Seattle is a city that revels in its contrasts. This gleaming forest of metal and glass is a far cry from its 19th century beginnings as a muddy logging settlement, with industry and innovation propelling the city forwards. That same spirit thrives today, visible in the city’s playful cuisine and rebellious art. But for all its modernity, the Emerald City still embraces its role as a gateway to the pristine nature of Washington state. This bounty can make planning a trip intimidating at first but, with a little help, you’ll learn to embrace its abundance...
Best for culture seekers
Seattle’s history as a hotbed of innovation isn’t just confined to its industrial advancements. The city has long been a haven for artists, musicians, performers and activists known for their revolutionary style.
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is a fine place to begin a cultural tour. You’ll get a feel for the city’s artistic temperament before even entering thanks to the perpetually in motion Hammering Man sculpture, a nearly 15m-tall ode to the workers of the world. Inside are collections ranging from ceremonial masks of the local indigenous Kwakwakaʼwakw peoples to European portraiture.
After enjoying the breadth of SAM, it’s time to get more specific. Ensconced among the trees of Volunteer Park is the Seattle Asian Art Museum, which boasts a world-class collection. Next, head south-east of downtown to the Northwest African American Museum. Here you’ll find poignant exhibits on the cultural and political contributions of the region’s Black communities. Don’t skip a visit to the Museum of History & Industry to enjoy highly interactive exhibits covering everything from the first Boeing planes to Microsoft.
For a day of sightseeing that won’t have you zipping all over the city, simply plant yourself in Seattle Center. The former site of the 1962 World’s Fair is home to the billowing, metallic facade of the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) and its exhibits on local legends Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix. Nearby are the soaring glass sculptures of the Chihuly Garden and Glass, one of the institutions that mark the city as being at the forefront of the American glass art movement, as well as the iconic Space Needle. The perennial postcard subject underwent a major renovation in 2018 that improved access to the glittering skyline views.
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"Seattle is packed with great used bookstores, and while this isn’t the largest, Ophelia’s Books in Fremont is our favourite – most notably for the vibe. There’s a loft nook with comfy old chairs and a spiral staircase leading down to the mystery section in the basement."
Rachel Jones, a Pacific Northwest content producer who lives in Seattle. For more, visit: iknowaplace.org
If you plan to spend a lot of time in the museums, visit in February, also known as Seattle Museum Month. Stay in a participating downtown hotel to enjoy half-price admission fees. It should be noted, though, that there’s plenty to see for free in Seattle. The streets of the proudly off-kilter Fremont neighbourhood are covered in renegade art installations and in the Central District, you’ll find politically stimulating public murals. Alternatively, stroll through the Olympic Sculpture Park and admire the art juxtaposed with the sparkling waters of Puget Sound.
Visit at the beginning of the month to drift down the cobblestone streets of Pioneer Square while participating in the First Thursday Art Walk. The neighbourhood isn’t just known for its abundance of galleries but also as the historic heart of Seattle: delve into the city’s early years on the beloved Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour.
After dark, you’ll feel the continuous thrum of Seattle’s nightlife and have a chance to enjoy its vibrant shows. In the mood to watch dance? Grab tickets for a performance of the Pacific Northwest Ballet. What about classical music? The Seattle Symphony performs regularly at the architecturally arresting Benaroya Hall.
But wherever you go, keep your eyes peeled. In a city like Seattle, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble onto something so fresh it hasn’t even made it into the guidebooks yet.
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Best for getting outside
It doesn’t take long to understand how Seattle got its nickname, ‘the Emerald City’. Its urban parks provide an impressive range of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. At over two square kilometres in size, Discovery Park is a tangle of lush walking trails and rocky beaches that’s only a short bus or taxi ride from downtown. Meanwhile, those looking to kayak or stand-up paddleboard can head to Lake Union, the body of water that bisects the city.
The urban shores of the lake are also the perfect places for a spot of cycling. At Gas Works Park, with its distinctive landscape of rolling green meadows and decommissioned industrial infrastructure, you can hop on the 32km Burke-Gilman Trail. Go west to ride past the Ballard Locks and along the peaceful Shilshole Bay or east to meander through the city’s northern suburbs.
Although the city itself is teeming with almost endless activities, adventure seekers would be remiss to not get out of town and experience Seattle’s truly magnificent surroundings. Be sure to head some 200km east to find the beautiful alpine region fittingly called The Enchantments. There are hiking trails woven all throughout the rocky valleys and high-altitude lakes, many of which cater to experienced trekkers looking to be truly adrift in a mountainous wonderland. Some of the best of these trails can be found in the region’s North Cascades National Park. The 2,771 sq km park is situated among the rugged Cascade Range and features steep, snow-capped peaks knitted together by wildflower bespeckled meadows. The Cascade Pass Trail will give hikers a satisfying challenge and those looking for leisure can set up a tent next to the aquamarine waters of Diablo Lake.
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"Located in Magnolia, Ella Bailey Park is a hidden gem that most locals don’t even know about. It’s a peaceful place with amazing views of the city skyline where I often come after work to unwind."
Gurneha Naggi, traveller who lives in Seattle. For more, visit: iknowaplace.org
Another national park well worth visiting is Mount Rainier. At 4,392m in height, its eponymous peak is the tallest mountain in the whole of the Cascade Range. On a clear day, it can be seen looming in the distance from all over Seattle and it’s only about a two-hour drive south-east of the city. Seeing the colossal peak up close is a perspective-shifting experience. The surrounding areas are also great for accessible day hikes and skiing.
