15 Popular Things to Do in Seattle + Day Trips

Looking for things to do in Seattle while on vacation? Check out our list of favorite things to do and places to visit, including day trips from Seattle.

Seattle is a city full of vibrant urban life, stunning natural beauty, and endless opportunities for exploration. Whether you are a history buff or an outdoor enthusiast, there is something to suit your interests in this massive metropolis. To get the most out of your visit, I recommend exploring some of the city’s most iconic attractions, such as the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and the MoPOP Museum.

For even more delights, be sure to venture off the beaten path and experience Seattle up close and personal by getting lost in one of its many charming neighborhoods or enjoying a hike along one of its many gorgeous trails. There are so many things to do in Seattle, I have no doubt that this incredible city will not disappoint.

1. Seattle Space Needle

things to do in seattle Space Needle

A 605-ft tall icon, the Space Needle is rated one of the top things to do in Seattle. This magnificent structure can be seen from many areas around the city and is visited by millions of people each year.

Fun fact! It takes approximately 43 seconds for the elevator to reach the top of the Space Needle!

When you first walk into the Space Needle, you are entering the gift shop. The circular store has hundreds of souvenirs for visitors to choose from. Next take the elevator up to approximately 500 feet and enjoy a cocktail at The Loupe– the world’s first revolving glass floor!

Finally, continue up to the top where you’ll experience breathtaking views of the city skyline and the Puget Sound through large, slanted ceiling to floor glass windows.

2. Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle

The Chihuly Garden and Glass is a Seattle must-visit. Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma, Washington native, discovered his love of working with glass while studying at the University of Washington. Dale Chihuly lost sight in his left eye in a car accident in the 70’s, but that did not stop him from pursing his glassblowing career.

Today Dale Chihuly is a world-renowned artist and his glasswork can be found in museums across the globe!

Indoor and Outdoor Galleries

The Chihuly Garden and Glass features eight indoor galleries filled with stunning handblown glass art. Be sure to look up, as some of the glasswork is featured in the ceiling. Make your way to the glass house which consists of handblown glass flowers hanging all along the ceiling.

A bonus? If you’re standing in just the right spot, you can get a spectacular picture of the Space Needle through the glass and flowers. Then head to the outdoor garden exhibit where you’ll find Chihuly artwork intertwined with beautiful greenery. Finally, head back inside to the theatre for one of the gallery’s glassblowing demonstrations!

Visit Chihuly Garden and Glass

If you’re looking for things to do in Seattle, visiting the one-of-a-kind art featured at the Chihuly Garden and Glass is a must.

3. Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market Seattle. Washington

Pike Place Market is the Country’s oldest continuously ran public farmer’s market, opening its doors in 1907. The Pike Place neighborhood in downtown Seattle consists of farmers, crafters, creators, and local businesses that make up the market. The market is quite large and is a fun place to spend the afternoon dining and shopping.

Things to do

For all you coffee lovers, your first stop should be to the very first Starbucks! It’s not uncommon to find a line outside of the store’s door with eager latte lovers waiting to explore. Next, head over to the gum wall that has been around since 1999 for a photo op. It sounds disgusting, but it is very cool to see!

Restaurants and Shopping

As you walk through the inside of Pike Place Market, you’ll see all sorts of fresh seafood stands, restaurants, and other food installations. Many of the stalls offer free samples for you to try! Next, head outside for a little retail therapy and support Seattle’s local businesses. You’ll be amazed at the number of craft booths selling unique goods and souvenirs!

4. The Great Wheel

The Great Wheel Seattle, Washington

Recommended by Cynthia of Sharing the Wander

The Great Wheel, rising above the water, has become a new icon of Seattle. This Ferris Wheel is 175 feet tall, so as you rotate around, you have amazing views of not only the city, but also of the Sound, where you can watch cargo ships, sailboats, and ferry boats moving about.

Great Wheel Tickets

Tickets can be purchased online, or at the ticket booth when you arrive. Tickets are not time specific and can be used for up to a year from purchase. We recommend purchasing on site, as the paper tickets are beautiful, and make great souvenirs!

The line moves pretty quickly, then your group will enter a gondola to ride the wheel. Each gondola has a table in the middle, bench seating, and glass all around. The wheel moves slowly and smoothly, with gentle music playing during your ride.

Know Before You Go

The Great Wheel opens at 11 am each day, so don’t rush there in the morning! The wheel is covered in over 500,000 LED lights. It usually lights up on weekends around 9 pm, check for special light shows around holidays. Each ride lasts three rotations of the wheel, or about 15 minutes.

