25 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Seattle, WA
Seattle is the capital of culture in the Pacific Northwest. This mythic city has grown from its wild surroundings into an energetic, forward-looking city at the forefront of innovation. And today, whether you're looking for an urban adventure or outdoor enjoyment, Seattle combines it all into a memorable visiting experience.
The Seattle Space Needle, built for the 1962 World's Fair, is often the first tourist attraction associated with the city. And this revolving obelisk is well worth the visit. It's a cornerstone of the larger Seattle Center, which comprises many other top places to visit, including institutions like Chihuly Garden & Glass.
Other popular places to visit in Seattle include the downtown waterfront at Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square. Here, visitors find many days of amusements with museums, boat rides, and revolutions on the Seattle Great Wheel.
But peel Seattle back beyond the central tourist destinations, and the city has so much more to explore. From saltwater and freshwater beaches to sculpture gardens and zoos, vacation opportunities are endless when you're planning a trip.
The best time to visit Seattle depends on the type of experience desired. Summer is when the city absolutely shines. This is also when the city is most inundated with out-of-town visitors.
Start planning your personalized trip to the Emerald City with our list of the top attractions and things to do 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 the multi-genre exhibits at the Museum of Pop Culture and impressive glass artworks at Chihuly Garden and Glass. Seattle's best radio station, KEXP, also operates out of a studio in the Seattle Center, where music fans often have reason to gather.
Riding to the top of the Space Needle is a quintessential experience of visiting Seattle. 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
Vendors offer a wide range of wares for sale on the two floors of the picturesque Pike Place Market. 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 foods 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.
Although it's possible to spend all day admiring each stall in Pike Place Market, typically it's only a part of a touristic day. The market is in the central downtown area, surrounded by several other places to visit. Within a short walk, visitors can also check out the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Seattle Great Wheel at Pier 57.
Address: 1st and Pike Streets, Seattle, Washington
Official site: http://www.pikeplacemarket.org/
3. Discovery Park
Discovery Park covers nearly 550 acres and is the largest park in the city, and one of the top beaches in Seattle. It's located on a point protruding into the sound from the Magnolia neighborhood, west of downtown. The park encompasses coastline, forest, and meadows, offering a true escape from the city and providing a habitat for wildlife.
West Point Lighthouse marks the westernmost vantage in the park and is a popular photo destination. But the natural space affords many other vantages over Puget Sound, and there are also great views of the Olympic Mountains. The Loop Trail and Beach Trails are the two most popular routes to see the big views.
An environmental learning center hosts interactive exhibits and information about the park, as well as education programs for all ages. The network of trails is sprawling within the park, but abundant signage makes navigating throughout the 500-plus acres fairly easy. Still, first-time visitors might want to download the park map.
Address: 3801 Discovery Park Blvd, Seattle, Washington
4. Chihuly Garden and Glass
The Chihuly Garden and Glass is one of Seattle's best museums and is located within the Seattle Center. 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.
Adjacent to the Greenhouse, the Art Plaza and Collections Café offers a lovely place to sit and enjoy hourly glassblowing demonstrations. The plaza abuts the garden, where visitors find Chihuly's work presented within a natural environment, enhancing the flow and depth of the glass.
The museum also features a video presentation about the artist's life and craft, as well as daily gallery talks and tours. Chihuly Glass and Gardens is open seven days
Address: 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, Washington
Official site: www.chihulygardenandglass.com
5. Go Underground in the 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 same neighborhood, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park remembers the surge of prospectors who departed for the Yukon during the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush. This monumental event brought new prosperity to Seattle, the marketed "Gateway to the Gold Fields."
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. This 75-minute tour explains how the current city streets were established after the 1889 Great Seattle Fire, and dives into the legacy of the almost forgotten underground sidewalks.
6. Learn about Puget Sound at the Seattle Aquarium
The non-profit Seattle Aquarium operates right on the downtown waterfront, just a short walk from the Seattle Great Wheel on Pier 57. Through several live animal exhibits, the Aquarium strives to educate every family member about the wild importance of the nearby Puget Sound.
The Window on Washington's Waters is the first exhibit immediately at the aquarium. Visitors appreciate this massive 120,000-gallon tank with a 40-foot-wide window and bench seating. At the exhibit and throughout the museum, staff members offer relevant information and answer any questions.
The tide pool touch tanks tend to be the next area of attraction at the aquarium. Here, kids and adults can gently put a finger on sea anemones and other colorful invertebrates.
The aquarium is also home to various marine mammals, including different kinds of seals and otters. Visitors get the chance to observe these playful residents above and below water thanks to the tank designs.
Address: 1483 Alaskan Way, Seattle, Washington
Official site: https://www.seattleaquarium.org/
7. 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. If you're here in the summer, consider visiting first thing when the zoo opens, or stick around until it's about to close. Many animals will ride out the heat of the day in their enclosures.
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
8. MOHAI: The Museum of History & Industry
The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) 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 Klondike Gold Rush shaped 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.
