The capital of America’s Northwest, Seattle, is often overlooked but for those who make the trip, it’s a hard city to forget. Tech nexus, laid-back bohemian haven, gateway to some of the most beautiful coastlines in the United States, a destination for musical pilgrims – Seattle has plenty going on that visitors will love.
For many people, Seattle is famous as the birthplace of the grunge scene, but the city’s musical heritage stretches way beyond Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Whether you’re into indie bands, world music or hip-hop, Seattle’s music scene is diverse and constantly evolving.
In the city where Starbucks was founded the coffee is spectacular, but Seattle also has a thriving network of restaurants, pop-ups, and breweries. The salmon is some of the freshest you’ll ever taste, while in Cascade hop country, micro-brews are on tap everywhere.
It’s also easy to get away from the bustle, with some gorgeous beaches just a couple of hours drive away, hiking paths through the Cascade Mountains and plenty of ski resorts, all within fifty miles of the city center. It means that visitors can enjoy the sights and culture of Seattle and commune with nature, all on the same trip. There're not many cities that can offer you that kind of blend.
Top 5 Reasons to Visit Seattle
1. Views from the Sky View Observatory
This 1,000-foot high observation deck, located in the Columbia Center, provides some of America’s most breathtaking views, taking in the city of Seattle, the Puget Sound and Mount Ranier in a single panorama.
2. A Relaxed Vibe and Fantastic Food
Seattle is dotted with cool neighborhoods like Ballard and Pioneer Square. If you love food, be sure to check out Pike’s Place market as well, where you can take cooking classes and stock up on organic produce.
3. Head Out Island Hopping in the Puget Sound
Taking a ferry to the relaxed beaches of Bainbridge Island or the art galleries of Vashon Island is extremely easy for visitors to Seattle. A little further afield, the San Juan Islands are also one of the best places in the world to spot Orcas (killer whales) in the wild.
4. Catch Some Live Music
After New York, Seattle has more live music performances per person than any other American city. Head to indie venues like the Moore Theater or Neumos to catch hip bands or relax with first-class jazz acts at Dimitriou’s.
5. Climb the Slopes of Mount Rainer
Mount Rainier soars majestically over South Seattle and is also one of the finest skiing and snowboarding destinations in the USA. Take snowshoe tours with park rangers or ride the Rainier Steam Railroad in summer.
What to do in Seattle
1. Explore Pike Place Market
One of America’s greatest food markets, Pike Place is crammed with seafood, fruit and vegetable vendors, cooking schools, bakeries, craft stalls, restaurants, confectioners, wine sellers, cheese makers, brewers, charcutiers – you name it. If you can eat it, you’ll probably find someone selling it at Pike Place.
2. Watch a Seattle Seahawks Game
CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks, is famous for the noise level created by 67,000 passionate fans. If you visit during the NFL season, be sure to pick up tickets if you can.
3. Visit the Space Needle
Built as part of the 1962 World’s Fair, the Space Needle is Seattle's most iconic structure. You can take the Seattle Center Monorail out to the needle, which offers more than just great views, with the excellent Pacific Science Center and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame on site as well.
4. Take a Boat Cruise on Puget Sound
Seattle is built on one of the world’s largest estuaries – the magnificent Puget Sound. Every visitor to Seattle should hop on a ferry from Pier 52 in the Downtown district and head to Bainbridge Island, take a cruise to the San Juan Islands to catch a glimpse of Orcas at play, or both.
5. Head to the Seattle Art Museum
Every great city needs a great gallery, and Seattle doesn’t disappoint. The SAM is a visual treat, with Asian, Native American, Twentieth Century American painting exhibits and much more. The $17 admission fee is definitely money well spent.
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Seattle is a great destination for both winter and summer breaks. The colder months will suit winter sports fans, with the city hosting a wide range of Christmas music events as well. Spring is an excellent time for foodies to visit, with Seattle Restaurant Week taking place in April, while summer is the season for outdoor music festivals like Bumbershoot (and a good time to sample local brews, with the Washington Brewers Festival in June). In the fall, you can catch a Seahawks game and take advantage of out of season accommodation bargains, so there’s really no bad time to visit.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is located in the city’s southern suburbs, about 17 kilometers from the center of town. The best way to reach downtown Seattle is by catching the Link Light Rail service, which takes just over 35 minutes to reach Westlake Station and costs $3. There are also a number of bus connections to other parts of the city, including the 560 bus to West Seattle run by Sound Transit. Taxis are also available outside the main terminal.
Seattle’s main train terminal is King Street Station in the Pioneer Square district. Amtrak runs three services to King Street: the Cascades service (which starts in Vancouver and runs south to Eugene), the Empire Builder (which runs from Chicago) and the Coast Starlight service (connecting Seattle with LA and San Francisco). King Street is also on the Sound Transit rail network, linking the city center with Tacoma and Lakewood, along with most of the city’s inner districts.
Seattle lies on Interstate 5, which runs the entire distance of the US’ western seaboard and is also the northwest terminus for Interstate 90, a transcontinental route that runs from Chicago to Boston. Take note, Seattle is renowned for its dense traffic and is ranked third in the nation after LA and New York, so be prepared for delays if you arrive by car.
