Brimming with eclectic restaurants, funky bars and renowned cultural institutions, Seattle’s downtown district has no end of unique opportunities for visitors.
Much like most central business districts, downtown Seattle is the beating heart of the city. From great shopping to an array of excellent museums and a buzzing waterfront scene, the area hums with activity day and night. If you’re planning a trip to Seattle and want to make sure you get to know downtown, we’ve picked out 12 of the most unique things to see and do here during your stay.
Visit a world-class museum
Perhaps the city’s most eminent cultural venue, the Seattle Art Museum catches the eye even before you enter, thanks to the imposing 50-foot tall kinetic metal sculpture – complete with automated swinging arm – positioned outside. Once inside, there are several floors of exhibitions containing collections from around the globe, ranging from ancient American art to Australian Aboriginal creations as well as contemporary pieces presented in multiple formats.
1300 First Avenue / Weds-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon-Tues
For something altogether different, the Pinball Museum is designed to take visitors on an evocative journey back to a time when immersive entertainment came in analogue form, rather than digital, Packed full of antique pinball machines dating from the early 1960’s to the 2000’s, the museum is itself a veritable arcade, complete with flashing lights and ringing bells as visitors get hands-on with the exhibits in competitive pinball battles. Vintage sodas provide much needed refreshment.
508 Maynard Avenue South / Mon-Sun 12pm-6pm Fri-Sat 12pm-8pm Closed Tues-Thurs
Ride on a huge ferris wheel
One of the most distinctive landmarks on the city landscape, the Seattle Ferris Wheel – or Seattle Great Wheel, to give it it’s official name – is located downtown on the central waterfront. Visitors can sit in one of the wheel’s forty-two gondolas before ascending into the sky to be greeted by jaw-dropping panoramic views all the way out towards Eliot Bay. For an extra special experience, take the VIP gondola which boasts a transparent glass floor and you’ll receive a drink plus a souvenir t-shirt.
1301 Alaskan Way / Sun-Thurs 11am-9pm Fri 11am-10pm
Step back into the goldrush era
Spread across two floor, the Klondike Gold Rush Museum invites visitors to step back into a seminal period in the history of Seattle and the wider region. Through a diverse collection of exhibits, artifacts, memorabilia and displays, the museum explores the effects of the gold rush era during the late 19th-century. As you navigate the museum, you’ll get to know some of the key characters of the era, learn how the city grew in the wake of the gold rush, and even see how gold is panned in a live demonstration.
319 2nd Avenue South / Fri-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon-Thurs
Explore Seattle’s original farmers market
No visit to Seattle is complete without a trip to Pike Place Market. Even if you’re not a fan of impeccably laid out seafood or fruit and veg, walking through this historic market is a veritable feast for the senses. One of the oldest farmer’s markets in the US, its vast network of alleyways lined with stalls selling fresh produce are a hive of commercial activity and local chatter. You can even take a cooking class here with a professional chef, while artist studios and artisanal stores add to the bohemian atmosphere.
Enjoy panoramic views from atop a skyscraper
Seattle is a sight to behold from up high, and arguably the best vantage point in the city is the observatory at Smith Tower. One of the oldest skyscrapers in Seattle and a fine example of neoclassical architecture, visitors can ascend the world-famous building via Otis elevators before being greeted by stunning panoramic views. The observatory also features a speakeasy-inspired bar serving light food and craft cocktails and there are also guided walking tours that let you learn about the history of the iconic edifice.
506 2nd Avenue / Weds-Thurs & Sun 3pm-10pm Fri-Sat 3pm-11pm Closed Mon-Tues
Discover exotic marine life
Ideal for one of the city’s rainy days, Seattle Aquarium attracts families all year round. Playful sea otters, graceful octopuses, and luminous moon jellies are just some of the exotic creatures you’ll find here, while other highlights include an Underwater Dome offering a stunning 360° view, a Pacific Coral Reef exhibit that takes you on a virtual trip to the tropics, and a 120,000-gallon water tank filled with Northwest sea life. There are also daily diver shows and animal feedings.
1483 Alaskan Way Pier 59 / Mon-Sun 9.30am – 6pm
Delve into an underground world
There’s a network of subterranean passages and basements in downtown Seattle that offers a fascinating insight into the city’s past. Prior to the late-19th century, Seattle Underground was at ground level and a perpetual buzz of activity, but the Great Fire of 1889 resulted in a huge regeneration effort that lead to the city effectively being rebuilt on top of itself. Consequently, the hidden web that lay beneath was left to rot. In later years, a small portion of the area was restored and made safe and accessible to the public, where today Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour invites visitors on a captivating 75-minute stroll through its entombed storefronts and sidewalks.
Pioneer Square Drive April-September 9am-7pm daily; October-March 10am-6pm daily
Join an intimate guided tour
One of the best ways to get to know a place is to simply wander its streets while taking in its sights, sounds and smells. On this small-group 3-hour city tour you’ll traverse the city by minibus, stopping off bustling downtown to explore on foot. Here, you’ll head into Pike Place Market, see the world’s first Starbucks, and admire the area’s diverse architectural styles. Other notable stops during the tour include Pioneer Square, Kerry Park viewpoint for a picture-postcard photo opportunity, and the artsy Fremont. You’ll also get to watch as commercial boats navigate through the government locks, where the saltwater of Elliot Bay meets the freshwater of the Cascade Mountains, before your tour comes to an end.
Marvel at magnificent outdoor sculptures
Seattle has always had a vibrant artistic scene and there is nowhere that exemplifies this more than the Olympic Sculpture Park. Situated on Western Avenue overlooking the bay, the pubic park spans over eight acres of meandering paths that are lined with eye-catching sculptures. Highlights include benches which represent eyes, fountains with twin jets and a colourful glass bridge. There’s also a narrow stretch of beach facing out onto the water, where visitors can relax and contemplate the park’s works of art.
2901 Western Avenue
Book onto a boozy food tour
A rich part of Seattle’s history is its diverse culinary scene and visitors can discover it for themselves by joining a guided food tour. Over the course of 2.5 hours, you’ll explore Downtown in the company of an expert guide as you sample a variety of foodie treats – not to mention alcoholic drinks – that are unique to the Pacific Northwest. In total you’ll visit seven much-loved local eateries, trying 5 dishes and snacks, along with wine and beer tastings and two speciality cocktails. All food and drink is included in the tour price.
Immerse yourself in coffee culture
Seattle may lay claim to the world’s first ever Starbucks, but the city also boasts another unique branch of the famous American coffeehouse chain. As the name suggests, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room is not just an ordinary Starbucks – it is an all-embracing experience that invites visitors to walk around and admire the roasting machines, purchase an array of coffee-themed merchandise and paraphernalia, and sample limited edition coffee featuring small batches of rare and precious coffee beans.
1124 Pike Street / Mon-Sun 7am-11pm