Seattle is a dynamic and forward-thinking city with futuristic buildings, booming businesses, a flourishing arts scene, and great coffee. There’s plenty to entertain for an exciting city break, and even more if you rent a car and head out to some of the natural wonders that surround Seattle. Nestled on the banks of Puget Sound and with the Cascade Mountains to the east and Olympic National Park to the west, the opportunity for outdoor pursuits is endless.
Take a look at some of the best things to do in and around Seattle, whether you’re looking for free things to do, the best events, evening activities, or attractions to entertain the kids.
The Best Free Things To Do in Seattle
1. Stroll Around the Olympic Sculpture Park and Seattle Art Museum
The 9-acre Olympic Sculpture Park is located in downtown Seattle on the banks of Elliot Bay. Seattle’s largest green space has an array of sculptures created from the 1960s through to present-day pieces. The park is free to visit, and a café and gift shop can be found inside the PACCAR Pavilion.
The Seattle Art Museum is located around a mile from the Olympic Sculpture Park, showcasing temporary and permanent global exhibits and installations. On the first Thursday of every month, admission is free for all, and on the first Friday of every month, admission is free for seniors.
2. Relax With a Good Book in the Seattle Central Public Library
Seattle Central Public Library is an architectural delight both inside and out. The structure gives the impression of floating floors, and the diamond-shaped glass windows provide views out to the city and waterfront from the tenth floor. Locals and visitors can visit for free and relax in the reading room, use the free Wi-Fi and public computers, or enjoy a coffee in the café.
Take a self-guided tour to see the red floor, book spiral, and hidden octopus mural, or join a free guided tour Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.to 5 p.m.
3. Photograph the Seattle Skyline From Kerry Park
Visitors flock to Kerry Park at sunset to see the city’s iconic skyline shimmering in golden hues before being illuminated against the night sky. You can even see the majestic Mount Rainier in the background on a clear day, providing a stark contrast to the futuristic Space Needle.
Take a look at the 15-foot sculpture in the center of Kerry Park that also provides an excellent prop to shoot through for creative photos of the city.
Hot Tip: If you’re looking to snap some pictures of the Seattle skyline, check out the best compact, mirrorless, and DSLR travel cameras.
4. Browse the Stalls at Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is not only a fabulous place for shopping, but it’s also a historic landmark, having first started selling produce in 1907. Spend a few hours perusing the artisan market stalls that sell anything from handmade jewelry to hand-thrown pottery and grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants (including the original Starbucks). The revamped plaza is a lovely spot to enjoy a drink with views out to Puget Sound.
Alternatively, taste your way through the flavors of the northwest with a chef-guided tour of Pike Place Market.
5. Admire Beautiful Plants at the Washington Park Arboretum
The Washington Park Arboretum is a tranquil 230-acre garden located on the edge of Lake Washington. Entry is free into the botanic gardens, and visitors can stroll around a 2- or 5-mile loop to take in the beautiful trees and plants, including some species that can’t be found anywhere else in the northwest.
Visitors may pay to enter the beautiful Japanese Garden, located at the south end of the arboretum, which features a pagoda, tea house, and Japanese lanterns.
Hot Tip: If you’re feeling weary from walking and exploring the city, you can join a tram tour of the arboretum that runs July thru October.
Best Things To Do in Seattle in Summer
6. Visit Chihuly Garden and Glass
Admire the artist Dale Chihuly’s bright and beautiful glasswork at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. This unique gallery has 8 indoor exhibits, 3 drawing walls, and a 40-foot high glasshouse showcasing Chihuly’s largest suspended sculpture. The exquisite garden is the perfect backdrop for yet more glass wonders, with various sculptures dotted among the trees and plants.
Once you’ve appreciated the wonderful exhibits, see for yourself how molten glass is shaped with a live demonstration from a local artist at the community hot shop.
7. Explore the Walking Trails at Discovery Park
Discovery Park is Seattle’s largest city park with 534 acres of forests, meadows, sand dunes, and beaches. Located around 5 miles from downtown, it’s a tranquil space to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and admire magnificent views of Puget Sound, as well as the Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges.
Explore 9 miles of walking trails, admire art at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, and keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles fishing along the water.
8. Watch Pacific Salmon Swim Upstream at Ballard Locks
Ballard Locks is an impressive feat of engineering and is one of Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions. The locks can be found along the Lake Washington Ship Canal — connecting Lake Union to Puget Sound — allowing ships and boats to move between the changing water levels. A fish ladder also allows salmon, sockeye, and steelhead fish to swim upstream to spawn in the freshwater, and visitors can spot the fish on their journey through the underwater viewing windows.
Hot Tip: Be sure to visit the underwater viewing area in August to see huge king salmon passing through the locks to spawn.
9. Take a Rowboat Out on Lake Union
Available Wednesday through Sunday, The Center for Wooden Boats offers free 1-hour rowboat rentals on Lake Union from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Rowboats hold up to 5 adults and are suitable for those with little or no rowing experience. Be sure to reserve your slot in advance as it can get especially busy on a sunny day.