Greyhound run services to Seattle, terminating at 503 S Royal Brougham Way. Their buses connect the city to Portland, and from there passengers can reach most destinations in the USA.
Bolt Bus runs services to other north-western cities from their stop on 5th Ave S.
Northwestern Trailways run services to locations in central Washington from both the Greyhound terminus and King Street station.
Olympic Bus Lines run buses to destinations in the Puget Sound region from both the Greyhound terminal and King Street station.
Sound Transit is the largest local bus transit operator, running connections from downtown Seattle to Tacoma, Everett and Olympia, and most Seattle suburbs.
Airport buses are provided by Quick Shuttle and Bellair Airporter, both of which offer extended services to Vancouver and destinations in northern Washington.
Seattle has an excellent range of accommodation options. If you are into elegant period furnishings, the Hotel Sorrento (900 Madison S) is ideal, while the Four Seasons is a solid family hotel in a central location (99 Union St). City Hostel (2327 2nd Ave) is a good budget option while the Moore Hotel (1926 2nd Ave) is conveniently located for Pike’s Place market as well as having one of the city’s best music venues in the basement.
Popular Neighborhoods in Seattle
Fremont and Wallingford – If you are after an authentic, bohemian Seattle experience, you’ll probably want to explore accommodation options in Fremont or Wallingford. Here the streets are lined with juice bars, coffee shops like Lighthouse Roasters, bars, music venues and record stores, including local institutions like Jive Time Records. The area is also home to Woodland Park Zoo, which hosts a spectacular raptor handling show at 15:00 on weekends (of the avian, not Jurassic kind).
Pioneer Square – Most of the city’s cultural institutions are gathered around Pioneer Square (which is also handy to the rail station). You can take fascinating Underground Tours, literally exploring Seattle's history through a series of tunnels and basements, there are regular comedy nights at Comedy Underground, great pubs like the Flatstick, and even a museum solely dedicated to the Klondike gold rush.
West Seattle – If you don’t mind being slightly outside of the center and love having greenery near your hotel, check out West Seattle. It’s a beguiling place packed with French gourmet bakeries (check out Bakery Nouveau), music stores like Easy Street Records and places like Alki Beach where you can stretch out with a good book.
Seattle has an excellent public transit system which serves almost every neighborhood in the city. Single bus and streetcar tickets cost $2.75 per journey at peak times, or $2.50 outside rush hour. Single light rail tickets vary from $2.25 to $3, while the Seattle Center Monorail costs $2.25 (one way). To save money buy an all day pass for just $8. Before you do that, you’ll need to get hold of an ORCA card from one of the many vending machines, which costs $5. Just load the $8 pass onto your ORCA card, and you can travel on buses or light rail as much as you like for the next 24 hours. There’s also a public bicycle rental scheme called Pronto, which also costs $8 but gives you a full three-day-pass.
Taxis in Seattle that are members of the Seattle-Tacoma International Taxi Association (STITA), have a meter drop of $2.60 and then a set rate of $2.70 per mile, with a $0.50 per minute waiting charge. Uber tends to charge a rate of $1.35 per mile, with a $1.35 base fare, which can offer some significant savings. Expect STITA taxis from the airport to the city center to cost between $40 and $55. You can also arrange a ride with Lyft or Uber from dedicated offices located above the parking garage, and the cost can be as little as $25.
Seattle is a reasonably easy city to navigate by automobile, but drivers should orientate themselves to the city’s geography before they arrive. Most importantly, master the difference between avenues (north to south routes) and streets (east to west). Rental cars in Seattle usually cost between $12 and $20 per day, depending on the size of your vehicle and the agency you choose. Local operators include Enterprise, Avis, Sixt, and Alamo. The city center has plenty of parking garages, with an average rate of $3 per hour during the week and $7 at weekends.
Seattle isn’t the cheapest city in the US, but it’s definitely cheaper than eastern seaboard cities like New York. It’s also a great place to find obscure records and vintage clothing. If fashion is your passion, head to the boutiques of Ballard Avenue which is stuffed with bohemian vintage clothes stores. For more cutting edge fashion, Pike and Pine Streets are the place to be. If you’re after records, Fremont Avenue and NW Market Street are ideal crate digging spots, while for gourmet food lovers, Pike Place Market is the first port of call.
Groceries and Other
Seattle isn’t only about markets and boutiques. You can also find major grocery chains like Trader Joe’s, along with regional chains like PCC Natural Markets and Fred Meyer. There are also a couple of Walmarts, Safeways, and Albertsons as well if you really need to save money during your stay.
Seattle’s food scene is one of it's greatest attractions. If you want to sample the city’s superb seafood, there’s nowhere better than Pike Place Chowder where a bowl is around $11 and a lobster roll is $13. You can grab serious gourmet pizzas at Serious Pie (main courses from $15 to $20) or head to Musashi’s in Wallingford for top-quality sushi, priced between $12 and $20. For those who are willing to splurge, the Georgian is an excellent option. Located on University Street, it fuses French and American specialties. Expect a meal to cost upward from $100 with drinks included.