Insider Tips on What to Do in Seattle – A City Guide

Looking for tips on what to do in Seattle?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Hilary Billings, aka The Nomad Grad. Hilary took her first trip to Seattle in 2008 for a swing dance/jazz weekend event and immediately fell in love.

Insider tips on what to do in Seattle
What to do in Seattle. Image by

Unable to resist the pull, Hilary travels back to The Emerald City multiple times a year for good coffee and dancing. Hilary takes us through the list of things to do in Seattle, her favorite North American city.

Why Visit Seattle?

Seattle is one of those cities that is recognizable just by a snapshot of The Space Needle or Pike Place Market (Pike’s Place). There are very few cities in the world as iconic as this one.

Some of the biggest corporations in the world, like Microsoft and Starbucks, were founded here.

Of course you have the badass musical influences such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam hailing from this rainy city (obviously there’s something in the water).

Famous television sitcoms and dramas have been set here (Frasier – need I say more?).

Then, there are those vampires rumored to dwell just hours outside the city (but please confirm with Stephanie Meyer; she’s the expert).

a sign in front of a building
Pike’s Place markets

Obviously, pop-culture finds reason to obsess over Seattle and you should too.

You can’t beat the beauty of the summer with cherry blossoms lining the sidewalks. Just one taste of a bowl of clam chowder or a whiff of the coffee grounds wafting through the air and you’ll understand.

For a city with such a strange and unusual history, it’s steeped with culture and awesomeness.

There a million reasons to love the land of McDreamy, but I recommend just visiting and deciding for yourself what makes you fall in love.

What to Do in Seattle

If it’s your first time in Seattle, make sure you hit the typically hyped tourist attractions. They’re necessary adventures, not to mention famous attractions for a reason.

Take a trip up The Space Needle, visit the first Starbucks and then take a gander through Pike Place Market. Make sure you hop on the brass pig and try some flavor infused honey sticks.

Feel free to use fruit humor when talking to the produce guys. It’s a ‘perfectly’ acceptable form of communication.

What to do in Seattle
riding the pig at Pike’s place

Make sure you do The Underground Tour on one of your first days in the city.

The Underground Tour in Seattle provides great historical background as well as gives you the Reader’s Digest version of its surly past. (book tickets in advance here)

It’s not something you’ll do again but you’ll start to notice and appreciate the little nuances downtown (like the skylights in the sidewalk) that you wouldn’t have noticed before.

What to do in Seattle
underground tour

Take a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island to get a different perspective on the city as well as to experience some local living. It’s homely charm will make you think you’re walking through a fairytale.

Of course, if you’re really adventurous, take a tour of Mount Rainier and a hike if you’re up for climbing one of the country’s most dangerous and active volcanoes.

I prefer to view it from the plane but I’m not nearly as ballsy as some of you hiking enthusiasts!

clouds in the sky
Mt Rainier

Best Neighborhoods to Explore in Seattle

Capitol Hill is definitely my favorite area of Seattle.

You can find anything and everything to do on this hill. Each bar has more flavor and atmosphere than the last. The eateries are just as unique.

The second-hand stores and novelty shops are bound to delight and you will even find a century’s old ballroom packed with couples dancing to jazz music weekly. What more could you ask for?

Where to Eat in Seattle

If Seattleite’s know how to do anything well it’s coffee (it’s why I love them so).

Starbucks, Tully’s, and Seattle’s Best were all founded here. And while you can’t go wrong with any of these choices, I recommend trying one of the smaller but equally delicious cafes like Victrola.

A store front at day

You can’t visit Seattle without trying a triple layer cappuccino and Victrola has a great one. It’s 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, and 1/3 foam.

They are more expensive than a traditional cappuccino but I promise the extra few cents are worth the deliciousness waiting in your cup.

Check out the Original Starbucks in Seattle

Afternoon Bites

Seattle is full of healthy options for lunch dining.

I am a fan of The Honeyhole on Pike Street. They have sandwiches for everyone, including awesome vegetarian options.

Dinner Dining Delights

Want to treat yourself to the ultimate seafood experience?

Have a bowl of clam chowder or lobster bisque at Ivar’s Acres of Clams. The fish couldn’t be any fresher and you’ll adore the waterfront views. It’s the perfect upscale dining experience after a day of fun on the pier and exploration at The Seattle Aquarium.

My other favorite ultimate dining experience is The Steelhead Diner located just steps from Pike Place Market. Don’t let the name fool you. You’re in an array of aromas and flavor, even with perfected seasonal desserts to please your palate.

Service can be slow but the food is oh-so worth the wait.

a restaurant
Steelhead diner

Where to Drink in Seattle

I’m not a big fan of drinking but Capitol Hill makes bar hopping easy.

With them being squished together in close proximity, you can down shots at one bar, high-five your friends, and then stumble ten feet to the next bar to high-five new friends.

While you won’t find the bartenders overly friendly (they’re hipster like that), you’ll be sure to meet visitors from around the world sampling brew.

I enjoy spending time at The Tin Table conveniently located across from The Century Ballroom. The ambiance is groovy, quiet, and laid back.

During the week you’ll find dances of all kinds hopping across the hall. Have a drink and then have a dance. And if you get too drunk you can always just stare at the pretty blue glasses.

glasses on a shelf
Tin Table

Best Places for a Night on the Town in Seattle

Who doesn’t like a night of good food and dancing?

