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The Top 13 Bucket-List Things to Do in Seattle

3 June 2024 | Highlights, North America, Play, Seattle, USA

Must-visit attractions that showcase Seattle’s diverse heritage

Trying to get to know the dynamic metropolis of Seattle in a short space of time? While you could spend a lifetime discovering this city’s hidden gems, you can quickly visit its highlights and a few lesser-known hotspots to gain insights into all aspects of its culture and heritage.

In this guide, we discuss the top 13 attractions and activities that deserve a place on your Seattle bucket list. By visiting our recommendations, you’ll discover all sides of this melting pot city, from its shopping, dining and nightlife to its cultural and industrial heritage.

Seattle cityscape aerial view

A sneak peek at the most popular Seattle attractions

Here’s a very quick introduction to the attractions discussed in this guide so that you can skip to the sections that best match your interests:

  • Pike Place Market – Iconic food and shopping waterfront district
  • Space Needle ­– A futuristic observation tower and iconic Seattle landmark
  • Pioneer Square – History, dining and shopping in Seattle’s oldest neighbourhood
  • Museum of Pop Culture – Exhibits on rock music, sci-fi, gaming and more
  • Chihuly Gardens and Glass – A showcase of local artist Dale Chihuly’s dazzling glass art
  • Museum of History & Industry – A museum exploring Seattle’s industrial heritage
  • Wing Luke Museum – Dedicated to the cultural heritage of Pan-Asian Pacific Americans
  • Seattle Art Museum – A world-class art gallery with three major facilities
  • Seattle Central Library – A postmodernist gem with 11 floors of books and superb views
  • Kerry Park – A small park with an iconic view of the Seattle skyline
  • Museum of Flight – Vast air and space museum with exhibits on Seattle’s aviation heritage
  • Capitol Hill – A diverse neighbourhood and hub of nightlife and shopping
  • Bainbridge Island – A scenic island just a 35-minute ferry ride from Downtown Seattle
Seattle skyline view from the water

A detailed rundown of the best things to do in Seattle

From iconic attractions like the Space Needle and Pike Place Market to bustling neighbourhoods such as Capitol Hill and Chinatown, here are what we believe to be the top 13 bucket-list attractions in Seattle:

1. Pike Place Market

Believe it or not, Seattle’s most-visited landmark is a historic marketplace, though not your typical one. Established in 1907 as a produce market, Pike Place Market now encompasses a bustling neighbourhood by the waterfront and is a heaven for foodies and shopaholics.

Pike Place Market

At eateries that include street food stalls and tucked-away restaurants, you’ll find cuisines from all over the world. Besides Seattle staples like the Seattle Joe Scramble (a menu highlight at Lowell’s Restaurant), you can order Italian delicacies at The Pink Door, classic French fare at Le Pichet, traditional Turkish dishes at Turkish Delight… the list goes on.

Pike Place Market is also the city’s mecca for seafood – the traditional fish-tossing practice at the Pike Place Fish Market has persevered since the 80s. If you’re here to dine rather than buy fresh seafood, try a restaurant such as Pike Place Chowder.

Inside Pike Place Market

On top of the food offerings, hundreds of artisans throughout the neighbourhood of Pike Place Market sell goods ranging from art and crafts to vintage clothing and vinyls.

While you’re here, keep your eyes peeled for iconic photo spots such as the bronze Rachel the Piggy Bank statue, the “Public Market Center” sign and the world’s first Starbucks.

2. Space Needle

The 184-metre-tall Space Needle has been Seattle’s most prominent structure ever since it was constructed in 1962 to symbolize innovation and architectural prestige at the World’s Fair.

Space Needle

From the Atmos, the name given to the tower’s flying-saucer-inspired ‘top house’, you can take in panoramic views of Seattle’s skyline, the Cascade Mountains, Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier.

A bunch of architectural and design upgrades have made the Space Needle even more spectacular since 2018. You can now soak up views of Seattle through an adrenaline-pumping glass floor in an enclosed observation space with tilted glass windows that make you feel like you’re floating. Just above this space is an open-air deck, where you can enjoy the view with the wind against your skin.

