Known as the Emerald City, Seattle presents ample culture alongside more of the Northwest’s eye-catching nature. It’s a city that is full of history, of underground passageways, the stories of fishmongers, along with urban planning that has unveiled a number of public parks and art. Importantly, some of the best things to do in Seattle are free.
Getting around Seattle is relatively painless thanks to its public transport system. You’ll be able to arrive at galleries, markets, and parks quickly, some of which show of the city’s remarkable skyline and stunning waterfront.
Seattle doesn’t shy away from doing things its own way, and you’ll quickly want to thank them for it.
In this post, we'll cover:
15. Green Lake Park
In North Central Seattle, Green Lake Park is another of the city’s extensive system of urban green spaces. It formed the basis of the Olmsted Plan that was laid out in the early 1900s, developing the city’s incredible number of parks.
The beautiful Green Lake Park sits on the edge of a freshwater lake where visitors row, SUP, and even sail. A walking trail guides you by the park’s original bathhouse which is a modern day theater, home to productions surrounded by gorgeous nature.
The same trail continues for 2.8 miles, circumnavigating the lake. Throughout, you’ll enjoy not just the views of the landscapes, but of birds and waterfowl making themselves at home too.
14. Alki Beach
Seattle may be famous for its rain, but you can’t pass up a day at the beach when that Washington sun makes a grand appearance. Importantly, although it’s not far from downtown, it almost feels a world away from Seattle’s skyscrapers and bustling waterfront.
The two miles of golden sand feel like a page out of a Californian adventure novel. You’ll find room to swim, sunbathe, bike ride, play volleyball, or even settle in for a beach bonfire.
After taking in the sun, wander down to the Alki Point Lighthouse. Originally built in 1913, it remains under the watchful eye of the US Coast Guard with tours available through the warmer months.
13. Fremont Public Sculptures
As more time passes, the origins of the unique and utterly weird Fremont Public Sculptures get lost in the past. Over 30 years has passed since a public art competition was run, leading to the Fremont Troll finding its forever home under the Aurora Bridge. It’s just as popular now as it was back then.
It’s hard to appreciate the size of the troll, whose face can be seen splashed across the internet and social media. In person, you’ll feel as small as his one eye and hands are big. After nailing the Insta-worthy shot, be sure to stick around and experience what makes Fremont one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Seattle.
Alongside the troll there are a further nine displays that harbor the truth behind Fremont’s counter-culture personality. Between them all are kitschy cafes and edgy clothing stores.
12. Gas Works Park
Seattle is not afraid to take something mundane and turn it into worthy attractions. The Gas Works Park is a prime example. Here you’ll find an old coal gas plant that dates back to the beginnings of the 20th century.
Today, it’s an open, green space home to the rustic factory buildings that are its own form of public art. Rather than let it rot, or eradicate these captivating buildings, the city saved them while creating yet another green space to experience.
From the park, you can admire the beautiful Lake Union, home to a bustling canal where yachts saunter along. Locals and travelers alike fill the space with picnic rugs and ball games before settling in for one of Seattle’s glorious sunsets.
11. Olympic Sculpture Park
An extensive of the Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park remains open and free throughout the year. On the cusp of the beautiful Elliott Bay, the park features several exceptional sculptures and unique designs that capture Seattle’s vibe.
Once a rundown brownfield site, the park has been a revelation, transforming an unused section of town into an environmentally-friendly outdoor gallery. The transformation includes creating a salmon habitat and a green space that collects its own rainwater.
From the inland entrance, explore the park wandering by the famous Seattle Cloud Cover and the Eye Benches. Soon, the trail snakes down towards the waterfront where you’re afforded postcard-worthy views of the bay.
10. Seattle Art Museum
Just like the Museum of Flight, listed below, the Seattle Art Museum is free to all visitors on the first Thursday of every month. You’ll find this extensive gallery space in downtown Seattle, just a brief jaunt from Pike Place Market.
The gallery’s collection is enough to inspire even the most casual visitor, as you’ll quickly discover works from across the globe. The Seattle Art Museum is home to four stories of permanent and rotating exhibits that explore local and Native American art, along with pieces from Europe and the Middle East.
To complete your SAM experience, be sure to wander through the Olympic Sculpture Park, and the Seattle Asian Art Museum is worth opening the wallet.
9. Downtown Waterfront
Home to a wide collection of major attractions, like the Great Wheel, Seattle Aquarium and Pike Place Market, the Downtown Waterfront provides some of the best people watching in town. Morning or night.
Lurking out over the water, you’ll find a spacious boardwalk guiding you by a series of piers and viewpoints where you can admire not just the harbor but the distant Olympic Mountains. Grabbing some delicious to-go eats and enjoying the waterfront’s sunset experience is one of the best ways to enjoy an evening in Seattle.
