14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Seattle, WA
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. One of the city's most active sightseeing areas is the waterfront and piers, home to recreational spaces, boat tours, and ferry docks, as well as fun attractions like the Great Ferris Wheel.
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 snowcapped peaks of Olympic National Park.
The best time to visit Seattle depends on the type of experience desired. Summer is when the city is most inundated with out-of-town visitors.
Though it's worth spending a couple of days exploring Seattle, day trips beckon in the parks, beaches, and attractions outside 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.
Enjoy the highlights of the city with our list of the top tourist attractions in Seattle.
See also: Where to Stay in Seattle
1. Seattle Center & the Space Needle
Seattle Center, along with its iconic Space Needle and the Monorail, was originally built for the 1962 World's Fair. They 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.
Tourists can take an elevator to the 360-degree-view Needle Observation Deck to look out over the city, Elliott Bay, and Mt. Rainier.
The Space Needle is best done in summer, when the gray clouds of winter have disappeared. The Seattle Center itself, however, offers one of the city's best places to visit in winter, with seasonal events like the annual Winterfest featuring family-friendly and free attractions.
Address: 400 Broad Street, Seattle, Washington
Official site: www.spaceneedle.com
2. Pike Place Market
On the two floors of picturesque Pike Place Market, vendors offer a wide range of wares for sale. This busy area near the waterfront is a popular tourist spot throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Market tours are an ideal way to cut through the bustle of Pike Place and hear some unusual stories.
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 for cooking up some seafood, head to one of the 80 local restaurants and bakeries, or pick up goodies to bring home from one of the specialty food stores.
In addition to plentiful food choices, there are more than 200 proprietor-operated shops that range from antiques and collectibles to bookstores and quirky specialty shops. The historic nine-acre shopping haven also includes a crafts market that features 225 local and regional creators.
Address: 1st and Pike Streets, Seattle, Washington
Official site: http://www.pikeplacemarket.org/
3. Chihuly Garden and Glass
One of Seattle's greatest treasures, the collections and exhibits here display and explore the work of innovative glassblower Dale Chihuly - a Tacoma native. Chihuly's work is known for using glass as a purely artistic medium and creating sculptures that captivate onlookers.
In addition to eight galleries, visitors can admire one of his largest works in the Glasshouse, where the installation's colors and appearance change with the moving sunlight above.
In the garden, visitors will find his work presented within a natural environment that enhances the flow and depth of the glass. There is also a video presentation about the artist's life and craft, as well as daily gallery talks and tours.
Address: 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, Washington
Official site: www.chihulygardenandglass.com
4. Museum of Flight
Seattle's Museum of Flight is home to a wide array of airplanes, educational exhibits, and flight-related historical objects. The museum is open Thursday through Monday, and many visits take the entire day. Alongside general admission, the museum offers premium experiences that lend access to behind-the-scenes exhibits.
An outdoor gallery displays the largest aircraft in the collection, including a Concorde, the first jet Air Force One, and military planes like the B-17F Flying Fortress. The indoor Great Gallery at the museum gives onlookers the thrill of seeing many of the planes suspended in flight. The Lear and Space galleries focus on space travel, both its history and future.
History buffs will especially love the Personal Courage Wing, which is dedicated to remembering the important role of aviation during World War I and II. Exhibits include 28 restored fighter planes, personal stories of pilots and air support troops, and interactive experiences like a flight simulator. Housed in the barn that once held the fledgling Boeing Airplane Company, the Red Barn collections explore the earliest days of flight.
Those fascinated with modern aircraft and flight innovation will want to take the Boeing tour from Seattle, a convenient way to visit the company's facility. The tour includes transportation to and from the plant, a 90-minute tour of the assembly plant, as well as the facility's many exhibits.
Address: 4097, 9404 E Marginal Way S, Seattle, Washington
Official site: www.museumofflight.org
5. Olympic Sculpture Park
The Olympic Sculpture Park is free and open to the public year-round, positioned at the edge of Elliott Bay. Some of its more remarkable sculptures are the Eye Benches and a glass bridge titled Seattle Cloud Cover. Many Seattle residents and tourists come to the park to wander the day away and photograph or admire the installations.
The park's setting is as significant as its artwork. The space underwent an environmental transformation from a post-industrial brownfield site to an ecologically balanced green space that includes a salmon habitat and employs sustainable practices like rainwater collection.
The park is maintained by the Seattle Art Museum, which is located one mile away from the park, close to Pike Place Market. The museum's collections include artwork from around the globe and across millennia, as well as an extensive gallery dedicated to the art of Native Americans in the northwest.
Address: 2901 Western Ave, Seattle, Washington
Official site: www.seattleartmuseum.org/visit/olympic-sculpture-park
6. Woodland Park Zoo
Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo is a 92-acre facility with many threatened and endangered species from around the globe. Immensely popular with families, 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 find hours for the solar-operated carousel. For a real treat, visitors can book an animal experience tour, allowing animal lovers to get up close to some of the zoo's most fascinating wildlife, often with the chance to feed or touch the animals. Experiences include the opportunity to meet giraffes, penguins, lemurs, and other residents.
