First Time in Seattle? Here are 26 Must-Visit Attractions

Downtown Seattle is a bustling metropolis that offers a variety of experiences for both locals and tourists alike. This vibrant area encompasses several neighborhoods, from the retail core to the iconic Pike Place Market on the waterfront, and Belltown on the west to Pioneer Square on the east. With its rich history and diverse attractions, there is something to suit everyone’s taste, making it an ideal destination to explore.

Best Things to Do in Downtown Seattle

As one journeys through the heart of Seattle, they will encounter the renowned Denny Triangle and South Lake Union neighborhoods, which boast a mix of modern establishments and historic architecture, seamlessly blending the old with the new. In addition, the International District provides a taste of Asia with its unique shops, eateries, and cultural events, further enhancing the city’s diverse offerings.

Visiting downtown Seattle guarantees an unforgettable experience as one uncovers the hidden gems spread across its various neighborhoods. From the lively atmosphere of Pike Place Market to the serene beauty of the waterfront, the city’s attractions cater to all ages and interests, ensuring visitors leave with cherished memories and a desire to return. Here are the best things to do in downtown Seattle and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Iconic Attractions

Pike Place Market

Located in the heart of downtown Seattle, Pike Place Market is a must-visit attraction for any visitor. Established in 1907, this bustling marketplace is the perfect place to experience local culture and find unique souvenirs. Be sure to explore the various vendors selling fresh produce, seafood, handmade crafts, and more. Don’t forget to visit the iconic fish-throwing stand for an entertaining show! The market also houses numerous galleries, making it an excellent spot for art enthusiasts.

Seattle Great Wheel

26 Best Things to Do in Downtown Seattle: A Curated Guide

The Seattle Great Wheel, located on Pier 57, is another iconic downtown attraction that offers breathtaking views of the city and Puget Sound. This impressive ferris wheel stands 175 feet tall and is one of the largest in North America. Each air-conditioned gondola provides a safe, comfortable ride for all ages, day or night. The Great Wheel is a fantastic way to capture Seattle’s scenery and create lasting memories.

Smith Tower

26 Best Things to Do in Downtown Seattle: A Curated Guide

For a taste of Seattle’s history and architecture, pay a visit to Smith Tower, the oldest skyscraper in the city. Completed in 1914, this impressive building was once the tallest on the West Coast and retains much of its original charm. Take the historic, manually operated elevator up to the 35th-floor observatory for panoramic views of downtown Seattle and the surrounding area. The tower also houses a speakeasy-style bar, offering an ambiance reminiscent of the Prohibition era.

The Gum Wall

One of Seattle’s quirkiest attractions, the Gum Wall, is in Post Alley, just beneath Pike Place Market. This colorful, sticky wall is covered with thousands of pieces of chewed gum, contributed by visitors over the years. While it might seem unusual, the Gum Wall has become a symbol of Seattle’s creative and eccentric spirit. Don’t forget to bring a pack of gum and make your own contribution to this offbeat landmark.

By exploring these iconic attractions, visitors to downtown Seattle will gain an appreciation for the city’s rich history, unique culture, and stunning sights.

Museums and Art Galleries

Downtown Seattle is home to a variety of fascinating museums and art galleries, with diverse exhibits and collections that cater to various interests and age groups.

Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts in the city. It features a mix of temporary and permanent exhibits showcasing a wide range of artwork – from contemporary pieces to classic works, both local and international. The museum houses collections of African, Native American, and Pacific Northwest art along with paintings from renowned artists and neoclassical architecture. Visitors can also enjoy the SAM Shop and Gallery and the iconic skyscraper-inspired Hammering Man sculpture.

Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)

The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), situated near the iconic Space Needle, is a contemporary, cutting-edge museum that celebrates pop culture in various forms. MoPOP features exhibits on music, film, television, and interactive experiences that cater to fans of all ages. Key attractions include the Jimi Hendrix exhibit, the “Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame,” and the “Infinite World of Science Fiction.”

