11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Seattle
Once a rather dull port and industrial center, Seattle has undergone an astonishing transformation into the largest city in Washington State. Driven in part by its flourishing economy, it is today an energetic, forward-looking city at the forefront of innovation. The city is rich in culture and easy-going lifestyles, and it's no accident that Seattle is the "Coffee Capital" of the United States with an espresso bar on almost every corner.
In addition, the city boasts a magnificent mountain setting: to the east is the ice pyramid of Mount Rainier National Park, rising out of the Cascade Mountains, to the west, the partly snow-capped peaks of Olympic National Park.
Though it's worth spending a couple of days exploring Seattle, day trips beckon in the parks, beaches, and attractions outside of the city. Tempting nature lovers with moss-laden trees and winding trails, the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park is not to be missed. A rather different day trip is to the Future of Flight in Everett, where visitors tour Boeing's immense factory - the world's largest building.
See also: Where to Stay in Seattle
1 Seattle Center & the Space Needle
Seattle Center, along with its iconic Space Needle and the Monorail, were originally built for the 1962 World's Fair but have since been turned into an entertainment complex and park area with theaters, sports facilities, and restaurants. Modern tourist attractions now proliferate the area, including musical adventures at the Experience Music Project, and impressive glass artworks at Chihuly Garden and Glass. And though it's a locals' haunt, the futuristic steel and glass structure of the Seattle Central Library is worth seeking out.
2 Pioneer Square Historic District
Marked with a 60-foot totem pole, Pioneer Square is the city's historic heart. Among the Victorian-era buildings, the Smith Tower stands out for its imposing height (42 stories). There's an observation deck on the 35th floor that's ideal for sightseeing. Also in the neighborhood, Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park remembers the surge of prospectors who departed for the Yukon during the 1897 gold rush. For a different look at yesteryear, book a time on Bill Speidel's Underground Tour to explore the old city that lies below the modern streets. Below ground are the old streets where the pioneers would have walked.
3 Pike Place Market
On the two floors of picturesque Pike Place Market, vendors offer a wide range of wares for sale. Fish, fruit, vegetables, and all sorts of odds and ends tantalize the taste buds and camera lenses. If you don't have the hotel facilities to cook up some seafood, head to one of the local restaurants. Market tours are an ideal way to cut through the bustle of Pike Place and hear some unusual stories.
Address: 1st and Pike Streets, Seattle
4 Hiram M Chittenden Locks
These busy locks northwest of Seattle Center are also known as the Ballard Locks. Besides watching the boat traffic move between Puget Sound and the lakes, visitors can seek out the fish ladder where salmon struggle upstream. Nearby, the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden is a quieter spot to rest and appreciate well-tended gardens.
Address: 3015 NW 54th Street, Seattle
5 Volunteer Park
In central Seattle, Volunteer Park features a century-old conservatory with tropical plants and trees. Visitors can also find simple attractions within the park like walking trails, sports facilities, a children's play area, and picnic grounds. And the lush green space also encompasses the Seattle Asian Art Museum (a branch of the larger Seattle Art Museum downtown), where galleries display Chinese, South Asian, and Southeast Asian art; decorative arts; and textiles.
Address: 1247 15th Ave E, Seattle
6 Waterfront and Piers
A string of piers and parks line the Seattle waterfront, home to recreational spaces, tourist attractions, boat tours, and ferry docks. On Pier 59, visitors will find the Seattle Aquarium where a variety of Pacific marine creatures (including sea otters, octopuses, and dwarf sharks) can be observed in the Underwater Dome. Just south of the aquarium, Waterfront Park has a wide vantage over the harbor. The views are also excellent atop the Seattle Great Wheel on Pier 57. To the north, Olympic Sculpture Park is filled with over-sized outdoor artworks competing with the views for attention.
7 Discovery Park
Discovery Park covers 550 acres and is the largest park in Seattle. On a point protruding into the sound, West Point Lighthouse marks the westernmost vantage in the park, but many parts of the park look out over Puget Sound and there are also great views of the mountains. Discovery Park encompasses coastline, forest, and meadows, offering a nice escape from the city and providing a habitat for wildlife. An environmental learning center hosts interactive exhibits and information about the park as well as education programs for all ages.
Address: 3801 Discovery Park Blvd, Seattle
8 University Washington in Seattle
Beyond Portage Bay, the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle is home to the Burke Museum (natural history) and the Henry Art Gallery (mainly international modern art). To the south of the main campus, McCurdy Park features the Museum of History and Industry with its exhibits about the region, and Washington Park harbors a lush arboretum and Japanese tea garden.
9 Woodland Park Zoo
Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo is a 92-acre facility with many threatened and endangered species from around the globe. The zoo was the first to create naturalistic exhibits, and its 300 different species range from Asian and African elephants to snow leopards, jaguars, lemurs, and grizzly bears. Check a current schedule for daily programs, animal feedings, and educational lectures, or to find hours for the solar-operated carousel.
Address: 601 N 59th Street, Seattle
10 Benaroya Hall
Seattle's premier arts venue, Benaroya Hall seats 2,500 for Seattle Symphony concerts. Look for the large glass art sculpture by Dale Chihuly, featured prominently in the lobby. It's similar to the works at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle Center and at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma. The performance hall is downtown, across the street from the Seattle Art Museum.
Address: 200 University Street, Seattle
11 International District
To the east of Pioneer Square is the colorful International District, where Japanese and Chinese shops and restaurants dominate the street scene. The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience charts the history of Asian immigration. The museum is named for Wing Luke, a Chinese American who was the first Asian American elected official in Washington. Nearby Hing Hay Park features a pagoda.
Address: 719 S. King Street, Seattle
Where to Stay in Seattle for Sightseeing
We recommend these great hotels in the city center, near top attractions like Pike Place Market and the Space Needle:
- Inn at the Market: eco-friendly luxury, boutique hotel, convenient Pike Place Market location, water views, rooftop deck, floor-to-ceiling windows.
- The Maxwell Hotel - A Staypineapple Hotel: mid-range rates, funky decor, espresso bar, free shuttle, indoor pool.
- Best Western Executive Inn: affordable pricing, near Seattle Center and the Space Needle, comfortable beds, friendly and efficient front desk staff.
- Comfort Inn & Suites Seattle: budget-friendly rates, clean rooms, free Wi-Fi and parking, laundry facilities, breakfast included.