Famous for its addiction to caffeine (there are over 140 Starbucks coffee shops here and Starbucks was founded in this city), Seattle is the birthplace of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Jimi Hendrix. It’s also one of the biggest tech hubs in the country, home to Amazon, Nintendo, Microsoft, and more.
I love visiting Seattle. The food is awesome, there’s a robust music and art scene, tons of great bars, lots of history, and plenty of nature. Quality of life is really high here.
And, while the city is famous for its cloudy days, if you can find a sunny day when you’re here, you’re in for a real treat. Seattle lives up to its hype, especially if you’re a foodie.
This travel guide to Seattle can help your trip there. It has everything I’ve learned from visiting the city over the past decade!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Seattle
1. Visit the Seattle Center
2. Stroll through Pike Place Market
3. Visit the Seattle Art Museum
4. Relax on Alki Beach
5. Take an underground tour
Other Things to See and Do in Seattle
1. Head to Pioneer Square
Once the heart of the city, Pioneer Square is the site where the city’s founders first settled in 1852. History abounds with cobblestone streets and classic red brick buildings lining the 90-acre district. I highly recommend the underground tour (see above). It provides a rich understanding of the beginnings of Seattle. Today, there are lots of hip bars and trendy cafes here that make this a great place to relax and people watch.
2. Explore Hing Hay Park
Located in the Chinatown-International District, Hing Hay Park is where you can watch chess players in action or participate in morning Tai-Chi. There are also lots of events held here in the summer, including concerts and theater performances. Nearby are plenty of karaoke bars as well as lots of places to grab a bubble tea. If you want to find out more about Seattle’s Asian-American community, visit the Wing Luke Asian Museum, which highlights the art, culture, and history of Asian Pacific Americans (admission is $17 USD).
3. Visit the Boeing Museum of Flight
This museum showcases air travel through the ages. As an avid traveler, it’s super interesting. There are over 150 planes here, as well as the original Boeing “factory.” They have the original Air Force One, a Concorde jet (one of only four on display outside Europe), a full mock-up of the first lunar lander, and more. Admission is $25 USD.
4. Watch boats at the Ballard Locks
Opened in 1917, these locks provide a link for boats between the Puget Sound and the Ship Canal. Over a million tons of cargo pass through the locks each year (they handle more boat traffic than any other lock in the US). Stop by the Fish Ladder Viewing Gallery where you can get an aquarium-like view of salmon migrating through the locks. There’s an aquaculture museum attached, and admission to everything is free.
5. Learn about the Gold Rush
In 1897, news of the gold discovery in the Canadian Yukon sent throngs of Seattle prospectors up north. This, in turn, brought many people to Seattle, who used it as a gateway to the north. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park offers an interesting look at this formative period in North American history. In addition to the two floors of exhibitions, there are also several films that shed light on the city’s transformation and the impact of the gold rush on Seattle’s development. Admission is free.
7. Explore the Museum of Pop Culture
This amazing Frank Gehry-designed building looks like a smashed guitar from the sky. Inside are colorful exhibits that cover everything from the history of indie video games and horror films to Nirvana, the Seahawks, and other local pop culture. There’s a massive pillar made out of guitars inside, as well as a Science Fiction section and a Hall of Fame for sci-fi and fantasy creators. Tickets start at $28 USD.
8. Visit the Starbucks Reserve Roastery
The Starbucks Reserve is a wonderland for coffee addicts. There are exclusive drinks on offer that you won’t find at standard Starbucks stores, and you can learn more about the roasting process as well. It’s one of the most unique Starbucks experiences you can have. You can also visit the original Starbucks at 1912 Pike Place (it opened in 1971), but there’s not much to see and do here other than enjoy a cup of coffee. Be prepared for long lines at the Roastery.
9. Take a free boat ride
Seattle has a fun tradition: every Sunday, volunteers from the Center for Wooden Boats (a living museum where you can rent a boat and learn to sail) take people out on Lake Union for free. Boats generally set sail between 11am-7pm and it’s first-come, first-served —so show up early! The center also has several exhibits including displays of historic wooden boats and boat photography. Admission is free.
10. Visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass
Located in Belltown, this gallery showcases the jaw-dropping work of Dale Chihuly, one of the most famous blown glass artists in the world. Intricate and multi-colored blown-glass work is displayed throughout a series of indoor and outdoor installations, including a lush garden filled with various colorful glass sculptures. Inside is a 100-foot long sculpture in reds and oranges—one of Chihuly’s largest suspended works. There are also glass blowing demonstrations throughout the day as well as special events and talks. Check the website for details. Admission is $32 USD.