10. See the City Sights at Your Leisure With a Bus Tour
Take the hassle out of sightseeing around Seattle by booking a hop-on hop-off bus tour. Choose from a 1- or 2-day ticket and relax as you’re transported to all the major city sights and attractions while listening to an informative commentary. You’ll have access to 16 stops, including the Seattle Central Library, Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and many more.
Best Things To Do in Seattle in Winter
11. Take in 360-Degree Views From the Space Needle
The Space Needle is Seattle’s most distinctive building within the city skyline. This futuristic landmark was built in 1962 when Seattle hosted the World’s Fair to represent what life might be like in the 21st century. With an observation deck at 520-feet high, the Space Needle offers incredible views of the city, and visitors can enjoy a cocktail in the Loupe Lounge that features a revolving glass floor.
Hot Tip: Purchase a Seattle CityPASS and save 45% on entry fees to 5 top attractions, including the Space Needle.
12. Ride the Seattle Center Monorail
As with the Space Needle, the Seattle Center Monorail was built for the World’s Fair in 1962, showing what transportation could look like in the 21st century. The 1-mile route runs from the Seattle Center — near the base of the Space Needle — to downtown, where you will find Pike Place Market and Seattle Public Library. The monorail departs every 10 minutes, and you get excellent views of the city from its elevated position.
Hot Tip: For the best seat on the monorail, try to ride up front next to the driver where you will have fantastic panoramic views for the journey.
13. Enjoy the Bavarian Charm of Leavenworth
Located within the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth is a charming town that has modeled itself on a Bavarian village. Here you’ll find German-inspired architecture, cuisine, and festivals, including Oktoberfest, along with all the outdoor adventures you would expect from an alpine resort.
Leavenworth is around a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle, so it is popular for weekend breaks from the city. Visit in winter, and you can ski in nearby Stevens Pass and see the town’s impressive Christmas lights, or visit in the warmer months for excellent hiking, mountain biking, and water activities along the Wenatchee River.
14. Go Skiing at Stevens Pass
Stevens Pass is a ski area in the Cascade Mountains, located around 80 miles from downtown Seattle. At around a 2-hour drive, it’s a great place for skiers to escape the city and take advantage of the resort’s high snowfall. Stevens Pass has 1,125 acres of skiable terrain with 52 runs, 10 chairlifts, and 4 terrain parks.
As there’s no accommodation at the base of the slopes, Stevens Pass is popular for day trips from nearby cities and towns and draws visitors after work with its popular night skiing.
Hot Tip: Check out our ski and snowboard packing list to ensure you remember everything for your trip.
15. Browse Exhibits at the Museum of Pop Culture
Founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the Museum of Popular Culture (formerly known as Experience Music Project) has numerous permanent and temporary exhibits, exploring everything from music to science fiction and video games to horror. The building’s unique exterior consists of shimmering sheet metal in an array of shapes and colors and is the perfect casing for the weird and wonderful artifacts that can be found inside.
Best Things To Do in Seattle at Night
16. Watch Sunset Around a Firepit
Watch a beautiful sunset while sitting around one of the fire rings available at Golden Gardens or Alki Beach. These designated fire rings are the only places you are permitted to light a fire on the beach and are available first-come, first-served, daily from 4 p.m.
17. Enjoy a Performance at Seattle Opera
The Seattle Opera Center is connected to McCaw Hall, where many of the opera’s mainstage performances take place. A smaller rehearsal theater inside the Opera Center is visible to the public through the large glass windows, and visitors can view costumes being made from the viewing garden. Whether you’re interested in going behind the scenes with an educational program or are looking to book tickets to a world-class opera performance, there’s always something going on at the Seattle Opera Center.
18. Sip Cocktails at the Top of the Smith Tower
The Smith Tower is the oldest skyscraper in Seattle and provides magnificent panoramic views from the open-air observatory on the 35th floor. Sip a cocktail while admiring the city sights at the speakeasy-style bar, with its own barrel-aged liquors. Enjoy a classic cocktail such as an Old Fashioned or Manhattan during the bar’s weekday happy hour and check out the sharing dishes available on the mouthwatering menu.
Hot Tip: Although the Smith Tower is not as high as some of Seattle’s other viewpoints, it offers fantastic views of the iconic Space Needle.
19. Dine Onboard a Harbor Cruise
Sail around Lake Union and Lake Washington on a Seattle dinner cruise and enjoy spectacular views of the city skyline. You’ll be welcomed on board with a glass of Champagne and sit down to a delicious plated dinner, with the option to upgrade to a window seat to continue those city views. The captain will narrate your journey and point out passing landmarks, so it’s a great sightseeing opportunity, as well as a lovely dining experience.
20. Party the Night Away in Capitol Hill
The thriving neighborhood of Capitol Hill is packed full of cool places for cocktails, fusion restaurants, LGBTQ+ clubs, and karaoke bars. Known for its nightlife, you’ll be spoilt for choice if you’re looking for somewhere to dance the night away, or even just to enjoy a nice dinner and a quiet drink. For somewhere a little unusual, check out the carnival-themed bar, Unicorn, with its whimsical cocktails and food.