Top of the Space Needle

When you need a break, order hot drinks and snacks from the Atmos Café. Prefer something stronger? Wine and bubbly are available at the Atmos Wine Bar. Featuring a revolving glass floor, the newly renovated seasonal Loupe Lounge is an excellent place for dinner and cocktails with a view.

The Space Needle is open from 9 am to 11 pm on Monday to Thursday and 8 am to midnight on Friday to Sunday. General admission ticket prices at the Space Needle cost USD 35–46.50 per adult. You can also get combo tickets for the Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden and Glass for USD 63–68.

3. Pioneer Square

Not just the oldest neighbourhood in Seattle, Pioneer Square was one of the first settlements along the West Coast of the USA. Today, much of the place’s ‘Old West’ identity remains intact. And you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to things to do.

Pioneer Square buildings

While exploring Pioneer Square, you’ll stroll by many of Seattle’s oldest buildings, including an array of architectural gems in the Romanesque Revival style. Head to Beneath the Streets to tour Pioneer Square’s historic underground passageways that were constructed during the 1890s.

If you’d rather soak up views of Pioneer Square from above, ascend to the 35th-floor observation deck and speak-easy style lounge bar of the Smith Tower, which became Seattle’s first skyscraper and the tallest building on the West Coast when it opened in 1914.

Smith Tower

Other famous landmarks and attractions in Seattle’s Pioneer Square include the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, the Pioneer Square Totem Pole and the secluded Waterfall Garden.

Besides hosting many of Seattle’s most famous tourist attractions, Pioneer Square is home to a growing number of shops, cafés, restaurants, bookstores, galleries and bars.

4. Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)

Whether you’re an aspiring rock ‘n’ roll legend, a sci-fi buff or a gaming geek, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is a must-visit attraction in Seattle.

Museum of Pop Culture exterior
Photo © Josh Grenier (CC BY 2.0)

The building’s striking, rock music-inspired design by renowned architect Frank Gehry makes MoPOP as much of an architectural wonder as a cultural institution. Some say the museum’s exterior resembles a smashed guitar from above.

Exhibits at MoPOP cover music, video games and TV and film. Some of our favourite exhibits on the history of rock include “Wild Blue Angel: Hendrix Abroad, 1966–1970” and “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses”.

Museum of Pop Culture interior
Photo © Buiobuione (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

If you’re more into blockbusters than chart-toppers, you might enjoy browsing original artefacts from The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. You can also peruse extensive exhibitions on gaming revolutions and the Marvel Universe.

General admission ticket prices at the MoPOP range from USD 27–30+, depending on which day you visit. Buy your tickets in advance online to secure the best price. The museum is located directly opposite the Seattle Monorail.

5. Chihuly Gardens and Glass

Chihuly Gardens and Glass displays some of the most awe-inspiring glass-blown works of art by Washington native and world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Chihuly Gardens and Glass Interior Exhibits

While exploring this beautifully surreal museum, you’ll see an imaginative landscape of colourful glass sculptures that blend with the surrounding natural environment.

A clear example of the museum’s creative harmony lies in the Garden, where handmade glass art sits intertwined with vines, ferns and perennials. In the Indoor Exhibits, you can admire a wide array of boldly colourful glass-blown sculptures and installations, from bowls to intricate chandeliers and monumental sculptures.

Chihuly Gardens and Glass Garden

The centrepiece of Chihuly Gardens and Glass is the Glasshouse. Boasting a unique conical shape, this 40-foot-tall architectural gem houses an intricate, 100-foot-long suspended sculpture in dazzling shades of red, orange and yellow.

Besides the main exhibits, Chihuly Gardens and Glass has spaces that include a bar, a theatre, a lecture space and a gift shop.

Chihuly Gardens and Glass Glasshouse

This museum opens every day until 9 or 10 pm. You’ll find it right next to the Space Needle, and ticket prices start at USD 35 per adult. Combo tickets that include admission to the Space Needle start at USD 63.

6. Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI)

With over four million items in its collection, the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) is the most insightful attraction on Seattle’s industrial heritage and cultural evolution. Dating back to 1953, this fascinating museum has occupied the Naval Reserve Armory in Lake Union Park since 2012.

Museum of History & Industry exterior
Photo © Curtis Cronn (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Most of the museum’s artefacts showcase a diverse range of industrial innovations from the Puget Sound region. Popular exhibitions on Seattle’s history include “True Northwest: The Seattle Journey” and “Maritime Seattle”.  

While exploring MOHAI’s display spaces, you’ll see extensive collections of toys, furniture, art, clothing, vehicles, and a myriad of local inventions. Some of the most famous items include the 1856 Petticoat Flag, the iconic neon “R” sign from the original Rainier Brewing Company and Boeing’s First Commercial Plane (Boeing B-1).

Museum of History & Industry interior
Photo © Alfred Hermida (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Ticket prices at MOHAI start at USD 25 per adult. You can browse the permanent exhibits for free on the first Thursday of every month from 5 pm to 8 pm. Except for special events, the museum opens daily from 10 am to 5 pm. You can reach MOHAI by taking the streetcar to Lake Union Park.

7. Wing Luke Museum

One of the USA’s only museums dedicated to the art, history and culture of Pan-Asian Pacific Americans, the Wing Luke Museum occupies the historic East Kong Yick Building – a former hotel – that was constructed by Chinese immigrants in 1910.

Wing Luke Museum
Photo © Joe Mabel (CC-BY-3.0)

Spread across 60,000 square feet are multiple galleries that highlight the story and cultural heritage of Pan-Asian Pacific immigration in the USA.

Permanent collections include an exhibition on the legendary Bruce Lee and another on the museum’s namesake, Wing Luke, the first Asian-American to hold elected office in the State of Washington.

Ticket prices at the Wing Luke Museum start at USD 17 per adult. You’ll find the museum on King Street in the Chinatown-International District, where other visit-worthy attractions include the Seattle Pinball Museum and the ornate Historic Chinatown Gate.

8. Seattle Art Museum

Established in 1933 with fewer than 2,000 items in its collection, the Seattle Art Museum – or SAM – has grown to become one of Washington’s largest art galleries, with three major facilities in the city and a collection of around 25,000 items.

Seattle Art Museum
Photo © David Herrera (CC BY 2.0)

A postmodern architectural gem, SAM’s main Downtown museum is home to collections of art from across the globe. Its permanent collections include African and European works from ancient times to the present day. You can also view an extensive collection of masterpieces by Northwest Coast Native American artists. Ticket prices start at around USD 30 per adult. Admission is free on the first Thursday of every month.

Over in Volunteer Park is the Seattle Asian Art Museum, where you’ll discover Japanese folk textiles, Chinese Ceramics, Indian sculptures, and collections from Southeast Asia and the Himalayas. Ticket prices start at USD 14.99 if booked in advance.

The latest SAM addition to Seattle (completed in 2007) is the Olympic Sculpture Park, a nine-acre outdoor contemporary sculpture museum in Downtown with a beach on Puget Sound and an indoor pavilion. Best of all, admission is free.

9. Seattle Central Library

Despite being one of Seattle’s best-reviewed institutions, the Seattle Central Library is off the radar for most visitors, but its striking postmodern architecture alone makes it worth a visit.

Seattle Central Library

Housed inside a distinctive glass and steel building, Seattle’s flagship library boasts 11 floors of books, study areas, meeting rooms and even spaces with games consoles. One of the library’s many highlights is the Book Spiral that’s connected by a series of ramps across four floors.

You can take in amazing views of Seattle’s Downtown area from every level of the Seattle Central Library. Head to the top floors for superb views of Elliot Bay.

10. Kerry Park

Kerry Park is a relatively small greenspace in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighbourhood. But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with its views. From this vantage point, you can take in one of the most iconic views of the Seattle skyline, Elliot Bay and – on a clear day – Mount Rainier.