Start by having a drink at one of the bazillion pubs off of Pike and Broadway. Then mosey on over to The Century Ballroom for a night of dancing and jazz/salsa/or swing music (depending on the night).

people dancing on a dance floor
Century Ballroom

After you’ve worked up a sweat and an appetite, walk downstairs to Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Parlor.

I don’t care what time of year it is. You must try one of their delicious homemade flavors that’s made in the back of their shop. I recommend the lavender-honey or strawberry-balsamic.

Also, make sure you treat yourself to a fresh waffle cone. The sweet smell of the cooked sugar will make your heart melt, even if the weather is freezing.

Where to Stay in Seattle

There are tons of options but I’m a big fan of The Silver Cloud Hotel. They have a chain of boutique hotels situated all over Seattle, but I love their Broadway location.

Their room prices are decent, even given their prime locale and a big breakfast is included.

During peak season rooms will run about $130/night. And even though this is kind of expensive for backpackers like me, you’re guaranteed a level of quality when booking with this chain.

If you’re looking for something waterside, I recommend the appropriately named Edgewater Hotel. This hotel offers up local charm and warmth on a platter.

The price per night will depend on what type of ‘package’ you book (they offer a wide array from honeymooners to family getaways). Their cheapest rooms run $200/night during peak season.

a restaurant on the water
Edgewater Hotel

For more places to stay in Seattle choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner 

Markets & Shopping in Seattle

Make a visit to Pike Place Market a must. But I’m biased. I could probably spend days in Pike’s Place eating myself to happiness.

Plus all the fresh flowers, kitschy knickknacks shops, and interesting international markets gives it such color and vibrancy.

But my thoughts are controlled by the mini deep-fried doughnuts available by the pig. They are mind numbingly yummy. If you eat them you will only think amazing things about Pike’s Place.

Consider yourself warned.

woman holding a bouquet of flowers
Flowers at Pike’s Place

Downtown Seattle also has some great shopping.

You’ve got streets lined with mainstream designers and a mall full of credit card comas waiting to happen (complete with movie theater).

But I prefer the unusual shops of Pioneer Square. Here you can find crystal shops that put a price on mysticism and hipster guitar centers full of vintage Fenders and vinyl records.

I promise you there’s a specialty shop for every unique soul in this wonderfully weird district.

a statue
Pioneer Square

Getting Around Seattle

The bus system is very reliable, consistent, and cheap.

I highly recommend it if you’re going to be navigating all the typical tourist attractions. Downtown and Capital Hill themselves are not large areas but they’re set up much like San Francisco.

Taking the bus can be beneficial to your knees instead of hoofing it up-and-down Skid Row. The Light Rail is also a great way to get from the Sea-Tac airport to downtown Seattle.

Tours, Sightseeing & Passes

Viator is the industry leader when it comes to tours, activities, tickets and passes with a list of hand-picked tours and things to do in Seattle from local insiders.

Check out the Seattle City Pass which gives you tickets to Seattle’s premier attractions including the Space Needle, saving you time and money.

We share more about how we used the pass – and the value it provides – in our post on exploring Seattle with kids. We spent 5 days in the city. – Caz and Craig

Click here for this review of the Seattle City Pass

Seattle City Pass

Best Time of Year to Visit Seattle

Peak season is definitely March through August.

Because of all the rain you are guaranteed the prettiest flower blooms, best weather for outdoor activities, and variety of festivals during the height of the summer.

If you’re brave and decide to visit during the fall/winter off-season, be sure to bring a waterproof jacket and rain boots.

Best insider Tip for travel to Seattle

Don’t trust the cab companies when they say your taxi is on its way. People steal taxis like it’s going out of style. Plus they normally take at least a half hour to reach you anyway.

I recommend learning the bus routes and utilizing those as much as possible.

Seattleites don’t use umbrellas but don’t view this as a competition. Feel free to pack one if you’re planning on spending a lot of time outside (just don’t ask them what they think about you carrying one).

Invest in some sturdy rain boots and a weatherproof jacket for walking around.

The goal is to stay dry. If you stay dry, you won’t be nearly as cold as you think. And after running through your first downpour, I think you’ll realize why these Seattleites are such hot beverage freaks.

I love Seattle because …

For me, Seattle is a blend of everything that’s great in the world.

The city is brimming with delicious espresso, culture, art, open-mindedness, jazz music, and intellect. It has three-story bookstores and libraries that are built to be pieces of art, for goodness sake.

The entire city is filled with a salty breeze from The Harbor and all the food is made with quality and ingenuity unmatched on the west coast.

There’s just something about Seattle that feels like happiness.

It’s got a very distinct vibe and flavor and I love that. You’ll never be bored. It’s a place where people aren’t afraid to be themselves and that resonates deeply with me.

a girl hugging a fake penguin
penguin hugs

Some cities just look and feel like every other city, but Seattle gets my seal of approval for its originality and personality.

And I double dog dare you to find another city like it. Happy Adventuring!

Plan Your Trip to Seattle

Accommodation in Seattle

Flights to Seattle

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Car Rental in Seattle

About the Author:

Hilary is a Las Vegas local and world traveler. When she’s not at home working on productions or taming lions, you can find her boarding down volcanoes and living in remote villages. Follow her on Facebook.

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