Head to the Seattle Waterfront between May and October — itself a sight worth beholding, especially now that it has undergone an extensive redesign — to embark on a whale watching tour with FRS Clipper. Or, drive an hour-and-a-half north to catch a ferry from Anacortes to sail to the famous San Juan Islands, where the deep blue waters are dotted with pine-tree encrusted landmasses. The journey is as enjoyable as the destination as you can soak up views of the stoic Olympic Mountains along the way.
Speaking of which, the Olympic Mountains and the peninsula they sit on aren’t to be missed by anyone looking to get truly lost in nature. Entering Olympic National Park and seeing the layered carpets of moss and ferns that run between the red cedars and Sitka spruce is like traveling back in time to a primordial world. From the rugged coastline to the alpine highlands, the true diversity of the Olympic National Park will soon help you to understand why it earned its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For those looking for a quick escape to explore the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle makes for the perfect jumping-off point.
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Best for foodies
Whether its a gourmet tasting menu or a quick takeaway from a local market stall, Seattle is a city where you won’t go hungry. Seattle chefs are known for taking full advantage of the cornucopia that is the Pacific Northwest, whether it’s seafood caught in the waters of Puget Sound or fresh vegetables sourced from local farms. The five-course tasting menu at New American restaurant Art of the Table is dictated by local ingredients and changes with the seasons, so you can be sure the mushroom fricassee you’re eating didn’t endure a long trip from dirt to plate. Those seated at the serene waterfront tables of AQUA by El Gaucho can sample fine, fresh seafood.
Seattle is a city defined, in part, by the immigrant communities who call it home and each have made their mark on the restaurant scene. Beacon Hill’s Musang, for example, offers dishes such as fried pork belly and turmeric rice loaded with Manila clams that are inspired by Filipinx favourites. For Mexican food visit La Carta de Oaxaca for their unbelievably rich mole or find an outpost of fast-casual eatery at Taco Chukis and order the signature taco, a tangy combination of adobada pork and grilled pineapple. Meanwhile, the Central District is home to one of Seattle’s best-kept culinary secrets: a little-known collection of some of the tastiest Ethiopian restaurants you’ll find anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle’s tap water may be considered as some of the best in the world (coming fresh from the Cascades) but it’s far from the only thing you’ll want to drink. The city has an array of local coffee chains – be sure to buy a cup from Espresso Vivace or Caffe Ladro.
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"If you like a mouth full of Caribbean spices, I’d recommend the Jerk Shack. Some of my favourite items on their menu are the Jerk chicken, plantains and ginger yams. The Jerk Shack is the perfect spot to eat with friends during summer because of their outdoor patio. Here’s a pro tip: order the corn meal pound cake. It’s not on the menu but they are selling them all summer long. It’s delicious!"
Antonio Smith, travel, style and fashion blogger from Seattle. For more, visit: iknowaplace.org
Seattle also boasts roughly 70 breweries, which means that the menus at many of the city’s restaurants have beer lists that are overflowing with local brews and ciders to sample. Wine, meanwhile, pours into Seattle from eastern Washington, with Columbia Valley the largest source of grapes. With over 1,000 wineries to enjoy, Washington state is the second largest wine region in the U.S. There are convenient ways to explore Washington state’s storied wine industry, including a visit to urban wineries in Seattle’ SODO neighbourhood or a half-day tour to nearby Woodinville, a community that is home to 125 wineries and tasting rooms.
You can also take a food tour within Seattle itself, a great option for those coming to the city specifically to scope out its dining scene. Savor Seattle specialises in tours of the city’s famed Pike Place Market, including one that brings you into the market before it opens to give you some quality time with its vendors and first dibs on their delicacies.
Whether you go on a tour or meander through the bustling halls by yourself, it goes without saying that a stop at Pike Place Market cannot be missed. There is fresh fish to be admired, local cheese to be quaffed, and some of the best eateries in the city tucked away in the market’s nooks and crannies. Be sure to stop by Honest Biscuits for a heaping serving of flakey biscuits and country gravy or Pike Place Chowder for their nationally renowned clam chowder.
And if you’re looking for a showstopper to end your trip, book a reservation at Canlis, which has been serving elegant Pacific Northwest cuisine for over 70 years.
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Make it happen
When to go
Visit in early autumn for temperate weather without the crowds. The cold, misty winters also have their charms, as do spring days by the waterfront.
Where to stay
Near Pike Place Market, this luxury hotel reflects the innovative nature of Seattle in its sleek architecture, artistic interior and the creative dishes served up in its restaurants. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of the Olympic Mountains while the rooftop bar offers views across the glittering city. Learn more.
The State Hotel
One block from Pike Place Market, this building was erected in 1904 and was recently transformed into an elegant and modern hotel. Watch Pike Place Market below from the rooftop bar and enjoy cocktails and casual dining at the on-site restaurant, Ben Paris. Learn more.
The Maxwell Hotel
Located at the base of Queen Anne Hill, this eccentric hotel is right near the Seattle Center and iconic Space Needle. But the real fun starts when you step inside the hotel to discover the brightly painted corridors, mural paintings and even a giant mosaic pineapple in the lobby. The rooms are just as bold with colourful furniture and bright wallpaper. Learn more.
How to get there
Taking just 10 hours, the flight from London Heathrow to Seattle is the shortest in the whole of the western USA with direct, non-stop flights from British Airways, Delta and American Airlines making it quick and easy to reach. As well as this, the New International Arrivals Facility at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport also streamlines and simplifies arrival, so you can be out and exploring the Emerald City almost as soon as you land.
What are you waiting for?
Start planning your dream trip to Seattle by heading over to the official website now.