When you think of Seattle, odds are that you think of bicycles, of ferries, of Grey’s Anatomy, of coffee and Nirvana and rain, rain, rain.
Of course, that’s not wrong! But there’s always been more to Seattle than meets the eye—it’s also a haven of art, nature exploration, history, and so much more. Our guide to the best sights and experiences in Seattle will help you make the most out of your next trip to the Emerald City.
Sights at Seattle Center
Seattle Center is probably the best-known area of the city; this, after all, is where you’ll find the iconic Space Needle. And while everyone should experience those dizzying heights at least once in a visit, this neighborhood offers incredible options on the ground as well.
Museum of Pop Culture – Known also as MoPOP, this museum is home to an unparalleled collection of art, music, science fiction, fantasy and more. Guests can have a fantastic time with interactive exhibits like the Indie Game Revolution Exhibit and the Sound Lab, which offer a hands-on museum experience. Otherwise, the museum is jam-packed with exhibits and attractions relating to pop culture that go back decades. Time can be well-spent simply roaming the halls, taking in more than enough knowledge to help you dominate at your next pub trivia night.
Chihuly Garden and Glass – Directly beside the Space Needle is a beautiful museum that is home to one of the largest collections of work from world-renowned glass artist (and Washington native!) Dale Chihuly. It’s easy to lose yourself for hours at a time exploring enchanted forests of sculptures and a whimsical garden with glass artwork tucked in amongst the plants. Sunset is a highly recommended time due to the shifting of the light and its effect on the glass. While guests are able to walk around and explore the museum in their own time, there is a free audio tour for those who prefer a guided experience.
Pacific Science Center – Founded during the World’s Fair of 1962, the Pacific Science Center has been a powerhouse of science and innovation for decades. Adults and children alike will love the hourly shows in the Laser Dome, where lights and lasers dance across the ceiling set to popular music from acts like BTS and Taylor Swift. The center also features two IMAX theaters , scores of interactive exhibits, a planetarium and a butterfly house, guaranteeing hours of educational entertainment for all. Outside of the center, the solar artwork flowers of Sonic Bloom hum when visitors walk by, and light up at night.
It should come as no surprise that seaside Seattle has a number of water-centered activities for the aquatically minded. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely day by the waterside or to learn more about ocean wildlife, Seattle has something for you.
Ballard Locks – The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, commonly known as the Ballard Locks, are the USA’s most-trafficked lock system. They’re also a popular destination for people seeking to do anything from boat watching to enjoying a picnic. Visitors can explore the exquisite Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden, check out the traffic of the fish ladder through large observation windows, or even get a tour explaining the history of the locks and their importance to Seattle’s economy. Summertime visitors get the extra bonus of being able to attend the annual free concert series at the Locks, with local bands of all genres taking part from June through September.
Seattle Aquarium – The aquarium on Elliott Bay is a thrilling exploration of sea life and ocean preservation. An expert staff offers education on the various animals in their habitats and leads hands-on educational programs. The showstopper of the aquarium is their spectacular underwater dome offering 360 views of the 400,000-gallon tank that’s home to multiple species of Puget Sound fish and a live kelp forest.
Whale Watching with Puget Sound Express – Family-owned Puget Sound Express offers half-day boat tours from April to December each year, with a next-trip-free guarantee if you don’t spot a whale while you’re out with them. Their boats are comfortably appointed with big windows, TV monitors, and cafés that offer Blueberry Buckle baked right on board from an old family recipe.
The Best Outdoor Activities in Seattle
Outdoorsy sorts can find wonderful and unusual parks to wander in Seattle. You can strap on hiking boots and hit the trails or grab a blanket and book for a quiet afternoon on the grass—there’s no shortage of options here!
Washington Park Arboretum – Boasting over 230 acres of plants, trees, and shrubbery, the Arboretum is home to over 4,000 species of stunning plant life. In the springtime, the renowned Azalea Way is a breathtaking stretch of manicured azalea trees in full bloom. At the southern end of the Arboretum, guests can stroll the beautiful Japanese Garden, experience a tea ceremony at Shoseian Teahouse, and in the summertime, purchase food to feed the koi fish.
Gas Works Park – This former coal gas plant is now an innovatively designed park, incorporating structures from the site’s industrial history into picnic grounds and play areas. Its location on the shore of Lake Union allows for incredible views of downtown Seattle. Attractions include a children’s play barn, a purpose-built kite flying hill, and a unique sundial that uses a visitor’s own shadow to tell the time.
Discovery Park – The city’s largest park, clocking in at over 500 acres, is a rich and varied natural resource. The Environmental Learning Center, a play area, and over two miles of gorgeous beaches are available to enchant explorers for hours at a time. And we can’t leave out the spectacular views of the Cascades and the Olympics that are a glorious visual treat for those taking advantage of the park’s hiking and biking trails.
Unique Things to do in Seattle
Every city has its absolute must-see destinations, and Seattle is no exception. Make sure you find a slot in your itinerary for at least one of these iconic stops!
Pike Place Market – One of the oldest continuously operating farmers’ markets in the US, Pike Place Market is popularly known for the stalls of fishmongers tossing their frozen wares around, but of course the market is a full-scale shopping experience. Visitors can purchase local produce, meat, and other groceries here; marvel at the nearby Gum Wall; or just wander around while waiting for a Ghost Tour to start. Don’t forget to visit Rachel, the bronze-cast piggy bank that’s been the market’s unofficial mascot since her installation in 1986—be sure to rub her nose and drop in a coin for luck!
Pioneer Square – The heart of Seattle and one of the city’s very original neighborhoods, Pioneer Square is, despite the name, less of a square and more of a pleasant sprawling jumble filled with cool restaurants, quaint cafés, and interesting bookshops. The Great Seattle Fire destroyed much of the original area, which was then paved and built over; there are several tour companies that offer underground tours of these neighborhood remnants. Also in the area is a unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, where visitors can learn about the rich history of the gold rush in Seattle.
Fremont Troll – Since 1990, the George Washington Memorial Bridge has been home to the Fremont Troll sculpture. With a Volkswagen Beetle gripped in one stony hand, the Troll is a familiar sight to music video and movie fans alike. While it was inspired by the classic Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale, this Troll won’t demand a bridge toll from you, and kids will have a great time climbing all over it from bumpy knuckles to lumpy head.
The Best Museums in Seattle
Seattle visitors of a scholarly bent will find a virtual playground of knowledge and information amongst the city’s many museums. Sea, land, and air are just a few of the topics you can dive into here.
Museum of Flight – Slightly outside of Seattle proper on the grounds of the King County International Airport, the Museum of Flight is worth the drive for die-hard airplane lovers. There are over 150 aircraft in the museum’s collection, along with an official NASA training shuttle mockup, an interactive Air Traffic Control exhibit, and the museum’s staggeringly comprehensive library and archives.
National Nordic Museum – Located in a beautiful building on the Ballard waterfront, the National Nordic Museum explores America’s rich Nordic heritage through art, history, and culture. The museum hosts a permanent collection of tools and textiles, offers multiple educational events annually, and even has a monthly genealogy program for those looking to find more info on their family history in the Nordic countries.
The Center for Wooden Boats – This museum is dedicated to preserving the maritime history of the Pacific Northwest. Visitors can rent several different kinds of boats from the museum’s fleet, take classes in woodworking and boat making, or check out the rotating series of maritime-related art and history exhibits. If you’ll be in Seattle for at least a week, there are opportunities for children and youths to attend sailing, boat building or woodworking camps—talk about a memorable trip experience!
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