11. Relax on Bainbridge Island
Nearby Bainbridge Island offers a nice reprieve from the busy city. It’s filled with over 150 acres of gardens, meadows, ponds, and even a nature reserve. Make sure you stop for ice cream at the Mora Iced Creamery! You can take the Bainbridge Island Ferry (for $9.05 USD one way) across and then get a bicycle rental for the day for about $35-45 USD (most bike rentals on the island require advance booking).
12. Take a food tour
If you’re a foodie like me, Savor Seattle Food Tours offers an amazing overview of some of Seattle’s best foodie areas, including Pike Place Market, for $45 USD. There’s also a VIP tour of Pile Place Market for $56 USD, just in case you want to go a little more in-depth. Not only will you get to eat some great food but you’ll learn about the food’s history and the culture behind it too.
13. Take a trip to Vancouver
If you’re here for a while, consider taking a trip to Vancouver, Canada. It’s just a 2.5-hour drive away and is one of my favorite cities in the world. There are tons of amazing places to eat (including great sushi places), lots of nearby hiking (don’t miss the Grouse Grind), and the relaxing views of Stanley Park. It makes for a perfect weekend getaway.
For more information on other cities in the United States, check out these guides:
Seattle Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in a dorm with 6-8 beds costs around $35 USD per night. A basic twin private room with a shared bathroom for one person costs $63 USD. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities. My favorite hostel in the city, Green Tortoise, includes free breakfast.
Camping is available outside the city for those traveling with a tent. A basic plot for two people without electricity costs around $20 USD per night.
Budget hotel prices – Budget two-star hotels start at $124 USD per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, TV, and a coffee/tea maker.
Seattle has tons of Airbnb options. Private rooms start at $50 USD per night (but average double that) while entire homes/apartments cost at least $100 USD.
Food – Seattle has plenty of cheap food options. Chinese food and food trucks are your best bet, offering main courses for under $10 USD. The Chinatown here is massive and has tons of cheap eats. If you’re on a budget, start your food search there.
A cheap meal at a sit-down restaurant costs around $18 USD, while a three-course meal with a drink costs at least $45 USD. For fast food, expect to pay around $10 USD for a combo meal. Large pizzas start at $18 USD.
Beer costs around $7 USD while a latte/cappuccino costs $5 USD (though, this is the land of coffee so you can easily spend more). Bottled water is $2 USD.
If you cook your own food, expect to pay between $50-65 USD per week for basic staples like rice, pasta, veggies, and some meat.
Backpacking Seattle Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Seattle, expect to spend about $70 USD per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, public transportation, cooking your own meals, and doing free activities like hitting the beach or visiting the free museums. If you plan on drinking, add around $10-15 USD per day.
A mid-range budget of $160 USD per day covers staying in a private hostel room or Airbnb, eating out for all your meals at cheap food trucks and Chinese restaurants, having a couple beers, taking the occasional Uber to get around, and doing more paid activities like the Space Needle or the art museum.
On a “luxury” budget of about $415 or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat anywhere you want, drink as much as you’d like, rent a car or take Ubers everywhere, visit Vancouver, and do more paid tours and activities, such as a food tour. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Seattle Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Seattle isn’t the most expensive city in the western U.S., but it’s still easy to blow a lot of money here. A rising cost of living has made it more expensive than in the past. If you want to lower your costs, here are some ways to save money in Seattle:
- Pick up a CityPASS – This discount ticket offers entrance to six of Seattle’s biggest tourist attractions for $109 USD, saving you nearly 50% off!
- Eat in Chinatown – For the cheapest food in the city, go to Chinatown and eat your heart out. You’ll find filling plates of food here for under $10 USD.
- Get a cheaper aerial view of the city – Skip the Space Needle and head to the Starbucks on the 40th floor of the Columbia Tower downtown for a panoramic view over the city. It’ll just cost you a drink!
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free! Couchsurfing connects you with locals who can share their insider knowledge about the city while helping you save money by letting you sleep on their couch for free.
- Go on a free walking tour – This is a great way to learn the history behind the places you are seeing and to avoid missing any must-see stops. Seattle Free Walking Tours has a couple of walking tours that can teach you about the history of the city.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber and Lyft are cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15).
- Bring a reusable water bottle – The tap water is safe to drink here so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your single-use plastic usage. LifeStraw makes reusable bottles with built-in filters that ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Seattle
Seattle only has a few hostels but they are all budget friendly. Here are my suggested places to stay in Seattle:
For more hostel suggestions, here’s a list of my favorite hostels in Seattle!
How to Get Around Seattle
Public Transportation – A light rail with 22 stops runs throughout the city. Fares are $2.25–3.25 USD, depending on where you’re going. You can purchase tickets at the station or via the Transit GO Ticket app.
You can also purchase a reloadable ORCA card, which tracks different fares and transfers automatically. There are also buses and streetcars with fares costing $2.25 USD.
Day passes are $4.50 USD.
