In this eclectic city, every local might give you a different list of must-see places to visit in Seattle. To get you started, here are 10 terrific Seattle attractions you can’t find anywhere else.
Must-See Seattle Attractions
With just one exception (the Boeing Tour), the following sights are all easy to reach by public transit or share bike.
Pike Place Market
Between downtown high-rises and the waters of Puget Sound, this rambling assortment of salmon-tossing fishmongers, produce vendors, flower stalls, and oyster bars isn’t only the oldest continuously operating public market in the nation—it’s Seattle’s maritime soul. Along with the original day stalls fronting Pike Place, the market also encompasses dozens of shops and restaurants on lower levels, across the street, and tucked away in Post Alley. Of all the places to visit in Seattle, Pike Place Market tops the list; start here and start early. Grab a coffee, rub the snout of Rachel the bronze market pig for luck, and dive into the happy melee.
The most enduring legacy of the 1962 World’s Fair, the retro-meets-futuristic Space Needle rises 605 feet from the grounds of the Seattle Center like a flying saucer on stilts. It defines the city skyline (picture the opening sequence of the TV sitcom Frasier) and is far and away one of the most popular Seattle attractions, visited by more than a million people each year. A 40-second elevator ride whisks you up for the stunning 360-degree view that includes the snowy peak of Mt. Rainier, Lake Washington, the Olympic Mountains, and the ragged Puget Sound shoreline. Recent renovations upgraded the indoor and outdoor observation decks and the groovy revolving restaurant, now with a glass floor.
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Prepare to be wowed by the artful and otherworldly creations of blown-glass virtuoso Dale Chihuly, a native of nearby Tacoma who singlehandedly created Seattle’s reputation as a center for glass art. The indoor gallery leads you through dimly lit rooms that bring even more drama to the striking illuminated works, like the 15-foot high Sealife Tower of octopus tentacles and anemones, and the Mille Fiori garden bursting with fragile blooms. Outside, Chihuly playfully intersperses more glass artistry with natural vegetation. The garden’s “Community Hot Shop” gives hourly glassblowing demonstrations, with a repurposed Airstream trailer for a furnace.
South of present-day downtown, Pioneer Square represents Seattle’s first downtown. Its elegant red brick Romanesque buildings mostly date to the 1890s, when the fast-growing city rebuilt after a devastating fire. A self-guided “Trail to Treasure” walking tour leads past Seattle sightseeing highlights like the King Street train station (check out the ornate tile ceiling) and Smith Tower, where a 35th-floor observation deck and speakeasy bar celebrate what was the tallest building west of Chicago for nearly 50 years.
Olympic Sculpture Park
Nature meets culture at this nine-acre waterfront park just north of downtown. More than 20 pieces of art are scattered along sloping gravel paths that zigzag over railroad tracks and down to the shores of Elliott Bay. Runners crunch past the meditative white head of Jaume Pensa’s Echo, four stories high, facing the water. You can’t miss The Eagle, the bright orange Alexander Calder piece that crowns the park, thoughtfully flanked by a line of matching orange chairs that are perfect for soaking up the Puget Sound views.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center
Calling themselves “impatient optimists,” Bill and Melinda Gates parlayed considerable resources from their careers at Microsoft to begin tackling some of the world’s most intractable humanitarian problems. At the Foundation’s Visitor Center near the Space Needle, interactive displays showcase how it is investing in ideas to combat malnutrition, provide safe drinking water, fight infectious disease, and much more. The Foundation has issued more than $41 billion in grants since its inception in 2000.
Stretching across a 500-acre point that juts out into Puget Sound, Seattle’s largest city park is like a microcosm of the Pacific Northwest: Nearly 12 miles of trails wander through forests of western hemlock and shaggy red cedar, along meadows and wetlands, and out to the 1881 West Point Lighthouse. Go beachcombing and tidepooling along its driftwood-strewn beaches, and keep an eye out for harbor seals, sea lions, and even whales offshore. Because it was set aside as an army base in the 1890s, this landscape was never really developed, preserving it as one of the wildest places to visit in Seattle.
A 580-acre freshwater lake within the city limits, Lake Union is uniquely Seattle, busy with buzzing seaplanes, rowing shells, and runners following the 6.2-mile Cheshiahud Loop around the lake. Live-aboard houseboat communities crowd the shores, along with plenty of marinas, seafood restaurants, and parks large and small. Linked to Puget Sound by a ship canal, the industrial shipyards on the east shore still reflect the lake’s hardworking past. Near the Museum of History and Industry on the south shore, the Center for Wooden Boats teaches traditional boat building and offers free sailboat rides on Sundays.
Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour
As factory tours go, this one’s a whopper. North of Seattle in Everett, Boeing’s 90-minute tour takes you into the world’s most voluminous building, home to the production line of Boeing 747s, 777s, and 787 Dreamliners. It is the only public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America. The tour begins in the Future of Flight Aviation Center, where interactive displays explore the mechanics of flight and let you try your hand at designing an airplane.
Tillicum Village, Blake Island
This small island across Elliott Bay is believed to be the birthplace of Chief Seattle and the ancestral lands of his Suquamish tribe. The island’s Tillicum Village is part native cultural center, part theater performance, and has long been a popular Seattle attraction. Its replica cedar longhouse hosts Northwest Coastal Salish dances, sharing legends and serving king salmon grilled over an alder-wood fire. Argosy Cruises provides boat transportation to the island.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Seattle Travel Guide
- 10 Best Hotels in Seattle
- 10 Best Cheap Hotels in Seattle
- 10 Stylish Boutique Hotels in Seattle
- 12 Fun Things to Do in Seattle
- 10 Seattle Museums You Need to Visit
- 10 Best Restaurants in Seattle
- 10 Places to Find the Best Brunch in Seattle
- The 10 Best Cheap Eats in Seattle
- What to Pack for Seattle
- What to Wear in Seattle
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—Original reporting by Tina Lassen
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