If you're planning a visit to Downtown Seattle, prepare for a fun time. Despite being established in the mid 19th century, it's a vibrant, modern district, packed with skyscrapers, malls, entertainment centers, and other very 21st century distractions. There's still plenty of history though, with several excellent museums, numerous historic buildings, and even an underground labyrinth of 19th-century streets to explore. Regardless of whether you're interested in the past, the present, or even the future, you're sure to find plenty of ways to fill your time. To set you on the right path, we've rounded up 20 of the best things to do in Downtown Seattle. Check them out.
20. Shop till you drop at Westlake Center
If you're in the mood for some retail therapy, head for Westlake Centre, a four-story shopping mall on Pine Steet that will keep even the biggest shopping addict happy for days at an end. There's a huge variety of shops on offer, including designer boutiques, chains, and independent stores. There's also a great assortment of cafes and restaurants for grabbing a bite and a coffee.
19. Take a tour of the Klondike Gold Rush Museum
The Klondike Gold Rush Museum isn't the biggest museum in Seattle, but it's certainly one of the most interesting. If you've any interest in discovering more about the history of the city, not to mention the people, industries, and events that made it into the place it is today, this is where you'll be able to do it. Trip Advisor reviewers have scored it an impressive 4.5/5 - if you want to see why, dust off your boots and prepare to step back into the past at this truly intriguing museum.
18. Enjoy the views from the Sky View Observatory
As Trip 101 notes, the 73 story high Sky View Observatory is one of Downtown Seattle's best attractions, boasting panoramic views of the city and the mountains behind. It's wonderful at any time of the day, but if you can, visit in the evening to catch the glorious sunset.
17. Visit Seattle Asian Art Museum
If you like art, you're going to love the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Featuring a huge collection of exhibits from China, India, Tibet, Korea, and Southeast Asia, it's a fascinating place to while away a few hours. Although it functions primarily as a research library, it flings open its doors to the public on Thursdays. Although you're not obliged to take a tour with a guide, it's a great way to find out more about the history of some of the pieces you'll see. Better yet, admission is free.
16. Take a tour of the houseboats
Outside of Asia, Downtown Seattle boasts the latest houseboat community in the world, with around 500 colorful boats bobbing around the Puget Sound. Their quirky designs and wonderful gardens are fascinating. While you'll have to make do with checking them out from afar for most of the year, come September, a dozen or so open their doors to the public to raise money for the Floating Homes Association. If you can't wait that long, you could try renting a kayak to take a closer look - although just remember that people really do live in them, and not everyone appreciates tourists peeking through their windows.
15. Check out the curiosities at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop
Downtown Seattle is full of quirky finds, but Ye Olde Curiosity Shop might well be the quirkiest. Located on Pier 54 on the waterfront, this part museum and part store is full of curiosities, from rows of shrunken heads to four-legged chickens and petrified mummies. It's not for the fainthearted, but if you can't resist a bit of macabre, you're going to love it. Before you leave, be sure to say hello to Estrella, the Gypsy Fortune Teller - cross her palm with gold and she may even reveal your future.
14. Admire the exhibits at Seattle Art Museum
Seattle Art Museum is the kind of place you can't miss, no matter how bad you are at directions. Located on Seattle's 1st Avenue, it's easily recognizable by the giant, fifty-foot tall "Hammering Man" statue that guards its entrance. The statue has an automated arm and a hammer, which it swings four times a minute around the clock. Venture inside the museum and you'll find a score of exquisite collections from around the world, including a fascinating display of Australian Aboriginal pieces and some awesome examples of early American art.
13. Visit Olympic Sculpture Park
If you're looking to enjoy some art in a very different environment from usual, be sure to include Olympic Sculpture Park on your itinerary. Covering eight and a half acres of ground, the park is home to 20 very unique sculptures. Just a few that you'll see along the way include a colorful glass bridge, benches that have been designed to resemble eyes, and a vivarium containing a moss and fungi-covered tree trunk. If you want to stretch your legs and get a culture fix at the same time, it's perfect.
12. Take a tour of the Spheres
The Spheres consist of three enormous glass globes that attract thousands of tourists from all over the world. They serve as the Amazon headquarters, but you don't have to be an employee to take a tour. You will, however, need to time your visit for one of the two Saturdays of each month viewings are possible. Be sure to make a reservation beforehand as well. It's worth it, though - the structures are home to forty thousand specimens of cloud forest plants, which make for a truly fascinating spectacle. You'll also get to check out the common areas, coffee shops, and shopping mall, all of which are normally off-limits to anyone who doesn't carry an Amazon name badge.
11. Enjoy a show at Paramount Theater
The Paramount Theater was opened in the late 1920s as a cinema and music hall. Today, it's a multi-purpose performing arts center and a great place to catch a Broadway show, a music concert, or a musical. The real draw, however, is the architecture, so regardless of what's happening on stage, be sure to look above you to check out that wonderfully ornate soaring ceiling.
10. Check out the Market Theatre Gum Wall
A wall of used gum might sound like one of the most disgusting things in the world to you, but in Downtown Seattle, it's what passes for a tourist attraction. And actually, it's a lot more intriguing than it sounds. Its origins date back to the 1900s when locals used to stick their gum on the wall as they waited in line to catch an improv show at Market Theatre. The tradition has continued over the years, and the gum now covers a giant expanse of brick wall, growing just a little more with each passing year. It's quirky and it's colorful and it's very, very Downtown Seattle.
9. Visit Starbucks Reserve & Roastery
Obviously, no trip to Seattle is complete without a few cups of joe, but if you'd like to learn a little more about your favorite beverage, don't miss a visit to Starbucks Reserve & Roastery. Located on Downtown Seattle’s Pike Street, this is where all Starbucks coffees get their start. Take a tour of the site and you'll get to see the coffee being roasted, packaged, and readied for shipment to its various destinations across the globe. During your visit, a master roaster will be on hand to explain the processes you see. You'll also get the chance to sample some of the goods in the tasting room.
8. Play a game at the Pinball Museum
Named as one of the best places to visit in Downtown Seattle by The Crazy Tourist, the Pinball Museum on Maynard Avenue in Downtown Seattle is a must for both game lovers and history buffs alike. It features 50 antique pinball machines that date from the early 1960s to the 2000s. They're great to look at but even better to play, and here, you're free to do both. A hugely fun experience for all the family, it's unquestionably a highlight of any visit to the area.
7. Enjoy a cocktail at The Diller Room
As Wikipedia explains, back in the 1900s, The Diller Room used to be known as one of Seattle's very few luxury hotels. Today, it's a speakeasy-style bar that's managed to retain enough charm from its former life to draw the tourists in their droves. Decorated in a vintage style with lots of padded leather seating, bare brick walls, and polished wood tables, it's a great place to enjoy a relaxing night out. There are usually some great deals on cocktails to be had (especially during Happy Hour!), and although it gets busy, you can avoid the worst of the crowds by timing your visit for a weekday.
6. Explore the Seattle Underground
Nearly 40 years after Pioneer Square was established as Seattle's original downtown area in the mid 19th century, a fire ripped through the area. The city was rebuilt on top of the ruins, but the labyrinth of streets and buildings that lie beneath can still be explored. Numerous tour operators offer guided tours of the area. Regardless of which one you choose, it's a very worthwhile experience, especially for history buffs.
5. Take a Harbor Cruise
You can stroll around the waterfront if you want, but why not save your feet and enjoy the harbor by boat instead? A trip on an open-topped boat is a lovely way to discover Downtown Seattle's harbor, not to mention enjoy the gorgeous views of the Olympian and Cascade mountain ranges. You'll also get the benefit of a guide, meaning you'll get to learn all kinds of stories and historical facts about the area. Tours take around an hour and start from Pier 55.
4. Visit the Seattle Aquarium
If you're visiting Downtown Seattle with kids, don't miss out on a trip to the Seattle Aquarium. Located on Pier 59, it boasts a fascinating range of exhibits such as the Underwater Dome, Window on Washington Street, Marine Mammals, Pacific Coral Reef, Birds and Shoes, and Life on the Edge, all of which promise visitors an intriguing insight into the underwater world. It's a very interactive experience - you can even reach into the tide pools to stroke the sea anemones and the starfish. Before you leave, stop by the gift store to pick up some mementos.
3. Enjoy the views from Space Needle
Recommended as one of the best things to do in Downtown Seattle by tripstodiscover.com, Space Needle was originally constructed to be part of the 1962 World's Fair. Today, it's the city's most iconic landmark and a must-visit for anyone who's yet to enjoy its spectacular views. Although the admittance fee is a bit steep, the panoramic views over Downtown, the Puget Sound, the Cascades, and the Olympic Mountains make it worth it.
2. Visit Pike Place Market
Recommended by Time Out as one of the best things to do in Downtown Seattle, a visit to Pike Place Market is absolutely essential, no matter how short your trip to Seattle. A treasured landmark, the market has been in operation since the early 1900s, making it one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the US. If you're a foodie, you'll love the huge variety of food on offer, not to mention the awesome selection of sit down options - Seattle Joe’s Scramble (sausage, spinach, and mushrooms) is always delicious, as is the dreamy clam chowder served at Pike Place Chowder.
1. Take a whirl on the Seattle Great Wheel
If you want to see Downtown Seattle from a very different perspective from usual, hop on board the Seattle Grand Wheel. Located at Pier 57, this hugely fun attraction has a height of 175 feet, so you can just imagine what kind of views you'll enjoy from one of its forty-two enclosed gondolas. Each ride lasts for up to 20 minutes and guarantees a minimum of three full revelations, giving you plenty of time to soak up the view. It's an amazing experience at any time of the day, but is particularly spectacular at night. If you want to push the boat out, it's worth splashing out on the VIP gondola, which comes with the added benefit of a transparent glass floor.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn