Top Things To Do and See in Seattle

Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest
Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest | © Christopher Fell / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Christina Nhu
17 March 2019

There are plenty of attractions to visit in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest’s sprawling metropolis. The Emerald City is home to some of the best forests and parks in the United States, while its coffee shops and breweries are legendary.

Check out the Seattle Aquarium’s marine life

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The Seattle Aquarium is on Pier 59, close to various restaurants
The Seattle Aquarium is on Pier 59, close to various restaurants | © UrbanImages / Alamy Stock Photo
The Seattle Aquarium is conveniently located on Pier 59, adjacent to restaurants and the harbor cruise. The aquarium houses more than 380 species of birds, fish, invertebrates and marine mammals, some of which visitors can interact with and touch. It also contains simulated coastal zones, featuring wildlife such as otters, seals and seabirds. What the Seattle Aquarium lacks in size, it makes up for in several interesting hands-on displays and staff that take the time to educate and entertain children and adults.

Relax at the Washington Park Arboretum

Park, Botanical Garden
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The Washington Park Arboretum consists of around 5,500 different plants from around the world and covers 230 acres (93 hectares). While any time of year is good to visit, the arboretum is especially colorful during spring and fall. The grounds and trails are beautifully maintained and organized. There are multiple kinds of birds, including owls and hawks.

Go to an exhibit at the Pacific Science Center

Museum, Theater
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Located close to the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center offers a range of educational experiences for young and old. This place has something for everyone, so it’s perfect for families. Membership includes feature-film IMAX discounts and numerous free movie experiences. The staff is knowledgeable, and the programs related to geology of the Pacific Northwest are interactive and informative. The place is spread out over several buildings, so it is wise for visitors to wear comfortable walking shoes and get a map of the layout.

Scale Seattle’s Space Needle

Building, Museum
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No visit to Seattle is complete without a visit to the Space Needle, the city’s 604-foot (184-meter) tower. After buying your ticket, take the elevator up to the Observation Deck to soak up 360-degree views of Seattle and its surrounding areas. For those with an aversion to heights, the Space Needle, with its distinctive 1960s design, is just as enjoyable at ground level.

Browse the stalls at Pike Place Market

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Pike Place is one of the oldest markets in the US
Pike Place is one of the oldest markets in the US | © Pike Place Market
Visitors can stroll through this legendary market and enjoy the many beautiful and reasonably priced flowers. There are also many shops and vendors selling artisan goods, fresh fruit and vegetables and, of course, seafood. If you’re a fan of quirky attractions, make sure to head to the market’s bottom level to see the Gum Wall in all its glory.

Admire innovative art at the Olympic Sculpture Park

Museum, Park
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Alex Calder’s ‘Eagle’ (1971) is the centrepiece of the Olympic Sculpture Park
© Benjamin Benschneider / Seattle Art Museum
The Olympic Sculpture Park spans over the railroad tracks and features walking and cycling trails. It is a great place to take in views of the city across the water while admiring innovative art and sculptures. The installations are all very modern and set among beautifully landscaped paths. Open every day, the park is free and usually not crowded.

Watch a show at The 5th Avenue Theatre

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The 5th Avenue Theatre hosts gigs as well as musical productions
The 5th Avenue Theatre hosts gigs as well as musical productions | © Dave Lichterman / Flickr
The 5th Avenue Theatre is decorated with spectacular and intricate Chinese carvings throughout. This non-profit theatre, which opened in 1926, puts on new and touring shows as well as revivals. Some of the biggest Broadway shows in recent years started life here, so expect high-quality productions. Another bonus is that it is located in the center of the city, meaning restaurants are all within walking distance.

Chill out at Kubota Garden

Botanical Garden
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Kubota Garden was started by Japanese emigrant Fujitaro Kubota in 1927
Kubota Garden was started by Japanese emigrant Fujitaro Kubota in 1927 | © Jim Corwin / Alamy Stock Photo
Kubota is a 20-acre (eight-hectare) Japanese garden designed with plants indigenous to the Northwest. The city acquired the garden in 1987 from the estate of Fujitaro Kubota – the horticulturist who first led the way for this culture-combining technique back in 1927 – in order to protect and support it. Today, the garden and its foundation are largely managed by volunteers.