Here are a few other noteworthy institutions in areas near Downtown Seattle:

  • Chihuly Garden and Glass: This museum celebrates the work of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly with stunning displays of glass sculptures in both indoor and outdoor exhibits. A must-visit for those who appreciate art and craftsmanship.
  • Frye Art Museum: Located in the First Hill neighborhood, the Frye Art Museum features a collection of 19th and 20th-century European and American art, as well as contemporary exhibits and educational programs. Admission is free, making it an excellent option for budget-conscious travelers.
  • Seattle Asian Art Museum: Located in Volunteer Park, this museum focuses on Asian art and culture with exhibits representing various geographical regions and historical periods. The museum is temporarily closed for renovation but will be reopening soon with refreshed exhibits and spaces to explore.
  • National Nordic Museum: This museum highlights the history, culture, and art of the Nordic countries and explores the Nordic heritage of the Pacific Northwest. It features exhibitions on Viking history, contemporary Nordic design, and the legacy of Nordic immigrants in Seattle.

In addition to these museums and art galleries, don’t miss other notable attractions in downtown Seattle, such as the Original Starbucks at Pike Place Market or exploring the area’s rich history and stunning architecture.

Parks and Nature

Olympic Sculpture Park

Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park is a unique destination that combines art and nature. The park, co-operated by Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Seattle Art Museum, features various installations that locals and visitors alike can enjoy. With striking sculptures such as the jagged red “Eagle,” the park offers a dynamic exploration of the outdoors and contemporary art.

Stroll on the Waterfront

One of the finest ways to experience Seattle’s downtown is by taking a stroll on the waterfront. The area offers remarkable views of the city skyline and the Puget Sound. Along the walk, visitors can stop at Pier 62 Waterfront Park—a lively park that often hosts events and concerts—or explore the nearby Elliot Bay Trail, which extends north towards the city’s beloved parks like Alki Beach and Golden Gardens Park.

Kayak on South Lake Union

Those looking for a more adventurous activity can head to South Lake Union and rent a kayak. Paddling on this picturesque lake offers unparalleled views of the surrounding cityscape and the iconic Space Needle. South Lake Union is also in close proximity to the bustling Climate Pledge Arena and the vibrant Seattle Center, making it an excellent way to enjoy the outdoors while exploring the city’s attractions.

Seattle Aquarium

Nature enthusiasts should not miss a visit to the Seattle Aquarium, located on Seattle’s waterfront. This world-renowned facility offers opportunities to learn about the marine animals that inhabit the Puget Sound and the greater Pacific Northwest. The aquarium features various exhibits, including the awe-inspiring underwater Dome Room, where visitors can immerse themselves in the incredible marine life.

Ferry Ride

For an unforgettable sightseeing experience, take a ferry ride across the Puget Sound. These trips offer stunning cityscape views and are a fantastic way to explore Seattle from the water.

To further explore the beauty of Seattle’s parks and natural attractions, consider visiting other popular sites such as the Washington Park Arboretum, Alki Beach, and Golden Gardens Park. Each location offers unique, picturesque charm and various activities for visitors to enjoy.

Theater and Concerts

Downtown Seattle offers a variety of theater and concert experiences for locals and visitors alike. In this section, we will explore some notable venues and their offerings.

The Rabbit Box Theatre

The Rabbit Box Theatre is a hidden gem in downtown Seattle, known for its intimate setting and engaging performances. This small venue hosts a diverse range of events, including contemporary plays, experimental theater, and live music acts. The Rabbit Box Theatre’s calendar is filled with exciting opportunities to experience cutting-edge art and performances.

5th Avenue Theatre

The 5th Avenue Theatre is a historic theater known for hosting Broadway shows, musicals, and other high-quality productions. The 5th Avenue Theatre offers stunning architecture and a rich history, making it a must-visit venue for theater enthusiasts.

Unexpected Productions: Market Theater

Located in the heart of Pike Place Market, Unexpected Productions’ Market Theater is a unique venue dedicated to improv comedy and theater. With shows running every week, this venue offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy unscripted entertainment and side-splitting laughter. Market Theater is also a hub for improv classes and workshops, perfect for those interested in sharpening their comedic skills.

Seattle Theatre Group

The Seattle Theatre Group (STG) operates three historic theater venues: The Paramount, The Moore, and The Neptune. These venues host a variety of concerts, theater productions, and special events throughout the year. From touring Broadway shows to local theater productions, STG has something for everyone, making it a cornerstone of Seattle’s vibrant arts scene.