This is a great family activity, as it is not scary in any way despite its height. We visited as part of our American Northwest Road Trip with Kids.

5. Seattle Underground Tours

Seattle Underground Tour

If you’re looking for something unique to do in Seattle, check out an underground tour! The underground tours, essentially a walking history tour, is a fun way to learn a bit about Seattle’s history.

These tours will take you all throughout the underground where you’ll see old storefronts and artifacts. Some spots even have glass windows in the “ceiling” where you’ll be able to see people walking along the streets above ground.

The Beneath the Streets Underground History Tour comes highly recommended, as the storytellers are highly knowledgeable and funny ! You’ll walk through Old Seattle and Pioneer Square while learning all about things like the Great Fire and toilets.

Yes toilets—Thomas Crapper, an Englishman, invented one of the first flushing toilets and brought his creation over to help Seattle’s catastrophic plumbing issues.

That’s all the spoiler’s for now. Go on an underground walking tour of Seattle and experience it for yourself!

6. Seattle Japanese Garden

Seattle Japanese Garden

If you’re looking for something peaceful to do, you should visit the Seattle Japanese Garden! Walk through winding paths and marvel at the landscape and architecture methodically placed.

Inspired by 16th and 17th century designs, admire beautiful bridges, waterfalls, stone paths, and maple trees. Then stop to look at the koi fishpond and let the little ones feed the fish! The Seattle Japanese Garden is especially gorgeous in the fall during the changing of the leaves. The autumn colors are gorgeous! This is a great stop if you’re only in Seattle for the weekend.

Parking is free and the admission is $8 per adult and $4 per child. Due to COVID-19 guided tours of the grounds are on hold. As well, groups larger than 5 are not permitted at the same time.

7. Fremont Troll

Fremont Troll Seattle, WA

Recommended by Jessica of Uprooted Traveler

The Fremont Troll has resided under the Aurora Bridge since 1990, in the artsy, bustling Seattle neighborhood of Fremont. The sculpture came to be in 1990, when the Fremont Arts Council solicited a sculpture for the area under the bridge, which had become a seedy spot for drug deals and other nefarious deeds. The proposed sculpture won the competition and was built later that year.

About the Fremont Troll Sculpture

The sculpture consists of an 18-foot troll creature, reminiscent of those found in Norwegian folklore, clutching an actual Volkswagen Beetle, as if the troll plucked the car from the bridge above.

The troll is absolutely massive, weighing 13,000 pounds, constructed from concrete, wire, and steel rebar, supporting visitors that want to climb on top of its rugged shoulders or lean against its Volkswagen. Upon its initial construction, the Fremont Troll included a time capsule, including a bust of Elvis, which was unfortunately stolen by vandals.

Visit the Fremont Troll

Now, the Fremont Troll has become a fixture of Seattle and even pop culture, being featured in the beloved 1999 classic “10 Things I Hate About You” and as its very own Chia pet. Come climb on the sculpture, take a photo, and marvel at one of the pieces of Seattle history that makes this city so unique.

8. Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park Seattle, WA

Recommended by Nikki of She Saves She Travels

One of the most interesting things to see in downtown Seattle is the Olympic Sculpture Park. It’s just up the street from the Pike Place Market and has a great view of downtown and the bay. The sculpture park is actually owned by the Seattle Art Museum, so it’s definitely a cool spot to check out. It’s a must-see even if you only have a day in Seattle.

With plenty of green space to stretch out and relax, it’s a great spot to soak in the views without all the hustle and bustle of the surrounding area. The sculpture park features over a dozen sculptures of all kinds. An iconic favorite is “Eagle” which is a red abstract sculpture by Alexander Calder.

The Olympic Sculpture Park is free to visit, although the visitor center does take donations.

9. Museum of Pop Culture

15 Popular Things to Do in Seattle + Day Trips

The Seattle Museum of Pop Culture is one of the city’s most iconic cultural institutions and popular things to do in Seattle. Located in the heart of downtown, this cutting-edge museum is dedicated to showcasing the incredible work being done by artists and creators in all fields, from music to literature to film. Whether you’re a longtime local or just visiting for a few days, a trip to the Museum of Pop Culture is an essential part of any visit to Seattle.

Not only does it allow you to experience some of the best creations from some of the biggest names in pop culture, but it also offers an exciting glimpse into trends and movements that are shaping content and entertainment around the world today. If you love art, music, film, or anything else that falls under the umbrella of ‘pop culture’, then this is definitely an institution that you won’t want to miss.

