1: The neighbourhoods
Public Market Center, Seattle (Dreamstime)
Plant your finger anywhere on a map of Seattle and you’re bound to find somewhere interesting. Each neighbourhood has its own distinct character, each revealing yet another facet of Seattle’s diverse personality.
Downtown and the Waterfront make a great place to start. Known as New York on the West Coast, this compact area has everything you want from a big city – shops, markets, cafes – crammed into a manageable area.
Just up the hill, to the east, is Capitol Hill, where the city goes to be entertained. Alternatively, head south to the Chinatown-International district for incredible food, or Pioneer Square for the city’s vibrant Arts scene. Beacon Hill is one of Seattle’s more diverse neighbourhoods with a 45-acre park to explore.
2: The museums
Experience Must Project Museum (Dreamstime)
Seattle is a city of museums, from the Seattle Art Museum, with it’s focus on Northwest, Pacific Island and Japanese art, to the Experience Music Project museum, founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, where you can see the command chair from Star Trek and Neo’s coat from The Matrix.
Many of the museums make the most of the city’s incomparable natural setting. The Olympic Sculpture Park stretches for nine acres on the waterfront and the Seattle Asian Art Museum lies in the heart of Volunteer Park.
Others are set in buildings just as interesting as the displays within. The Nordic Heritage Museum, for example, is set in an old schoolhouse, while the Museum of History and Industry is in the renovated Naval Reserve Armory.
3: The islands
Seattle Bainbridge Island Ferry (Dreamstime)
Set in the heart of Puget Sound and squeezed between Elliot Bay and Lake Washington, Seattle is a city surrounded by water. The Washington State Ferries offer a relaxing, scenic and affordable way to get around Seattle and the nearby islands.
Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Peninsula are a short ride away, as is Vashon, an island that maintains its hippy vibe and where you can pick berries, watch whales or go for a hike. Just to the north, in Squamish, you can pay respects at Chief Seattle’s grave and take in the view of the city named after him, just across Puget Sound.
4: The music
Big Sean at Bumbershoot (Dreamstime)
Seattle is one of America’s great music cities. It was here, in the 1990s, that Grunge was born, with Nirvana and Pearl Jam tearing up local venues, and where the world’s first 24/7 radio station, KEXP, broke acts like Grandmaster Flash and Macklemore. Local record label, Sub Pop, who put out Nirvana's early records, continue to unearth exciting new bands.
For live shows, check out historic Paramount Theatre or the Crocodile Café, a legendary venue since the early 1990s.
In the summer, Seattle's all about the festivals, with Folklife celebrating the Northwest’s diverse cultures, Sasquatch, a three-day long festival held at Gorge Amphitheater, and Bumbershoot, one of America’s largest music festivals, held every year at the 74-acre Seattle Centre on the Labor Day Weekend.
For a quick walk through Seattle’s music and pop culture history, head to the futuristic Experience Music Project, designed by Frank Gehry and located right next to the Space Needle.
5: The wild beyond
Autumn in Seattle (Dreamstime)
Set in the heart of America’s spectacular Pacific Northwest, Seattle makes a convenient base to explore some of the most beautiful corners of the country.
Mt. Ranier National Park is only a couple of hours away and the 93-mile Wonderland Trail encircling the mountain offer incredible vistas of meadows, glaciers and the snow-capped peaks. Feeling energetic? Try the 11-mile long Kendall Katwalk, part of the 2,650-mile long Pacific Crest Trail, as it trails along the cliff face between Kendall Peak and Red Mountain.
West of the city, you’ll find the Olympic Peninsula. Hurricane Ridge offers more glacial views. Hoh Rainforest outside Forks is where Twilight was shot. The Hall of Mosses trail leads you through ethereal, temperate rainforest. If it’s wildlife you want, then head to Third Beach where sea lions frolick amongst rocks jutting out into the water.
Virgin Atlantic will by running daily flights to and from London Heathrow to Seattle Tacoma International from March 26. See www.virginatlantic.com for more details.
Main image: Seattle at dusk (Dreamstime)