In summary, downtown Seattle offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the vibrant theater and concert scene. Whether you’re an avid theater-goer or looking to explore the exciting world of live performances, these featured venues will provide unforgettable experiences.

Historical Sites

Klondike Gold Rush Museum

The Klondike Gold Rush museum is located in Pioneer Square and offers a fascinating insight into this significant period in Seattle’s history. Visitors can explore exhibits detailing the city’s role during this era and learn about the challenges faced by gold-seekers. The museum is open daily with free admission, making it an accessible attraction for all visitors.

  • Address: 319 2nd Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104, United States
  • Opening hours: 10am – 5pm (Sun, Wed, Thurs, Fri, and Sat)

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

Pioneer Square is also home to Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, a popular attraction that takes visitors beneath the streets of Seattle. This guided walking tour explores the subterranean passages that were once the city’s main thoroughfares. The tour provides a unique glimpse into the history of Seattle and the various entities that thrived there, including early commerce, infrastructure, and scandals.

Underground History | Beneath the Streets

For those interested in even more underground escapades, the Underground History tour by Beneath the Streets focuses on a different area of the subterranean world. This tour offers visitors the chance to experience other sections of the hidden city beneath Pioneer Square while learning about the events and personalities that shaped Seattle’s fascinating past.

Restaurants & Bars

Sushi Kashiba

Sushi Kashiba is a renowned sushi restaurant located in downtown Seattle. Helmed by chef Shiro Kashiba, the restaurant is known for its exquisite omakase dining experience and commitment to serving the freshest, most authentic sushi in the area. The ambiance is upscale yet welcoming, making it a perfect choice for both special occasions and casual outings.

Skalka

For those who appreciate Eastern European cuisine, Skalka offers an array of delicious comfort food. Ingredients like red beans, eggs, banana peppers, chicken ragu, and cheesy Adjaruli combine to delight your senses.

Radiator Whiskey

Radiator Whiskey is a popular spot for a night out in downtown Seattle. The bar specializes in serving an extensive selection of whiskeys, craft cocktails, and small plates that pair perfectly with their drinks. With a warm, industrial atmosphere and live music on select evenings, it’s a buzzing destination for whiskey enthusiasts.

Biscuit Bitch

As the name suggests, Biscuit Bitch offers a selection of mouthwatering biscuits and gravy, along with breakfast and brunch dishes such as scrambles, sandwiches, and more. This locally owned eatery is known for its playful vibe and great service, making it a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.

Piroshky Piroshky

Piroshky Piroshky is a must-visit bakery conveniently located in downtown Seattle, specializing in Russian hand-held pastries stuffed with sweet or savory fillings. Favorites include apple cinnamon roll, smoked salmon pate, and beef and onion. The family-owned bakery has been serving Seattle for over 25 years.

Nana’s Green Tea

Nana’s Green Tea is a modern Japanese café with a tranquil setting, serving a wide selection of green tea-based beverages, desserts, and light meals. Matcha enthusiasts will appreciate the beautifully presented lattes, parfaits, and soft-serve ice creams, along with savory options like udon noodles and rice bowls.

The Crumpet Shop

This quaint, family-owned bakery has been a Seattle staple since 1976. The Crumpet Shop serves a variety of freshly baked crumpets, with both sweet and savory toppings to choose from. Popular options include lemon curd, ricotta cheese, or smoked salmon and cream cheese. Pair your crumpet with a cup of tea or coffee for a truly British-inspired experience.

Original Starbucks

A visit to downtown Seattle would not be complete without stopping by the original Starbucks store. Established in 1971, this historic location in Pike Place Market still maintains its authentic charm and serves as a popular destination for coffee lovers seeking a taste of Starbucks history. Check out their exclusive merchandise only available at this location.

About the author

My name is April, and I’m a Seattle-based writer, traveler, and foodie. I started this travel guide blog to share my passion for Seattle with fellow travelers and locals alike.

Whether you’re looking for the best coffee shops, the trendiest restaurants, or the most scenic hiking trails, I’ve got you covered.

When I’m not writing or exploring Seattle, you can find me watching movies with my husband, reading, or gardening with my dog in the backyard.

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