Explore the Seattle Public Library’s many shelves

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In 1998, the city voted to improve all 22 branches of the Seattle Public Library. The location of the Central Library stayed the same, but it was completely redeveloped by architectural visionaries Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. Adhering to the principle that “form follows function,” the architects created an accessible design that depicts and encourages the celebration of literature, with a thought-provoking, cutting-edge aesthetic. Working closely with the public as well as the library’s board and staff, Koolhaas and Prince-Ramus revamped the entire library building, adding space and improved function to an innovative, contemporary design. The library now houses over one million books as well as a comprehensive digital archive.

Grab a coffee at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery

Coffee Shop, American, $$$
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The first Starbucks opened in Seattle
The first Starbucks opened in Seattle | © Peppinuzzo / Shutterstock

As the birthplace of Starbucks, Seattle is home to some of the brand’s most special coffee shops. One of these is the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Located on Capitol Hill, just nine blocks from the original Starbucks, visitors are invited to “experience coffee from the unroasted bean to [their] cup of coffee.” This place is a must-visit for coffee aficionados and fans of the chain.

Head to the top of the historic Smith Tower Observatory Bar

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The Smith Tower was built in 1914
The Smith Tower was built in 1914 | © Robert Bird / Alamy Stock Photo
Ride the original manually operated elevators at Smith Tower up to the Observatory Bar. Built in 1914 and standing at 484 feet (147.5 meters), Smith Tower is Seattle’s first skyscraper, predating the city’s Space Needle and Columbia Tower. The Observatory Bar offers 360-degree views of the city and a prohibition-themed cocktail lounge that pairs perfectly with the historic architecture.

Ascend the city’s tallest building, the Sky View Observatory

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The Sky View Observatory is the city’s tallest building
The Sky View Observatory is the city’s tallest building | © Victoria Hawkins / Alamy Stock Photo

With 76 floors, the Columbia Tower stands as Seattle’s tallest building. And luckily for tourists, located on the 73rd floor is the acclaimed Sky View Observatory, the tallest observatory in the entire Pacific Northwest. Enjoy views of the Olympic and Cascade ranges, Mount Rainier, the San Juan Islands and, of course, Seattle. Before leaving, make a pit stop on the 40th floor, where coffee enthusiasts will find a Starbucks with incredible views of the Emerald City.

Buy your holiday read at The Elliott Bay Book Company

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Wedged in the middle of the Capitol Hill neighborhood is The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle’s popular independent bookstore. Its shelves are chock-full of over 150,000 titles, and beneath many of the spines are handwritten synopses, ratings and personal comments written by the staff. Relax and warm up by browsing the endless row of shelves that this local favorite has to offer.

Dine at Dick’s Drive-In

Restaurant, American, Fast Food
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Fast-food fans should head to Dick’s Drive-In
Fast-food fans should head to Dick’s Drive-In | Courtesy of Dick’s Drive-In

Established in 1954, Dick’s Drive-In is a Seattle fast-food staple. The menu, which features favorites like cheeseburgers, fries and shakes, has essentially remained untouched since the restaurant’s opening all those years ago. The local chain is still a family-run establishment, operating in popular neighborhoods like Lower Queen Anne, Capitol Hill and Wallingford. That on top of its cash-only, stripped-down menu makes for an original burger-eating experience.

Sip a cocktail at Needle and Thread

Cocktail Bar, Bar, American, $$$
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The Needle and Thread serves prohibition-inspired cocktails
The Needle and Thread serves prohibition-inspired cocktails | © Cseh Ioan / Alamy Stock Photo

Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood is a night-time hotspot with bars and restaurants lining every major street. One of its best-kept secrets is the Needle and Thread speakeasy, located in the popular Tavern Law cocktail lounge. Situated at the back of the venue is an old bank vault door that opens into an intimate 25-seat bar. Expert bartenders prepare the prohibition-inspired drinks as they see fit. Just give them a mood, and they’ll work their magic.

Unwind with a beer at Fremont Brewing

Craft Ale Bar, American
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Seattle’s craft beer scene is booming
Seattle’s craft beer scene is booming | © ctj71081 / Flickr
Fremont Brewing offers it all: delicious beer made with local ingredients, a great location and a spectacular view of Lake Union. The brewery was founded in 2009 after founder Matt Lincecum decided to switch from being an attorney specializing in beverage and hospitality law to building an establishment of his own. Since then, the company has quickly become a Seattle favorite. Kick back and enjoy a pint of one of Fremont’s seasonal IPAs, year-round ales or barrel-aged bourbons.
These recommendations were updated on March 17, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.