Address: 601 N 59th Street, Seattle, Washington
Official site: www.zoo.org
7. MOHAI: The Museum of History & Industry
Also often referred to as MOHAI, The Museum of History and Industry celebrates Seattle's position as a leader in innovation and industry. This education facility also catalogs the events that led to Seattle's rise as an important port city.
The True Northwest exhibit takes tourists on a journey through the region's history, from Native American cultures through the present, exploring how geography and cultural events like the Gold Rush helped shape the Emerald City. Visitors also enjoy the 360-degree views of the city using an authentic WWII-era Tang periscope in the Maritime exhibit.
The museum's third major gallery focuses on how local inventors have put the region at the forefront of innovation and new technology. It includes interactive exhibits and a chance to get a sneak peek at concepts that are being explored. Permanent collections in the museum's main gallery include a wide range of historical objects, from vintage clothing to locally invented products.
Address: 860 Terry Ave N, Seattle, Washington
Official site: https://mohai.org
8. 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.
Tourists can take a narrated sightseeing cruise along the canal, which offers various views of some of the city's most iconic features, like the Space Needle, the Great Ferris Wheel, and even the houseboat community featured in Sleepless in Seattle. The tour lasts 2.5 hours and includes transportation back to the starting point.
Address: 3015 NW 54th Street, Seattle, Washington
9. 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.
Benaroya Hall presents a variety of shows and performances. The Seattle Symphony is a staple exhibition, but this beautiful concert hall also features folk performances, family concerts, and lively speaker series. Whatever show brings you to Benaroya Hall, the decadent 2,500-seat auditorium itself adds to the experience of visiting.
Address: 200 University Street, Seattle, Washington
Official site: www.seattlesymphony.org/benaroya
10. International District
To the east of Pioneer Square is the colorful International District, where Japanese and Chinese shops and restaurants dominate the street scene. There are many things to do here, but the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is a must. This museum charts the history of Asian immigration, named for Wing Luke, a Chinese American who was the first Asian American elected official in Washington.
Another fun place to visit within the International District is the Seattle Pinball Museum. This hands-on museum doesn't just relate the colorful history of these popular arcade accessories, it encourages visitors to flick the flippers of countless pinball games. The surrounding district is also filled with several international restaurants and cultural centers.
Address: 719 S. King Street, Seattle, Washington
11. Living Computers: Museum and Labs
The Living Computers Museum and Labs is a techie's heaven, packed with items and interactive opportunities that look at the history of computers, modern accomplishments, and future potential. Their extensive vintage collection includes some of the first computers, as well as exhibits that look into the lives and work of the geniuses who revolutionized the personal computer and beyond, including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Paul Allen.
The museum's philosophy is that visitors cannot fully appreciate technology without experiencing it, so the majority of exhibits encourage interaction. Visitors can experience cutting-edge virtual reality, take a simulated drive in a self-driving car, and even sit down to write some code for their very own video game. Other topics include robotics, artificial intelligence, and the world of Big Data.
Address: 2245 1st Ave S, Seattle, Washington
Official site: www.livingcomputers.org
12. Discovery Park
Discovery Park covers 550 acres and is the largest park in the city, and one of the top beaches in Seattle. The park encompasses coastline, forest, and meadows, offering a nice escape from the city and providing a habitat for wildlife.
On a point protruding into the sound, West Point Lighthouse marks the westernmost vantage in the park. But the natural space affords many looks out over Puget Sound, and there are also great views of the mountains. 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, Washington
13. 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, Washington
14. 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. In the neighborhood, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical 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 is the old streets where the pioneers would have walked.
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: This eco-friendly, luxury, boutique hotel is convenient for sightseeing, with its Pike Place Market location. Enjoy water views, the rooftop deck, and floor-to-ceiling windows.
- The Maxwell Hotel - A Staypineapple Hotel: For mid-range rates, funky decor, an espresso bar, free shuttle, and indoor pool, this is the place.
- Best Western Executive Inn: With affordable pricing and a location near the Seattle Center and the Space Needle, it's hard to beat this Best Western.
- Comfort Inn & Suites Seattle: This budget-friendly hotel offers affordable rates, clean rooms, free Wi-Fi and parking, laundry facilities, and a free breakfast.
Tips & Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Seattle
- Save Money: Tourists who want to save money and get access to the city's top attractions will want to take advantage of the Seattle CityPASS. The pass includes both night and day admission to the Space Needle, a one-hour cruise in Argosy Harbor, and admission to the Seattle Aquarium, plus admission to the Woodland Park Zoo, Chihuly Garden and Glass, or the Museum of Pop Culture. Coupons, maps, and transportation tips are also included to help make sightseeing as stress-free as possible.