The Best Things To Do in Seattle With Kids
21. Launch a Rocket at the Pacific Science Center
The Pacific Science Center (originally the United States Science Pavilion) is another Seattle landmark that came out of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The center is an exciting attraction for visitors of all ages, with hundreds of hands-on exhibits and experiences. Create your own circuit board, launch a rocket, learn about the human body, or stroll around a butterfly house. The Pacific Science Center makes science fun.
22. Learn About Marine Conservation at the Seattle Aquarium
A visit to the Seattle Aquarium is a great way to educate children on the marine conservation of Puget Sound. There are 6 permanent exhibits, including a large underwater dome with 360-degree views of Puget Sound’s marine life, an open-air habitat for many species of birds, and a marine mammal exhibit with otters and seals.
Hot Tip: If you’re looking to fly into Seattle for your visit, take a look at our guide to taking a less stressful flight with children.
23. Take a Ride on the Seattle Great Wheel
Standing 175-foot tall, the Seattle Great Wheel is the largest Ferris wheel on the West Coast. Located at Pier 57, visitors can enjoy spectacular views over Puget Sound, the city, and surrounding mountains while an audio narration explains the history of the Seattle waterfront. Each of the 42 gondolas is heated, and if you visit Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evenings, the wheel has a colorful light display.
24. Journey To Olympic National Park for the Day
Book a day tour to Olympic National Park and explore remote beaches, lush forests, and magnificent mountain ranges. You’ll start with a ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island before taking in the breathtaking views from Hurricane Ridge and embarking on nature walks with your local guide. Learn about the various ecosystems that make up Olympic National Park and spot wildlife, such as black-tailed deer, Olympic marmots, and sometimes black bears.
Hot Tip: If you’ve got your own car and are interested in exploring one of the best road trips in the USA, be sure to check out the Olympic Peninsula Loop.
25. Explore Deserted Passageways With an Underground Walking Tour
As old Seattle once stood at or below sea level, the buildings were built on wooden stilts made from combustible timber to avoid frequent flooding. After the Great Seattle Fire destroyed the central business district in 1889, buildings were constructed around 6 meters above sea level, and you can explore some of the old passageways beneath Pioneer Square with an underground walking tour. Your guide will tell you all about the city’s history, the Great Seattle Fire, and why the decision was made to raise the streets above sea level.
The Best Events in Seattle
26. Enjoy the Impressive Line-Up of Bumbershoot
Bumbershoot is one of Seattle’s largest music and cultural festivals with an extensive program of live music, dance, theater, comedy, film, and visual arts. The festival has taken place for the last 50 years, usually at the end of August or the beginning of September over Labor Day weekend, and has seen Foo Fighters, Sheryl Crow, and R.E.M. take to the stage.
Hot Tip: Keep your valuables safe at a crowded event with one of these fanny packs.
27. Cheer on Racing Boats and Aerobatics at Seafair
Seafair is a city-wide summer festival that runs June thru August with a variety of community events. The most popular event is held during the first weekend of August with hydroplane racing and an aerobatics show in Genesee Park. Thousands of spectators gather on the shores of Lake Washington to watch some of the fastest boats in the world racing for the HomeStreet Bank Cup and spectacular air displays from the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.
28. Join in With the Fremont Solstice Parade
The Fremont Solstice Parade takes place in June on the longest day of the year and is known for its colorful procession of floats, dancers, puppets, stilt walkers, and musicians. Each community-based ensemble is unique, but all celebrate their love of art and freedom of expression. The famous solstice cyclists kick-off the parade by painting their nude bodies in various creative designs before cycling down 36th Street through Fremont.
29. Embrace Cultural Diversity at Northwest Folklife
The Northwest Folklife Festival is a free annual festival that celebrates the cultural diversity of the Pacific Northwest through arts, crafts, music, and cultural traditions. Hundreds of thousands of visitors gather on the grounds of the Seattle Center, where performances take place across 20 plus stages. The festival has spotlighted various ethnic communities and traditions over the years, from Arab-American to Bulgarian and maritime to urban Indian. Folklife takes place across Memorial Day weekend in May.
30. Celebrate LGBT Pride at Seattle PrideFest
As one of the first cities to pioneer acceptance of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement 50 years ago, Seattle is an extra special place to celebrate Pride. With various events taking place throughout June, the official Seattle PrideFest is held at the Seattle Center on the last Sunday of the month. The festival features food vendors, music, performances across multiple stages, drag costume contests, and much more.
The best time to visit Seattle will depend on what you’re looking to get out of your trip. If you’re happy to wrap up warm and enjoy fewer crowds, visit the city in winter and take advantage of the nearby mountains to bolt-on a ski trip. If you’re keen to make the most of Seattle’s waterside setting and explore Mount Rainier or the Olympic National Park, visit during the warmer months.