10. Museum of Flight

15 Popular Things to Do in Seattle + Day Trips

Located in the heart of Seattle, the Museum of Flight is one of the city’s most popular cultural and educational venues. Boasting a wide range of historical and modern aircraft, as well as extensive space exhibits, this museum offers a unique and immersive experience for all ages. With informative interactive exhibits and unique pieces of aviation history on display, the Museum of Flight provides a truly engaging and enlightening experience. So if you’re looking for fun things to do in Seattle, make sure to stop by the Museum of Flight and explore the wonders of flight for yourself!

11. Washington Park Arboretum

15 Popular Things to Do in Seattle + Day Trips

Located just north of downtown Seattle, Washington Park Arboretum is one of the largest and most beautiful botanical gardens in the region. This 300-acre park is a mecca for plant enthusiasts, with dozens of different tree species, flowering shrubs, and colorful herbaceous plants. The park also features several miles of paved and unpaved walking trails, which allow visitors to explore a diverse array of ecosystems from marshland to fern glade. With its striking landscapes and year-round blooms, this urban oasis is truly a treasure of the Pacific Northwest.

12. Capitol Hill Neighborhood

15 Popular Things to Do in Seattle + Day Trips

Capitol Hill is one of the most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods in Seattle. With its bustling main thoroughfare, eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, and bustling nightlife scene, Capitol Hill has tons to do and see. Whether you are looking for the latest fashions, a delicious meal, or a cold brew on a hot summer day, this eclectic neighborhood has it all.

13. Mt. Rainier Day Trip

Mt. Rainier National Park Washington

Recommended by Tawnya of Money Saved is Money Earned

Mt. Rainier dominates the skyline of Seattle, and it’s a great day trip destination at a little over 2 hours drive. At over 14,000 feet high, Mt. Rainier is the largest of the Cascade volcanos, has the most glaciers of any mountain in the continental U.S., and is one of three National Parks in Washington.

There’s a little something to do for everyone at Mt. Rainier National Park. Whether it’s hiking through alpine meadows, camping, or attempting to scale the mountain itself, Mt. Rainier offers 368 square miles of wilderness paradise.

Day-trippers should start their tour at the south Nisqually Entrance, then stop by the Longmire Museum to learn about the history of the area. Further on is the Henry Jackson Visitor Center, where you can get up close and personal with the mountain.

14. Olympic National Park Day Trip

Olympic National Park

Recommended by Megan of Lets Jet Kids

There is plenty to do in Olympic National Park. For a great day trip from Seattle (about a 2-1/2 hour drive), here are some highlights.

First, stop by Hurricane Ridge, one of the most popular stops in the park. You’ll wind up a long road, until you reach the top where you’ll be nearly eye-to-eye with the gorgeous mountain tops, stretching for miles.

Sol Duc Road

Another hour-and-a-half away, but not to be missed, is Sol Duc Road off of Highway 101. Along this road are many incredible attractions.

In fall, the Salmon Cascades feature salmon attempting to jump upstream. Spring will bring trout attempting the same challenge. The Ancient Groves are gorgeous, mossy, large trees on a beautiful fairyland type of trail. Open seasonally, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort houses different temperatures of natural hot spring pools that are open to the public ($).

Waterfalls

And finally, at the end of the road you’ll find the trailhead to Sol Duc Falls, a popular trail leading to the powerful waterfalls. The trail is less than a mile (one-way) but is home to beautiful scenery and backdrops the entire way.

15. Leavenworth Day Trip

15 Popular Things to Do in Seattle + Day Trips

Taking a day trip to Leavenworth is the perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy some peace and quiet in nature. This small town, located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, is famous for its old-world Bavarian charm and stunning mountain scenery. Whether you’re looking to take a relaxing stroll along one of the picturesque hiking trails or stop by one of the cute cafes for a cup of local coffee, Leavenworth has everything you need for an idyllic day trip. A trip to Leavenworth from Seattle is about two hours and fifteen minutes.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Seattle is an incredible place to visit. With its gorgeous coastline, bustling city streets, and vibrant cultural scene, there are endless things to see and do in this exciting metropolis. Whether you want to go hiking in the forested mountain areas or explore the eclectic shops and restaurants of Capitol Hill, there is something for everyone in Seattle.

In addition, there are also plenty of amazing museums and other cultural attractions, making this city a great destination for art lovers and history buffs alike. So if you’re looking for a truly memorable getaway, be sure to add Seattle to your travel bucket list!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
15 Popular Things to Do in Seattle + Day Trips
Alexandrea Sumuel

Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel easier.