Travelers should make sure to set aside enough time to explore Miners Landing on Pier 57. Not only will you get a closeup view of the Great Wheel, but also the charming carousel and the Wings over Washington, an elevated theater.
8. Museum Of Flight
On the first Thursday of every month, Seattle’s Museum of Flight opens its doors for free to locals and travelers alike. The northwest has a storied connection to the history of flight, one that’s on full display as you explore the extensive museum.
Within the spacious hanger, known as the Great Gallery, you can explore a buffet of historic aircraft and fighter jets suspended high above the ground. Afterwards, wander over to the Personal Courage Wing the explores aviation in the two World Wars. After hearing personal stories, experience life as a pilot within the wing’s flight simulator.
Other highlights include the Red Barn, home to the early days of Boeing, which explores aviation from the very beginning and the extensive outdoor gallery.
7. Discovery Park
A trip to Discovery Park will allow you to deal with your cravings for nature and fresh air without having to leave Seattle. Covering an impressive 534 acres, you’ll have your choice of a dozen miles’ worth of hiking trails, beaches and even a historic lighthouse.
Start your day early as you venture into the city’s wilderness, surrounded by lush northwestern flora and glistening green trees. Many trails guide you to the coast, where you’ll stumble upon the memorable West Point Lighthouse that has been operating since the heady days of 1881.
Finish your experience by learning about the history and culture of the local Indigenous Duwamish people at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.
6. Seattle Public Library
When people utter the words Seattle Public Library, travelers’ minds must tune out. But when locals hear them, they immediately picture the stunning 11 story masterpiece of steel and glass otherwise known as Seattle Central Library.
Construction began on the renowned library back in 2004 under the watchful eye of architect Rem Koolhaas. It quickly became a local landmark, creating an imposing presence on the city’s already beautiful skyline.
Lucky for you, however, it only gets better once you walk inside. You can explore the unique library on a self-guided tour before picking out a book and reveling in the indoor gardens found within the Norcliffe Foundation Living Room.
5. University of Washington
A short trip from downtown, the University of Washington is a striking campus where you’ll discover large, lush lawns, art galleries and arresting architecture. Since 2016, it’s been connected to downtown via the Link, the city’s light rail network making the trip a breeze.
On arrival, you can make your way into the Henry Art Gallery, where you can look over more than 25,000 pieces. On display are works by Calder, Rohe and Buckminster Fuller, but the highlight belongs to James Turrel. This is a sky space called Light Reign, a mix of light shows, sculptures, and intricate architecture.
While on campus, be sure to check out Husky Stadium and the Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
4. Pioneer Square
In the heart of Seattle is Pioneer Square. It’s an aptly named gather point that is also the original center of the city. It was established back in 1852 by the city’s original founders and harbors an incredible collection of history and architecture.
Although its original structures were replaced by what we see today, the Romanesque Revival architecture still dates back to the late 1800s. From the plaza, you can take in the center of Seattle, its shady plane trees, eye-catching pergola, and the many restaurants and bars just a stone’s throw away.
Pioneer Square is also a great launch point to learn about Seattle’s underground passageways.
3. Kerry Park
Based on Queen Anne Hill, Kerry Park is one of the best ways to experience Seattle’s exceptional skyline for free. So, pack your blanket, snacks, and a cheeky drink and revel in the panoramic vistas.
If you arrive on a clear day, your viewpoint affords a look at the distant and always majestic Mt. Rainier. Visitors will also be able to gaze upon Elliott Bay, that is when they aren’t gawking at the LED colors of the Space Needle.
Just steps away from Kerry Park is the Changing Form sculpture along with a fun children’s play area. With Seattle nestled on the west coast, it’s safe to say this is an excellent spot to enjoy golden hour.
2. Ballard Locks
For over a century, the Ballard Locks have managed the flow of water between the Lake Washington Ship Canal and the beautiful Puget Sound. It was a significant feat of engineering, one undertaken across seven years by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The locks lowered the level of Lake Washington by almost nine feet, greatly expanding the size of Seattle. Visitors can come and watch as the flurry of boats make their way through the locks, managing to rise and fall with the water. There is also an insightful visitor center to truly understand the ins and outs of the Ballard Locks.
However, the best time to visit is in the spring when salmon make use of the lock’s ladders to make their way upstream in incredible numbers.
1. Pike Place Market
Although you’ll be tempted to break out the wallet at Pike Place Market, it’s aromas, atmosphere, and culture come free of charge. The market has a storied past and fishmongers have been throwing fresh catch across the halls for decades.
Travelers will be able to discover four distinct fish markets alongside aisles of fresh produce and artisan stalls. Add on a section dedicated to crafts and you can see the sights and sounds of the market are thrilling to experience.
To avoid the midday rush, come early and see the fresh fish find a home among the ice, or late when buskers come out at sunset and entertain as the sky turns pink.