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

While Kerry Park doesn’t have much to offer beyond the incredible view, it is home to an intriguing steel sculpture called Changing Form designed by late Seattle artist Doris Totten Chase. Since its installation in 1971, the sculpture has been used by photographers to frame the Seattle skyline.

The nearest bus stations to Kerry Park are located along Queen Anne Avenue and Highland Drive. Expect to face crowds on clear days and at sunset. The park is less crowded at night, when you can see the buildings of Seattle and the boats in Elliot Bay illuminated by glowing lights.

11. The Museum of Flight

Browse the historical aircraft, technological exhibits and space artefacts at the Museum of Flight to learn about Seattle’s aviation heritage and its immeasurable impact on the world.

Museum of Flight

One of the world’s biggest private air and space museums, the Museum of Flight occupies the southwest corner of King County International Airport (commonly known as Boeing Field).

On top of over 175 aircraft that showcase the development of planes through the ages, exhibits include a Space Gallery of NASA artefacts, military bombers, United States Air Force vessels such as the SAM 970 (Air Force One), and a range of interactive exhibits.

While exploring the Red Barn, Boeing’s original factory, you’ll learn about Seattle’s role in the evolution of aviation.

Museum of Flight interior

Located about 10km south of Seattle in Tukwila, the Museum of Flight is reachable by bus (No. 124 from 3rd Avenue in Downtown Seattle), light rail (the Othello station is three miles from the museum) and taxi services such as Lyft and Uber, with fares costing around USD 20 each way.

Ticket prices at the Museum of Flight start at USD 26 per adult. Doors are open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.

12. Capitol Hill

One of Seattle’s most inclusive neighbourhoods with a bohemian and artistic vibe, Capitol Hill is a hub of nightlife, shopping and dining. It’s also Seattle’s epicentre for the LGBTQ+ community.

Capitol Hill

Most of the action for visitors is centred around Broadway East and the Pike/Pine Corridor, where the bustling East Pike Street and East Pine Street run parallel to each other.

Throughout the day, boutiques sell goods ranging from vintage clothing to handmade jewellery. Some of the area’s best loved independent stores include The Vajra (meditation supplies), Revival Shop Seattle (vintage women’s clothing) and the famous Elliott Bay Book Company.

At night, venues such as the Canon cocktail bar, La Dive wine bar and Q Nightclub keep the area alive until the early hours.

Tourist attractions in Capitol Hill include the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, Volunteer Park, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Capitol Hill Wishing Tree and Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral.

13. Bainbridge Island

When you need a break from the bustle of Downtown Seattle, ride the ferry for 35 minutes from the Seattle Ferry Terminal to Bainbridge Island, known for its postcard-perfect scenery and charming small-town vibes.

Bainbridge Island

Make the most of your time away from Seattle’s cityscape by cycling or strolling around the Bloedel Reserve, home to 150 acres of meadows, gardens and ponds that provide habitats to a diverse array of flora and fauna.

After getting your fill of nature, head to the island’s downtown area of Winslow to browse the boutiques, restaurants, cafés and bookstores along Winslow Way.

Any more attractions in Seattle to add?

Above is a far from exhaustive list of the best things to do in Seattle that’ll show you every side of the city. But, of course, there’s much more to see and do in Washington’s largest city. We’ll keep adding more exciting attractions and activities to this guide, and we could use your help.

What are your favourite attractions in Seattle? Have we missed any places that showcase a different aspect of the city’s heritage? Do you have any money-saving tips for our community of digital nomads in Seattle? Let us know in the comments below.

Josh Saunders

Josh Saunders

I've been writing my way through Europe, Asia and Oceania for just over a decade, providing SEO copywriting, editing and content strategy services to travel-industry clients ranging from startups through to Fortune 500 giants. Now, I'm on a mission to connect digital nomads with the world's best destinations for work and leisure.


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Filled with guides and recommendations on the best coworking spaces, hostels and things to do in the world’s most exciting destinations for digital nomads and remote workers.

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