Gas Works Park is a unique urban park in Seattle with a fascinating history. The park was once a coal gasification plant and still maintains much of its industrial past, though it’s now a popular recreational space for the city. It’s even used as an art venue and has been featured in many films and TV shows.
A large grassy mound that overlooks the lake is a great place to relax in the park. Towels and blankets are spread out on the grass, and people enjoy lounging around. There is a romantic glow at sunset that reflects off the water and lights up the entire area.
15. Seattle Center & the Space Needle
What was originally built to host the 1962 World’s Fair has now become an entertainment complex, park, and theater. The Seattle Center entertains hundreds of thousands of visitors annually with its iconic Space Needle, Monorail, and its theaters.
The Seattle Center has evolved into a destination for tourists. Built in 1962, it is the most important landmark in the city. It’s home to the Museum of Pop Culture, which showcases music from all genres. There’s also Chihuly Garden and Glass, a museum filled with glass artworks. The best radio station in Seattle is KEXP.
A popular sightseeing activity in Seattle is to travel to the top of the Space Needle. Visitors can take an elevator to the 360-degree-view Needle Observation Deck, where they can see the city, Elliott Bay, and Mt. Rainier.
The Space Needle is best done in the summer when the gray clouds of winter have disappeared. The Seattle Center itself, however, offers one of the city’s best places to visit in the winter. Winterfest is a great example of what you can do there. It’s a seasonal event with free attractions for the whole family.