Adjacent to MOHAI, The Center for Wooden Boats is another popular community attraction. This non-profit strives to provide public access to water recreation and maritime travel. The center offers workshops, public sailboat adventures, and rentals throughout the week.
Address: 860 Terry Ave N, Seattle, Washington
Official site: https://mohai.org
9. Watch Boats Pass at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Ballard Locks)
These busy locks northwest of Seattle Center are also known as the Ballard Locks. These fascinating works of engineering are in Salmon Bay and help keep the saltwater of Puget Sound separate from the freshwater of Lake Washington. They also help regulate water levels in Lake Washington, which otherwise would fluctuate with the changing tide.
Ballard Locks also provides a "boat elevator" for vessels looking to cross into Puget Sound (or vice versa). This transfer of boats big and small, from personal sailboats to much larger cargo ships, is a fun experience and unlike anything seen in most major cities.
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
10. Take a Water Taxi to Alki Beach Park
Alki Beach Park is a popular destination in West Seattle with a lot of history. It's where the first white settlers landed in 1851, greeted by Chief Seattle and his tribe. Today, it's a 2.5-mile linear park and a guaranteed busy place when the weather is nice.
But with ample sand and space to stretch out some volleyball nets, overcrowding isn't always the biggest issue on summer weekends. Instead, finding a parking space can sometimes require extra patience. To avoid the hassle of parking, it's much easier to hop on a water taxi from Pier 50 in downtown Seattle. The water taxi drops you off at the eastern end of Alki Beach Park.
Timing a visit to Alki during low tide opens a world of tide pool exploring. A 2.5-mile concrete pathway parallels much of the beach, and benches and local businesses line much of this route, offering plenty for an afternoon of exploring.
11. Wander the Galleries at the Seattle Art Museum
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is downtown, one block from Pike Place Market. It's a massive repository for world-renowned art and a must-see for casual observers and enthusiasts alike.
The museum's collection is spread across four floors of expansive gallery space. The bottom three floors feature both rotating exhibits and pieces from the permanent collection. A few of the permanent displays include Native American Art, European Art, and Islamic Art. The museum also houses a robust collection of contemporary and modern art.
For even more aesthetic pleasure, SAM also oversees two other prominent art facilities. Less than a mile to the north on the waterfront, SAM operates the Olympic Sculpture Park, which is free to enjoy. And in Volunteer Park, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, SAM also operates the Seattle Asian Art Museum.
Address: 1300 1st Ave, Seattle, Washington
Official site: https://www.seattleartmuseum.org/
12. Take a Trip to The 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
13. Whale Watch from Seattle
The city-defining waters of Puget Sound host a wide array of marine life. This proximity to a wild habitat gives residents and visitors a unique opportunity to see the landscape's largest mammals.
While several types of whales enjoy the water close to the city, it's often orcas that are sought out. The summer is considered the best time to see orcas from Seattle, specifically between mid-June and early September.
Watchful tourists can spot whales from the shore without boarding a boat. Spots along the western banks of Seattle, like Alki Beach and Golden Gardens, offer some of the best vantage points. Patience and a little help from resources like the Orca Network go a long way in spotting whales from the Seattle shore.
Several whale-watching boat tours are also available from Seattle. In years past, boat noise and boat disturbance became known contributors to declining orca populations. When booking a whale-watching tour, consider finding a company like Puget Sound Express with a long track record of responsible practices.
14. Get Lost at the Washington Park Arboretum
Covering over 230 acres in the Madison Park neighborhood northeast of downtown, the Washington Park Arboretum is the best spot to step away from the city. It's co-managed by the city of Seattle and the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, and it's open every day to the public, free of charge.
Among the expansive green space, the arboretum maintains several specific gardens. A few notable paths include the jaunt through Rhododendron Glen and Azalea Way – the historic heart of the park. Visitors can also expect to encounter Japanese maples and a 2.5-acre plot devoted to New Zealand native plants.
Self-guided and guided tours are available at the arboretum. Guided excursions include Tram Tours, which navigate the entire park in an hour. If you're trying to walk through the whole park, plan for at least this same amount of time. For more information and trail maps, visit the Graham Visitors Center near the northern border.
Official site: https://botanicgardens.uw.edu/washington-park-arboretum/
15. Catch the Sunset at Gas Works Park
Gas Works Park is on the northern shoreline of Lake Union, with a fantastic view across the water toward the downtown skyline. Alongside this shimmering view of boats and buildings, the park also has several pieces of eye-catching infrastructure.
Before becoming a park, Gas Works was the site of an industrial coal gasification plant. This history is still readily apparent, as many historic structures are now reclaimed into public art pieces. Some of the old facility is even now incorporated into playground equipment and park structures.
A large earthen mound with a paved trail offers an excellent vantage point of all the park has to offer. Here, towels and blankets punctuate the elevated spot as people enjoy the lakeside ambience. Come sundown, the entire area comes under a special glow as the last bit of day reflects off the water.
16. Walk around Green Lake
Green Lake is an approximately 260-acre lake north of downtown. A popular residential area of the same name borders the eastern and northern edges of the water, and a 2.8-mile multi-use paved trail circles the entire lake, connecting several places to spend the day.
East Green Lake Park is one of the most popular pitstops. Here, sandy shoreline and ample green space abound with people throughout the warmer months. Popular things to do at the park include volleyball, swimming, and lounging about close to the water. Boat rentals are also available.
Opposite East Green Lake on the northern shoreline, West Green Lake Beach offers similar amenities on a slightly smaller scale. On the southern end of Green Lake, connected by the paved multi-use trail, Woodland Park and the Woodland Park Zoo offer their own day of things to do.
17. Find Fun at the Museum of Pop Culture
The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is a top attraction within the Seattle Center. It's next to the Space Needle, and with a colorful and fluid-like building, it's hard to miss when visiting this central tourist district.
MoPOP dedicates itself to telling the continuing story of modern culture. Exhibits span three levels and include hundreds of artifacts, including costumes, guitars, and a constant stream of memorabilia. Among other subjects, the permanent collection relates to the world of horror movies, the sci-fi universe, and the meteoric rise of the 90s grunge band Nirvana. And new exhibits frequently rotate on display.
The museum is open daily. Plan to spend a few hours wandering the eye-catching and sometimes interactive displays. The museum also regularly hosts events, including movie nights from their ever-evolving list of "100 Horror Films to See Before You Die."
Address: 325 5th Avenue N, Seattle, Washington
Official site: https://www.mopop.org/
18. Ride the Seattle Great Wheel
The Seattle Great Wheel is a 175-foot-tall Ferris Wheel on Pier 57 on the downtown waterfront. It's just minutes from Pike Place Market and easily visible from the Seattle Aquarium. For many, taking a revolution is a quintessential downtown experience.
The Great Wheel spins seven days of the week. Depending on crowd size, a ride on the Great Wheel takes approximately 20 minutes. In that time, a revolving view of Elliot Bay and downtown keep the ride captivating. Although the wheel spins on rainy days, blue skies offer the best experience.
The Great Wheel is only one part of the larger Miners Landing on Pier 57. Other tourist attractions include a classic carousel and a unique "flying theater" known as Wings over Washington. The area also has an ample supply of souvenirs and gifts available.
19. Sunbathe on a Seattle Beach
Water surrounds all sides of Seattle. The saltwater of Elliot Bay and Puget Sound offer lapping waves to the west, and Lake Washington has freshwater to the east. While this doesn't mean the entire outer edge of the city is a sandy beach, the marine landscape does offer a few incredible shorelines to enjoy.
On Puget Sound, beaches at places like Golden Gardens and Carkeek Park rank high as local favorites. These two beaches offer some of the most spacious sandy stretches in the city and are popular for all beach-related activities. The world-famous Discovery Park also has a Puget Sound shoreline with a sandy beach bisected by a scenic lighthouse.
The east side of Seattle, on Lake Washington, also has several shoreline areas with sand. Matthews Beach Park, in Northeast Seattle, is one of the largest. It features a designated swimming area with lifeguards, a swimming platform, and ample green space to lay a blanket down.
Read More: Top-Rated Beaches in the Seattle Area
20. Picnic at Volunteer Park
In the north Capitol Hill neighborhood, 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.
It's simply a lovely park to wander through and is especially a nice place to bring a blanket to enjoy a picnic or casual hangout with a view. A historic water tower in the park offers a circular staircase to ascend for a 360-degree view of the entire area.
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
21. Explore the 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 inland entrance to the park is on Western and Broad Street, and the park follows a "Z" trail down to the waterfront. The trail passes by the PACCAR Pavilion with more art inside. This open community space also has a café and available window seating.
The park is maintained by the Seattle Art Museum, which is located one mile away, 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
22. Head to the 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. It's 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
23. Meet the Fremont Street Troll
The Fremont Troll is the result of a public art competition that took place over three decades ago. It was an effort to clean up a notorious dumping ground beneath the Aurora Bridge. Now, with a few fresh coats of paint over the years, the Fremont Street Troll has solidified itself as a city attraction and success in urban planning.
The most popular thing to do at the troll is to pose for a picture. The enormity of the sculpture comes into view in real life while standing next to his long stringy fingers and peering up to his singular metal eye. It only takes a quick visit to check out the troll under Aurora Bridge, five miles north of downtown.
24. Dive into the Living Computers: Museum and Labs
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
25. Experience Benaroya Hall
Benaroya Hall is Seattle's premier arts venue and seats 2,500 for Seattle Symphony concerts. The performance hall is downtown, across the street from the Seattle Art Museum. 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.
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
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.
- Center for Wooden Boats
- Central Freeway Park
- Children's Museum
- Coast Guard Museum
- Denny Park
- Frye Museum
- Fun Forest Amusement Park
- Kingdom (demolished)
- Klondike Gold Rush NHP
- Maritime Heritage Museum
- Omnidome Film Experience
- Pacific Science Center
- Pike Place Market
- Pioneer Square
- Seattle Aquarium
- Seattle Art Museum
- Seattle Center
- Smith Tower
- Space Needle
- Washington State Convention & Trade Center
- Wing Luke Asian Museum