Seattle Center Monorail – This monorail runs between Westlake Center and Seattle Center at the bottom of Queen Anne hill. The monorail departs every ten minutes and the full trip only takes two minutes! One-way fare is $3 USD. You can use your ORCA card for the monorail too.
Bike – Seattle is very bike-friendly. You can reserve a JUMP bike with Uber; bikes are free to unlock and then $0.36 USD per minute. Lime also has a bike-sharing program, costing $1 USD to unlock a bike and then $0.36 USD per minute.
Taxis – Taxis start at $5 USD, and then each kilometer after that is $1.69 USD. If you’re on a budget, skip them.
Ridesharing – Uber and Lyft are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a cab. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings.
Car rental – Car rentals can be found for around $35 USD per day for a multi-day rental. Unless you’re heading out on day trips though you won’t need a car.
When to Go to Seattle
Fall in Seattle is the best time to visit (September to October). The high season (summer) is over, so room rates have dropped and tourists have flocked elsewhere. It’s still warm, with temperatures averaging 60°F (15°C) and with less rainfall than spring.
On the other hand, summer is a great time to visit if you don’t mind paying a little more for your room. It’s always warm, averaging about 75°F (23°C) and people are out enjoying the weather. There are always events and festivals going on too.
Winter is the coldest month, with temperatures ranging from 39-47°F (4-8°C). The plus side? There are almost no tourists around!
No matter what time of year you visit, you’re likely to encounter some drizzle or rain. Pack some rain gear and a warm sweater.
How to Stay Safe in Seattle
Seattle is a very safe place to backpack and travel. Most neighborhoods are safe to explore, especially the touristy areas, but there are a handful of places to avoid because of higher than normal violence or mugging risks. This includes around King County Courthouse and Pioneer Square, and the area between Pike and Pine. If you don’t explore those places alone after dark, you should be fine.
Petty crime like pickpocketing can occur in high-trafficked areas, like tourist attractions or on crowded public transit. Always keep your belongings secure and don’t wave any flashy valuable around. Do that, and you’ll be fine.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Seattle. Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Seattle Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel around Seattle. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and, overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the United States, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Seattle Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Seattle Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Written in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic is a must-read travel novel. Kerouac’s character’s (who he modeled after himself) frustration, desire to see the world, and adventures resonate with all of us who need a little relief from modern life. The story follows Sal as he leaves New York City and heads west, riding the rails, making friends, and partying the night away. He finds thrills, adventure, love, sex, drugs, poverty, and excitement while moving from a weak character into someone whose life experience brings confidence. It’s a true American classic.
Tip of the Iceberg, by Mark Adams
In 1899, Edward H. Harriman (a rich railroad magnate) converted a steamship into a luxury cruise for some of America’s best scientists and writers and embarked on a summer voyage around Alaska. Now, author Mark Adams retraces that expedition, traveling over 3,000 miles along the coast of the state. Mark is one of my favorite writers, and this book is very reminiscent of Turn Right at Machu Picchu. Mark brings insight into the people, history, and culture of the state in a way he did with his other book.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Forgetting the hype of the book (and the subsequent movie), I really did like this book. Cheryl Strayed’s book is about her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26. She sets off in hopes of finding herself and coming to grips with the death of her mother, break-up of her marriage, and drug use. She’s looking for a fresh start. Along the way, she encounters kindness, happy fellow hikers, and a deep sense of belong. Filled with wonderful prose, I found this book deeply moving. It’s easy to see why the book became such a hit.
Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant
As a big fan of the state of Mississippi, I was keen to read this book. The state is an often-overlooked tourist destination with eccentric but wonderful people; beautiful parks, rivers, and swamps; stunning architecture; and a complex and rich history for history buffs like myself. In this book, English writer Richard Grant and his girlfriend move to rural Pluto, Mississippi, to live a better life, escape the big city, lower their cost of living, and try something new. They learn to hunt, garden, fend off wild animals, handle snakes, and befriend interesting characters along the way.
The Not-Quite States of America, by Doug Mack
The United States of America is more than just 50 states. There are also the non-states of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. In this funny, detailed, fact-rich book, Doug Mack explores these territories largely forgotten by the rest of the country, which play a more important role in our country than we realize. I had the pleasure of listening to Doug talk about his book in NYC, and he’s a wealth of knowledge — just like his book! This one of those travel books that expands your mind about the place you don’t really know.
Blue Highways: A Journey into America, by William Least Heat-Moon
This is a deep dive into America’s unknown tiny towns scattered across the country map, like New Hope (Tennessee), Remote (Oregon), Why (Arizona), and Whynot (Mississippi). Yes, those are real town names! Heat-Moon’s book is considered a masterpiece in American travel writing and you’ll love his adventures and the incredible people he encounters as he reveals the “real” American experience.
Seattle Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on United States travel and continue planning your trip: