Seattle is the most underrated city in the United States. There I said it. Locals always try to shush me when I rave about the Emerald City, because they want to keep it all to themselves. However, it is my obligation as a travel blogger to share this important information and encourage you all to spend at least a weekend in Seattle. This gem of the Pacific Northwest has all the benefits of a cosmopolitan city combined with incredible natural surrounds: towering mountains, water views for days and of course, lots of trees.
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How long to spend in Seattle
Like many mid-sized cities, you can hit the highlights in a 2-3 day weekend trip. If you want to visit Mt Rainier or other Washington sights (which I highly recommend), you will need to allow longer. I highly recommend some of these trips outside of the city:
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument
- North Cascades National Park
When to visit Seattle
I’m not going to lie, winters here can be dreary like one endless grey cloud—though the sunsets those clouds yield can be quite spectacular. I recommend holding off your weekend in Seattle until summer through early fall. You will experience relatively consistent sun from about July through September. Though prices for hotels and airfares are highest during this peak rush, it is worth a few extra dollars to see Seattle in full swing.
Getting around Seattle
Seattle is a very walkable city if you don’t mind a few hills (think, San Francisco type landscape). Oh, and there is that Pacific Northwest drizzle to consider, but hopefully you are travelling in the suggested, sunny timeframe.
The public transport system is also very good. Buy yourself an ORCA card and use that to pay fares on bus, ferry, rail or train. An ORCA card costs $5 and you will need to load it with a dollar value or pass (daily or monthly). For a short stay, I recommend adding a monetary value rather than a pass, unless you intend to use a considerable amount of public transport.
It is best to top up your ORCA card at an ORCA customer service location, retailer or, the easiest to find, ticket vending machines, where the value is immediately loaded onto your card. If you choose to top up online, do so well in advance, the value may not appear for 48hrs (I learnt the hard way).
Lastly, Uber and Lyft are readily available throughout the city, along with car-share programs Zipcar and GIG Car.
A couple more things before we get started:
- This itinerary assumes you will arrive in town the evening before or very early on day one.
- Each day builds on the last, so take what you will and customize it to your own time and interests.
- Due to the rapid explosion of the tech sector in Seattle, skyrocketing property prices (and now the pandemic) have dramatically increased the number of homeless residents. Generally, people keep to themselves, but it is something you will notice as you make your way around.
1-Day in Seattle
Seattle’s historic downtown: Pioneer Place
Let’s start our weekend in Seattle in Pioneer Place, Seattle’s historic downtown core. The leafy squares and beautiful 19th-century architecture contrast dramatically with the neighbouring skyscrapers of the financial district. Grab a casual breakfast and coffee at locally-owned Cherry Street Coffee House.
While you are in the Pioneer Place area, I recommend taking an underground tour of Seattle. This will take you through a network of underground passageways that reveal some of what Seattle was like in the early days of white settlement. The tunnels themselves aren’t much to look at, however, the guides are so entertaining and informative, they make it worth your while.
Pike Place Market
This historic marketplace dates back to 1907 and only approves vendors who are farmers, small businesses and local craftspeople. You will find plenty of food to tempt you along way and if you are short on time, the Made in Washington store is a great place for authentic souvenir shopping.
Pike Place Market is also where you will find what is touted as “The Original Starbucks”, which is a little misleading. The original Starbucks WAS in Pike Place Market, but inside a building that has since been demolished. There is always a long line for this particular shop because of its history, so I recommend grabbing a picture outside and going to one of the plethora of better coffee establishments in Seattle for your cup of joe.
Tips: Don’t miss the secluded rooftop garden in Pike Place Market overlooking Puget Sound, where produce is grown to feed the city’s underprivileged.
Wander the Seattle Waterfront between Pike Place Market and the Olympic Sculpture Park, a free outdoor gallery created by Seattle Art Museum. If you haven’t eaten lunch, now is the time to grab some fresh PNW seafood. Hopefully, you’ll have wonderful visibility to the Olympic Mountains for your waterfront stroll. Once you are done at the Sculpture Park, turn northeast up Broad Street and shortly you’ll reach the Seattle Center.
Make your way to the Seattle Center, the venue of the 1962 World’s Fair, themed “the age of space”. You might be tempted to head straight to the top of the Space Needle, but I highly recommend you check visibility first. The Space Needle is not cheap, and it is only worth it when there is a lot to see. Don’t rely on the sky immediately above you, check the Space Needle Panocam to ensure you can see Mount Rainier and the North Cascade Mountains prior to buying a ticket.
Tips: If you are new to Seattle and want to go up the Space Needle, present your ID showing your King County address and ask for the local’s discount.
If you are a visitor and don’t have a multi-attraction Pass for Seattle, you can benefit from buying a combination pass that covers both the Space Needle and nearby Chihuly Garden and Glass, but you need to enter both on the same day.
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Tacoma, Washington artist Dale Chihuly, has a global reputation for making enchanting glass sculptures. Within the Seattle Center you will find a dedicated museum showcasing some of his most popular works. You’ll find his glass art (and some knock-offs) all over Seattle, but visiting this museum is a must—it’s like stepping into Alice’s Wonderland!
We’ll finish up day one of your weekend in Seattle, with one of the best sunset views in the city. If the skies are looking clear and “the mountain is out” – local speak for, Mount Rainier is visible – then make your way to Kerry Park in Queen Anne for an unbeatable, free view of the Seattle skyline with its resident volcano looking on. Finish up with dinner in one of the restaurants in lower Queen Anne.
For more places to view Mt Rainier from Seattle – see these top vantage spots.
2-Days in Seattle
Should you be fortunate enough to have a second day in Seattle, I’m going to share one of our favourite ways to spend a Sunday here. You’ll travel on foot through a number of the city’s funkiest neighbourhoods, stopping in for meals at the coolest hotspots and seeing some sights along the way.
Put on your comfy walking shoes, lots of sunscreen and grab a water bottle. If you do the entire day on foot, you’ll cover about 12km (7.5mi), depending on how many offshoots and detours you take. If that sounds scary (or it starts raining), you can grab yourself a rideshare or public transportation at any time.
The walk is initially downhill, then flat the rest of the way, therefore it’s not at all challenging from an elevation perspective. In fact, it feels pretty effortless with the generous stops for breaks, sights and meals along the way.
Ready? Let’s do this!
Begin with brunch on Capitol Hill where you will have plenty of options. Pike/Pine and Broadway are the best places to look for food and entertainment (I’ve marked some of our favourite food joints, coffee shops and bars on the map below). Pike/Pine is also the location of Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix statue, if you want to stop for a photo.
From here we’ll take a walk down Capitol Hill, through the South Lake Union neighbourhood to the most southern point of Lake Union. Here you’ll find the Center for Wooden Boats and MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry), which is actually one of my favourite museums in Seattle and worth a look in if you have time.
Continue on the pedestrian path that skirts the western side of the Lake and observe the floating houses with their neat gardens and colourful exteriors. These are both a unique feature of Seattle and prime real estate!
At the far end of Lake Union you’ll reach Fremont Bridge, a historic, double-leaf bascule bridge which is quite fun to watch open and close for passing boats. Cross the Bridge into Fremont where you’ll enjoy your second meal. While you are there, check out the Fremont Troll, Lenin Statue and on Sunday, the street market.
When you are ready, return to the waterside and follow the canal (aka The Cut) through the old docks and shipbuilding area of the city into downtown Ballard.
If you are feeling rested after your meal, continue out to the Hiram M Chittenden Locks to finish up your day.
3-Days in Seattle
Should you have a third full day in Seattle, then a day trip to Mount Rainier National Park is definitely recommended. Though, as I mention in my Mount Rainier Day Trip Guide, it is going to be a long day.
If you are departing Seattle on day three, it is best to reshuffle this itinerary and do the Mount Rainier trip on day two because you will be getting back into town quite late.
Taking a tour is a wise option, if for no other reason than you can snooze or enjoy the Pacific Northwest scenery while someone else does the driving.
More suggestions for your weekend in Seattle
Another option for day three is a whale-watching boat trip. Minke, Humpback, Gray Whales and Orcas can all be spotted not far from Seattle. Whale watching season is roughly mid-April through to early October, peaking between June and September. Careful, to select a whale-watching excursion the leaves from Seattle or Edmonds as many leave from the San Juan Islands much further north.
For additional things to do around town, see these fun things to do in Seattle.
Weekend in Seattle map
To save yourself an editable copy of this map, click in the top right-hand corner and it will open in Google Maps so you can do just that.
Enjoy your weekend in Seattle, and please let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or feedback on these Seattle itineraries.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,